Wednesday, October 26, 2005


I couldn't resist posting this. From my family, of all things.



Saturday, October 22, 2005

Things I learned looking for photos of cannoli

Yes, this is a not-so-veiled excuse to write about my birthday on this blog as well as on my other one. See, a group of us from work went to Vitale's to celebrate last night, where I locked my keys in the car along with the camera and computer. So since I didn't have a chance to take any photos, I thought I'd track down images to represent my birthday cake for the evening -- a cannoli. Here are some things I learned in the process:

  • Cannoli making is an art form. It is also the subject of art.
  • Cannoli is a popular name for cats. Lots of people with cats named Cannoli put their cats' photos on the internet.
  • People like to take photos of other people eating cannoli. Many of these photos also are on the internet with names like, "Jessica cannoli" or "love that cannoli."
  • You can buy what looks like stainless steel tubes used to form cannoli shells before deep frying them. These tubes are always shown in photos alongside an actual cannoli so there's no confusion as to what the tubes are for.
  • There are books, CDs, caterers -- even oil paintings named for cannoli. Well, not exactly, but you get the picture.
  • Cannoli seems most often served with coffee.
  • When you search hundreds of photos of cannoli on the web, cannoli itself begins to look suggestive.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The disappearing middle class

All arguments aside over who's right and who's wrong in the Delphi case, you can hardly dispute that the middle class is squeezed today like it never has been.

Harold Meyerson of American Prospect and the LA Weekly expresses it well in this piece picked up last week in the Press. First he reminds us of the grand and glorious rise of the middle, thanks to union contracts and America's pride, the auto industry:
For much of the 20th century, [the auto industry] was, by many measures, our premier industry, the pride of the nation. Its Big Three manufacturers employed the most workers, produced the most output, made the largest profits, and paid their workers enough to transform the economic profile of the entire nation ... In the post-World War II decades, America became home to the first decently paid working class in the history of the world. This was no mean distinction.
Then Meyerson sums up what's happening to the middle class today:

In the face of the combined onslaught of globalization, de-unionization and deregulation, the bottom may not be falling out of the American economy, but the middle certainly is. The very notion of a decently paid working-class job has become a defining oxymoron of our time.

...So we level downward, and the normal workings of the economy seem powerless to stop it. We are in the third year of a recovery, but poverty rates and the number of medically uninsured continue to rise, while median household income continues to fall. Many millions of Americans are doing very well, of course, but, the inflation of home values aside, their ranks don't include their countrymen whose jobs can be offshored or digitized.

Meyerson pins some hope on the new federation (which he doesn't name) made up of the seven unions that recently left the AFL-CIO and whose efforts are being led by union organizer Tom Woodruff.

According to Meyerson, Woodruff claims that about 50 million private-sector workers -- nurses, trucker, retail clerks, others -- have jobs that cannot be sent offshore. Of these, some 44 million are unorganized. The goal of the new federation is to change that.
Sums up Meyerson:

That's no small task in a nation where the legal protections for union organizing have eroded to the point of nonexistence. But in a nation whose economically secure working class has gone the way of the dodo, few tasks are more important.

Monday, October 17, 2005

FH parents object to nonresident students

Back in August I wrote about Northview School system's attempts to deal with a newly diverse the student population due in part to its schools of choice participation. I have one daughter in the high school here.

Recently, Forest Hills, my other daughter's school, made front-page news with the fuss parents are kicking up about the high number of nonresident students there. As a result, superintendent Mike Washburn has shut down nonresident enrollments while they examine the situation.

Forest Hills Northern HS parents complained in recent public meetings that the freshman class is made up of 22% nonresident students. Overall, Northern's percentage of nonresident students is 14%. Why the complaints? From the Grand Rapids Press article:

"Nonresident parents don't tend to get involved like resident parents," said Lorraine Bigelow, mother of a freshman and sophomore. "That could hurt you in fundraising.

"I don't see them at band booster meetings."

She also wonders about academic skills and whether Northern would reduce Advance Placement classes if it doesn't have enough qualified students.

"If you're bringing in students who aren't up to par, you have to do something," Bigelow said.

I'm reading between the lines here, and it ain't pretty. The article goes on:

... But the arrival of unfamiliar faces apparently unnerved some parents of Northern ninth-graders.

"The parents aren't sure what levels these kids are at," said Rose Pucci, mother of a freshman. "If the teachers have to spend more time with them, getting them up to pace, we don't know for sure, but it is a concern. .. "

To be fair, not everyone shares the sentiments of Bigelow and Pucci:
Rhonda Datema, who has children in district schools that feed Northern, attended the Oct. 6 meeting and felt "embarrassed" by the criticism.

"Parents are spreading a vicious virus throughout the Northern community," Datema said. "I'm tired of the negativeness on the phone, at soccer games, at the bus stop. We're only damaging our kids."

Even so, FH parents have enough misgivings to cause the administration to shut down nonresident enrollments for the time being.

Which is a shame. On all of us.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Let me get this straight ...

... Delphi, which has now filed for bankruptcy in federal court, is primed to ask workers to take a 63% pay cut (that takes 'em down to around $10 an hour), pay 27% of their healthcare instead of 7%, and maybe take a 50% cut in their pensions.

Meanwhile Delphi's 21 top execs make as much as a mil each, and prior to the bankruptcy filing got even sweeter offers from Delphi as enticements to stay on.

Top domestic automotive supplier Delphi is not only big in the state, it's a pretty major employer the West Michigan area.

Media Mouse isn't the only one speculating that Delphi's bankruptcy will be used by by General Motors to pressure the United Auto Workers into major concessions to the auto giant. It's become "a common way for corporations to eliminate union contracts and pension programs."

I don't doubt the UAW will have to cave on this. It's times like these when I hear oh-so-many grumblings against unions here in virtually union-free Grand Rapids. And I don't get it. It's stomach turning enough to hear Delphi execs oozing their smooth corporate-speak on the radio about how they and GM and every other behemoth corporation have to "get a handle on things" before they're driven out of business entirely (and yes, I know all about lack of competition with developing countries when it comes to labor costs). But why do we begrudge these men and women their hourly wage? Is $27 an hour really so out of line? Can people really raise families on $10 an hour anywhere? With such wage concessions these hard working people won't even be able to buy the cars they're making parts for.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Update: Delocator

Seems the anti-Starbucks Delocator site I wrote about last week has gotten a lot of press.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Company did well this year? Don't even think about any hefty pay raise ...

From the Mercer Resource Consultings report, 2006 Worldwide Pay Survey:
“Despite the tremendous growth in the US economy, many companies remain cautious in their approach to pay increases. Organisations continue to use variable pay such as bonuses to help retain talented employees, as they struggle to afford higher base pay levels,” said Robin Ferracone, President, Human Capital Business at Mercer.

Struggle? Uh huh.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sharp edges better than none

Kathy Sierra on the "synergistic group building" team vs. the "idea-crushing, groupthink team."
It's about how hard the team/group works to exploit the smartest aspects of the team while maintaining ... distance and diversity ... It's about aggregating the intelligence of the individuals rather than having the group make decisions as a whole. And those are two profoundly different things. Most importantly, it's about working to keep the sharp edges instead of smoothing them all over.