Shutting Down The Shutdown

I hope all you non-Trumpites will forgive me for this, but I think it’s a pretty good idea to shut things down every once in awhile, including the government.

Half-time is a shutdown in most sporting events that gives the players time to re-energize (maybe a mistake for the Eagles last week, but they had gotten a freebie the week before, so all’s fair in football – except Belichik). 

Coffee breaks are good shutdowns. You know why we have coffee breaks? Because of England. Really. English bosses encouraged laborers to drink tea because something in it gave them a boost of energy, which translated into more profits. It turned out to be caffeine. They sold tea in coffee houses (yes, coffee houses) in the 1600’s. Then it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the Colonies who Americanized tea with Starbucks coffee and voila! the coffee break.

Or something like that.

For Trump to shut down part of the government is, I think, a nice thing for the IRS, TSA, HUD, the Coast Guard, NASA and others. They get a little vacation… sort of. Of course, they have to use that vacation to drive Uber and Lyft cars so they can eat, but hey, they get to see their neighborhoods from a new and different perspective.  

Over 800,000 people are getting those vacations, right? Not to mention the secondary and tertiary effects from all them spending less money. So Republicans are happier because it slows down government spending. And that’s a good thing, right?

And! It’s also good for food banks and charities that were feeling a slow down after the Christmas rush. Most of us only give to food banks at Christmas because the poor aren’t as hungry in the winter, right? Now we can give in January, too.

Sometimes shutdowns have nothing to do with politicians. Sears and K-Mart are in bankrupcty. Unfortunately it’s not temporary. I guess that’s what they get for not keeping up with the Amazon. A lot of their workers will get long vacations, which can be nice. Maybe they can have long coffee breaks with government workers. 

Or maybe they can work in Amazon warehouses. I hear that’s a lot of fun.

Politicians are always trying to shut down each other nowadays. The 2016 election was a real shutdown of Democrats; Republicans took over the entire government. In 2018, Democrats took over the House. Recently national voting has been like a pendulum with a pooper scooper at the end: it scoops out one party and scoops in another.  

Which led to the Trump shutdown. Democrats want to shut down Trump’s wall and Trump wants to build it. 

The problem with democracy is all those votes. Whether they happen in the Senate, House, or voting booths, someone’s always voting the wrong way. This frustrates Trump, because as a businessman, people had to do what he said or be fired. He was a dictator. Now Congress does what he says only if they want to. A very pesky difference between business and politics.

Sometimes people get shutdown in business or personal lives. Getting fired is hard. Kind bosses can do it gently and often steer the employee to a different opportunity, particularly if the shut down is not the employee’s fault. I once was rehired by a boss who had fired me years before. I worked for him for five more years and got raises. Breaking up a relationship is similar. When the breakor doesn’t burn the breakee, bridges stay intact. When the breakor is mean and callous, not so likely.

When nature shuts down life, it can be hard. Our French poodle, Philo, died a couple of years ago. The whole family still misses him. But the good thing about nature is it takes and then it gives. Two years later, we just got a new poodle, a rescue. He doesn’t speak French, but he gives me that haughty look when I tell him to sit.

Life is more powerful and longer ranged than you or me or Trump or the Democrats. The shutdown will be shutdown soon, the crazy incompetents in Congress and the White House will be replaced, and life will get back to normal.

I give it about two years.

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It’s All ABout Trust

Trump has been painted into a corner with the government shutdown, because Democrats and Independents don’t trust him.

And that is not only because he’s been caught in nearly 7000 lies since he took office. It’s also because almost every time he agrees to something he later changes the terms. So those are lies, too.

We’re talking about a whole lot of lying.

Whenever someone like Trump says, “Believe me”, it’s probably a good time to check your wallet.

I know a lot about lying. I was once professional liar. I got paid to lie on national TV. On “To Tell The Truth” I pretended to be an Olympic speed walker. There was one other liar and the real guy. He had to tell the truth. The panel had to guess which of us was real. Because lying was relatively new to me (I mean this wasn’t about the dog eating my homework), I was really nervous. I lied as well as I could, but only one person voted for me, Betty White. I think she did it out of sympathy. 

I’ve been a Betty White fan ever since. 

My kids are all pretty trusting, which can be a problem in today’s world. When my son graduated from art school and was struggling to find work, a family friend hired him to build a website. Ben gave him a small down payment and, over ten months, my son built a very complex site, including some original animation. At first Ben raved about the work. Then he moved to another state. When it came time to pay my son, Ben pulled a Trump, figuring no recent art student would file a civil suit in Alabama.

Unfortunately for Ben the art school had taught my son some copyright law so he filed a suit, not in Alabama, but in Federal Court. Including legal fees, Ben ended up paying almost 7 times what he owed. My son still trusts most people, but he follows Reagan’s advice now and verifies too.

Once broken, trust is very hard to rebuild. Car dealers know that; the whole industry is distrusted now. So does Wells Fargo, most of Wall Street, Comcast, health insurers, advertisers, almost all politicians…  

Breaking trust is tough on all relationships. That’s why Trump and Pelosi are at such a stalemate over the “Wall”.  It’s really a case of “who do you trust…less?”

Sometime marriage counselors can help in rebuilding trust in a relationship. In fact, I heard Pelosi and Trump tried that recently.

Marriage Counsel: “So, what seems to be the problem?”

Pelosi: “He wants to build a concrete wall” —

Trump: —“Excuse me! Excuse me! “

Pelosi:  “- across our southern border—“

Trump: “-Excuse me!  Excuse me! It’s a steel wall!”

Pelosi: “Steel, schlemiel! It’s a wall. And you’re not getting it.  And you’re a schlemiel! ”.

Pelosi (whispering to the marriage counselor while looking directly at Trump): “schmeil means ‘dolt’”.

Marriage Counselor: “Now, now. Let’s try to keep this constructive, shall we?”

Trump: “I was in construction. I know a lot about constructive.”.

Pelosi: “I’ll tell you what he’s constructed – a wall of lies to the American people.”

Trump: “Fake news!  Fake news!”

Marriage Counselor: “Now. Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Trump, I think I sense some deep distrust here.”

Pelosi: “Well aren’t you Doctor Insight!”

Marriage Counselor: “Is there some middle ground, some compromise we could agree on?”

Trump: “I already changed from cement to steel. That’s ‘UGE! And she hasn’t compromised on anything.”

Pelosi: “Well, has that changed the cost? No! Has it helped those people fleeing murder and poverty! No. Has it helped me become Speaker… OK. I’ll give you that.”

Marriage counselor: “Now, lets just take some long, deep breaths and see if we could find something to agree on.”

Trump: “Oh! How about this? I’ll call it a barrier. I compromised on cement and now I’ll compromise on calling it a wall – two BIG concessions! That’s a great deal. Believe me.”

Pelosi: “We’re not going to give you money for a wall, fence, barrier –whatever you choose to call it!”

Trump, (folding arms and looking away from both of them): “No wall, no government.”

Marriage Counselor: “Well, how about that, Ms. Pelosi?

Pelosi shrugs: “It’s a manhood thing.” (She leaves the room).

Trump (yelling after her): “Fake news! Fake News!” 

I’ve heard Mark Burnett is thinking of starring them in a new reality TV show: “Who Do You Distrust”.  

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The United States of Amazon

Downtowns weren’t just places for business; they were also centers of community. 

Before Sears, people shopped in town centers. They bought whatever they needed, chatted with distant neighbors, packed the new supplies into buckboards and went home. 

Sears Roebuck customers perused catalogues, chose products, and mailed Sears some money, whereupon Sears mailed them the product. 

Cool, huh.

In the early 1880’s Richard Sears bought a shipment of watches and sold them via mail order. That went well, so he expanded into jewelry, then, in 1887, partnered with Alva Roebuck and opened up Sears Roebuck as a mail order firm. Recognizing that local stores had limited supplies of product, Sears had the novel idea of bypassing bricks and mortar and using catalogues as a marketing device and the Post Office for distribution.

The catalogue became known as the “Consumer’s bible”. By 1895 it had 532 pages. In 1906, they took the company public. 

In 1925, Sears Roebuck started selling kits through its catalogue for making houses. (Four are still standing in Atlantic City, NJ). Around the same time, Henry Ford started selling kits for making stripped down model A’s into small trucks. He shipped pre-cut wood for truck beds and sides to local train stations, where customers “picked them up” and assembled them – thus was born the “pickup truck”.

And you also thought Ikea was an original idea.

Sears Roebuck expanded into stores. They and other stores outgrew town centers, so they built “shopping centers” outside of towns.

Sears Roebuck grew into 400 stores. It launched Allstate Insurance, Dean Witter, and national brands, including Kenmore. By mid century, Sears was the largest retailer in the country.  

That’s when an architect named Victor Gruen decided that shopping centers had destroyed the sense of community once found in town centers. So he designed something called a “mall” – a place for, not just stores, but restaurants and community gathering places, too.  Many of these malls included Sears and other “anchor” stores (big retailers that would attract other stores).

Just as shopping centers destroyed town centers, malls destroyed shopping centers. 

Economists call it “creative destruction”.

Then, as the 20th century wound down, Sears started losing momentum. Walmart and Target overtook it. The retailers who owned Sears sold it to a financial investment company, which merged it with another falling retailer, K-mart.  And, because these finance guys knew little about retailing, the Sears/K-mart combination continued sputtering. 

Today the stock that sold for $195.18 in 2007 now sells for under $4 dollars. Sears/Kmart is on the edge of bankruptcy.

About the time Sears Roebuck started its downward slide, an entrepreneur named Jeff Bezos took Richard Sears’ original idea and modernized it. He, too, cut costs bypassing bricks and mortar. He substituted the Internet for the catalogue, kept the Post Office as a delivery system, and offered a list of products that grew to thousands of pages.

He named his new Sears incarnation Amazon, after the “largest river by discharge volume of water in the world”.

From 1994, when he began selling books below retail out of his garage, until recently, Amazon lost money. Nevertheless, investors poured money into the “new” way of retailing. 

Patience has its virtue:  today, Amazon “discharges” over 3 billion products worldwide, including 564 million in the US alone. It has 100 million Prime customers. In 2017, its revenue grew 31%. Its profit topped $3 billion. Its market capitalization is about $1 trillion. That’s just below the GDP of The United Kingdom, the sixth biggest economy in the world. 

Oh, and, at $123 billion, Bezos is now the richest man in history.  

“Good for him”, you might say. Maybe. Maybe not. 

Amazon is a prime example of the “creative destruction” of the industrial era by the digital era. As such it represents both hope and fear for the future.

It is a cloud computing giant, a retail giant, a smart home device manufacturer, a healthcare startup, a pharmacy, a delivery service, and a data gatherer and analyzer – and the list is growing. It now offers more products and delivers them more painlessly to more consumers than any retailer in history. It has re-invented retail.

But Amazon is also methodically destroying, not just town centers, shopping centers, and malls, but all competition. It is not just the Sears-Roebuck of today; it is becoming the sole market place to the world. And there is really nothing out there to challenge it.

Ready or not, until another “creative destructor” or a “trust buster” like Teddy Roosevelt comes along, welcome to “The United States of Amazon”.

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My New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t like New Years Resolutions. They’re depressing. They remind me of the resolutions I made last year that didn’t make it past the bowl games.

Like being nicer to my neighbors (well, they were rooting for the other teams!). Or putting more money away for my old age (too old for that now). Or doing more writing (the problem is, in order to write you have to have something to say…). Or being nicer to 800 operators (too old for that, too). Or spending more time with my kids (What? When did they grow up? Who let them to move out of town? What!?)

But, it’s back again, New Year’s Eve. And nowhere to hide. So, here goes:

1) Thank my neighbor Mike for fixing the TV antenna. I cut cable and installed a digital antenna two years ago and the picture was never very good. Little wigglies kept appearing and the sound cut in and out. Happy to finally be rid of Comcast, I stubbornly retreated to streaming Netflix. But, as the bowl games approached recently, I got desperate. Knowing Mike is way smarter than me, I asked him to help. It took, maybe, 5 minutes for him move the signal booster from the TV to where the antenna came into the house. Presto! Now I have all channels and can still thumb my nose at Comcast. Thanks Mike!

And thanks to my other neightbors, Susan and Gene and the Lees and the rest, for their advice and friendship in spite of my charm and personality.

2) Try to be nicer to Trump fans. He is definitely going down this year (I hope) and I don’t want to gloat. That would be very unseemly. And besides a lot of his fans have guns.

3) Get a dog. Philo, my best friend ever – our family’s best friend ever – died a couple of years ago. Because of various reasons, including his special place in our hearts, I didn’t want another dog for awhile. But with the kids out of the nest and a propensity for long walks, it’s time.

4) Start that book I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve wanted to do that for years, but, without a deadline, something always came up. Dinner, phone calls, getting the computer fixed, learning the newest version of MS Word, mowing the lawn,.. dinner… Nope, this year I’ll do it. Now, what to write about…

5) Write and direct a play. That’s a lot easier. I already have a deadline. And a great story to tell. 

6) Tell my kids I love them. I’m one of those people who’s always figured actions speak louder than words. But the kids are getting older now. And I remembered recently a lesson I carefully taught them when they were still quite little: “use your words”.

7) Wash and wax the car more often. I know. I look lazy when I say that. But I have an excuse. It’s right here, somewhere…

8) Take up golf again. I played years ago, before my career and kids pre-empted 3 hour breaks. I wasn’t very good at driving or putting, but I was great at divots. Now, in semi-retirement, I actually need 3 hour activities. And where’s there’s a need, I always say.

9) Stop procrastinating and get more exercise. Yep. Get in shape again! Let’s see… Join a gym? Go for long walks? Yoga? Wow! I can’t wait to plan the perfect exercise regimen!

10) Fulfill these resolutions. It’s important to do what you say you’ll do, I always say, including New Year’s Resolutions. At least some of them. I’ll start right after the Bowl games.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Santa and Unqualified Love

You know what the difference is between Santa Clause and the rest of us? Red clothes and a white beard!  Ho! Ho! Ho! 

Just kidding. It’s unqualified love.

Well, except for those who get coal in their stockings. 

Dogs never get coal in their stockings. Know why? They give unqualified love. “He’s just a dog”, a lot of people say. But dogs don’t have that attitude toward us. They hang out with us, guard us, comfort us when we’re down, play with us when we’re happy. They even eat really crummy food. Would you eat dog food after a hard day at work or play?

I rest my case.

Humans aren’t as forgiving as dogs or Santa. We’re constantly qualifying each other. “That person is fantastic!” we think. Then, after getting to know them better, “Oops, a flaw! Disqualified.”   

That’s why there are so many divorces. 

Happy marriages (and families) require and are nourished by unqualified love.

You know who loved without qualification? The guy whose birthday we celebrate this week, Jesus Christ. He came up with a really novel idea: instead of vengeance, he said, “Turn the other cheek” and “love thy neighbor”. It was a very cool idea for the time, kind of like the Internet in today’s world. 

Leaders of other religions had similar ideas, but he’s the guy whose birthday we’re celebrating, so I’ll go with him today.

He loved people with all kinds of flaws, small and large: from leprosy to thievery to torture and murder (including his).

He was a little extreme, of course. I don’t think most of us would love the people who killed us. But I think he did that to set an example of unqualified love.  

I have a friend whose dog just died. She’s sadder than some people are who lost a human. I think it’s because her “Jackson” loved her more than most people love each other. Unqualified love can do that.

Dogs and Jesus. I wonder if, when we leave this earth, we’ll see a dog at the pearly gates. 

“Whoa! Is that you, Philo?”  

“Yep. And I still love you even though you made me wait hours just to  take pee.”  

“Can I come into heaven?” 

“Well sure. But I’m going to pee whenever I want.  And you? You’ll have to wait until I take you out.”

I’ve been to a couple of funerals recently: the national one we all went to (on television) for President George H.W. Bush, and another one in Columbus, Ohio. They both were “Celebrations of Life”.  Both people were highly accomplished and had long marriages, flaws included. Both services included a lot of stories and jokes about loving without qualification.

We tend not to talk about people’s flaws after they die. It makes sense, in a way. Focus on the happy memories. But it doesn’t make sense in another way. Humans aren’t perfect. And our flaws help make us who we are. They frequently inform our virtues.

A virtue in one situation can be a flaw in another.

H. W. took part in the Iran-Contra scandal, for example, but saved Kuwait – patriotism was there in both cases.  The woman in Columbus led and started a number of highly successful non-profits at the same time she was raising four kids. Her secret? She did not – how should I put this – suffer fools? A flaw? Sometimes, but also a reason she accomplished so much.  

The flaw/virtue combination happens a lot. Hard work can be a virtue; being a workaholic a flaw. Sensitivity can be a virtue; oversensitivity a flaw. Speech making in public can be a virtue; speech making at home a flaw. Making a point once: a virtue, repeating it a…. (OK. I’ll stop)

Which takes us back to the notion of unqualified love. We all want it, but it’s kind of hard to get from other humans. 

So here’s my plan for 2019: we all make lists of our flaws and lists of our virtues. Next we simply eliminate the flaws (those that aren’t also virtues). And Presto! We’re shoo-ins for unqualified love. From everyone, including Santa!

Pretty cool plan, huh. I wonder why no one thought of it before?

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