George Shangrow – rest in peace

I usually keep my entries in this blog focused on business, but for once I must break my own rule.

Today I learned of the untimely passing of George Shangrow, gifted Seattle musician and conductor. He was killed yesterday in a car crash on Highway 20 near Winthrop, in a driving rainstorm. He was only 59.

Many of my current friends and colleagues may not know this, but I began my career as a professional musician. After leaving music for the business world, I continued to pursue my music after work. I was privileged to perform many times with George and Orchestra Seattle/Seattle Chamber Singers. I worked with many other conductors in the Seattle area, too, and George was by far the best. He was so incredibly gifted that the rest of us had to scramble to keep up with him. He needed to be reminded occasionally that we needed a little more rehearsal than he did. Highly intelligent, George was also an incredible character. Working with him was a truly unique, challenging and entertaining experience

One of my most treasured memories was a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. There is one movement that ends with a long decrescendo, slowly trailing off into hushed silence. George conducted it perfectly and the choir and orchestra followed. We froze at the end, as all good performers will, to prolong the effect. For a fraction of a second, the silence held. Then we heard it – an audible snore. We all choked – silently. I was in the choir, facing George. The look on his face as he attempted to maintain control was utterly priceless. I will never forget it. And I will never forget George.

My deepest condolences to his family and friends! Go with God, George. You will be missed.

Margaret Wright Purvine
Cellist & Mezzo Soprano, OS/SCS in the 1990′s

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The Tax Man Cometh – be prepared for 2011

I have no intention of preaching politics here. Truly. I do have very strong political views, so this may be tough. I may not be able to prevent some of them from leaking into my words. Please bear with me! To the best of my ability, I will keep this as non-partisan as possible.

Rather than politics, my message today is one of awareness and preparedness. This isn’t something Americans, especially business people and business owners, can ignore. There is a tsunami of tax increases building, the first wave scheduled to make landfall on January 1, 2011. My message to my readers: Be aware and take action as appropriate. (Yes, that may include political action. I will leave that up to each of you.)

The tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration are expiring in January of 2011. Contrary to popular myth and political sound bites, these tax cuts were NOT just for the rich. They were across the board cuts in tax rates. All of these end in January, because the current Congress and Administration have chosen to allow it.

In addition to the tax rate increases (the bottom rate, for example, will go from 10% back to 15%), the corrections made to the marriage penalty expire. Married couples with both spouses working and making similar amounts of money will wind up being taxed more because they are married.

Another biggie is the Estate Tax, also commonly called the death tax. The rate goes back to 55%, if I remember correctly. In addition, if your estate tops $1 million (a very low ceiling when you consider the value of real estate in this area), you will have to pay Estate Tax. This number used to be about $5 million, if memory serves. (I promise to check exact numbers in a later post. Time presses this morning, but I want to initiate this topic without delay!)

I have two huge issues with the Estate Tax. (Sorry, but the opinion just had to creep in.) First, it is blatantly unfair. Those dollars have already been taxed during the deceased’s life time, with income tax, property tax, and capital gains taxes. Why tax them again? Second, this tax nails small business owners. Without careful tax planning and succession planning, many heirs wind up losing family farms and businesses because they can’t pay the taxes. The value is in land, fixtures, equipment, etc., all the things needed to run the business, not in cash. Many must liquidate critical assets or sell the business to raise the cash to pay the tax bill! Now, exactly how is this going to benefit our economy and the jobs picture, especially given that small businesses make up the lion’s share of the job creating engine of our economy? So, my major beef here is that this tax is really stupid!

Now, I realize that governments at all levels in this country are hurting for dollars, big time. Many are way past cutting fat out of their budgets and are slicing deeply into muscle. But time and again, they prove that raising taxes does NOT put more money into their treasuries. Au contraire. Taxes dampen the economy still further, resulting in less income, property, etc. to tax, so tax revenues drop. Read your history!

In contrast, tax cuts allow our economy to take off, producing more income and ultimately bringing more into the government coffers, even though they are collecting it at a lower rate. Again, history has proven this over and over. Now, isn’t a booming economy with lots more jobs and dollars for everyone, including government, the real goal?

Please, gentle readers, forgive this opinionated and VERY concerned blogger and give all of this some serious thought. We must all prepare for the coming onslaught. And, as appropriate, we must take action.

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Commerce & Patriotism – words of wisdom from George Washington

We have just celebrated a Glorious Fourth, the anniversary of the founding of our country. We celebrated with hot dogs, S’mores, chips, lemonade and beer, maybe even a few veggies to assuage our guilt. We joined friends for games, good company, good food, and fabulous fireworks. It was a great party weekend, with firecrackers going off well into the night.

As an old-fashioned American patriot who finds it difficult to sing the Star Spangled Banner without choking up, I also celebrate by contemplating the founding of this country, the incredibly difficult and bloody struggle of our War for Independence, and the courage and wisdom of our founding fathers as they laid out a form of government.

Perhaps the greatest of the founding fathers was George Washington. So I took some time today to look up some of his words to share with my readers. First, on the subject of commerce, he had this to say, from a letter to Benjamin Harrison on October 10, 1784:

“A people… who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see and who will pursue their advantages may achieve almost anything.�?

To me, this speaks to the spirit of entrepreneurship. With energy and an environment that encourages commerce, a person can do great things. And in this country, we have!

On trade, he said this in his Farewell Address, September 19, 1796:

“Harmony, liberal intercourse with all Nations, are recommended by policy, humanity and interest. But even our Commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand: neither seeking nor granting exclusive favours or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of Commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing with Powers so disposed; in order to give trade a stable course.�?

Sound like a recommendation for a stable economy – regulation by “gentle meansâ€??, “forcing nothingâ€??. Words of wisdom for Washington D.C.? Especially now as the pendulum is swinging from too little regulation to way too much?

In a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, dated June 19, 1788, he said this:

“I hope, some day or another, we shall become a storehouse and granary for the world.�?

We have. Let’s not lose it!

Let me close with a couple more quotes from our first, and one of our greatest Presidents, George Washington, a man I greatly admire.

From his Annual Message, December 1793:

“If we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known, that we are at all times ready for War.�?

One more from his Farewell Address, September 19, 1796, words about Patriotism:

“Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.�?

Amen. Happy Birthday, America!

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The Word Cop explains: “Your” versus “You’re”

I just received an email newsletter from a local business (who shall remain nameless, but not blameless) with this statement: “SMILE your on CAMERA!” I groaned and decided it was time for a blog entry. This was one time too many. Ignore the poor punctuation, with the badly needed but missing comma after the word “SMILE”. It’s the misuse of “your” that has caused me pain.

The last time I saw this blatant error was on a sewing show. I love to sew and am addicted to the Saturday morning quilting and sewing shows on PBS. The show in question was focused on a project combining quilting and embroidery. It used the following saying (with their spelling): “In the crazy quilt of life, I’m glad your in my block.” The mistake stuck out like a sore thumb to me, but apparently the show hostess and guest both missed it. This was not only printed, but machine embroidered on a detailed project – on silk, no less. I winced.

This isn’t that hard, folks! “Your” is a possessive. Your stuff. Your project. Your whatever. “You’re” is a contraction of “you are”. Very simple, right? It amazes me how often these two very different words are mistakenly interchanged. Perhaps it’s because spell checkers don’t catch this.

The Word Cop sympathizes with the challenge of correct word usage and spelling in a rich and complex language such as English. But she also deplores the sloppiness that allows so many errors, and in business documents! Lots of us do spot these errors, and what kind of impression are we likely to have of your business?

Business owners, take heed!

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Non-verbal courtesy – Should Miss Manners make a come-back?

I read a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal – Why Gen-Y Johnny Can’t Read Nonverbal Cues.

The basic premise is that Gen-Y’ers are so caught up in social networking, all of which is written, that they haven’t picked up on the non-verbal cues that are basic to courtesy when meeting face-to-face. The author, Prof. Mark Bauerlein, states the following:

“We live in a culture where young people – outfitted with iPhone and laptop and devoting hours every evening from age 10 onward to messaging of one kind and another – are ever less likely to develop the “silent fluency” that comes from face-to-face interaction. It is a skill that we all must learn, in actual social setting, from people (often older) who are adept in the idiom.”

Tied into this is the split attention inherent in constant multi-tasking. Ever attended a meeting during which attendees appear to devote more attention to their “Crackberries�? than to the speaker? They may think they are being more efficient. What they are actually being is rude.

Time to reincarnate Miss Manners? Perhaps, although strict adherence to old-fashioned etiquette rules can be extreme. It might be better to use our opportunities, when observing such behavior, for teachable moments. When we do so, we should strive to be courteous and diplomatic ourselves, not judgmental or high-handed. Lead by example.

Take a moment to read the comments as well as the article. It was interesting to note that the stronger notes from authors disagreeing with Prof. Bauerlein, tended to come from some of those Gen-Y’ers. They have some viable points and we should all listen to the input.

My bottom line is this. Excellent communication skills – written, verbal, and nonverbal – are critical for success in our world. Add courtesy to the mix and you have something truly effective. We can all agree on that.

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The Word Cop loves words!

I get the biggest kick out of hearing new words, at least words that are new to me. The best part of Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News is his word of the day, always tied to sending him email. “When you write to us, don’t be _________!” There, he plugs in his latest favorite or new discovery.

Examples: Blatherskite. Pedantic. Lugubrious.

What’s not to love?

I also love to hear new definitions of words or word origins, usually spun for laughs rather than true facts. Take the word “politics”. I recently heard someone (maybe Dennis Miller? Not sure. My apologies for the shaky attribution!) break this down into “poli” meaning “many” and “tics”, meaning blood sucking nits. I roared.

Political commentary is rife with new words, distorted words and obscure words used by the more erudite speakers. I recently heard a political speech by someone in high political office described as “abstract, vapid, and self-absorbed”. Isn’t that wonderful? When did you last hear the word “vapid” in conversation? (I will leave this reference nameless, in the interest of avoiding offense. Some people are so sensitive and my interest is in the words, not the politics. My apologies to the brilliant commentator!)

Heard any interesting ones yourself lately? Please share them! The Word Cop looks forward to hearing from you.

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Ready for some real 70′s nostalgia? Try inflation!

As I have watched the economy tank and our government react and overreact, I keep having flashbacks to the 1970′s. There was a lot more to the 70′s than bell-bottom jeans, leisure suits, sideburns, double-knits and green shag carpet. It was a terrible economic time.

I finished college in 1975 and took my two degrees into an abysmal job market. I found something, but struggled for several years before finding a good job, one that I stayed with for 15+ years. During the early years of my career, I did what all young professionals do. I tried to succeed at my job, build up some savings, find a life partner, and establish myself personally and professionally.

However, it was a tough time to do this. Inflation ate up every salary increase and limited my savings. I wanted to buy my first house, but the market stayed one step ahead of me in spite of my efforts as housing prices and mortgage rates soared. It took me until the 1980′s to make the leap into the housing market. I managed to obtain a mortgage at the eye-popping rate of 13.5%, and for the time this was a good deal! The resulting PITI house payment took more than half my monthly income.

For some time now, as I have observed our current economic crisis, I see a 1970s redux in the near future. And it isn’t pretty! There is an excellent opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal written by Arthur Laffer of “Laffer Curve” fame. He is also one of the authors of the recent book, “The End of Prosperity”. I have read part of it. It is excellent and scary.

I urge my readers to take a look at Mr. Laffer’s article. Press here to read it.

I look forward to hearing your comments!

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Closing the store, but not the business

Read a great article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, in their “small business” section. It is entitled “Entrepreneurs Pack Up and Go Home”. It describes the recent trend of small businesses abandoning their “brick and mortar” locations and moving their businesses into their homes. The move is usually triggered by a big drop in business and the inability to renegotiate leases.

The main point of the article, of great interest to me as a business consultant, is that the move can be done, but requires many adjustments and some careful planning. Among other considerations, it is critical to check zoning laws in your neighborhood regarding any restrictions on operating a home-based business. One company mentioned in the article, a dancewear business, was really screwed by the local zoning board. Zoning laws vary widely, so don’t assume. Check it out.

Beyond zoning considerations, moving a business home changes the marketing dynamics. You can’t put a “sale” sign in the window any more to generate additional traffic. Marketing and advertising on the web is “doable”, but certainly different from advertising a brick and mortar store. Another area demanding careful thought and preparation.

Bottom line is that there is more to moving your business home than saving the monthly lease money. Like most business changes, some preparation in advance will help ensure that the move goes smoothly and that your business survives.

Interested in reading the article? Press here.

Considering the move home for your business? Already completed the move? Please share your thoughts and experiences!

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The Word Cop Returns! What’s a “relator”?

Okay. Spelling is one thing. Grammar, punctuation, language usage – all of these are important facets of effective and sometimes eloquent communication. When the words move from page to lips, there is one more VERY important component – pronunciation. And today it is the topic emerging from my frustration!

I confess. I am an HGTV junkie. Since I would love to buy a new house myself, I revel vicariously in House Hunters, even House Hunters International, although I would never consider leaving my country to live elsewhere. HGTV has a wide variety of professionals gracing its programs. Designers, builders, contractors, subcontractors, agents and brokers all cross the HGTV stage to our TV screens. These people, and the announcers who promote them, are supposed to be professionals. Yet, the recent promo for some sort of competition begins dramatically with these words: “Twelve relators….”

Huh? What the heck is a relator? I haven’t a clue, but I think the HGTV pros should.

Of course I am kidding about not having a clue. I know very well what a “relator” is. It is the VERY common, and VERY annoying mispronunciation of “Realtor”, the title given to real estate professionals who belong to the National Association of Realtors. I used to be one, so I can attest to the fact that at least 90% of people mispronounce this title, including many who hold it!

This grates on my nerves. What is so difficult about this word? It begins with “real”, just like “real estate”. Duh. It isn’t “rela” estate, is it?

Try it. Practice. “Real – tor”. There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

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What our language says about us and our world

English is our primary language in the United States. (Some among us wish it were our official language, but we’ll save that for another post.) It is a magnificent language, rich in its variety and vital in its continual expansion. As The Word Cop, I may decry some aspects of that expansion, but I still applaud the ability of the language to reflect the vitality and progress of the people who use it.

The process of change has certainly accelerated lately. The development of new expressions, new combinations of old words, pregnant with new meaning continues apace. (Now there’s a word I don’t get to use every day! According to the American Heritage Dictionary, apace means “at a rapid pace; swiftly” or “In such a way or at such a speed as to keep up the requisite momentum; abreast.”)

I was struck by one new combination of words I heard from a commentator on a national news network. Commenting on the 90% tax rate legislation pending to address the perceived bonus abuses at AIG, the man referred to “vigilante taxation”. I wrote it down immediately so I wouldn’t forget it. I wish I had also written down the man’s name and I apologize for quoting him without attribution.

I love the expression! Very creative. I am not so sure I love what it says about us and our government right now.

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