unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

A Rough Day at Work?

No one is immune from the occasional rough day at the office, the plant, or the shop.  And all of us have gone through periods where we’ve been stuck at work, had to put in overtime, or come in on the weekend.  It’s why they call it “work” and that’s why they pay us to do it. 

But what those miners in Chile are facing puts it in perspective, don’t you think?  For starters, the job is inherently risky and I suspect most people would be terrified of having to go a half-mile underground for any reason.  Just the thought of descending into the earth like that almost causes me to hyperventilate. 

When our children were young, I took the family on a tour of a small, private cave in Iowa.  As I recall, the destination point was an underground “emerald spring.”  To get there required walking single file in a shallow tunnel that was wide enough for only one person.  Unless you were in the back of the line, you could not turn around.  I felt trapped, stressed and claustrophobic  for the half-hour duration of the tour and couldn’t wait to get out.

The 33 Chilean miners may be in their crypt-like room for several months.  I was shocked to read one report that 75% of them are already suffering from anxiety and depression–shocked that it wasn’t 100%.  Now comes word that they will have to assist in their own rescue by removing up to 3,000 tons of rubble created by the drilling that will ultimately free them.

I feel terrible for those poor men and pray they will get out safely (once the hole is drilled it will reportedly take 3 harrowing hours to lift each man out).  As for the rest of us, being “stuck at the office” is a day at the beach by comparison.

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Lessons From the Jury Room

Every day it seems another Blagojevich juror is speaking out about how he or she reacted to the government’s case and what federal prosecutors should keep in mind the next time around.  Their feedback has amounted to an ongoing focus group for the government.  What’s interesting is that the lessons from the jury room are so applicable to everyday life.  Here’s my distillation of what jurors are saying:

1.  Keep it simple.  Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.

2.  Show them the dots and then connect the dots for them.

3.  Distill the closing arguments to the essentials and concisely state the facts that support your case.

4.  Make the instructions shorter and easier to understand.

5.  Communicate in a way that helps engender a personal connection with the listeners.

The feedback is equally useful to the ex-governor’s lawyers who can now anticipate–and prepare for–a more concise template from the government.  But it’s also useful feedback to anyone who is called upon to persuade, cajole, or convince.  The settings may vary; the principles do not.  You don’t have to be a prosecutor or defense lawyer to put these lessons to good use. 

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A Man of Style

I was driving to work today and I had to stop because a person was jaywalking right in front of me.  Normally that would have been irritating, but when I got a look at the person, I was glad for the interruption.  He was one of the coolest-looking people I had seen in a long time.

He appeared to be between 75 and 80 years old and was reed-thin.  He was wearing a beautiful straw fedora with a black band, and his gray hair looked perfectly combed underneath.  He wore an elegant cream-colored, open-collar, short-sleeved shirt, crisply tailored brown dress slacks, and black and white wingtips.  But here’s the crowning touch:  with great dignity, he was walking with a glossy, burgundy-colored walking stick!  My first reaction was, “I see Fred.  Where the heck’s Ginger?”

He was one of the most stylish persons I have encountered and looked like someone from another era–the kind of person you’d see taking a paseo in Sevilla or sipping an espresso at an elegant seaside resort–a cigar factory owner on holiday, perhaps.

In this day when taupe Comfortwalkers are the style of the day for many older citizens, it was a kick to see someone whose sense of style would be an inspiration for any age group.  I felt like rolling my window down and yelling some kind of compliment at him.  But before I could, he got into a waiting car, free from the indignity of having had to acknowledge a boisterous admirer who would have told him how much he had improved his day.

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The House on the Corner

Impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich's House

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zol87 (CC BY SA)

The cliche in real estate is “location, location, location.”  I think of that when I think of the Blagojevich home.  It is situated on the NW corner of its intersection in Ravenswood Manor.  The main door is on an elevated brick porch with generous concrete steps leading down to the sidewalk.  The main door and porch are set on the long side of the house.

The set-up is almost like a stage or movie set where the speaker can step outside his house and immediately address a small throng below.  I can imagine Evita standing on it with her arms in her trademark “V.”  In short, it’s a perfect set-up for someone who wants to be noticed.

When we moved back to Chicago after a brief stint in Washington, D.C., I asked my house-hunting wife to please avoid picking a house on a corner, for two reasons:  being on the corner means a loss of privacy since one side of your house is completely exposed to the street.  And secondly, it means extra shoveling in winter since you have to shovel both the front and the side.

When I first saw the Blagojevich house in person, my immediate reactions was, “Why would a politician want a house where he is so exposed?  Where your comings and going are in open view to any passerby?  Where you’re almost asking strangers to drop in?”

Duh.  Clearly it’s the perfect house for Blagojevich.  There’s even convenient parking for TV trucks on four corners.  He recently indicated he would consider being in another reality show.  Let’s face it.  He is in a reality show.  24/7.  And the house on the corner is the main set.

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Brother, Where Art Thou?

I admit to being pretty interested in the family dynamics of the Blagojevich case.  A partial summary of what we’ve been told.

  • Dying mother tells the Blagojevich boys to look after each other
  • Brothers grow apart
  • Rod asks Rob to help him raise campaign money
  • Rob’s wife reminds him of mother’s plea and encourages him to help Rod
  • Rod and Patti assure Rob and his wife the coast is clear of investigations
  • Rob takes over fundraising for Rod
  • You know the rest.

If you’re lucky enough to have siblings (and with eight brothers and sisters, I’m wildly lucky), you know that they can be Godsends in times of need, whether it’s emergency babysitting, helping you move cross-country, or getting you through rocky times.

But dang!  When was the last time you asked a sibling to do something that could send them to the federal slammer?  Here, Robert was subjected to the entreaties of three family members:  his mother, his wife, and his brother.  That’s about as much pressure as the holdout juror must have felt.  (And can you imagine how Robert’s wife must feel now?)

The next time a sibling asks me to help them move or to babysit a niece, I’ll do it with no grumbling.  And when I ask one of them for a favor, it will come with a guarantee:  they’ll never have to see either of the Sams (Junior or Senior) as a result.

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The Punishment of Uncertainty

The count on which Rod Blagojevich was found guilty, lying to the FBI, carries a potential prison sentence of five years.  He has, as you may know, vowed to fight that conviction, even as he faces a retrial on the 23 charges on which the jury was hung.

The possibility of future imprisonment has to be daunting; it’s hard to imagine the dread, the stress, the anger that it generates.  But in a sense, a type of punishment of the Blagojevich brothers has already begun.  Robert Blagojevich alluded to it yesterday.  He said that for someone who is used to planning every phase of his life, this ordeal has been surreal and draining–like a “slow bleed.”

I can’t imagine having a criminal trial hanging over my head, much less a second one.  But just about everyone has gone through a period of life when they have had to live with a major, draining uncertainty–about a job, health, a loved one, a relationship, their home.  Living with that kind of uncertainty can take a major toll on your mental health and the stress can eat away at you.

In a sense, both Rod and Robert have been serving a type of sentence since they were charged–one defined, not by the walls of a prison cell, but by their own anxiety.  And there’s no time off for good behavior.

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Great News From the Blago Jury!

Yes, the news out of the 25th floor jury deliberation room is excellent.  Excellent, indeed.  No, it has nothing to do with the status of negotiations, how many counts jurors have  decided, or how much work they have left (as of this writing, they have reached a unanimous decision on only two of the 24 counts).

Rather, the good news has to do with the following sentences from the jury note yesterday to Judge Zagel:  “We’ve gone beyond reasonable attempts without rancor. We now ask for guidance.”  Two words jumped out at me:  “without rancor.”  And the judge has reportedly said that people in proximity to the jury room have heard no noise or shouting–which indicates that the scene inside the jury room is calm, not volcanic.  If all this is really true,  then hallelujah!

Given the charges involving public corruption, the public resources expended on the case, and what’s at stake for the defendants, you want a jury that is disciplined, methodical, and calm.   Jury room histrionics might make for great scenes in movies, but I can’t imagine they’re very good for justice.

Deliberations continue and they could still become rancorous, I suppose.  But for now, I find it reassuring that in this criminal trial we seem to have a civil jury.

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Billy, Billy, Billy, Billy

One of the pleasures of this job is meeting and interviewing interesting and accomplished people–traits we tend to associate with adults.  Every now and then, though, I am lucky enough to interview someone very young who really knocks my socks off–who has either blazing talent, an engaging personality, or some other trait that makes him or her just plain fun to meet.

So it was a quadruple treat when I got to interview the four young actors currently starring as “Billy Elliot” here in Chicago.  (The interview aired Monday night.)  The show is demanding for its young stars.  It lasts almost 3 hours and the actor playing Billy is on stage for just about all of it–the dancing, singing, and acting focal point.  His performance holds the show together.  Because the show is so draining, each young actor performs only twice a week.

The four Billys were smart, funny, charismatic, and charming.  And they were completely unaffected and unspoiled.  When they walked into our studio and saw the set, the cameras, the lights, their eyes got big as saucers and they all said, “Cool!”  They love to laugh and they seem to really like each other.

But what really struck me was how candid and self-aware they are.  One of the Billys seemed moved when he talked about how his mother and sister cried after every one of his performances.  Another said that seeing his family’s reaction to his performances was a reality check on just how lucky he was to be starring in a major show.   And they were open about the grief they had received from other kids about being male dancers.

Anyway, every time I think about the interview I am moved at how these boys were so nice and fresh and what a spark they had.  They put me in the best mood possible.  Almost makes me wish I were the father of young children again! In case you missed the interview, here’s the video:

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A Drive Down Memory Lane Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the song  “Don’t Fence Me In,”  performed by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.  I heard it on a CD while driving to Door County with my in-laws and it was so catchy that it stayed in my head for days–a true earworm. 

The songs from that period strike me as fun, but ever so campy and goofy.  That’s probably the nature of the beast when it comes to each generation’s taste in popular music.  Each generation may have a tendency to look at the taste of the previous one with a mixture of mild condescension, bemusement, and pity.

But I came across the following updated version of “Don’t Fence Me In” that was used in the 1999 movie called “The Bachelor”–a romantic comedy about a commitment-phobic man who has to get married as a condition of receiving a huge inheritance.  This new version of the song does have a touch of the “wink-wink” to it–but man, is it fun.  It’s an example of one generation appropriating another generation’s soundtrack…and running with it!   See if you agree:

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A Drive Down Memory Lane

My wife and I recently took a vacation with her parents.  We drove to Door County, Wisconsin, and stayed in a little cottage close to the water.  The drive from Chicago takes a good chunk of the day so we packed some CDs to listen to on the way. 

My in-laws are in their mid-80s, so we brought along some CDS we hoped they’d enjoy.  One of them was a CD of songs by the Andrews Sisters.  Trying to guess what kind of music someone else will like is always a bit of a gamble, but I figured the Andrews Sisters were a sure thing for someone of my in-laws’ generation.  I was right.  They loved the CD and my father-in-law knew all the words to all the songs.  He and my mother-in-law were teenagers during World War II, which was when the Andrews Sisters were huge.

The songs were fun to listen to: “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” etc.  To quote a phrase, the songs were a part of the soundtrack of my in-laws’ youth, but for me, they have a slightly campy quality to them.  This made me wonder — what groups from my youth will MY children think are campy and mildly goofy?  The Beatles?  The Doors?  The Beach Boys?  Maybe I don’t want to know!

Anyway, there’s one thing about those old songs–some of them have a great hook and keep echoing in your head.  Here’s the one from the Andrews Sisters’ CD that stuck with me for days.  It’s a guest performance by a well-known male singer of his time–to put it mildly.  (I once heard the renowned operatic bass, Samuel Ramey, peform this song as an encore and he brought down the house.):

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