Friday, September 15, 2006

How many people are going to be in the crowd?

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The task was a fairly easy one: Introduce the president of the university before he gave his annual fall address.

In my new job, Faculty Senate Chair at CSU, Sacramento, this kind of things pops up all the time. I spoke more before large groups in the first week of school than I had in the five years previous. (I'm not counting standing up in front of class of 25 undergraduates. They have to listen.)

This day, I knew there could be a sizable crowd and so uncharacteristically I wrote out a few key phrases and actually pulled the president's resume to be able to give him a nice warm welcome.

Unfortunately, I waited until the morning of the introduction to actually do that and by the time I had my talk all ready and my tie knotted in a nice Windsor, it was a half-hour before I was expected to be on stage.

And I live 20 minutes from campus.

Miatas are very handy in such situations and I blasted to campus in the requisite time, breezing in 5 minutes before showtime where I was faced with a somewhat frantic aide-de-camp of the president who was afraid I was not going to show.

Not show! Please! Ye of little faith. (And speaking of faith, thank God that I found parking right away - or I would have been late.)

Then I walked into the University ballroom and realized that there were hundreds of people in the audience - maybe close to 1,000. And their wasn't just a simple podium, it was a real raised stage with a podium, a sound system with plenty of horsepower, cameras all over the place, and teleprompters.


The teleprompters were not for me - they were for the president - but they made a great thing to joke about. And getting a laugh when you utter your very first sentence in front of that big a crowd takes all the steam out of any potential stage fright. The laughs continued through my introduction (and not always during the laugh lines...hmmmm...) and after about five minutes I got to say, "Please welcome the president..."

But the real surprise came a few hours later when I walked into a faculty member's office and heard my voice on his computer.

The speech - and my brief introduction - was posted on the university website and there I was, in full living color for the university and the world to see.

I am very glad I didn't tell the joke that I was considering about how many university presidents it takes to screw in a light bulb. It seemed hysterically unny when I wrote it...

But perhaps I should save it for another day. Maybe I'll refine it a little and use it in the spring when I get to introduce him again at his spring campus address.

Or the other one I made up.

There were these three university presidents on an airplane...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Smartest Guys in the Room, sort of...

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Free movies are hard to turn down, plus, the tale of Enron was too good to pass up, so a normal Friday-stay-put-at-home turned into a night at the University at a showing of The Smartest Guys In the Room.

I had seen snippets of it earlier on PBS, but seeing it on the big screen - and all at once - gives it much more power. clearly calling into question the power of corporations.

And it pretty clearly says that corporate ethics is an oxymoron, at least at Enron, I thought last night.

But after mulling over the movie and then reading a few headlines today, the smart guys at Enron are hardly alone in their arrogance and total disdain for the havoc they wreak.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a newspaper editor, I debated with a free market friend of mine about corporations and the lack of personal accountability. I opined that the invention of the corporation was one of the worst ideas ever conceived. We argued for hours because although he was a free market advocate, he also believed that corporations were very necessary to shield people (people running the corporations).

My point exactly. No personal responsibility.

Unfortunately, the corporate make-money-at-any-cost mentality has so pervaded society, that even the few students who attended the screening last night seemed more upset that Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling got caught than that their hubris ruined the lives of thousands and thousands of people and actually cost California Gov. Gray Davis his political career.

Were Dante to revise his Inferno today, I believe he might describe a new circle set up for corporate executives who put profits (and their salaries) over any thought of people. It's probably one of the most crowded spots in Hell.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the film is a description of the budgeting practices of Enron and how no one could figure out how it was making so much money.

It wasn't, of course, it was all sham, all lies and ultimately collapsed in a heap that wiped out the life savings of many people and will have ramifications for the retirements of a big chunk of the nation for years.

I would not recommend watching this movie and "Who Killed the Electric Car?" in the same evening, unless you have studied with Zen masters about how to control your blood pressure.

But do watch it.

In the meantime, the following website is worth taking a look. Be sure to check out the brief movie trailer.

  • Enron movie