Friday, November 24, 2006

English only is wrong message to send

Communities like Farmers Branch here in North Texas, as well as many others throughout the United States, are simply misguided in their efforts to legislate (through resolution or ordinance) to make English as the “official” language of the land, state, county or city. Hell, in many places it isn’t the common language spoken around the dinner table.
This is a truth that many people fail to grasp – you can survive in this country without speaking English. You can even thrive somewhat without that ability. That is actually the beauty of America – opportunity is NOT limited by language, only by ability and the willingness to do what is needed to succeed. And success is not defined solely by English.
However, what you cannot do is expand your circle of influence. You cannot communicate adequately with others who do not speak your language singularly. You cannot share your life, your experience or knowledge with others. That does not benefit people in the long run; our society expands and betters itself through such share communication.
That is certainly an incentive to learn English. It is a wise judgment which holds that a person living in a particular country should (but not MUST) learn to converse and read in the native tongue. It’s a real good idea, BUT … it should not be the absolute law of the land. An inclusive nation should never go around legislating exclusivity; it
It confounds me when people who claim to seek less intrusion by government into their lives are SO willing to use that same governmental whip to mandate certain social behavior to conform to their individual needs and wants. It is just too hypocritical for words.
The current English-only debate is, at its core, bigoted and racist. Those are two harsh words to bandy about, but truth, sadly, hurts. It is directed at a particular group of people – Mexicans and even at Mexican-Americans (people who were born in the United States and get lumped into the box, labeled “illegal immigrants”). There are hundreds of thousands of American households where English is never spoken on a daily basis, and a huge number of them do not involve Spanish. Many older Jews converse in Yiddish or Hebrew; many Indians utilize Farsi; many Asians speak merely Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Thai.
Yet not one ounce of derision is directed toward these nationalities. If anyone honestly believes that all these people are in this country legally, think again! Please note that not ever “Hispanic” is from Mexico. Besides, there is federal law which allows for “legal” illegal immigration among a select group of Hispanics. If you are Cuban, and you escape that island and reach U.S. soil without getting caught by the Coast Guard or Navy, you are granted automatic asylum by the federal government. Now why is that?
People don’t react well when facing the barrel of a gun. They tend to act in opposite direction of the law’s intention. Besides, the best method to achieve change is to get the other person to believe it was his/her idea and go after it. In the end, the change is what is really sought. Credit only goes to those vain enough to need it.
Advocate – don’t legislate! Convince people based on the strength and moral superiority of the argument. If this were employed by more people toward the issue of abortion, we would have fewer procedures. And then people could debate how best to care for these children, instead of ripping the nation apart by the ferocity of individual morals forced upon the masses.
You attract converts with honey better than with sandpaper – regardless of how you pronounce the word, “honey.”

Saturday, November 18, 2006

One more story about Bo

One final story about Bo Schembechler.
When he had that 1976 operation, cards and mail from well-wishers poured into the U-M athletic department office at 1000 S. State Street. And the mail was channeled and divided at the building switchboard, an old fashioned kind of board, with giant cables that were plugged into the various phone outlets. It was so 1940s.
Often, I was the one who schlepped upstairs from SID to retrieve that day’s mail to be opened by the SID secretary, Pat, Will Perry’s wife. However, one day, a letter came to the department and all it con¬tained was a cut-out photo of Bo and a stamp. That’s all; nothing else; no physical address; no nothing. Just a thumbnail-sized picture glued to an envelope.
When Bo returned, he was asked about that unusual letter. He laughed.
“That was from Alex (Agase, the head coach at Purdue and lifelong friend when the two coached together),” Bo explained. “I saw it, opened it up and called him. Asked him why he sent it that way.
“’Because I wanted to see just how big a son of a bitch you were in that state,’ he told me. ‘Anyone THAT important can get their mail just be looking at who he is.’”
And he was that important.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More memories about Bo

In addition to Bo, I once had a fascinating experience with Woody Hayes, during the 1975 Michigan-Ohio State game in Ann Arbor.
Working for the Sports Information Department, my assignment for that game were to provide quotes from the visiting coach and visiting lockerroom. I dreaded the prospect; Hayes was not a happy man if he lost and I didn’t want to think of what would happen if we lost.
Unfortunately, the Griffin brothers, Archie in his second Heisman-winning year and Raymond, a defensive back with two interceptions, rallied the Buckeyes to a 21-14 victory that afternoon.
And now, I had to get Woody quoted and relay that information to hundreds of scribes on hard deadlines.
The visitors lockerroom was located directly opposite the Michigan lockerroom at the end of the east tunnel, and it was smaller than a cheap room at any EconoLodge. Suddenly, a group of 30 reporters pressed against the door and I knew there was no way Hayes would allow them inside or would be able to satisfy all the requests for quotes.
When I entered the players’ quarters to make arrangements, I already discovered that Paul Hornung of the Columbus Dispatch-Journal had been inside (how he got past security and the crowd remains a mystery other than to presume he was inside before the game ended), and this made those outside quite angry. I was stuck in an impossible situation and possible solutions were few and far between.
Out of desperation, I motioned everyone into a utility area (actually more of a garage-like enclosure) to keep them away from the fans leaving and to permit a sliver of privacy for them and Coach Hayes.
It was as dark as any cave, with one 60-watt light bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminating notepads and camera lenses. Back in the day, everything was filmed, not taped and no one made provisions for low light photography.
And since Hayes enjoyed needling and toying with the press, he was in his element. Although I stood next to him and could hear what he was saying, Woody was deliberately speaking in a rather low volume, bordering on a loud whisper, smiling all the while.
“Coach, can you please speaker up?” shouted one of the Buckeye media.
“Well, you’ll just have to be more quiet in order to hear me,” was his response and he maintained that monotone for the entire press conference. All during the fiasco, I could feel the poisoned darts be visually hurled at my direction.
When I finally returned to the Michigan Stadium press box, and after others had loudly complained about what had transpired. My boss, SID Will Perry, asked why I did what I did and I defended my actions, explaining Hayes’ reluctance to let anyone, other than Hornung, into the lockerroom, and asked what options were open to me since there was no secure place to conduct interviews.
Perry’s scolding fa├žade changed to understanding and he said, “You did the best you could; we’ll have to work on that next season.”
I wasn’t there next season. In June, 1976, I left for Texas, to become sports editor of a small suburban daily paper, The Daily Courier in Conroe, north of Houston. I become immersed in the new tribal rituals at Texas and Texas A&M, and other non-descript schools (Rice, Houston, Sam Houston, etc.).
In the fall of 1977, the Aggies scheduled to play at Michigan in week three, and as a surprised (actually, a shock), the newspaper hierarchy, as a reward presumably for hard, dedicated work, bought me a round-trip ticket to Detroit, authorized a hotel room and furloughed me for 36 hours back on the Michigan campus. I was able to secure a press pass from my former employers, and bright and early on Oct. 1, I boarded a Northwest Orient plane for Detroit International.
I met up with old faces in the press box and enjoyed watching A&M, led by then-sensation running back Curtis Dickey, get its collective head handed to it, 41-3. Michigan scored its 41 points after an early Aggie field goal and it was a major butt whipping by any standards.
With five minutes to play, as was the traditional, those reporters wishing to do post-game interviews with coaches and players, headed down the press elevator and through the crowd to the playing field. When the final gun sounded, everyone, players, staff and media ran across the stadium turf to the east end tunnel and down the corridor toward the lockerrooms.
Except something was different. There was a separate area for interviews, with Schembechler, obviously, the first one to speak. Instead of making reporters waited outside the lockerroom door, subject to the mass of slowly moving bodies as fans also used that exit to leave, they could wait comfortably and patiently.
When I saw it, I smiled, knowing that the fiasco two years before obviously made an impression.
Bo took a seat a couple of minutes after addressing the team (the interview room permitted players to shower and get themselves ready to meet reporters without scurrying around half-naked and clad in only small towels). He glanced around the room and locked eyes with me. He nodded, as one man does to another, as a matter of greeting. I smiled back.
He fielded questions for about 10 minutes and an assistant coach stuck his head into the room from a side door, and said, “OK, coach.” That was the signal that the reporters could enter the players’ area and do more mining for quotes.
As I arose, Bo approached me directly, thrusting his hand out, gripping mine in a firm shake.
“How are you doing, young man?” he asked.
“Great; it’s going great in Texas,” I replied. “I’m working hard, I got married and things are looking up.”
“That’s good; sorry we put that ass-whipping on your team today,” he said.
“No sir, that’s not MY team; I am, and always will be, a Michigan man until the day I die,” I answered.
“Damn right,” he said, as he turned away to go back into the lockerroom, “and don’t ever forget it!”
And this graduate of Ohio State by way of Miami of Ohio WAS the ultimate Michigan man until the day HE died.

The finest man I ever knew is dead

I have only cried over the deaths of a few non-family members in my life.
I shed tears when Groucho Marx left us, I cried when John F. Kennedy was gunned down and I had watery eyes recently when learning of the passing of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards.
But this morning, when I discovered that former University of Michigan football coach Glenn “Bo” Schembechler had died at the age of 77, collapsing while taping his weekly television show in Detroit, I’m not sure how I reacted. I shed tears and I got ill in my stomach. It wasn’t a family member I had lost; it was someone who was a mentor at an age when I needed one the most.
And he never knew it.
Bo Schembechler was a larger than life presence on a major college campus like Michigan, even back in the early 1970s when the student body laughingly claimed it didn’t care about football and sports. We allegedly were all about free love, drug, sex and rock and roll. After all, Ann Arbor was the town that was known nationwide for issuing $5 parking tickets for marijuana possession and “usage.”
Of course, that was a lie (um, not the $5 tickets) but the attitude toward football and winning. We cared – a hell of a lot. We just didn’t become as ESPN-obsessed as fans are today. Games were day-long parties, beginning early with noontime keggers at various frat houses and friendly apartments. Students converged on Michigan Stadium by foot, like ants to the queen ant’s colony, from all points around the Ann Arbor campus.
At the games, we cheered as lustily as ever and demonized all our opponents, especially Ohio State. The 1971 10-7 win, when halfback Billy Taylor went around end and ignited a delirious celebration with two minutes to play might have been the single finest moment any UM fan could experience in the giant bowl, later anointed as the “Big House.” Few remember about the sleet/rainstorm that struck during the national anthem and we had to sit back down in puddles of freezing water for the rest of the game.
I spent three years on the student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, including witnessing the infamous 1973 10-10 tie in Michigan Stadium, which caused Big 10 officials to vote to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl instead of Michigan (and ruining my Pasadena plans). It was a decision Bo would never ever, EVER forget ... and forgive. In 1974, I went to work for the Sports Information Department as a student assistant and got to mingle with all the school’s coaches, including Bo.
Seeing basketball coach Johnny Orr or hockey coach Dan Farrell or track coach Jack Harvey was never a problem. They were easy-going and appreciative of any help, even from lowly student assistants. But getting a call to see Bo in HIS office was like going to the principal’s office, Even if you didn’t do anything wrong, you weren’t sure why you had to go. Bo just wanted everyone to do their jobs at the same level he expected his players to perform – their ultimate best.
Bo began his television show in the 1975 season on the ABC Detroit affiliate. I think it was called “Michigan Movin’” or some such title, and I had to participate in the SID office as a researcher for a couple of historical segments. I dug through old films and photos and connected with producers in Detroit for the taping, which took place on Sunday mornings in the Southfield studios.
A hair-brained concept had a novice student assistant trying to coordinate game film highlights, of runners like Gordie Bell and quarterbacks like Rick Leach, with rock songs I had on old 45s. I fondly recall matching several of Bell’s signatures side-stepping moves to the old Dave Clark Five’s “Catch Me if You Can,” which might have been a forerunner to what experts create today by digital means. Back then, it was innovative stuff.
One segment was to spotlight a former UM player and I had found some old film of Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, who starred at Michigan before World War II and then transferred to Wisconsin. Everyone in the office and at the Detroit studios seems satisfied, but when I went to the football practice facility, and told Bo when he asked about the choice, the man exploded. He pushed me against a wall and I swear he lifted me (and I weighted 300 pounds by then) by the coat lapels.
There was genuine anger in his eyes.
“There is NO way that son of a bitch ever appears on MY show,” he said in the coldest, sternest voice imaginable. “YOU find someone else.”
He put me down, took a deep breath and cleared his throat.
“You don’t understand,” he said in a much quieter, subdued voice. “That was the bastard who voted to keep us from the Rose Bowl in ’73. It was 6-4 and his was the deciding vote. That’s not anyone at Michigan wants to honor. Period!”
He turned and walked away. I felt lucky to have escaped alive. But I fully understood and would never have made the mistake if I knew. But Bo knew.
He had not been in good health lately. It was only a few weeks ago (Oct. 20) when he suffered an “episode” and had to have a defibrillator implanted in his chest to regulate his heartbeat. His heart had been a problem for years, but not because it wasn’t true or honorable. It just had …problems.
He suffered his first heart attack on the eve of the 1970 Rose Bowl, having pulled one of the greatest upsets in college football history, beating Ohio State 24-12 in his first season in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines did not recover from that blow, losing to Stanford.
In 1987, he had a second heart attack, forcing his second quadruple bypass surgery. It also hastened his retirement in 1989 after 20 years at Michigan (prior to that he was head coach at Miami of Ohio served under the tutelage of Woody Hayes). For the record, in 26 years as a head coach, Bo was 234-64-8; at Michigan, he was 194-48-5.
To say he was as stubborn (sometimes) as a mule would not be giving a mule much credit. Bo could have outlasted any mule and when Bo put his mind to something, it took heaven and earth to change it … or his family. His first wife, Millie, held more power over Bo than anyone in the office.
One afternoon, I was in the office of Sports Information Director Will Perry when Bo waltzed in unannounced, plopped himself in a chair and began to discuss the serious topic on his mind – the plight of his beloved Cleveland Indians. He took that as seriously as designing a defense to stop Purdue or Michigan State.
Perry knew that Bo was scheduled for surgery the next day and asked him why he was still in the office.
“Let me ask you, what will my scar look like?” Bo said. Perry and I both shook our heads in total bewilderment. “Well, I need to know that before I do it. Otherwise, I’m not doing it!”
Bo then demanded that we call the team’s doctor, Dr. Jerry O’Connor, right then. Somehow we interrupted the good doctor in the middle of a procedure and he accepted the call … from Bo.
“Jerry, I wanna know what the scar is going to look like … whadda mean ‘don’t worry’ … I want to have a say in how it looks; if I don’t like it, I don’t want it …”
O’Connor convinced him all was well with the world and with the scar and Bo returned to the Indians and their infield needs. He was THAT kind of man.
His genius was football and motivating young men to perform at their best – and doing it within the rules. There was never one iota of stink about a Schembechler program. But his passion was baseball, based on his days as a high school second baseman-pitcher. After he left coaching, Bo had a brief stint as Michigan athletic director, where he became best known for firing basketball coach Bill Frieder on the eve of the 1989 NCAA tournament and put assistant Steve Fisher in charge of the eventual NCAA champions. Bo made the decision with the famous words, “I want a Michigan man coaching Michigan!”
Bo became president of the Detroit Tigers in 1990 at the behest of owner Tom Monaghan, whose Domino’s Pizza headquarters were located in Ann Arbor. While he brought a few innovations, Bo was scorned for appearing to have been who fired Tiger broadcasting legend Ernie Harwell (it was later admitted that station management at WJR made the choice).
Schembechler never seemed comfortable in the big money world of professional sports, although he made several upgrades to the Tigers’ minor league system. Overall, it was a marriage made in heaven.
If one wants to find some gallows humor in all of it, I’m sure in Buckeye Heaven, wherever Woodrow Wayne “Woody” Hayes is, Bo’s coaching nemesis is tossing about a few words not meant for the Lord’s ears.
“Damn Schembechler, he’ll do anything to give THAT team up North an advantage.”
You know, I wouldn’t put it past him.
Bo Schembechler was old school in the sense that his terms were the ones to follow. He was true to his friends, his profession and his university. Officials named the new football complex-offices after Bo and the man retained an office there until the day he died.
Which was today. In fact, he was in the process of taping another one of his weekly TV shows when he collapsed. He was being Bo up to the end.
And to some of us, that meant he was being the best person they had ever met.
God speed, Bo! Tell St. Peter to wear Maize and Blue tomorrow.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Weapons of mass distribution

This is a copy of the column printed in the Mov. 9, 2006, edition of the Dallas Morning News' Collin County Opinion page.

I’ve had it; I’m fed up; I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to shop anymore.
I am through with going to stores that believe customer service to be an irritant and that standing in long lines is a rite of customer passage that must be completed if you wish to worship at the altar of retail.
And I can name my pain: people, or, better said, the lack of people. The problem with customer service (and its absence from the local retail scene) is simple – there aren’t enough employees working (or hired) to help you. I could stand there like Tom Hanks’ Cast Away character and be just as isolated waiting for some clerk to rescue me from the frozen lasagna aisle.
The straw that broke this camel’s back occurred at one of those office supply big boxes. I entered a Plano outlet searching for something simple – a package of clear plastic dividers with tabs. I might have gone looking for the Ark of the Covenant. Warehouse shopping has never been my cup of tea, and it is made worse when you – the lowly, unsuspecting customer – are left to fend (and find) on your own. I don’t accept it for office supplies, men’s clothing, supermarkets, super-SUPERmarkets or super-duper-markets that actually are nothing more than mega-department stores that sell perishable items.
In all truthfulness, I am at the AARP time of my life when I don’t like standing in line for anything. When going out to eat, I prefer (and seek) restaurants where you are seated, a menu is delivered and you are asked (kindly) what your pleasure will be. “Hurry, buddy, there’s people behind you” inspires no confidence of enjoyment.
I rather savor the oft-forgotten words, “May I help you, sir?” upon arrival at a business. And when you make your request, that greeter directs you right to that item, asks if there is anything else he or she can find for you – well, it’s almost like falling in love.
“Where have you been all my life?” is an immediate thought that might run through your head. (Sorry, I get misty-eyed just dreaming about it).
And think of the advantages that would come about if this level of business actually hired more people. For starters, more people would be working!
That’s always a good thing. And more people would be helped! That’s always positive for the bottom line, because a disgruntled shopper tends not to return to that store.
Hiring more young people would get them off the streets, out of their parents’ cars, off the Xboxes and PlayStations and teach them valuable lessons about work habits, responsibility and money management.
Since a disturbing trend is seeing older adults doing the traditional jobs previously reserved for student labor, the need is there. It would be foolish to deny it.
The physical manifestation of my anger is right up front in these biggest retail stores – those long, useless lines of checkout registers (usually idle, empty or unmanned). If a mega-store has 24 shiny checkout points, it usually means only eight are open at one time, regardless of customer traffic. I have never seen all 24 registers going full blast at these kinds of retail outlets – even during holiday shopping.
It’s all because the upper management can’t seem to hire a few more people to be there when you need them. And I say enough is enough! It’s time for action!
I am seeking my own “coalition of the willing;” my own men and women on the march. Tell that store manager of your intention to take your money elsewhere if he or she cannot convince the “district” or “division” to get some additional help.
Because it is time to remind all businesses of the cardinal rule of commerce: The customer is always right. And always waiting, apparently.