Sunday, August 24, 2008

Some Olympic Thoughts

With the 2008 Beijing Olympics ending today, the following thoughts come to mind:

Just how small can you be and continue to be called an Olympic Athlete? If memory serves me right, the Chinese "women" gymnasts averaged 77 pounds, while the much larger Americans topped the scales at about 90 pounds. The mantra seems to be: " if they were only a little bit smaller, they could really do some neat tricks". The top Chinese star, Ms. He (Isn't that some sort of contradiction?), is thought by all the semi-conscious, non-Chinese, people of the world to be 14 instead of the minimum 16 years of age. The IOC seems to think that pointing this fact out would somehow be in bad taste to the hosts. Taking the issue of competitor's size to it's logical extreme, it's really too bad that embryos are not allowed to compete. That might be interesting to watch. I guess the "right-to-life" folks just won't allow it.

How come we pay attention to the sports presented during the two weeks of the Olympics every four years, but totally ignore the same participants in many of the same sports the rest of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not normally a big (beach or otherwise) volleyball fan. But, I really enjoyed the Olympic volleyball games, especially the women's beach version. Maybe it has something to do with their (lack of) uniforms. I don't recall watching any swimming events since 2004, but I think I watched all 8 of Michael Phelps' races, who, by the way, is built for nothing but swimming. I mean, what else can you do with those size 14 flippers, huge paddles, and extra long oars... oops, I meant to say, feet, hands and arms? And I know it's politically incorrect to say it, but, unfortunately, while I enjoyed the straight races, I never really got into the swing of synchronized swimming.

The performance of the Jamaican runners doesn't pass my smell test. How come they're so much better than everyone else this year? I read somewhere that they didn't have an anti-doping program established until 3 days after the Olympics Opening Ceremony. I wonder if that little tidbit has anything to do with their success. The Jamaican squad kind of brings back fond memories of the East Germans before the Wall came crashing down.

And, finally, did you check out Olympic boxing? It's nothing like the kind you see outside of the Olympics. The fighters wear these overstuffed pillows on their heads, leaving only their eyes, noses and chins exposed to the elements. You're supposed to get a point each time you bop one of the aforementioned opponent's body parts with the white-painted portion of your glove. No other form of contact counts. Something like 3 of 5 judges have to agree within one second that you did this for a point to be scored. The whole setup is ridiculous. 3 of 5 international referees can't agree on what to have for dinner, let alone something as fleeting as one of these scoring punches. You get some pretty weird scores as a result. I prefer the old-fashioned system of simply beating each other into a pulpy and bloody mess until one guy cries "Uncle".

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blue Airline Moments

The airline industry is in turmoil. I wrote about the general state of affairs a few months ago. Today, I just want to note my personal experiences on a single flight that further brought home to me just how bad things are getting.

I flew from JFK to San Jose on jetBlue this morning. By the way, they use a small" j" and a capital "B", with no space between the words. Why? I don't know. I bet they paid a small fortune for someone to come up with that name.

Back to the subject at hand, I've taken the same flight several times before and had no particular problems. Today, however, the airline gods got the best of me.

The flight was listed as "on time" with boarding scheduled at 8:20 AM. That time passed with no announcements made alerting us to any problem. Then, at the scheduled 8:50 AM departure time, the gate agent announced that they were one flight attendant short. No one could board the plane until another crew member arrived. No further announcements were made for the next 4 hours.

After waiting about two hours, I and a number of fellow travelers asked the gate agent, the operations manager, the senior member of the air crew, and generally anyone in uniform, what was happening. Different responses were given over the next two hours, but they all fell into the category of: we have been told that a flight attendant has been located and will arrive "momentarily".

We all had a lot of fun trying to interpret the meaning of "momentarily".

Well, apparently in the airline industry, "momentarily" means "about four hours", because that's when the missing attendant arrived. We then boarded, and eventually flew to San Jose, tired, but grateful to actually reach our destination.

Of interest, it seems that the entire jetBlue operation rested on finding a sole crew member to agree to come in on a scheduled day off and replace a missing employee who couldn't make the flight. You'd think that a major corporation would manage to have a spare around for instances like this, but, like me, you'd be wrong.

It was especially galling to be delayed this long as the role of a flight attendant these days is pretty minimal, with "service" reduced to handing out drinks and snacks. Oh yes, they also sell headphones, adult beverages, and pillows and blankets. The key selling point for the pillows and blankets was that, unlike the ones you used to get for free, these were "clean".

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Marketing the Presidential Candidates 101

The past week has seen an interesting strategy shift in the Presidential race. McCain's campaign must have concluded that they can't win without going negative. So they've put out some PR and ads that attempt to reposition what everyone thought was Obama's biggest strengths into his biggest weaknesses. Never mind that McCain said he would run a positive campaign. That was before the polls convinced him he's losing.

Here are a few examples which show the strategy in action:

1. All the pundits are calling Obama the greatest orator of the new millennium. Therefore, McCain declares that while Obama gives great speeches, words don't matter. Only deeds matter, and Obama has accomplished no deeds that matter. It's not really his fault. He's just too darn young.

2. Obama is as famous as a rock star. He is the Chosen One. So, McCain says that fame is not what's important. As McCain's ad points out, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are famous. But, would you vote for either to be President? (Maybe, it depends on who they're running against).

3. Obama visits all the world leaders and they just love him. The Germans go completely ga-ga. They even wave American flags while Obama lectures the world on how we should just all get along with each other. Obama makes no major gaffes (except not visiting wounded soldiers) and looks quite Presidential. This results in McCain suggesting that Obama is celebrating his victory with a world tour even before the poor American voters get a chance to give their opinion on who they want to lead the Free World. How arrogant of Obama, they say.

4. And finally, Obama's greatest strength is that he is Black. Oops, wait, that used to be a real negative. But just how cool would it be if the US elected a Black President (not to mention one whose father is a Muslim)? The rest of the world would simply swoon with new respect for the US of A. McCain's response is to accuse Obama of playing the Race Card when Obama said he doesn't look like the other Presidents on the dollar bills. How tacky of Obama to inject Race into our color-free society.

Well, all this is really quite familiar. It's an old marketing adage: if you can't fix it, feature it. This tactic usually works. The latest polls say that the race is tightening.