Business Speak is for Idiots

When someone asks if they can conference with me I reply: “No. We can have a meeting. We can hold a discussion. We could engage in debate. But we can definitely cannot make a noun into a verb.” If pressed I also advise that at no point in our conversation will we incentivize, prioritize, interface, or benchmark. Nor will we construct a matrix, make a list of doables, or pick any low-hanging fruit.

If you have ever used any of the above phrases in anything other than an ironic context, repent! If you are currently using them, for the love of God, stop! If you use them and harbor the illusion that subordinates are doing anything other than laughing behind your back, seek help.

Think I’m kidding? Check out the BBC’s new list of annoying business phrases: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7457287.stm If you haven’t gone to management school you’ll find this hysterical. If you have, you probably won’t get it. The truly hopeless will believe that their personnel finds their business techniques useful because employees have demonstrated “buy in” during staff meetings. They are so clueless that they cannot recognize feigned interest, the desire of staff to keep their paychecks, or playing mind games to stave off boredom.

Some people dream of utopia. Me too. But for now I’d settle for MBA programs that aren’t run by morons that graduate imbeciles who will make the lives of their future staffs miserable by insulting their intelligence.


Remembering Kate Wolf

Some performers wow you with their dynamism and/or their larger-than-life personalities. This month, though, let’s honor a gentle departed soul who knocked you over with a feathery approach: Kate Wolf.

Kate Wolf was born in San Francisco in 1942, and passed away in December of 1986, after a bitter bout with leukemia. She was just 44. Wolf was seldom dramatic, her voice was rock steady, and her musicianship framed songs rather than seeking to be a separate canvas. In fact, Wolf was a lot like northern California, where she spent most of her life--she was open, laid back, and unhurried. At first listening, it was easy enough to let Kate Wolf disappear into the expanse. Her voice was warm and comfortable, but much in the same way that an old sweater feels. Then one day you heard one of her records in the background and you suddenly couldn’t get her voice out of your head. You listened harder and that voice became the breeze that swept across the Great Divide on its way to the Pacific, the hawk riding the air currents like a sky-bound Zen surfer, and the twilight as the sun was setting. As a lifelong Easterner who has only sojourned in California, I think it was Kate Wolf who first made me understand how Westerners cope with the scale of the land. Everything out there is big--the mountains, the waves, the waterfalls, the fauna, the winter snowfall-everything that is, except humankind. You can’t compete with it, you can’t conquer it, you can’t sing over it, and Kate Wolf had the wisdom not to try.

Wolf made seven albums in her brief lifetime, and five more were issued posthumously. A personal favorite is Give Yourself to Love (1986), which is also the name of one of most-beloved songs. She was taken too soon, but the list of those who have covered her songs and/or have drawn inspiration from her is a testimony of the impact she made. It includes Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Greg Brown, Lucinda Williams, Dave Alvin, and Nanci Griffith. If you’re listening to Kate Wolf for the first time, don’t rush things. Let her songs envelop you like--well, that old sweater you drag out when the nights are cool, you’re feeling a little melancholy, and you just need something familiar and warm.

Listen to Kate sing "Red Tailed Hawk." (Nina Gerber on harmonica) and again on the achingly beautiful "Sweet Love."

Nanci Griffith's superb cover of Kate's "Across the Great Divide."


The Grocer's Son Delivers

The Grocer’s Son (Le fils de l’épicier)

Directed by Eric Guirado

96 mins. In French with subtitles, NR (Brief nudity)


This 2008 French film is enjoying a very small run in theaters--so small in fact, that’s it unlikely to show up in your neck of the woods unless you have a thriving art cinema near by. Luckily, it’s on DVD and you’d do well to put this one near the top of your Netflix queue.

It’s essentially a modern-day retelling of the Prodigal Son parable, except that this son, Antoine Sforza (Nicolas Cazalé), has no desire to be welcomed home. On the contrary, even though he’s living is a down-market flat in Lyon and is between jobs, he’ be happy if he never had to see either of his parents again, let alone set foot in his Rhône-Alpes village hometown. But when his tyrannical father (Daniel Duval) suffers a debilitating heart attack, Antoine’s desperate mother (Jeanne Goupil) convinces Antoine to return home to run the family grocery concern until the old man is back on his feet. In this part of France, a mountainous region adjacent to Provence, as often as not, grocers go to their clients rather than sitting in the shop waiting for trade.

Antoine is able to convince a neighbor, Claire (Clotilde Hesme) to accompany him to the boonies. Claire has had some bumps of her own and hopes to return to college to get our life back on track. She sees the trip as an opportunity for some study solitude as she prepares for her entrance exam, and she’s so focused she doesn’t see that the shy Antoine is in love with her. As you might expect, Claire’s solitude will be interrupted by the unfolding Sforza family drama.

You could pretty much write the script from here. The Grocer’s Son won’t win any prizes for originality, but it is--as the French say, charmant. The surly Antoine finds himself behind the wheel of a creaky van driving from village to village, where old folks come out to buy food a single egg or can of peas at a time. The story is pretty much one of redemption in which the grocer’s son, his family, Claire, and the business itself are transformed. Of special delight are two delicious roles played by older actors. Paul Crauchet plays an elderly widower whose mind, eyes, body, and property are failing, but he does so with such tenderness that he could melt a stone. But even he is upstaged by Lilliane Rovere as Luciene, a former coquet who now reigns as the region’s opinionated and acidic queen of eccentricity, infuriation, and outlandishness. When she’s on the screen, one can look nowhere else. Luciene is the sort of person you’d want to invite to tea, just so you can wring her neck!

The Grocer’s Son is populated by people with hard edges and soft insides. As a film it’s akin to the twisty mountain roads Antoine drives--from afar you can see everything that’s coming, but it’s all so darned nice that we want to go there anyhow. And when you arrive, you’ll smile and be glad you took the trip.