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Sunday, July 31, 2005

fastcompany cover

HR

Why do Human Resources departments get such bad press?

I've rubbed shoulders with HR types all my working life - as book publicist, tourism promoter, construction press officer, brow-beaten copywriter - and I've rarely seen one treated by management as a bona fide member of the work force.

Fast Company's August cover story isn't going to improve things, Why We Hate HR - or if that link doesn't work, try this keyword link with access code FCAUGUSTHR.

It's a no-holds-barred attack, putting the questions we've always wondered about and dissecting the trade's Achilles Heel(s). Author of the piece is Fast Company's deputy editor, Keith H. Hammonds, and he doesn't mince words.

  • Why are annual performance appraisals so time-consuming -- and so routinely useless?
  • Why is HR so often a henchman for the chief financial officer, finding ever-more ingenious ways to cut benefits and hack at payroll?
  • Why do its communications -- when we can understand them at all -- so often flout reality?
  • Why are so many people-processes duplicative and wasteful, creating a forest of paperwork for every minor transaction?
  • And why does HR insist on sameness as a proxy for equity?

    Here's where Hammond sees the trouble with HR:

    In a knowledge economy, companies that have the best talent win. We all know that. Human resources execs should be making the most of our, well, human resources -- finding the best hires, nurturing the stars, fostering a productive work environment -- just as IT runs the computers and finance minds the capital. HR should be joined to business strategy at the hip.

    Instead, most HR organizations have ghettoized themselves literally to the brink of obsolescence. They are competent at the administrivia of pay, benefits, and retirement, but companies increasingly are farming those functions out to contractors who can handle such routine tasks at lower expense. What's left is the more important strategic role of raising the reputational and intellectual capital of the company -- but HR is, it turns out, uniquely unsuited for that.

    Here's why:

    1

    HR people aren't the sharpest tacks in the box.

    Some are exiles from the corporate mainstream: They've fared poorly in meatier roles -- but not poorly enough to be fired.

    For them, and for their employers, HR represents a relatively low-risk parking spot.

    The really scary news is that the gulf between capabilities and job requirements appears to be widening: As business and legal demands on the function intensify, staffers' educational qualifications haven't kept pace. In fact, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a considerably smaller proportion of HR professionals today have some education beyond a bachelor's degree than in 1990.

    And here's one more slice of telling SHRM data: When HR professionals were asked about the worth of various academic courses toward a "successful career in HR," 83% said that classes in interpersonal communications skills had "extremely high value." Employment law and business ethics followed, at 71% and 66%, respectively. Where was change management? At 35%. Strategic management? 32%. Finance? Um, that was just 2%.

    The truth? Most human-resources managers aren't particularly interested in, or equipped for, doing business ... business acumen is the single biggest factor that HR professionals in the U.S. lack today.

    There are three questions that any decent HR person in the world should be able to answer:

    1. Who is your company's core customer? Have you talked to one lately? Do you know what challenges they face?
    2. Who is the competition? What do they do well and not well?
    3. Most important, who are we? What is a realistic assessment of what we do well and not so well vis à vis the customer and the competition?

    Does your HR pro know the answers?

    2

    HR pursues efficiency in lieu of value. Why? Because it's easier -- and easier to measure.

    We should see them pushing to take on more-strategic roles within corporations - but human-resources managers themselves typically undermine that effort by investing more importance in activities than in outcomes.

    "You're only effective if you add value," comments one HR guru. "That means you're not measured by what you do but by what you deliver." By that, he refers not just to the value delivered to employees and line managers, but the benefits that accrue to investors and customers, as well.

    3

    HR isn't working for you. Want to know why you go through that asinine performance appraisal every year.
    Companies are doing it to protect themselves against their own employees. They put a piece of paper between you and employees, so if you ever have a confrontation, you can go to the file and say, "Here, I've documented this problem."

    Human resources departments benchmark salaries - function by function, job by job - against industry standards, keeping pay -- even that of the stars -- within a narrow band determined by competitors. They bounce performance appraisals back to managers who rate their employees too highly, unwilling to acknowledge accomplishments that would merit much more than the 4% company wide increase.

    Human resources, in other words, forfeits long-term value for short-term cost efficiency.

    A simple test: Who does your company's vice president of human resources report to? If it's the CFO -- and chances are good it is -- then HR is headed in the wrong direction because that's a model that cannot work: A financial person is concerned with taking money out of the organization. HR should be concerned with putting investments in.

    The article is supported by killer side-bars such as five ways for HR to Do it right and a collection of silly HR tricks.

    I can't wait to read the defensive howls in issues to come.

    But the saddest most telling aspect of the article is that Fast Company risks losing not one ¢ent of punitive reduced advertising as result of Hammond's detailed razor job.

    No one who's likely to be offended will have anything to do with bottom-line performance.


  • Saturday, July 30, 2005

    Tooloee louie

    ~ mayoral bid ~

    Bravo Nezam Tooloee for lobbing his hat into the political ring (Review front page, "Tooloee makes surprise bid for mayor").

    (And what about that epistolary bouquet in the same July 30 issue from Joe Honick? Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and National Press Club in Washington, no less ... )

    "Does an outstanding job as a community newspaper", lauds JH, who takes our local rag "along with my New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times."

    bowler hatPraise and distinguished company, indeed, but I suggest we keep a lid on gush like that before it ups the price to a buck and the Editor's distinguished pate to the next size up in bowlers.

    Getting back to 'Shazam' Tooloee's entry in the lists, what particularly impressed me were the professional and dignified statements following the announcement.

    Councilman Tooloee:

    Aide Mémoire: dramatis personae of who's running where and for what this fall:

    .

    Lord baden-powell

    Ging Gang Goolie

    Dib dib duude - what *have* those boyish scouters done to attract such (literal) heat from the celestial Chief Scout?

    Chip Gibbons' Binary Circumstance reported it truer than he knew in observing that the Baden-Powell battalions seem to have fallen foul of Someone Very Important.

  • Four Scout leaders (who should have known better) pitch their tent under a power line with electrifying consequences.
  • Frying of a sunnier kind lays 300 rank and file low as they wait in vain for a Presidential visit.
  • And now, dispensing with domestic power grids, our Patrol Leader in the Sky chucks a personalized thunderbolt into their midst.

  • Friday, July 29, 2005

    oprah

    Oprah-philia

    I've had my eye on that Miss Winfrey ever since she idiotically disgraced herself before European gentry.

    Her yesterday's show produced a look on the dumpy diva's face that was pure heaven to witness.

    The victim guest was a lady who'd spun such pathological fibs in her time that her pals had dumped her, wanting no more contact.

    lisaTrue to form, Oprah put her through the usual disingenuous questioning, allowed the camera a moment to home in on the statutory cathartic blubbing, and then performed the party trick we'd all been waiting for - summoning the aforesaid estranged pals from behind a curtain for Madame Liar to stammer out her mea culpas. Following this, the script called for her to collapse into the arms of her forgiving pals and receive final benediction and closure from the saintèd Chatterene herself.

    christine & michelleThank goodness for pal Michelle [right] who was having none of this showbiz shrinkery. She just wanted to point out that:
     

  • So what if the fork-tongued Lisa was coming clean in front of all those cameras and bright lights and gawping studio audience? Big deal.
  • What assurance did any of them have that LIsa wouldn't revert straight back to her old tricks the moment she got home?
  • Winfrey's expression was a picture:

    She wants assurance ? Here in the Tabernacle of Television ... in the holy Presence? Was Michelle seriously suggesting that words bathed in the sacred spotlight and blessed by the enobling lens were not as binding and immortal as the Tablets descended from the mountain?? Lèse majesté!

    I expected the settee to roll back and the studio floor to open for Michelle to go tumbling into a vat of molten pitch.

    Finally Oprah found her words, but all she could manage through her shocked indignation was strident reminders to Lisa that she was On Television ... after which life can never be the same blah blah ... everything she'd owned up to had been witnessed by millions ... she wouldn't be able to go to the supermarket without people singling her out ... et cetera.

    Michelle continued to look unconvinced.

    Not a bad candidate for my "Vainglorious" file, subsection "The Telly".

    And just wait for September when Winfrey intends to re-make a national twat of herself by resurrecting her Hermès humiliation on her new season's show.

    Good times.


    Excruciating Writing

    ~ Bulwer-Lytton 2005 ~

    Here's where my readership rockets as I do my annual service to literature and report the triumphant winners of Bulwer-Lytton 2005.

    This international literary parody contest honors the memory of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton by challenging writers to deliver a truly naff opening sentence to an imaginary novel.

    The point is to rival Bulwer-Lytton's own opening of his novel, "Paul Clifford", the much mocked and Snoopy-plagiarized, "It was a dark and stormy night."

    This year's Winner is Dan McKay of Fargo, ND, with

    "As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual."

    Runner-Up: Mitsy Rae of Danbury, NE, with

    "When Detective Riggs was called to investigate the theft of a trainload of Native American fish broth concentrate bound for market, he solved the case almost immediately, being that the trail of clues led straight to the trainmaster, who had both the locomotive and the Hopi tuna tea."

    Grand Panjandrum's Special Award goes to Ken Aclin of Shreveport,

    "India, that hangs like a wet washcloth from the towel rack of Asia, presented itself to Tex as he landed in Delhi (or was it Bombay?), as if it mattered because Tex finally had an idea to make his mark and fortune and that idea was a chain of steak houses to serve the millions and he wondered, as he deplaned down the steep, shiny, steel steps, why no one had thought of it before."

    Read the full list yourself, but here are some that caught my eye.

    I always like each year's Fantasy Fiction winners and Kevin Craver doesn't let me down with:

    "Why does every task in the Realm of Zithanor have to be a quest?" Baldak of Erthorn, handyman to the Great Wizard Zarthon, asked rhetorically as he began his journey began to find the Holy Hammer of Taloria and the Sacred Nail of Ikthillia so Baldak could hang one of Zarthon's mediocre watercolors, which was an art critique Baldak kept to himself unlike his predecessor, whom Zarthon turned into the Picture Frame of Torathank."

    I knew *exactly* whence cometh Kristin Harbruck with her Purple Prose Runner-Up,

    "She walked toward him, her dress billowing in the wind -- not a calm and predictable billows like the sea, but more like the billowing of a mildewed shower curtain in a cheap motel where one has to dance around to avoid touching it while trying to rinse off soap."
    Gordon Grant's Purply Dishonorable Mention was *much* too close to what I come up with when I really try for my serious literate best:
    "The golden-haired dawn curled back the fading face of night in a perpetual coiffure like an Ace comb in God's hand parting the day, making pompadours of mountains, crew cuts of Kansas wheat fields, and trendy cuts of the oceans' rolling waves."

    No way should Science Fiction have been won by *that* feeble entry and boo hiss the judges there.

    For sheer shaggy-dog sentence silliness, I couldn't stop my mouth from stretching at Vancouver WA's Harvey McCluskey's Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mention for

    Derwin Thoryndike vowed to place a 14-carat engagement ring on the finger of Glenda-Sue Ellington, so now all he had to do was save up enough money to buy the ring, get it inscribed, and then locate a person named Glenda-Sue Ellington and convince her to marry him.

    Happy awful reading ... and if you get bored with the Bulwers, there's always the Bad Sex scribbling.


    Thursday, July 28, 2005

    st anthony

    St Anthony

    ~ Patron Saint of Lost Articles ~

    Well St Anto's done it again, despite my scepticism and graceless approach.

    After all the miracles he's performed for me over the years as Saint of Lost Articles - and summoned at a moment's notice, to boot - you'd think I'd be more polite and believing.

    I learnt of his tracking powers from my Mum (who else?), who sensibly wastes no time grubbing around on hands and knees but immediately rushes off to light candles and plead her case with the good Doctor. They're almost certainly on first-name terms by now with mama granted special dispensation to charge all the various trouvés to her antonian account.

    Having done some homework, I see that St A is not just one of the Lost Article Saints, but the man to turn to for all your problems with

  • Shipwrecks
  • Starvation
  • Amputations
  • Domestic animals
  • Elderly people
  • Expectant mothers
  • Mail (Whoa! Poor guy - you'd think with this one he'd be excused the rest)
  • And 'Travel Hostesses', would you believe?
  • Anyway, he's always been the saint my family turned to when things went missing.

    First some background: two years ago I needed my Natural Insurance number to quote to the British DHSS for their continued efficient husbandry of my UK pension.

    Shock horror. No sign of the card, even tho' I saw it clearly in my mind's eye as somewhere very sensible and very safe and by no means lost.

    Despite periodic dismantlings of the house and family-splintering temper tantrums fanned by wild accusations, no card was ever found and no help received across the Pond in tracking down previous employers.

    Yesterday I was leafing thru my dwindling finances and thinking how convenient it would be to at least have my NI contributions sorted out.

    Before I knew what I was saying, I was blurting out a shame-faced supplication to the old boy. Nothing too cheesy or hypocritical - just that if he could see his way to dropping me the teensiest *hint* as to the wretched card's whereabouts, I'd be most terribly grateful and definitely make it worth his while, yadda yadda.

    So this morning over breakfast I suddenly fancy hearing some old *old* Randy Newman.

    cupboard with closed doorsI go to this beautiful antique cabinet where I keep spare CDs I never listen to and as I'm riffling through the racks, I think:

    1. This is the least convenient place to keep or find old CDs
    2. This is too classy a piece of furniture to use for dumping unwanted music and other knick-knacks.
    3. You don't need an antique closet anyway. You're an open shelving IKEA man.
    4. You need money to stay in town, or you'll be lugging it out to the front lawn anyway and letting it go for a dime in your "Off-2-Greece, everything must go, farewell Bainbridge yard sale", sniffle.
    5. Find *this* honey a good home by investing a little time and advertising space in tracking down an appreciative owner.

    cabinet openBreakfast over, I'm seriously tempted by the idea of getting rid of the cabinet.

    We bought it in Hong Kong and shipped it all the way over here and it's never really found its purpose. Lovely piece of work, tho', with a deep secret panel ideal for storing booze and the like.

    I start moving the CDs around and deciding what I can give back to the girls out of the discarded Walkmen and headphones and cameras and wires in the main body of the cabinet.

    As I shuffle these items - like I've shuffled them once a week for the past five or six years - I notice these two dinky drawers right under my nose.

    I open the left drawer first and lo and behold the dinky leather card wallet I bought in Hong Kong to cope with the mountain of business cards one has thrust on one in the far east.

    Even before I open it, I recognize my "very sensible very safe" hiding place.

    cards
    I open remove the cards from the holder. A veritable cornucopia of ancient history:

    • My NI card (and never has the garish mix of red and pale blue looked more aesthetically lovely)
    • My Hong Kong driving licence and Hong Kong Telecom phone card
    • Stephanie's and my HKG identity cards from *before* the 1997 hand over
    • My Hong Kong Automobile Association membership card

    How to explain this extraordinary coincidence?

    I must set out at once on a pilgrimage to Snoqualmie and St Anthony's Church in Carnation, there to kneel in kneel in all-night vigil, my hair shirt chafing as my trusty page stands a respectful distance behind, cat o' nine-tails aloft, ready for my signal to deliver a cleansing flogging.

    I tell you this, henceforth I am definitely paying more respectful attention to that Saint of the Day calendar.

    Meanwhile, I don't suppose my regiment of 12 readers includes a connoisseur of fine furniture on the lookout for a decent period piece? I must get on with digging out the receipt to remind myself what we bought it for back in the early 90s.


    British Home secretary Charles Clarke off on holiday after postponing his vacation only 24 hrs

    Brit fuzz backtrack on Menezes story

    From track back to backtrack ... but first, my choice of photo for this post.

    I was going to illustrate this sad story with a shot of the late Jean Charles de Menezes, but when I read that my Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, had merely postponed his vacation by 24 hours, and when I saw that offensively cheery photo of the sebaceous pol, I knew I had my image for this distressing update.

    As if it wasn't enough to have an innocent man blithely gunned down in public like some rabid dog, we now have to put up with a whole new revised story from the police.

    Frankly, if I was the fuzz and I'd put out one unlikely story, I'd make damn'd sure another version didn't leak out. Hence, I'm curious how the Times Online found out that Menenez

  • JC was NOT wearing a bulky coat that could have hidden an explosive belt, but a lightweight denim jacket.
  • JC did NOT refuse to heed shouted warnings by armed fuzz, nor did he vault the ticket barriers. He used his travel card to gain access to the station.
  • And what a sad irony that it took shooting the poor bloke point-blank seven times in the head and once in the shoulder for police to wake up and modify their shoot-to-kill orders. In Birmingham, they settled for a Taser stun gun.
  • Speaking of vacations, UK law enforcement certainly seems to be in holiday mood, what with Clarke and now one of the shootist officers sloping off for some paid free time.

    Actually, I can remember the precise month and year this sort of rot set in: May 17 1995, and I'd just checked into my Bellevue motel and was watching agog the TV news and marveling at the disproportionate coverage being afforded the hounding of some black athlete who seemed to stand accused of little more than mere uxorcide.

    The next item was no less riveting: one of New York's finest had inadvertently gunned down an innocent man on the flimsiest of pretexts but, instead of giving a Big Apple shrug and asking what's new, he had taken to his shrink's couch where he was inconsolable until prescribed a relaxing family holiday under sunny skies.

    My first thought was, "What a brilliant wheeze. If a tough Noo Yawk cop can pull it off, I wonder how long it'll take to catch on with the denizens of EC1 and down the mean streets of Holborn.

    And nous voilà! The circle is unbroken.


  • English Signs in Foreign Locales

    Just in from my favourite grammarian.

    Pertinent post-script: Letter in the September Atlantic Monthly commenting on Bernard-Henri Lévy's articles on the States. The writer is
    "A farm boy from eastern Washington, where we all know that it is pronounced sort of like 'Wanatchee' but spelled definitely like 'Wenatchee.'

    I'm reminded [he concludes] of Mark Twain's comment that 'foreigners pronounce better than they spell.'"



    // posted by Corfucius @ 5:23 am (2) comments links to this post

    jump start

    Jump Start

    I've never felt easy wielding those jumper cables and pincering them onto those batteries - *and* I've always held a bit of my breath before turning the ignition of the 'dead' vehicle.

    If anything, I feel even more insecure after reading this expert advice and see all things I was oblivious to, such as

  • It being critically important to shut off the boosting car’s engine during the moments of actual cranking of the car with the dead battery.
  • That there's an exact order in which cables must be connected.
  • That the other end of the Negative (-) cable should be connected to "a good solid metal part of the engine on the dead car. Usually a giant shiny nut on the engine block will do."
  • I was never told to avoid placing the Negative (-) cable directly on the dead battery as a precaution against explosions."

  • colored hat on ferry

    Châpeau!

    Sighting on the ferry of an absolutely perfect hat-of-many-colors for this weather, worn with imperious style by a lady of ram-rod straight posture and the profile of a duchess.

    On yours or my bonce the multi-colored millinery would have been garish but milady sported it with aristocratic aplomb.


    // posted by Corfucius @ 1:53 am (0) comments links to this post

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005

    numbers

    The Feedback Game

    Needing to make a bloggy point to a pal, I was looking up a Julie Leung permalink and passed her trackback post which in turn had me following the link to baylyblog where the author says that,

    Not only are numbers important to bloggers, the more you blog the more you want other bloggers to link to your blog. The result is a self-referential series of quid pro quos wherein we mention other bloggers positively and link to them so that they will in turn mention and link to us.
    Am I completely missing something here? Should I be dabbling in the bloggeria at all?

    I have truthfully never wondered if a *anyone* stumbles across these entries. I live in determined denial that this blog's existence is known to anyone - indeed, it was quite a jolt to read that my pal checked in now and then to keep tabs on me.

    I can see how those 'in trade' with something to sell would want to monitor such figures and thus be able to wallow in the humiliation of comparing precise visitor numbers to the lack of sales or interest in their product, but for those simply rabbiting away on whatever topic catches their fancy, I can't see that it matters.

    This almost falls into my 'overweening pride' section, exception that it refers to *self* consciousness rather than vanity glorifying technology and the blogocircle itself.

    Speaking of vainglorious overweeners, the shrewdly observant Clint Sharp pinpoints an absolute doozy of a tempestuous teacup, all over Sarah Boxer's mild Emperor's Clothing number on the budding world of vlogs.

    As can be seen by just one source, SB hit such a nerve-ending that the sensitivi were instantly mobilized.

    The funny thing is that, if only the more rabid responses could have been delivered in vlog format, that would have trounced Ms Boxer's suggestion of navel-contemplating *and* advanced the cause of meaty content by several months.

    As it is, the sheer range and raucousness of reactions speak for themselves, and I hope neither La Boxer nor her editor are monitoring this feedback. If so, there'll have been triumphant ^5s all round and Ms B's assignment to her new role of Provocateuse without Portfolio for the whole Vlog beat. But I digress from my musing on the numbers game.

    I wouldn't know *how* to count eyes, but it's clearly part of every smart tapper's bloggernalia so I shall consult my pal. In fact, he is no doubt reading this as I speak, so no need to consult after all - just sit back and await the chime of his in-bound tutoring mail.

    This could mean good news and relief all round: if the figures show readers in excess of 20, I shall be exceedingly grumpy and think seriously of closing shop or surfacing in some more efficient guise under which I shall potter away more discreetly.


    // posted by Corfucius @ 8:38 pm (2) comments links to this post

    Sunday, July 24, 2005

    stockwell

    Stockwell Shooting

    Reaction from my London pals is one of horror over the sloppy shooting of the hapless Jean Charles de Menezes. The knowledge that the plain-clothes mob were given a discreet OK to go round emptying pistols into innocent electricians doesn't bode well for relaxed travel by other citizens of swarthy hue.

    It all seems cloaked in dissembling and double-speak: first the Police Commissioner (discouragingly surnamed Blair) says the shooting was "directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation", then we hear the poor bloke had nothing to do with it. First someone says JC didn't spikka da English too good; then the family chips in to say he understood it fine. What a mess - no wonder the Financial Times is covering this appalling cock-up from the angle of the backlash.

    They say JC grew up in a Brazilian slum where self-survival meant steering well clear off the law, but you'd still think that three years in Britain would have told him that jumping barriers might be open to misinterpretation.

    There are so many bizarre aspects to this: the fellow passenger who witnessed the execution from five yards away gets up to the ticket office where he's approached by a policeman and London Underground staff and the first thing they ask is if he needs counseling.

    Counseling?? What *is* my country coming to? Twenty years ago when I left the UK to resume my world travels, there was none of this psycho babble stuff. If I'd even heard the word 'counseling' fall from the lips of police or Underground staff, I'd have seen that as a clear giveaway that I was dealing with dastardly foreigners in disguise and turned them into the porper stoic authorities.

    He probably thought it a good idea to steel folks in advance, but how crass of Commissioner Blair to spell it out, that "somebody else could be shot" as the hunt continues.

    Well, at least the Home Secretary has been persuaded to call off his vacation. Honestly! What a time to go swanning off - in the middle of a security crisis, and *80* days, to boot.

    Interesting angle on that Money magazine Best Place to Live piece: I sent off a self-satisfied link to a pal in bomb-stricken London and he wrote back commiserating on the untimely spotlight. As he saw it, it's exactly the sort of provocative article to put ideas into terr'ists looking for new targets.

    Speaking of new targets, check out her pertinent "We can buy it all, except safety" piece, page 4 of the Review, by Bainbridge Buzz's always shrewd Cathy Nickum. She reminds us that,

    "The Bainbridge-Seattle commuter ferries may present the biggest terrorist target of any public transit conveyance in the country - up to 2,500 "captured" riders on one vessel, with 200-plus vehicles, departing and arriving from a major metropolitan area several times a day."
    While you're about it, read up on *all* Cathy's excellent ferry articles.

    Ignoring for the moment those in peril on the Sound, and looking on the bright side of the sort of pyrotechnics warned against by my London pal, I still say there's room for creative tweaking in the direction of aesthetic 'mercy' dynamiting of the more bilious of our spreading blight of eye-sore construction.


    // posted by Corfucius @ 5:18 pm (0) comments links to this post
    automated postal center

    Clueless vs Queueless

    ~ The Joys of Automated Posting ~

    I've been a bit slow on the uptake as far as our local post office's versatile automated console is concerned.

    As a result of which, I've spent time queueing when I could have breezed in and out.

    It goes like this:

  • I type a letter to family or pals overseas and at the last minute decide to slip in a photo or some cutting from the Review.
  • I keep a store of 80¢ stamps for these mailings, but as soon as I introduce an insert I start worrying that I've weighted it into the next price bracket.
  • I apply the 80¢er and, instead of popping it into the mailbox by Rite-Aid, I walk all the way down to the Winslow Way office where I join the queue with the sole purpose of asking if I've applied adequate stampage. Invariably, I have.

    To while away my progress up the queue, I've gazed myopically back down towards that multi-menu'd console but never examined it closely. Today I did and, good heavens ... it has everything.

    cardboard cut-outSpecifically for me, it has a scale on which to place my letter and alphabetic buttons to press for the country, at which point the correct stamp amount flashes up on the screen.

    Just to the right of the machine is a disconcertingly life-like cut-out for which I kept having to stop myself stepping aside or apologizing for taking so long ...

    Language Differences: The epistolary field is a vocabulary minefield on both sides of the Atlantic:

    When we first arrived in Bainbridge, we rented a cottage on Blakely Avenue with one of those roadside collection boxes so favored round graduation time for batting practice en voiture . I was walking out one morning and met a neighbor who greeted me with his customary disconcerting "What's up?" (Being British, nothing ever *is* up, so I'm always at a bit of a loss how best to answer that one). Anyway, in this case I had the perfect answer, that I was "Just checking the post."

    Well, damn me if the honest rustic didn't shoot me an odd look and, happening to be standing next to some sturdy fencing, gave it a genial kick before reassuring me that, "Yup, still there. Still holding up."

    Meanwhile, when I visit the UK and talk of "checking the mail", I'm subjected to childish limp-wristed gestures and foppish moues. Just can't win.


  • Saturday, July 23, 2005

    geena davis et crew

    Presidential

    I'm increasingly worried by ABC's trailers for their forthcoming Commander-In-Chief (Tuesdays, 9/8c), starring Geena Davis as Mackenzie Allen, a leaderene I could all too easily follow.

    geena davisEven her name means business.

    In fact, all the names are good and so is the casting, including the great Donald Sutherland as a machiavellian "Nathan Templeton", another of those Iago-esque characterizations he's made his own as he's matured into the consummate oily bad guy over the years.

    bushWhat worries me is that this is *not* a good time for TV presidents to overshadow or invite unfavorable comparison with the current un-prepossessing White House occupant.

    sheen west wingerI'm not on the voter rolls, but last time round my shrink had to break it to me extremely gently that nice Martin Sheen wasn't actually in the running.

    Rather than tease us with frustratingly convincing actors in the part, it should be television's patriotic duty to doctor the comparisons so that Bush isn't left looking a total pigmy.

    Why not cast closer to Dubya's moral stature and looks - David Spade or Ray Romano, say, against whom Dubya could pass as a contender?

    Ms Davis' arrival on our screens can only sow unrest - how else react to the sight of a handsome woman playing president who, with one commanding flair of her nostrils, signals more presence and authority than Barbara's boy in a month of malapropisms?

    If only for morale, where *are* our media watchdogs when actually needed?


    // posted by Corfucius @ 4:27 am (0) comments links to this post
    cctv CCTV pic

    CCTV

    I suppose the hot stock to be holding now is anything to do with Smart Cameras.

    Plus, we have to do our patriotic duty and stop whining about privacy and the right not to be spied on. No thanks to the part played by cameras in tracking the July 7 bombers, I have a nasty feeling that the 1984 bunch have just been handed a large dollop of carte blanche with which to pursue their shadowy agenda.

    There seemed to be some surprise that the tube and bus suicide bombers had been captured on closed-circuit surveillance cameras. I don't know why: the Brits are the most photographed people in the world. With around 4.5 million CCTV cameras keeping watch across the country, that's like one for every 14 people.

    It's reckoned that Londoners (including tourists) can expect to filmed up to 300 times a day. Compare that to Germany and Canada where I believe such use of cameras in public is actually forbidden.

    It's interesting to think back on the part played by cameras these days.

    So we've got this current most famous snap from Camera 14 at Luton station of Messrs Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sadique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer off to catch the London train.

    Nothing too suspicious there:Hasib Hussain caught on Camera

  • Timetables and posters
  • The sheen of overnight rain
  • Four lads bound for a little action in the Smoke, toting the usual plastic bags, running shoes, peaked caps and backpacks
  • Backpacks that we now know carried explosives that mere hours from then would wreak death and destruction.
  • Time: 54 seconds past 7.21am, July 7, 2005.

    july 21 bomb suspectsAnd now we have the CCTV images of four men that Scotland Yard wants to question over the failed bomb attacks of July 22 on three Tube trains and another double-decker bus.


    Princess Di at RitzDodi Fayed

    Nor who can forget those extraordinary glimpses in the Ritz Hotel of Princess Di and Dodi Fayed just minutes before chauffeur Henri Paul drove them at great speed to their controversial death.

    Bootle Strand: Venables and Thompson leading Jamie Bulger to be murderedEven more grisly is the pitiful sight from the afternoon of February 12, 1993, of three young chaps walking out of Liverpool's Bootle Strand shopping centre, the youngest - James Bulger (2) - trustingly hand-in-hand with 10-year-old Jon Venables.

    It looks too normal for words - brothers, perhaps, out for a little spree and some window shopping?

    But Venables and Thompson would later be found guilty of torturing and murdering the toddler.


  • Friday, July 22, 2005

    arrogance

    "Guardians of the blogosphere"

    A wonderful blogsist article by Christine Larson on Blogging Bosses (U.S. News & World Report, July 25).

    It's all PR puffery, of course, allowing our captains of industry to spout their stuff and feign interest in "creating a dialogue", but it's also surprisingly patronizing in parts and I suspect that Ms Larson is a jealous territory-defending blogista herself.

    On the question of CEOs putting their innermost thoughts out there, I agree with the interviewee who pointed out that,

    "It's naive to think these blogs are anything other than carefully planned communications. Because of regulation and the possibility of attacks from antagonists, companies can't be off the cuff in their communication."
    Thinking back on my own corporate publicist days, I can't think of a single CEO I'd have allowed anywhere *near* a blog - BUT - it would have been enormous fun mimicking their style and ghosting on their behalf.

    For Professor of communications at La Salle University, Michael Smith is bizarrely out of touch with the melting pot aspect of blogging, or why would he allow himself to be caught quoting so pompously that,

    "The image of an executive blogging is akin to the image of a portly person in a Speedo bathing suit - something doesn't quite fit."

    But my favorite 'Overweening Blog' quote is almost too good to be true. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find that Larson had invented it.

    We're meant to believe that none other than the VP, Boeing Commercial, dear old Randy Baseler was innocently tapping away when he was hit with,

    "negative comments from the guardians of the blogosphere, saying, 'You're a corporate hack. Turn your blog off.' ".
    RB was also apparently chastised for not allowing readers to post their own comments -- a blunder he says wasn't an attempt at spin control, just the lack of the right software.

    Can't you just see some burning-eyed fart - whole armies of them, I rather suspect - solemnly believing in the rôle of self-appointed Guardian of the sacred flame?

    Lawks a' daisy, there'd be a right old gadarene stampede for *that* oracular position.

    The awful thing is ... one knows they're out there. One of the catalytic effects of this new past time has been byteracy and literacy thrown together once more, with the effect that both sides are circling the wagons and eyeing each other with mutual bafflement and suspicion.

    As for blogging as a favorite executive tool? I can't see it catching on, m'self. It's far more likely that this piece came about with the Larson spotting a chance to make some extra bread by cashing in on the hot topic du jour.

    After bosses, who's next? Blogging babysitters? The Blogging Homeless?


    // posted by Corfucius @ 8:34 pm (0) comments links to this post
    ebook

    Internet retail 'first'

    ~ bookshop breakthrough ~

    While uppity fans sulk over JK Rowling's "Luddite" coyness over e-booking her oeuvre, bookish online webserv provider, ehaus, has come up with something for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that's being talked of as an Internet retailing first.

    OECD’s publications being a bit special – bi-lingual and often linked to news-breaking current affairs events - they specified a ground-breaking site with a “virtual bookshelf” for every client, ensuring instant and permanent e-book access to all purchased publications.

    Quoth ehaus Director James Henson, “In this way, clients worldwide can get instant access to the full text as soon as they’ve purchased the book.”

    The e-commerce engine developed by ehaus for the OECD “enables complex trade and affiliate discounts, multiple currencies, integrated credit card processing, and the secure transmission of book orders, as well as secure delivery of e-books”.

    Mutatis mutandis, the book lives on ...


    // posted by Corfucius @ 3:25 am (3) comments links to this post

    Thursday, July 21, 2005

    phlegmatic

    The Romentics

    So I'm sitting here watching NBC Today's appalling Matt Lauer and Katy Couric do their characteristically ham fisted number on the latest London bombings.

    I can always tell when La Couric's out of her depth and wants to signal gravitas: she perches fashionably-framed glasses on her cute retroussé nose.

    Until some actual facts are known, commentators seem to be grinding on about stiff upper lips and good old British stoicism. Does it not occur to outside media that, deferrals of success apart, it's less a case of Blitz-type fortitude than the majority of Londoners not being emoting wets and weeds given to keeping in touch with their inner basket cases.

    Anyway, my eye was caught by Miriam Gross's reference to phlegm and mawk in the latest Spectator Diary.

    Before I go any further, no, I *don't* know what that signage up there has to do with anything.

    I did a Google on "stoic and phlegmatic" and that's what came up. Rather a good fit with Julie's Seat Belt Sign, so God bless the freedom of bloggery that we can all share this pragmatic caveat.

    speccie coverSpeaking of sharing, I'm sure there's a royalty rule against reproducing hefty chunks, but I blame the Speccie's subscription department. Let them pay any fee as penance for not getting their act together over my now lapsed subscription. To every final demand, I *told* them that it was a case of, "The mag to me in Seattle; the *invoice* to my Mama in Sloane Street."

    They never managed it, so of course I'm now deprived of my weekly fix and reduced to staving off cold turkey with non-subscriber crumbs that fall from the online table.

    Anyway, back to the excellent Dr Gross, who turns out not to be writing about Blighty bulldog spirit but certain lavender literati here on *my* side of the Pond.

    Damn'd funny, anyway ...

    "During last Thursday’s two-minute silence I was in Knightsbridge, standing on Brompton Road. When it was over, the hundreds of office workers and shoppers who had come out into the bright sunshine broke into spontaneous applause. I found myself enthusiastically joining in, to my own surprise. I am usually rather put off by public displays of emotion, but on this occasion the applause somehow underlined the depth of feeling. It also emphasis ed that the silence had not just been observed because the government had called for it. I wondered whether the same thing had happened in other parts of the city. Londoners have been criticised both for being too phlegmatic in response to the bombings (foreign commentators have compared our reaction unfavorably with that of the Spanish after the Madrid bombs) and for being too mawkish (‘If we had had a two-minute silence every time a V1 landed 60 years ago we would have lost the war’). But it seemed to me that the people among whom I was standing had a sense of what was appropriate which avoided both extremes.

    On a visit to America recently I discovered the Romentics. No, this is not a misprint. It’s a new literary genre — romantic fiction for men, gay men to be precise. Romentic novelettes are based on the same basic formula as the traditional heterosexual romance (which, incidentally, accounts for 49 per cent of all US paperback sales). The plot must never deviate — two people meet, they fall in love, complications and jealousies ensue, but they are eventually resolved and by the end of the story the lovers are heading for marriage and happiness ever after. Till now, gay fiction has, on the whole, been a depressing affair, filled with couples who can’t stay together, with suicides and with deaths from Aids. But now that gay marriage is very much in the news, homosexual men are apparently pining for the kind of emotional wallow which ‘straight’ readers — mainly women, of course — have enjoyed for so long. Instead of ‘he clasped her in his strong arms and pressed her soft yielding body against him’, we now have, ‘Troy let the towel on his waist drop. The morning light falling into the room put his abs and pecs and nipples into perfect relief ...he had none of the false bulk of a steroid queen.’ I’m quoting from the most ambitious romentic offering to date, Hot Sauce by Scott Pomfret and Scott Whittier, which came out two or three weeks ago. As a former addict of torrid tales about doctors and nurses, I’m all in favour of this new trend. In the words of one American commentator, the playwright Paul Rudnick, ‘True equality demands equal trash.’ "

    There's bags more like it where that came from - a truly excellent magazine, well worth some genteel Islander treating themselves to a subscription. Knowing how conscientiously we all recyle, it shouldn't be too messy an operation for me to pop round and dumpster dive for the used copy.


    // posted by Corfucius @ 6:39 pm (0) comments links to this post
    london subway t-shirt

    Down the Tube

    I know my garb for today.

    Out of solidarity with my embattled fellow Brits, I shall be sporting my 'Going Underground' London subway T-shirt.

    Twice in a fortnight must be a bit nerve-shredding, altho' the pals I've phoned or emailed seem more irked than panicking. Still, this has to be the Tipping Point for us all as far as feeling safe in public is concerned.

    busker in t-shirtMy commute to work used to start south of the River at obscure Oval station and I'd get out at Warren Street - both targeted for these latest detonations.

    It sounds a mite hairy for those who found themselves face-to-face with the would-be exploders - *four* duds? What are the odds of *that*?? Thank **goodness** injuries weren't worse.

    Blimey! The effing nerve of trying to pull a stunt like this so soon after July 7!


    // posted by Corfucius @ 6:32 pm (0) comments links to this post

    Wednesday, July 20, 2005

    failure

    No Failures

    (just "deferred success")

    After all that guff about stalwart Brits weathering the bombings, I'm almost ashamed to report pathetic sissiness on the education front:

    Worried lest our sensitive darlings be put off learning, some asinine teacher - rightly retired and better off staying so - suggests doing away with the f-word and replacing it with the concept of 'deferred success'.

    What utter bilge. It's exactly this sort of idiocy that'll bring the country to its knees quicker and more effectively than any bomb-toting quartet from Leeds.


    // posted by Corfucius @ 6:59 pm (2) comments links to this post

    SFX

    Courtesy of wonderful Good Experience

    Head for the *Portfolio* section of Embassy's design shop


    // posted by Corfucius @ 1:50 am (0) comments links to this post
    moonlight session

    Turbulent Weekend

    Rough weekend, both physically and emotionally.

    Saturday evening: Had *completely* forgotten about a large book I had agreed to review and was now overdue. Out with the coffee and finger food and into my famous gruelling all-nighter:

    Skim ~ Scribble ~ Google ~ More scribble ~ More skim ~ Re-Google ~ Re-scribble ~ Skim, skim, Google, Google ~ Crib, cadge, cheat ~ Type, read, edit, re-type ~ Print, read, edit, re-type ... Aargh!

    By the time I'd gone through this all-too familiar charade, the little hand was on 5 and I yearned for nothing more than a luxuriant bath and all-enveloping bed.

    alhNot just groggy with lack of sleep, but instinctively not questioning the maternal suggestion, I agreed and collapsed back into bed.

    When I awoke, I knew I done wrong. Not just because 5 working days is crazy to shut up shop, but I don't actually *want* to shut up this particular shop right now.

    Red Alert: quit my faffing ways and get employed, even if it's some menial downtown post with dustpan and broom.

    Naturally, all hope of sleep was gone and nor could I call back because I had no idea which line my mum had been using.

    Total mess, and on such occasions, I take myself out for a brisk no-nonsense walk. This fitted perfectly because it also doubled as a tour d'horizon of my belovèd Bainbridge that I had come so close to renouncing for a mess of μουσακς.entrance to secret walk

    First priority was to quit the beaten track and commune with Nature on my favorite secret walk.

    canopy of green
    There's something about escaping the sound of cars and the chatter of the city and just sitting quietly 'neath a canopy of green and enjoying the companionship of the emerging wildlife.purple

    It was hard to think of upping and leaving all this.

    grotesquerie

    The first time I came across the Grasshopper Grotesquerie (left) was walking my dog at the close of day when deepening shadows were giving even innocent objects sinister profiles.

    As I rounded the bend and caught my first glimpse, it looked like some hybrid horror - huge grasshopping back legs, hen's body, mule's head - perched there on the rock, ready to spring. Even in bright daylight, there's something menacing ....dappled path

    And so back on the dappled path and to the metropolis for a spot of luncheon at my favorite people-spotting ~ eavesdropping nook - the one and only, bijou Vege Noodle.

    long view of vegeThis nosherie has everything I want in an al fresco snack house:secret seat

  • Good food served on proper crockery and cutlery
  • A zephyr-breezy location.
  • Perfect vantage point for snooping without being seen.
  • Ideal spot from which to admire the pretty Winslow Way Café waitresses as they serve the balcony customers.
  • Near Eagle books for meal-time reading.

    Delicious lunch:Succulent noodles * Juicy kebab * Crunchy egg roll * Chilled chrysanthemum tea.

    hoskinson houseLunch over, I trudged up to Wyatt to share Bainbridge Beat's woe over our cruel loss of Hoskinson House

    madison garage

    In fact, this is a poignant and painful corner for me because diagonally across is Madison Avenue Garage whose misleading motto for the unsuspecting - "We do it once - and we do it right" - was so-o not the case for me.

    I am Exhibit A - still immobile after forking out $600 for the garage's dud guess work, and nervous about driving even short distances lest I pour more loot into Gateway's coffers.

    As if being pincered between two such depressing landmarks weren't enough, my ears were suddenly assailed by that deep and indeterminate bass thump so favored by the virile young as their mating call d'auto - in this case, a beefy gum-chewing lad heading south in a fashionably skirted hotrod.

    Having halted at the cross-roads to wait his turn, he noticed me wincing and with my hands over my ears.

    "Wazza madda?" he called above the beat.

    "The matter is," I yelled back, "I've got visual pollution behind me - commercial pollution over there from the garage ... and now *you* with that audio pollution from the woofers ...."

    Whether he heard me or not, it came his turn to go so I escaped with no more than an *aural* thumping.

    When I got back to Safeway Square, the sun was shining so brightly, and everyone looking so cheery and fit, that even I spotted a certain grandeur about that crane looming over accursèd Island Cloggings:

    crane Loathsome on the eye tho' it may be, a terrible beauty is borne with its crisp scarlet lines against the deep blue sky.

    Speaking of blue skies, my Hong Kong stint in the 1990s included handling the PR for French engineers Dragages/Bouygues, during which my Franglais and consumption of vino and good fromage improved no end.

    Of course, I was part of the enemy in those days, demolishing my colonial heritage in the name of the twin gods Progress & Profit.

    Idling one day by the excavations for the Route 3 Tai Lam Tunnel, I was astonished to hear some old hag intoning what sounded to be an alarmingly effective and all-embracing curse on our burrowing activities.

    I bawled her out before any of the superstitious locals heard her mutters but was secretly relieved to have booked our usual fung shui wizard for the following week to ward off such evil spells as she might have got off before I sent her packing.

    The irony is that it's now *me* who's crooking a malevolent finger and croaking sotto voce incantations as I roll the dark runes and cast an evil eye towards Cloggings and that even more depressing harbor thingy venture.


  • Monday, July 18, 2005

    Beatles Medley

    Damn'dest thing I ever heard - Hank Handy and a kitsch collection of Beatles singalongs.

    Some pretty convincing vocal timbres and harmonies here and there: Lady Madonna ~ Just Seen a Face ~ that George Martin piano solo ~ Mr Postman, etc.


    // posted by Corfucius @ 5:11 pm (0) comments links to this post

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