Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Viva Kazan!

     On May 5th, I watched Wallace Beery portraying Pancho Villa. It struck me as such an odd casting that I blogged about it:  Vive Cinco de Beery.  While I didn't mention it in my blog, I was thinking that a movie I had seen about Emiliano Zapata was much better.  As luck would have, TMC aired Viva Zapata on Sunday.  I was able to catch the tail end of it.  My memory served me well, it was a much better movie.
     First of all, the movie was written by John Steinbeck and directed by Elia Kazan.  A great writer providing the dialogue and story matched with a great director, a master of black and white films with a wonderful sense of drama and history.  To top it off, Marlon Brando was cast as Zapata and Anthony Quinn as Zapata's brother Eufemio.  Brando was so much more believable as Zapata compared with Wallace Beery's portrayal of Villa.  Alan Reed, an actor who I am not familiar with, played Villa in the Viva Zapata film.  He played a much better Pancho Villa than Beery.
     Steinbeck and Kazan did a masterful job portraying the plight of the poor in Mexico.  They showed the smolder and fervor that was Emiliano Zapata and how he championed their cause.  I would watch this movie again.  The betrayal and death of Zapata was so well done in the film that it one of the most gripping scenes in film in my humble view.  The movie was the first in which Kazan shot on location and strove to use strong local accents for the characters.
     Of course, I was familiar with John Steinbeck.  I read almost every book he wrote beginning in 9th Grade.  And most certainly, I was familiar with the work of Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn.  It wasn't until the early 2000s, that I paid attention to and began to admire the talents of Elia Kazan.  Well, better late than never.
     My Dad, always spoke highly of Kazan's film, America America.  In in the early 2000s, I got it in my head to finally watch the film and see what he found so intriguing.  Before watching it, I did an internet search and learned that a Greek fellow born in Istanbul in 1909 wrote and directed the film.  Elias Kazantoglu came to America and changed his name to Elia Kazan.  He went to Williams College and Yale.  He started off in New York City as an actor but gravitated to directing.  Beyond the films mentioned here, he directed On the Waterfront and A Street Car Named Desire.  His last film was made in 1976 but he lived on to the age of 94 and passed on in 2003.  
     I learned that he wrote a book that he turned into America America which I bought and read.  I liked the book.  Then I watched the movie.  I appreciated why the movie so impressed my Dad.  America America was the story of how Kazan's family left the waning days of the Ottoman Empire and came to America.  
It is a great movie and definitely one that each Armenian should see.  
     I also learned today that Elia Kazan also wrote an autobiography which is now on my reading list.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Walking by Hanson Hall

     One of the small pleasures about teaching at North Park University is walking past Hanson Hall.  As Hanson Hall is part of our school of music, I can often count on hearing some lovely music wafting out of the practice rooms.  It could as routine as someone just practicing scales.  It might be a soprano voice working on an aria, a violinist practicing a sonata, or a clarinet learning a symphonic piece.  I have heard trombones, trumpets, and oboes.  It is always a treat as our music students are quite talented. As I never think about it until I hear the music, it is always a pleasant surprise.
      I think of it as a culture break in my day.  Most of the time it is just a matter of seconds as I walk by.  Sometimes, when I hear something especially intriguing or lovely, I might stop listen even more. It is part of the campus ambiance.   But it will soon be no more.
     The University is planning a renovation of Hanson Hall that will last from June through the end of the year.  The renovation will include improved climate control, an elevator, and acoustic treatment of all rooms.  When I first heard about, it seemed like a great thing to do.  Then it struck me, acoustic treatment of all rooms means they were soundproofing the place.  After the renovation, I could still walk by but... there would be no more music to be heard.  Oh no.
     Well, the next time I saw Craig Johnson, the Dean of the School of Music.  I brought this up to him.  He confirmed my fears.  Yes, they were sound proofing all the practice rooms and performing spaces.  I would no longer hear beautiful music when I walked by Hanson Hall.  I made my case, tongue in cheek, for why I thought this was not a good idea.  As expected, I was not successful in changing any of the plans for Hanson Hall but he did understand.  Dr. Johnson went on to point out that a student practicing in one room could hear the students practicing in other rooms.  That could be distracting for sure.  He also said that if I could hear the students practicing outside the building, they could hear all the street nows.  Yes, I could see how this could also be distracting to the musicians.  There are a fair number of ambulances, sirens blaring, on Foster Avenue en route to Swedish Covenant Hospital a few blocks away.
     Hmmm... what might be done? What would be a win-win here?
     They should set the rooms up for recording.  Students could then listen to their practice sessions and have a better idea of what to work on to improve.  Given that they would have to mic each room, they could then provide a feed from a random room to a speaker system mounted on the outside of the building to keep the ambience going.
     Seems like a great and not terribly expensive idea to me.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Viva Cinco de Beery!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viva_Villa!#Reception
      It is near the end of the semester.  Monday is the last day of classes.  While being a professor is not a terribly stressful job, it is good on a Friday afternoon at this time of the year to come home, kick off my shoes, plop down in the easy chair, feet up, and peruse what might be on the television.  A scotch on ice might be in order, but not today.
     It is amazing how often, even with hundreds of channels, there is nothing on TV.  At this time of day, I tend to favor movies.  I seem to like shoot 'em ups, comedies, and then everything else.  I don't think I have ever watched a musical on purpose.  Today, it didn't really matter what I watched.  There was something therapeutic in the surfing and searching.  As Seinfeld once noted in his eponymic sitcom, I was not really watching TV, I was more interested in what else was on TV. 
      Like some kind of modern prospector, I was looking for some nugget of gold.  Harold and Kumar?  Interesting but not today.  The Road Warrior, the Mel Gibson original?  Almost.  Diary of a Mad Black Woman?  Mmmm... no.  I, Robot... oooh, science fiction with Will Smith.  I made a mental footnote of the channel and kept surfing.  Dr. Strangelove?  Bull Durham?  One of my all time favorites, Groudhog Day.  Nah,  nope, uh uh.  TCM, not surprisingly, was airing a black and white movie. Wallace Beery was starring.  This had possibilities.
     It was movie I was not familiar with.  Besides Treasure Island, how many Wallace Beery movies could I name anyway?  This one was called Viva Villa!  The film is a Hollywood, thus fictionalized, biography of the Mexican revolutionary Franciso "Pancho" Villa (1878 - 1923).  Villa joined the cause of Francisco Madero and helped him to overthrow of Porfirio Diaz.  Pancho Villa is a Mexican hero often being portrayed as being dedicated to bettering the existences of the peasants. 
     Wallace Beery?  Really?  He was a horrible Villa.  It was like he was portraying Wallace Beery pretending to be Pancho Villa.  His tried to speak in a Spanglish accent and, well, he sounded ridiculous.  Too much of his Missouri roots came through in his Mexican accent.  Everyone else in the film had much better accents.  Oddly, he wasn't much different as Long John Silver but was infinitely more believable to me.  It mattered not.  This MGM film was a success back in 1934 when it was made.  It was nominated for a few Academy Award categories but being up against classics like It Happened One Night, The Thin Man, and The Gay Divorcee, it did not win.  It grossed $1.9 million and a profit of $87,000.  These are minimal numbers by today's standards but solid performance the era in which it was made.  The crowds liked the movie and its star, Wallace Beery.
     I suppose TCM showed this film in honor of it being Cinco de Mayo.  Cinco de Mayo honors the Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862, in which the Mexican army defeated the French.  The holiday is bigger in the US than in Mexico and often confused with Mexican Independence Day here.  Mexican Independence Day is actually September 16.  It kind of all makes sense that TCM would show this caricature of Pancho Villa played by Wallace Beery for a Mexican holiday that we have blown out of proportion.  I was definitely entertained by it all.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

February 2017: Anniversary Letter

The lobby of The Dearborn Inn
     It has been 13 years for this letter. Until last two years, I was really good at writing a monthly letter. Let’s atribute it to a dedication to my teaching position that surprised even me… and that is a good thing.
     In 2017, I would really like to get back into the daily writing and monthly letter topic. Yes, you could call it a New Year’s resolution. Wish me luck.
    
     January 7: While this is my February letter, I began writing it on January 7. Here’s why.
     It is 7:40 am. The time doesn’t really matter, except that I may be like many other writers, simply more lucid in the early hours. The time doesn’t matter as much as the place does this morning.
     I am at the Dearbron Inn.
     I am in the lobbly of the Dearborn Inn sitting at the same desk where on July 20, 2002 I sat and wrote my daily page. I had started my daily writing of one page on June 25th of that same year. As written in several previous letters, I had the notion to chronicle my 50th year with insights, humor, and a transformation to a much better physical and mental human. I was 26 days into that regimen. The chronicle, which was to be a best selling book, is, in theory, still pending.
     I remember that morning because up until then, it was the most beautiful location in which I did my daily writing. Perviously, I had written at home, on the train to Manhattan, or in a coffee shop in Manhattan. Being in the lovely lobby of the Dearborn Inn that morning led me to want to write in beautiful lobbies of classic hotels. Sitting here today has me thinking the same thoughts. 
Desk in the lobby of The Dearborn Inn
     While I was handwriting my page that morning in July 2002, I remember thinking that I should always write in the lobby of a grand hotel when I could. At that time, I was travelling a lot for Colgate. I also travelled throughout Latin America, often stayin in Inter-Continental Hotels which fit the bill nicely. When I was not traveling, I was in Manhattan. Well… there were certainly grand hotels there including the Waldorf Astoria right across from my office and an Inter-Continental just two blocks away. It was a grand idea to write my life changing great books in the lobbies of great hotels.
     I never got the same feeling that I felt in the Dearborn Inn that July morning in 2002. Perhaps, it was the location in the heart of the Ford country. I mean Henry Ford was sternly gazing over my shoulder from his portrait that was above the fireplace. Maybe it was, a mere stone’s throw from Body and Electric Engineering where I had my first grown-up job.
     Alas… it really only brought me to this reflection. It is, however, a good reflection. It really matters not where one writes, it is the routine and relative comfort in the location. I love my home library. It s a great place to write. The coffee is probably even tastier and most certainly cheapter at home. The ambient noise, early in the morning, is more controllable at home. There was a lady vacuuming here when I first began. I hate vacuum cleaner noise if I am trying to write. Actually, I hate vacuum cleaner noise if I am doing anything other than doing the vacuuming myself.
     The desk? Well, the desk here at the Dearborn Inn is a lovely cherry Hepplewhite partner’s desk. It is an antique while my desk at home is nice, it is Bombay not antique. The biggest difference at home is that I, sadly, let the desk and workspace get cluttered. I have a resolution to prevent that from happening moving forward, let’s see how that resolution works. Here the desk only had a lamp on it. It was a pleasure to sit down, pull out my laptop, put on my reading glasses, and get to writing.
     What brought me to the Dearborn Inn that July Saturday morning in 2002?
     I was here, then, visiting my parents, as I was living in Connecticut. The AYF Junior Olympics was that weekend at Dearborn High School. I had arranged to meet my old and dear friend Bob Jones at the Inn for breakfast. He loved having what he called a “fat breakfast” at the Ten Eyck Room in the Dearborn Inn. I got up early and arrived an hour early for our 8 am breakfast. It was a sunny Detroit summer morning. I arrived early with the intent of writing, just as I am doing this morning. I found this desk by the window in the front of the hotel. I really enjoyed writing in the lobby of the Dearborn Inn. It is a beautiful lobby in a grand hotel.
     Knowing that the Dearborn Inn, now a Marriott hotel, underwent a major renovation, I was wondering if the lobby would look the same and if the desk would still be here. As the Inn is a classic hotel, Marriott updated things that needed updating, no doubt behind the scenes and in the rooms, but kept the essential spirit of the place the same. I was delighted to see the desk in the same location that I recalled. I was even more delighted to experience the same feel as I did fifteen years earlier. In fact given the passage of time, it was no mere feel, it was a magic I felt in that place and at that desk.
     What brings me here today?
     We are here for a wedding. Haig Berberian and Melanie Topouzian. Haig is from Boston and Melanie is from Detroit. It is really cold, like single digit lows. They are having their wedding on the same day as Melanie’s parents twenty something years ago. We are delighted to be here and be part of the festivities. It is the first time staying at the Dearborn Inn.
     It was a true nostalgic pleasure writing at that desk again.

     Robert K. Jones (August 29, 1937 – August 26, 2015): Beyond the Ford history of the Dearborn
Robert K. Jones

Inn and surroundings, I think it was more the memory of my friend, Bob Jones. He was on my mind that morning back in 2002. That is not a big revelation as I was meeting him for breakfast. Bob, or RK, as he was also called, was often on my mind. Thinking about him made for the magical feel of writing in that pleasant space back in 2002 and even more so now.     He was my best friend from my few years at Ford. We stayed in touch after I left Ford and even after I left the Detroit area. We did not call or write enough but truly Bob was often on my mind. When back in Detroit with some free time, I would try to get together with Bob. That Saturday in July 2002 was one of those few times.
      I met RK in the fall of 1976. I was working in the Warranty Analysis Department, my first full time grownup job, for only a few months. One morning my supervisor, Carlos Dominguez, came and told me that an engineer, Bob, was transferring into our department and the Carlos thought he was someone I should get to know and be friends with. I asked why he thought that. I was simply curious as to what was behind his suggestion. Carlos said it was because we were both smart, personable, and well-read.
     Carlos could not have been more correct. RK was the right person at the right time to help me develop a more balanced and worldly view. He embraced life and learning in a most charming, almost innocent yet deadly serious, way. He wrote, painted, thought, and was involved. He lived in and was dedicated to the City of Detroit. He never moved even though he could have. Bob loved his alma mater Wayne State University.
     Bob was a classic fellow. He always dressed Brooks Brothers both formally and what we now call business casual. He loved to write letters and always used a fine fountain pen and Crane stationary. Under his signature, which was always RK Jones, he always sketched a pair of wire rim glasses with round lenses. These were the only kind he ever wore.
     We had drifted apart, probably since 2010. By we, I mean I drifted apart. Bob became a lot more conservative in both politics and religion. He would genuinely contest my centrist bloggy bits on both fronts pointing out the flaws he saw in my logic and premises. I did not react well to such, I must admit. For some reason, I can handle criticism from just about anybody else. I could not handle it from RK. He used to challenge my thoughts and views more from the left. I think I was just confused by the shift in his change in perspective.
     He sent me a letter in August of 2015, just before he passed. I did not get that it was a good-bye letter. Because he did not specifically say it was. I did not respond. I only learned that he passed away in a Christmas card from a mutual friend. I felt horrible, an odd mix of stupid, sad, and empty.
     I know the lesson here. Keep in touch with those you value even if the context of the relation or friendship has changed a bit or maybe even a lot. It is a bitter lesson to learn once. I have been relearning this lesson a few times in the past few years. It is more important as I am at an age where people that I know, love, and value will be passing on with greater frequency.
     Writing most of this letter at The Dearborn Inn was even more special. I did have a “fat breakfast” in the Ten Eyck Room. I wished I could have had just one more with RK.

     George Orwell: In my anniversary letters, I often will quote another, generally someone from the pantheon of great writers. Thanks to the January 14th Wall Street Journal for providing this passage from George Orwell in a somewhat regular column, Notable and Quotable, in the Opinion pages. I am not sure how much of this applies to my beyond the first phrase, but Orwell could write.
All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed.
      It has been a pleasure writing these letters and the blog that grew out of it. I look forward to doing it more.
     Thanks to one and all for the great support and encouragement over these 13 years.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

January Letter #2: The Inauguration and the Day After

     OK.  It has been an amazing and crazy couple of days.  I might have even used the word daze.
     The polarization in this country is astounding to me.  I am not sure if will end in the foreseeable future.
     We inaugurated a new President on Friday.  His supporters are exuberant that he is in office.  The very next day, the opposition, led and organized by women, staged the largest protests ever in the history of this country.  I have heard both sides from people I know and like.  What I have heard is mostly ranting.  I can actually relate to parts of what both sides are saying.
     We are in for a most interesting next few years.  It will probably get very ugly and very tense.  Unless the President can demonstrate that he indeed intends to serve everyone as stated in his inaugural address, I can see that Democrats will probably make inroads in the 2018 elections and he may have to govern his last two years without the majority in one or both houses of Congress.  Mandates seem to have a lifespan of two years.
     We are divided people.  The divisions are along the overlapping lines of:
  • Liberal and Conservative
  • Rural and Urban
  • Coastal and Inland States
     This is further confounded with various religious beliefs and racial subsets.
     On one side, the dissatisfaction of those feeling disenfranchised has been building for years to the point where a guy, no one expected to last the first two caucuses, was elected president to the surprise of almost every professional politician and news analyst.  Upon his election, it was apparent immediately and exemplified yesterday that his opposition were going to show their dissatisfaction without any gradual build-up at all.  They started at 100% dissatisfaction.
     He won the Electoral College but lost the overall popular vote by the widest margin ever for someone who won the election.  This is partially why, folks that didn't vote for him, are so upset.
     This is the point in such an essay, where, if I were a better historian and more clever writer, I might say something like the following.  You are all assuming that this is the United States in the year 2017 that I am talking but it is really Rome (or fill in another empire) just 20 years before it collapsed.  Nah, nothing like that.  I am talking about these United States and these most interesting times.
     I am probably one of the few citizens that would use the word interesting to describe these times.  Some, who proudly have adopted the name Deplorables, are giddy and pleased today.  Others, men and women, who have with the same fervor and have adopted the monicker Nasty Woman, are as appalled, sad, angry, and determined as the Deplorable are giddy.
     Me, I am sitting here feeling very Rodney Kingish.  I am part of the some silent minority that wishes we could "All just get along."  I applaud differences of opinion and ideas of what course of action we should or should not take.  Debate is a great thing.  It maximizes the probability of making the right decisions and minimizes the probability of unintended consequences.  The debate can and sometimes should be lively and heated.  But, they shouldn't breed hatred and disgust which both sides seem to have for the other right now.
     Not only do I feel like Rodney King, who was the butt of jokes when he made his famous statement, I also feel like one of the Three Stooges with arms spread out trying to hold back two men in a fist fight.  The Stooge, who I want to say was Shemp, says "Gentlemen, gentlemen..."  only to be punched by both.  We are in a "if you are not with me you agin me" era.  We are in the times where compromise means that "If I were to agree with you, then we would both be wrong."
     Trump?  I am still astonished that he was elected.  But he was and he is now our President.  He seems to be moving quickly with his agenda that is not surprisingly further irritating those that are not pleased with his having been elected.  White House websites about inclusion are reported to have been shut down.  The day after the inauguration, Trump and his press secretary both berated the press for reporting that the numbers at the Trump inauguration were so much less than at Obama's.
     My Uncle sent me a youtube: Best Compilation- People Who Laughed at TRUMP...and said he would never be President.  I relate to this video simply because I thought his running was a joke and would add a degree of levity to the Republican primaries.  I was as surprised as anyone that he started winning and then kept winning.  Then, when he secured the nomination, I thought he would never beat Hilary.  The more boorish things he said and did, I felt even more strongly that Hilary was a shoe-in.  Boy oh boy, was I wrong.  Were a lot of people wrong.

     Having said this, he defied all the pundits and defied all of the odds.  Is it possible that he will, in fact, Make America Great Again.  Will he build that wall?  Will he bring back jobs?  Will he beat ISIS?  And on top of this, will he in the process become President of all the people?  I know likely readers of this post, who when they get to this paragraph, will be formulating a no holds barred negative response to me seemingly moronic suggestions.  Well, I do not think he will be nearly as successful as he brags about.  The checks, balances, and realities of actually governing will make that hard to do.  But on the other hand, as none, nada, zip, of my predictions about him have been correct, I have to be open to the possibility that I may well be wrong again.  Let me use, again, two of the words from the first line of this piece.  Amazing.  Crazy.
ABC News Photo showing inaugural crowds for
for Obama on the left and Trump on the right
     He and his people keep shooting themselves in the foot (and missing?).  Today, Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, was on Meet the Press.  She was addressing the aforementioned reports in the press that Obamas inaugurations drew more attendees than Trumps.  The White House Press Secretary said that it was indeed the other way around.  Todd Carter asked why, on his first official facing of the press, did Sean Spicer lie?  Kellyanne's response was, "your saying it is a falsehood... the press secretary gave alternative facts."  Alternative facts? Oh my.  Here we go.  Watch this the interview here.  One thing I think we can say about Trump is that he will not zig and zag for the sole purpose in improving his approval ratings.
     The opposition?  Well, they are certainly upset.  They are upset to the point where they are exercising their rights for free speech and public assembly.  I can see vigorous organization over the Trump term to express various viewpoints and more likely to get head starts on the 2018 and 2020 elections to get some elected power back.  The estimates of attendees of the Women's March were hundreds of thousands with no reported incidents of violence or destruction i.e. no arrests.  It was peaceful and purposeful.  More people I knew posted selfies of their participation than any other events of this kind I can possibly think of.  It is unprecedented and seemingly grass roots.  The tone has been set for moving forward.
     Will this antithesis lead to synthesis and positive direction for the country?  Will Trump allow his cabinet to have different points of view as he said?  Will Republican Senators and Representatives challenge executive policy and initiatives that their constituents do not agree with?  Will Trump continue to tweet whatever comes to his mind about anybody or will he just stop?  Will the polarization continue to intensify or will we somehow come together for the greater good?
      With all my hope that we can just get along and that Trump becomes the unifying leader he has been saying he will be, I am not optimistic on either count.  That is a bit sad.  I will follow the advice of the opposition and voice my opinion to my Representative and Senators.  All three are Democrats if that matters.  I probably won't follow either party line.  I would be doing the same thing if Hilary Clinton got elected.  As of right now, criticizing Trump is considerably easier than criticizing the opposition.  But, as stated above, I have underestimated him at every turn so far.
      Here are some tidbits, mostly from Facebook, from both camps that may or may not shed light, and perhaps a bit of comedy, on this new USA we find ourselves in:
  • From my friend Nvair:  What comes next, you ask?  November 6, 2018!  That's the date in which 33 senate seats, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and 39 state and territorial governorships (and numerous state and local elections) will be up for re-election.  If people are not happier, the "mandate advantage" could easily disappear. 
  • Tom posted: Armenians know all too well what #AlternativeFacts are and they are not truths. Armenians stand up!!
  • The New York Times posted an article with photos and facts, if you have not already had your fill: Women’s March Highlights as Huge Crowds Protest Trump: ‘We’re Not Going Away’.  Agree or disagree the photos and reported turn out are most impressive.
  • There were postings on Facebooks regarding the attacks on Trump's son Barron.  My view?  Leave him out of it as Obama's daughters were, I thought, respectfully treated.  I hated the way Chelsea Clinton and Amy Carter were treated. 
  • Saturday Night Live was hosted by Aziz Ansari last night.  He had some good ones.
    • "Yesterday, Trump was inaugurated.  Today and entire gender protested against him."
    • On racists spouting off with greater frequency since the election, "You have to go back to pretending... we never realized how much effort you were putting into pretending.  You have to go back to pretending."
  • I saw several posts, "I hope Donald Trump is a good President.  Wanting him to fail is like wanting the pilot to crash plane we are all on."
  • My sister Nancy posted a "corrected" post of Betsy DeVos who will be the Secretary of
    Eduction.
  • I was happy to see a positive tweet from Trump on the protests.  There were also tweets taking a few shots.
  • My colleague and friend, Ann, who teaches accounting forward a wonderful post setting a performance baseline for the Trump Administration.
    • Inauguration Day 1/20/2017
    • Gasoline $2.32/gallon per the AAA
    • Dow 19,827
    • NASDAQ 5555.33
    • Unemployment 4.7%
    • (I might have added inflation and average mortgage rates).
     Let's see what unfolds.  Fasten your seat belts.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

January 2017: The Transition of Power

     It is Martin Luther King Day. I attended a celebration today at North Park University. As I expected, the transfer of power from President Obama to President Trump influenced the speeches almost overshadowing remembering the man in whose honor we gathered. Given the contention the election has left in its wake and the extreme polarization in this country, this is no surprise.

     President Obama: Eight years ago, I voted for Barack Obama. I used Ronald Reagan’s yardstick from the 1980 Presidential Elections to make my choice. Reagan asked, “Ask yourself, 'Are you better off now than you were four years ago? '” I even modified it and asked as second question, “Is the country better off now than it was four years ago?”
     The answer to both these questions was a resounding “No!”
     We were at the beginning of a very serious economic crisis that would eventually be called The Great Recession. The economy began to quickly unravel in September of 2008. It quickly became a campaign issue. For me it was the only campaign issue. I was let go from my job at this very time. It was bad timing indeed. I have never recovered economically and I should be in the middle of the so-called disenfranchised segment of the population.
     I probably would have voted for the esteemed John McCain. I was in the most likely
The Onion still has a sense of humor.
demographic to vote for him. I did not. The main reason I did not was because McCain said there was nothing wrong with the economy. What?! Really!? He lost my vote then and there. Having Sarah Palin as his running mate did not help his case either.
     It was the first time I had voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate. He seemed saavy and was cleary very smart. I thought he woud be able to lead us through this quagmire.
     Note that I have, otherwise, voted for Democrats for House, Senate, and State offices. I believe in voting for the best person and not straight party tickets. I am kind of a centrist. I basically follow my cousin Davids tenet of being a fiscal conservative and wanting social justice.
     Obama was, of course, elected. I have oft used the analogy that he was given the keys to the that was going 150 mph a mere 100 yards from a brick wall. Yes, he was elected the President, the first black… er… half black President of these United States. Unfortunately, for those hoping for the Change they could Believe in, the only thing he and his administration could really focus on was the economic disaster he inherited. Sure, they had a mandate with power in both the House and Senate. Nonetheless, the economy was broken. It had to be fixed. That was Job 1. There were hard decisions to be made. In a crisis of that proportion, the crisis sets the agenda and action plan.
     His speeches in accepting the nomination, his victory speech on election night, and his inaugural address were excellent in my opinion. Barack Obama is a great speaker. He makes sense when he speaks. He is also a great interviewee. This past Sunday he had his last interview as President on 60 Minutes. He was authentic and a gentleman. He did not take the bait.
     I was never an Obama basher. I voted for him in 2008. In 2012, I used the same Reagan yardstick. The country was most definitely better off than it was in 2008. I did not feel I was, so after a bit of grappling I decided to go for Romney knowing it was going for a losing effort.

     I remember Obama’s first inauguration. It was a really cold January day. I am not in the habit of watching the inaugurations live. But this was an historic day for the country. Imagine this country electing a half white half black, who everyone just calls black, President. It was nothing any European country has ever done. So I tuned into the NPR coverage of the inauguration. Yes, I listened to it on the radio as I was off to Newell Rubbermaid’s offices in Oak Brook to sign my termination papers and review my severance etc. It all kind of tied in together in my little mind.

     President Trump: It is now the night before the inauguration.
     Like it or not, Donald Trump will be the 45th Presdient of the United States.
     I did not vote for Trump. I did not vote for Clinton either. I was dismayed that this great country this was the best we had to offer.
     I did vote. Yes… I did vote for Al Leppo. People say I wasted my vote. Maybe. But, there was no way Hilary Clinton was going to lose the State of Illinois. I could have voted for Donald Duck for all the difference it would have made.
     I am not a huge Hilary fan. I could not vote for her. Neither could I vote for Trump given the bombastic things he said and did during the campaign. I could only justify voting for one as it was a vote against the other. Forget it. I voted for the Libertarian.
     Clearly, everyone but Trump underestimated the sheer number of disenfranchised folks out there. When these folks applied the Ronald Reagan yardstick, they were not better off than they were four or eight years ago. Hilary was nowhere close to being the answer. She was the political establishment, the very folks the disenfranchised blamed, right or wrong, for the dimished country we became post recession.
     Along comes The Donald. He runs an unorthodox campaign promising to make America great again and… Voila! We have a populist candidate who defied all odds and got elected. The contrasts with Obama are striking and yet this is the transistion we are making this week. You cannot make this up.

     Term Limits and The Electoral College: There was talk this week that Obama would have been elected to a third term but for our term limits. Term limits are indeed a two edged sword. You hate them when a guy you love has to leave office, but you love term limits when a guy you loathe has to leave.
     The same kind of rationale applies to the Electoral College. Trump is on of the few Presidents to not win the majority of the vote. People are quite OK with the Electoral College when things go their way, and hate it, as the anti-Trump does in this past election. Hence, the feeling that “He is not my President.”

     He is not my President Movement: There will be people protesting in the inauguaration. There was a huge rally this evening, the night before the inauguration, in front of the Trump Plaza in NYC with an impressive list of NY celebrities and politicos speaking. It is all over the news. The protests at the inauguration itself might be unprecedented. People are upset to the core that The Donald got elected. They do not like it and are collectively going to express their displeasure. On Saturday, there is another huge Women’s March planned in several cities simulataneously which is probably more anti-Trump than anything else. I know several folks in Chicago who will be head downtown on Saturday to March. Trump has to be seeing all this. I wonder how he views this fervor.
     Trump has the lowest approval ratings for an incoming President since Abraham Lincoln. I guess Lincoln’s oppostion took exception to his anti-slavery stance. So, the anti-Trump crowd quote the low ratings and the Make America Great Again crowd compare him to Lincoln.
     Sixty Democrats are not attending the inauguration. I heard a talking head congressman today on NPR whose name or state I do not recall. He justification for not going is all the things Trump said and did during the campaign that would have destroyed the campaign of any other candidate. Merryl Streep gave the same kind of message when she received her lifetime achievement award from the Golden Globes. While her words are definitely old news today, the night before the inauguration, they were right on.

But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. ~ New York Times
     Streep was refering to his imitiation of a handicapped reporter that happened to anger him. Then he denied what he did. In my book, that is not what I want our President to behave. He talked about the election as being rigged but when the only rigging appears to have come from Russian hackers to his favor, he is mum about it. He disparged a beauty queen in a twitter rampage. I do not approve of this kind of behavior from a candidate running for President let alone a Presdient elect. It discredits the office, the country, and our people. Obama never would have done that neither would have Reagan or Clinton. It is just unacceptable behavior.
     I am not against his tweeting per se. I am against the President of the United States criticizing people, well, like Meryl Streep, in an open forum like twitter.
     There was a quote floating around on Facebook. It was from Theodore Roosevelt.

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else." ~ Theodore Roosevelt Association
     I respect the Office of the President and whoever is elected. I may or may not agree with their policies but I respect the person and the office. I also believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and agree with the 26th President and criticize the President using our very precious right of free speech. This is the only way democracy can work.
     Many folks were not happy with the election Barack Obama in 2008. I heard several people say that “he was not their President.” Many more folks, I believe, shared that sentiment but called his early actions and policies trying to stem the Great Recession as socialist. Not quite communist, but most definitely a socialist. In his second term, most criticism was that he was the most ineffective President ever and comments along those lines. There was certainly a certainly a racial component to this. We can debate the degree of such, but it was most certainly there.
     Black folks looked at the election of Barack Obama a positive sign. It was a sign of hope as in the campaign slogan. With the election of Trump, many feel like the hope was taken away. The world was so impressed that we elected a black President, he even got a Nobel Peace Prize before he did anything.

     Polarization: Donald Trump did tweet something earlier today.


     I agree with Franklin Graham. We are polarized in the contry. I believe the main axes are race, disenfranchised or not, and liberal vs conservative. Most people can’t and don’t think in several factors (using the language of Design of Experiments from Statistics). People get even more confused when there is interaction between these factors. It has stifled the effectiveness of the our government since Obama was elected.
     Trump, however, is not helping. I am allowing a glimmer of hope to see if the office grounds him and once in office he can demonstrate to be a President of all the people.
     People love Trump or hate him. I am a centrist. I try to see the whole picture or use this all as a rationale to be wishy-washy (folks do criticize me for this). Obama has a madate when he was elected in 2008. Trump and his supporters believe they have a mandate with majorities in the House and Senate. The voting public, however, changed their minds and started electing Republicans as early as the 2010 midterm elections eroding Obama’s so-called mandate. I fully believe that the same will happen to Trump if people are not seeing what they want to see in 2018.

     Hrant Dink: This section has nothing to with Trump or Obama except their unwillingness to call what happened a Genocide. Nonetheless, I am compelled to make a few comments.
     Today is January 19, 2017. It is the ten year anniversary of his assassination of Hrant Dink outside the offices of the Agos newspaper. As of the time of this writing, there were no stories of this in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.
     I was interested to see, post coup, if there were protests in Istanbul. Armenpress from Yerevan had a good article on commemorations in Yerevan and Istanbul including videos. I was a bit surprised to the number of protesters in Istanbul. It was nothing like the numbers 10 years ago, but it was something.
     To me, Hrant Dink is and should be honored as a Martin Luther King of Turkey. With Erdogan’s clamp down after the “coup,” this is not happening any time soon.
     Another blog post on Hrant Dink:  Five Years Later



Sunday, January 1, 2017

March 2016: A Potpourri

     Preface: OK, it is January 1, 2017. I am just posting my March 2016 Letter. I really should have and could have posted it in March especially when I realized, upon reviewing it this morning, that it was practically completed. But, I didn’t and hereby resolve, with all the good intentions that underlie our new year’s resolutions, to be on top of my daily writing and monthly letters in 2017.
     This letter is mostly about a trip to Costa Rica back in March. But, being a Potpourri, I also wrote about the US elections, actually the primaries back then, and the passing of Patty Duke.
     It is kind of a fitting end to 2016 which is a year that bothered a lot of people. Many were upset by the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and this is a central part of their condemnation for 2016. While I wish him well and hope that he will make a positive difference, I stand by what I wrote back in March.
     Another reason some folks were glad to see 2016 end is because of number of celebrities that passed last year. Patty Duke was one of them. She passed away in March. With the passing of David Bowie, Prince, and the very sad mother/daughter passing of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, I am not sure many remember that it was the year in which Patty Duke passed as well. I had reflected, in my own This Side of Fifty way, on my admiration for the actress.

     Cost Rica: At one point in the twelve years of e-letters that evolved into a blog, I thought about dedicating certain month’s letter to certain themes. February was always the anniversary letter and I tried to make June the Health and Fitness letter. My second letter, March 2004, was a Letter from Buenos Aires. Vive! Mexico was the March 2005 letter. I thought to make each March letter a travel letter. That did not happen as planned.
     This month, however, I did go to Costa Rica and I am delighted to report a bit on that wonderful trip to a fantastic country.
     It was my first trip out of the country since 2010 when I went to Istanbul. It was my first trip to Latin America since 2007. I was excited for the opportunity to return one of the places I had spent so much time.
     This trip was organized by the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University. Every year, during spring break, we organize a trip to country to learn how local businesses and nonprofits operate, learn about their challenges, and to broaden our perspective. There is, of course, ample time for tourism. The size of the contingency is somewhere between 8 -12 and is made up of graduate students, alumni, professors, and friends. In recent years, they have visiting Vietnam, Turkey, South Africa, Greece, and Argentina.
     Our Dean, Wes Lindahl, organizes these trips and always chooses a co-director to assist with organizing the site visits and other logistics. I was fortunate to get that responsibility this year because of my experience and connections in Costa Rica. I was excited for the opportunity and looking forward to connecting with some old friends.
     There is something special about Colgate people. There is a bond that is different than other companies I have worked for. Even if we have not been in touch for years, it doesn’t matter. One email and it was like we have not skipped a beat. This was the case with four wonderful people.
     Jim Gerchow is one of my oldest Colgate friends. We met on my second overseas trip for the company to Venezuela. It was a different and more prosperous country back then in 1991. Jim was the manufacturing director at
Jim Gerchow is standing on the left
the plant in Valencia. We hit it off from the moment we met and our friendship has grown ever since. When he was named Vice-President of Manufacturing for the Africa and Middle East Division, he relocated to Weston, CT and lived about five house away from us.
     When I called Jim, he immediately responded, like I knew he would. He offered for us to visit his brother in-laws company, Financiera Desyfin, for which he was a board member. He also arranged for us to visit the Federación de Organizaciones Sociales which is basically the organization of nonprofits and social enterprises in Costa Rica.
      On top of this, Jim and lovely wife Vicky opened up their home to our group. It was a most lovely evening of food, drink, and conversation at their magnificent home, right out of Architectural Digest, overlooking San Jose. It was so warm and generous of them to do this.
     Oswaldo Arias is another great Colgate friend. He even was a direct report of mine for a few years when we were working on improving the performance of SAP in Latin America. While he reported to me, working with Oswaldo was truly more like a partnership. Oswaldo was one of the best IT folks I have ever worked with. He is brilliant but with the calmest demeanor you could imagine which came in handy when he was explaining the intricacies of data structures to me. He is as expert as anyone in SAP Order to Cash that I know. He currently works for HB Fuller in their Shared Services Center for Latin America. He hosted us there and gave a great overview of what a shared service organization is and what they are capable of.
     Oswaldo, who always does his homework, realized it was the 125th Anniversary of North Park University. So, amid the lavish buffet he arranged for
Oswaldo is third from the left
us, he provided birthday cakes for our university.
     Ralph Dias is a great friend. He never worked at Colgate but rather with us, but he was an essential part of our global logistics team. Ralph is the account executive from DHL assigned to Colgate. Ralph is an excellent man and a good friend. When I wrote him, he arranged a visit to DHL Costa Rica where, Arnoldo Carranza, another old friend is General Manager. Arnoldo was gracious in hosting our group and gave a tremendous overview of running a 3rd party logistics company in Central America.
Arnoldo is the second from left in the back

     Maria Royo is simply amazing. I had neither seen nor talked to her since 1997 or maybe even earlier than that. In January, we connected on Facebook. It was good to be in touch her again. She was always a bundle of energy in managing IT for Colgate Costa Rica. In fact, two of her team, Oswaldo Arias and Gerardo Cambronero moved on to global IT positions in Colgate. A few weeks later I got the Costa Rica assignment. When I wrote and told her about this trip, she was all over it making wonderful suggestions of companies and organizations to visit. She organized three visits for us.
     Unfortunately, I did not get to see Maria on this trip. Maria runs her own IT consulting firm and also is the President of GS1 in Costa Rica. We were scheduled to spend half of our first day in country visiting a nonprofit she had arranged for us to visit and then end up at her offices for an overview of GS1. Sadly, our connection in Dallas was tight, our flight from Chicago to Dallas was delayed, and we missed our first day. Maria was unavailable due to business commitments and I am sorry I did not get to see her.
     Juliana Holguin is the current General Manager of Colgate Costa Rica. I got to know Juliana, who started in Colgate Colombia, when she was a Marketing
Juliana Holquin
Manager in New York. She sat right outside my office and we became good friends. We were not able to connect before we traveled but we were able to have breakfast one morning and reconnect.
     The trip was a great blend of the old and the new. While it was a great pleasure to reconnect with old friends, it was just as special to make new friends of students and alumni on this trip as well as to get to know valued colleagues better. It was great to spend a lot more time than normal with our Dean, Wes, his wife Deb, and Dr. Pier Rogers who is the Director of our Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management. You get to know folks better on such a trip.
     I appreciated the younger crowd of Max Sluiter, Rhianna Giberson, Cheryl Devenny, Heidi Bush, and Fran Caan who were gracious in allowing me to hang out with them and remember when I was their age. We were also joined by Maree Bullock and Zofia Lutnicka two friends of North Park and now friends of mine.
Maria Royo

     Life is constantly changing. People come in and out of our lives. When it is all said and done, no matter what one’s accomplishments are, it is truly the people that we meet and work with that make all the difference. The people make for the best and most lasting memories. It was a great pleasure in to reconnect with wonderful Colgate and DHL folks and have them meet and mingle with the folks I currently work with.

     Is this the best we can do? 2016 is a Presidential Election year in the US. Maybe it is just a function of age but I find myself asking a very simple question, over and over again: “Is this the best we can do?”
     The Democrats are offering up Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The Republicans seem to only have Donald Trump much to the dismay of the party leadership. Does this become a year, where as a voter, I am picking the best of the worst? Is it a year where my vote for one candidate is really a vote against the other candidate? Both of these are, how do they say it? Ah yes. Lame.
     In my opinion, it is a sad state of affairs.
     Let’s get this out of the way. I do admire one of the candidates: Bernie Sanders. Yes, I admire Bernie Sanders. Why? How? It is not for his political views. He is a bit too socialist for me and I say this as I get a bit pinker with each passing year. I am just too much of a free market and fiscal soundness person to ever be a socialist. But, I admire Bernie for one reason. It is clear what he stands for. It is clear what he believes. It is clear what he will try to advance if he defies the odds and ever becomes President. Bernie Sanders will not change his views because of any poll results just to get more votes. In this day and age, this is a refreshing trait in American presidential politics.
     Hilary on the other really wants to become the president. I believe she will say anything to get elected. She will change any view she has if poll results suggest she will gain more votes in a significant demographic.
     The Republicans? Oh my. The Donald. Really. When I saw he was running early on, I figured he wouldn’t even make it to the Iowa Caucuses. Boy, did I ever figure wrong. He can say any ludicrous thing he wants contradicting other ludicrous things he may have said and people are eating it up.
      I think people are eating up what Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are selling because there are significant segments in this country who are disenfranchised. We have most definitely come out of the Great Recession a different country. Many of the Trump supporters are simply no longer working or underemployed. These folks were off the radar screen of the mainstream of both parties and Trump, simply, resonates with them.
     Sanders also resonates with a different group of disenfranchised Americans. He has great appeal with the youth who do not see the career and lifestyle prospects that other generations enjoyed.
     When I think of this election and the dearth of choices, I am wondering if we are in the era of 1837 – 1861 when we had a rash of Presidents between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln who, to me, seem entirely inconsequential.
Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841
William Henry Harrison, 1841
John Tyler, 1841-1845
James Knox Polk, 1845-1849
Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850
Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853
Franklin Pierce, 1853-1857
James Buchanan, 1857-1861
     I am certain that these presidents had some attributes. Perhaps, if I were to read up on this, I might even change my opinion. But, none of them were really covered or emphasized in any US History course I ever took.
     So, I think we are electing another Millard Filmore or Franklin Pierce. In this great nation of 320 million people, is this the best we can do?

     Patty Duke (1946 – 2016): Patty Duke passed away on March 29. She was 69 years old. She was a great child star back in the day. I had not heard much about her in recent years, but she was highly regarded mostly for her amazing role as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.
Patty and Cathy
She even won an Academy Award for her role in the 1962 film.
     I knew that she was married to John Astin. I knew that Sean Astin, of Rudy and Lord of the Rings fame, was her son. Until I read her obituary and biography, I did not know of her troubled and hard childhood. It seems that is often how it is for child stars. I did not know that she suffered from bipolar disorder and became an advocate for mental health causes. I also did not know that John Astin was Sean’s adoptive father not his biological one.
     I write about Patty Duke because I liked and watched here TV show: The Patty Duke Show. It aired 104 episodes from 1963 – 1996. The show was about two teenage girls, cousins in fact, who looked remarkably alike. Patty Lane was a typical American teenager living with her family in Brooklyn Heights. Wikipedia called her chatty and rambunctious. Cathy Rowan Lane was the cousin from Scotland who came to live with her cousin. Cathy was kind of the flip side of Patty. Wikipedia referred to her as “sophisticated, brainy, and demure.”
     Being only ten years old, I watched and liked the show because I was kinda sorta attracted to Cathy. I liked that she was sophisticated and brainy. I did not really like the Patty character as much… she made me nervous.
     I thought they were two different people played by two different actresses. I felt foolish when I realized Patty Duke played both characters. Now, in hearing of her passing, I smiled on my naiveté. It was certainly a testimony to her acting skills…

Saturday, December 31, 2016

October 2016: Three Writers


      Bob Dylan: The 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to an American. The singer/songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the honor for "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition" per nobelprize.org
     Upon hearing this news I immediately thought of a poster my good friend, Jack Hachigian, had hanging in his Michigan State dorm room. The poster was titled The Roots of Rock & Roll. The graphic was a majestic tree. The roots were all the folk and blues artistics. The branches were all the classic rock bands. I want to say that Bob Dylan was the trunk of the tree. Jack was the only one I knew that had that poster. I was impressed by the poster and also impressed that he bought it and proudly displayed it.
     In reflecting back on the poster, I remember not being sure if giving Dylan that much credit was warranted. I did, however, try to understand the point of view. I listened to Dylan more seriously and remember being more impressed with his lyrics and the number of songs he had written many of which, like “Mr. Tambourine Man,| I thought were written by others. Bob Dylan was truly a gifted songwriter. I got to appreciate him more though I never fully bought into the premise of the poster.
     I tried to find the poster via a Google search to no avail. I was interested to see my reaction to it forty years laters. Perhaps, it is better left to memory.
     What did I know? The Nobel Prize people awarded Dylan the most presitigious prizes in literature. This time around, I was more awed than worried whether he was deserving.
     The awe comes from fact that Dylan is not a typical prize winning author. All the previous Nobel Prize winners wrote books. Bob Dylan writes songs. I was in awe that the committee thought out of the box and honored Dylan’s body of work in this way.
     There was a time when poetry and songwrting were one in the same. I don’t authoritatively know this. I know it anecdotally or maybe even in passing. I bounced this notion off of an English professor colleague and she said I was correct. It makes sense as poetry until the introduction of free verse was rhythmic and rhyming. That is exactly what most song lyrics are.
     I always appreciated Bob Dylan. I was a child of the 1960s and my introduction to pop music, everything was called Rock n’Roll back then, was first the Beatles and then a variety of different artists and groups including Bob Dylan. Of course, I liked Bob Dylan without conciously realizing the greatest impact was from his lyrics/poetry. One could argue that that foundational anthem of the antiwar movement was Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
      When I was in college, my friend Peter Ziedas introducted me to Leonard Cohen. Upon the very first listen of the first song, Bird on a Wire, I was amazed, fascinated, and mesmerized by his words and delivery. I think Leonard is the better poet. Certainly Dylan had more commercial success and social impact. If they had given the Nobel Prize to Leonard Cohen, I may have been less surprised but I may have also been less excited.
     They may have also given the prize to Lennon and McCartney. One could argue that they wrote some high quality lyrics and had an profound impact on the culture. In this case I would have been both less surprised and less impressed.
     I cannot imagine, well for that matter no one can imagine, the Nobel Committee ever wondering how I might react to any of their decisions.
     Awarding the prize to Dylan may have an influence on how we define literature and poetry moving forward. Poetry used to be an art form accessible to the masses. One could argue that the epic works Homer’s works up through Longfellow were the Netflix series of their times. Common folk read them and were entertained. Longfellow like Dylan was quite popular and perhaps even more of a commercial success. In Longfellow & the Day is Done, I noted that:
Calling him a celebrity was no understatement. Longfellow was so popular, he was getting $3,000 per poem at his peak. Getting $3,000 per poem today would make any poet happy. To put into perspective just how popular Longfellow was, I found an on-line inflation calculator that converter $3,000 in 1874 dollars into $58,300 in 2009 dollars. That is absolutely an impressive statistic.
     In recent years, poetry has become more and more esoteric. It is most written by acadamic poets whose target audience and readers are other academics. The masses get their poetry fix from greeting cards, rap, and country music. Perhaps awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan will change this… if it needs changing at all. Perhaps a rap artist may bestowed with the same honor.
     Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, MN. He adopted the name Bob Dillon which later changed to Bob Dylan. Many think he was channeling the poet Dylan Thomas but other sources say it was Marshall Dillon from the Gunsmoke TV Series. For me, I like the Gunsmoke theory. It adds to his Americana. He was raised Jewish but claimed to be a born again Christian in 1979 which, by virtue of not proclaiming anything else, still is. He grew up in Hibbing, MN. In high school, he was drawn to Rock and Roll but moved on over to Folk Music while at the University of Minnesota.
     He dropped out of college and moved to, where else, New York City where he began playing clubs and making a name for himself. He wrote his own songs and made a big hit with “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They are a-Channging.” Both, in my humble view, were the sound track that of the unrest that was stirring due to both the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements. They were the right songs at the right time. They resonated with the baby boomers, the first TV generation, coming of age with the belief that a new age of peace could be established.
     Maybe Jack’s poster in his dorm room was correct after all. I think I may have just written the justification I was looking for. Not bad, it only took 45 years.
     I first heard about Dylan being named a Nobel Laureate on Facebook. It was a posting by the University Dean at North Park University, Liza Ann Acosta. She fired off a few posts on October 13th as the news was breaking:
What what what????? Que??? Bob Dylan? Are my ears deceiving me???? Whut? 
OMG secretary is comparing Dylan's work with Homer and Sappho. 
I am slowly recovering from my amazement. I am thinking of how I will incorporate this into class tomorrow or Monday. I may need the weekend to read Dylan. I mean listen. Gah. No. Read. READ. Ok. Listen and read.
     By the way, Dean Acosta has a PhD in Comparative Literature.
     I responded to here last post with what I thought was a clever and meaningful comment: “gee... i hope we don't get all academic on him now. LOL.” She immediately responded with, “Too late!” and provided a link to Yale University Press book entitled Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown by David Yaffe an assistant professor of English at Syracuse University.
     Somehow I wanted to Dylan and his songs to stay pure and untouched. I did not want academic wonks putting him under the microscope and making more and, perhaps even, less of him. His words and songs influenced a generation in our formative, Wonder Years for those who might relate, years. We heard and grasped them in real time. I am probably airing a fear that someone, through the lens of time, looks back and does not get it right or, even worse, trivializes the times. Those times they are a-trivialized don’t resonate very well.
     But, I was too late. There are many books on Dylan and his writing. There are courses in which his work is studied. No doubt that with his being named a Nobel Laureate, there will be more courses and books. As is often the case, yesterday’s rabble rousers and creators of new art forms become the mainstays of tomorrows academics. In this modern age, this simply happens, like everything else, at a much faster pace. My how the times they have a-changed.
     Upon announcement of his Nobel Prize, Dylan said he was not going to attend the award ceremony. A week or so later, a press release infomed us that he would attend. In the end, he did not go. Patti Smith performed his song, A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall, at the ceremonies.
      I think not attending the awards ceremonies is fine, it’s all right. Which evokes my favorite Dylan song which I present here.

Don't think twice, it's all right

Well it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
Ifin' you don't know by now
An' it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It'll never do some how
When your rooster crows at the break a dawn
Look out your window and I'll be gone
You're the reason I'm trav'lin' on
Don't think twice, it's all right

And it ain't no use in a-turnin' on your light, babe
The light I never knowed
An' it ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
I'm on the dark side of the road
But I wish there was somethin' you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin' anyway
But don't think twice, it's all right
No it ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
Like you never done before
And it ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
I can't hear ya any more
I'm a-thinkin' and a-wond'rin' wallkin' way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I am told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don't think twice, it's all right
So long honey babe
Where I'm bound, I can't tell
Goodbye is too good a word, babe
So I just say fare thee well
I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right
     Leonard Cohen: While writing the above in which I referenced Leonard Cohen, news broke that Cohen had passed away. Cohen passed away on November 6th at the age of 82. He was born in Quebec in 1934.
      He wrote mesmerizing poems and lyrics. As stated earlier, he had as big an impact on me, and maybe even more, than Dylan’s. He, like Dylan, was known as a songwriter and folk singer. To me, he was also a poet. In fact, back in the day, the day when I was an undergraduate, everyone that listened to Cohen told me he was a better poet than musician.
      Yet, oddly, know one could reference a poem that he had written that wasn’t a song he had already recorded. I was, therefore, curious to see just how good a poet he was. I bought a collection of his poems: Selected Poems 1956 – 1968.
      I have a view that the greatest poets are known for a dozen or so of their poems. While they may have written a great body of work, their place in literary history is based on these few poems. I found enough poems in the Selected Poems books that confirmed that Leonard Cohen was a good poet.
     Upon hearing of his passing, I looked for the book. I am not sure where it is. I wanted to include my favorite poem of his in this in this letter. I searched online to no avail but did find my second favorite poem of his, “The Rest is Dross,” which I will include at the end of this session.
     I really appreciated his work from my college days. His first two albums, The Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs from a Room, were my favorites. They were valued parts of my music collection but unlike other artists these were not records that I listen to over and over again. One had to be in the right mood, with the right people, and in the right ambiance to listen to his songs. They required more attention and thought than the offerings of other bands. They were the fine liquor of my my music collection.
     As I got older, my musical tastes gravitated to the music I played. I almost exclusively listened only to Armenian, Turkish, and Greek music. Leonard Cohen was like a yearbook brought out every once in awhile to refresh a fading memory. As he never was in the mainstream, I never heard much about him either in the media or from others.
     Then sometime in the late 1980s or 1990s, I heard from John Bilezikjian that he was touring with Leonard Cohen. I was totally surprised by this news. John Bilezikjian was a talented oud player. He was certainly capable musically to accompany Cohen, but I did not think they were compatable in terms of their styles. They were disjoint sets in my brain… no intersection. What did I know? They toured together for several years. John always spoke highly of Cohen and the experience of touring with him. Here is a youtube of them performing Everybody Knows in 1988.
     Because of their working together, I sought out Leonard Cohen’s recordings in which John was in the band. The primary album was I’m Your Man. I enjoyed the recording but they were less in terms of depth and gravity of Cohen’s earlier work in my humble opinion. Also, the oud just wasn’t prominent enough for my taste.
     After Cohen’s passing, there were numerous old interviews of him replayed on NPR. He was a very NPR kind of artist. I do believe Cohen’s passing got more air time than did Dylan’s be awarded the Nobel Prize. I learned that Cohen was a heavy smoker, battled drugs, was quite the lady’s man, and gained wonderul insights to his Jewish-Zen spirituality. The drinking and cigarette smoking explains why his voice kept getting lower and lower over the years. It was also revealed why Cohen went back on tour in 2004. He had to. His long time business manager and close friend basically “misappropriated” $5M of his savings leaving him only $150,000.
     In these interviews, he was engaging and lighter than I would have expected. I found quite refreshing. He did not seem bitter about his manager stealing all his money. He was quite centered. It was a pleasure hearing these interviews and reflecting on lyrics and life. In a certain way, I understood his Hallelujah a bit better after these interviews.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
      To me, I will always remember the Leonard Cohen from this 1968 BBC performance and, of course, the poem below.

The Rest is Dross

We meet at a hotel
with many quarters for the radio
surprised that we've survived as lovers
not each other's
but lovers still
with outrageous hope and habits in the craft
which embarrass us slightly
as we let them be known
the special caress the perfect inflammatory word
the starvation we do not tell about
We do what only lovers can
make a gift out of necessity
Looking at our clothes
folded over the chair
I see we no longer follow fashion
and we own our own skins
God I'm happy we've forgotten nothing
and can love each other
for years in the world
     William Trevor: I was well aware of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. I got to know their artistry at a young age. William Trevor? I had never heard of him until November 24th. There was a short piece, almost an obituary, by Mark Salter on the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal: William Trevor’s Endless Empathy. I think the phrase Endless Empathy made me read the article.
The blow felt heavier than the news of other notable deaths this year. William Trevor, the Irish novelist and master of the short story, died this week. He was 88, so it didn’t come as a shock. But the news left me distraught, realizing I would never read another Trevor story for the first time.
     Until that moment, I had never heard of William Trevor, let alone read anything by him. Salter, a speechwriter and former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and thus quite able to turn a phrase of his own, went on to say, “we’ve lost a great contemporary writer, possibly our greatest.” Wow. How could I not even be aware of him? I asked the aforementioned Professor Acosta. I felt I was OK, since she, as a professor of comparitive literature, was also blissfully unaware of William Trevor.
     Well, blissful unawareness didn’t have to remain that way. The man who the New Yorker referred to as “probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language” was no longer an unknown to me. So, I went out and bought a book. Did I buy a book of short stories? Of course, I should have and actually thought I did. The book I bought was called Excursions in the Real World. In fine print under the title, it said Memoirs. These memoirs are of his growing up in and around Cork, Ireland where he was born in 1928.
     Trevor’s writing in his memoirs are precise, tightly crafted, meticulous, and eloquent in a way you would expect from a gifted Irish writer. I am not sure if this style is natural and that it flows easily with minimum re-writes or if it is the result of painstaking work and edits. Excursions in the Real World is a book that I have to put down. I want to only read it a vignette, or chapter, at a time. I had to read and savor everyword. Reading Trevor is akin to sipping fine cognac. Actually, the more I am reading this book, the better I am used to reading Trevor’s prose. I am experience the admiration Salter had for Trevor’s writing. In reading him for the first time, his prose unfolds in slow motion and blooms like a flower.
     I will close this lengthy letter with the first paragraph from the chapter in his memoirs called “Bad Trip.”
There have been terrible, ugly journeys that are remembered by me now for different aspects of distress. Races against time have lost. Delays at airports have triumphantly ruined weekends. Night has come down too soon when walking in the Alps. Theft has brought travel to a halt, toothache made a nightmare of it. Once a ferry mistakenly took off before its passengers had arrived on the quayside. Once the wheels of an aircraft did not come down. “Kaputt!’ a German grage mechenic declared of an old A.30 on an autobahn, and that was that.