Monday, September 22, 2008

How's Your Glass?

In measuring support for Barak Obama or John McCain during this most interesting of Presidential campaigns, the number of ways to slice and dice American votes are endless. Daily, the deep demographic divisions among us are reinforced by the relentless reporting of segmentation polls.

The strength test of both political parties is often portrayed as “blue” states vs. “red” but this year we’ve added “purple” states to the mix -- those states that are so closely divided they could swing either way.  Then there’s white vs. black vs. Latino, college educated vs. not -- closely linked to white collar vs blue collar. Regional differences are also plotted - – the Midwest, Rocky Mountain States and South vs. New England and the West Coast. And gender-related polls always illustrate some interesting differences, whether simply male vs. female, or sliced even further by age group. Then there’s one of my personal favorites, urban vs. rural: if one gets down to the county level in studying recent past national elections, even in the red states the large urban centers of those states are generally blue.

But this year, the rhetoric I’m hearing from both the candidates and dialogue among voters makes me think there’s another, more fundamental phenomenon going on here -- and my observation is this: are we people who think our glass is half full or do we think it is half empty?

McCain is doing a great job of tapping into the post 9/11 fear, economic uncertainty, resentment, and anger of many of our citizens -- the holders of the half empty cup -- deftly turning intolerance, exclusivity and a lack of curiosity into virtues, making the Presidential contest one of  ‘us’ vs.’ them,’ the ‘haves’ vs. the self-perceived ‘have nots,’ the flag pin wearers vs. those who choose not to. How the Republicans can do this is a great conjurer’s trick in my mind: by playing on all of the above the champions of less government (but always biased towards big business), free markets and unfettered capitalism – the very concepts that serve to keep the ‘have nots” that way as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer – get people to vote for that which is not in their best interest.

Obama tells another story. He speaks to what Ross Robertson, poet, journalist and utopian operative has called “the frontier mentality...all about grit, curiosity, and unrestrained optimism.” In Obama’s world it’s about being our best selves, it’s about abundance -- our glasses are at least half full -- there's more than enough for all. It’s about differences in race, gender, religion and sexual preference being meaningless because we are all citizens (and caretakers) of the same interconnected world. As trite as it may sound, it’s about the American Dream, that hope and belief in a better future is not only a good thing – it is a real possibility if we take responsibility for it. And, last but not least, it’s about ensuring that Americans continue to live in a country of laws, laws that uphold the constitutional liberties that mean the difference between living in freedom and living in tyranny.

So I ask you, how's your glass?

Thursday, September 18, 2008


It's hard to be perceived as a team player when it's really all about you. Carly Fiorina had a few different ways she could have gone when asked if  any of the principles in the Presidential race could run a Fortune 500 company like HP. Her quick and undiplomatic response was "no"; the subtext was "but I can." She could have said, "you know, that's not really a fair question because big business and government are fundamentally different, it's like comparing apples and bananas..." or "you know, being a leader in government takes a different set of skills and John McCain...", well, you know the rest. Fired, once again, this time as John McCain's 'financial advisor,' her real game plan one might reasonably assume -- ripe with photo opportunities featuring her and McCain -- was about introducing the reinvented Carly Fiorina to a national audience. 

I've never seen a CEO come into a company with as much good will as Carly Fiorina did when she arrived at HP where I worked at the time. After the grindingly dull years of John Young and Lew Platt, she seemed a breath of fresh air, a WOMAN of all things -- AND a non-engineer, come to lead us into the 21st century, shake out the cobwebs and inspire us to re-create HP's glory days. She was all about 'personal empowerment' and moving decisions down the chain of command -- a real biggie because at the time, the decision process was a nightmare, anyone from any division could say "no" to a proposal...and no one person could say "yes" -- while we sat in decision limbo for months at a time, often finally getting a decision after the whole matter was moot, or nobody really cared anymore. So the result of Carly's first broadcast to the division in which I worked? Employees whistling, grinning --  and screaming, believe it or not --"Carly for President!" We were stoked. We had our gal. We were going to make history. We loved her.

Move ahead one year. Nobody has seen or heard from Carly since then -- she's never actually had time to personally visit a site that's about 14 miles away from Corporate and has about 4,000-5,000 people -- other than bewildering tops-down pronouncements, seemingly made in a vacuum, carried over the site sound system. Listening, we rolled our eyes, looked at each other in amazement, sighed and went back to our cubicles, un-stoked, un-inspired, un-motivated.  No long-term nagging problems got solved, decisions became even harder to come by because many now required Carly's personal involvement (so much for "personal empowerment") and she often wasn't available as she was off courting Wall Street or the press or whatever. Then there was the whole ugly Compaq merger, Carly's 'brainchild,' her marketing genius at work, a merger whose lofty premise made no sense to any HP employee I knew.

Around Carly's 18th month at the helm, disengaged, feeling if anything that HP had gone backwards, I could no longer justify taking up cubicle space -- even for a bi-weekly paycheck. In hindsight, one of the best professional decisions I ever made. Because it was only in leaving that I found my path and my true passion.

But the morning Carly's firing made headlines at the San Jose Mercury News, I called an old workmate and friend at HP, singing "Ding dong, the witch is dead," as she answered the phone. She responded that people were celebrating, singing in the isles -- and yes, they were singing the 'ding dong' song. I can only imagine a similar scene at McCain campaign headquarters: Queen Carly wouldn't have made any friends with the 'little people' -- and, well, she was never a team player -- except for Team Carly.

A 100 Strokes

I was watching, once again, that fabulously catty 1939 movie, "The Women," the other night, directed by the legendary George Cukor -- said to be the only director in Hollywood who could have managed an all -female cast made up of all those ruthlessly ambitious extraordinary personalities -- Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell, just to name a few -- when the sight of a women in an elegantly simple negligee and peignoir sitting in from of her vanity, brushing her hair, caught my attention. And I started laughing. 

Girlfriends, do you remember hearing that crock, oops, I mean 'adage' growing up in the 50's? The #1 rule of having glamorously beautiful, thick, shiny, long hair was to BRUSH YOUR HAIR 100 STROKES EVERY NIGHT BEFORE YOU GO TO BED.  And we all bought into it. Or at least a lot of us did.

The word 'wispy' didn't even begin to describe my own hair. Permed to death before I was 5 -- just to get it to do SOMETHING  - my hair wasn't curly and it wasn't just kind of 'floated' 'out there' (or more often flattened and frizzed), determined to not cooperate in any way that would move its owner up a notch on the attractive scale. 

Platinum white until I was ten, and hair so fine a hand running through it couldn't feel anything, I was a sucker for Breck ads with the 'take-away your breath' Breck Girls -- oh how I longed to BE one -- or Prell (with a model who looked like Rita Hayworth), "[its] thick, rich lather gently lifts away daily build-up like residue, dirt, oil and perspiration (eeewwww!) and leaves your hair looking healthy and shiny." And then, for the most fabulous hold once you achieved the perfect look, AquaNet -- industrial strength hairspray - my aunts and cousins bought it by the case. We had veritable helmets by the time we trooped off to church each week.

But the subtext flowing under all this girl 'fun' was the principle of personal responsibility in achieving admirable results -- which, translated into action, meant brushing the requisite 100 strokes every night, without fail. So, for two years I brushed religiously, even fanatically (that's 73,000 freakin' strokes!), always believing that, surely, the accumulation of all those strokes would provoke a miracle. But all I got for my commitment was oilier, lankier hair (if that was possible), split-ends and broken hair. Oh, and a very sore scalp. 

It strikes me that maybe, just maybe, this early urban myth was how we gals were conditioned to repeat the same set of actions over and over, even if the promised outcome always disappointed -- we knew it would be better the next time because WEREN'T WE DOING ALL THE RIGHT THINGS?  At least until, one day, we learned better and we could finally say, "yeah, been there, done that, bought THAT t-shirt." Time to move on...