advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On An Alternative Mother's Day, Or, How Much Is That Dog Bone In The Window?

The whole thing started with a dog bone.

A gift wrapped dog bone, to be exact.

My girlfriend and I had only been a couple for maybe one or two years when the first shot was fired across the bow-by her mother.

She sends these crazy Christmas packages every year, and that was the year she sent me the bone. Oh, there was no mistake-the gift tag was quite clear about that. She also sends things like the “world’s tiniest boombox”, and little crazy toys, and 16-function get the idea.

Obviously a response was in order, and next Christmas it was delivered: the dog bone wreath (more or less 50 dog bones strung around a hoop, with a lovely ribbon), was enclosed in our return box. I had spent months searching for the perfect return message, and just by happenstance it turned up at the flower shop.

Somehow the Bosley Group had, by this time, taken an interest in my receding hairline. Every week or so my mailbox had Bosley’s newest advice about “restoring more than just hair”. There was sudden new mail regarding my interest in curing my problems with enuresis. A certain $7 a month life insurance company was, out of the blue, interested in my life. Now I knew (or at least I was pretty sure I knew-I have been forgetful on occasion...) that I wasn’t signing up for this stuff, and it was fairly obvious that escalation was going to be required. And I was willing to escalate.

I admit, before proceeding, that innocent trees were harmed by this portion of my story, and I apologize for those who will take offense at my actions. Unfortunately war will result in collateral damage, and this was quickly becoming war.

The Wall Street Journal provides a handy service for those wishing the opportunity to peruse the annual reports of major corporations, and I went ahead and signed her up for the service. Suddenly, she was telling my girlfriend (who by this time was firmly established as The Girlfriend) on the phone about being inundated by reports from Switzerland, for God’s sake, and who knows where else...about 75 in total found their way to her door over the period of a few months. I had apparently impressed her with this attack, and she knew she was facing a worthy opponent.

Just to bring a sense of perspective: this is not an angry war by any means. Imagine instead, the 1859 Pig War between the US and Britain-a bit of muscle flexing, but nothing serious.

The crazy gifts continued-in both directions. We love (uncompensated endorsement ahead) the Archie McPhee store (your best source for Zombie Brain Gelatin molds, Corn Dog air fresheners, and Avenging Narwhal Play Sets!), and have, over the years, sent a substantial portion of their inventory to The Girlfiend’s mother-including Nunzilla (a wind-up sparking nun who would probably spank Mothra with a ruler if he got out of hand...but I digress).

As a joke, I reminded her that if I really had wanted to escalate I would have donated $10 to a televangelist and asked for financial advice-but I’m not that mean.

She was.

The Crystal Cathedral, it turns out, is in pretty much constant need of repairs and expansion, and it costs a fortune to keep Dr. Schuller on the air. It was also costing him a fortune to send me, in a most determined manner, missives urging my support of the various emergencies down there at the old Cathedral. I’m not kidding either-that is some determined bunch of fundraisers on that crew.

It was time to roll with a serious response now-and I had my army ready.

My army of free samples.
Deodorant, tampons, and my personal second favorite, Attends, all began to descend upon her mailbox. It was actually starting to have an effect-she was expressing concern about what the mailman would think about her...

Ever read the ads in the back of Food Technology magazine?
I do.

Which is how I found the best thing yet-the sample of artificial lard (yes, artificial lard) that turned up in the surprisingly heavy box on her doorstep one afternoon, all warm in the San Diego summer.

Caught her by surprise, that one did.
“Where the hell did he find that?!” was the basic tenor of the response.

Somewhere around this time the cards began to be addressed to “Sonny”.
This was the first indication that I was winning...

We‘ve been at this so long that the “everything old becomes new again” theory has come to pass. Consider this: one Christmas she sent me the “Bushwhacker”-a three foot tall inflatable “bop bag” with George Bush’s image. George H.W. Bush. 20 years later, it’s just as good a present as it was then.

Over the years shopping for gifts has evolved from a “tit for tat” to shopping for “necessities”. The most recent package, having arrived Thursday, is a perfect example-See’s candy gift certificates (she’s apparently the only person who gets 4 pounds of “Scotchmallow”-and nothing else) being the most important item of all. But lately, she’s begun to watch DVDs of the films she enjoyed in times past. (12 Shirley Temple movies really hit the spot last year...). The wind-up pig that poops jellybeans was a hit, but the “peas and carrots” candy mix-not so much...

Shopping no longer fits around holidays, either, which is why I have to pick up a copy of “Gigi” this week-we’re already starting a new box the week after sending the old box. (She actually reads these stories, so no surprise package this time, I suppose.)

So that’s my Mother’s Day story-a story that started with me getting a gift-wrapped doggie bone, and finds me today having gained a second Mom.

Author’s Note: Your friendly fake consultant took an unexpected week off, and with the exception of watching the Gonzales hearings, had little to do with the “real” world; and I would encourage all of you to do the same. I will be returning with “real world” stories as the week progresses.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A Fake Consultant Field Trip: John Edwards Visits The Fighting Trojans

It was a cool spring afternoon, the sun peeking out from behind occasionally gray and ominous patches of clouds.

The kind of spring day that carries the hope of renewal-the time of the season when it seems every team has a shot at the pennant.

The wind was blowing from right to left-the kind of wind that favors the batter.
You just knew the ball would be flyin’ out of the old yard today.

The old yard-Everett Memorial Stadium-is the home of one of the best logos in baseball: the home of the Aquasox. (Go Frogs!)

As far as I know, this is the only professional baseball team to ever take the field in tie-dye, and the “Frogstock” uniforms are a look that’s ready for “the show”.

But that doesn’t matter today.

Today we’re headed across town, to Everett Community College, the home of the Trojans, because John Edwards is expected in an hour or so.

Everett, Washington, is a former timber “hub” located more or less 30 miles up I-5 from Seattle, where logs floated downriver from the Cascade Mountains to be processed in the timber and pulp mills. As the forested land decreased, so has the processing activity downstream, and the formerly prosperous town has had to work to gain back that lost income.

Naval Station Everett, opened in 1994, supports an aircraft carrier and several other ships.

This is the city where the railroad serving the Pacific Coast makes a right turn to Chicago, but that’s hardly Everett’s biggest impact on world transportation.

That would be the Boeing assembly facility next to Paine Field, where 747, 767, and 777 subassemblies are merged into finished aircraft on production lines in the world’s largest building.

This is a blue collar town, big time.

And apparently, a town that was ready to meet John Edwards.

With an hour to go before the event, the line was already longer than the 300-seat capacity of the room. At a minimum, this would be a standing-room only crowd.

The room filled quickly, first the seats, then the standing room, then the space out behind the open door at the back of the room; and more folks showing up all the time. By my estimate between 550 and 600 turned out, for a Tuesday 2PM event.

In a move reminiscent of the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Edwards’ staffers were forced to open a Riff-Raff Room for the spillover crowd.

I expected to see an early 20’s college-age crowd, but that was not what I saw-instead, staffers were observed bringing in younger faces to seat early.

The average age of the crowd was probably closer to mid-to-late thirties, with substantial numbers of audience members who appeared to be in their 60’s or older. Much of that group (perhaps 30), were in nursing uniforms, and medical programs are offered at the school.

Edwards was late, having just attended a union town hall meeting, but it was accepted with good humor by the crowd, and the Mayor of Everett, Ray Stephanson; who had to endure a collective groan from the crowd as he was introduced as the third introducer of Edwards.

But now we introduce…

John Edwards.

Quickly: selected high points from the speech…

--The crowd strongly agreed with his exhortation that the Iraq spending bill be returned, with timelines, again and again, until it is signed. (As I’m writing a rumor is being offered that “timelines” will be replaced by “guidelines” in order to craft a deal, but I cannot verify this.)

--He suggested supporters and opponents alike consider joining One Corps-not necessarily to do politics, but if they wanted, to do politically agnostic “service” work for the common good.

--Edwards proposed the US spend $3-4 billion annually to educate citizens in other countries, as a form of foreign aid that would create affinity between those students and the US. In the Middle East, these schools would present an alternative to the madrassa system, he explained, and would help enhance US security long-term.

--He discussed the economic advantages of developing alternative fuel technologies here in the US, suggesting 1-2 million “green jobs” could be created.

--As he has often, he reminded the crowd: “You must be patriotic about something other than war”.

--“Distributed generation” and the idea of providing incentives to utility companies to compensate for lost sales caused by improved conservation efforts-wait a minute…what was that?

Yes, I said that correctly-Edwards wants to compensate the utilities for lost sales caused by conservation. Why? Otherwise there is no incentive for a utility to sell less electricity-no benefit to the producer for a change in the structure of the market, and the producer is less likely to cooperate. The crowd seemed to be in agreement.

Why conservation? We use 22 million barrels of oil a day, he reports; 12 million of that is imported.

--He again proposed a goal of 25% of electrical generation be supplied by alternative fuels, and a goal of 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.

--He discussed the “dysfunctional” nature of our health system, another topic that was well received by the crowd.

--A very popular proposal was his “college for everyone” national service initiative. It’s easy to explain: volunteer ten hours a week, and your tuition and books are paid for. It was not just students applauding this proposal, I might add.

I’m not going to walk through all the questions, but I’ll tell you the best, most honest answer I heard all day. When asked about RFID chips and their effect on privacy, Edwards, in an especially bold move, looked the questioner dead in the eye, and answered: “I don’t know.”

The questions answered, he did the crowd, and seemed (forgive me Hillary) to have a “Bill Clinton” crowd presence-the “acknowledge you to the exclusion of all others” kind of perceived genuine interest that seemed to serve him well in this crowd today.

Afterwards, Edwards came out back for a quick media huddle, and then once more he was off to shake hands-this time with the supporters who had been in the Riff-Raff room.

Then into the van, and off to another night on the rubber chicken circuit-the Law Day dinner being the fundraising stop for the evening.

So there you have it: the visiting player comes to town, makes a few pitches, fields a few questions-and looked like he might have knocked one out of the park.

Not a bad day at the old ballyard, if you ask me.