We need Columbo to interview candidates

Back in the 1970s, my family loved to watch the weekly detective show called “Columbo” starring Peter Falk. For those who never had the pleasure, Columbo always wore a crumpled up khaki rain coat and drove an old Peugot. He smoked a cigar, or at least had one in his mouth at all times, and looked rather unkempt. Plus, his manner of asking questions seemed like he was not on top of things, but that was part of his charm and his way of disarming suspects. As a result, suspects would give him one piece of information too many and he would solve the case.

He was famous for starting to leave a room and then stopping and scratching his head. He would then say a variation of “oh, one more thing” and ask the question he wanted to ask in the first place. Oh, how I would love for Columbo to interview our presidential candidates on camera. We ask far too few “how” and “why” questions when talking with candidates. They get off way to easy. In fact, one of the candidates is so brazen, that he ridicules you if you ask a question where he obviously does not know the answer. Columbo, would act like he is leaving the room and then stop and ask him the question he really wants to ask.

“One more thing, Mr. Trump. You said filing for bankruptcy is very common. But, help me understand why most companies never file for bankruptcy and very few file for bankruptcy four times.”

“Oh, Dr. Carson. It is doctor, right? You have said you don’t believe in evolution, but help me reconcile that with your being a neurosurgeon. Are you just saying that to get votes or do you really believe that?”

“Senator Clinton, are you absolutely sure, there are no emails on your personal server that had classified information at the time?”

“Ms. Fiorina, help me understand why a Board of Directors would go to great pains to fire you and give you $21 million in severance if they felt that was not in the best interests of the company?”

“Oh, one more thing Senator Cruz, you do not seem very popular in Congress among your own colleagues. Why is that? Can you define grandstander for me?”

“Senator Rubio. I have a problem with some thing. You were part of a bipartisan Senate group that passed a well-received Immigration Bill. Help me understand why you have distanced yourself from your greatest legislative achievement?”

“Governor Bush, help me understand why you hired the same defense advisors that your brother used, when that may have been his Waterloo?”

There are many more questions to be asked to everyone, but especially to some who have a longer list of questions to be answered. Yet, we need Columbo to ferret out the chestbeaters and help find the better leaders. We have many of the former and much fewer of the latter.




Don’t hesitate to chat someone up

My wife laughed at my use of the term “chat someone up,” as she said the phrase is code for flirting. Yet, my intention is not to flirt, but to reach out to others and find some connections. Also, since I do this with men as well, I hope I am not considered to be flirting. With that said, I want to share a few true examples that make life richer and, sometimes, find unbelievable connections.

Last week, we were traveling to my home town three states away to see my mother who we recently moved into an assisted living facility. Early in our trip and a long way from our destination, we grabbed a bite to eat. While paying for our breakfast bill and waiting on my wife, I started chatting up the cashier. Through “where are you going?” questions and answers, it got weird quickly. It turns out her husband grew up one street away from me. When I found out his aunt and uncle lived on the next street over (which was my street), I said my dad worked with his uncle and I played with his son. And, I remembered I had met her husband, as well. So, this entire connection started with me asking her if I should call her general as she had four stars on her apron.

A few years before, I was talking with someone I knew from collaborations to help folks in need. During this conversation, she noted she was going to visit her brother in my home town, again three states away. So, asking her if that is where she grew up, the conversation again got weird quickly. It turns out, she went to my high school and was a year behind me. While my high school was large, we knew many of the same folks and discussed a humorous event that she abetted on stage during a Mr. Ugly contest (where guys dressed up as girls and made fools of themselves). I was in the audience and remembered it well.

She always seemed familiar, so we went on to discuss where she went to college. And, then it got even more weird. She dated the roommate of a friend of mine and I actually was at a party she attended at their apartment. That was why she looked so familiar, more so than the mutual high school time. So, all of these connections were discussed, with a simple question of why are you headed to my home town?

It never ceases to amaze me the many connections we can find if we simply engage in conversation. Or, it may not be a historical connection, but one of just connecting with another passenger on our planet. On our favorite family vacation to Ireland, near the Cliffs of Moher, which are breathtaking, we stopped for a quick bite to eat before we ventured on. In this tiny café, we met Oola. Oola was from Belgium, but her village was so close to the border, she could walk to two different countries quite easily. This was six years ago, but I can still see Oola and her cherubic smile and interest in others. That conversation was one of the great memories from the trip, so much that I can still recall pieces of it six years later.

Why am I writing this? We are part of a fabric of life. Yet, we are talking to people less, too concerned with what we can access with our hand-held devices. We miss so much when we don’t pay attention to what is around us. We miss so much when we don’t engage other humans on our planet. If I had not started simple conversations above, I would have missed out on two interesting paths that crossed with mine and would have not had the pleasure and memory of talking with one of our more interesting souls.

My advice is to put yourself out there. It is not hard. Look for something that strikes your interest or is unusual and start chatting someone up. When working, if I was in someone’s office, I would look at their pictures, diplomas, books, desk items, etc. looking for some connection to discuss. I told my children to search for common bonds with people. Life is short, so if we can find these common bonds, we can make it richer through conversation with others.

What do these organizations have in common?

Based on the question asked above, I want you to think about the following organizations for a minute: Adelphia, American Express, Bank of America, Citigroup, Duke Energy, Enron, GM, Goldman Sachs, Healthsouth, Lehman Brothers, Lumber Liquidators, Marsh and McLennan, Massey Energy, Merrill Lynch, Penn State University, Toyota, Tyco, Volkswagen, and Wells Fargo.

What thoughts pop into your head? What do these organizations have in common? Yes, they have all been successful and many still are. The answer I am looking for is they have all been fined, publicly shamed or found guilty of some level of malfeasance, criminal neglect or fraud. The disappointing truth is I have been a shareholder in four of these organizations, so it hurts me both morally and financially, to see leaders forsake their roles as stewards of the company.

Volkswagen is the latest to join the infamous group. I was speaking with a Volkswagen owner the other day. While I was talking about the fine and decline in stock value around their purposeful fraud to avoid poor EPA emissions test results, he was thinking of it as a further depreciated car value. As with the others, what Volkswagen did was wrong and it will hurt them for a long while. The poor emissions will be hurting all of us until the cars are fixed. The CEO resigned earlier this week, and well he should, as a fraud like this has to be understood or even sanctioned at the very top. As of this writing, some car owners and shareholder groups are considering class action lawsuits against Volkswagen’s leadership.

Why do I bring this up today? Quite simply, we have politicians running on a platform of eliminating regulations so business can flourish. We often confuse bureaucracy with regulations. We need to investigate and remedy inefficiency in the latter, as bureaucracy can be antagonistic to efficiency. But, we need to also challenge ourselves to be smart with our regulations. If regulations are not efficacious, we should make changes, which might include their elimination. But, as evidence of the above well-known examples, which do not include countless others, doing away with regulations carte blanche would be unwise and foolish.

So, when you hear a statement like “we must do away with regulations,” ask yourself why? Who does that serve? The answer may be illuminating. I will leave you with a quote from Senator Elizabeth Warren who led the effort to create the hugely successful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This agency has fined several of the financial companies above for hundreds of millions for aggressive marketing and outright fraudulent practices, over 90% of which goes back to the impacted customers. In response to a question about why she does not like Wall Street, she said “I like Wall Street, I just do not like cheating.” Neither do I, nor should any of us.

It’s the same old song

Fans of Motown and The Four Tops will remember this song from the 1960’s. I use it today to describe the continuation of those politicians who are heavily backed by the fossil fuel industry to naysay climate change as the major concern it is and the role we play in it.

With Pope Francis here in the United States, he is following the message in his Encyclical to define the need to act now. It is a message of truth from the most respected leader on the planet. He has also showed that the world’s poor are impacted even more severely by climate change based on where they are forced to live and their fragility.

But, here in America there has been a concerted and concerned effort by so-funded politicians to diminish his message saying he is not qualified and should stick to his knitting. And, the conservative pundits and pseudo news sources are doing their best to downplay his message. A good question is why?

If you think about it, who is the outlier on this issue? Who is trying to squelch open debate by making it illegal in two states for state officials to use the words climate change or global warming? The Pope’s message is consistent with 97% of scientists and every major science organization in the United States per Dr. Michael Mann, the head of Earth Systems Science at Penn State University. The same kind of consensus resides outside this country and is held by the United Nations.

On the flip side, former Senator and Presidential candidate Rick Santorum is adamant that the 97% figure is only 56%. Politifacts, a nonpartisan fact verification group, confirmed not only the inaccuracy of Santorum’s claim, but confirmed his source as a blogger who contrived that number. There is a reason some do not want debate.

Dr. Mann says we have about a ten year window to act more demonstrably. We can ill-afford a President who does not see climate change as the problem it is. To do otherwise would be poor stewardship of our planet. But, what do I know, as I am not a scientist. Yet, the Pope is with his Masters in Chemistry.

A memory from when the kids were small

My blogging friend Erika prompted a great memory with her Song of the Day post. This morning’s entry is “You are so Beautiful” sung wonderfully by Joe Cocker. A link is provided below. While this song was likely intended for romantic love, it works quite well for all kinds of love, in particularly the love of a parent for a child.

Although my kids are in college or just graduated now, I have the memory today of singing to them softly while I rocked them to sleep as babies. This was one of the songs that I sang. Definitely not being known as a singer, I sang a repertoire of songs that I knew the words to as well as could be sung softly. So, the ACDC and Deep Purple songs did not qualify, although Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” works well until the final verse.

My wife and I bought one of those glider chairs that we put in the nursery. That was one comfortable chair. In that chair, I sang a number of songs, based on how quickly the kids would nod off and were certain to stay that way. My list varied for my own sanity, but would include songs from artists like Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, John Denver, Loggins and Messina, The Beatles, Bread, Harry Chapin and others that popped into my head or that I may have heard on the radio.

Invariably, I would include Joe Cocker’s song, as it had great meaning. But, Jim Croce’s “Time in Bottle” and “Photographs and Memories” were frequently sung. David Gates of Bread would appear with “If” or “Diary,” and Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle” served as a reminder to not forget what is important. The Beatles would often be included as their own evening of song drawing from “Yesterday,” “Something,” “Norwegian Wood,” and many others.

John Denver would sing through my voice “Follow Me” or “Take me Home, Country Roads,” while Gordon Lightfoot might pop in with “If you could read my Mind” or “Carefree Highway.” Loggins and Messina might be there to with Anne Murray’s “Danny Song” or “House on Pooh Corner.” And, Peter, Paul and Mary would show up with Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” or Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the Flowers Gone?”

I am evidence that you need to not sing well to entertain a sleepy child. The key is some semblance of a soft tune and words that soothe. These are moments I cherish. When we are driving with one of the kids to school and one of these songs would come on the radio, if I was melancholy, I would tell the rider that I sang this to them when they were little. They are the best of memories and I cannot wait to rock a future grandchild to sleep.


Who is this Big Tall Guy?

For several years after I set up my blog at the end of 2011, I have used the moniker BTG to sign off on comments I make here and on other blogs. My main reason is to keep some anonymity, as my opinions may not suit everyone’s tastes. This is most important as I comment on political and religious matters.

For example, while I am a Christian, I do not appreciate the bigotry and exclusivity that is being taught in some churches in the name of God. I hold dear the larger construct that Jesus teaches us to treat others like you want to be treated. Excluding or condemning others based on passages of a book is not very Christian or humane in my view. However, I do not want to lose sight of the inspirational larger messages therein. Those messages tell us how to live and have faith. And, those are the messages we need to focus on, rather than taking phrases out of context or not understanding the time when the words were written or interpreted, which is done across all religions.

Treating others like you want to be treated, looking after people in poverty, being good stewards toward the environment are wonderful foundations on which to build. This is how I try to live, although like all of us, fail to always follow the better path. This is why I volunteer to help those in need climb a ladder out of homelessness and tell their story to raise awareness. This is why I advocate taking care of our planet, as it will only be as good to us as we are to it. And, since the industrial revolution, we have been not as good to it as we need to be.

BTG is short for Big Tall Guy, a nickname given to me by an old colleague and friend. I am a shade under 6’5″ tall and am less thin than I used to be, but making good progress of late. So, I better live right as it is hard to hide at my size. Before I retired, I was an actuary by profession and worked as a consultant in the human resource industry. I also worked in HR for one of my old clients, a job I loved, but wore me out.

So, in essence, my job has been one of helping organizations recruit, attract, retain and reward their employees. I have long been an advocate if you treat your employees well and with respect, you will actually end up making more money. The converse is also true. This theme translates into my volunteer work as we should treat well and with respect folks down on their luck, as there, but by the grace of God, go I.

I have been married for 30 years to the “girl who holds the world in a paper cup” and we have three kids, who are in college or just out, two boys and a younger girl. She is my best friend and keeps me laughing. And, the rest of the line of the song where the above lyric comes from is “love her and she’ll bring you luck.” And, she has indeed.

Yet, while I will keep some of my anonymity for the time being, I am now using my real name which is Keith when I sign off on comments. So, don’t be surprised when you see that moniker. He is that same Big Tall Guy who tries to do the right thing.

Miscellaneous Friday Musings

Happy Friday everyone. If your weekend has started already, make it all you want and need it to be. Here are a few miscellaneous musings for the week that was, in no particular order.

Not that I am a Carly Fiorina fan, but I do give her credit during the GOP debate for her matter-of-fact way in which she dismissed Donald Trump’s remarks about her looks in the Rolling Stone interview. He made his situation worse with a horribly insincere and wincing retort that he thought she had a beautiful face. He missed the point entirely – a woman’s looks are less relevant than her ability to lead others. Yet, he made a similar screw-up earlier when he responded to Rand Paul’s criticism of Trump’s childish comments, by again commenting off-hand about Paul’s looks.

Beyond the childish remarks and labeling, what will eventually bring Trump crashing down is his history of trying to screw people over and his inability to explain a detailed answer to any questions. The only truth that Trump knows is he exploits others for gain and when they no longer are of service, casts them aside and leaves the problems for someone else. By the way, most companies do not file for bankruptcy and they especially do not do it four times. He also uses his bravado to mask a lack of awareness of issues and resolutions. “I will be an unbelievable President on this issue.” OK, show us.

The refugee crisis is a mess and all countries need to lend a hand. Some countries are choosing to close up shop. These folks are in need, but there are so many that the burden of help and eventually welcoming to their new homes has to be spread around. There are some Middle East counties that have exhausted all resources to help, even with financial support. There are others who could pick up some slack. But, the reasons they are leaving have to be dealt with and that is hard. I am hopeful that productive discussions can emerge from the larger powers to determine some path forward as it is a conundrum, yet it cannot continue.

Pope Francis, the most respected leader on the planet today, is coming to America. He brings his important and on-point message that we must focus on our global poverty and climate change problems. He correctly notes the latter affects everyone, but especially the poor who tend to live in areas that are more susceptible to environmental concerns. I wrote a post recently about all the issues being related. These two issues are exacerbated by global corruption in leadership, even in America, and the maltreatment and undervaluing of women. We must treat women better for their own sake, but also for the sake of commerce, innovation and leadership.

I mention this last point in that it is not unusual to find women in important roles in the world. Angela Merkel, the prime minister of Germany is one of the strongest and most respected leaders on the planet. Christine LaGarde is the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Janet Yellin is the Chairperson of the US Federal Reserve. Park Geun-hye is the current president of South Korea. And, the US has had many notable female Secretaries of State such as Madeleine Albright, Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton. It also took a bipartisan group of female senators to end a government shutdown led by Ted Cruz in 2013, who threatens to do it again. Note to Cruz, give it a rest.

I hope we listen more to this Pope and the voices of women in leadership positions. We have many issues in the world, yet we need to talk about them more in a reasonable way. We men tend to compete more in the game of politics, meaning I must win and you must lose. Yet, in that kind of game, we all end up losing. Watching this debate the other night was evidence of that as the real problems of America and the planet were not discussed much at all. And, that is a problem for us all.