Archive for the March 2009 Category

TRANSPARENCIES, LEMMINGS, AND DITTOS

At heart, this essay is about politicians and those who make their living from political commentary.  Politicians and those who comment about political events are quick to seize upon a new comment which becomes the comment du jour for several days.  The favorite word that is the fad these days is “transparent” or “transparencies.”  When one politician or one political commentator uses the phrase du jour, other politicians and political commentators are quick to follow suit.  It is as though they are afraid of being out of touch.  When politicians and political commentators seize upon the latest word, such as “transparent,” they appear to me to be much like lemmings.  I am not an expert on lemmings. I have never seen one, nor have I held one.  But legend has it that they follow their leader even if he falls off a cliff.  They will continue to follow their leader even if he walks into the sea.  Lemmings, I am told, do not swim; hence they will drown by following their leader into the sea.  But you may be assured that when a new word comes into vogue, politicians and political commentators will embrace it enthusiastically. 

When they start to use the new term, it is not a matter of original thought but merely copying what someone else has said.  Rush Limbaugh, who has a radio program of three hours per day, calls his followers “ditto heads.”  As an independent observer, I would consider that term a bit of an epithet.  On the other hand, a classy essayist would probably have used the Italian word “coda” in the title rather than dittos.  A “coda” means to repeat.  But I make no claim to being a classy essayist.  I much prefer a blue-collar peasant food like polenta to foie gras.

But before this essay is finished, I would not be surprised to find the author quoting a song from a wonderful musical that captivated audiences on Broadway for several years.  It was called Chicago, which reflected the earthiness of that city eloquently.  I liked the Broadway presentation, just as I liked Chicago itself.  So I guess that proves that I am not necessarily a classy essayist.

That is enough about the unusual title of this piece.  If we were to recall the utterances of the political figures in the past eight years, we would find that there are many cases of copying one comment du jour after another.  Consider, for example, “war on terror.”  The so-called war was a fraud from beginning to end.  There is no force on this earth, nor is there one from Heaven, that would remove terror from the lives of men.  Yet political figures blithely used the phrase “war on terror” repeatedly.  They are like the lemmings marching over the cliff and into the sea.

In that same period, the politicians in the Bush administration told us that their policies were “forward leaning.”  It would take a strong man to assert that his policies were backward leaning.  On the other hand, the Obama administration uses the term “looking forward.”  We hope that looking forward has a better fate than forward leaning as far as this great country is concerned.

Then there is the case of “Washington speak.”  Hillary Clinton was a good example of Washington speak when she said that her subordinates were being “tasked” to do something on behalf of the government.  That is a tortured use of the English language.  But even now we find that subordinates are being “tasked” to complete an action.

There are other catch phrases, such as “this point in time” and “freedom fighters.”  Do you suppose that there are such fighters who fight for “unfreedom?”  I am asking this question as an essayist in the hope of finding a new word for my vocabulary.

Another phrase we find in great use among our politicians is “pushing the envelope.”  I have listened to this phrase for several years and find it as incomprehensible now as when I first started my search.  But it has considerable currency among politicians and political commentators.

The current word being used by both Democrats and Republicans is “transparent.”  The Republicans have claimed that Obama’s budget is not sufficiently transparent.  Obama says that it is fully transparent.  They further contend that Obama’s effort to stimulate the economy was not properly transparent.  Obviously, Obama disagrees with that.  If you listen to a discourse coming from Washington, I believe that in short order you will get a full dose of the word transparent or transparencies.

Now that brings me to a song from the musical production of Chicago that encapsulated my idea of transparency.  Those of you who saw that show may recall a lonely figure standing in a spotlight singing the song “Cellophane.”  When transparency is mentioned, I always think of Cellophane.  You may also recall that the chorus to that song is:

“Cellophane,
Mr. Cellophane,
Should have been my name.
Mr. Cellophane
‘Cause you can look right through me,
Walk right by me,
And never know I’m there.”

What it all boils down to is that every time I hear a politician or a political commentator use the word “transparent,” his thought, however well-intentioned, goes floating out the window.  When “transparent” is used, automatically I think of Mr. Cellophane.  Politicians are used to rough treatment, so apparently my lack of attention would not be noticed.  It may be that when the term “transparent” is used on your radio or television set, you may also let your thoughts wander to the performance of Joel Gray in Chicago.  When a politician or political commentator uses that term, the chances are that he will have virtually nothing to say of consequence.  When that happens, as it inevitably will, I will move to protect you.  Just start humming “Mr. Cellophane.”

My heart feels stronger now that I have warned you about lemmings, dittos, and the mindless quoting of catch phrases that have very little meaning.  Finally, if one of Ezra’s Essays’ readers can tell me why lemmings march off a cliff and into the sea, I will add that to my limited store of knowledge.  But as I leave you, I will be humming:

“Cellophane,
Mr. Cellophane,
Should have been my name.
Mr. Cellophane
‘Cause you can look right through me,
Walk right by me,
And never know I’m there.”

 

E. E. CARR

March 30, 2009

Essay 375

~~~

Kevin’s commentary: Turns out lemming suicide isn’t actually a thing that happens in nature! The legend is mainly based on this old 1958 Disney documentary, “White Wilderness,” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMZlr5Gf9yY

It was debunked in many places, the easiest to reference of course being Snopes, here: http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/lemmings.asp

The gist is that when lemmings do mass migrations along coast lines, sometimes they accidentally crowd too quickly and push each other over cliffs. Some people saw this happen and decided that they were committing suicide. So then when Disney was trying to do a nature documentary they couldn’t just show lemmings scurrying around, they had to be doing what everyone expected! So they threw them off cliffs and the legend was cemented.

In other news, I think that soundbites are increasingly necessary in a world where most media is delivered in tiny bursts. Interviews are short, quotes are short, and every idea needs to be done in seven and a half minutes so that we can have time for commercials. So yeah, it’s an irritating way to communicate, but if I was a politician who could think up a three-word phrase that effectively represents a more complicated issue, I’d damn well use it and I bet my opponents would copy it.

I think that semantical issues are the least of our political systems’ problems. That said if they communicated more clearly and got better at not needing to rely on soundbites, I’d be all for it.

PREGNANT PONDERINGS ON POETIZING

Every pulpit pounding preacher will tell you that ecclesiastical confessions are essential to good health. I imagine those preacher were made ecstatic a week or two ago when Bernie Madoff confessed that he had committed eleven felonies. Such preachers will tell you that confessions will fix any ailment known to man or beast.

And so it is at this late date that I will confess that composing a poem is always beyond my reach. I am very fond of opera but I would have no idea about how to write one. And so it is with poetry. Every attempt at poetry is nothing more than an exercise in doggerel. But that does not dim my admiration for good poetry as well as good opera.

It has long been my contention that the best poetry written these days is found in lyrics to songs. When a man composes a poem and sets it to music, it has the power to capture my intellect. So the thought today is to cite perhaps five songs that have great poetry, good music, and a bit of philosophy.

First there is an Irish folk song that has been around for perhaps 200 or more years. It is called “October Winds” or “The Castle at Dromore.” One verse contains the words that are to be cited here today:

“Take time to strive, my ray of hope in the garden of Dromore.
Take heed, young eaglet, ‘til thy wings are feathered fit to soar.”

There is elegance in the language about the young eaglet being told to be careful until his “wings are feathered fit to soar.”

The second one to be cited here today comes from Eric Bogle. He is a Scot who acquired Australian citizenship late in the 1970s. Bogle writes all of his poems and sets them to music, and then performs them. One of the Bogle pieces is an anti-war song called “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” It commemorates the battle at Suvla Bay where the Turks held the high ground and slaughtered the incoming Australians. This battle happened in 1915 and was the attempt made by the British to attack the “soft underbelly” of Europe. Unfortunately the battle at Suvla Bay went badly. Here are the lines that reside in my head.

“Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head.
When I awoke in the hospital bed, I saw what it had done.
Well, I wished I was dead.
Never knew there were worse things than dying.”

For an old soldier, it is very difficult to shake the line, “Never knew there were worse things than dying.”

Eric Bogle has also composed another anti-war song. This one is called “Willie McBride” or “The Green Fields of France” or, alternatively, “No Man’s Land.” You may recall that the US President in 1917 was Woodrow Wilson. Unfortunately, he called the First World War “The War to End Wars.” As all of you can testify, the First World War did not end war in any sense. There are several lines from the poem that are of significance. Here are a few:

“And I can’t help but wonder, young Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause?
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well, the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying was all done in vain.
For Willie McBride, it has all happened again and again and again.”

The main question is that one line about “Do all those who lie here…” in this British military cemetery “…know why they died?” Perhaps the politicians know about what caused their deaths but as always, it is the soldiers who do the dying.

As a youngster, I admired the work of Rudyard Kipling. Kipling wrote his poems at the zenith of the British Empire. You will recall that prior to 1914, the Brits controlled India, Canada, British West Africa, Kenya, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Australia, among other holdings. This Kipling work is called “Lest We Forget.”

“God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far flung battle lines
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine
Lord, God of Hosts, be with us yet
Lest we forget, lest we forget.”

This particular Kipling poem was turned into an Anglican hymn. I suspect that it is not sung much anymore because the British Empire is a shadow of its former self.

Finally we turn to a folk singer called Tom Paxton. Paxton is 76 years of age, yet he still performs regularly. His genre is political satire on many occasions. In this poem and song, the subject was John Ashcroft, the former Senator from Missouri who was appointed Attorney General in the first term of the Bush administration.

The lines read like this:

“John Ashcroft went to meet the press.
He faced the microphones.
His heart was full of righteousness,
His voice like God’s trombones.
But then he saw the statue that was set behind him there;
She was “the spirit of justice,” yes, but one of her breasts was bare.
John Ashcroft looked with horror at this gleaming marble globe
That thrust itself upon him from a loosely falling robe.
Thus, it was so hard to concentrate on those he there accused
With that marble breast behind him, poor John Ashcroft got confused.
Each time he saw that marble breast, the poor man was appalled.
He quickly gave the order and a curtain was installed.
Now, when he makes a statement, you can see him on the tube.
He has curtained off the statue but you will still see one big boob.”

All that remains to be said is, “Good for Tom Paxton!” John Ashcroft was a disastrous Attorney General, topped only by the likes of Alberto Gonzales. But Paxton’s line about “one big boob” fits Ashcroft perfectly. And it deserves to be mentioned in this essay on poetizing.

There you have an Irish song, two Australian songs which were produced by a refugee from Scotland, the Kipling work, and the political skewering of John Ashcroft. There are dozens or perhaps even hundreds of quotable lines that float around in my head, but I believe that this essay on poetizing might give you an idea of what entrances me. There may even be a bit of jealousy here in that I wish that I could have produced some of these lines. Who can beat “feathered fit to soar” or “Never knew there were worse things than dying.”

Now, finally, I have gotten this essay on poetizing out of my system. It has lingered in my alleged brain for several months, which accounts for the title having to do with pregnancy. My hope is that, now that the essay has finally come to life, you enjoy it and maybe you will sing or hum some of the songs that it contains. I would suggest that a good place to start is on the lines about “Take heed, young eaglet, ‘til thy wings are feathered fit to soar.” I regret that I did not write those lines. But I intend to keep trying.

E. E. CARR
March 25, 2009
Essay 374

~~~
Kevin’s commentary: As Pop writes his titles before the essays that follow them, I tend to start drafting my commentary before I’m even done reading the essay. This is, I’ll be honest, a bad habit. They say that the mark of a poor listener is someone who starts thinking up what he’ll say next before the first person is even done speaking. Perhaps debate, which did so many good things for my education, is to blame for this (hopefully minor) deficiency in character.

Nevertheless the moment that I got to the line “Do all those who lie here know why they died?” I thought to myself that I had just encountered the most significant part of the essay, or at least the part that had the greatest impact on me.

Wars today are so nebulously conducted that I am curious whether any of the soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq today are sure of the answer. Back at home we have largely gotten by on trite soundbytes like “they died for our freedoms” but I think even the American population is starting to realize that this is BS. Based on my lack of real knowledge of the issue I’d bet that there are probably only a handful of people who know exactly what ends their sacrifice are serving.

A TREATISE ON BEING ELEGANTLY, ENORMOUSLY, AND ENTHUSIASTICALLY SCREWED

A casual observer reading only the title of this essay might conclude that the essay has to do with relations between the sexes.  Anyone who knows the proprietor of Ezra’s essays with his seminarian background would dismiss that thought out of hand.  But upon further consideration, this essay has to do with diddling.  I do not pretend to be an expert on the difference between being screwed and being diddled.  But as you read this essay, which I hope you will do, you will notice that the American taxpayer, as well as the American investor and, of course, the American government, are being diddled prodigiously.  These three entities comprise the “screwees” in this essay.

During the week in which we were supposed to be honoring St. Patrick, it was announced by the American International Group (AIG) that it had paid something in excess of $165 million to employees of one of its units as bonuses and/or retention benefits.  Curiously, the retention benefits did not work their magic because a high proportion of the executives rewarded with million dollar bonuses have departed from AIG.  Well, you can’t win them all.

As it turns out, this group of AIG workers, which is supposed to be an insurance firm, was operating a hedge fund.  The workers were dealing in default credit swaps, which I do not understand and which apparently no one else understands either.  But when push came to shove, AIG had lost an enormous amount of money.  The American government judged that organization to be too big to fail and so it proceeded to rescue it.  Presumably some of the rescue funds were used to pay bonuses as well as the retention benefits to the hedge fund operators.  I suppose this illustrates the point that when an international insurance firm begins to operate as a hedge fund which requires the American government to rescue it, there will be some “screwees.”  Unfortunately, the “screwees” are the American taxpayers.

If I understand the hedge fund operators fairly correctly, they assured their investors that losses would be covered by AIG insurance.  I am not entirely clear on this point but if that is the case, it means that those who wish to invest in hedge funds will go for broke.  Again, if it is the American taxpayer picking up the bill, he is entitled to believe that he has been screwed.

In the final analysis, the $165 million or something thereabouts that was paid out in bonuses constitutes only 1% of the bailout money involved in the AIG case.  That is very small consolation to the government, the investors, and the American taxpayers.  But it is that amount that aroused the members of the House of Representatives to pass a bill last week.

The bill would require that anyone who received a bonus or retention award from AIG would be taxed at a rate of 90%.  No one would ever mistake me for a jurist on the US Supreme Court but I will announce in advance that such a bill is unconstitutional on its face.  But as I say, I have no voice in this matter because my job is simply to pay the taxes that will support the bonuses or retention payments.

The new Chairman of the American International Group is a gentleman named Liddy.  He is working for $1 per year and says that he has no golden parachute.  He is doing this as a patriotic duty and I tend to believe him.  During the week when we were supposed to be honoring St. Patrick, Mr. Liddy appeared before the House of Representatives and was subjected to a cruel flogging by the Representatives making points back home.  His defense was that the contracts for the bonuses and retention payments were signed long before he checked in to rescue AIG.  He said that when the bonuses were paid, it was simply a matter of honoring the sanctity of contracts.  Now here I am on much more solid ground.

For the better part of twenty years, I was involved in labor relations with the Bell System which no longer exists.  It was an arm of AT&T.  If a contract was not honored, the standard procedure was to file a grievance.  If the grievance did not work things out, the case might go to arbitration.  If that did not work out, the case would then be transferred to the court system where a penalty would be exacted.  So while I have no sympathy for the people who screwed up, I understand Mr. Liddy’s position that he was honoring contracts.  My guess is that in the final analysis, after all of the posturing has been done, this is where the matter will eventually wind up.

Well, I guess the moral of this story is “Do not become involved with an insurance agent who is also running a hedge fund.”  If you are a taxpayer, you will eventually be screwed, to use a vulgar expression.  If it makes you feel better to call yourself simply a “screwee,” I am certain that Mr. Liddy, the House of Representatives, and this old essayist will understand your feelings.

While we were being distracted by the AIG bonuses/retention payments, there were developments in the affair of Ruth and Bernie Madoff.  As you are aware by this time, Bernie Madoff has been imprisoned following his guilty plea, and the judge says he will stay there until his sentencing in the middle of June.  But that is only half of the story.  Ruth Madoff, his wife, is making a vigorous effort to preserve the fortune and to call it her own.  Apparently there are houses in Palm Beach and in France.  There is also the apartment building where the Madoffs had a penthouse on Park Avenue in Manhattan.  There is a matter of some $65 million which Mrs. Madoff contends belongs only to her.  And then there is the ownership of the Madoff yacht.

Ruth Madoff contends that all of these things are her property and should not be involved in the proceeding against her husband Bernie.  Bernie ran a ponzi scheme which operated for several years despite the fact that whistle blowers had told the Securities and Exchange Commission exactly what was going on.  The SEC Chairman was a fellow named Cox who was formerly a Republican Congressman.  He not only turned a deaf ear to the protests but buried his head in the sand as well.  Now Cox is gone.  But in the end it is the American government that has been screwed.  It is clear that investors in Bernie’s ponzi scheme are active “screwees.”  As far as I can tell, there is no movement that would require the American taxpayer to bail out the participants in Bernie’s ponzi scheme.  For the time being, that makes me feel quite good.

Now back to Ruth Madoff’s proposition.  In the end, it would seem to me as a non-investor in Bernie’s ponzi scheme that Ruth and her two sons will somehow or other become involved.  Are we left to believe that all of this property, the yacht, the jewelry, and the large sums of cash were earned by Ruth as she sold subscriptions to the Ladies’ Home Journal in her apartment building?  I suppose it goes to prove that where money is involved, as in this case, it may well be that Ruth is throwing Bernie under the bus for her own benefit.  But in the end, old Bernie is going to spend the bulk or all of the rest of his life in prison and perhaps Ruth concludes, “What is there to lose?”

There is absolutely nothing in the saga of AIG or the affair of Bernie and Ruth Madoff to inspire us.  It comes at a time when bad news abounds everywhere.  But in the end the casual observer who read the title of this essay may have had some clear thinking when he wondered if the essay would be about relations between the sexes.  But when the American taxpayer, the American investor, and the American government are being royally diddled, I believe that I am entitled to write an essay asking whether we are being elegantly, enormously, and enthusiastically screwed.

 

E. E. CARR

March 17, 2009

Essay 373

~~~

Kevin’s commentary: Well, after publishing and categorizing three hundred and nineteen of Ezra’s Essays, it is now a rare occurrence that I have to come up with an entirely new tag to describe an essay. But here we are. On this day, the 12th of November, the “Outstanding Title” tag is born and will be retroactively applied to all qualifying essays which have already appeared on this site. This essay is also the first to receive a new tag for “money.”

The whole AIG thing was a gigantic mess. Unfortunately here we are barely four years later and again we have Tea Partiers and the like who are clamoring for as much deregulation as they can ask for while keeping a straight face.

At least there is some justice; Ruth lost everything and is now living with one of her children. Last report I can find she’s taking out her own garbage and not looking all too happy about it. So there’s that.

 

ASPECTS OF MORALITY

Earlier today I was stunned to learn that March 4th is the 83rd birthday of Alan Greenspan, the former head of the Federal Reserve Board.  You may recall Mr. Greenspan, who often testified to Congress using sentences that could not be untangled.  Andrea Mitchell, the television reporter, says that when he proposed marriage to her, she did not understand what he wanted until the third try.  I was stunned to learn that this is only the 83rd birthday for Alan Greenspan, which means that I am his senior by three and a half years.  The moral in reciting this incident is that we should not all assume that people who talk like Alan Greenspan are of my father’s age.

But now we move on to other incidents of morality that are much more current. It has always been my practice to write to authors to let them know that their work is appreciated.  The writing is not confined to authors.  It has always seemed to me that saying “That book is very enjoyable” is not enough.  When I am well served by people in the public sector, it occurs to me that it is incumbent upon me to tell them about it.

And so it is that we have several cases where I have written letters of appreciation which were happily acknowledged.  On the other hand, there are cases where letters have been written with no acknowledgement.  That is where the morality comes in.

To start with, there is the head of the Chase Bank who goes by the name of Jamie Dimon.  For a number of years I have dealt with the local Chase Bank and have been well served by the chief teller, Tyra Clark.  The manager at the local branch is Ed Rogers, who has been especially nice to me.  And so it was that I wanted to tell their ultimate boss about how they had performed.

When Mr. Dimon received my letter, he had his executive assistant call me at 6:30 in the evening.  She said that Mr. Dimon wanted to thank me.  In the course of our conversation, I mentioned other acts by Ed Rogers and Tyra Clark that were commendable.  She promised to go directly into Mr. Dimon’s office to tell him about those further acts.  Apparently Mr. Dimon was working late, together with his executive assistant, which is understandable because this incident happened at the height of the banking crisis.

In the end, I received an effusive letter from Mr. Dimon, which thanked me for calling the performance of his workers to his attention.  My reading of that letter would suggest that he was strongly considering a salary increase together with a pat on the back for Ed Rogers and Tyra Clark.  It also thanked me for my business over the years.  I took great pleasure from his letter.

 

A second case took place a few years ago when the building that had housed the offices of the Long Lines Department of AT&T was sold to a real estate developer.  He had no intention of tearing the building down , but rather was intent on using it for another purpose.

In that building, there is a plaque in the lobby that commemorates the death of perhaps forty Long Lines employees who were killed in World War II.  In 1941, I sat in a corner of the St. Louis office of the Long Lines Department together with three companions.  They were Bernie Wheeler, David Weiss, and Ashby Vaughn.  War is an unreasonable plague upon this earth, which is certainly the case as those three men were killed.

I wrote to Mr. Bill Rudin, the new owner, to make sure that the plaque honoring their service would not be destroyed.  Mr. Rudin’s response was prompt.  He assured me that the plaque would always have a place of honor in that lobby.  And indeed, on the occasions that I have visited there, the plaque is prominently displayed with floodlights on it, American flags on either side, and no obstructions to viewing it.  Bill Rudin, the real estate developer, is an honorable man.

 

A third case involved Maureen Dowd, the columnist for the New York Times.  I have read Ms. Dowd’s writings for several years and one day I sent a message to her.  It said that if Henry Mencken were alive, he would say, “That Irish girl who writes for the Times is a damn good writer.”  She responded immediately by saying, “Best compliment ever.”

 

Recently Jeffrey Tubin, who writes for the New Yorker, wrote a book about the justices of the Supreme Court.  The book was read to me and I immediately sent Mr. Tubin my congratulations.  Within hours, he thanked me for my readership.

Then there is Ted Sorenson, whom you may recall was the advisor to John F. Kennedy when he was our president.  Mr. Sorenson is now legally blind but, one way or another, he had completed this book, which he read in his flat Nebraska accent.  A letter to Mr. Sorenson was promptly answered with great appreciation.

 

Then there is Richard Tofel, who wrote a recent book about the disappearance of Judge Crater, who had an important legal post here in New York.  As you may recall, Judge Crater went to dinner on a Friday night in 1930 and disappeared and no one has heard from him since.  I enjoyed Tofel’s book immensely and sent him a letter attesting to that fact.  Mr. Tofel told me that hearing from me “completes the circle.”  He also told me that his next book would appear this fall and that I should watch for it, which I am doing.

Well, there you have several instances where people seemed to appreciate my thanks.  Knowing that they were pleased brought joy to myself as well.

 

But it’s not all happiness in this world.  On the other hand, there were three occasions where I wrote to chief executive officers who apparently regarded my communications with a certain amount of disdain.  Back in November 2003, I was moved to contact the chief executive officer of the Whole Foods Corporation, who goes by the name of John Mackey.  One of the individuals that I praised was a woman who managed the Millburn New Jersey branch of his store and the second was the manager of the fish counter in that store.  I praised both of them highly and suggested that Mr. Mackey had made a wise choice when he had given them their current assignments.  That was in November of 2003 and to date, Mr. Mackey has not seen fit to reply to me.  I am a patient fellow and I guess I have no choice but to continue to wait.

 

A second case involves Danny Wegman, who is the chief executive officer of the Wegman food markets.  For a number of years, Richard Lee, who works in the produce department, had gone out of his way to be kind to my wife and myself.  So it was in November of 2004 that I wrote to Mr. Wegman to tell him of Richard Lee’s performance.  There was no ulterior motive.  The fact that he was born in China had nothing to do with it.  He was simply doing a good job for Wegman’s, and I thought that the top man ought to know about it.  That letter was met with stony silence.  Again, it has been less than five years so I must be patient and wait my turn.

Now we come to a more recent case involving Blake Nordstrom, who is the chief executive officer of the Nordstrom clothing company.  The 2008  holiday season was not kind to clothing manufacturers at any level of the economy.  On top of that, I gather that the stock in the Nordstrom Corporation is somewhere crawling along the bottom.  I sent the following letter to Mr. Nordstrom in the hope that he would restore tags to his tee shirt underwear so that people in my situation could locate front from back.  Here is the letter:

February 12, 2009
Private & Personal
Blake W. Nordstrom
Nordstrom
1617 Sixth Avenue
Seattle, WA  98101-1742

Mr. Nordstrom:

Several years ago when the Short Hills (New Jersey) Mall opened, I found that there was a Nordstrom store in a convenient location at that mall.  In the years that have passed, Nordstrom has provided me with suits, shoes and other furnishings, including a cap and hat.  The point is that Nordstrom has been almost my exclusive supplier of men’s clothing for many years.

Alas, this September my wife decreed that some of my underwear tee shirts should be replaced.  A new supply was purchased and I have been attempting to wear them for the last few months.  I was astonished to learn that the new tee shirts no longer carry a tag at the neck in the back of the shirt.  Instead, the size of the shirt and other information is stamped on the back of the shirt rather than using a tag as had been the custom previously.

To those of us who are visually impaired, this is a disastrous turn of events.  As a completely blind man, I now find that it takes perhaps three to five minutes to locate the front part of the shirt as distinguished from its back.  When the shirt is donned, I find that it is backwards in perhaps thirty-five to forty per cent of the cases.

Mr. Nordstrom, your clothing sells at a premium.  No one would ever mistake your prices for those at Wal-Mart, for example.  In cold weather following a shower, the inability to locate the front and back of the tee shirt is a major drawback.  More than that, Mr. Nordstrom, I hope that there is a special place in Hell that is reserved for the executive at Nordstrom who decided to remove the tags from the back of the neck of the Nordstrom tee shirts.

I am fully aware that you have your hands full worrying about the slump in sales over the recent holidays.  And your stock price gives no cause for elation either.  I do not wish to add to your troubles but the absence of the tag in the back of the tee shirt has angered me endlessly.  I do not intend to move the small amount of clothing business I do from Nordstrom, however it seemed to me that this was a matter that ought to be called to your attention.  It smacks of the Wal-Martinization of an innovative premier clothing store.

Now, having said all that, I feel better and it is my hope that Nordstrom has a very successful year.  To that end, I send you a sincere New Year’s greeting.

(signed) E. E. Carr

 

So far, Mr. Blake Nordstrom has not elected to reply to my letter.  I have suspicions that Mr. Nordstrom may never feel moved to reply.

And so that brings me to the moral of this story.  Stated one way, it might be that we should never expect generous treatment when there is a grocer or a haberdasher involved in the transaction.  On the other side, perhaps the moral in the story is that authors, bank presidents, and real estate developers are genuinely interested in how their work is received.  My moral is that, given a choice, always go with the authors, bank presidents, and real estate developers.  You will be rewarded with good reading, prosperity, and living quarters that will provoke envy from your compatriots.

 

E. E. CARR

March 9, 2009

Essay 372

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Kevin’s commentary: This of course was resolved in a subsequent essay, when Mr. Nordstrom did indeed answer: https://ezrasessays.com/?p=1086

It surprises me that for most of these grievances, Pop just straight-up writes to the President or CEO. Given his approach I am astonished that he gets the response rate that he does. He tells me that Judy finds their addresses from Google or just writes to the company headquarters. Now keep in mind that a communication like Pop’s carries with it neither any real threat to Nordstrom’s profits or its public perception, since it has not (until now, I guess) appeared online. In many cases ignoring the letter would have no consequence at all. But yet Blake (or someone who ghostwrites responses for him, which is still fine) responded, as did the head of Chase and many others.

It’s honestly difficult for me reconcile the fact that the people writing to Pop are the same people who, according to most media, are these fabulously powerful and aloof individuals who make hundreds of times more than their employees, pay their way around laws, and generally get up to no good. The act of responding to a letter almost feels like it’d be beneath them.

While I still believe that this depiction of executives is probably accurate for a lot of corporations, it makes me smile a little bit to think of Mr. Nordstrom taking some time out of his day to read and respond to Pop’s 400-word diatribe which explicitly condemns one of his employees to a “special place in Hell.”