Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Swimming toward the target

A friend of mine called recently to say he was going in for a vasectomy. After giving life a lot of thought, he and his fianc√© decided children aren’t in the cards.

His story reminded me of an entirely different time in my life. My wife and I were attempting to conceive our first born and we were experiencing difficulties.

So, like my friend, I decided to take control of the situation and consult the medical authorities.

That was the easy part of the decision. Making the appointment to see my doctor was an entirely different story.

“Why do you want to see the doctor,” the receptionist asked.

None of your damn business I wanted to say. But that’s just not an appropriate way to speak to someone if you need an appointment presto pronto.

“Oh, I just need to see the doctor,” I replied. Ordinarily these things don’t faze me. But in this case, since we were discussing things south of my belly button, I just couldn’t bring myself to be so open.

“Again, what are you coming in for,” she continued.

“I’m not telling you. And it won’t take long,” I said.

“The doctor won’t like this,” she said. As if I cared.

A few days later I found myself in my doctor’s examination room.

“So what’s up,” he said upon entering the room.

I explained the problem. And rather than suggest to my wife that she see a doctor, implying somehow that this situation was her fault – not mine, of course – I told the doctor we should start with me. So what do we do, I asked.

The great thing about this guy is that he’s able to break down complicated medical terms into language we can all understand.

“We need to find out if you’ve got enough swimmers,” he said. “And then we need to know if they can swim.”

That was an interesting way of putting it. And how do we do this, I inquired.

“Easy. We refer you to a clinic where you give a sample.”

That’s a breeze, I thought. Just go to some sterile medical clinic, by myself, and, uh, well, uh, you know, uh, uh-oh. What have I gotten myself into?

Yikes!!!!!

I’d only done that, you know, in private. So the mere thought of doing you know in a quasi-public place was enough for me to ask my doctor for some Viagra – JUST FOR THIS ONE TIME.

Don’t sweat it, the doctor said. There will be more than enough magazines and videos to get me through this exercise. How did he know, I wondered.

The next thing to do was to call the clinic. I forget its name but it was something like “The Clinic to Make Sure You’re Packing a Wallop.”

After taking down the necessary information from me, the receptionist at Packing a Wallop inquired when I’d like to stop by.

I inquired about the following Wednesday. That was just fine, she said. And then she issued an edict:

“No sex for three days before this appointment.”

“Okay,” I mumbled.

The Big Day arrived. And I was a little nervous, to say the least.

My wife was on a business trip on this particular day. And I was wondering if that wasn’t a mistake. Maybe she should have been there. That would have made this exercise easier.

I thought about calling a few women I knew to see if they’d join me on this event. But then I reconsidered. They’d probably turn me down anyway. And the clinic might have rules. Besides, I thought, that would be like Bill Clintoning this whole exercise.

Is it sex? Isn’t it sex? Those were more questions than I could handle. So forget that idea.

I put on stiff upper lip and made my way to the clinic – alone.

The first thing I noticed in the clinic was a picture gracing the lobby’s wall of a lone, very determined looking sperm. It must have been magnified 5,000 times, maybe more. I suspected it was to reinforce to all those entering Packing a Wallop what they were suppose to do during their visit. Drop off a sample!

The next thing I noticed was the receptionist. She was a hot looking Latina. Maybe her looks were part of the clinic’s plan. Look at her, they figure, and things will happen.

I checked in with her and she asked if I was ready.

“I guess.”

I was ushered into a room. I’m not sure what the room is called. It’s not exactly an examination room. Maybe it’s a play room.

I don’t know what they call that room, but it was packed with more pornography, movies included, than I’d ever seen in one place.

Now I’m not exactly a prude; for that matter, I’m not innocent either. I’ve bought my fair share of porn.

But this was something else. The shelves were staked with huge quantities of magazines and movies.

The doctor was right. There were more than enough magazines to pull me through this exercise.

I thought about asking the receptionist to stick around. If she could just stand there, naked, this would have been so much easier. And, hey, I wouldn’t have touched her. That would have defeated the exercise.

But then I thought about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and dismissed the idea.

She closed the door behind her and, suddenly, I was alone.

What the hell, I thought, let’s check out the movies. And that’s when I learned I just might be entirely out of the mainstream.

There’s nothing wrong with being gay, but lesbian porn just doesn’t do it for me. I’m straight and in today’s world that probably makes me weird.

Eventually I got comfortable with a magazine and things that needed to happen, well, happened. The sample was delivered and the most embarrassing exercise of my life was over.

I just hoped no one would notice how embarrassed I was as I walked out of the lobby. I don’t think anyone did.

A week later the doctor reported that everything was good to go. What a relief.

Six weeks later, my wife and I learned that our first born was on his way. Another relief.

Five years later, I can tell you that children provide more awkward moments than I would have ever realized. There are embarrassing moments involving the bathroom, crying, and things that they notice that they want to tell you about in their own way.

But none of those moments compare to the 30 minutes I spent at that clinic.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

No longer the White Man's Burden

Way back yonder, when the Democratic Party had a soul, it had a president who was a vociferous advocate for human rights.

Democracy was in the balance, yet this president, standing against the tide attempting to dominate world politics, decried the notion that anyone, regardless of what part of this world they occupied, should live without four basic, fundamental freedoms.

Freedom of expression, freedom to worship and the ability to live free of fear and from want were the cornerstones of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policies that he announced during his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941, coincidentally enough, nearly 11 months to the day before Pearl Harbor was attacked.

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential freedoms.
“The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.
“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
“The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants – everywhere in the world.
“The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world,” said Roosevelt.

The United States, he said, would become an Arsenal of Democracy, helping defend countries in Europe and Asia that were fighting German fascists and Japanese militarists. The American way of life, he said, would never be secure so long as someone, somewhere in the world, was oppressed.

Roosevelt knew instinctively that countries seeking to oppress others have an insatiable hunger to subjugate as much of the world as possible.

As a result of FDR’s bold policies, Europe and much of Asia are free today. Over the course of more than 40 years, the United States and its allies defeated the enemies of human rights: German fascists, Japanese militarists, and then Soviet Communists.

You cannot help but to admire FDR. His domestic and foreign opponents were formidable and yet he managed to outmaneuver and, eventually, trounce them.

Did he play fair? Probably not. There’s evidence that suggests he knew Japan would strike Pearl Harbor and allowed it to happen so he could gain the domestic support he so vitally needed to bring the United States into a war its citizens didn’t want to fight.

Studying Roosevelt makes you wonder what went wrong with the Democratic Party over the last 60 years. It’s gone from being a party that insisted the United States pay any price and bear any burden to support those who champion liberty to becoming a party that’s more interested in its own self-indulgence. Fortunately, for its own sake, it’s not alone: The Republicans are just as awful.

Each contender for next year’s Democratic Presidential nomination denounces the war in Iraq and, as they do, they signal to terrorists and insurgents alike that they’re more concerned about their rights – than the rights of those they slaughter.

FDR is rolling over in his grave. And Hitler and Tojo are jealous that they didn’t have the great fortune of facing the pusillanimous Democrats of today.

If you’ve joined today’s anti-war movement, keep something in mind: The people in the Middle East who want the United States out of the Middle East aren’t pacifists. They’re cold-blooded killers. The peace movement, if it’s successful in securing a United States withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, only condemns an Iraqi or Afghan citizen to a grizzly death.

The peace movement is anything but a peace movement. It’s a form of passive-aggressive fascism. Whether it realizes it or not, the movement is aligned with groups that have no compunction about killing innocent people; other than demanding an immediate U.S. departure from Iraq and Afghanistan, not a single political idea is shared between these groups.

The typical supporter of peace movement in the United States is a Democrat who should support anyone advancing liberty and human rights. The typical terrorist has likely never heard of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thucydides, Plato and Aristotle, philosophers who influenced and created the very political freedoms that the West enjoys today.

But the average terrorist has definitely heard some hijacked version of the Koran and Islam, which inspires them to kill anyone – Muslim, Christian, Jew, man, woman or child – who doesn’t support their thinking.

Today’s anti-war movement is rooted in the one that rallied around the slogan “Give Peace a Chance,” forcing the United States to end its military and political efforts in Southeast Asia more than 30 years ago. The result: Millions of Cambodians were condemned to their Communist executioners. Communist North Vietnam was granted victory and went on to place millions of South Vietnamese into reeducation camps. Many South Vietnamese fled the country and many drowned in their attempt to live free.

If the peace movement’s conclusion is accepted at face value, once the U.S. military leaves Iraq and Afghanistan, peace breaks out. There’s only problem with the conclusion: It’ll kill some innocent man, woman or child.

The only good news from this conclusion is that the insurgents won’t have Americans to kill anymore. The bad news, however, is that innocent citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan will fall into the terrorists’ cross-hairs.

Then there’s the issue of Europe’s security vis √° vis Iran as well as the security of those Persian Gulf and Middle Eastern nations allied with the United States, either covertly or overtly, since 9/11. These issues are never addressed by the peace movement.

President George W. Bush and his administration have truly mismanaged the country since September 11, 2001. The President was granted a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the terrorists and their sympathizers that Western political philosophy is far superior to the dictatorships, theocracies and monarchies they live under. In addition, the President had a wonderful opportunity to infuse the United States with a sense of patriotism and mission. He blew it.

The administration’s political aims would have been far better served had it focused on turning Afghanistan into a successful, self-supporting country. How this administration ever thought it could successfully turn around Afghanistan and, at the same time, turn Iraq into some sort of jewel of Middle Eastern democracy is anyone’s guess. Evidence suggests that they never thought through all the challenges they’d face.

Besides bad planning on Iraq, after defeating Saddam Hussein’s army, one wonders about the various companies that have benefited from contracts supplying U.S. military and political forces there. The manner in which these contacts were handled gives every appearance that the Bush Administration is more concerned about its corporate backers than it is about helping innocent civilians.

More than 100 years ago, at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, an Indian-born British subject wrote a poem called “A White Man’s Burden.” Rudyard Kipling was in the United States as it achieved military victories over Spanish forces in Cuba and the Philippines. The war turned the United States into a global power because, for the first time in its history, it occupied land far outside of its territorial waters.

Reading the poem with the lens of the 21st century, when we’ve all been sensitized to the slightest slur, it’s hard not to look at this as something that insults people with darker skin. But, as Kipling saw the world, in this poem he was attempting to tell Americans that they had special role; their new mission, as he saw it, was to educate, lift-up and improve the native people of the lands they occupied.

Kipling was telling the United States it had a moral duty to instruct Cubans and Filipinos on democracy, freedom and human rights so they could advance themselves and their countries in ways that would never have occurred under the Spanish.

This is the same moral philosophy that guided President Roosevelt as he presented his State of the Union address under the storm clouds of early 1941, when the future of democracy, freedom and human rights was in question. It is the same philosophy that has bound American foreign policy for more than 60 years and will likely continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

FDR is known to have quoted Kipling from time to time. “A White Man’s Burden” was written when he was in his late teens; this poem, along with his education, which instilled him a sense of obligation to help the less fortunate, guided his political beliefs.

FDR is the patron saint of the Democratic Party. He infused it with a sense of obligation to those less fortunate and that’s been its hallmark throughout the 20th century and still is to this very day.

But when it comes to helping those outside of U.S. borders who are less fortunate, today’s Democratic Party sounds like the Republicans FDR faced during the first two terms of his presidency. They’re isolationists.

Aligned with the Democrats, today’s anti-war movement is without any sense of obligation. In fact, it’s racist. At the core of its message is this: Darker skinned people, Arabs in this case, are not the White Man’s Burden.

Friday, June 01, 2007

No sweeter way to say "You're Fired!"

If you’re up to date on the latest business news, there’s a good chance that you’ve read that some company somewhere is laying off a sizeable portion of it workforce. Motorola just announced that its pink slipping 4,000 employees into the corporate trash bin.

Thank you for coming, folks; we appreciate all that you’ve done for the Company, is likely the message that each and every one of those employees heard as they learned that their future no longer included Motorola.

It’s always difficult to fire people. I speak with experience on this topic. It’s a nasty business. The air is tense and the person doing the firing is usually very nervous; they’re required to keep to a script prepared by the executives in human resources, which was reviewed and rewritten by an attorney. As I see it, the whole experience is akin to an execution, sans violence.

If you’re a half-decent human being, charged with firing someone, it’s one of those moments in your career that you would prefer to have never experienced. Even if I intensely disliked the person I was dismissing, and they had it coming to them, firing them never left me feeling proud. I always felt like a heap of crap.

I’m sure other managers have felt the same way, presuming they did the firing, as I always did, in person.

You have to wonder how Motorola’s employees learned they were leaving the company. Were they text messaged on their cell phone? Or, if they were younger, say in their 20s, did the folks at human resources “im” them – you know, send them an instant message.

I’m not trying to be facetious, but there was a company that actually sent e-mails to the employees it was firing. How impersonal is that?

These days, our society, through its communication, softens reality’s sharp edges. If you’re fired or laid off, it’s perfectly acceptable to say you’re “career transitioned.” That’s hardly an exact description of what occurred.

So I have a modest proposal for making layoffs softer, kinder, gentler, and, yes, even sweeter: Instead of the manager and the employee having a tense, difficult talk, the boss should just give the “condemned” a package of M&Ms candy.

M&Ms, through their Web site, http://www.mymms.com, will sell you a customized version of their candy. Not only can you pick the candy’s color but you can also write a message that appears on the candy.

Companies anticipating dismissing their employees could order pink M&Ms by the bundle that say “You’re fired.” Yes, I’ve tried this myself on their Web site. There are a few messages and words that M&Ms will not allow on their candy, but they have no problem printing the phrase “You’re fired” on those tasty little nuggets of chocolate.

I see a whole new line of business for M&Ms that they completely unanticipated. They could start selling human resources executives on the concept that handing out pink M&Ms to people that are being fired is kinder and gentler than the pink slip.

Think if Donald Trump had used pink M&Ms on his recently dropped television show, “The Apprentice.” Instead of shooting off his trademark phrase, “You’re fired!”, The Donald could have tossed packages of pink M&Ms across the conference table to the deposed contestants, saying “Catch” instead. It would have been so much nicer.

NBC would have benefited too. Not only would they have a new sponsor for the show but they would also be offering M&Ms a complete merchandising program – something that would certainly make their advertising agency proud.

For the soon-to-be-dismissed in corporate America, receiving a package of pink M&Ms would almost be like having a last meal on the company and, hey, it’s chocolate. What better way to learn the news that your days with the firm are over?

Think about what people who are part of a mass lay off will be saying to one another? “Did you get the M&Ms, too?” Or, “Uh-oh, I’ve been M&Med!”

This is so ingenious that it makes me wonder if the folks in marketing at M&Ms were planning a whole new use for their candy when they created this customization opportunity. Talk about a way to extend the M&Ms brand while, at the same time, improving its brand awareness. If this doesn’t make some marketing professor proud, what will? Way to go guys! You’re the best!