Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Fear and Understanding

As I watched ABC’s Diane Sawyer reporting from Korea several mornings recently, it occurred to me that the country’s leader Kim Jong Il might actually fear the United States and he’s testing nuclear devices to deter an attack he thinks we might launch. Some of that country’s citizens certainly fear us, based on what I saw during the controlled reporting – controlled in the sense that even casual interviews were set up by the Korean government officials who accompanied Ms. Sawyer and her crew.

It is hard for me to believe that people could fear our country. We’re the good guys, aren’t we? The world’s protector. Originators of global pop culture. But when you see some of the Korean children and their mothers literally running away from Diane Sawyer – because they are afraid of Americans – doesn’t that make you wonder if they think we’re the bad guys?

A strategy often used in successful negotiations is this: understand your opponent’s point of view. You don’t have to agree with the other side or even accept anything they say or feel. And it doesn’t necessarily matter who is right or wrong. But one can often achieve a better outcome in a negotiation if one understands the other side’s point of view.

Consider Korea’s possible point of view: the U.S. invaded Iraq, destroyed its infrastructure and captured its leader because the U.S. considered Iraq a threat; we thought they had nuclear weapons and we didn’t like their leader. This same United States is the only country on the planet that ever attacked another country, Japan, with a nuclear device. The justification for that might not be apparent to Koreans. And our president can appear to be a bully, regardless of his intentions.

If you follow that logic, at least you can understand why Korea might feel the U.S. is planning to attack. And Korea might believe they have the right to be prepared for such an attack. Or at least show some teeth and put us on guard.

The point, again: understand the other side’s point of view. Walk in their shoes for a few minutes. See the situation from their side.

The reverse is also true. Other countries should look at our point of view and try to understand why we’ve done what we’ve done over the years.

We fear them, they fear us. That cycle is a problem.

Another thing that concerns me is this: an opponent could look at historical facts and believe they have the right to remove from power someone they consider to be a dangerous leader, our own president, for example. If another country tried to do to us what we did to Iraq, we wouldn’t take it lightly.

News reports today say that North Korea wants to talk. That’s good. I hope that they and we realize conflict resolution isn’t always about who’s right or wrong. Sometimes it’s merely about understanding each other.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Daylight Irony Time

It’s ironic that we say the days are shorter in the fall and winter. The days are still 24 hours long, but we get less sunshine. And is this ironic or paradoxical? If I plan to be a writer beyond blogs and radio commercials, I think I should relearn grammar.

Grammar changes, however. Take less and fewer, for example. Less sunshine, fewer hours of sunshine. Less time to do daylight activities, fewer hours. February has fewer days than October. After a trip to the mall, I have less money in my wallet – fewer dollars. It makes me crazy when someone says less hours, less days, less dollars. I don’t remember the grammatical terms for this, but I understand the difference between less and fewer and how each is used. But every day I hear another person misuse these two words. Eventually this misuse will become the norm.

I admit I do not know the difference between irony and paradox. Alanis Morissette’s song “Isn’t It Ironic” made perfect sense to me until I read some smart person’s take on her vocabulary. The situations presented in her song are paradox not irony. Who knew?

Isn’t it ironic that I received advanced placement in English in college? Or is it paradoxical? I skipped English 101 and started my completely mediocre college experience two weeks after high school by taking English 102. I got a C.

What I gained from that experience is a love of writing and reading. Clearly I did not learn the fine points of proper grammar. Or the need for complete sentences. I write like I talk. An old friend who is a blogger and an English teacher says my blog style is conversational. I’ll take that as a compliment.

The main thing I remember from that English class is that we were taught a pattern for writing essays: open; A, B, C; close. Use an opening sentence to set up the topic, write three paragraphs to support the topic and close with a summary paragraph that draws the reader to a conclusion.

That pattern works in some of my real-world situations. When I write a radio commercial, for example, I set up a problem, show how a product or service can solve the problem and end with a method for the listener to find the product or service. I get the job done in 30 seconds. Topic, support, summary.

I write a justification for a budget item with a setup of the situation, support for my request and a summary of how that money will address the situation.

When I write a blog post, I often start with a tease or a statement, weave in and out of the lane for awhile and end with an attempt at summary or humor. I opened this post with an observation about the return to Standard Time and a question about grammar. I then made three or more disconnected points. Now I’m about to close. I probably could have made more of a point with fewer words, but I have less time to do that this afternoon because today is shorter.

Isn’t that ironic? Or is it paradoxical?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

High Fives

This is a meme/survey/list that I made up. What the heck. Give it a shot if you’re so inclined, and let me know where you post it.

Five cars you’ve owned:
1. 1966 Mustang
2. Ford Van (bright yellow)
3. Ford Explorer
4. Thunderbird
5. Volvo Wagon

Five cars you’ve driven but did not own:
1. a friend’s very used Mercedes
2. a right-hand drive Bentley (in a parking lot)
3. 1937 Chevrolet Fire Truck (in a parade)
4. Porsche (re-parked it for a photo shoot)
5. 240Z-the fastest thing I’ve ever driven (and it belonged to a minister)

Five books you’d read more than once:
1. The Power of Optimism-Alan Loy McGinnis
2. Robots of the Dawn – Isaac Asimov
3. Awakening At Midlife – Kathleen Brehony
4. Cats In The Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
5. 1984 – George Orwell

Five friends who live more than five hundred miles from where you live:
1. Sherry (Hawaii)
2. Farimah (England)
3. Jim, Pat, Melanie (Louisiana)
4. Pennie (Colorado)
5. Linda (Wisconsin)

Five candidates you’ve voted for:
1. William Donald Shaffer
2. Barbara Mikulski
3. Connie Morella
4. Bill Clinton
5. John Kerry

Five TV characters you like:
1. Catherine Willows (CSI)
2. Lenny Briscoe (Law & Order)
3. Robert Goren (Law & Order: Criminal Intent)
4. Fonzie (Happy Days)
5. Andy Sipowitz (NYPD Blue)

Five famous people you’ve met:
1. Gavin McLeod (he actually sang the Love Boat theme with us on the radio)
2. Dawn Wells (Bob Denver and Russell Johnson – on a 3 hour tour of the Baltimore Harbor … really)
3. Kenny Chesney
4. Charles Mann
5. Ted Nugent

Five brands you like (any products):
1. Nikon
2. Eddie Bauer
3. Starbucks
4. Reebok
5. Ben & Jerry’s

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Glove Karma

What goes around comes around. The interconnected web of life. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Cause and effect. Whatsoever a man soweth, that he shall also reap. For each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Karma.

Fumbling with coins while wearing gloves is a challenge for me, so when I stopped at the newspaper box on my way to the train Wednesday morning, I removed my right glove and placed it on top of the box. I fed two quarters to the box, removed the newspaper and boarded the train. As the train departed from the station, I realized I had left the glove on the box.

Geez, I now have only one glove.

I obsessed about this all day. During the train ride home, I continued to think about the glove so I would remember to walk past the newspaper box to see if by some great piece of chance cosmic karma the glove might still be there.

While standing in the aisle for the last two or three minutes of the train ride, I noticed a small black object attached to a coat hook. It was a black glove. No way. The tag peeking form inside boasted the words Thinsulate 40 gram. Am I hallucinating? I pulled my surviving glove from my pocket to read the label. Thinsulate 40 gram. Way. Lots of gloves have a tag like that, so I removed the glove from the hook for closer inspection. A perfect match!

What are the chances that someone would see the glove on the box, assume a passenger left it there, take it to the train and place it on the highly visible hook so whoever left it might see it? There are six or seven trains each way each day on this line … what are the chances I would be on the same end of the same car of the same train on my way home?

What goes around comes around. Cause and effect. Glove Karma.

Maybe I should leave a thank you note on the newspaper box. Maybe I should play Lotto this week.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Doctor Macchiato

Every month there’s a new study regarding health: alcohol is bad for you, alcohol is good for you, carbs are bad, carbs are good, caffeine is … you get it, right? Each study seems to refute the previous one. It’s very confusing.

Some previous studies said that drinking coffee can lead to heart disease, cancer and a bad attitude.

Today’s study says coffee is good. I don’t plan to read the next one because I’m a coffee drinker and I like the results of this one.

An article in Parade today says coffee can protect against infections, help prevent diabetes and gallstones, reduce Parkinson’s symptoms, relieve headaches and help maintain brain function.

Wow! Coffee does all of that, and with no prescription and no disclaimer at the end of the commercial.

I can hear the new Starbucks slogan now: a latte a day keeps the doctor away.


I paid $2.09/gallon yesterday. Woohoo.

You Actually LIKE That Stuff?

This week marks my 15th anniversary in Country radio.

Prior to 1988 I had worked exclusively for Rock stations, mostly as a DJ playing music we now call “classic rock” … Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, the Who, the Beatles, the Eagles, ZZ Top, Foreigner, etc. Next, I worked for a radio station playing what broadcasters call Adult Contemporary music, which is basically pop music for boomers. At the time, these were Mix and Soft Rock stations playing Phil Collins, Gloria Estefan and Whitney Houston.

By 1991 I was Assistant Program Director, but that summer the station made a big format change and I was phased out. In order to stay in the Maryland area, I chose to temporarily make a living out of part time jobs. One of my targets for employment was the Washington DC country music station because they were hugely successful. I wasn’t sure I’d like the music, but the pay was good and I knew I could fake it if I had to.

It only took a year for me to become a big country music fan.

Yes, I actually love country music. I still like rock, Motown, blues, swing, classical and about five rap songs, but country music is now my favorite. It is usually simple, real and direct. Some of it is fun, some serious, some frivolous, some deep and intense. Rock tends to be observational. Country is mostly about feeling and it’s usually from the heart. Strip away the twang and bad grammar from a country song and you’ve got a three-minute slice of real life. Ain’t that the way it oughtta be?

Country music is on my mind today because I watched an hour-long TV show about Martina McBride on the Biography Channel, followed by a program about Shania Twain. And I realize I now know enough about the genre and these two performers to understand how different they are and how much they represent the wide range of styles and song content that can be called Country Music.

Martina’s background is small-town Kansas and she sings mostly songs of real-life scenarios. Love, children and family, homelessness, domestic violence. She is rooted in country, having first played in her dad’s band. She went through a rock phase during the Pat Benatar era in the 80s, but her entire recording career, which started in 1991, has been firmly planted in country. Even the pop crossover hits she’s had began their life on country radio. Her 2005 CD “Timeless” consisted entirely of classic country songs she grew up with.

Shania’s background is small-town Canada and hers is a hard-luck story; but her music is much more slick and “produced.” In fact, her husband (and producer since her 2nd or 3rd album) is Mutt Lange, whose early successes included very produced rock bands like Foreigner and Bad Company. Shania seems “made up” to me, aloof, not especially real in spite of her very real hard-luck background. I often joke that her dozens of hits are really just two songs, one fast and the other slow, with interchangeable lyrics. But a large chunk of country music fans embrace her style and there is just enough reality and fiddle to classify it as country music.

I’ve met Martina. She is very popular but is still down-to-earth and sometimes visits radio stations and plays small venues. Three years ago, she played a live, on-the-air concert for our radio station to an audience of one hundred invited guests. To my knowledge, Shania hasn’t been in a radio station for 10 years and rarely plays for less than 20,000 people. Both are mothers, but I just can’t picture Shania changing a diaper.

Many Boomer and Gen-X Country singers have the same music background I do. Garth Brooks grew up on Billy Joel and Kiss. Travis Tritt grew up on Lynyrd Skynyrd. Two surviving Skynyrd members are now in Country Music and known as Van Zant. At least three of Kenny Chesney’s hits reminisce about rock radio from the 70s. Rascal Flatts’ latest hit is a cover of Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway.” Bon Jovi had a #1 Country Hit this year, a duet version of hit rock hit “Who Says You Can't Go Home” with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles trading lead and harmony lines.

Country songs still do have the stereotypical themes and images: lyin’, cheatin’, dyin’, drinkin’, pickup trucks, dogs, patriotism and blue-collar jobs. But contemporary themes are represented too: domestic violence, two-income parenting, the Iraq war, cell phones and the internet.

As long as I’m proselytizing … check out the Country Music Association Awards show on Monday, November 6th on ABC. You’ll see the whole spectrum of country music sounds and styles.

Go ahead and explore your inner hillbilly.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Breaking News From Paradise

Disasters are feeling a little personal to me. Last year it was Katrina damaging New Orleans, where I have family and friends. Earlier this year, there was a terrorist incident at a London subway station that my friends in England often use.

Today’s disaster is an earthquake in Hawaii, just 10 miles from my friends who live in Kona.

I’ve been watching non-stop news coverage all afternoon. Twenty-four hour news outlets, webcams, cell phone cameras and the internet make on-the-spot coverage of disasters the norm. Everyone can now be a reporter. There are limited live television operations on the Big Island (most local stations re-broadcast the Honolulu stations), so much of the on-site coverage is coming from citizens on the phone. Because of power outages resulting from a combination of the earthquake and unusually bad weather on the other islands, only one TV station in the whole state of Hawaii is on the air; and CNN is re-broadcasting much of their live coverage.

I haven’t been able to reach my friends yet, but no deaths or serious injuries have been reported so far and I’m optimistic that they are OK (the earthquake happened 8 hours ago as I write this).

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Accidental Friends, part 2

A few posts ago, I shared examples of random meetings and circumstances that resulted in long-term friendships. But I forgot to mention the most significant one I know, even though I wrote about it in one of my early posts on this blog.

This isn’t about someone I met, but about the meeting that resulted in ME.

I knew my parents met each other at work. About a year before my Mother died, she told me the story of how she got the job where they met. The incredible, it-almost-didn’t-happen story … she bumped into a friend while walking down Canal Street, the main street and shopping district of New Orleans at the time. The friend had just been turned down for a job but said, “hey, you’d be perfect for it.”

Dad was on leave in the Navy that year, but from the moment Mom started at the company, her co-workers told her she’d really like this guy Benny who would be coming back to work there soon. They were right. The rest is history.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Random Thoughts From Boomerville

The current age range for boomers is 42 to 60. What does a 42-year-old really have in common with a 60-year-old?

A 42-year-old’s favorite songs from high school could include Foreigner’s “Waiting For A Girl Like You” or Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical.”

A 60-year-old’s favorite songs from senior year in high school might include “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles or “Hello Dolly” by Louis Armstrong. That year, by the way, would be 1964, the year the 42-year-old was born.

I have learned that my blog gets frequent referrals from Google searches. My most popular posts include song titles. This post should get a few extra hits.

Boomers turning 60 this month include:
Connie Chung,
Pat Sajak,
Ben Vereen and

... Suzanne Somers!

Also turning 60 this month: the electric blanket.

Miscellaneous events from October, 1964:
• composer Cole Porter and former president Herbert Hoover both died,
• Ringo Starr got his driver’s license,
• Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize and
• the Rolling Stones appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Miscellaneous activity from October 7th in history:
• Births: Oliver North (1943), John Mellencamp (1951) and Yo-Yo Ma (1955)
• Deaths: Edgar Allen Poe (1849, at age 40)
• Milestones: Robin Givens files for divorce from Mike Tyson after 8 months of marriage (1988); American Bandstand premieres (1957); Henry Ford debuts the moving assembly line (1913) and Chicago beats Cincinnati in the 2nd game of the 1st World Series (1882).

Monday, October 02, 2006

One Small Step For A Blog

Those of us who actually heard Neil Armstrong’s greeting from the moon live heard him say “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Over the subsequent 37 years, we have also heard him say he intended to begin his statement with “one small step for a man,” and that he thought he actually did say it that way.

I accepted that we probably just didn’t hear the “a” because of the static and other characteristics associated with sending voice transmissions across 239,000 miles on 1969 technology.

Now somebody with 2006 technology has discovered that the “a” is really there!

Why is this news? The audio editing software I use every day probably could have found the missing word.

Newspapers, magazines and web sites all made a big deal of this. The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams played it like a near-equal to their lead stories: the deadly shooting spree at an Amish school in Pennsylvania and the porn-emailing Congressman.

One small misstep for technology led to one giant leap for filling time on a relatively slow news day.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Time Flies When You’re … Raking Leaves

Here is a theory I heard once that attempts to explain why time seemed to pass by so slowly when we were growing up and why it seems to fly by as we age: When we are young, things are changing all the time – school, friends, clothes sizes, what we learn about the world and ourselves. Just as we adjust to one thing, another thing happens. Then as we get older, a day-to-day sameness pattern develops in our lives. We don’t experience big changes nearly as often. We wake up one day and say, “Wow, it’s October 1st already. What happened to August?”

OK, maybe you don’t do that; but I did this morning. My closet is still full of short sleeve shirts, but for two weeks overnight lows have been in the 50s here and highs in the 70s. Labor Day was a month ago. Leaves are falling.

I have this sense that my life is racing by, even though life expectancy charts say I’ve got 30 more years and family genetics lead me to believe I could live see my 100th birthday. It’s two minutes into the 3rd quarter, I’m on the 50 yard line and I haven’t used any time outs, yet it feels like the stadium is already starting to empty out.

Guess I better finish raking the leaves before it’s time to put up the Christmas lights.