Thursday, December 30, 2010

an odd life…

I slept until 8:30 this morning.  That never happens.

My day usually begins around 4:30.  I turn on MSNBC for “Way Too Early” and “Morning Joe”.  I usually go over emails that came in overnight, try to answer them, and get adjusted to the day.  I’m not a snooze alarm person.  When I’m awake, I’m awake.

Because most of our work is done in China, I can still get things done in real time, not the next day.  They’re 13 or 14 hours ahead of us, depending on standard or daylight time.  It sounds crazy, but we can save a ton of time just communicating on the same day.  So, I check in with them. 

Then, depending on whether I’m traveling or not, I either take a shower and get out the door between 6:30 and 7:00, or I just keep working until I run out of immediate things to do.  Some days, that goes until 10:00 or later. 

If I’m traveling, I put in some earbuds and start making calls, starting at about 7:30 on the east coast, and I make calls westward as the time goes on.  I usually get to the office by 9:00.

So, for those of you who wonder what I’m doing, and why I have so much information; this is why.

What an odd way to work and live.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

going up?…….

On the topic of gas at $3.10, we are currently at historically high prices for this time of year.  While speculators might be involved, and demand in the U.S. is down, worldwide demand for oil is at an all time high and there really is no end in sight.

Many of you know I travel to China on a frequent basis.  Demand for raw materials, including oil, is growing exponentially in China.  For calendar year 2010, they will sell 17.5 million new cars, up from around 15 million last year.  Bill Starke would like to know that one dealership in Beijing sold 15,000 cars in November.  In fact, the Chinese government is now placing higher tariffs on new vehicles to slow down sales.

As emerging markets continue to mature, more and more pressure will be put on commodities, including oil.  The middle classes of China and India are now both larger than that of the U.S.  The sheer numbers involved in Asia are stunning.

Interestingly enough, significant efforts to find alternatives for oil are not happening in the "developed" United States, but in the emerging China, with over $1 trillion earmarked for renewable energy research and development.  Silicon Valley companies are now partnering with Chinese counterparts instead of the U.S. government, or U.S. investors because they are not only willing, but demanding new energy solutions.

While $3.10 seems expensive, it is only the tip of the iceberg.  The price will only go higher.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Uff Da!

Remember that?

Or, Yada-Yada-Yada?

I don’t believe I ever used those words, at least in serious conversation.  Mrs. Kohls would have killed me.

For some reason, I’ve always felt that these kinds of words or phrases undermine the English language, that they are words of the moment, unimportant, simple, sometimes even ignorant. 

Am I being a prude?  Maybe.  But, the language, to me, is this incredible buffet of precise thoughts, an opportunity to not only convey meaning, but feeling.

I think of words being filet mignon, catfish, risotto, baguettes, champagne, beer, a complex mixture of tastes and textures.  English can be a wonderfully elegant, acerbic, direct, complex, simple language. 

The available words in our dictionary seem limitless, yet we choose to use the Cheetos of the English language.  Uff Da!

a small world….

I remember as a kid, my dad used to tell me that if I dug deep enough, I could reach China. 

Growing up in Jefferson County, where a trip to Madison was cause for us to check the oil and make sure the tires were good, things have changed a lot for me over the years.

My first trip on an airplane happened as a result of a job.  I went to Knoxville, Tennessee to go to work with The Berkline Corporation.  Never did I think it would lead to this.

Today, I travel at the drop of a pin.   Last week, I booked travel to Brussels, Belgium to attend a trade fair in Cologne, Germany, about 120 miles away.  A grand adventure?  No, a three day business trip. 

Stay in Cologne?  Not for me.  I’ll take high speed rail from Brussels to Cologne and be dropped off walking distance from the fair.  Are you kidding me?  And, I’ll be in Las Vegas three days after I get back.

I left Shanghai (the one in China) about 10 days ago at 5:00 p.m. one afternoon and arrived in Chicago at 4:00 p.m. the same day.  I got home earlier than I left?  Yup!  If I kept flying, I could have a “Back to the Future” experience.

After I got back from China, I flew to Roanoke, Virginia to visit my daughter and watch a football game.  A day later, I shipped off to Salt Lake City, Utah for business….for a day.

In 1900, a trip to Chicago from Fort Atkinson was probably more difficult and exotic than the trip to Shanghai today.

As I do all of this travel, it’s very clear to me that the world is a single place.  It’s not such a big place anymore.   We are all people of the planet, not from one country or another.  Countries are just addresses.   

All of this travel shows me that people from everywhere have wants and needs.  Everyone has hopes and dreams.  I feel a lot less them and they and a lot more we and us.  We’re all pretty much the same.

I hope, as we move forward, we begin to realize this, and we have to find a way to get along.  We have to learn how to play nice with each other.  It’s necessary for the survival of the planet. 

In the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

a new day…..

Earlier this year, something happened that I never thought could happen.  People from another country bought more new cars than the people from the United States.  And, this year, that number will grow some more.  And, next year, it will grow some more.  China.

China just passed Japan as the second largest economy in the world.  A year earlier, they passed Germany.  Their growth is in double digits.  They will pass us in less than 20 years.  And with that growth, they will need resources.

A couple of years ago, we saw what it was like to have gas prices above $4 a gallon.  We haven’t begun to see where these prices will go, but I will guarantee you that the $4 number will be a bargain.

We are entering a new time, a time when the United States no longer controls the flow of all resources.  That mantle is being passed to China.  They have an economy that demands commodities at any cost.  They are beginning to control the mines in Africa for copper.  They are making deals with rogue countries for oil.  They have something we all need, excess cash, over a $1 trillion a year.  They don’t pay interest, they receive it.

While we are spend our time fiddling like Nero, they are planning.  They aren’t devious.  They just have a lot of people to feed.  They are doing what any responsible society does, take care of their own. 

And, next door, India has a billion more with the same agenda.   

So, today, we have decisions to make.  Do we continue operating like nothing is changing?  Do we continue not to heed the warning signals that oil, no matter how plentiful, will have to be shared with countries with bigger appetites than ours?  Do we not understand that conserving oil, or not getting more efficient with our resources is a national security risk?

Drill baby, drill is not an answer.  It’s a punch line.  And, it’s not funny.   It’s a new day.

Friday, December 24, 2010

O Holy Night…..

In the late 70’s, I used to go with friends to the Fireside Restaurant with friends and my eventual wife, Carol.  They had a place called the East Room, and then moved the entertainment to a new place called the Showplace Lounge.  There was always a group who liked to dance and just hang out.

One of the reasons we liked going there was a combo consisting of Jerry and Rick Bisbee.  Rick could play the keyboards like nobody’s business and Jerry could sing.  Oh, could he sing!

We got to be good friends with both of them.  I’d see Jerry at lunch and we’d each have a sandwich, talk a little business and go back to work.  He was upbeat, always positive.  I’d probably see him twice a week.

Rick and I played tennis together.  We also coached a baseball team, went to concerts, double dated, and just became good friends.  Rick sang at our wedding in 1980.  I’ve lost track of Rick.  The last I heard he was playing in Las Vegas.  I don’t know where.

The reason I bring all of this up, and why I’m writing this is because I just saw Josh Groban’s rendition of “O Holy Night” on the internet.  It’s beautiful.

But, more beautiful to me was going to midnight mass and hearing Jerry sing it.  I wish I could share it with you.  I wish you could hear what I heard.

Jerry died about 20 years ago from a neurological disease.  His widow, Michelle still lives in the area.  Every time I see her, I think of him, and I think of those midnight masses.

Christmas lost some luster for me since then.  The beauty of a single voice, dominant, yet gentle, filling a church, lifting the souls of many from a single note is something I still think about today. 

Merry Christmas Michelle.  Merry Christmas Rick.  Merry Christmas Jerry.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

hair today, gone tomorrow….

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with my son Alex for a talk.

He’s 21, and he’s losing his hair.  It really bothers him.  And, it bothers me because it bothers him.  He’s bought Rogaine to try and slow down it’s advance, or decline, depending on how you look at it.  He cuts it in different ways to hide its effects.  And, he looks at me and thinks about the eventual outcome.  He’s made being bald his enemy.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want an enemy I’m going to have to face the rest of my life.

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

And, this is the discussion we had.  I asked him to think about what’s important, I mean really important.  Does hair really fall into that category?

I asked him to accept this part of him and to start challenging himself in areas with better probable outcomes. 

I know it bothers him; I get that.  I went through it myself.  But, for me it was easy.  I was able to accept this and make it part of what makes me who I am.

I asked him to fight the battles he can win.  I asked him to not only accept, but embrace those things he cannot change, like his loss of hair.  I told him, if he could, he would be happier. 

And really, that is what this was all about.

the best gift….

I arrived at the Salt Lake City airport very late last night.  I was in town for meetings with, our online retail partner.

When I reached the security area, I was struck by all of the people, whole families, holding signs scribbled with messages of homecoming, smiling, hugging, crying, loving each other as passengers filed into baggage claim.  It wasn’t a few, but many, and it was touching.

This is a time when  many can’t come home.  They are scattered about the globe fighting our fights, defending our way of life, and separated from the ones they love.  They also deserve these signs, these hugs and smiles and tears.

As we celebrate the holiday season, keep a good thought for those fighting for you. 

And, as Christmas time arrives, remember to hug those close to you.  Remember to say you love them.  There isn’t a better gift than that.


No great civilization has ever survived it's own prosperity" . ... destructive to the humans: Success, plenty, comfort and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers."

I didn’t think up this quote.  But, I think it applies to our society now, more than ever before.

As a society, we feel we are entitled to more, more than any people, more than any civilization in history.  And, when we got more, we wanted even more than that.  We are used to it. 

So, when it comes time to pay for all of this stuff, we use our credit card, because, even though we don’t have the money, we are entitled to it.  It’s our birthright.

It seems we elect our leaders because they offer to give us stuff, without any idea of how to pay for it.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat, or some other affiliation, our leaders have turned into sellers of magic elixirs, promising to cure all of our ailments.  We want.  They pander to our wants.

John F. Kennedy’s plea to “ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, wouldn’t get him third place in an Iowa primary, but it might be the message necessary for today.

We’ve lived a  fairytale existence on the backs of our children.  The credit card is at its limit and it’s time to pay up.

Are we up to the challenge? 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

fathers and daughters….

I went to a football game yesterday in Salem, Virginia.  My daughter, Cortney, who lives near Washington, D.C., drove nearly four hours to see me before the game.

cortney and dad

We spent most of the day just talking, riding around, eating, just hanging out.  We were just together. 

I’ll visit her periodically when I’m on the east coast on business, or sometimes without business attached.   She comes home a few times a year.  But, in most of those cases, there’s always other people around.  This was just her and me.

She’s all grown up now.  She has her own life.  She has her own dreams.   She’s on her own. 

But, none of that changes the fact that she’s my daughter.  The fact she drove four hours to see me makes me proud, humbled, and incredibly emotional.  I’ll never forget it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

the truth is…..

Yesterday, I saw where a Bernie Madoff investor agreed to return $7.2 billion of the money paid to her as part of the Ponzi scheme Madoff employed over the past two decades.

While this scam has been described as a $65 billion ripoff, the actual amount invested was closer to $20 billion, with nearly half of the original investments being recovered to date.  The other $45 billion were the fictitious gains as part of the scheme.

Along with the reporting of the $65 billion, there were also reports that returns were astronomically high, implying that investors should have known something was up.  So, why do the news media continue to call the scheme $65 billion if they think the number is a lie?

The $65 billion was and is a lie.  But, that number is way more sexy than $20 billion, as if $20 billion isn’t enough to have a big story.

It seems as though the standard for reporting comes from The National Enquirer with big pictures and partial truths.  It seems as though we need to make the story fit the headline, not the other way around.

Another example of this would be the $785 billion bailout of financial institutions, as if the money is gone.  It’s not.  These were loans, with interest.  And, we will recover all but $25 billion, a big number, but a small price to pay compared to the potential cost to the economy.  We never heard that reported.

Our news media are always holding everyone’s feet to the fire, except their own.   The truth is Madoff took in $20 billion.  The truth is investors will recover at least $10 billion.  The truth is Madoff funded his lifestyle with other peoples money, but not $65 billion.  The truth is Bernie Madoff is in jail for the rest of his life, not 165 years.  The truth is the bailout will cost us $25 billion, and probably less, not $785 billion.  The truth is hard to find in the news.

Friday, December 17, 2010

a necessary trip….

I’m headed to Salem, Virginia to watch a football game.  Really, I am. 

I’m going by myself.   But, my daughter, Cortney, who lives in the Washington D.C. area, will be coming by to visit with me.  This wasn’t planned, but it certainly is a bonus, a big bonus.   

A while ago, I decided I was going to do things.  My life has revolved around work for such a long time and things were passing me by, mostly without me.  I was a spectator on the outer edges, a voyeur to life.  That isn’t going to happen anymore. 

So, why this football game?  I don’t know.  It’s the national championship of two small college football teams, teams very few people know.  I think that’s part of the appeal to me, going to an event that feels personal, not dominated by outside forces to make it an “event”, sort of “hometownish”. 

I like football, not in a rah-rah, loudmouth way.  I don’t drink.  I don’t wear the jerseys.  I don’t paint my face.  Hell, I don’t even cheer.  I just watch and think about the game.  I like the drama, the strategy, the chess part.  I guess I just like to figure out stuff.

And, while I’m watching a game, I’m not thinking about how to fit a sofa in a box, or fabric content, or why something is or isn’t selling.  I’m just a guy sitting out there in a cold place, in Michelin man clothing, solitary in my thoughts.  That feels good to me.

So, I’m going to board a plane, fly 700 miles and watch a football game.  For some, that sounds foolhardy.  For me, it’s necessary.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

a balancing act…..

Over the past few decades, America has seen it’s trade deficit and tax revenue shortfall expand exponentially.  In short, we are addicted to low cost goods and oil, and don’t have the money to pay for necessary social programs, roads, wars, education, and medical treatment.

We need to understand that all goods imported into this country have a social cost, like goods that are made here.  Goods made in the U.S. are subject to taxes, work rules, environmental rules, and so on.  Eventually, all goods need to be disposed of, or cleaned up, often at public cost. 

Imported goods don’t pay for education, medical insurance, social security, roads, wars, environmental clean up, and so on.   

We need to have tariffs that reflect that cost.  Maybe a formula would be to look at our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), our total cost of government (COG), divide the  GDP/COG and come up with a percentage.  Simply stated, if the GDP is $14 trillion and the COG  $1.4 trillion, the tariff on imported goods would be 10% across the board.   Imported oil would have this tariff added to the already imposed state and federal taxes.

Approximately $2 trillion worth of goods are imported into our country on an annual basis, meaning the social cost would be $200 billion, no small piece of change.

An additional benefit would be to balance the playing field between domestic and imported goods by balancing the cost of doing business.  I don’t blame businesses going to where they can be most efficient and competitive; that is their job.  If the U.S. is the most competitive place to manufacture, producers will make their products here.  

Yes, imported goods would go up in price, and almost everything we buy has some import element to it.  But, if we’re looking at a “flat” world, our policies need to reflect the real cost of doing business, no matter where products are manufactured.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

new stuff….

Well, it’s time for another trip to China.  For me, this is my Christmas morning, my chance to develop new ideas and products to bring to market.  I really like the idea of doing things that have never been done before.

This trip, we’re going to be working on some ideas to make our products extend their function and value.  I’m not going to expose more than that.  But, suffice it to say, I love multiple function products, and this will build on that.

And, I love the idea of having people “get” what we’re doing. 

As I look at the marketplace, we live differently than we did even 10 years ago.  We, as manufacturers, need to take into consideration how people live.

If you look at a sofa, it’s pretty much the same as it was over 100 years ago.  In that time, we’ve developed the automobile, telephone, radio, television, computer, microwave, air conditioning, the remote control, cell phone, almost every item we use today.

So, it would only make sense to make products that reflect where we are as a society.  We’ll see where this goes.

it’s personal….

Bob Woodward was a panelist the other day on “Morning Joe”, the MSNBC political show.  He was asked about what was wrong with the Obama administration.

He proceeded to talk about how he had seen the play “Lombardi” the other night.  He said there is no “Lombardi” in the Obama administration.

Lombardi was tough, a  taskmaster who thought of excuses as character flaws.  He saw failure as unacceptable.  He believed in keeping things simple, but executing to perfection.  He believed in personal commitment, a 100% effort.  Anything less was failure.

He said Lombardi made things personal.  He made blocking and tackling and running the ball and passing and catching personal.  He made it about you and your responsibility.  It wasn’t your play that let the team down.  It was you.

I thought about that for a while.  What did Woodward mean?  I mean, I like President Obama.  He says the right things.  I know he’s trying the best he can.  He’s careful with his words so he doesn’t offend. 

This is what bothers me.  He doesn’t get dirty.  He won’t commit.  He won’t confront the bully on the block.  He doesn’t have that “thing” that makes you want to play for him.  I couldn’t see him being a coach of a football team.  I couldn’t see him on the battlefield.  He plays it safe. 

He reminds me of the guy who brings the acoustic guitar to a party, the person the girls feel all warm and fuzzy about.  He’s the seashells and balloons guy Al McGuire used to talk about. 

Hope and Change will only come with personal commitment, a willingness to put one’s soul on the line, a willingness to make it about him, a willingness to lose everything over something he believes.  It must be personal.

You don’t broker that.   

It’s hard to explain.  It’s a gut feeling. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

am I needed?…..

I’m 53 today.  It’s my birthday. 

I say this not to get birthday wishes, although they are nice.  I say this to tell about how I normally think about birthdays and their importance to me.

I use a birthday to take inventory of myself, sort of how other people use New Years Day.   Am I happy?  Am I relevant?  Am I needed?

Those are the things that matter to me today.  Happiness is coming much more easily than it ever has.  I think getting older, you learn not to sweat the small stuff.  The truth is easier to tell because it is what it is.  You worry about what’s really important, friends, family and health.

Relevance used to mean the size of my house, the car I drove, the size of my paycheck and my stature in the community.  Today, it means that I really must contribute to make things better.  I can be relevant by just holding a door, or helping someone to a car, or just being there at the right time.  Being relevant is not having more, but giving more.

Needed.  This is where I struggle.  It’s hard to know if you’re needed or wanted.  For me, because most of my time is spent away, most people have figured out how to live life without me.   

So, that becomes something that I need to work on.  I want people to count on me.  I want them to think of me as the first call, not the insurance call if all else fails.  It stings a little when somebody needs help and they don’t think of me.

I never knew that about myself until this particular birthday. 

So, there you have it, my inventory of 53 years.  

a friend lost….

File:Ron Santo.JPG

My dad lost a friend today.  He never met him in person.  But, he was there by his side for 162 games a year.  He’s Ron Santo, broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs.

Santo died of cancer, but that wasn’t his only health issue.  Complications from diabetes took both his legs.  He fought his disease and never complained.  He went to work everyday, even when he didn’t feel well.  He was one of the most optimistic people I’ve ever seen.  I never met him, either.  But, I knew him.  I did.

Dad has two radios, one tuned to the Brewers games and the other to the Cubs.  He just loved when Santo would groan over a misplayed ball, or a strike out.  He didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, he put it on yours.  He made you care.  My dad wasn’t a Cubs fan, but he loved Santo.  That’s why he listened.

There’s a special place for people like Ron Santo.  For 70 years, he gave all he had.  He loved people.  He loved life.  But, most of all, he love the Cubs.  We will miss him.

another failure….

Our house is too big.  We’ve lost our job. We’ve borrowed all we can against everything we own.  We’ve borrowed against the 401K.  We’ve put a second on the house.  We’ve run up our credit cards.  Now it’s time to sell the furniture.  Eventually, we’ll end up with a big house we don’t own, no furniture and no future.  And, we’ve made promises to everyone with no way to pay.

It might be time to get a smaller house.  But, we’ve always had a big house.  We deserve a big house.  It doesn’t matter that we can’t afford it.  And, what will the servants do?

It’s time to think of our government as a house that is too big with too many servants.  It’s too cumbersome.  It has ceased to serve us.  Instead, we have to work to serve it.

The government has the ability to make change.  In fact, they showed General Motors how to do it.  They just don’t want to do it themselves. 

Today, the debt commission report headed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson failed to get enough votes to proceed to action by Congress.  This sort of failure is not acceptable.  We have to do better.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


It seems like I’ve been writing a lot about life and death lately.  I’m going to do it again…sorry.

My dad had an “episode” over the weekend.  I got a call from my mother asking me to come out.  She thought Dad had a stroke.  He couldn’t stand up, but seemed fine otherwise.

When I got there, my mother was confused, something I’d never seen before.  She was trying to hold it together, and she was trying to help, but the obvious was staring at her.  And, she was trying to stare it back.

My dad was coherent and had strength in both hands and could do some basic things.  I asked Mom if Dad would ride in an ambulance.  The answer was clear, “absolutely not”.

So, I proceeded to bear hug carry him to my car.  He wasn’t afraid.  He was more upset that he had become a “nuisance”, something he could never foresee himself becoming.  I told him it was time he accepted help, the help he’s been giving us all of these years.

I got him to the emergency room and they began to do tests.  It wasn’t a stroke, but just a matter of being dehydrated and an infection.  He was going to be fine.

What I didn’t expect were the overwhelming emotions that came over me when I left the hospital.  I was paralyzed.

I’d never felt so helpless.  While the outcome was good, the feelings of helplessness were real.   

In my world, you fix things when they’re broken.  You work harder.  You think harder.  But, you fix them.  This was one thing I couldn’t fix. 

a vision to the future….

What is the unique selling or product proposition?  That is the question I ask myself before we get involved in any project or product we expect to advance.

What does that mean?

It means we need to be unique, a leader in some facet of the process.  It could be price.  It could be design.  It could be comfort.  It could be anything.  But, it has to be something.

That is a question I find myself asking about our country on the world’s stage.

The Germans have figured out their unique selling proposition.  It is precision.  In many cases, they are not selling products based on price.  On the contrary, their products are some of the most expensive in the world.  In most cases, they make the machines that make other things.  They have to be precise and of very high quality. 

The Chinese have figured out their unique selling proposition.  It is price.  Because of their surplus of cheap labor and low cost structure, they are able to successfully compete on the world’s stage by offering products people can afford. 

The Japanese have figured out reliability and value.  They make products that are consistently good at prices most people can afford.  They are not the cheapest, nor the most expensive, but they give value.

This leads me to the American unique selling proposition.  Over the past century, ours has been innovation, seeing the future and making products that fit future demand, creating markets where none existed, creating products we never knew we needed.  It is our vision that has created our unique selling proposition.

There seems to be a shift going on in the balance of these unique qualities.  The Chinese have figured out that they cannot continue to be the leader only in price.  It is fundamental in their future.

In the world of energy, they have figured out they cannot be a slave to foreign energy.  So, they have embarked on an ambitious plan to be the leader in renewable, green energy, the holy grail of commerce in the world.  And, they are funding it at a level never seen before, over one trillion dollars.

If they are successful, they will become the visionary, the leader of future thought.  Since their government model doesn’t leave room for the spotted owl or the lawsuit, they will move very efficiently. 

And, if China is the visionary, the leader, the innovator, what do we have to offer?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

the truth about war…..


I spent two hours last night watching “Restrepo”, a real life war movie/documentary placed in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan.

Everything in the movie is real, the life, the death, the fighting, the fear, the laughter and the tears.  It is uplifting and devastating at the same time.

To see a real person killed in action, not by something blowing up, but by getting hit by a silent bullet, lying on the ground in a pool of blood, buddies around inconsolable, weeping, crying out, wanting anything but what is in front of them. It is more than anyone should bear.

This movie doesn’t judge.  It reveals.  It shows you that war isn’t a video game.  It shows you that war is day to day.  It shows you the camaraderie of fellow soldiers.  It shows you the bond of brothers in action.    

These people are young.  They are not monsters.  They are our sons, fighting a fight that isn’t of their making, but doing their best nonetheless.

“Restrepo” is worth seeing. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

it goes on…..

I can see it in their faces every time I visit.  When will it be their time?  When will one of them die or become disabled?  When will their lives change forever, and not for good?

The events of this week, and really, the last few years, underscore how cruel it can be for those given the gift of a long life.  My parents have been given that gift.

Attending funeral after funeral and hearing about friend after friend being incapacitated by something out of their control can weigh heavily on ones mind.  They talk about “good” deaths and “bad” deaths, hoping for the first and dreading the other.

I’m sure they feel like one of them may be the next ping pong ball to drop, with fewer in the basket to choose from each day.  It’s inevitable,  sort of like God’s lottery tapping anyone of age and telling them their life is over. 

Conversations in my life tend to focus on my kids or work.  My parents conversations sometimes tend to focus on who died, who used to be there, who will be next. 

Luckily my folks have the stock market and sports and family, something to do everyday.  And, they have each other. 

Mom and Dad are invested in the market.  They follow it like anyone would follow a football game.  There are winners and losers.  There’s something to track, something to do.  My mother knows more about football than I do, and I think I know a little.

They do the best they can.  They are optimistic.  They stay active.  They work at being relevant.  They’re good at it. 

But, this week was different.  Like a child in the middle of the night, I could sense the fear, the not knowing, the being out of control, the loss of someone like them who was relevant, the stranding of another without her partner, the change of life, forever.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

honor our heroes….

Nothing in my life will ever measure up to the sacrifice of Sgt. Neil Duncan. 

I met Neil at a conference at last March.  In speaking with him, you’d never know he gave up two legs, and years of his life in rehabilitation as a result of his defense of this country.  He moves briskly.  His halting walk tells something of his tale, but not nearly all of it. 

He doesn’t want to thought of as handicapped.  He won’t park in those special spaces.  He refuses to give up on being normal.  He won’t give in.  He climbs mountains and runs marathons on prosthetic legs. 

Neil is anything but normal.  He is more.  He refuses to be the victim.  He will be the victor.  Take a look at  his video at

After that meeting, our company, Handy Living made a decision to support the Wounded Warriors Project.  It was really no decision at all.  It was our duty.

We may all have differing opinions on war and its cost.  But, we cannot do anything but support our veterans. 

On this Veterans Day, take a moment to reflect on how these heroes have made our lives possible. 

Thank you. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

a good man….


“Hello Thomas!”

That was the greeting I got every time my Uncle Marvin would see me.  My Aunt Ruth would say “There’s Thomas Charles Erdman,” and then would go on to tell the story of how I would call myself  Thomas Charles Erdman to anyone who cared, really anyone at all who would listen.

Uncle Marvin suffered a devastating stroke last night.

I’m not sure how to describe a man as good as Uncle Marvin, and the impact he’s had on our family. 

Acting as sort of the family historians, Uncle Marvin and Aunt Ruth would get the family together at reunions, organize games, make sure there were eggs and spoons for the egg race, or bags for the three legged race.  And, there were always prizes. 

Our last reunion was last year, the one he and Aunt Ruth said would be our last.  We didn’t know how prophetic that statement would be.  The above picture is my niece Mariah with Uncle Marvin from the reunion.

There was always laughter when they were around and they gave great parties.  They had a pool table in their basement.  And, they lived near a ball field.  There was always a softball game or pool game played.  

Uncle Marvin was always positive, always encouraging, always interested.  He never made you feel small.  Even as a child, he treated me with the respect you would expect to treat an adult.  He never talked down to me.

Uncle Marvin and Aunt Ruth spent winters with my folks in Lake Havasu, Arizona.   They were always there for my folks.  They’ve been friends and relatives for nearly 60 years.

It doesn’t look good for Uncle Marvin.  We will pray for you.   

Sunday, November 7, 2010

role models…

I visit my folks at least once a week.  They’re in their upper 80’s now, with my dad being 89 and my mom a month away from 87. 

They’re pretty remarkable people, mentally very sharp.   I can have more pointed, nuanced discussions with them than most people I’m around.  We talk a lot of politics.  We talk about the Catholic Church and its problems.  We talk about abortion.  We talk about my work.  We talk about everything. 

My mom always has root beer.  I love root beer, and she knows it.  Normally, she has some diet form of whatever’s on sale.  But, last week, she bought something special, IBC.  She said she wanted to make sure I’d come visit.  It was a bribe.

She just got a cat.  His name is Thomas (after me).  My dad doesn’t like cats, at least not that he’ll admit to, and for sure, not in the house.   She’s been sneaking him in a little bit at a time.  Pretty soon, I’m guessing he’ll be a full time resident. 

Thomas trolls the neighborhood at night.  I’m wondering if my mom thinks I do the same thing.

Dad’s almost blind.  He can see light and dark, mostly shadows.  He’s fought cancer a few times.  And, we’ve almost lost him once or twice.

The other week, my mom asked if I could give her a ride to the body shop to pick up her car.  She got rear-ended by somebody while she was pulling into her driveway.  It wasn’t serious.

Since my dad can’t see, I told him that the damage to the front of mom’s car wasn’t too bad, and that the body shop did a nice job.  He was in on the joke in a second and started teasing my mom about old people driving and having their drivers licenses taken away.  He said he was going to have to start driving her around for her safety.

He doesn’t like it when you talk about how well he’s handling things, and his positive outlook on things, like he’s Nelson Mandela or something.   He asks, “What choice do I have?  These are the facts and there really isn’t an option.”

He chooses to be happy.  They choose to be happy.  The only option, in their minds, is to make the best of it.  Live the life that’s been dealt at the best of your ability. 

A lot of people say that in words.  They do it in deeds.  

not so smart….

I pay for HBO for one show, Bill Maher’s Real Time.  It’s appointment TV for me.

Maher is whip smart.  He is quick with the acerbic quip, the remark that makes you recoil, a little snarky and not so cute.  He’s also liberal with a capital L, small L, sideways L, and upside down L.  He doesn’t pretend to be objective.

He’s not afraid to bring on opposing viewpoints, people who are smart, people who are willing to put themselves out there.  With a panel of three people from all walks of life, his lively panel discussions often get a little raucous and a more than a little blue.  Sailors would feel very comfortable at this table.

Last night, Maher had Bill O’Reilly as a guest, yes, that Bill O’Reilly.  Determined not to be the lamb led to slaughter, O’Reilly stood up and made Maher look intolerant.  While Maher was offering cynical comments, O’Reilly offered legitimate (I’m not kidding) comment on several topics.  I was stunned at the effectiveness of O’Reilly and how small Maher looked. 

I don’t know if this is how Maher intended this to look.  In the past, there has always been room for other perspectives and intelligent discussion.  He seems to have lost that ability. 

I think he should relook at this show and see how he can get his “mojo” back.  I felt like I was watching Keith Olbermann.  He’s better than that.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

lessons learned…..

I’m 52. 

I remember how my parents have always said how life races by.  I think I first heard it when I was 16.  I think my dad had a sore shoulder that day.  He was 52 when he said it.  He’s 89 now.

A lot has happened since that day I first heard my dad say that.  And, of course, I really didn’t understand what he was saying.  I was in high school, needing a bridle to hold me back from getting into whatever life I was going to live.  I was too involved in me to really think about old people stuff.

For some reason, I recently started to think about how those thirty something years have past, what I’ve done and what I didn’t do.  I think it might have something to do with seeing people my age looking old, or sometimes dying.

It’s taken me this long to figure out a few things.  The biggest is that I’m just renting my space here on earth.  You can’t really own anything.  So, to make that the emphasis of your life is really fruitless.  Your life is a collection of experiences and relationships, not a collection of things. 

Eventually, somebody’s going to have to go through all of that stuff and decide how to distribute or dispose of it.  They’re not going to sit there and think what a wonderful guy I was because I had so much, but what I was doing with all of that crap.

Another thing I’ve learned, albeit with a much greater struggle, is that people are going to see things in a different way than I do.  And, that no matter how wrong I think another person is, I won’t be able to change their mind if they don’t want it changed.  This past election cycle only reinforced that.

I’ve set my path on doing things and seeing things and experiencing things.  I’m trying to learn and understand as much as I can.

Professionally, I’ve spent the last five years rethinking how furniture is made, and designing ideas and products that haven’t been done that way before, not Nobel Prize winning stuff, but personally satisfying. 

I’m no longer looking to be important, or be the big guy with the big car and the big house and have my picture taken.  I’ve had all of those things.  And, you know what?  I’m still 52.  I still only wear one pair of pants at a time.  And, a fish fry is still my favorite meal.

Really, my value is my contribution to the people around me.  My value is the ability to help others in whatever way that is. 

So, as I sit here thinking about all of this, I’ve decided my life really should be measured like they measure hockey players, get a plus when you’re on the ice while your team scores, and get a minus when the other team scores, pretty simple.

Those scoring methods were instituted to give credit to all of those who help the team, not just the goal scorers, but the ones who do the dirty work of playing defense and passing, the ones the fans don’t recognize, but the ones who make it possible to win.

Maybe the next thing is learning how to skate.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

a little disappointed….

If you know me, you know I love to talk about politics.  And, I do it with passion. I’ve been politically oriented since as long as I can remember.

In my family, our dinner table consisted of talking about the things you weren’t supposed to talk about:  religion, politics and sex.  

So, when it comes to politics, I’ve been doing it most of my life.  Here’s where the disappointment comes.

I’ve come to identify with the Tea Party movement, not the whacko, I am not a witch faction, but the one that says that government is taking over too much of our lives, and the one that thinks we need to be honest with our people about spending and the deficit, social services, and what can be done.

My view of the Tea Party consists of more libertarian thought.  The Patriot Act is a bad thing, not a patriotic thing, because it gives government the authority to intrude in my life without my consent. 

Government should work for us, not the other way around.  We need to tell the truth about Social Security, and we need to raise the retirement age.  We need to rethink about our role in world matters and not be so quick to shoot at others.  We need to get out of social engineering and not worry who marries who and what gender they are.  We need to stop demonizing people of different religions.  We need to firmly stand for keeping religion out of our government and government out of our religion.  We need to back off and think about what the real role of government is.  We need to stop looking at government to fix everything.     

So, you’d think I’d be excited to discuss my positions with Tea Partiers.  Guess again.  Many of these people think that since people are noticing them, they need to express their opinions, all their opinions.  There seems to be no nuance, no empathy for another position, no ability to think rationally, but to move into emotional blather once somebody disagrees on a point.

And when it gets loud, it’s ruined  for everyone.  Like the drunk at the party who thinks he’s funny, they look stupid.

I’m very concerned a legitimate movement will implode under the weight of all of the “Jerry Springer” crowd, while thinking people try to quietly move the agenda forward with diplomacy and tact.   I don’t want to be part of a mob, but a movement.

I understand there is a whole new group of people wanting to be part of something.  Just like a party, when the loudmouths show up, so do the police. 

Let’s keep it civil and organized.   

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

it’s over, finally!

It came to me last night.  The election is over….finally.

I think there is a lot to be learned from the past few weeks and months.  I’m hoping we don’t forget how derisive and caustic the political environment has been.  I’m hoping we don’t forget the $4 billion spending as estimated by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Here is what I’ve learned.  We need to discuss and argue about ideas, not each other.  While the inclusion of people who have never engaged in political discourse is good, the sophistication of debate has degraded to stepping on heads and shouting down people with other ideas.  That is not good.

I’m tired of listening to people chide and abuse the opponent.  Advance your truth.  Respect your opponent’s truth.   Bring your own ideas and let them shine.

This country is built on better ideas.  The brightest light, not the loudest voice should lead our discourse.  I’m hoping the new group in charge understands that.  I’m rooting for them.

Friday, October 29, 2010

it’s broken…..

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” – Republican Senator Mitch McConnell on his biggest priority in becoming Senate Majority Leader.   Huffington Post

This is what it comes down to, defeating the other team. Nothing about jobs or social security or medicare or education or banking reform or Afghanistan.  No, it’s about winning.

Former President Clinton just came out of Florida trying to get Kendrick Meeks to bow out so the current governor, and former Republican, Charlie Crist had a chance against rising star Marco Rubio in the Florida senate race.

Rod Blagojevich got on the phone and tried to sell a senate seat, President Obama’s seat.

The pool is equally dirty on both sides.  Politicians are hitting “hot button” issues that get us emotionally charged and yelling at each other.  Blame is cast everywhere like a lava flow making sure it kills everything in its path.

For one minute, I’d like to believe there is a Thomas Jefferson somewhere.  Instead, we get somebody running an ad saying “I am not a witch.”  Now, this is highbrow stuff.

Jerry Springer runs a TV show that looks startlingly similar to our political process.  He was mayor of Cincinnati.  Maybe he just brought the political act to TV.

We need to fix this process.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

a necessary tax….

Wall Street is changing.  What used to be a vehicle for investment, it has become a vehicle for opportunistic trading. 

A couple of weeks ago on 60 Minutes, there was a segment about computer trading, and how it works.  It seems computers are programmed with specific algorithms that track specific price movements and tell the computer to trade with the smallest of price moves.  Basically, this is the same as card counting is in Las Vegas.

These computers don’t know if they’re buying computer companies, big equipment, software, retail, or anything.  All they know is a small movement in price prompts a trade.

A while ago, the market had to stop trading due to a computer incorrectly selling billions of dollars worth of a specific stock, prompting all of the other computers to make trades based on the new information created by the incorrect trade.  In other words, a computer trading avalanche was happening without the involvement of human hands touching any of the trades.

Here is what I would do to stop, or at least modify this form of “investment”.  If a small tax, maybe one percent of the value of the trade, is incurred every time a stock is sold, the movement of the price of a stock would have to be greater to have the computer make a trade, reducing the amount of trades, and reducing volatility.

Free trading is not free.  It’s time we recognized that. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

come to the auction….

If you’re from a small town, especially in the Midwest, you know about auctions.  I love auctions.

Below is a silo loader frame I bought to make into a cocktail table.


Sporting John Deere hats, overalls, sensible shoes for trudging through whatever terrain exists, auction goers nod and wink and tug to indicate their bid for other people’s trash, and make it their treasure. 

I bought the cameras below for $5 as accessories for photography.


There’s a camaraderie amongst auction goers.  People catch up with one another, talk about family, friends, work, the weather, whatever. 


Today, I saw a former football coach, a man I really respect.  He and I were interested in the same trunk.  I didn’t bid on it.  I wanted him to get it.  He got it for $8.

You see all kinds of stuff at auctions.  Today, there were cars, blacksmith equipment, mowers, antique tractors, toys, you name it.  There’s always something I’ve never seen before, and there’s always somebody there to explain what it is.

It was a good day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

where dreams really do come true….

I went to watch the America’s Got Talent road show last night in Chicago (actually Rosemont, but nobody knows where that is).  The host was Jerry Springer, and it was apparent the crowd was very familiar with his daytime show.

I didn’t know what to expect.  Would the contestants be as good as they were on TV? 

Almost all of them came from proverbial rags hoping to ascend to riches.  Each came with dreams, and the desire to attain them.  Each came with their own personal struggle.

Taylor Matthews showed why he could be the next American heartthrob crooner, part Jason Mraz, part Jack Johnson. 

Taylor Matthews America's Got Talent 2010

Michael Grasso kept making people disappear and appear with quick precision, never giving the audience a chance to second guess.

Michael Grasso of America's Got Talent 2010

Studio One Young Beast Society took their street dance to the stage and amazed with acrobatics and speed. 

Studio One Young Beast Society America's Got Talent 2010 

Prince Poppycock, part Little Richard, part Louis XVI combined opera and farce in an amazing display of strutting and singing and lots and lots of make up.

Prince Poppycock America's Got Talent 2010

Christina and Ali delivered in spite of them both having Cystic Fibrosis, and having lost a sister in the last year.

Christina and Ali America's Got Talent 2010

Jeremy Van Schoonoven showed why he’s going to break every bone in his body with his fearless bike maneuvers.

Jeremy Vanschoonhoven America's Got Talent 2010

Vegas won’t be far away for Fighting Gravity.  These fraternity brothers from Virginia Tech turned a college talent show act into an amazing display of “Blue Man Group” meets “2001, A Space Odyssey”.

fgravity_espys-1.jpg Fighting Gravity black light illusion performance image by rubinjudith

Twelve year-old Anna and Patryk swept the crowd and each other off their feet, bringing back memories of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.

Anna and Patryk America's Got Talent 2010

And, the winner, Michael Grimm, did a short set that ranged from Joe Cocker to Ray Charles to Al Greene.  I know now why he will be a star.

Michael Grimm America's Got Talent 2010

As I reflect on the night, I felt the power of America.  This could never happen anywhere else.  That made me feel proud.

the “Muslim dilemma”

On Wednesday, NPR terminated the contract of journalist Juan Williams for comments he made on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Monday.

If you watch news television, particularly politically based television, you will recognize him as a moderate liberal pundit.

Williams said "political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality."

"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot," Williams continued. "You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

I’ve made a lot of comments about Muslims and their constitutional right to practice their faith in whatever manner they wish.

But, now I must take NPR to task.  Mr. Williams was asked about his views on a news show on another network about how he felt about the “Muslim Dilemma”.  I’m sure his feelings are held by millions of Americans, and it bears discussion.  These are legitimate comments.

NPR needs to wake up and understand that intolerance happens on both sides of the ledger.  It seems they are the intolerant ones now.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

who do we blame?

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Those words were penned by philosopher George Santayana in the 1905 book “The Life of Reason”, and are no less true today than they were then.

We’re in a precarious position as a country.  We’ve gone through a period of wealth and power unseen in the history of the world, and we’ve come to expect it.  We’ve forgotten how we earned it.  We just know it’s due us.  It’s our right.

So, as we begin to see these things slip away, we wonder why.  It can’t be us. 

It must be them.  They’re taking it away from us.  It can’t be we who are squandering it.  We are better than that.

It must the be the gays.  They don’t represent America.  They’re an abomination. 

It must be the illegal immigrants (Mexicans).  They’re taking the jobs Americans don’t want, but they’re the problem, nonetheless.

It’s got to be the Chinese.  They’re taking our jobs, as if jobs are owned by one nation, as if its only our birthright to have wealth and success.   

It must be the Muslims.  There were twenty or so who attacked our country, so the billion or so that are out there have to be the same.   

The teachers, they’re the villains.  Our kids are not passing the those tests.

They, they, they, they, they, they. 

Joe McCarthy would be very proud.  

Friday, October 15, 2010


If you live in Wyoming, your vote for president counts four times as much as your vote would count if you lived in Texas.  Also, your representation in the Senate is 70 times greater than if you lived in California.

With our system of government, we award electoral votes based on the number of senators and representatives in Washington.  In the case of Wyoming, there is one representative, while there are two senators.  Representatives are based on population, but Senators come two to a state, no matter the population. 

Wyoming only has a little over 500,000 in population, or about one electoral vote for every 175,000.  Texas, on the other hand, has 34 electoral votes for its over 20,000,000 residents.

This sort of representative distribution doesn’t seem like a big thing, unless you look a little closer.

Today, California and Texas struggle with border issues everyday, having to feed and clothe and employ both legal and illegal immigrants.  In many cases, these costs are borne by the state, when protecting the border is a federal responsibility.

If you’re a senator from Wyoming or Montana or South Dakota or Idaho or Vermont, or New Hampshire, or Rhode Island, or Alaska, or North Dakota, or Kansas, or Delaware, or West Virginia or Kansas, why would you vote to pay for greater border protection if it doesn’t directly affect you? 

And, even though the collective population of all of these states represents about 30% of California and Texas’  population combined, they represent 26 votes against the the four votes of the two states.

So, in order to get spending bills for California and Texas, some real back scratching and horse trading has to happen.  If you wonder why bills get so bloated from pork barrel projects, this is where it starts. 

while the cameras were off….

Just one day after disaster was averted in the Chilean mine accident, a miner in Chile was killed in another mine.

An accident in central Chile on Thursday night reminded Ramirez's countrymen of his job's potential peril. A 26-year-old miner was crushed by rockfall at the Boton de Oro mine in Petorca state, its governor, Gonzalo Miquel, told state TV.

I don’t know anyone who wasn’t transfixed by the Chilean miners who were buried a half mile underground for 70 days, and the remarkable rescue mission that ensued.

For most of the night Tuesday, and some of Wednesday, I was watching as each miner came up in a bullet shaped cage.  Each was allowed to meet his family, or in one case mistress, as they emerged from their personal hell.

Each person’s personal story was recited.  It reminded me of when the Gemini space capsules used to land in the ocean, bobbing in the waves, and we would all hope the astronauts would emerge unscathed.

Mining is dangerous work.  Our need, or want for things underground, both precious and not, makes people risk their lives for this stuff.  And, each time we see one of these stories, stories of safety violations, not one or two, but many, emerge.

In China, thousands die yearly in the coal mines.  Just earlier this year, 29 men lost their lives in West Virginia.  Mining deaths worldwide are an everyday event.

We don’t think about the miners very often.  Often, they are from the social underbelly, the lower class that doesn’t have the education or assets to do work that allows them to see daylight.  It’s time we start. 

I don’t know what it’s going to take to fix this, but we need to do something.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

get a job……

About 1:00 a.m. the other night, Sam, a friend of my son Alex, showed up at my condo and sort of showed himself in.  He was looking for Alex.  Alex wasn’t in.  But, it seemed he wanted to talk.

Sam had heard of me.  He asked about my travel and was very curious.  He told me he was unemployed, and then he asked me a question about how to get a job, especially in this environment.  He said he was a father and divorced.  He really seemed mixed up.

I asked, “Do you really want a job?  Then, get a job.”  I paused for a minute and then asked, ” What have you done to get a job?”

He said he had applications out there.

That is when I told him the following.  “Don’t be a part of the stack.  Make it your job to get a job.  Get up in the morning, clean yourself up, put on your best clothes and show up.  Show up everyday.  Everyday, ask for the person who does the hiring.  Everyday, be the person they can’t live without.  Somebody will hire you out of self defense.  Showing up is the most important thing.”

“But, what if the only job I can get is McDonald’s?” I was asked.

“Be the best McDonald’s employee you can be.  Do more than the job requires.  Ask for more.  Show them you are more than the job they hired you for.  Be more than the job they hired you for.  Somebody will notice, if not at McDonald’s, a customer or client will notice.”

I’ve hired many people over my life.  I’ve hired them from all walks of life, a checker at a grocery store, a bartender, an unemployed meat cutter.  I hired them for jobs that needed skill sets they had, but didn’t know they had, skill sets that were obvious to me, but not to them. 

And, they all had one thing in common.  They wanted a chance and were willing.   And, they all overperformed the job they were in. 

Even though things are tough, 91 percent of the people out there do have jobs.  And, when you don’t have a job, you need to look inside yourself to find out what you need to do, why you are one of the nine percent, and how you can change that.

Blaming the economy isn’t the answer.  Blaming the factory that doesn’t exist anymore isn’t the answer.  Blaming your situation on somebody else isn’t the answer.  Don’t focus on what you don’t have.  Focus on what you do have.  The answer is inside you.

By the way, that unemployed meat cutter is now president of a multi-million company today.

Friday, October 8, 2010

six crazy ideas…..

The federal government fired the CEO of General Motors, a dysfunctional industrial company, put its own hand-picked successor in place, and gutted what used to be the world’s largest industrial company. 

It seems as if this approach has been successful.  General Motors has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and is now profitable.  In the near future, an initial public offering of stock will be made and some of the investment we’ve made into General Motors will be returned.  Ultimately, it looks as though the American public will be made whole on this loan with a considerable profit.

The parallels between General Motors and the federal government are eerily similar.  Both have been run in a dysfunctional manner.  Both have had leadership that doesn’t have a clue what’s going on down line.   

Suppose we took the GM approach to government, the same approach private business  has to do every day, the same approach the government used to trim the fat from General Motors, the same approach it must use if it is going to function going forward.

I would propose that we appoint CEOs for every branch of government and treat our government like a company in Chapter 11, with survival as the goal.  Then, it is up to the CEO of each branch to be creative enough to make the cuts with the least possible damage.   We did it at GM, we can do it here.  This would be step one.

Step two would involve re-evaluating our existing social programs.  We will need to raise the retirement age.  We will need to have a bigger buy in for medicare.

Step three would be recognizing illegal immigrants with work visas, and a roadmap to citizenship.  Instead of chasing them, we should be collecting taxes from them and the fruit of their labor (pun intended).  The reality is we are dependent on them and they use social services, and they are not paying for them.  This has got to change. 

Step four would be the legalization of what are now illegal drugs.  I don’t condone drug use, and I’ve never used them.  But, I am affected by them every day with our drug policies.  Instead of spending the money we spend on enforcement and incarceration, we should spend those funds on rehabilitation and education.  But, most of all, we need to get the incentive of big profits out of them and the ancillary crime associated with it.

And, we would have another tax source that would measure in the tens of billions of dollars.  The richest guy on the block should not be the drug dealer.  In many cities, our policies guarantee just that.

I would combine the branches of the military to one, and close bases that are deemed unnecessary to our defense.   I would not allow politicians who directly benefit by having them in their districts to have any input.  I would appoint a committee of business and military leaders to come up with the solution.  The abandoned bases would then be sold.

I would study services that the government provides and determine whether they could be better operated by private enterprise.   I’m not saying we privatize everything, just things that can be as well or better than the public sector.

I will think of more.

I’m just getting started….

Recently, I’ve been asked my opinion on political issues, specifically Tea Party proposals related to term limits, pay, insurance and retirement.

While I’d like to say I’m some sort of expert, I think the Tea Party people are focusing on the wrong stuff, or at least their sights are set on the small change of government, not the big stuff.

For people who’ve never been to Washington, D.C., it is difficult to truly understand the range and depth of government and the entrenched bureaucrats who “serve” us.  Once you get there, the immensity of the government hits you square in the face. 

Monstrous buildings filled with career government employees are everywhere.  We’re not talking about hundreds, or thousands, but tens of thousands of people working inside the beltway.  What do they all do?  And, are they all necessary?

We are at war.  The cost of equipping and servicing each service person serving in the Middle East is approximately $1,000,000 each. 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t support our service people.  I’m saying we should stay out of war, or at least do a better job at being better world citizens.   We need to stop telling other countries what to do, or imposing our values on them.

And, why do we need the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy?  Don’t they all do the same stuff.  Couldn’t we save billions by just realigning our defense department into a streamlined organization instead of a set of competing forces?  Military bases and projects have become the pork barrel of the 21st century. 

Imagine if we spent a fraction of the $300 billion we’re spending on war and redundant military spending on a Manhattan style project for renewable energy, or medical research, or conversion of waste to energy, or who knows what. 

Every spending bill should come with some sort of reset, or sunset.  We’ve gotten into the habit of creating spending that goes into perpetuity.  Even social safety net spending needs to be revisited to ensure that the reason for the spending still exists.

Maybe we need to reward politicians like we reward CEOs for balancing our budgets, or at least have some sort of mechanism to get there.  Maybe we need some sort of federal board of directors to set the pay level and benefits of our elected officials. 

We can’t just continue to borrow from our children.  $13 trillion is a lot to pay back.  Every man, woman and child owes over $40,000 as their portion of the federal debt.  Just think, a family unit with a husband, wife and three children owes over $200,000.

I’ll write more when my fingers are in better shape.      

Friday, October 1, 2010

a model to follow….

IKEA’s sales are up, and so are its profits.  Last year, IKEA produced revenues of $31.5 billion worldwide from 267 stores, with profits at $3.4 billion, or 11 percent of sales.  They’re doing $120 million per location.  Those are Costco type  numbers.

In reading their report, IKEA also disclosed that 11% of it sales came from the U.S. market. 

So, what does all of this mean?  It means that a company from Sweden has figured out American wants and needs better than Americans could. 

What can we learn from them?  What is it that they do that we want?

They’ve made home furnishings shopping an experience, not a chore.  They bring ideas, not just product.  They offer food and fun, not a salesperson with a clipboard.  They understand that shopping includes all of the senses of sight, sound, smell, hearing and touch.  They are different, and they are better at what they do.

It’s amazing to me that whenever I talk to a person who buys something from IKEA, they complain about the assembly, they apologize about the quality, and they go back for more.

Just imagine what would happen if the consumer really liked their products!

changing the concept of living space….

Over the past few days, I’ve been seeing these photos of shipping containers turned into student housing in Le Havre, France.  As living spaces go, these are pretty spartan.  But, I think creative minds could make these more than livable. 

But, more importantly, these offer an opportunity to recycle and reuse this abundance of containers that will continue to litter our landscape.

Could these be housing of the future?  Why not? 

Since I have no concept of cost, I’m hoping they could afford low income housing opportunities for those less fortunate.  They could help revitalize communities that are in disrepair, with funky, new developments.

As we go forward, we are going to need to rethink what is important, what makes us happy, change our own paradigm of success to match what is good for the world.  This seems like something good.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

a gift?

Sarah Brightman and Jackie

Above is a photo of world-famous soprano opera singer Sarah Brightman, and even more famous 10 year-old, America’s Got Talent contestant, Jackie Evancho.

For the past few months, Americans have been gushing over the talent of this opera prodigy.  “Isn’t she great?!” was heard everywhere. 

But, what we really meant was “Isn’t she great (for a 10 year-old)!?”  Like Susan Boyle, the ugly duckling singing darling of of last year, we judge people in the context of who they are, where they are, not in the context of the general world of talent.  They are unexpected.

There are many, many unknown, unheard of opera singers who are much better than Jackie Evancho.  But, they are not 10.  They are not wearing patent leather shoes and playing Barbie.  And, that’s why she’s so special.

That is not to diminish the skills and marketing prowess of the Jackie Evancho machine.  All you have to do is go to and you can find out all about it.

I worry for her.  I worry because when she answers a question, I hear an adult voice coaching her what to say, what to think.  I don’t see the joy of a child.   

Please, mom and dad, let her be a kid for a while.  Please don’t make this gift a curse.

Friday, September 17, 2010

see this one….

"Animal Kingdom Movie Poster"

a new beginning….

Angelo Surmelis and I, along with a great crew of people from Kittle's Furniture in Indianapolis just installed the very first angelo:HOME store at Kittle’s.


I couldn’t be prouder of my affiliation with both Angelo and  Kittle’s.  If you’re defined by the friends you keep, I can only hope these friends define me.  So, when the names of Leslie, Chris, Lynne, Mark, Lance, Eric, Jim and more come up, there will be a smile on my face.


This is more than a partnership; it is a relationship.  I see these people as the people I want to be like, be with, and succeed with.  At the end of the day, it does no good to do a bunch of business with a bunch of people who don’t matter to you.  These people matter.SAM_0551

As Angelo says, “Good times.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

what a shame….

A friend of mine, Jim,  killed himself a couple of weeks ago, shot himself in the head.

He was a former state patrol officer.  He knew my kids and my family.  He was always good to everyone I knew.

I’ve been trying to come to terms with what he did and how he did it.  He was 70 years old, but appeared much younger.  I coached baseball with him, and we talked baseball a lot.

He had a son who was an excellent pitcher, better than anyone I’d ever seen in this town.  The ball just exploded out of his hand.  When he was in high school, there would be five or six scouts watching him every game.  But, he had drug issues, and nobody wanted to take a chance.  That was devastating to Jim.

Two years ago, he contracted meningitis and it affected him, but not so much it was noticeable to anyone who didn’t know him.  But, he was different and it bothered him.

He called his son the day he decided to kill himself, so his wife wouldn’t find him.  He told him he needed the lawn mowed.

I think I know why he did what he did.   I’m hoping the way he did it wasn’t some sort of payback to the son who disappointed him so much.

And for me, I’ll never think of him the same again.  That is a shame. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore…

Steven Slater

Jet Blue no longer desires the services of Steven Slater.

I’m sure, by now, just about everyone’s heard of Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who basked in the glow of victimhood, as he cussed out a passenger, grabbed a brew and slid down the emergency slide of life at the end of a recent Buffalo to New York flight.

The bravos were being shouted from every corner of the country supporting this employed victim of life, a victim of being run over, a victim of every malady of society, the real life Howard Beale of “Network”  fame.  “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”   

But, this angry everyman smiled and waved.  His arrest looked more like a coronation than a perp walk.  He did say he loved being a flight attendant for Jet Blue, and would like to keep his job. 

When asked about this adventure, he commented he thought about it.  Are you kidding me?  Thought about it?  And then, he did it? 

What a selfish move.  Going down the emergency slide with a couple of beers?  This guy needs help, not his old job at Jet Blue.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

things I like….


I like the fact that Dennis Kucinich runs for president knowing he has no chance of winning, that he runs because he has something to say, something important, something he believes in. 

I also like it that he has a very tall wife who looks more trophy than….well, she’s good looking.  He reminds me of the old George Gobel quote, “Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?”

I like that Senator Russ Feingold voted against the Patriot Act after the attack on the World Trade Center, that he was the only vote, 99-1 on your scorecard, a sort of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” act of political suicide, to defend what The Constitution really means.


I like that Senator Orrin Hatch went against the party line when he defended the rights of Muslims to build their mosque near “Ground Zero” and Senate Majority Leader, and major league hypocrite, Harry Reid decided The Constitution was not worth defending, when placed against his need to be re-elected when he came out against it.  

I like that Carly Fiorina was caught on an open microphone calling Senator Barbara Boxer’s hair “so yesterday” when Hewlett Packard apparently felt the same about her when they fired her as CEO.

I like it that “Winter’s Bone”, emotionally raw and intelligent, was available for me to watch in a sea of blow ‘em up, stink ‘em up movies.  While Judd Apatow can make me laugh for a minute, this movie will stay with me for years.

I like that I can put on the glass slipper and live my fairy tale, fast life and return to my home, just two miles from my birth, where nobody cares.

I like the simple wisdom of Satchel Paige when he said, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.”

I like that my kids still come to me when they have a problem.

I like beef stroganoff and lemon ice.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I know you’re good, but……

I am full of food, really good food, but really, really full. 

For some reason, the women in my life seem to think I’m not fat enough.  And, for yesterday, that food pusher was Judy Kessler.

Yesterday, we did a furniture photo shoot at the Los Angeles home of Judy Kessler.  Judy is a diminutive lady held together by various pieces of hardware meant to keep her from flying without going through the airport version of an MRI machine. 

She is a former executive in the television industry, a former movie producer, and author.  To underestimate her would be at your own peril.  

No is an answer that seems to be filtered by Judy’s brain to mean maybe, or even yes.  Many times she said to me, “Do you want some (notice, no question mark)”…  And most times I said, “I’m good.”  And then she would say, “I know you’re good, but”…., and then some sort of food was being ingested by my growing body.

The banter went on for hours, and each time I had to think of  how to decline this force of nature in a polite, yet creative way.  She was and is too cunning, too smart, too persistent. 

At the end of the evening, Judy won.  I ate everything that wasn’t moving.  Really, was there any chance there was going to be any other outcome?

And, at the end of the evening, I won.  I had the chance to be around one of the most interesting, smart, caring and selfless people I’ve ever been around.  Thank you Judy.

I love my life!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

the power of sports….

If you’ve been around me, you know I like sports.  Let me rephrase that, I love sports.  I love that there’s a result, that it says you won or lost, that the effort pays off.

I’ve coached some, and I will coach some more.  There’s not another classroom like the performance field.  In some sports, if you make a mistake, you get hit in the mouth, or worse yet, your buddy gets hit in the mouth.   I don’t recall that ever happening in the classroom without a teacher getting fired.

In sports, you need to give up yourself for success, at least the good ones do.  And, leadership is required, not optional.

Each year, when I coach, I break down each player to his or her game to basics.  I make them reach beyond their grasp.   I build them up, build their confidence, build their ability, build their IQ. 

In sports, there are no shortcuts.  Achievement is gained through sweat equity.  You can’t look at somebody else’s paper.  You can’t just figure it out.  You have to do it, over and over.  Because, unlike the classroom, your opponent is doing the same thing.  And, in sports, you don’t win by thinking; you win by doing.      

In business, I can tell the people who have played sports.  They think, act and move differently.   There’s a swagger.  They laugh from their belly.  They don’t quit, and they don’t hand off the tough stuff to others.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

please, please, please…..

For some reason, it seems every time I see a press release regarding the Palin family, it has something to do with scandal or money, or just something a little unseemly.

Now, we’re finding out that Bristol Palin will be on “Dancing With the Stars”.  Now, that’s what I would expect from the Jersey Shore gang, not the daughter of somebody with the aspiration of leading the free world.

I did a Wikipedia look up on Bristol Palin.  She was named after the Bristol Inn, in Bristol Connecticut, where mother Sarah was hoping to work for ESPN.  You can’t make this stuff  up.

Now, I don’t blame anyone for taking an opportunity and making the most of it, and Sarah Palin is certainly doing that.  This is her Camelot, her opportunity to make it big time.  But, it is up to us to understand the difference between someone who is famous and someone who is qualified.

The Palins hit the mother lode when John McCain chose Sarah as his running mate.  Apparently, her ability to see Russia from Alaska was enough for him, and the fact she was attractive and unknown. 

When she unpacked those stiletto heels and leather skirt, the hockey mom from Wasilla broke out and showed us the only difference between a pit bull and an Alaska governor was lipstick.

So, now we’ve unleashed this person, this Ellie Mae Clampett with ambition.  Please, please, please, will someone bring some adult supervision to this whole thing?  

Monday, August 30, 2010

how did they do that????


Since we’ve been making Convert-a-Couch, we’ve been trying to take out some of the “clunkiness” of the product.  Because you can make something into a bed, doesn’t mean it has to be ugly.

I believe we’ve made some great progress.  This is a pocketed coil product that makes into a bed in just seconds.  And, it’s comfortable as a bed or a sofa, something the futon just hasn’t been able to achieve in it’s lifetime.

There’s no uncomfortable bar in the back, no lumpy mattress, nothing to interfere with a good night’s sleep.     

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Restoring Honor

If you’ve read this blog, you know that Glenn Beck and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.  I believe he wraps himself in the flag and positions himself as a conservative, while tearing apart The Constitution.

The crowd attending the "Restoring Honor" rally, ...

Today, the Glenn Beck organized “Restoring Honor” rally was held in Washington, DC, at the same place, on the same day, 47 years later, as the Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” speech.

Parading symbolic speakers of all colors and creeds, the “Restoring Honor” rally produced words of hope and honor while hundreds of thousands watched and listened.  Beck, himself was wearing a bullet proof vest under his shirt as he spoke.

I was prepared to be cynical at something I was sure would turn into a political rally.  I was wrong.  I ended up being inspired. 

While I will probably always be on the other end of the political spectrum, I am grateful for the effort and the event.  I’m glad I was wrong.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

invisible monkeys…

It seems as though PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) got involved in a little stink about Dodge using a monkey to push the plunger on a bomb detonator, causing a bunch of confetti to fly in an ad as the exclamation point to the ad. 

Invisible monkey in Dodge's Year-End Tent Event Sale advertisement

So, to appease PETA, Dodge changed the ad to use an invisible monkey, either to save production costs, or to wink at PETA just a little.  I think it’s the latter.  And, if it is, brilliant.

paralysis of the mind….

A generation ago, I played Charlie Brown in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”  In it, there’s a soliloquy that I’ve somehow identified with and used to help me sort out things.  Here it is, from “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”

“I think lunchtime is about the worst time of day for me. Always having to sit here alone. Of course, sometimes, mornings aren't so pleasant either. Waking up and wondering if anyone would really miss me if I never got out of bed. Then there's the night, too. Lying there and thinking about all the stupid things I've done during the day. And all those hours in between when I do all those stupid things. Well, lunchtime is among the worst times of the day for me. Well, I guess I'd better see what I've got. Peanut butter. Some psychiatrists say that people who eat peanut butter sandwiches are lonely...I guess they're right. And when you're really lonely, the peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth. There's that cute little red-headed girl eating her lunch over there. I wonder what she would do if I went over and asked her if I could sit and have lunch with her?...She'd probably laugh right in my's hard on a face when it gets laughed in. There's an empty place next to her on the bench. There's no reason why I couldn't just go over and sit there. I could do that right now. All I have to do is stand up...I'm standing up!...I'm sitting down. I'm a coward. I'm so much of a coward, she wouldn't even think of looking at me. She hardly ever does look at me. In fact, I can't remember her ever looking at me. Why shouldn't she look at me? Is there any reason in the world why she shouldn't look at me? Is she so great, and I'm so small, that she can't spare one little moment?...SHE'S LOOKING AT ME!! SHE'S LOOKING AT ME!! (he puts his lunchbag over his head.) ...Lunchtime is among the worst times of the day for me. If that little red-headed girl is looking at me with this stupid bag over my head she must think I'm the biggest fool alive. But, if she isn't looking at me, then maybe I could take it off quickly and she'd never notice it. On the other hand...I can't tell if she's looking, until I take it off! Then again, if I never take it off I'll never have to know if she was looking or not. On the other's very hard to breathe in here. (he removes his sack) Whew! She's not looking at me! I wonder why she never looks at me? Oh well, another lunch hour over with...only 2,863 to go.”

Think of anguish and energy wasted.  Next time, just go for it Charlie; just go for it.