Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Three Bears Forecast:

You remember the Goldilocks story. There was the traditional single-child Bear family, with one momma, one poppa and one baby. They didn’t maintain much security in their peaceful neighborhood, so when Britney or Paris or Pamela or whomever the blond was that was roaming the woods broke into the place she found a range of appeal in most everything she tried. Usually there were the two possible extremes and then one that was just right. So too with predictions for the coming year.

If you are of the pessimistic persuasion, you might look at this one:

Gloomy Poll

Or, if you lean toward the bright side of the spectrum and see your glasses as half full, then try this:

Sunshine Poll

If you are a realist and think back on predictions made in previous years you should be able to acknowledge that these exercises are always wrong…or always right…to some degree or another.

Let me make some predictions. They will be as right or wrong as those of the highly paid pundits and worth exactly what you are paying for them. It will give me a chance, however, to point back at them when the predictions come true during the year or, conveniently to ignore them if nothing of the sort comes to pass.

First: there will be a major terrorist attack on US soil during the coming year. That is pretty much guaranteed. It will probably be Islamist jihadists, but it could just as easily be some kook wanna-be playing for his fifteen minutes of infamy. Regardless, a lot of people will die and once again we will get serious about security and maybe this time we will keep at it until we’ve made some progress.

Two: enviro-whackos will continue to preach global warming and eco-terrorism but sensible folks will begin to acknowledge that we can’t have it both ways. If we want to continue living in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed, we are going to have to drill for oil, build power-plants, transport goods on highways, clone animals and plants to insure a food supply and chop down trees to build our homes. We will begin to compromise and maybe stop trying to operate with our hands tied by excessive environmental legislation.

Three: the new congress will increase the minimum wage, repeal tax cuts and increase hand-outs to the growing welfare class. The result will be a plunge in the Dow, increased unemployment, accelerating inflation and much higher interest rates as consumer optimism goes down. The voting public will not link the cause and effect.

Four: we will not do a single thing to deal with illegal immigration. Nothing, nada, zippo, zilch! No walls, no visas, no registration, no deportations, no employer oversights and not much more than talk without walk from the political panderers in Washington.

Fifth: there will not be a draft. Both parties will point at the other side and say it is them that will be taking our children to fight in unjust wars. The military will correctly state that we don’t want unwilling conscripts to train and attempt to manage. Spoiled American youth will whine that it isn’t their fault and they see no reason to serve. Consideration will be given to outsourcing the contract for our defense. Bangladesh will bid on the job.

Sixth: even the Democrats will begin to recognize that Hillary Clinton has too much baggage to be a viable candidate for president. While the party faithful might yearn for a return to the Clinton era, mainstream—and generally quiet—America doesn’t want to dredge through all of the associated muck again. They will also realize that Barack Obama needs a minimum of two terms in the Senate before he proves some capability for the top slot.

Seventh: the Republicans will whimper when John McCain announces that his health won’t let him run, but many will know that he isn’t what the Reagan conservative core of the party seeks. Guiliani isn’t either, but he will be a major contender. Look for a rise to prominence of someone we still haven’t heard from. Governors are always good choices.

Eighth: Windows Vista will be a huge success. The usual suspects will gripe about vulnerabilities and instability, but users will be dazzled and honest folks will have to concede that MS has hit a homerun.

Ninth: there will be a re-emergence of class, culture and sophistication in American Society. People will not show the slightest interest in whether Paris has a dog, Britney has underwear, Angelina has a baby, or Madonna has hot flashes. Tabloids at grocery store checkout counters will disappear in bankruptcy and rap music will no longer cause my bedroom walls to vibrate as some idiot with $10,000 worth of stereo in a $400 car drives by. (OK, none of this will happen, but I wish it would.)

And Tenth: the US will slowly withdraw from Iraq as a politically driven run-up to a presidential election year. The result will be increasing violence in that country, increasing adventurism by Iran, increasing vulnerability to energy supplies for Europe, Russia and the Far East, and an increasing realization that we made a mistake—not by going there, but by leaving.

I promise to come back to this next year—good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise. We’ll see how I did.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Amazing Without Mirrors

The fishwrapper this morning pointed out that with recent Christmas purchases there are now 33 MILLION of us with High Definition televisions. That’s a lot of plasma, LCD, DLP, mirrors and magic going on out there. I confess, I’m one of the mass. I’ve been one for about two years now. I’ve seen high def programming and was amazed. When I first sat in front of the set at home with my cable hookup, I found myself watching Korean sumo wrestling, just because it was in high def. The Koreans are more modest than the Japanese version. They wear white boxer shorts under their sumo thong. And they typically average about 115 pounds. But, hey, it’s in HIGH DEF!

That was then. Now I just passed my one year anniversary in my new digs in North Texas. Cable doesn’t quite meet the standard we had in Colorado. I understand the costs of that “last mile” thing. Stringing cable to small town across America is expensive and maybe Whitesboro isn’t quite as ready for high def as Plano or Denton. So, cable isn’t in my house. I’ve got satellite. Dish Network to be specific. That’s the service that reaches skyward to those orbiting satellite repeaters so that I can theoretically get most any major TV channel that is broadcast. The operative word there is theoretically.

I’ve got the “Platinum” programming package—that’s 180 of the “most popular TV” channels. I’ve got HBO, Showtime and CineMax. I’ve got the High Definition tier and additionally got the “VOOM” channels for more High Definition. What I don’t have to any great degree is High Definition.

I don’t have Fox HD. I don’t have CBS, NBC or ABC HD. I don’t have NFL HD. I get the promos that tell me there is HD broadcast of major network programming, but I don’t receive it. I could get it with the flick of a switch on Dish Network’s vast control room. It’s out there in space waiting to be beamed to my little Dish 1000 dual satellite receiver. But I don’t get it.

What do I get? Well, there’s the Kung Fu HD channel—all Asian violence all the time. I get Monsters HD, with every Godzilla movie ever made running back-to-back. But, broadcasting them in HD still doesn’t get a HD picture. They were grainy movies then and they’re still grainy. Oh, and I’ve got two HD channels in the package that have never been on-the-air all year as well as an HD Pay-per-view channel—but, I thought I was paying for HD already.

Recently, during the middle of the Nebraska—Oklahoma game, Dish shut off my Fox and ABC feeds. Seems that our Congress decreed that I couldn’t see major networks other than those from my local provider. So, despite being 50 miles from Dallas, that ain’t my local provider and I don’t get them—even in standard definition. I get Sherman TX for CBS now. It’s a channel that has a funny quirk of going in and out of focus on about a three-second cycle. It’ll give you vertigo after a while.

Well, it isn’t really that I can’t get out-of-area channels exactly. There is another company that for $2.50 a month decided whether you meet their criteria and then they feed you a San Francisco or Atlanta channel—which is fuzzy, grainy and drops out whole chunks of sound and picture with distressing regularity. But no High Def.

One special feature of Dish is that when it rains or the wind blows, you’ll lose contact with the satellite for half an hour at a time while the little computer gizmo reacquires the satellites and does fifteen or twenty quality checks before restoring service. That means when I’d really like to know if a tornado is bearing down on my domicile, I’ll have to listen for the freight train sound rather than get some weather news on TV.

So, somewhere sun is shining and somewhere children shout, but there is no joy in Whitesboro, mighty Dish Network continues to strike out.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hiring The CEO

Let’s imagine. You’re on the board of directors of a multi-billion dollar company. There have been some problems recently and as a good steward of the investment you know that it is time to replace the CEO. You’re wondering about the bottom line and maybe even new directions. Is your product competitive or is technology changing faster than you can adapt? What should your new leadership be doing?

So, you have a board meeting. The directors sit around the mahogany table and discuss what they want in a candidate. What are they suggesting?

Maturity. We need someone with some grounding and the ability to detach emotion from the decision-making process. We don’t want to be wearing our heart on our sleeves when it comes to the success of the corporation do we? We need someone with, dare I say it, gravitas!

Experience. In an operation the size of ours we can’t afford an on-the-job training situation. We’ve got to find someone who has some workplace experience. Someone who knows how to define the problems and bring together a team that can assemble solutions. There’s no room for nepotism or manufactured diversity quotas. We need a leader that can lead and the management staff has to know what they are doing, not simply be square fillers or tokens.

Integrity. Sure, that goes without saying. There’s no room to hire someone who’s run afoul of the law or even someone who might be suspicious in their past. We don’t want to have to divert our resources to putting out fires regarding conduct and honor and behavior. There are problems to be solved regarding the operations here and we don’t need to waste a lot of effort discussing whether the boss wears boxers or briefs.

Well, wait a second. Isn’t it time we consider a woman for the job? I mean the position has been held for as long as we’ve been in business by a man. Isn’t it time for a woman to have a turn at the helm? Wouldn’t that be fair?

Honestly, if we can find a woman who wants the job who possesses the qualities, the values, the experience, the talent, the capability, the moral authority, the respect that we need, then certainly we should consider a woman. It is what is best for the company that should guide our decision. It’s what we owe the stock-holders. It’s what we know is necessary. But, it isn’t going to be because it’s someone’s “turn”. That would be foolish, wouldn’t it? To put someone in the job simply because of their gender rather than their qualifications?

Maybe now you’ve identified the metaphor. The company is the US of A. The board is the voters. The CEO is the president.

That is why it is so ludicrous to be watching the Barack and Hillary follies. That is why this in the New York Times is disturbing:

Applying For A Job

Can someone tell me about Barack? I know he’s the proper mix of white and black parents to somehow make him a Renaissance Man of color. But that doesn’t make him presidential.

I know he’s a Senator from Illinois. But he’s only been in the job two years. That doesn’t make him experienced.

I know he responds to the question about drug use with a throw away about actually inhaling quite a bit and doing “a bit of blow”. Sorry, but at that point he just joined my not-so-short list of disqualified. I don’t need confessed druggies, even recreational druggies, in the big chair in the front office. No. Simply NO!

But, has he ever held a job? Beyond being charming and maybe even somewhat charismatic, does he have any accomplishments of import? What has he done? Beyond being black and cute I seem to find his resume lacking. Does he have any management experience? Built a staff somewhere? Solved some crisis? Met a payroll?

Increasingly I keep returning to the conclusion that America is incapable of exercising democracy. Choosing a CEO isn’t a popularity contest. It isn’t a social engineering laboratory. It isn’t a “everybody gets a turn” fair play exercise. It is about leading the greatest country in the world to success and security for the people. How come we keep forgetting that?