We live in strangely searching times. We look inward, outward, all around for a fresh clue why surprising things happen, and why most of them are bad.

We might seek out that annoying woman on late-night TV with the Jamaican accent whose tarot cards uncannily confirm that your husband, who's been working late for the past 27 years, is actually having an affair with the security guard.

(click)

" ... our special guest tonight is former President Bill Clinton, who's just scheduled a paid appearance at a success seminar with TV host Montel Williams and a group of - believe it or not - motivational speakers.

(Editor's note: News Junkie is off this week. This column originally ran last year.)

One day when you were a little girl, you came home from school and asked me what the word "gay" meant.

May Day

"Good morning, Mr. General Secretary. We are glad you could attend our meeting."

"Nyet! A modern Russia demands new titles for its post-revolutionary leaders. We must trust capitalism to lead us. Please address me the way authority figures are spoken to on successful American television programs.

The grass on the field is still wet from a rainstorm earlier in the day. Good thing the skies have finally cleared, because there's a ball game scheduled tonight and I happen to know the starting pitcher personally.

Mostly, in this space, we go for laughs. This is a legitimate objective, because everyone needs that cleansing breath of humor after a stop or two on the bus of life, especially when we're the only person behind the yellow line who seems to realize that the driver is a chimpanzee.

Societies ? you, me, our friends and neighbors, or any folks we find ourselves stuck in traffic or a tax bracket with ? thrive on shared experience.

Having something in common is what defines a society, and shared experiences create them ? even small and temporary ones. Who hasn't whooped it up at a baseball game with people we just happened to be sitting next to?



The fruits of a shared experience can be positive even when the experience itself is negative. Some of humanity's most moving moments are when total strangers pull together during a flood or a blackout.



All of which brings us to that shared experience known as: The Economy.



Nothing hits the spot like national prosperity, and most folks had a great time over the last few years watching the stock market "create" wealth, unemployment hover near zero, companies giddily expand. It was one big boom town, with everybody high-fiving each other and racing to buy the next round of drinks.



But, like someone said about the Civil War, they started this one drunk, and they're going to have to settle it sober.



And with each week seeming to bring more layoffs, salary freezes, and disappearing assets, there's plenty of hangover to go around. I got an e-mail recently from a retired man who depended on the go-go market to keep up with his substantial medical expenses. Now, he and his wife don't know how they're going to make it.



All of which would be bad enough if everyone were in the same boat (see "shared experience," above). Americans have weathered recessions, depressions, and assorted panics in the past, with most everyone taking a hit and no one to blame except a run of bad luck, usually temporary.



This time, though, it's starting to look like a few people are doing just fine at the expense of everybody else.



The issue of CEO compensation may be an old thorn, but ? really now ? what's it going to take before shareholders put a stop to the outrageous, multi-million-dollar packages their head guys pull down while they slash thousands of jobs in the interest of "trimming expenses"?



I know, Alex Rodriguez makes $21 million a year. But the difference is, he doesn't take anybody into the batter's box with him. I'd like to see CEOs hit their marks without help from the rank-and-file workers they so blithely lay off.



And if you lost money (or a job) when some skyrocketing tech stock suddenly veered earthward, you'll be interested to know that your experience wasn't necessarily shared with the nice folks who asked you to invest in the first place. According to the Wall Street Journal: "Meet the $100 million club, an elite group of at least 50 insiders at Nasdaq companies who collected immense fortunes. They each sold more than $100 million of stock in their companies....In many cases, these insiders sold near the high points of stocks that have fallen 80 percent, 90 percent, even 99 percent from their peaks....At one company...a single insider collected more money from selling shares during the period than the whole company is worth now."



There was a famous dinner party held during the late 19th Century, at which the wealthy, jaded guests were amused to find their places adorned with sand pails and miniature shovels ? and invited to "dig" for diamonds, rubies, and other souvenir gems before starting in on the soup course. This bit of decadence made news because at the time, a number of America's unlucky 10-year-olds were still digging anthracite out of coal mines.



I'm sure glad those class-conscious days are over.



Copyright 2001 Newrite, Inc. All rights reserved. GLW's on WGN Radio AM 720 and wgnradio.com. Coming soon: newsjunkie.net.

Whazzup?

Bobby Knight has a new coaching job at Texas Tech, and he's asked us to destroy all copies of the following farewell address from last fall.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I could say a lot of things right now.

Easy Money

"You wanted to see me?"
"Yes, Brad. Come in. I'm afraid I have some bad news."
"What do you mean?"
"You see, the market seems to be flirting with a bit of volatility right now, and?"
"You're telling me! I actually lost money on my lunch hour yesterday. Can you believe it? That's the last time I trade stocks and fantasy league players at the same time. You really gotta pay attention these days."


"Yes, well, we believe that it's all just a correction, but the board is a little skittish right now, so they've agreed to a merger to prop things up."


"With who?"


"Enigma Industries."


"Their slogan is, 'No One Knows What We Make, Except Money.'"


"Exactly. And their CEO ? I mean, our new CEO ? feels that we need to assume a similarly strategic position."


"Great idea. That's why I upgraded my Palm Pilot."


"Yes, well, the bottom line is, our corporate mission has been redefined, our personnel base is being downsized, and your specific job description has been outsourced."


"What do you mean?"


"You're fired."


"Whaat??"


"Don't take it personally."


"But I've only been here six months! I just got out of college."


"I know. And in this economy, most companies just can't afford $65,000 for a 21-year-old who majored in progressive Web design and golf."


"I also minored in feng shui."


"Brad, the world is finally getting back to reality. You're too young to realize this, but the last few years have been a fantasy. Dot-coms with no hope of turning a profit making their executives rich, people with no capital or expertise calling themselves investors. It was a giant Ponzi scheme. It had to end sometime."


"Does this mean I have to return the Mercedes?"


"I'm afraid so. And the health club needs their towels back."


"Well, I guess I'll just have to post my résumé on the Internet again and get a few more dozen seductive offers."


"Brad, those days are over too. That's why we'd like you to meet our vice president for recently hired outplacement, Mr. Jiggs McCoy. Jiggs, say hello to Brad Westfield."


"But?"


"At ease, son. First thing is, I know just how you feel. It wasn't that many years ago I got the word they were closing down the whole carbon-paper division. Well, goodbye, pension. So what do you do when you're not here?"


"Watch TV."


"All right, there's a start. Unfortunately, they make all those sets overseas now. Say, here's an idea. Ever thought about moving to Mexico?"



Copyright 2001 Newrite, Inc. All rights reserved. GLW's on WGN Radio AM 720 and wgnradio.com. Coming soon: newsjunkie.net.

Back in what my daughter would call the olden days, local news was whatever went on in the hut next door. National news happened down the block. World news transpired in that village across the river.
The flow of knowledge may have been primitive, but people paid attention because newsmakers were their neighbors.

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