Sunday, October 10, 2010

Opinion: Bunkie monkeys

from Business Review, May 22-28, 2003

People believe what they want to believe. Apparently.
Two weeks ago, as part of my pre-nuptial agreement, I accompanied my wife on our annual visit to her parents in northern Louisiana. While we were there, her brother-in-law told us about how he plays the piano on weekends at the Bailey Hotel in Bunkie.
Hold on a minute, I said. Bunkie? Is Bunkie really the name of the town, I asked him. Bunkie, Louisiana? He insisted it was, situated about midway between Alexandria and Opelousas, in Avoyelles Parish. John found nothing funny in the notion of a town being called Bunkie.

The town was named Bunkie, he claimed, because the railroad official way back when left it up to his daughter. The child had wanted to call the new town Monkey, John said, but she was very young and it came out Bunkie.
I replied I was willing to believe many of the communities in north-central Louisiana were named by the railroad companies. Indeed I even could accept one RR bigwig thought it would be cute to have his offspring come up with a name.
However, I just couldn’t not travel all the way down that track, if you will, and believe someone misheard “monkey” as “bunkie.” They aren’t even spelled the same. And besiides, Bunkie is a very silly name for a town.
But John insisted the tale was true. There’s a plaque, he swore, in the center of Bunkie verifying its authenticity.
I’ve been thinking about this Bunkie-monkey confusion in light of the ongoing information — and more to the point, misinformation — bombarding us here in western Michigan over Pfizer Inc.’s restructuring and resultant job fallout in Kalamazoo County, in Holland and Ann Arbor and elsewhere across the country. And how people believe what they wish to believe.
The Ann Arbor News claims readers have reported hearing fired employees would be marched out of their lab by officers in “riot gear.” And I’ve talked with anxious workers who expressed the employees would be marched out of their laboratories by officers in “riot gear.” And I’ve talked with anxious workers who expressed their frustration because the Kalamazoo Gazette hadn’t reported exactly how many Pfizer people would get the ax. As if any decent newspaper worth its newsstand price would knowingly withhold such information ….
Not that not knowing the magic number for certain hasn’t stopped everyone. One television station came up with a figure early on — soemthing like 750 jobs lost, I think it was — and stuck by it. The Detroit Free Press as late as April 30 seemed to suggest we were all wrong — it actually was all going to be happy news. Michigan was to become the cuddly center of Pfizer’s universe.
But what’s really going on is this simple: The dailies, and of course we here at Business Direct Weekly, too, write what we know for sure, what can be confirmed. If Pfizer hasn’t released information on the complete, total number of jobs to be lost or moved, consider this: Maybe it doesn’t yet know.
Following this Occam’s razor approach (the best explanation of a phenomenon is the one that’s the simplest), such specific decisions aren’t being made in New York City. Corporate types took the macro view, and now the dirty work of calculating the micro results are being worked out locally,piece and piece, operational unit by operational unit.
The most important number for CEO Hank McKinnell and other Pfizer officials, after all, is this one: $2.5 billion. That’s how much it intends to eliminate over the next two ears in annual coasts worldwide.
As for how many western Michigan employees will lose their jobs, or be offered positions in La Jolla, Calif., or New Jersey or somewhere else …, well, look at it this way. When Pfizer decides, maybe that’s when they’ll tell us.
Then we’ll all know what to believe.

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