I've been thinking about Jenga lately. You know, the game where you build a tower of little slotted logs, then players take turns removing them until the tower collapses in a heap. Seems to me, life is filled with Jenga moments, like, say, when you realize that General Motors is run by idiots or that your country is being driven off a cliff by conscience-less morons or that cute li'l Hannah Montana has turned into just another shaky-fakey tart.
Not to stretch the analogy too far, but our economic troubles have a certain Jenga quality to them. Nobody regulated the size of the towers being built by Wall Street investment firms or lending institutions or media companies. Now these institutions lie in a heap, asking taxpayers to help pick up the pieces, while they lay off their workers by the thousands.
Since I work for a media company, I'm particularly saddened by the fact that more than 30,000 of my peers have been laid off in 2008, mostly in big media corporations. They are victims of the "bigger is better" creed of unregulated capitalism. Sometimes bigger isn't better, as we're now discovering.
At my locally owned bank, they welcome me by name when I walk to the teller window. At my local pub, the bartender puts a bottle of Yeungling in front of me before I have my coat off. The little restaurant down the street knows my favorite table. These businesses have no stockholders demanding ever-increasing profits; they aren't trying to satisfy millions of customers, nor do they have to pay thousands of employees. Times are tight for them, as they are for all of us, but they're not overreaching. Their business plans are not built on greed but on service, and making an honest profit. What a novel concept, eh?
The American economy needs to rebuild from the bottom up, with local merchants as its bedrock. Our institutions, including our media — television stations, newspapers, radio stations — can help by serving primarily as local information portals and cost-efficient vehicles for local advertisers. But that won't happen as long as big media's corporate masters try to keep their failed conglomerates together.
At the Flyer, we understand what local businesses are facing, because we are a local business — and like them, we never built a Jenga tower. New game, anyone?
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...