Friday, December 17, 2010

Every Man in This Village is a Liar

Just finished this interesting book with a perplexing title. It follows a journalist who has been covering war since she found herself outside the U.S. in 9-11 and ended being one of the early ones into Afghanistan.

She may write with a little too much drama but I’ve never been to any of these places – Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Yemen - in or out of war.

Her title sums up the conundrum of geo-politics. If someone says they are telling the truth – they are probably lying. If they are lying, well, then …

A Springsteen line perhaps sums this up best: “Trust none of what you see and less of what you hear.”

I know only enough to be dangerous in a wordy sort of way but near the end of the book she – for me – summarizes a sentiment.

Americans – who live in a country with almost no history (200 years which doesn’t add up to much globally) think we can go in and change places, “… make the old go away. All to create a new Middle East. But the old Middle East is still there and where should it go?”

When every man in the village is a liar, who you gonna call?

Traditions

Today was/is another one of my favorite Christmas season work traditions.

Every year the Central High School Chamber Choir comes to our office to sing carols. This year they sang instead at our Greene County courthouse.

The building has a large three-story rotunda. It must be more than 100 years old. You can imagine the acoustics.

The kids are amazing. They always sing my fave Carol of the Bells and my 2nd fave – something that sounds like Rio Rio Chio – no idea if I am close or not but it is a peppy little song that is great. All this is a capella by the way.

They added two to the repertoire this year – one I can’t name but think it was in German and a Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown song. All that was missing was Linus at his itty-bitty piano. Might be hard to imagine doing justice to it with voices – but this group pulled it off for me.

Every year they come back with new kids and every year they do a great job. Mark your calendar for 2011.

Memories

Wednesday night I was cleaning up some songs on iTunes and whenever I’d run across a title I didn’t recognize, I moved those to my iPod just to see what they were; figured I’d listen before deleting or whatever.

There were a couple of George Strait’s. I’m no big fan, he’s old school country, which is fine at times, but I’m not going to purposely listen to a bunch.
On the way to work Thursday and one of them started.

Songs have a way of taking you back to where you were when you first heard them or at least where you have some strong memories associated.

I never knew I had any memories associated with any George Strait song.

It took a moment or two then my eyes got all watery. The song was something my daughter had picked for her first dance with her new husband at her wedding 2 & ½ years ago. A close family friend sang this song while Sarah and Caleb danced.
I remember standing their watching them sway and shuffle back and forth and it was one more time I realized my baby girl wasn’t mine anymore.

Memories are great and powerful. Music and memories are emotionally powerful.

But it’s what we have to hang on to sometimes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Homeless people

Somehow on the way to church yesterday the subject turned to homeless people. I have no recall as to how. But oddly enough my 10 year-old daughter was interested. I tried without too much stereotyping to tell her that some homeless people are homeless because things happened they couldn't control. Lost jobs, lost their homes etc. But there are some folks who are homeless because they want to be. They'd rather have a life on the street with whatever that brings than the so-called normal life the rest of us lead.

I explained the hard part is that it is often hard to tell the difference when you see them on the street. We have to pass a popular hangout for (not sure what the politically correct term is these days but here goes ...) panhandlers. They all hold up small signs with the usual - "stranded, out-of-work - need help - God Bless." Touching some times and I'm conflicted but when you see them with the same signs week after week or in a nearby parking lot and one hands the cardboard off to another - it makes it even tougher to know what is the right response.

Just so happens I am reading a 20 page report on homeless in Springfield. I'm only on page 11 but I mentioned it to her. She said she'd like to read it. I told her it was long and complex but she still wants to see it when I'm done.

Check back to see what she says. I'm curious too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

GroupOn and other discounters

I don’t know enough about this but read a local article (which is behind a paywall at SBJ.net so I can’t link directly to it) which highlighted this type of service and a business my daughter used to work for.

Found myself asking lots of questions.

Here are some salient facts:

Promoter/Discounter (Groupon or similar) offers half-price deal for local businesses. Retail value $30. Cost to on-line customer $15. Promoter pays business 50% of gross retail ($7.50). Promoter pockets $7.50 for every transaction.

Who wins? Of course the consumer/customer. They get something for ½ price by simply giving up a little bit of personal information. Groupon or whoever promotes it wins – they pocket $7.50.

What about the business? Back to my daughter. In her case the business in question paid used to pay her about a 40% commission on any service she completed. So if the retail was $30, she got $12. So the business had to pay her $12. The same business now only gets $7.50 from the discounter so they immediately lose $4.50. And reading the fine print – the deals don’t happen unless a minimum number of on-line sales are made so the business has to be prepared to handle that many sales (at a possible loss.) In a specific example cited in SBJ, 62 discounts were sold – do the math: the salon started with a net loss of $279 that they had to make up somehow. And remember this is all before overhead and supplies. The deal in question was for a haircut and blow dry so not too much else beyond shampoo but …

I understand marketing and loss leaders. If the business is able to upsell the customer who walks in with a discount voucher, OK. But as my daughter tells me from her years of experience in this type of trade, most customers who use these, don’t come back, they are hard to upsell and they often don’t bring ANY cash to buy anything else or tip.

You’ve heard the phrase “We’ll make it up in volume”? But that implies even a small amount of profit on any transaction. Make enough transactions and you can still generate some decent revenue. But when every most customers who walk in the door actually generate a net loss, not sure how volume is going to help.

So in my ignorance and in the midst of all the hype (think I heard Google was buying up Groupon – well a quick Google indicates the deal is off – SIDEBAR TRIVIA - Google the word Groupon and you don’t get the Groupon URL in the top ten, Hmmm…) this seems like something that doesn’t quite work for everybody.

Curious how this will play out in the long run.