Sunday, April 28, 2013


Combating “Don’t Care” attitude


Three disasters come to mind as I read about the building collapse in Dhaka, India.

Actually more, but the other two come to mind more than the others.

The first is the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911 that killed 146 workers.

The second is the World Trade Center disaster of September 11, 2001.

Dhaka is the third.

An earthquake caused buildings to collapse in Turkey on Oct. 232, 2011.

An earthquake collapsed buildings in Greece in June of 2008..

While neither of these events relates directly to a man-made disaster, it is likely both could have been prevented.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire at

“On Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire started on the eighth floor. Work had ended at 4:30 that day and most of the workers were gathering their belongings and their paychecks when a cutter noticed a small fire had started in his scrap bin. No one is sure what exactly started the fire, but a fire marshal thought a cigarette butt had possibly gotten tossed into the bin. Nearly everything in the room was flammable: hundreds of pounds of cotton scraps, tissue paper patterns, and wooden tables.

“Several workers threw pails of water on the fire, but it quickly grew out of control. Workers then tried to use the fire hoses that were available on each floor, for one last attempt to put out the fire; however, when they turned the water valve on, no water came out.

“Everyone rushed to escape the fire. Some ran to the four elevators. Built to carry a maximum of 15 people each, they quickly filled with 30. There wasn't time for many trips to the bottom and back up before the fire reached the elevator shafts as well. Others ran to the fire escape. Though about 20 reached the bottom successfully, about 25 others died when the fire escape buckled and collapsed.

“At 4:45 p.m., the fire department was alerted to the fire. They rushed to the scene, raised their ladder, but it only reached to the sixth floor. Those on the window ledges started jumping.”

Editorial interjection. Note that “a cutter noticed a small fire had started in his scrap bin.” Had anyone been trained, the fire might have been smothered and no lives would have been lost. Lest anyone miss the point, all hands awareness and safety training is not only important, it can save lives; include it in all risk management plans (no matter what the plans are called).


World Trade Center

While the world knows who is responsible for the collapse of the World Trade Center towers that cost the lives of more than 3000 men and women, the death toll might have been reduced if a number of risk management concerns were addressed.

An aside. The twin towers were not the only buildings destroyed or severely damaged. According to Wikipedia (,

“Along with the 110-floor Twin Towers, numerous other buildings at the World Trade Center site were destroyed or badly damaged, including WTC buildings 3 through 7 and St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. The North Tower, South Tower, the Marriott Hotel (3 WTC) and 7 WTC were completely destroyed. The U.S. Customs House (6 World Trade Center), 4 World Trade Center, 5 World Trade Center, and both pedestrian bridges connecting buildings were severely damaged. The Deutsche Bank Building on 130 Liberty Street was partially damaged and demolished later. The two buildings of the World Financial Center also suffered damage.

As with the Shirtwaist Factory, the building was too tall for fire equipment to reach the upper floors. Helicopter evacuation was impossible because of smoke, updrafts, and multiple antennae on the roofs. According to the Wikipedia entry, ibid., the exit doors to the roof were locked in any event.

Unlike the Shirtwaist Factory, personal awareness by people in the buildings would not have saved lives. Better interdepartmental communications might have prevented the attacks in the first place, but that is “beyond the scope” of the average risk manager.

There have been reports that evacuation exercises DID pay off for many, but the Towers’ design and construction was less than desirable for total-building evacuation.



Like the Shirtwaist Factory, the Rana Plaza that collapsed on Wednesday, April 25, 2013 was primarily used for clothing manufacture.

UNLIKE the Shirtwaist Factory, the Rana Plaza was falling apart; cracks has been observed and, according to a BBC article headlined Dhaka building collapse: Owner Mohammed Sohel Rana held ( “Police said officials had ordered an evacuation of the building on Tuesday after cracks appeared, but that the factories ignored them and were operating the next day.”

In addition to Rana, six people, including three factory owners and two engineers, have now been arrested.

As with the Shirtwaist Factory, greed seems to be the underlying factor. Given the poverty in Dhaka at the time of the incident, it is unlikely any workers would have refused to enter the workplace, although there is an indication in a related BBC piece that the cracks were obvious to the workers.

In the second BBC piece (, it reported that “Cracks had been found in the building prior to the collapse, but owners told workers not to worry.

“Building collapses are common in Bangladesh where Dhaka is located. Speaking at the scene, Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir said the building had violated construction codes and ‘he culprits would be punished’."

Given the events in Dhaka there is little a risk manager could do to prevent the incident. However, if the companies occupying the Rana Plaza were manufacturing product for a U.S. organization, a risk manager engaged by the U.S. organization could have alerted the U.S. operation and it might have pressured the vendor to protect the workers.

If any American firm can be linked to the Rana Plaza disaster, that firm will take a serious reputational hit and may even lose some short-term business. That brings the Dhaka tragedy into a risk manager’s “scope.”


Bottom line

The bottom line for risk management practitioners is that, alone, they

  • Might have prevented the Shirtwaist Factory disaster
  • Might have influenced the vendors housed in the Rana Plaza

The problems associated with “9-11” are government issues and “out of scope” for all but government risk management personnel; even then politics probably would have prevented any improvements in inter-department cooperation at the federal and at the city levels.

All the disasters are history. All could have been prevented. The best we can do now is learn from others’ mistakes and try to prevent a recurrence for the organizations that engage our expertise.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Check the facts


I just read a book authored by a guy who claims to have been an AP reporter.

The story takes place in New York City and in Sarasota Florida.

I know almost nothing about New York City, but I lived in Sarasota for several years; I know Bradenton (just north of Sarasota), Pinellas (Clearwater, St. Petersburg), and some parts of Hillsborough (Tampa) counties.

Most – 99 percent – of what was written about Sarasota was wrong,

I can understand why the author no longer works as an AP reporter.

Worse, the book’s publisher apparently lacks a fact checker to catch the author’s wild imaginings. Was the author EVER in Sarasota? Doubtful.

While there IS a Starbucks at Sarasota-Bradenton International (it has Customs) there is no TGIF restaurant nor is there a shark tank, hammerhead or other variety as the author wrote. A check of SRQ’s Web site would have saved the author and publisher’s fact checkers some embarrassment.

Tamiami Trail, the section of U.S. 41 that runs from TAmpa to MIAMI (ergo the name) is identified as “Route 45”. I suspect the author depended on Wikipedia. There IS a FL 45 that in places shares pavement with U.S. 41, but in Sarasota, it strictly is U.S. 41. A look at any mapping software (e.g., Mapquest) would belie FL 45 as the Tamiami Trail. Every Cracker knows that.

The author has his heroine heading east into a tacky neighborhood. Driving south from the airport and past the Ringling Museum the first road, the only road in Sarasota County heading west to Longboat Key, the heroine’s destination, is the John Ringling Causeway, FL 789. The road passes by the Sarasota Yacht Club and Plymouth Harbor retirement high rise on one side and a marina for some rather fancy boats on the other. Hardly tacky. (The SYC and Plymouth Harbor both have Web sites the author and fact checker could have utilized.) The factless author also had the Intercostal Waterway on Florida's Gulf coast - in fact, it is on Florida's Atlantic coast, information easily available on the WWW. An aside for those who enjoy trivia: Sarasota is the second richest county in Florida, surpassed only by Palm Beach County, but unlike Palm Beach County, Sarasota’s is “old” money.

But, hey, except for really sloppy fact checking, it was a pretty good yarn. ‘Course those inaccuracies kept me from fully “getting into” the story. Reporter, indeed.

So much for the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.”

How does a murder mystery writer’s laziness relate to risk management?


  • Who controls the budget for the risk management program? Usually one or more Very Senior Executives.
  • Who reads – is supposed to read - the practitioner’s reports? Everyone, including those Very Senior Executives, Functional Unit Managers, and Critical Personnel (e.g., the folks in the trenches).
  • Possibly casual (temporary) staff who may be called in to help restore the organization or even to maintain the organization’s minimum level of service, people who will depend heavily on the documentation prepared by, or for, the practitioner.

If the practitioner’s report contains factual errors then the entire document is suspect. If the document is suspect, the plan is suspect. If the plan is suspect, then the practitioner is suspect.

The errors in question are not just typographical, although more than a few besmirch the practitioner’s image; the errors are factual errors usually caused by ignorance and the most often reason for ignorance is laziness.

Grammatical errors also can, and often do, embarrass a practitioner as well as lower the practitioner’s esteem in the eyes of client.

The majority of the contents of a practitioner’s report should be information provided by, and reviewed by, subject matter experts, both within the organization and without (e.g., local emergency services, weather bureau, weather history).

For all that, the practitioner must lead the program’s development (read “ask the right questions”) and accurately record the subject matter experts’ comments.

A poorly, sloppily prepared document could endanger the program and that, in turn, could endanger the client’s organization, and that includes personnel.

Laziness can be expensive.

Monday, April 22, 2013


No longer a “black swan”


According to a Global Security Newswire (GSN) release titled 'Soft Targets' Remain Vulnerable to Terrorist Attacks, “so-called soft targets -- places like malls and movie theaters, as well as sporting events -- always have been vulnerable to terrorist attack, especially given how much harder it is to attack aircraft since 9/11.” (

Now you know and the swan is slain.

“Soft targets” are. For the most part, targets that should have risk management plans in place. Those plans must, if they are to be complete, consider how to mitigate a crazy’s attack and how to respond when it happens.

I do NOT believe attacks can be prevented 100 percent. But attacks can, and must, at least be mitigated.

    Yes, there are some measures that can be taken depending on the venue and the available of trained personnel, equipment, and the funds to put all this into place, but I know that unless there are frequent attacks, we will slide into the “it can’t happen to me” mentality.

WHAT mitigation factors can be put into place depend in part on the venue.

In all venues, training staff to be aware of their surroundings and the behavior of the people at the venue is, I am convinced, the single most important and cost effective measure to implement. There is more to this “awareness” than just looking for unattended objects, although that is a critical part of the program. Awareness includes noticing unusual-for-the-venue smells, a change in lighting, and, again, human behavior.

Being a people watcher may seem to be “profiling” and the U.S. Supremes (stupidly) prohibit profiling, but in this case the profiling is not racially based nor apparel based or even age or sex based. “Profilers,” if I may use the term, are looking for actions - or perhaps inactions; is someone going against the flow? Failing to go with the flow?

I am most assuredly not a profiler, but there are people who have developed this skill and their expertise should be employed to train others.

Let’s assume that a suspicious object is discovered.

What is to be done?

Clear the area of all non-essential people.

Surround the object with material to contain an explosion.

Oops. Where is the material to contain an explosion?

Waiting for the local bomb disposal unit to arrive on scene may be too late. Translation: practitioners need to talk with bomb experts to find out what materials can be used to contain an explosion, where to acquire same, and how to store it.

    Meanwhile we are entering some murky legal morass. Who is going to risk their life to dress the potentially explosive device? Are there volunteers? Time to bring in the legal staff; remember this is risk management, not just “business continuity” and must consider risks beyond the immediate one at hand.

The GSN article correctly, I think, concludes that “The idea of placing a metal detector in every mall in the U.S is not realistic. So, what’s stopping a terrorist from going to a department store or a sporting event and causing mass casualties?”

The bottom line, according to both this scrivener and GSN “is simple and for those in Washington well-known: If you see something, say something. Homeland Security officials consistently say that everyday Americans should continue to stay vigilant and aware of their surroundings.”

However, since the average person lacks awareness training, and since the typical facility lacks the funds to monitor every corner at all times – which could be illegal and an invasion of privacy – individual awareness training of all regularly on-site personnel is the only logical defense.

In a mall environment, that means not only training guards, but training store and maintenance/cleaning personnel as well. A central clearing point – an always attended phone – must be known to all so that if anything seems amiss, the anomaly can be reported and the report acted upon (e.g., clear the area, call 9-1-1).

No one wants to think “something” might happen to him or her, but it does.

We cannot prevent all attacks, but we can reduce the risk and mitigate those that occur. It begins with awareness.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What ever became of …?


I’ve Been Everywhere


As I get older – and getting older certainly beats the alternative – I wonder whatever happened to good ol’ what’s his (her) name.

As a young lad I lived in many places starting with Indianapolis Indiana and ending up in Hollywood Florida via Miami and its suburbs (Coconut Grove, Miami Shores). As a young adult in the newspaper business I continued to move around – Orlando (thanks to the USAF) and Cocoa Florida as a hot type printer; on the editorial side in Peru Indiana, Titusville FL, Ely Nevada, Trenton New Jersey, Red Bluff California, Harrisburg Pennsylvania, and Gillette Wyoming. THEN I went across the pond and worked for 4 years in Israel at the University of Tel Aviv and Tadiran.

Over the course of the years I worked as a jack-of-all-trades and most assuredly master of none, newspaper printer, reporter/photographer, and editor; I also did PR in the US and Israel (Tel Aviv University) before becoming a technical writer. This last skill set was put to work in Holon (Tadiran), Fort Lauderdale (Oki), Sarasota (Comdev), and once again Tadiran, this time in Clearwater Florida.

On a job with Trecom Business Systems a company that morphed into DMR that in turn became Fujitsu Consulting, that I fell into what was then known as “business continuity,” the “business version” of IT disaster recovery. Unfortunately, despite doing great business for Y2K, the company could not develop, or perhaps failed to see and seize, opportunities to market/sell business continuity OR documentation and I was “on the street” and, once again, on the move. As a business continuity – later enterprise risk management – practitioner I worked for organizations that included American Express (Vendor Management), State Farm Insurance, City of Charlotte NC, Columbia National Resources, a/k/a CNR, Zim, and Northrop Grumman, among others.

I loved newspapers but tech pubs paid better (and in the end, I sadly watch as newspapers slowly sink into the sunset). As a reporter I could poke my nose into almost anything; not so with tech pubs. Risk management, a/k/a business continuity, allowed me to ask all manner of questions and the pay was at least on a tech writer level, eventually even more – the best of all worlds.

I suppose my life can be reflected in two CW songs: Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again and Geoffrey Mack’s I’ve Been Everywhere. It’s been fun and if I had to do it all over again, I’d pack my bags in a heartbeat.

Along the way I’ve met a number of good people. I remember the names of a few, but while I’ve forgotten a lot of names, I remember fondly many others. OK, there are a few I remember “less fondly.”

This exercise is to see if (a) the people I remember ever look for themselves on line and (b) to see if anyone who knows me wants to reconnect.

Finding the men on the list seemed relatively easy – turns out it is not.

The ladies are almost an impossibility what with name changes – sometimes several name changes.

This then is about the only way to reach out.

The names I recall are below. After the names, some of the schools I attended followed by places I’ve worked.

If you know me – or think you do, my email address is BCPlanner at gmail dot com

  • Carol Swartz (KPJH)
  • Elyne Marcia Chaftez (KPJH),
  • Jess Oliver Gregory (Star-Advocate)
  • John Thomas Hester (PS #2)
  • Kathleen O’Rourk (KPJH)
  • Kathy Cormican (KPJH)
  • Larry Sheppard (Comdev)
  • Marian (Carmen) O’Rork (Sentinel)
  • Robert (Bob) Liotta (HMJH)
  • Ron Misner (USAF)
  • Sandy Goldstein (HMJH/KPJH),
  • Thelma Herndon (KPJH)


  • Barry University
  • Horace Mann Junior High
  • Kinloch Park Junior High,
  • Miami Senior High


  • 1360 USAF Hospital
  • American Express (Vendor Management)
  • City of Charlotte NC
  • Columbia National Resources a/k/a CNR
  • Ely Daily Times
  • Gannett-Florida
  • Gillette News-Record
  • Harrisburg Patriot-News
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Oki Electronics
  • Orlando Sentinel
  • Red Bluff Daily News
  • State Farm Insurance
  • Tadiran
  • Tel Aviv University
  • Titusville Star- Advocate
  • Trecom - DMR
  • Trenton Times-Advertiser
  • Zim

Friday, April 19, 2013


Where does it end?


The headline over the AP story reads: Florist sued for refusing service to gay couple. The short article may be read at and comes complete with video.

I understand why it is illegal to discriminate against a person if you own a lodging or eatery, especially on a an interstate highway (e.g., I-5, I-95, I-10, I-94), but a FLORIST SHOP?

I don’t know WHY the florist shop staff refused the client service, especially since, according to the piece, the clients were two long-time customers. Was it OK for one homosexual customer to buy flowers for the other as long as they were bachelors?

For whatever reason, the florist elected to deny service to the two men; the ACLU then filed suit on their behalf claiming discrimination. I don’t think there is any question of discrimination, but could it be legal discrimination?

Washington State has a law making it illegal for businesses to refuse to sell goods and services to any person because of sexual orientation.

Why there a law specifically prohibiting discrimination against this group or that is needed when a single anti-discrimination law covering all discrimination makes more sense to this scrivener.

(I wonder: Is it illegal for a potential customer to discriminate against a shop owner or employee because that person falls into a category the client dislikes? Good for the goose, good for the gander, as it were.)

If the florist shop was the only florist shop in town, I could understand the problem. A quick Dogpile search for “Florist shops in Richland WA” turned up five shops, including the one that refused service to the two men. Two are in close proximity to the shop in question.

As a risk management practitioner I have the right to refuse a contract with any organization for any reason. Perhaps I don’t like the product or a middle manager with whom I might be required to deal. Maybe I don’t want to work in Kenai Alaska in January. That’s discrimination. It’s also my preference. (I would love to go to Kenai – in June or July, but January? Never.)

Again, I understand that certain businesses must, by law, accept all potential customers.

The anti-discrimination laws started, if memory serves, to open up restaurants and lodging on interstate and “U.S.”-numbered highways and facilities whose primary clients were interstate travelers; that’s how the Federal camel got its nose into the tent.

The flower shop being sued is not on an interstate route nor even a major highway. The two other “close proximity” shops are equally distant from interstate and “U.S.”-numbered highways.

I have to wonder why a small business owner with close proximity competition must be forced to cater to an undesired – for any reason - clientele .

By the same token, after looking at the store’s Web site and the prices the store is asking, why would the plaintiffs want to continue giving the store their custom?

A bit of trivia. “US” highways such as US 1 and US 101 maintain their numbers from state-to-state by agreement among the states through which the road passes. “U.S.” highways are not federal highways, although states receive federal (tax) assistance to maintain them. Even interstate highways, I-something, are state highways, albeit with 95% funding by our tax dollars. The only “federal” roads begin and end on federal property – forests, military bases, parks, and the like.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


When “terrorism” isn’t


$$s, not bodies determines


POTUS claims the bombs in Boston are an act of terrorism. (

The insurance companies say “Not so.”

It’s not “terrorism,” the insurers claim, until the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State, AND the U.S. Attorney General together agree that an event is “terrorism.”

So far, that has not happened. As POTUS appointees they should be expected to do as their master instructs them to do, but is there any evidence that POTUS as given his appointees directions to declare the bombings as terrorism, despite his public pronouncement. Writing in the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, a Jacob Gershman article headed Certifying an ‘Act of Terror’ ( notes that “Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group, said he believed the Boston attack caused minimal property damage, making it unlikely that property and casualty insurance losses would top $5 million. That’s the threshold dollar amount for classifying an attack as terrorism under the insurance law. Below $5 million, Mr. Lew can’t certify — even if the purpose of the bombing was to coerce the government or intimidate the American people.”

On the other hand, Mark Russell, writing for Newser ( notes that “while property damage may not rise above $5 million, medical costs could easily top $9 million, says NBC News. Boston's hospitals have been lauded for the amazing job they did in treating more than 180 wounded, but that sort of response costs big money, and the prosthetic devices and rehabilitation that will be needed will increase costs even more over time. Each emergency room visit costs an estimated $40,000 to $50,000 and longer-term hospitalizations can cost upward of $200,000. Hospitals might reduce their rates for some hardship cases or not bill entirely, but administrators say they have not begun to think about costs. “This is going to be really expensive," says one health economist.

Whether something is, or is not, “terrorism” for non-government folk apparently is defined by the dictionary source the person prefers.

Merriam-Webster Online ( defines “terrorism” as the Systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective..

My Webster’s Unabridged (©2001) defines the word as
1. The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce sep. for political purposes,
2. The state of fear and submission produced terrorism or terrorization,
3.A terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Wikipedia ( tells us that “There is neither an academic nor an international legal consensus regarding the definition of the term "terrorism". Various legal systems and government agencies use different definitions of "terrorism". Moreover, the international community has been slow to formulate a universally agreed upon, legally binding definition of this crime. These difficulties arise from the fact that the term "terrorism" is politically and emotionally charged.”

According to the U.S. Law Code (, ”(2) the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents;”

I understand Google has its own, unique definition for “terrorism,” but I was unable to find it – ‘course I use Dogpile as my default search engine.

The “bottom line” may be that to you the Boston bombing is terrorism, to POTUS the Boston bombing is terrorism, and to this scrivener the Boston bombing is terrorism, but to the Terrorism Insurance Program and to private insurers, until it costs more than $5 million, it is not terrorism. But if not terrorism, then what?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Nothing new under the sun

Global warming is old hat

With no apologies to Al Gore, “global warming” and the related expansion of the oceans or, but another way, the loss of land by rising waters, is nothing new.

I’m not going to write that those of us alive in the 21st century aren’t part of a global warming problem, but given the winter of 2012-13, I am forced to wonder if there really IS global warming – and if there is, is it as serious as Mr. Gore and his friends would have us believe.

For all that, according to the Florida Department of State Division of Historical Resources, Florida – the state I happily call “home” – used to be considerably wider.

The site, includes a graphic (below) of the state as it was in the Paleoindian Period.

Researchers contend that “The Paleoindians lived in a Florida twice the size it is today. At the time they lived, sea level was 60-100 meters lower, exposing vast expanses of the present continental shelf (Gagliano 1977; Blackwelder et al. 1979). Present-day coasts were inland, even upland, areas. The late Pleistocene shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico were located as much as 120 to 150 km seaward of their present locations. It is not difficult to see why Paleoindian period coastal sites have yet to be discovered in Florida-they are submerged beneath scores of fathoms of ocean water, tens of kilometers offshore (Stright 1986; Garrison 1989) .”

60 to 100 meters = ~197 to ~ 328 feet
120 to 150 km = ~ ~74.5 to ~ 93 miles

The issue that prompted me to revisit the map was an AdvisenFPN/New York Times article headlined Rebuilding the Shores, Increasing the Risks.

Essentially, the article was proposing that is someone insists on building in flood-prone areas, they should self-insure; they should not depend on the taxpayer to fund reconstruction.

In other words, if a person is so mentally deficient that he insists on building on sand or in a known flood plain, let that person either buy commercial insurance or self-insure. Federally subsidized flood insurance would be history. Likewise any federal or state monies to rebuild on flooded property.

That most definitely includes river bank properties and includes municipalities as well as private individuals and corporations.

The various governments could go a long way to reducing flood risk by planning and zoning restrictions. The problem here is that someone will scream “government interference in private matters.”

The elimination of government subsidized insurance and other financial assistance is not a new idea.

According to the NY Times article by Justin Gillis, the proposal was actually signed into law by President Ronald Reagan back in 1982.

“The law — the Coastal Barrier Resources Act — was intended to protect much of the American coastline, and it did so in a clever way that drew votes from the most conservative Republicans and the most liberal Democrats,” Gillis wrote.

According to Gillis, the ocean “rose about eight inches in the past century, requiring billions of dollars to fight erosion. Recently the rate of increase seems to have jumped, to about a foot per century — and climate scientists think it will go up quite a bit more. The cautious prediction at this point is that we could see two or three feet of sea-level rise by 2100, and possibly even six feet.”

That’s small potatoes compared with a 60 to 100 meters rise, but that was over the course of some 10,000 years. Still, it should be sufficient to discourage building along any coast line.

Inland, we know rivers overflow their beds and flood the adjacent lands. In Egypt, it’s the Nile. In the US it is almost every major river. Even in the desert wadis flood as snows melt in the spring; even Phoenix AZ has a flood problem. Will global warming reduce inland flooding (by reducing snow fall)?

Granted, this scrivener is unlikely to be around when the year 2100 is rung in – will that be the end of the 21st century or the beginning of the 22nd?

Perhaps we can’t stop oceans from rising, but we can, and should, take steps to protect the average taxpayer from paying to rebuild once or twice – in some cases many times – damaged-by-flood property.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Call me “Mister”

When I was young, just after The Flood, I was taught to not only respect my elders but to show them that respect.

Yes sir, no sir; yes mam, no mam.

Never, never presume to call an adult by their given name unless specifically invited to do so by the adult. Maybe Uncle Joe wanted to be called Uncle Joe, but unless the lady at the corner market asked to be called Carol, it was Miz Swartz.

In the pseudo-military of the U.S. Air Force, back when Wilber and Orville were taking to the air, peons – of which I was one – were obliged to salute shave tail second lieutenants who, as every sergeant knows, are lower than new recruits. We had to address them as sir or mam; in fact, everyone with more rank than E-1 – there was nothing lower – had to be shown respect; sir or mam.

We were told we didn’t have to like the person we were addressing; we had to show respect for the rank, and yes, Virginia, some of those people were pretty “rank.”

But, as Robert Allen Zimmerman told us, “Times they are a’changin.” ( He should know; he and I are contemporaries if not contemporary.

I’m a grey beard; I look my age. Living this long certainly beats the alternative.

I take umbrage when some “whipper snapper” takes liberties and addresses me, a total stranger, by my given name. As I made an appointment for an eye exam the Sweet Young Thing at the desk, using my given name, told me my appointment was set. When she said my name I quietly corrected her: It’s Mister Glenn.

I don’t know the child – she looked to be in her 20s – and I don’t care if she wore a name tag with her given name on it – remember, I was scheduling an eye exam so maybe I just failed to see the name tag.

This buddy-buddy approach is fostered by management to make the customer – be the product spectacles or Cadillacs – think he or she is among friends. Nonsense! The customer is among people who are after the customer’s money.

Until I give someone leave to address me by my given name, don’t do it, unless, of course you either (a) are older than me or (b) wish me to address you in a similar manner. Rabbis, doctors, judges, and the like beware.

My “junior” surgeon is younger than me – my “senior” surgeon is my age; neither invites me to call them by their first names although I confess to taking liberties with the junior’s surname; it’s Hertz and I refer to him as “Painless” since I never needed even an aspirin following his work at the table.

I don’t normally call a rabbi by his given name, even if I am very much the youngster’s senior. (I often feel sorry for rabbis and doctors who lack “first name” friends. In some Latin countries, titles are prefixed to names of engineers, lawyers, and other professionals. )

I am a curmudgeon, no doubt about it. But I firmly believe this would be a better place if minimal courtesies were restored; start with addressing your elders by title, if only Mister, Miss, Misses, or even Miz; children should – gasp! – stand when a teacher enters the classroom. Let’s put hands over the heart during the U.S. National Anthem – ever watch the players at a sports event; maybe one in five or 10 doff their hats and place them over their heart. Heck, I’m not even sure our elected officials, from POTUS down, show respect to the flag and anthem. (Yes, I see their little flag lapel pins; it’s simply not the same.)

Who knows what a modicum of courtesy might generate. Perhaps less road rage? Less cutting in lines? Gentlemen holding the door for ladies – or have both gone the way of dinosaurs?

Go on, as Mr. Clint Eastwood famously said, “make my day” ( and “call me mister” ( and

As I “researched” the origin of “Call me Mister,” the first URL I visited referred to a play of that name revolving around, according to Wikipedia, returning soldiers (from WW II) who expected to be addressed as civilians instead of by their military rank.

I recall how surprised I was when, as a just out of the Air Force civilian someone addressed me as “Mister Glenn.” I almost went into shock – that would have been OK since I was working at a hospital. That incident occurred (c 1963) before many readers of this rant were born.

To paraphrase the late Mr. James Francis Durante, “goodnight, Ms. Swartz, wherever you are.”

Friday, April 5, 2013


To be fair

Despite Obungler’s “sequester,” Customs and TSA get high marks for the way my daughter, her husband, and the WGG* got through the lines at MIA.

On the way in, the daughter and the WGG came in via the US citizens’ line. The WGG being just a bit more than two years old rated a Special Services line for which there was no waiting.

The Son-In-Law, entering on a foreign passport, was facing a ½ hour or longer wait until a Customs’ agent took pity on him and waved him over to be first as the Customs agent opened a new line.

The trio was reunited almost before I got to the airport; they came out of the Customs area as I arrived to look for them!

Going back, the Daughter tried to get boarding passes at the American Airlines kiosks, none of which worked. Finally, an AA counter lady took pity on her and handled all the paperwork at the counter. It was, after all, her job, but in this day and age of disgruntled employees . . .

I am put in mind of Eastern Airlines just before it went belly up and faded into the sunset. At the time it, as AA is now, was the anchor airline at MIA (sharing honors with Pan Am and National). Anyway, Eastern’s ground and flight crews tossed customer welfare to the wind and treated flyers very shoddily. Even the director of PR was surly to customers . . . “hope they lose your luggage next time” he wrote in a letter to me.

Moving on.

The trio was told by the AA clerk to go to a specific security check point. On the way, I asked a TSA person how far we had to hike to reach the checkpoint. “It’s closed,” she said, and told us to go to the end of the section she was working.

There – again because of the WGG – a TSA person ushered the trio to the head of a line and they went through the checks fairly quickly.

Even sans the special treatment, lines were not all that long and they were moving smoothly.

It may have been a fluke – I understand MIA had exceedingly long and slow moving lines before the WGG’s arrival and after her departure.

I also heard news reports that people coming into Miami’s cruise ship port were substantially delayed because there were only 3 Customs agents to handle all the ship’s passengers. Eventually four more agents arrived; the question is, who scheduled the Customs personnel. Was the understaffing a local (Miami) decision, a decision by DHS, or did it roll down from Obungler?

* WGG = World’s Greatest Grand-daughter