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News You Can Use

[Publisher’s Note: Avid readers may have noticed that the RonnBlog has been eerily silent for over 11 months. The author has been stingy with details of the cause—or causes—that has led to the absence of new posts. However, he assures us (with cryptic references to international intrigue and black ops) that he has not broken any U.S. laws. He has also taken great pains to emphasize that “indictments” are not synonymous with guilt.]

Well, the holidays are behind us, with the accompanying parties, dinners, and other such hoopla now merely a memory. But like many, I am left with nagging doubts: Was I the best host I could be? The best guest?

Whatever the answers, it’s worth considering during this brief lull before the next round of holiday gatherings is upon us. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is right around the corner (as is Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, if you live in Alabama or Arkansas…the irony of both being on Jan. 15 is duly noted). And Tu Bishvat/Tu B’Shevat, Groundhog Day, and Valentine’s Day follow soon thereafter. Consequently, there’s no better time to make certain we are all prepared to be our best selves, whether we are hosting or attending a celebration.

What good fortune then, that recent news items in the StarTribune provide handy tips for the party enthusiast.

This headline appeared on the Monday following last Thanksgiving:

“Minneapolis woman charged with killing Thanksgiving guest for smoking crack”

Well, with an opener like that, who could resist reading the rest of the article? Here’s a brief synopsis: It seems the woman had invited a man to Thanksgiving dinner, but before they started to eat, she looked over and saw her guest lighting up a crack pipe. Apparently, she felt this was a ghastly breach of etiquette. According to the criminal complaint, she got angry because he did not ask her permission and did not offer her any of the drug.

Who among us would not have become upset? But where things escalated was when she chose to convey her anger by trying to appear intimidating by taking an antenna in one hand and a butcher knife in the other, telling the soon-to-be victim that he couldn’t leave. When the man allegedly yelled for neighbors to call 911, then broke out a window with a vacuum cleaner, the woman grabbed him around his shoulders and fell on top of him as he fought to get the knife out of her hand.

Now we come to my favorite part of the article. The woman told police that after he was face down for awhile, “he started snoring. I just grabbed him by the front and he went down. To me it just felt like I put him in a sleeper hold or something,”

An autopsy found the cause of death was homicidal violence.

By the way, you know it’s a good story when it gets picked up by the New York Post. It appears 2 days later, albeit with the addition of a Post-y headline:

“Host killed Thanksgiving guest for bogarting crack pipe: cops”

No story is too tragic (or ridiculous) that we can’t glean some nuggets of wisdom therefrom. And so it is as we consider parties and other gatherings. Said nuggets are as follows:

  • If you are hosting a get-together, make your preferences for the use of crack known to invitees. For example, the following can be added to written or spoken invitations:

a) Please do not bring crack.

b) Feel free to bring crack, but please don’t smoke it prior to dinner.

c) Offer crack to others before you fire up. Sharing is Caring.

  • If you have been invited to someone’s home and aren’t sure about the crack protocols, it’s an excellent idea to ask the host or hostess for clarification prior to your attendance. Thus any awkwardness can be avoided. Also, if crack is permissible, ask how many people will be attending to make sure you bring enough for everyone.

Our next article appeared the day after New Year’s, with the following headline:

“Vegan wedding dinner leaves bad taste for Twin Cities couple

Lawsuit seeks $22,000 from caterer, alleging ‘horrific’ food.”

The happy couple had a great idea: serve vegan fare at the wedding, but don’t tell the guests what they are actually eating until after they’ve finished the meal. What a fun surprise for the guests! What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, just about everything. Allegedly, the servers spilled the beans (not literally; as far as we know, beans were not on the menu, despite being a staple of many a vegan’s diet) by telling guests they couldn’t have creamer or soy sauce because they’re not vegan, and then asking guests which dish they liked best.

In the event, the trouble went beyond letting the cat out of the bag, so to speak (again, not literally, because it’s very unlikely that cats would be on a vegan menu). According to the lawsuit, the tofu that was supposed to be crispy was raw. The curry was “just a bowl of vegetables, which were missing bamboo shoots as instructed, and had an exorbitant amount of carrots.” [Side note: I wonder what amount of carrots constitutes “exorbitant”?] And don’t even ask about the pad thai,..the noodles were mush and broken into little pieces against explicit instructions, bean sprouts were few, and the sauce was “sickeningly sweet.”

That would seem to be sufficient to ruin the couple’s big day. But the horror continued:

  • The peanuts on the table weren’t chopped as instructed. Hmmm…lengthwise? atom-sized pieces? chunklets? We simply don’t know.
  • The Seitan skewers lacked texture and taste. Is there anything worse than textureless/tasteless Seitan skewers? Turns out there is: a guest who has celiac disease was told the Seitan skewers were gluten-free. They weren’t. She got sick.

The nuptial nightmare extended beyond the food to the service:

  • When the father of the bride asked for a glass of water, he was told to get up and get it at the bar.
  • When the grandfather asked for his slice of wedding cake to be packed up so he could take it home, it was removed but never given back to him.
  • When the mother of the bride was giving her speech, her cake taken away.
  • When people stepped away to use the restroom, their cake was removed as well.
  • And as a final insult, the leftover cake with gold chocolate leaves? The cake that was supposed to go home with the bridal party? It did not.

The aggrieved newlyweds had other beefs (apologies…couldn’t resist a food pun), but if you haven’t reached your limit of calamity yet, feel free to read the article for yourself.

One final element to this story is the pearl in this oyster of misery, at least for would-be hosts and guests. According to the lawsuit, a guest was allowed to bring chicken fingers to the meal without the bridal couple’s approval.

Well, I never! To quote a wise acquaintance of mine as she viewed a worrisome lack of accepted wedding mores, “These things used to matter.” To be fair, we don’t know the circumstances surrounding this situation. Did the guest realize that the provided eats were noxious and take matters into his or her own hands by zipping out for chicken fingers? Or did s/he bring them to the wedding…just in case?

At any rate, this unfortunate incident highlights some advice that we should all take to heart:

  • If you’re hosting: As with crack, let invitees know well in advance where you stand on the bringing of food. If it’s a dinner party where you prefer to provide all of the grub, and people ask if they can bring anything, politely but firmly say “No.” (Note: if the invitees are Minnesotans, you may have to repeat the negative up to 5 times. And you still can’t be certain they won’t show up with a 7-layer salad or an assortment of bars. Revisit their track record of such actions with others familiar with them.)
  • If you’re attending: Ensure clarity of the appropriateness of bringing food, and if the answer is “No”, accept that answer without a lot of extra chinwag. And if you do bring food, make sure (again, as with crack), make sure there is enough for everyone; if it’s a wedding or other large gathering, you’re required to bring enough for your table only.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful, and will put them into practice at the next opportunity. I know I will.

Remember, good manners cost nothing!


Today’s Fact Cetera

The first Friday the 13th of each year is national Blame Somebody Else Day.


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Hail To The Chiefs!

Well, it’s President’s Day again, and time to pay homage to those 44 fellas who have occupied the office of President of these United States.

This holiday began as a celebration of the birthday of Old #1, George Washington, way back in 1879. But these days it is a celebration of all of our Presidents. As such, we bring you a few interesting tidbits about them.

  • Speaking of the Father of our Country, despite popular myth, his teeth weren’t made of wood; they were made of gold, lead, animal teeth, and ivory from elephant and walrus tusks.
  • In addition to being the date on which we celebrate the founding of our nation, the Fourth of July has importance to four of our Presidents: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (#2 and #3) both died on July 4th 1826. #5, James Monroe, died on July 4th, 1831. And Calvin Coolidge (#30) was born on July 4th 1872.
  • Wondering about #4? James Madison had the distinction of being the shortest President at 5 foot 4, and he weighed less than 100 pounds. Lincoln (#16) was the tallest at 6 foot 4.
  • #12, Zachary Taylor, never voted for President.
  • Andrew Johnson (#17) was drunk at his inauguration…and why not?
  • In addition to being the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms (making him #22 and #24), Grover Cleveland also was the legal guardian of an 11-year-old girl, married her 10 years later, and made her the youngest First Lady at age 21. He also had an artificial jaw made of vulcanized rubber.
  • William Henry Taft (# 27) was our weightiest President at 332 lbs. After leaving office, he lost 150 lbs., as well as becoming  the only ex-president to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • #29, Warren Harding bet the White House china in a poker game…and lost it in one hand. Oh yeah, and his middle name was “Gamaliel”. Hard to believe people don’t name their kids that anymore.
  • Another tidbit about Calvin Coolidge (#30): he had a morning ritual in which someone rubbed Vaseline on his head while he ate breakfast in bed. Try it! It’s fun, and healthy!
  • Herbert Hoover (#31) and his wife learned to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently, and would speak it around the White House to prevent others from understanding them.

There are lots more, as every President has had quirks, foibles, and downright faults. That’s important to remember in these tumultuous times: Presidents are human (generally) and as such, have human flaws. Fortunately, the Republic is strong and resilient. Despite every effort to bungle, destroy, or otherwise besmirch the office, the Republic soldiers on.

So, on this day of remembrance, pick out your favorite Prez and pour one out for your homie. Unless it’s Andrew Johnson…he might object to the wasting of alcohol.


Today’s Fact Cetera

After becoming the first President to not get his own party’s nomination for a second term, he got  drunk, got on a horse, and ran over a woman.

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Tempus Fugit

There are all sorts of “interesting” things about aging. Having just experienced a birthday, it is perhaps not surprising that one’s thoughts turn to the passage of time. More to the point, the speed of that passage.

As I age, the sensation that time is passing more rapidly is growing at an alarming rate. Has it really been 10 years since Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPhone? 20 years since Jurassic Park was released? 30 years since the Challenger disaster? 40 years since I graduated from college? And can it really be 50 years since The Beatles’ last public concert?


Though new to me, this time-is-accelerating phenomenon has apparently been recognized for years…127 years to be exact.

According to Scientific American, “Psychologist William James, in his 1890 text Principles of Psychology, wrote that as we age, time seems to speed up because adulthood is accompanied by fewer and fewer memorable events. When the passage of time is measured by “firsts” (first kiss, first day of school, first family vacation), the lack of new experiences in adulthood, James morosely argues, causes ‘the days and weeks [to] smooth themselves out…and the years grow hollow and collapse.’”

“Grow hollow and collapse”? Geez Billy, thanks for the glad tidings.

I suppose that — like arthritis and hair loss — this is another minor ordeal that comes with the ever-increasing numbers attached to another birthday.

Yet, as I am reminded by a friend of mine, it beats the alternative.


Today’s Fact Cetera

The youngest pope was 11 years old.



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The Fog Of Language

“Simply stated, it is sagacious to eschew obfuscation.”

Norman Ralph Augustine

When it comes to written and verbal language, I’m a big devotee of precision. Nary a day passes without encountering people using words that are close but incorrect. For example:

  • “That doesn’t jive with the facts.” (jibe)
  • “We have to staunch the bleeding.” (stanch)
  • “I could care less about your problems.” (couldn’t)
  • “I feel nauseous.” (nauseated, unless you meant you feel like causing nausea)

A subset of this is made-up words, such as “flustrated”, “supposably”, and “sherbert”.

Laziness? Ignorance? An indictment of our public schools? I don’t know.

I’m also an enthusiast of precision’s offspring: clarity. Say what you will about politicians, their messages are generally clear. Misguided, bombastic, outrageous, disingenuous, sure. But rarely unclear.

Business is a different kettle of fish altogether. The language of business often seems designed specifically to disguise, confuse, obscure, and otherwise bamboozle. Meaningless clichés, tired idioms, and word-out bromides flow forth from businesses like bodily functions.

Often, strings of gibberish appear (“press releases” or “statements”) that reach levels of inanity as to beggar belief, as well as eliciting grudging admiration. After all, it takes real talent to create a combination of words that sound impressive yet are devoid of any real meaning. Sometimes the goal appears to be impressive without specifics; other times to simply hide something.

The careful reader can spot the nonsense. Consider these examples, taken from articles that appeared recently in the business section of my local paper.

Example 1: In a statement announcing that restructuring would cause 220 people to lose their jobs, the CEO stated the following (buzzwords noted in red):

Over the past five years, we have transformed our market focus, innovation portfolio and manufacturing capabilities to deliver value for customers, shareholders and employees. As we continue to shift our product portfolio to a richer mix of higher growth, higher profitability adhesive market segments, we need to ensure our resources align with our vision. The proactive changes we are announcing will allow us to invest in the highest opportunity areas within our portfolio and become more agile as we support our customers’ success and deliver our 2020 plan.

Did you break the code? They want to make more money by dumping some products and people. Interestingly, a company spokesperson noted that over the past four years the company had added 200 jobs. So perhaps in the next cycle they’ll add some more people, presumably to enhance their innovation portfolio.

Example 2: In announcing a global restructuring, the company’s CEO stated:

We continue to prioritize both growth and returns. The structural changes announced [Monday] will help us unlock global growth opportunities and go after them by efficiently restructuring our teams and processes.

Let’s parse this a bit, shall we?

  • We continue to prioritize both growth and returns. Maybe a nit, but can you prioritize more than one thing?
  • …unlock global growth opportunities and go after them… What’s the difference between “unlock” and “go after”? Isn’t it assumed that after you go to the presumed trouble of unlocking, you would then go after them?
  • …by efficiently restructuring… That means they’re going to restructure in an efficient manner, not restructure in order to become more efficient.

Example 3: Announcing the demise of the print edition of one of their magazines, the publisher’s chief business officer and president of revenue (now that’s a title!) stated:

By re-imagining how [the magazine] creates content and how we distribute it, we are uniquely positioned to give consumers more of what they love while creating innovative and engaging opportunities for our advertising partners

Just a guess, but “innovation” seems to be the buzzword du jour.

Credit where credit is due: business people know how to turn a phrase, even if the result is something described by old Bill Shakespeare in King Lear: “Nothing will come of nothing.”

So we are left with a choice: ridiculousness from politicos, or nothingness from titans of industry.

Choose wisely…


Today’s Fact Cetera

China has more English speakers than the United States.


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Independence Day

No, not the movie…or its sequel. It’s the Fourth of July in America.

As noted in RonnBlogs past, this day celebrates the Declaration of Independence, a document that continues to inspire and impress.

Say what you will about the Founding Fathers (these days, the majority of which is quite bogus), they knew their way around the written word. Most Americans are familiar with phrases such as “When in the Course of human events…” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”. But for sheer sentence power, check this one out:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Interesting use of capitalization notwithstanding, that’s some Class-A scribblin’, fellas. Well played.

Of course, not all of the folks present at the birth of our nation were so sophisticated in their writing. Not much has changed.

Compare and contrast these recent examples of writing from current presidential contenders:

Everyone knows I am right that Robert Pattinson should dump Kristen Stewart. In a couple of years, he will thank me. Be smart, Robert.

Let’s make America a world leader in manufacturing, again.


Do not throw away your shot. Win tickets to see @HamiltonMusical with Hillary.

Iron Mike Tyson was not asked to speak at the Convention though I’m sure he would do a good job if he was. The media makes everything up!

Two words: free WiFi.

Stirring stuff. Hard to believe that with such soaring rhetoric so few people actually take the time to vote.

Despite the drop in writing quality, I still believe this is a pretty great country. Lots of opportunity for improvement, to be sure. But on this day, I’m choosing to be grateful. Not so much for current political blather, but for the staying power of the original words so brilliantly written in 1776.


Today’s Fact Cetera

The Bill of Rights is stated in 463 words.
 A recent federal directive to regulate the price of cabbage contains 26,911 words.



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Better Emails Can Be Yours!

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” Benjamin Franklin

Writing is a muscle: the more your exercise it, the stronger it will be. But you have to use the correct technique when exercising your writing muscle. You write several emails every day, so consider each one an opportunity to polish your writing skills.

It takes time to craft a powerful email…but not as much as you might think. And once you find that your emails are getting better responses, you’ll have a template for success that you can adapt and use with all of your clients, prospects and colleagues.

Here are some simple steps you can take to avoid the common email mistakes:

1.  Treat Each Email As Important.

Make sure it accurately reflects you and your offering, and know your Purpose for every email: what do you want the recipient to understand, do and believe from your message.

2.  Organize Your Message.

State your Purpose, provide Information, describe Action Steps, then make a Specific Request.

3.  Start & End With Strength.

Have a compelling Subject Line, then get right to the point by stating the most important thing first. And end your email with a specific Request or Call to Action; what you want to happen next.

4.  Write To Be Clearly Understood.

Be Concise by avoiding unnecessary words and phrases. Be Precise by carefully choosing your words. And Be Strong by using words that convey confidence instead of doubt.

5.  And Before You Hit “Send”…

Save your email as “Draft”, wait 5-10 minutes. then revisit to proofread for typos and to add clarity, confidence and strength. Caution: don’t relay on Spell-Check alone; words that are incorrect but spelled correctly won’t get caught (e.g., “there”, “their” and “they’re”.

You’d never consider showing up for a client meeting looking like an unmade bed; your emails shouldn’t look that way, either. Keep in mind the simple steps I have outlined, and you’ll make sure that your emails show up the way you want to: polished, professional and positive.

Happy Writing! And if you have examples of bad emails you have received, send them along.


Today’s Fact Cetera

The average open rate of emails in the U.S. is 19.9%.


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More From The Big File o’ Misfit Emails

“Example is always more efficacious than precept.” Samuel Johnson

I recently had an email forwarded to me that promised to help “bust through the inbox clutter of busy people you want to connect with. Use these techniques to write messages that garner responses.” The rather long email went on to describe these techniques, all of which made sense. Except that the email they sent didn’t use any of them.

With that in mind, and in the spirit of old Sammy, here are some further examples of actual emails that serve as a warning to all of us.

First up, how to start off slow then peter out all together:

Big 1

This starts with double salutations: “Hi” and “Good Morning” (the latter capitalized and followed by a comma instead of a period), then follows with one of the great lines of all time. Might just have well have written “I AM going to waste your time, but not much of it.” After that dubious beginning, the second paragraph is filled with vague words: “leading”, “relevant” and “better”.

Next up, an email filled with excitement…and no writing skills:

Big 2

This was sent to an individual woman, so “Hi Guys!” goes sideways right off the bat. And the exclamation point doesn’t help. The breezy and informal tone continues in the first sentence, which could use a few commas. Then the sender launches into an animated description of their offering. One problem: the recipient is not in the restaurant or bar business. Even the exhilarating promise of “LED displays and bottle Glorifiers” (whatever those are) is not going to lead to a positive response.

And up last, a whiff of desperation:

Big 3

This poor sap is clearly suffering due to the lack of response to the previous email. His longing for connection is clear from the opening sentence right through to his inability to end the email with one specific sentence.

Again, all three of these beg the question: Why would I want to do business with you?

Every email sends two messages: the one you’re intending, and the one the recipient infers. The words, the punctuation, the flow, the tone…all contribute to the overall impression you are providing.

Take some time and care to make it a good one.

Next Time: Ideas for Better Emails


Today’s Fact Cetera

70% of US Internet users prefer email as the method of communication for business-related matters.


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