Monday, March 27, 2006

What Delta Can Learn On Opening Day

Finally, an article that
makes "baseball as a life metaphor" make sense.

Baseball's woes tell us something
important about business -- that lack of trust is a
genuine impediment to success.

By Cait Murphy,
FORTUNE assistant managing editor

March 27, 2006:
11:42 AM ESTNEW YORK - "Opening Day" may just be the
happiest words in the language.But for the last
generation, the joy of the first day of the baseball
season has come with baggage, in the form of labor
disputes, economic imbalances, and, more recently,
accusations of steroid abuse. These problems go back 25
years -- the first strike was in 1981 -- and they never
seem to get better. Why? Because, fundamentally, of a
lack of trust between the players and the owners. In the
early 1980s, management flat out lied about its
finances; in the late 1980s, the owners colluded to keep
down bidding on free agents -- a sin that ended up
costing them $280 million. A lockout in 1990; a strike
in 2004; more allegations of collusion (probably not
true this time) in the early 2000s -- the history is
poisonous. The owners have their own issues with the
players, who have been known to demand to renegotiate
contracts (although never after a bad season); to show
up out of shape; or to make outrageous demands about
when, where and how they will play.

Trust creates
common ground to negotiate over. Because there is so
little trust in baseball, the common ground is as thin
as the third base line. And that makes it all but
impossible to deal with things that are self-evidently
problems. For example, everyone with eyes could see that
players were becoming improbably large and powerful. In
1988, Boston Red Sox fans even chorused "Steroids,
steroids" at Jose Canseco. This is known as a clue.So
what did the game do? It began a testing regimen
starting in 2002 that told players when the examiners
were coming and did not release names of violators. In
short, only an idiot could get caught, and if he did
there was no penalty.But it could find a way to do no
more. The threat of Congressional action, plus the
revelations of the egregious Canseco, has since forced
the game to move beyond the symbolic.Let us concede that
way, way too many writers have a tiresome habit of
making baseball a metaphor for life, or emblematic of
the American way, or whatever. Looked at with
steely-eyed rigor, baseball is simply a business whose
product is a sport. And looked at as a business (albeit
an unusual one in that it is a self-regulating
monopoly), baseball's woes tell us something important
-- that lack of trust is not just awkward, but a genuine
impediment to success.

Or even to survival. Delta
pilots have come down to earth to protest against
another round of cuts to their wages and benefits,
picketing at airports and buying billboard space near
the company's Atlanta offices. Delta is trying to come
out of bankruptcy, and wants another $300 million+ in
concessions.The pilots union accuses the company of
"bankruptcy profiteering," and says the fliers are
simply trying "to defend a 65-year-old contractual
relationship with their company, while Delta executives
seek to destroy it." A strike is threatened.

wasn't that long ago that Delta had such good labor
relations that its employees once bought it a plane; now
it has come to this. There was no single event that
corroded trust to such a state, but one significant one
came in 2003, when then-CEO Leo Mullin took a hefty
bonus, just as he was asking for givebacks from the
workforce, federal aid and a partridge in a pear tree.
Is it any wonder that Delta pilots are balking at
accepting further pay cuts?

The point may sound
obvious, but it's worth saying: Trust is a corporate
asset that should be tended as carefully as the balance
sheet. And it has to start from the top. CEOs making
eight-figure salaries, for example, might cut back to a
mere seven figures when restructuring comes. (It is
possible to live on $5 million a year.

Pension plans should be funded before
bonuses or dividends are paid. Without a deposit of good
faith from which to draw, making it through the rough
patches is that much more difficult.And by the way, this
is the Mets' year. Play ball!

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

I Am Your Dog

I don't know what brought
back the memory but during a talk last week I recalled
attending a philosophy class my freshman year in
college, a class taught by a beautiful, bright, young,
articulate professor who I believed was the perfect
woman. She was in her early 30's. I remember lamenting
my fate that I was just 18. But for our slight
difference in age, I thought, she would like me and I
would like her and we'd live happily ever

As I was telling the story I performed
some simple math in my head and was suddenly struck
silent, stunned that my young philosophy professor is
now in her 70's. I don't remember now the point I was
trying to make but the point I should have made is that
there is no time to wish or hope or fear or even to do
too much planning for tomorrow. There is just Now and
our challenge in modernity is living in the present
instead of rendering it a mere preface to some future
moment when a larger McMansion, a new BMW, or some other
toy will cause more to become enough.

One need
only look around to know that this fantasy turns
nightmarish for those who cling to it too long.Which is
why I leave the following with you, a story by
"Anonymous," who titled the work, "I Am Your Dog," but
which could have been named "I Am Your Spouse," "I Am
Your Child", or "I Am Your Friend." Regardless who you
put into the supporting role, it reminds us of the
importance of Now and that we use it together,

I am your dog, and I have a little
something I'd like to whisper in your ear. I know that
you humans lead busy lives. Some have to work, some have
children to raise. It always seems like you are running
here and there, often much too fast, often never
noticing the truly grand things in life. Look down at me
now, while you sit there at your computer. See the way
my dark brown eyes look at yours? They are slightly
cloudy now. That comes with age. The gray hairs are
beginning to ring my soft muzzle.You smile at me; I see
love in your eyes.

What do you
see in mine? Do you see a spirit? A soul inside, who
loves you as no other could in the world? A spirit that
would forgive all trespasses of prior wrong doing for
just a simple moment of your time? That is all I ask. To
slow down, if even for a few minutes to be with me. So
many times you have been saddened by the words you read
on that screen, of others of my kind, passing. Sometimes
we die young and oh so quickly, sometimes so suddenly it
wrenches your heart out of your throat. Sometimes, we
age so slowly before your eyes that you may not even
seem to know until the very end, when we look at you
with grizzled muzzles and cataract clouded eyes. Still
the love is always there, even when we must take that
long sleep, to run free in a distant land.I may not be
here tomorrow; I may not be here next week. Someday you
will shed the water from your eyes, that humans have
when deep grief fills their souls, and you will be angry
at yourself that you did not have just "One more day"
with me.

Because I love you
so, your sorrow touches my spirit and grieves me. We
have NOW, together. So come, sit down here next to me on
the floor, and look deep into my eyes. What do you see?
If you look hard and deep enough we will talk, you and
I, heart to heart. Come to me not as "alpha" or as
"trainer" or even "Mom or Dad," come to me as a living
soul and stroke my fur and let us look deep into one
another's eyes, and talk.I may tell you something about
the fun of chasing a tennis ball, or I may tell you
something profound about myself, or even life in
general. You decided to have me in your life because you
wanted a soul to share such things with. Someone very
different from you, and here I am. I am a dog, but I am
alive. I feel emotion, I feel physical senses, and I can
revel in the differences of our spirits and souls. I do
not think of you as a "Dog on two feet" -- I know what
you are. You are human, in all your quirkiness, and I
love you still.Now, come sit with me, on the floor.
Enter my world, and let time slow down if only for 15
minutes. Look deep into my eyes, and whisper to my ears.
Speak with your heart, with your joy and I will know
your true self. We may not have tomorrow, and life is oh
so very short.

--Love, (on
behalf of canines everywhere)