Sunday, June 30, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

I confess that I really hadn't paid much attention to Paula Deen prior to the recent troubles.  I don't watch the Food Network and I didn't look at any of her cookbooks as I had always been told that her food was not particularly healthy.  I really had no opinion about her.  I still don't have much of one.  Other than she is proof that business acumen is no real predictor of actual intelligence.  That, and her "empire",as it were, seems to be falling in and around her ears after she fessed up in a deposition to use of the "n" word.  That the deposition was being taken pursuant to a discrimination case filed against her by 2 former employees seems to have caused but a ripple in the national consciousness.

Despite profuse and tearful apologies, the Food Network and all of her other sponsors are dropping her like a hot rock.  This has caused her supporters to threaten boycotts of these sponsors (2 of them being Wal-Mart and Target ) and of the Food Network.  A more clement reaction came from an unusual source when Rev. Jesse Jackson chimed in to say that her apology was sufficient for him.  Former President Jimmy Carter is on the record as saying that she has suffered enough.  And some of the commentary has been completely ridiculous, such as Glenn Beck's comparing the furor against her to be reminiscent of McCarthyism.

Which leads me to my first point.  Some folks have referred to the reaction of her skeedadadling sponsors as "censorship."  It is not.  Censorship is when the government comes in and takes your laptop for something you have written.  Or arrests you for something you said.  Corporations making the business decision that its spokesperson is sufficiently divisive to cost it money is not censorship.  It's business.  Look at Michael Vick.

My second point is that whether you believe that  boycotts are fair typically follows the principle of the gored ox.  As I have written in the past, I don't have a problem with boycotts.  People can spend,or not spend, their money anyway they damn well please.  So if Paula's supporters want to stick it to Target or Wal-Mart that's jake with me.  My only thought is that I'm guessing, giving the apparent strata which is supportive of Paula, that a goodly number of these boycotters didn't think much of it when the gay folks urged a boycott of Chik Fil'A.   Again, the gored ox.

Finally, I also confess that I have a little sympathy for the ole diabetic slinger of high sugar foods.  It's not like she got caught in a casual conversation using racial slurs.  She gave truthful answers under oath during a deposition.  What was she supposed to do?  Lie?  And the fact that the deposition was taken in a discrimination case against her doesn't mean much to me.  While I don't know much about the case at hand, I have defended more than one such case that was merit-free.  Granted the story about wanting black folks in plantation garb to serve the guests at a party (or whatever it was) was just plain stupid.

But she's a woman of her age and station.  And she evidently ain't real bright.  That's not to defend her.  But it's not like they got video of her catering a Klan rally.  Again, it's the companies' right to disassociate themselves with her if they want.  It's the law of the jungle, baby.  It may be neither right nor fair.  But it's Business 101.  You can't let somebody hurt the brand.

I suspect she will be OK.  After all, Michael Vick started getting sponsors again.  Nike even took him on again.  And he killed, or caused to be killed, a bunch of dogs.

So you never know.  She may not ever get the diabetes drug manufacturer back.  But maybe someday she can pitch recipes for Jenny Craig.  Is this a great country or what?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

I saw the poster for the first time when I was taking a walk in the neighborhood.  It depicted an earnest looking young man named Lucas sitting with a guitar.  The poster advertised guitar lessons.

"Do you have a guitar in your house that you aren't playing?"

Actually I did.  Note the clever use of past tense as dramatic foreshadowing.

I sent him an email.  We went back and forth.  Told him I could play pretty well at one time but hadn't really played in 20 years or so. I told him that I wanted to take it back up but didn't know where to start.  He seemed to act like this was no big impediment.  Still, I was hesitant.  He was playing out in the neighborhood that night.  He invited me to come hear him to judge for myself.

Fair enough.

When I got there he was sitting outside the local butcher shop/sandwich place playing the living hell out of a Stratocaster.  Jazz.  Improvising.  Riffing off of scales with his girlfriend by his side.  I went inside and asked Kevin what he thought about the kid outside.  Kevin was a professional musician at one time.  I figured he would have an informed opinion.

He pointed to the street.  "THAT boy can play," he said.  All I needed to hear.  When Lucas came in to get a drink I introduced myself and a week later I found myself standing in front of a rent house behind the Methodist church with a guitar case in my hand, fixing to go in for my first lesson in easily 45 years.

To paraphrase Mr. Eliot "In short, I was nervous."

I don't know why I quit playing.  I guess I felt like I was too busy to really take it seriously.  Maybe I was too busy trying to learn how to play golf.  Sheer laziness cannot be discounted in its entirety either.  But there I was.  Me and the old Ovation that my father gave me when I graduated from high school.  Going to give myself over to a 24 year old to try to make the damn thing produce music again.

"So," he said after I had unpacked and stationed myself in front of him. "What do you want to do?"

"I don't know. I don't know where to start."

" Can you play the C, G and D chords?"

"Well, yeah."

"Cool. Let's play 'Twist and Shout' then"

He set the metronome on-naturally-his IPhone.  He played it first and then the two of us proceeded to play the first Largo version of Twist and Shout in history.  It wasn't very good.  But it was playing the guitar again.  And it was a lot of fun.

He told me to send him a list of songs I wanted to try to learn to play.  In between learning those we would would be working on technique and theory.  Sounded good to me.

We did some Neil Young the second lesson.  Went pretty easy.

"Seeeeeeee?" he said, in the way of teachers everywhere. "You're 10 times better than you were last week.  You can do this."

"You think?"

"Oh yeah.  I can tell you once could play and that you are a musician.  This is gonna be fine.  Trying to teach that 40 year old guy that has no musical background who wants to take up the guitar, now THAT'S a challenge.  But tell me.  What you wanna do with this?  What's your goal?"

"You really want to know?" I asked.

He took a sip of his chocolate milk while nodding his head.

"I want to go to open mike night at the Afterthought.  I want to play and sing again and not suck. That's all."

He pit down the chocolate milk.

"Oh, it's gonna suck," he said.

Hey, great.

"Don't take that the wrong way.  It's gotta to hit a certain level to suck."

"I'm not following you."

"Well, you told me that you like to play golf but that you suck.  But you can play golf.  And playing golf is really hard to do."

Ah.  A sports metaphor.  Now I'm dialing in.

"So while you may suck, we just have to make sure that you don't reallllllly suck.  So, I'm gonna sit in with you when you perform."


"Oh yeah," he said with a smile. "This will be fun."

Lucas will be going off on tour with some band after next week.  He said he's going to overload me with stuff to do while he is gone.  This week, he wants me to learn a basic blues progression just because he says every guitar player needs to learn some blues.

Learning to play again is really hard.  But it is great fun.  The most fun I've had in years.

Besides, while Lucas may have me playing the blues.  He's not gonna let me really suck.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Father's Day Feeling

I've written before that I tend to forget Father's Day.  I remember Mother's Day but I forget Father's Day.  I guess it's because I don't have any children of my own although I did receive the nicest complement yesterday from straight out of the blue.  I'll get to that in a bit.  Maybe I don't remember Father's Day because my own father passed away so long ago.  By the way, Buck is the tall man with the glasses standing on the right.  I don't recall the other men.  Maybe I knew them at one time.  Just like I knew my father at one time.  Anyway, all the men in the picture are armed with little trophies. They must have won the company golf tournament or something.  Buck was a pretty good golfer.  I'm sure he would have been amused when I took up the goddamn game in my forties.

Maybe I don't remember Father's Day because I am pretty impervious to advertising.  Which is an odd statement from one who spends a good bit of his week sussing out deceptive claims in advertising.  I guess I just don't pay attention when I'm not on the clock.

A kid at Catholic High asked me how long I had been on my own.  I told him that I had been on my own ever since my father dropped dead when I was 21.  At least it felt that way.  That was 36 years ago.

So no, Father's Day isn't much on my emotional radar screen.  It's a good day to buy sporting goods and not much else.  Oh, I congratulate my friends and brothers.  But I never see the day coming anymore.

It hit me about the middle of last week while I was getting my hair cut.

"Damn, Bobby," I said to the image in the mirror.  "Sunday's Father's Day.  I completely forgot."

My friends Steve and Ann and I have been trying to get together for sometime.  She told me to pick a day.  Guess which day I picked?

"Gee Bob," I said.  "I need to change some plans.  I accidentally horned in on Father's Day.  Again, I completely forgot.  But then again, I haven't had a father in so long..."

Bob Hilliard has cut my hair since I came back from Tulane.  He knows me pretty well.

"Stop," he said as he undid the cloak.  "You have a father.  He's just not with us anymore.  My dad and your dad are both dead.  But we both have fathers."

True enough.  Interesting perspective.

I sent Steve a text when I returned home.

" It just occurred to me that Sunday is Father's Day.  I certainly don't wish to intrude."

Here's the response: "No intrusion.  Come be part of the family."

It will be my privilege to do so.

Now the compliment.  Earlier yesterday Dennis, who is one of my trainers, checked in on me.  He had tried to kill me Thursday morning and he wanted to know how I was faring.  Even by Saturday I felt like I had been hit by a cement truck.  So, it wouldn't do to share my response in this, a family blog.  But I did man up and wish the architect of my misery a happy Father's Day.

"Same to you my friend," the response said. "Same to you."


"Yes you are a father to all those who you willingly mentor."

Damn.  I teared up.

If anybody has said anything nicer to me recently I sure don't remember it.  Such a kindness.  And from a man that could knock you into next Tuesday. These things always astound me.

I'm honored to be part of a big Catholic family's Father Day celebration tonight.  I have a little bottle of something for the man of the hour.  I've got a little something for my Godson who turned 13 last Friday.

And this year, I even got something for me.  From my buddy Big Dennis.  And just like most Father's Days I didn't see it coming.

Happy Father's Day.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

I had never heard of Shannon Richardson until the other day.  She is evidently an actor and has appeared in shows like "The Living Dead" and "Vampire Diaries."  Of course, I had never heard of these shows either.  As my alleged friend and neighborhood pediatrician Jenny Paul hurtfully put it on Facebook once, I am behind the times.

I  took notice of Shannon after the FBI arrested her for sending ricin- laced correspondence to President Obama and the Mayor of New York.  Ricin is a by-product of the castor bean.  In its weaponized form it is a totally lethal poison for which there is no antidote.  An almost microscopic amount of the stuff is capable of killing a grown man.

Did Shannon allegedly commit these crimes out of misguided political motives?  No.  She did it to frame her estranged husband, whose child she is carrying, to gain the upper hand in their impending divorce.

Now there's some thinking.

Get this.  Shannon, whom we may safely assume is not exactly bent over double with brains, goes to the local authorities in order to tell them that she found these here castor beans in the house over to New Boston, Texas along with some notes on her soulmate's desk with the addresses for the President and the Mayor contained therein.  You don't have to be Dick Fucking Tracy to guess what the first thing out of the mouths of the cops was:

"Do you have a home botany kit?  How the hell you know those are castor beans?"

Things went swiftly to hell in a bucket after that.  Shannon foolishly consented to a polygraph exam which of course she flunked.  By this time the Feds have come swooping in and discover evidence of research in how to manufacture ricin on their home computer.  Research conducted during periods of time when her husband is away at work.

Oops!  Ya know, is hard enough to bamboozle the local cops, let alone the FBI and the Secret Service once they get to poking around.  But then again, I believe it is safe to say that Shannon is not exactly the second coming of Madame Curie.

I have often said that one should leave the commission of crimes to criminals.  They are just better at it than people like you and me.

I went to a Continuing Legal Education seminar a month or so ago.  An FBI agent gave a presentation on Hate Crimes during which he told the story of the prosecution of these knuckleheads up around Searcy who burnt a cross at an apartment complex where a black man had the temerity to be living.  I remarked at the time that I had generally done well in school, and hold both a college and a law degree.

And I have no doubt that I could not attempt to ignite a cross or make crystal meth without blowing myself to Kingdom Come.  I never cease to wonder how full time morons accomplish such feats.  The good FBI agent allowed as how law enforcement is occasionally as mystified as I am about these matters.  This goes double for idiots who try to manufacture ricin which is really, really dangerous.

Similarly it would not occur to me to attempt to make threats to elected officials in hopes of laying it off on my spouse in order to gain the upper hand in a divorce proceeding.  There are way too many moving parts to that story.  And would have required much wool to be pulled over the collective eyes of the cops and the judiciary.  A nodding acquaintance with Occam's Razor would have done Shannon a world of good.  (Look up Occam's Razor.  It won't kill you.)

Hell, a nodding acquaintance with simple common sense would served her even better.

No, I never heard of Shannon Richardson until the other day.  Maybe I'll check out the zombie shows she performed in that I never heard of either.  Like Dr. Jenny says, I am behind the times.

Besides, it looks like that's the only place most of us will be seeing Shannon for the next 10 years or so.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

I do a little work for a non-profit.  They station me at a desk in the conference room.  Last week I shared my space with auditors.  They were there performing the yearly audit that all non-profits have to go through.  I remember spending much quality time with auditors when I was the President of the Board of the local women's shelter.

Now, my current boss is a straight up kinda gal.  And the Executive Director over at Women and Children First is as well.  And still, the auditors had questions.  It's their job.  Sometimes stuff looks funny.  Expenditures sometimes don't get readily tied down to justifiable business reasons.  People forget to write stuff down.  It happens.  When the business is run by straight up people, explanations are found.  Corrective measures are taken if needed based on the auditors' recommendations and things roll on until the next year when it happens all over again.  Complete and total transparency will cure a lot of problems while you are getting audited.

For those of you who don't know the lady in the mugshot, this is Martha Shoffner who recently resigned as the Arkansas State Treasurer after she was charged by the Feds with extortion under something called the Hobbs Act.  It is alleged that she was caught taking a cash payment concealed in a pie box from an informant wearing a wire.  The informant is widely suspected in the media to have been employed as a broker with a small investment shop over in Russellville, Arkansas with whom the Treasurer's office did a substantial amount of business.

Shoffner's troubles began with-guess who?-the auditors when she couldn't provide them with a reasonable explanation-or any explanation really-why her office a) did so much business with this firm and b) as to whose idea was it to sell some bonds prior to maturity which resulted in a 700k hicky to the State's portfolio.

Now, that's all I am going to say about the criminal case.  She has the right to defend herself and her guilt or innocence will be determined by the jury.  As it should be.

What I am going to talk about is how it makes absolutely no sense for a 3 billion dollar investment portfolio to be managed by somebody whose only qualification is to win a statewide election.  Arkansas has too many Constitutional elective offices that serve very little useful purpose other than to give politicians a seat to warm until they are term limited or are elected to something else.  One exception to this general rule was Jimmie Lou Fisher who was Shoffner's predecessor  in office.  She brought the Treasurer's office into the 21st century.  I love Jimmie Lou.  But it's a low bar.

The State Auditor doesn't audit a damn thing.  The Land Commissioner sells property for the delinquent taxes.  The Lieutenant Governor presides over the Senate and causes headaches for the Governor whenever he leaves the State.  The Secretary of State at least is in charge of corporate filings and voting.  At least that's something.  The state would be better off if the people would abolish these nickleshit offices that haven't been particularly relevant or even needed since the Depression.  We would be better off to put these offices under the aegis of the Governor who would appoint presumably qualified people to run them.

I'm not the first person to suggest this.  Indeed, the press has been bristling with similar suggestions.  But this would take a constitutional amendment.  And Arkansas being Arkansas, there would be grumblings that this would put too much power in the hands of the Governor .  So it will probably never happen.

OK.  Here's a second thought.  Raise the salary in some of these offices.  Take the Treasurer's office.  The taxpayers pay the person in that job $54,000.  To manage a portfolio of 3 billion.  This is insane.  No wonder the Martha Shoffners of this world run for these rinky dink offices.  In her case, she needed the money and secondly there is no economic incentive for a person with expertise in the investment business to want that job.  For example, I don't know how much money the man that manages what passes for my portfolio makes per year.  But I bet it is at least about 5 times what the Treasurer's gig pays.  Indeed, I make more money than that office pays.  And I'm semi-retired.  Under these facts, it is a miracle from God that something like the Shoffner mess hasn't happened before now.

According to an article published last Sunday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Shoffner had trouble paying the rent for an apartment in downtown Little Rock.  Her present difficulties are not just a scandal.  Or a tragedy, although personally I refuse to see a tragic dimension to selling your office for rent money if indeed that turns out to be the case.

It's an embarrassment to the State of Arkansas.  Sometimes you really do get what you pay for.