Business Blogger

Richard has started his new job at the San Antonio Express-News, and one of the first things he’s done is restart the blog “Shop Talk,” which will collect news about developments in the retail sector in San Antonio.  His first post on the blog is here.

A lot of newspaper work these days is in the social media sphere, on blogs, Twitter feeds, and other outlets that I can’t even begin to identify.  The reality is that many young people are getting their news electronically, and social media also allows news to be published immediately, rather than waiting until next morning’s newspaper.

The retail area, too, is one that is interesting to most people.  Many of us worked in retail at some point in our lives — as a server in a restaurant, as a cashier at the grocery store, or as a sales clerk at a clothing outlet — and virtually everyone shops at retail stores.  As a result of our significant exposure to retail shops, some questions are just intrinsically interesting, like — how much does shoplifting cost stores, and what are the costs, in reputation and potential liability, in pursuing an aggressive no-tolerance policy?  Are all employers requiring applicants to take drug tests and no-smoking pledges these days?  And is it true that clothing manufacturers, recognizing that Americans are becoming portly, have increased the sizes of clothing, so that what is now marked a 32 waist would have been a 34 waist three years ago?

If you’re interested in retail trends, the Shop Talk blog is worth following — as is Richard’s Twitter feed.

Obese Ohio

Ohio is no longer in the top 10 list of states with the highest obesity rates.  Whoo-hoo!  But that’s where the good news ends.

Gallup and Healthways conduct an annual study to assess obesity rates in the United States, and the results are appalling.  Nationally, the obesity problem keeps getting worse, with the obesity rate in 2014 reaching 27.7 percent.  In Mississippi, which heads up the national top 10 list, the obesity rate is a shocking 35.2 percent.  Ohio dropped from number 8 in 2013 to number 13 in 2014, but that decline seems to be mostly because other people in other states are simply getting fatter, faster, than Ohioans.  Ohio’s obesity rate is 29.9 percent — which means Ohio is just a few sugary sodas away from joining the roster of states where the obesity rates is above 30 percent.

You can quibble about the design of the Gallup-Healthways study; it uses self-reported weight and height information to calculate obesity based on Body Mass Index, a measure that many experts consider to be crude and not entirely reliable.  But anyone with eyes can see that Americans keep getting fatter and fatter, which means that more Americans are dealing with adverse health consequences and increases in health care costs that flow from obesity-related conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

The Gallup-Healthways study also found a strong link between obesity and a sense of overall personal well-being.  That conclusion squares with research that shows poverty and obesity are related — according to a recent USDA study, for example, 40 percent of Americans on food stamps are obese — and is consistent with our everyday experience.  People who are struggling with financial problems, social problems, or a lack of purpose are less likely to get out and exercise or pay much attention to their health and appearance and more likely to find solace in a nightly quart of ice cream.  Their increasing weight then becomes part of a downward cycle that ends in depression and obesity.

What, then, is the answer to the obesity problem?  Government programs and hectoring don’t seem to work.  The key is getting individual Americans to care more about their own circumstances and develop more self-awareness and self-respect.  But how?

Debatable

The sheer number of current and likely Republican candidates for President in 2016 is testing the boundaries of how the candidate selection process should work.  Currently, there are more than a dozen announced and anticipated candidates whose names you are likely to have heard of — and if you credit a website called 2016.republican-candidates.org you’ll see many more candidates who have, until now, wallowed in the realm of obscurity.

Believe it or not, the first Republican debate for the 2016 campaign is less than three months away.  It will be held in Cleveland on August 6, 2015 and broadcast by Fox News.  But how do you broadcast a meaningful debate with more than a dozen participants?  Fox has decided that you don’t.  It will allow only the top ten candidates, as shown in the five most recent national polls prior to the debate, to participate.  CNN, which is broadcasting the second debate in September, has taken a different approach:  it will hold one debate with the top ten and another with a second-tier group of candidates that get at least 1 percent support in the polls and have at least one paid campaign worker in at least two of the first four states that will hold caucuses or primaries.

Already people are wondering what these decisions mean, both in terms of the role of networks in the selection process and how campaigns are organized.  Should networks be able to winnow out those who can participate in a public debate, and won’t the Fox and CNN rules mean that campaigns will have to be conducted with an eye toward getting the candidates into the top ten tier prior to the debates?  And what does it all mean for the chances of dark-horse candidates and the Republican process?

I think networks have the right to limit participants in forums they provide.  They shouldn’t have to give valuable air time to every person who has declared their candidacy — a list that, according to the 2016.republican-candidates.org website, includes people named Skip Andrews, Michael Bickelmeyer, Kerry Bowers, and Dale Christensen (and that’s just going through the first three letters of the alphabet).  At some point, too, “debates” in which there are throngs of debaters become unmanageable and pointless, either because they turn into scrums in which people are talking over each other or are given so little time to respond that you learn almost nothing meaningful about the candidates’ positions on the issues.  You might question how the field is winnowed — it seems to me, for example, that any person who has been elected governor of a significant state is sufficient serious to warrant inclusion — but some selection mechanism inevitably will be used.

Will it change how campaigns are run?  Certainly.  A process that has become increasingly front-loaded will now become even more so, with candidates planning appearances and spending money so that they increase their chances of getting into the initial top ten and get that national debate exposure.  It also means that people who seem to be on the fence, like Ohio Governor John Kasich, had better make a decision so they are included in the crucial public opinion polls.  And will it hurt dark-horse candidates like former CEO Carly Fiorina or Dr. Ben Carson?  Not necessarily, in my view.  If candidates have an appealing message, they will get noticed.  Now, they’ll just have to work on doing it earlier.

You’ll hear people saying that all of this is bad for our democracy, but let’s not kid ourselves.  The role of money in politics, and the increasing focus on early caucuses and primaries, have made it increasingly difficult for outlier candidates to become mainstream.  That’s just the reality of the world.  Not being included in a debate in August 2015 isn’t necessarily going to be fatal to a 2016 presidential candidate, either.  How many people aside from political junkies are going to be watching it, anyway?

These early debates may be of great interest to pundits and provide strong performers with alleged momentum, but they’re not going to make a significant dent in the national consciousness.  They’ll be the first shows in a long series of shows — so why not let the producers set rules that they think will make the shows more entertaining?

Thank You

The Revolutionary War.  The War of 1812.  The Civil War.  The Spanish-American War.  World War I.  World War II.  The Korean War.  The Vietnam War.  The Gulf War.  The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So many wars — and those are just the ones that have official names.  In between there have been countless smaller conflicts and instances of service, where members of the armed forces have fought against the Barbary pirates, or rescued hostages, or delivered crucial supplies to survivors of hurricanes or earthquakes.  And in the middle of it all has been the individual Americans serving in the Navy, the Army, the Marines, the Air Force, or the Coast Guard, who have safeguarded our shores, fought against the oppressors, and delivered help in times of need — and often made the ultimate sacrifice.

To those who have fallen, to those who have served, to the veterans and to the active members of the armed forces:  Thank you.

Memorial Day Money-Making

Memorial Day is one of the great American holidays.  It’s also widely recognized as one of the biggest driving weekends of the year, as people kick-start their summer with visits to relatives or a long weekend at a beach or lake.

So . . . why do our uniformed friends want to make the weekend painful for patriotic American motorists by looking to hand out speeding tickets by the bushel basket?

On our drive from Columbus to Cleveland on Friday afternoon every conceivable law enforcement representative — from the Ohio Highway Patrol with their spiffy gray muscle cars, to helmeted and booted motorcycle cops, to “County Mounties” and local police officers, seemed to be out on the road, aiming their radar guns at motorists.  It’s weird and unnerving to see a uniformed person pointing a gun-like device your way, and it aggravates an already stressful driving experience.  The roads are clogged as it is, and the immediate braking when a patrolman comes into view just adds to the congestion and the hassle.

Many people theorize that there are speeding ticket quotas each month that officers need to meet to help bring money in to governmental coffers, and therefore you’re more likely to see police stopping speeders and handing out tickets at the end of the month than at the beginning.  I’m not sure about that, but Kish and I saw more police officers out on I-71 on our drive up on Friday and back this morning than we’ve ever seen before.

I recognize that we can’t have people playing Max Max on our highways, but is it really necessary to send every officer of the peace in the Buckeye State out to hand out tickets?  How about letting us celebrate Memorial Day without getting hit with a fine?

Remember The Reason

 

 

This morning I bought a poppy — an artificial one, to be sure, but the sentiment was there nevertheless — from a vet wearing a VFW cap standing at the corner of Broad and Third.  The red poppies remind us that Memorial Day isn’t just about a three-day weekend and cookouts, it’s about a lot more.

This weekend, take a moment to remember, then thank a vet.

From Ex to X

In a few weeks filming will begin on six new episodes of The X-Files.  The mini-series of new adventures of Mulder and Scully will be broadcast on Fox starting next January.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, really.  Any good TV series that goes off the air is capable of being reintroduced years — in the case of The X-Files, more than a decade — after the network run ended, so long as the actors who played the main characters haven’t kicked the bucket.  TV shows spawn movies, and movies spawn TV shows.   They are working on a Galaxy Quest TV show based on the classic 1999 movie, and planning another version of Celebrity Deathmatch.  Old ideas, characters, and settings get recycled, and the writers and producers hope they can connect with new viewers while not offending the diehard fans who want the new to stay true to the old.

The X-Files is a classic example of the challenges presented by this exercise in threading the needle.  The original show ran from 1993 to 2002 and was fresh, interesting, and delightfully creepy; it was one of the first adult shows we let Richard watch, and I always hoped he wouldn’t be permanently scarred or haunted by his exposure to people with black oil in their eyes or serially inbred families.  The early years of the team of by-the-book Dana Scully and true believer Fox Mulder and their encounters with the paranormal and sprawling governmental conspiracies were brilliant, distinctive and memorable.

But the show seemed to lose steam, and then there were X-Files movies, too.  Where did the plot line leave off?  I can’t remember — are Mulder and Scully married now?  Is The Lone Gunman still around?  What about Skinner?  I’m betting that I’m not alone in not remembering everything that happened in a series that ended 13 years ago and a movie that also sees like it came out long ago.  I need a refresher course.

I want to believe — just remind me what it is I’m supposed to believe, will you?