Friday, November 20, 2009

One Man's Trash...

I went upstairs this morning with a heavy duty trash bag and opened up my standing dresser to find some rummage to give to the Vietnam Veterans of America.  Groups like the V.V.A. and Purple Heart call us at least once a week in search of our old clothes, books, shes and appliances, and more often than not, we manage to find some stuff for them. 

What's amazing to me is that we never seem to run out of stuff we really no longer want.  My dresser was literally bursting with clothes- it had been a while since I had cleaned it out.  By the time I was done, I had literally stuffed half of the dresser's contents into the bag to be given away. 

I don't know why I was holding onto to probably a dozen sweaters that hadn't been worn in five years or more.  I gave away a couple of perfectly good pair of sweat pants.  There was nothing wrong with them, except for the fact that I haven't worn them in years.  You know the routine... You get a couple of new pair for Christmas, and the old ones suddenly get shoved to the back.

My weight has been known to rise and fall over the years.  That, no doubt explains why I have at least a half-dozen pair of khaki shorts in assorted sizes... Or at least I did.  If I ever get that small again, I'll reward myself with a new pair. 

After I finished with the dresser, I went into my closet and examined the bar that is drooping with shirts and pants.  I suddenly found my enthusiasm waning at the thought of wading through that morass, and immediately decided that chore could wait until the next time - which should be any day now. 

Do you ever wonder whatever happens to all that stuff you give away?  Some of it goes to rummage stores, but much of it - especially the clothing - gets sold in bulk by the pound to be recycled into rags and for other industrial uses.  Ten years ago as a news reporter, I visited Rocky Mount, North Carolina to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, which devastated that town.  As people across the country responded to the disaster, the town was INUNDATED with old clothing. Tractor trailers full of it.  Perhaps five percent of it was used by the townspeople, with the rest piled ceiling-high in a warehouse.  It really became more of a liability than a help. So the next time you want to respond to a disaster, keep that in mind and write a check! 

As for your rummage, save that for the folks at Goodwill and Purple Heart.  I am always more than happy to take a tax write-off for my junk, but I'm even happier to have more room in my dresser and closet! 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hold The Line, Montgomery County!

I have spent quite a few column inches in this blog talking about Montgomery County, which I have called home, more because of inertia than anything else, for virtually my entire life.  The county government has a well-deserved reputation for taxing its residents and spending money like it's water, and its managers are now finding, in this miserable economy, that it's damn tough to turn off that tap. 

The county is now facing a 400 million dollar deficit for next year, and it's pretty much run out of options for finding that kind of cash.  Eighty percent of the county's budget goes to salaries for county employees, including cops, firefighters and teachers, and the county is going to have to ask all of those workers to forgo pay raises for a second year in a row. 

These kinds of pay freezes have become commonplace in other jurisdictions, as well as in the private sector, but it's almost unheard of in Montgomery, where employee unions have ruled the roost for too many decades.  As I've written before, this is the kind of power that can develop when there is no level of bipartisanship within the ranks of elected officials.  Montgomery County does not have a single Republican in power at the local or state level, and now we are paying the price for the myopia of our voters.  I'm not arguing that the GOP has better ideas, just that diversity and moderation is underserved here. 

The Washington Post has an op/ed piece today that makes an excellent argument to County Executive Isiah Leggett and School superintendent Jerry Weast to hold the line on pay hikes and cost-of-living increases, but it will be a mighty struggle for them to hold off the unions that have run roughshod over taxpayers for too many years. 

I say all of this despite the fact that my wife is a county schoolteacher.  We certainly could use the money that a pay raise or a COLA would bring in.  But we need fairness more than we need money.  As the Post points out, others are learning to make do with less.  Montgomery County workers need to join us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Whole New Meaning To "This Bud's For You!"

I just want to give a quick shout out of congratulations to Bud Adams, the owner of the Tennessee Titans, who has been fined 250,000 dollars by the No Fun League after extending his middle finger not once, but several times, towards the Buffalo Bills, who were beaten by the Titans in an AFL-heritage grudge match this past weekend.  Here's Adams in action - but I must warn you...  his fingers are showing! 

I'm not going to bother commenting on the fine handed down by the NFL.  They don't want their owners tarnishing the league.  OK, whatever.  However, Adams' gesture is no different from any gestures I've been giving to the television nearly every week of every football season since I was 10 years old.  Sometimes, the opposing team is the recipient of my wrath... sometimes the referees... and sometimes, even the Redskins. 

I personally do not find the finger to be all that offensive.  Actually, I think its a quite effective tool at getting a message across!  And if an 86-year-old man like Bud Adams wants to flip a few birds, by golly, I think he's earned that right!  So Bud...  These are for you!

Remember - You Get What You Pay For!

I am not, by nature, a pessimistic person.  In fact, I tend to be quite adroit at compartmentalizing the bad things in my life and leaving them in a dark hole to be ignored for as long as possible, so I can focus on lighter fare, such as vacation planning or watching reality TV.   When I'm busy working at one of my freelance news jobs, it's easier to ignore the fact that I have no long term career prospects. But when I'm not working, it's easier to dwell on the fact that news reports point to a rather dismal future, at least in the short term. 

Two articles of note in today's news are conspiring to open up my "bad things" compartment.  First, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is giving a pretty glum assessment of where the nation's employment picture is heading.  Bernanke says "the best thing we can say about the labor market right now is that it may be getting worse more slowly."

And from that broad assessment, we go to another article that points specifically to my profession, journalism.  A new study finds that fewer than half of Americans say they would be willing to pay for news online, and that those who would pay - would only cough up three dollars a month for it.

In essence, Americans believe they have a God-given right to free access to news - and really, who can blame them?  The cost of news coverage has been borne by advertisers for hundreds of years, and consumers have never had to worry about that burden.

But because of the internet, ad dollars have been splintered into tiny pieces, and the news business model is irrevocably broken.  The degradation of the news business is well underway.  We've all heard about the sorry state of newspapers.  Just this past week, the Washington Times began to brace for a new round of cuts, and the Washington Blade - DC's voice in the gay community - shut its doors after 40 years in business.  

And then there's broadcast news.  Many -  if not most - local TV news operations have made significant cutbacks in recent years.  Some stations have discontinued weekend newscasts altogether.  More radio stations are dumping their news operations every day, and many of the newsrooms still operating are doing so with much fewer resources. 

With less competition, those news operations that are still in business are suffering from a lack of competition, leading to a new level of mediocrity in reporting that is being accepted as an industry standard.

And this is not just happening at a local level.  Network broadcast operations are making severe cuts as well, finding ways to sound and look healthy in hopes that the consumer won't take notice.

The sad thing is that most consumers WON'T notice - at least for awhile.  News on the internet seems to be thriving.  The problem is that most of that internet news is taken from the very same traditional media newsrooms that are in danger of collapsing. 

You don't want to pay for your news?  Just remember this truism, because eventually it will play out.  You get what you pay for.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ever Wonder How Some Businesses Stay In Business?

NOTE:  Let me say upfront that I hit a small speed bump in my quest to keep up almost daily with my blog.  It's just that I've actually been working this week - and unbelievably, that has a way of interfering with my blogging!  I might have to rethink this business of actually being employed!  Anyway - I'm back today, and hope to be back to cranking stuff out regularly by next week.  - ed.

You might recall that last week, I posted about my recent efforts to get quotes from contractors to replace my deck railing, which desperately needs replacing.  I did end up receiving four quotes... Three of them in the 2,000 dollar range, and one that came in at $6,700! 

I could not then, nor can I now understand why one bid was more than three times the estimate of the others, but I chose one of the other contractors, and have since scheduled the work.   I thought nothing else about it, until I received this e-mail today. 


Just checking in with you again to see if you made any final decisions on your deck repair. Please let me know if you want us to keep your file open still.


B__ D_____

(Name blocked to protect the stupid)

Mr. 6,700 dollars wrote to see if I had made up my mind on a contractor.  I decided to reply, and to let him know where his bid stood.

B__ - I have chosen a contractor from among four bids, but thanks for your interest. I should mention - in hopes this will help you - that your bid for the deck was more than three times the price of the other three bids.

Thanks again for the estimate.

Well, I expected to hear back from the guy - perhaps with an explanation for why his bid was so high.  But I don't think he closely reaid his email... Here's his reply:

Thanks for getting back with me. Let me know if I can be of service in the future.

You know what?  I don't think this guy has much of a future in home construction.  Maybe he can find work as a purchasing officer at the Pentagon!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Congratulations And Thank You, Ed Walker!

One of my true career Obi-Wans was honored over the weekend.  DC radio legend Ed Walker, who spent decades sharing the microphone with Willard Scott as one of the "Joy Boys", was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.   

Ed and Willard were about as close as you could get to being "bad boys' on the radio back in the 1960's, which is to say NOT very naughty, but still very funny.  As a boy, I knew them more through Willard's exposure on television more than I ever really did from their radio program, which was on the air during the afternoon and evenings.  You can see and hear the Joy Boys, and learn much more about their careers here

I really came to appreciate Ed once I arrived at WMAL, where he hosted a Sunday morning Big Band program, "Play It Again, Ed".  I was fortunate to be Eddie's producer for two years - it gave me a chance to sit and watch a master at work, and to absorb some of his humor and professionalism. 

Most people familiar with Ed Walker know he has been blind since birth, but I don't think anyone realizes how little that matters to Ed.  When we worked together, Ed ran his own audio board, played his own commercials, and even cued his own records. In fact, he ran a tighter ship than most people who have eyesight.  It was a wonder to watch him work, and it provided me with a valuable lesson - that the biggest handicaps people face are the ones we don't allow ourselves to overcome. 

Working with a blind person was also a lesson in how the rest of us take things for granted.  Eddie has a vast record library in his basement, and when I used to go to his house in Bethesda to help him prepare for a show or for a DJ gig, I would often help him gather his stuff.  Ed would open the door and invite me in, and inevitably,  I'd have to ask him to find a light switch, because it was always pitch black in there... Eddie had no need for lights! 

One of my jobs was to drive Ed to public appearances, and more than once, I would miss an exit on the Beltway because he and I would be in the middle of a conversation, and he would "forget" to remind me to exit.  Maybe Ed could have used a better driver! 

Otherwise, Eddie is just like any other guy.  He enjoys a good drink, a good smoke, and a pretty lady.  More than once, Eddie would get a hug from a woman out in public, and he would make his own judgement of her looks with his hands - not in a lecherous way, of course!  But after she'd walk away, Eddie would always ask, "How'd she look?"

Even as he closes in on his eighties, Ed is still working, hosting the old-time radio show, "The Big Broadcast" on WAMU Radio in DC.  I run into him every couple of years, and he's always ready with a dirty joke or a piece of industry gossip, along with a big smile and a firm-as-ever hansshake.  The Radio Hall of Fame is lucky to have him! 

Congrats and thank you, Ed!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Because It's Not The Thought, But The Discount That Counts!

Well, the holiday shopping season is upon us, and I am once again trolling the internet looking for bargains.  I understand some people still go to the mall, but for the life of me, I can't understand why.  Back in the day, I suppose you really could find the best deals on merchandise in actual stores, but that certainly in no longer the case.  Why pay the added marketing and payroll costs of retailers when you can buy it all online? 

Even the traditional retailers are getting in on the act - They don't want to lose any more market share to the likes of Amazon, and consumers are benefitting as a result.  Wal-Mart and Target are currently engaged in a pricing war for books and DVDs, and I have already made several purchases for the holidays (My poor kids have to "suffer" through both Christmas and Chanukah) - and made them all with free shipping, to boot. 

If you are like me, you care enough to send the very best - as long as you don't have to pay full retail.  And so, in the spirit of giving, I want to share a great tip with you.  It's a website -  I've been checking it a lot lately - at least once a day.  What's so great about Dealnews?  It's an aggregator - one that doesn't favor any particular retail operation.   The name of the site says it all - It's continuously updated news about great deals that can be found online, on everything from car tires to pizza... From blouses to hard drives. 

I first read about this site a couple of years ago in an article in the Wall Street Journal, and I've been checking it out ever since - especially around the holidays.  I've used the site to help me buy, among other things, two computers, a monitor, dvds, books and clothing.  It helped me land a one-year subscription to Vanity Fair for five bucks, and a TiVo magnet for free.  (It's the small things that bring me real pleasure!)

Now, I can hear you saying, "But John, you cheap bastard - we have to buy shirts and pants in stores, lest a return is required."  But there is even a solution for that in many cases.  The Missus buys a lot of clothes for our sons online at places like Old Navy and The Gap.  If a return is necessary, she can always go to actual physical store to return it at no charge.

See?  I knew those places were still good for something!