Sparks on Kindling

September 20, 2007

Black students congregating under the white students’ tree.  Nooses hung on said tree.  It is recommended that white students get expelled but instead get an in-school suspension.  Black students stage a protest (allegedly peaceful), police break it up.  Numerous fights between whites and blacks occur.  District Attorney J. Reed Walters issues his now-famous statement “I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.  White student pulls a gun on a black student, who wrestles the gun away from him; black student charged with theft.  White student attacks black students for going to a white party, and gets probation.  Black students attack white student and get charged with attempted murder.

In the meantime, someone sets the school on fire.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton both show up.  Thousands march on the town.  On the 6:30 news a bunch of black people talk about how racism is still prevalent today and a bunch of white people talk about how Jena, Louisiana is not a racist town.

My, we’re a touchy bunch, aren’t we?

The Guardian sees this as an everyday story in America, apart from the nooses.  I see it as sparks on kindling.


Follow the Leader

September 20, 2007

Who led the Buffalo area when it was at its greatest? Mayors like Charles Bishop, Edgar Jewett and Conrad Diehl, that’s who. I never heard of them, but they were the mayors at the turn of the 19th century when Buffalo was home to the largest number of millionaires per capita, so they must have been doing something right. Call this the age of the politicians.

Then came the immigrants, steel manufacturing and lifelong jobs. The early 1900s was also known for the rise of the great churches, strong ethnic neighborhoods, and community strength. Call this the age of the diocese.

The political leadership that followed the wane of the Catholic Church’s influence in the 1950s did not provide the moral and ethical strength that the Church could, and ever since we have been living through a period of weak and ineffective leaders. They’ve given us a legacy of patronage jobs and little else.

So who will come and save us? Where can we find great leadership today? Whom can we trust? Maybe the University at Buffalo?

The UB 2020 plan calls for 10,000 more students, hundreds more faculty and a cool $80 million additional community revenue from just the students alone. UB also plans to get a much bigger share of federal and state research dollars to pump up what they call a knowledge-based economy. But that’s not why we’ll rely on them for community leadership.

We’ll rely on them because they’ll be the big gorilla. I look forward to the day when the University has so much clout that politicians, business leaders and the community at large will get behind it out of the fear of being left behind.

We have been a rather timid collective society led, poorly at times, for 8 generations. We will welcome our new overlord with open arms. And I think the University will succeed in taking us a heckuva lot further than any of our elected officials have taken us in God knows how many years.

The Demands of the Enterprise

September 18, 2007

I’ve been out of town, on business, for the past several days.

As a partner in a persistently lean small business there is little room to take on new initiatives, so when they happen I’m generally called upon to fit them into an already over-filled schedule.  I have learned that this is pretty normal for many, if not most, small businesses.

What I found out this week is that it’s also true of big businesses.  I met with officers and representatives from a number of large upstate companies this week, and they are all overworked, overscheduled and just plain tired.  You could see it in everyone’s eyes, and it was only Monday.  We ate dinner yesterday commiserating over beer and wine about the hours we spend on relentless demands from our jobs.  All agreed that for most company managers the 40-hour work week is out of reach – way out of reach.

Lean manufacturing practices, the profit demands put upon a company by its shareholders, and a dismal upstate economy conspire to force elimination of any slop in corporate structure; but the work once performed by many still needs to be done by the remaining few.  As a result one can expect that the abnormal weeks will require superhuman efforts.

This week, last week and the week before that were all abnormal for me.

The excitement of involvement in entrepreneurial business is tempered by the relentlessness of its demands.  The work never, ever stops.

The Un-Information Age

September 13, 2007

Huh?This is interesting short read.

In an article entitled Online User-Driven News Gives Mainstream Media A Run the writer refers to Internet news-based articles as being “more diverse, yet also more fragmented and transitory than that of the mainstream news media.” 

The question before the reader is whether or not this is good or bad, and the last argument in the report claims that it accelerates the dumbing-down of news.  I liked the article’s last quote in particular:  The people formerly known as the audience may turn out to be the people formerly known as informed.

I think the phenomenon of dumbing down actually has more to do with the availability of entertainment alternatives than with traditional media versus Internet.  Not so long ago the news was the only thing on at 6.  If you didn’t like watching the news then one of the few alternatives you had was reading about it.  News had a virtual monopoly in the early evening.

Then came cable, channel dilution and a slip in the ratings.  With greater entertainment choice for every pair of eyeballs, newspapers and other news media began to lose popularity as well; and the slide into obscurity really accelerated when the Internet opened up myriad ways to capture one’s attention.

Today, the ratio of traditional news sources to other information sources is probably the lowest it’s ever been, and that is bound to continue.  Traditional sources will fight back by becoming more like the titillating media sites that drew their audience away in the first place.  The ever-growing Internet, with millions of choices, will only accelerate the trend.

So, say goodbye to the traditional news media – they are circling the drain.  In particular, say goodbye to in-depth reporting and hello the 30-second rundown.  Dumbing-down also means that the competition for the attention-grabbing sound bite will increase dramatically.

And since it grabs your attention, I’ll argue that cursing on the news will soon be everywhere and commonplace.


Fears and Doubts

September 10, 2007

I fear that American society will continue to degrade as individuals isolate themselves by the convenience of high-tech; so I will encourage everyone to participate in as many social activities as possible.

I doubt that the United States will regain the global respect it has lost since the Iraq war; but I am still proud to be an American.

I fear that the United States will never regain the global respect it had before the Iraq war; so I encourage everyone to be good U.S. ambassadors.

I doubt that I will be remembered 60 years from now; yet I’m okay with that.

I fear that what I am able to give to my children is less than what my parents were able to give to me; so I continue to work as hard as I can, for them.

I doubt that I will accomplish half of what I want to accomplish; but I will keep trying anyway.

I fear that I won’t remember my wife’s name on my deathbed; so I call her by name every single day.

I doubt that we are alone in the universe; and I hope I’m alive when we make contact.

I fear that my belief in God is all for naught; but I will pray to Him anyway.

That Other Casino – The Buffalo Bills

September 9, 2007

Buffalo Bills Logo - 60sThroughout the 70s, 80s and half of the 90s I was a rabid Bills fan. Then something happened. I started working at one of the stadium’s many concession stands as a volunteer for my church, and actually went to the stadium every home game.

In the process I grew older, and perhaps, less interested in the physicality of football because I could more easily appreciate what the body blows from 300-pound linemen were doing to other players. I could more easily sense the aches that will never go away for guys not out of their twenties.

Perhaps it was because I got tired of serving food to crude, impatient, rowdy, overweight and often drunk fans. Or perhaps it was the quality of the product – the dearth of winning seasons and less than exciting football – that did it.

Whatever the reason, I lost interest in the Bills and football in general. I came to the realization that the Bills organization has been, and continues to be, just another Casino – a locale where a middle class that can barely afford a mortgage gives away a few C-notes at a time to millionaires who care relatively little about the community that’s making them wealthy.

If the Bills were owned by the Seneca Nation instead of Ralph Wilson would we be protesting their presence as much as we protested the Casino’s? Are the people who objected to the construction of the Casino the same ones who pay $25 just for the privilege of parking at the Ralph? Does anyone else see this game as an obsession similar to a slot machine addiction?

Like the Casino, I do not believe that the Bills are a good investment. The community at large does not seem to get an effective return on the money spent. Buffalo Bills goodwill certainly has value, but I suspect that many, many other organizations – like Goodwill! – can provide much more of it, much more efficiently. Paying million-dollar salaries to players who will likely return only a tiny fraction of that in goodwill does not make good sense under any economic circumstances, much less so in an economically depressed community.

Yet we continue to throw tons of private and public money at the team and meanwhile, our schools and our infrastructure continue to rot away. We should be working ourselves into a lather about them. Instead the average Joe is more concerned about the team’s lease agreement than how to raise our SAT scores.

As a community we’ve got this really warped sense of priority. We have deluded ourselves into living this fantasy world every Fall Sunday rather than doing much about the reality we live in the rest of the week.

Typical Day

September 7, 2007

Tired Man7:00 Have a first-time meeting with someone with whom I have one degree of separation at least 3 different ways. Only in Buffalo would this happen. (Buffalo is not a small town; it’s a closet).

8:00 Take a couple hours to participate in meeting number two, which has to do with WNY but nothing to do with my job

10:30 Get back to work and start in on the morning work load

10:40 Leave for a 10:45 client meeting that I forgot to write down on my calendar

1:30 Get back from client meeting and start in on the morning work load

2:00 Meet with fellow employee who needs to complain about another employee (one more HR issue to defuse)

3:00 Meet with a potential client that my Sales manager set up at the last minute

4:00 Leave for a 4:30 appointment that I will most likely miss because it will take me 45 minutes to get there

5:05 Start in on my morning work load.

Screw it. It’s Friday. I’ll try once again to catch up over the weekend.

Weeks like this make me question whether or not entrepreneurial ventures are worth all the aggravation.