Here in the midst of U.S. 1’s annual Women in Business issue, all 76 pages of it, is a little column that has nothing to do with women in business. In fact, to paraphrase Bob Dylan’s introduction to his song about the dead boxer Davey Moore at his 1964 Philharmonic Hall Halloween concert, this column pretty much has nothing to do with nothing.
1. I would love to see the legal papers filed by Merrill Lynch in the copyright case involving its plan to rename its asset management department from Merrill Lynch Investment Managers to Princeton Portfolio Research and Management. The university has protested, arguing that the name would “trade on the university’s reputation” and “exploit” its name.”
Not so, countered Merrill Lynch in a February 1 press release. “The rebranded entity has nothing to do with Princeton University. Merrill Lynch has no intention of using Princeton University’s name or reputation to support the brand.” Added a spokesman: “In terms of Princeton, the area is the thought center of our entire business. So the name is a natural fit.”
That’s funny. I offered essentially the same argument in a series of playful responses to the anything but playful New York lawyers hired by Merrill Lynch back in the 1990s to force this newspaper to cease and desist using the headline “Bullish on Fitness” in some materials we created to promote our annual Health and Fitness directory. We had stumbled onto the headline when we came across a guy at a gym wearing a Merrill Lynch T shirt. The photo of him lifting a set of barbells added up to “bullish on fitness” to us. The headlines was nothing much, but we thought it was, well, a natural fit.
But not to Merrill Lynch’s copyright firm. “Bullish” was their word, not ours, and we couldn’t use it. If Merrill Lynch and Princeton University fail to resolve their differences before May 1 (that’s when the name change is scheduled to take place), I will dig through the attic archives, in search of the correspondence. Someone at Princeton (the university, not the portfolio management firm) might have a bullish good time reading how Merrill argued the case back then.
2. The January 25 column about Andersen windows was nothing much, but we heard from more people than we would have predicted, all commenting on various negative indicators of customer service. My pet peeves were boom boxes blaring away on household repair projects, and automated phone systems. In the column I alluded to what I thought was an obscure blog, www.paulenglish.com/ivr, which provides the bypass codes to enable you to reach real people at hundreds of big companies with automated phone systems.
Obscure? Hardly. As I discovered later in Inc. magazine, Paul English, who runs a travel search engine called Kayak.com, has become a media darling for his effort, including an appearance on the Today show in December. The proponents of the most advanced automated systems, which employ “interactive voice response” to guide the human caller down the automated path, are fighting back. Inc. reported that one of the IVR developers bought a Google keyword so that a search for Paul English leads to an ad supporting IVR.
3. The February 1 column about the death of Jelani Manigault, the 24-year-old college student with emotional problems who ended up in his stocking feet wielding a kitchen knife in front of four Princeton Township police officers one cold winter night in 2003, got no less but no more response than the Andersen windows.
But that was the point of the column: That in the winter of 2002-’03, Princetonians were embroiled in a heated debate over whether or not to kill the deer that have invaded their lawns and gardens, and if so, how to kill them. Whether or not a mentally deranged young man could have been subdued more gracefully by four police officers just was not an item on the agenda. It ended up being nothing at all, and would still be nothing but for a lawsuit filed by the man who had been attacked by Manigault after he had been invited into his home while police were being summoned.
All I wanted to raise in that column was a little irony about how animals sometimes get treated better than people. But now I will ask another question: Would it make a difference now if you knew the young man with the knife was black? And would it have made a difference then if the young man wielding the knife had not been black but had been white, maybe somebody’s son from that affluent neighborhood, suddenly gone berserk with drugs and alcohol? If it had been your blue-eyed son or mine, how would you or I have wanted the police to bring the incident to a conclusion?
Bob Dylan’s lament about the death of Davey Moore in a featherweight boxing match in 1963 comes to mind: “Who killed Davey Moore, why, and what’s the reason for?” In the song Dylan keeps asking the question, but no one takes responsibility and no one’s to blame.
Who killed Jelani Manigault, why and what’s the reason for? Not us, said the Township cops. We just had to bust his chops. It wasn’t us who made him fall. No you can’t blame us at all.
And not me, said the column writer, pounding print in his old typewriter. It wasn’t me that made him fall. No, you can’t blame me at all.