Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December 2010: Another Eventful Year

My December letter of last year, 2009, was titled “An Eventful Year.”  It was the year both my children got married.  It was a joyous kind of eventful year.  In the ebb and flow of life, we experience the ups and downs, the comings and goings, and the joys and sorrows of life.  There is certainly a case to made that the sadder and sorrowful parts make the joyous parts all the more rich and sweeter.
This year, 2010, was eventful for many reasons.  Maybe every year is eventful in its own way.  As last year was the year of weddings, this year was a year of passings.  In June, my father’s sister, my Aunt Seeran Wisner, passed away.  In late July, my father in-law, Harold Mardoian, passed away.  A few days after the passing of my father in-law, my mother’s brother, Uncle Ozzie, also passed away.  Three people very close to me passed away in less than two months. 
I knew Aunt Seeran and Uncle Ozzie all my life.  They were both influential raising me.  Just about the time their influence was settling into a more adult relationship, my relationship with and influence of my father in-law began.  I am happy to have known all three and sad to see each of them pass on.  I probably should have written a monthly letter dedicated to each of them but in their passing in such proximity to each other, I decided in August to dedicate this December letter to the memory of these three wonderful and influential people.
All three were the children of Genocide survivors.  As they were  raised by that very special generation, it colored their lives and influenced who they became.   They came of age post World War II which was in many ways the zenith of the American Century.
Each of them all lived rich long lives.  Though, we would have loved to have them around for another twenty years or so.  But, they were all suffering chronic conditions and their passings were what are generally referred to as blessings.  It was their time.  While there were moments of sadness, their funerals were more celebrations of their lives.  It was good for the family to be together to mourn and fondly remember great people and the warm memories we created together.
Aunt Seeran
      Aunt Seeran:  Seeran Gavoor Wisner was the eldest child and only daughter of Aram and Agnes Gavoor.  She was born August 5, 1926 and died on June 7, 2010 a few months shy of her 84th birthday.
I loved being around Aunt Seeran when I was a young boy.  She was doting, charming, and full of encouragement.   She was a dreamer.  She shared those dreams, big and bold.  I loved hearing them, I was inspired by them.
While I was comfortable with the manners my Mother taught me and had me follow, Aunt Seeran always added just a few more.  I found that very frustrating as a kid.  I never really liked anyone changing the rules on me.  Heck, I don’t like it anymore today.  Yet, whenever I find myself following one of the “extra” Aunt Seeran manners, I smile extra big.  For she was always right in these regards.
She loved the family.  She loved the Gavoors and the Asoians.  Like her two brothers, she loved growing up in the Armenian village of Andover, MA, the cluster of farms all part of her maternal Grandmother’s family, the Lousigians.  This was amongst the happiest times of her life.  She spoke of it often.
When I went to Boston for any reason, my wife Judy would always make sure that I included Aunt Seeran in my agenda.  It was not always convenient but I did what I could.  We would have lunch or dinner, we would go shopping, or we would visit.  I treasure each one of those lunches, dinners, and trips to Star Market.  She was genuinely happy.  Her happiness infected me.  We talked about my children and her grandchildren.  She would tell me stories about her time at Harvard, whatever was going on in her building, and, most certainly, her grandchildren which were the apples of her eye.  She would introduce me to her friends in her building and the owners of whatever restaurant we went to.  She was happy I was taking her out.  I will never forget those times, they are precious to me.  They were pure enjoyment for the two of us.
She worked at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard.  It was the greatest job she ever had.  She helped organize every variety of conference and seminar which afforded her the opportunity to meet famous military leaders, statesmen, and journalists from all over the world.  She absolutely loved that job and had the greatest stories from that time.
I would call Aunt Seeran now and then.  I liked to keep in touch.  She would call me as well.  We got into a nice rhythm.  The funny thing, though, when I called her was that she would always mistake me for my cousin David.  She would answer the phone, “Hello?”  I would say, “Hello Auntie Seeran, how are you doing?”  She would invariably respond with, “David, tsakun, how nice of you to call.”  I would tell her who I was.   She was equally delighted it was me but she mistook me for David a lot.  I kind of liked that.  David liked it even more.
In the end, she had a form of dementia and lived in a full care facility.  While her life was not easy, it was like God took special care of her at the end of her life.  I visited her three times at that facility and saw other women with dementia.  They were ornery.  They were scared.  They did not trust anyone.  Not Aunt Seeran.  She was happy.  In fact, she was living in the happiest days of her life back in her childhood on her Grandmother’s farm in Andover, MA.
When I would visit Aunt Seeran there, she knew I was someone she knew and loved.  Though she would know exactly who I was.  She would tell me that in the coming weekend her father (who had passed on in 1959) would be picking her up to go to a cook-out in Andover at the farm and would I like to go.  Sure I would.  In my last visit this past May, I told her I had been by 179 School St. her parents last home, the house into which I was born.  She lit up and told me that was her mother’s home.  I said that is why I stopped by.  She told me to call her mother (my grandmother who died in the mid-1980s) and say hi.  I told her nothing would give me greater pleasure.  Aunt Seeran, my cousin Bruce, and I all had big smiles.
We buried her in the same plot as her Asoian grandparents in West Parish Cemetary in Andover.  She is again with the village, I believe that is exactly where she belongs. 
Uncle Azad
 Uncle Ozzie: Azad Merian was the eldest of three children and the only son of Levon and Azniv Merian.  He was born on April 29, 1931 and passed away on July 29, 2010.  His parents, my grandparents, named him Azad which means free in Armenian.  They gave him that name because it meant so much for them to have escaped the horrors of the Genocide of the Armenian people.  They were so happy to be in the land of the free that they bestowed this name upon their first born.  He was always Uncle Ozzie or Uncle Oz to me, but Armenians that spoke the language always called him Azad.
As we lived a few miles from each other in Detroit and were a very close family, Uncle Oz was always around.  He had a great influence upon me the way that a close Uncle can as being more friend and confidant than ones Father can be.  We spent a lot of time together both in family gatherings on just ourselves.
Uncle Oz was a product of the streets of Detroit.  He served in the US Army in Korea and worked at Cadillac Motors for many years.  He had four children Sandy, Leo, Ralph and Chris, my first cousins with his first wife, Aunt Annie.  
Uncle Oz was handy to the nth degree.  He could build things and fix things and he did it often.  He was a machine repairman in the Army and then at Cadillac Motors.  He was always tinkering and thinking.  I admired this in him knowing early on I could never really ever be that way.  Probably, I really did not want to.
 I did help him design the house he built on Georgian Bay though.  Armed with nothing more than high school trigonometry, I helped him design the pitch of the roof and wall heights of the second floor of his place to maximize the living space.  I was delighted to have been able to help him in this project.
Because he had three boys and because he was handy, he cut their hair.  For economy of scale, he also cut my hair.  He built his own barber chair putting on old oak desk chair on a pedestal.  He was really a master barber as long as you wanted a buzz cut.  He used two attachments:  short for the top and shorter for the edges.  I sported a buzz cut until either Junior High or High School.
Most men dream of having things such as someday getting an antique car, maybe having a second house on a lake, perhaps becoming a gunsmith or furniture maker, becoming a hunter, having their own business, learning to play the piano, or whatever else strikes our fancies.  Not everyone acts on any let alone all.   Uncle Ozzie was amazing in this regard and I really did not fully realize nor appreciate it until he died this year and I reflected on his life and how he lived it.  He did things.  He did things he wanted to do and loved to do.  And he did these things as much or more than anyone else I have ever known.  Everyone has an excuse why they shouldn’t or couldn’t do this.  Not Uncle Ozzie.  He did it all and on his terms.  He did it while not being an overly wealthy man.  He was rich, however, in spirit and self-confidence.  I would have been well served to have learned that all important lesson from him.
I have many great memories of Uncle Oz.  Perhaps the best memories are the summers in college when I worked with him.  At this point, Uncle Oz had a contract with HUD to board up and winterize houses they had foreclosed on.  We were on first cuts of the bleeding edge that foretold the difficulties Detroit was about to endure.  It was a great time.  I would drive to Uncle’s house and we would go out for breakfast, work, have a late lunch and work again until five.  We worked and ate and talked.  He shared with me his philosophy and ideas.  
I cannot even remember if he paid me.  I am sure he did but the value of the job was the time I spent with my uncle.  They are times I will never forget.
Papa
      Papa:  Harold Mardoian was second son of three of Hagop and Zartar Mardoian.  He was born on June 25, 1927 and passed away on July 26, 2010. 
I first met Harold when I started dating his daughter, now my wife, Judy back in 1970.  Almost when we first met, I used to get to Chicago to visit… with increasing frequency.  I used to stay at his home when I visited.  From maybe my second or maybe my third trip of who knows how many, he started calling me “Maro Polo” because I was always travelling.   He was not the first to call me that, but he did it the most.  After a while, I just became Marco and was that until he passed away.
From my first getting to know him, there was a constant and underlying trait of this man.  Harold Mardoian was a man of quiet determination.   He was one of the hardest working men I have ever known.   He devoted long intense hours to his work never really allowing himself any of the pleasures and pastimes most of the rest of use allow ourselves.  He dedicated to himself to providing the best for his family. 
He was a self-made man. With his brothers he started Mardoian Brothers food. He learned business in the very real world in the independent grocery business, a business of perishable inventories and razor thin margins. There was no quit in him. He was determined. When there was an obstacle, he did not let it stop him.  He kept thinking about it and trying to figure out what he could do and how he could do it.  He would figure out a way.  He always figured out the way with quiet determination.
Being in the grocery and then food purveyance business, Harold learned to wheel and deal, to negotiate.  It is a matter of survival in that business.  I can imagine his quiet determination infuriated some in negotiation, but he always sought out the win-win. He never tried to take advantage.   It was a core principal that everyone had to make something in a deal.  While he was nobody’s fool, it was this eminent sense of fairness that made a strong positive impression on everyone that knew him and did business with
From the food and grocery business, the experience he gained in buying and selling there, Harold also became an astute investor.  He moved his trading skills to a higher plane.  He did a lot of his own research and was quite successful.  It was his passion.  He understood markets, market trends, the human motivations, and economics of it all unbelievably well.  Formal education or not, he could have taught a course in the subject.  He was investment counselor, behind the scenes, for several family members with the simple goal of not wanting others to have to worry about finances in their retirement years.  Speaking of retirement, my Father In-Law was primarily an investor in his retirement.  He would study and watch the financial channels, always with a pad of paper and pen at hand.  He would learn, contemplate, and then make his moves.
During his working years, Harold was about running his business to the exclusion of all but family events.  In retirement, he and my mother in-law Mary made up the time by touring the world.  They went everywhere from Australia to Armenia.   It was a wonderful time for them and their dear friends Winnie and Jim Reidy.
Harold was an attentive and sincere listener.  He was not an “I, I, me” person.  He definitely did not like to hear himself talk.  He would listen and think.  He would listen to learn.  He would then think about what was being said and then give his own opinion.  His views were usually pretty insightful.  If someone was sharing a problem with him, he would do what he did his whole business life… try to figure out a solution.  I told him once about some obsolete inventory I “inherited” to the tune of $6MM when I took the job that brought me to Chicago.  There were two things about this pile of obsolete stuff that he kept pondering.  First, how did the pile start and get so big?  Second, he could not stop thinking about how to sell it all.  This was his way.
To me Harold was first Mr. Mardoian, then Dad, in for the past 15 years or so, we all called him Papa.  This is what his grandchildren called him:  Papa.  As the grandchildren grew, it became apparent to all that Papa was most fitting.  We all came to call him that.
Papa suffered from Parkinson’s disease.  This disease is slow and progressive, slowly taking control of one’s body.  It does not get better, it just gets worse.  There are wonderful medications that really help slow the advancement but nothing to reverse it.   Harold never let the disease get him down.  At least he never showed it.  He wanted to attend every family event that he possibly could.  In the thirteen months before his passing, he attended the weddings of my daughter Armené and Michael in Los Angeles, my son Aram and Anoush in New York City, and his niece Ani and Vicken in Boston.  He danced at each wedding and when he did, he stole the show. 
We just had the first Christmas without Papa.  We felt it and we talked about it.  While it was his time to go, as it was Seeran’s and Ozzie’s, the hole in our lives is still there.  We missed his quiet conversation and unique wit.  I miss all three.
Two More:  My neighbor Paul Kedo passed away on October 11th at the age of 61.  Paul was a great fellow whom I got to know when we came to find out we were both unemployed.  We decided to network with each and form an informal support group with another neighbor Rick Schneider.
Paul suffered from a rare kind of cancerous tumor outside his pancreas for over eleven years.  He never led on he had this condition.  As he was looking for a job and had two strikes against him being a white male of his age, he kept his condition very private.  He never even told Rick nor me.
Rick and I were both shocked to learn of his passing.  We assumed it was sudden and shocked and saddened further to learn he had been fighting a terminal illness all along.  It is tough enough being unemployed.
We also never knew he was the Renaissance man:  a pilot, a sailor, and a painter.  We only knew him in the context of the job search we were all engaged in and the support we were providing each other.   Rick and I met for coffee after the funeral.  We met at the same neighborhood Starbucks where we used to meet with Paul.  We met to discuss that while we knew Paul, we did not know Paul more than in the context in which we met… and how that was our loss.  We discussed how private he was about his illness.  We talked about how much we will miss him.
Perhaps the saddest case of everyone I knew that passed away this year was Bob Lewis (November 4, 1971 – November 21, 2010).  Bob was my controller at Sanford Brands when I worked there.  When in my first few weeks there I had a chance to interview this internal candidate, I noted two things from his resume.  First, he was born the year I graduated from high school.  Second, we both were graduates of the University of Michigan – Dearborn.  In the interview, we took an instant liking to each other.  He was basically a shoe-in for the job.  On top of everything else, I learned he had lived in Livonia.
Bob and I had a lot of fun and we did a lot of good.  He was a good finance guy and wonderfully irreverent when it came to suffering the blow-hardiness of others.  We would be sitting in a meeting when someone speaking would start spewing nonsense as if it were Nobel Prize winning economics.  Bob would give me a look that would have my having to suppress breaking out into laughter. 
He was a great friend and a great Michigan fan.  I had emailed him in early November wishing him Happy Birthday and offering him my Michigan – Iowa football tickets.  He thanked me and declined the tickets because he was going deer hunting with his father.  I found myself at a funeral home in Livonia on the Friday after Thanksgiving for his wake.
Bob and I were let go from Sanford at the same time.  He was fortunate enough to find a job immediately which was good as he had recently bought a house and more importantly had a new son.  Bob passed away raking the leaves in November a few weeks after his 39th birthday.  He passed out and was never revived.  It turns out he had an enlarged heart and a bad valve.  My heart goes out to his wife and infant son.
In closing, I hope 2011 is wonderful year for all of you.  I am certain it will be eventful… 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas 2010

For the past few years, I have been getting up before everyone on Christmas morning.  Perhaps, I cannot sleep.  Maybe I have too much on my mind.  Probably, it is simply the time I am used to waking up.  Whatever the reason, I have come to like this time of the morning on this day.  You know “not a creature was stirring” and all that.

But it is absolutely true, this is one of the quietest times to be awake.   Until 2007, we were travelling from Detroit and then Connecticut to my in-laws in Lake Forest, IL where we now live.  For most of those years, my children dictated the time we woke on Christmas morning.  When they were younger, it was pretty early as they were anxious to see what Santa Claus had brought them.   When they were in high school and college and more prone to sleeping in, I would wake up before them but I just stayed in bed.  I was not in my own house and my in-laws did not have WiFi.

In 2007, I woke up in my own home on Christmas morning for the first time in many years.  I woke up early, a good two hours before anyone else would be stirring.  I made myself a cup of coffee and sat and reflected.  As the coffee dissipated the cobwebs, I began thinking of my transition, at that time, from Colgate to Sanford, from Wilton, CT to Lake Forest, IL.  I began thinking of the people I worked with and was working with at that time.   I had been in the habit of sending out a Christmas message to the people I worked with, peers and subordinates for the most part, but that year in 2007, I composed and emailed a short message to my team at Sanford and then to the old team at Colgate.

It felt good to do that.  It was like a modern cyber version of making the rounds, knocking on the doors of friends, family, and colleagues to wish them a Merry Christmas and share in some Christmas cheer and spirit both the kind that emanates from the heart and the kind you drink from a glass.  I have done it since to some degree.

This year, I am writing a longer piece by design.  I write every day as part of my regimen.  Rather than write a short greeting card message, I am opting to dedicate my daily writing to what is a really long Christmas Card.  This is more the mode as so many people are sending out e-cards, e-mails, and e-such in lieu of traditional cards.

I will not email the message but rather the link to my message on my blog.  I may even tweet it.  Oh, I am quite the modern fellow.

On Christmas Eve, we had our traditional gathering.  It used to be at my in-laws but since moving to Illinois it has been at our home.   The core cast on Christmas Eve has stayed the same, my wife’s immediate family and her cousins on her father’s side and their families.  This year, we invited close friends and their guests.  At the peak of the evening, we had 32 people in our house which was full of light, food, and cheer.

At one point in the evening, my cell phone rang.  It was my good friend Andres from Uruguay calling to convey his Christmas wishes.  It was very nice to talk to him a few moments.  I am still of a generation where an international call is a huge deal.  I am not sure why that is because with internet phone services such as Skype, it is not really anything special.  Yet, getting a call from half-way around the world is still cool.

Maybe I am getting too old, but I was exhausted at the end of the evening.  I guess overeating can do that.  Perhaps it was due to shoveling the snow to keep the walk as clean as possible for the guests who began arriving a half hour after I finished.  It certainly was not due to the magnificent décor or the unbelievable offering of delicacies.  I was responsible for none that truly exhausting work.  That credit and honor goes to Judy who is actually energized by such efforts and is most talented in every aspect of such.

Everyone reported that the roads were treacherous.  But in the Northern Hemisphere, you cannot get anymore Currier & Ives than a light, steady, and accumulating snowfall on Christmas Eve unless we had abandoned cars for sleighs.  It was a true White Christmas Eve.

Our son, Aram, his wife Anoush and her father Yervant were able to join us.  It is great having them here.  Our daughter Armené and her husband Michael are in Los Angeles spending the holiday with his family.  The rest of my immediate family stayed in Detroit.  We talked to them over the phone.  Everyone knew that Armené would have loved to have been with us.  She is the most traditional in that Currier & Ives, White Christmas, sense.  She is of the strong belief that it is supposed to be cold and snowing on Christmas.  It is best when there is a fresh blanket of the white stuff covering the twinkling light decorations on every house.

It is not yet 7 am as I write this.  It is quiet and there is just a hint of dawn as I look out the window.  The snow is still there, of course, but the twinkling lights were dimmed hours ago.   It is at this very hour that I think of all our friends and family.  I think mostly of those of you that I will not see today or in the next week.  The contrast of these memorable reflections in my warm home contrasted to the cold temperatures outside contribute to just how much I have come to value this hour of this holiday.

I am delighted to reach out this very quiet moment to friends and family all over the United States and all over the world and convey our warm Christmas wishes to you and yours.  Even moreso, I hope that 2011 is a year of health, happiness, and prosperity for you and yours.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Tortured Ear

The History Channel informed via their daily email that on this date in 1888, Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear.  Actually he only cut off the lower portion of his ear.  

Apparently, he was severely depressed.  He did get a painting out of the act - Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear.  I am guessing the cutting of the ear and the self portrait did not help with the depression as two years later Van Gogh shot himself and died a few days later.

I have often been intrigued with the cutting off of the ear.  Why the ear?  Why not other body parts?  The pinky toe?  I know, there is the obvious self mutilation body part, but I refuse to go there.  I was living under the impression a woman was involved and he sent the severed ear to her. Again the History.com helps clarify what actually happened:

Gauguin came to stay with him in Arles and the two men worked together for almost two months. However, tensions developed and on December 23, in a fit of dementia, Van Gogh threatened his friend with a knife before turning it on himself and mutilating his ear lobe. Afterward, he allegedly wrapped up the ear and gave it to a prostitute at a nearby brothel.

I liked the idea that he did this because of unrequited love.  I always tried to figure out if he actually thought that might endear her to him.   I am under the belief that sending a bloody severed body part to a woman is not the best strategy to melt her heart.  But, what do I know?  I am not an expert in these regards.  Now, I see that Vince actually wrapped up the ear and gave it to a prostitute.  Well this raises even more questions which I am even less qualified to answer.  Did he know the prostitute?  Did he really like her or did he give her the ear because she had provided services below his expectation?  Why didn’t he paint her?  This inquiring mind wants to know!  I imagine when the lady got the wrapped ear and opened it, she probably said the late 19th Century French equivalent of WTF and tossed the whole thing in the trash.

I do not understand this kind of depression or this kind of self-mutilation.  It is foreign to me.  I belong more to the “Eat your way out of Depression” school of thought.  This is a sister academy to “Binge Eat your way out of any Situation” school.   The modern world, at least the American modern world, is geared to providing supplies to these schools.  We have every variety of sweet, salty, fat, sweet and salty, salty and fat, sweet and fat, and, most certainly, sweet, salty, and fat processed food offerings that exist for this purpose:  to forgot all our troubles through massive calorie intake.  We have even invented television with 180+ channels of mind numbing programming to aid in this overall process.  

I wonder how Vincent might of fared in today’s world?  Would he just be a fat slob doing custom airbrushing of motorcycle parts.  Maybe a tattoo artist.  Perhaps he would be a heavily sedated website designer.

Vincent Van Gogh is the prototype tortured artist.  The History.com piece said he only sold one painting in his life.  Today corporations, museums, and really rich individuals pay millions for his work.  His images can be found everywhere.

Many would be artists have embraced the tortured part, most lack grossly in the talent part.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Biorhythms & Mood Rings

Three blog posts in three days, this is kind of a record for me.  

I felt compelled to add a more civil and less sarcastic posting today lest people truly worry about my mental state.  I really am OK.  The postings of the past two days were definitely different in tenor and tone.  They were definitely sarcastic and definitely on the edge.  What edge?  I think they were on the edge of humor and anger.   I read both postings more often than I do most.  I even asked others to read them to see if I needed to beseech my doctor for a prescription of valium or whatever “mother’s little helper” they are doling out these days.  My favorite response:  "You sound a little angry there Sparky.”  

Am I angry?  If so, angry at what?  Life?  My lot in it?  No, not really.  Having to work?  That is reality.  Too many people dying or ill this year?  Probably it all came to head when an old friend learned in a November posting, Mid-Term Elections, that I had voted for Obama.  He grilled me over this like a district attorney in cross-examination.  I really did not enjoy that.

Maybe it is just the natural ebb and flow of emotions or the sinusoidal fluctuations of self-esteem, outlook, or brain wave patterns.  This line of thinking reminds me of the old notion of biorhythms.   They were quite the rage in the 1970s.    I do not hear about them at all lately.  I thought they were kind of hokey back then but have never forgotten about the idea of them.  I loved how people took them so seriously and, as the fad wore thin, they dropped biorhythms for whatever was next.   I believe it was that I'm OK, You're an Idiot thing.

With the power of the World Wide Web at my disposal, I was able to read about the history of biorhythms and even found several biorhythm calculators. 

Biorhythm is an attempt to predict various aspects of a person's life through simple mathematical cycles. The notion has no more predictive power than chance, and is now considered a classic example of pseudoscience by modern science.
It is kind of funny, I thought science was pretty modern back in the 1970’s.  It is all a matter of perspective.  

Biorhythms were established by a patient of Sigmund Freud’s.  Apparently they became popular in the 1970s either to balance off the popularity of disco or maybe because the emergence of scientific calculators and the first personal computers which allowed the biorhythm calculators to be accessible to more people.  One Bernard Gittelson wrote books and had a company that sold biorhythm calculators and such.  

Upon finding free biorhythm calculators on line, I could not help myself.  I called my Mother to get my exact time of birth and entered my birth date and time as instructed.  The results:
Physical               -5%
Emotional           -27%
Intellectual         +88%
Overall:             +19%
So I could make the case that I am physically and emotionally down.   Yet, intellectually I am keenly aware of this which, in turn, explains the frustration and angst.  It is so simple.  No wonder I have been sarcastic and surly.

Maybe I am truly a child of the 70’s.   Wow.  This has been cathartic.  I am feeling better already and my mood ring is now a lovely sky blue.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Curmudgeon or just a Crumb?

There is a creeping curmudgeoness influencing my behavior.  I am simply tired of hearing what others think I should or should not be doing.  Even if they are the boss of me, they are not THE BOSS of me.

It may come under the guise of coaching.  I am tired of being coached.  It may criticism of something I wrote or a speech I gave.  I do not want to hear it. If you want to be helpful, just give me ten thousand dollars.  My time is valuable, you should pay me to hear whatever is on your mind that you somehow believe might help me grow.  Ten grand would buy a week of my time.  While you think you are helping me out, I will simply pretend that I am your therapist, tying to discern which of your many childhood abuses brought you to the lofty and current delusion that you might be able to actually provide any guidance to another human being.  Even more delicious would be to try to figure out why you have chosen to vomit your psycho-babble or sports analogies all over my aura.

I am aware I am bald and gray.  Despite my engaging look when you suggest I dye my hair or shave my head, I am really wishing you would just shut up.  You know I am fully aware of my dietary habits and preferences for dress.  As I don’t comment on yours... ever.... oh, and I thought you would golden rule my behavior right back at me.  Silly me.

Many of you call it performance evaluation and management coaching.  I understand the philosophy behind it, I really do.  I appreciate the intent.  I simply can no longer tolerate you, any of you, telling me what to do.  I am my own harshest critic.  I know what to change.  I am painfully aware of my shortcomings.  Your confirmation of such is just irritating.

Actually, rather than tell me what to do, I would really appreciate being coached on how to change these annoying traits I have had most of my life.  I really wish you could do that.  How do I motivate myself?  How do I stop trading off what I want long term for what I want right now?  How do I develop a sense of urgency at this late stage?   And don't you dare suggest a psychiatrist.  The only advantage they have over you is an advanced degree and better vocabulary.

What?  Just do it?  That is your answer as to how to effect change?  Thanks again for nothing.  This is exactly my point, you should not really be telling me what you think I should be doing.  You live in a black and white, up and down, left and right, good and bad world.  I have painted myself into a corner of gray and nuances, trade-offs and trying to be truly open minded.  Our delusions have us on different planets in different universes and more and more it seems on different days.

Hey, don’t get all defensive and sulky.  You are not used to me pushing back like this.  You are not used to me give you what you seem to have no trouble dishing out in my direction.  See how it feels? 

I did not say I did not like you or value our relationship.  Just stop telling me what you think I ought to be doing.  I am tired of it.

What should we do?  Let’s go to breakfast or go have a cup of coffee.  We can talk sports or you can tell me about your children and grandchildren.  I want to hear about them... as long as you don’t brag too much or keep telling me the same stories over and over again..

Yes, there is definitely a rising tide of curmudgeoninity....

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell - Polygamy

There has been a lot of press these days about the Senate voting to eliminate the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the Armed Forces.   It is newsworthy because it strikes down a twenty year old policy that allowed gays and lesbians to serve as long they kept their orientation and lifestyle secret.  I suppose that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a nuanced difference from the previous policy that simply outlawed gays and lesbians forcing those that served to, um, keep their sexual orientation and lifestyle secret.  This recent ruling makes it able for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the US Armed Forces.

I heard references today on the Sunday morning news shows relating this ruling to the integration of the Armed Forces by then President Harry S. Truman.  Many thought it was about time.  Others, that were against it, believed it would undermine the integrity and cohesion of the Armed Forces.  The Armed Forces survived.   A prevailing opinion is that the integration of the Armed Forces led to the civil rights movements in the 1950s and 1960s leading to a more integrated society.  There were conjectures that this ruling in the Senate may have the same impact on our society. 

I think society was ahead of the Armed Forces on this one.  Corporations have included domestic partners in their benefit offerings for several years.  Various states have passed laws allowing gay marriages.  The debate has been pretty vigorous.  People are either for it or against it.  Humanism dominates one side while religion dominates the other.  As usual, and I am sure to the chagrin of some readers, I am well ensconced in the gray zone.

In fact, let me think outside of whatever box we are in.  If we keep breaking and repealing societal or social taboos as we have regarding race, sex, and now sexual persuasion, let me suggest that polygamy is next.  Of course, most people will read this and think something is wrong with me for suggesting such an abomination.  How could I?  What am I thinking?  Oh, give it a break.  I am playing here.  The worst you can accuse me of is being a sarcastic jerk.  At least if you said that I would give you credit for being able to read and interpret.

Gay relations were such a taboo, they were rarely discussed.  The majority, not all that long ago considered it an abomination against God.  Now?  It is not.  Whoever decides what God thinks simply changed their view.  So, why not the same for polygamy?  Any guy that can afford several wives should be allowed to quadruple the complexity of his life by taking a second wife.  Heck, people have wives and mistresses now.  Why make these poor souls skulk around worried about being caught and exposed?  Why should they feel shame?  The logic is almost the same as with gay marriages.  

And since we are no longer sexist, why shouldn’t women be allowed to have a harem of husbands?  Women have husbands and lovers today?   Why make these Queen Bees have to skulk around worried about being caught and exposed?  Why should they feel shame?  The logic, again, is the same.  Why shouldn’t charismatic gay men and lesbians be allowed to do the same?  I predict it is the new frontier.

What comes after polygamy?  Bestiality?  Why not?   Child brides and grooms?   Why limit it to animate beings.  Shouldn’t people be able to wed their computer or favorite chair?  Seriously.  It is about people being happy and being able to live their lives however they see fit as long as they are not bothering or hurting anyone else and all that blah blah blah.  Or is it?  

People are always willing to tell other people they are violating this norm or that.  I think the only progress we have really made is that we just make people feel bad and remain silent in public.  This is much better than what we used to do which was to beat them up, throw them in jail, or kill them.  At times, it all sounds like some kind of convoluted Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to me.

Remember polygamy… you heard it here first.  I wonder how HR departments and estate planners going to handle this one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rich Rod & Michigan Football

Rich Rodriguez is the coach of the University of Michigan Football team.  He has been coach there since 2008.  It has not been an easy time for him to say the least.  Neither has it been an easy time for the Michigan fans.  We are a spoiled bunch, at least during the years I have been an active and avid fan.

Rich Rodriguez  took over from Lloyd Carr.  Lloyd Carr was a great coach at Michigan who won a share of the national championship in 1997 with a stifling defense and balanced offense.  He was part of the Bo Schembechler legacy of coaches that included:


Name
Years
Record
Big 10 Titles
Bo Schembechler
1969-1989
143-24-3
13
Gary Moeller
1990-1994
30-8-2
3
Lloyd Carr
1995-2007
142-40-0
5


In the 38 years from 1969 - 2007, there was never a losing season.  The worst record was in 1984 when Bo’s team went 6-6.  So, in all those years there was only one season, 1984, that wasn’t a winning one.  Michigan went to a bowl game every year from 1975 through 2007:  32 years.  In those 38 years, we won or tied for the Big 10 title 21 times.  These statistics speak to why the Michigan Football Fans are spoiled.  We are just used to winning.  We are disappointed with three or four loss seasons.  We are disappointed when we do not win at least a share of the Big Ten title.

Rich Rodriguez took over from Lloyd Carr and summarily delivered two losing seasons in a row.  In his first year, the team went a gut wrenching 3-9 overall and 2-9 in the Big 10 placing the Wolverines in a tie for 9th place in the 11 team conference.  In 2009, the overall record was better at 5-7.  But in the Big 10, Michigan was tied for 10th, dead last, with a 1-6 record.  2008 was the first losing season since 1967.  2008-2009 were the first two back to back losing seasons since 1962-1963.  Fans and former players were not happy at all with Rich Rodriguez, his approach, and his staff.  

This year, 2010, Michigan returned to winning form with a 7-5 regular season with all losses coming in the Big 10.  The team will go to a bowl game and will have an overall winning season of 7-6 or 8-5.  The team has improved each year with Coach Rodriguez but it seems most everyone wants him gone.  There are blogs and websites dedicated to seeing this happen e.g. firerr.com and others that advocate it e.g. http://bleacherreport.com/michigan-wolverines-football.  There is one site, http://inrodwetrust.net, dedicated to supporting Rich Rodriguez.  The consensus of the fans and most sports writers is to fire Rodriguez and hire Jim Harbaugh the ex-Michigan QB who is the current very successful coach at Stanford.  It would be a return to Michigan Football.  It would be a return to the Bo Schembechler tone and tenor of football that everyone seems to want.

Yet, these are the same fans and sports writers who thought Lloyd Carr needed to go back in 2005 until 2007 when Carr “retired.”  Let’s step back a bit and look at the recent history of Michigan football and the influence of The Game:  The Michigan - Ohio State rivalry.

Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr were assistants under Bo.  They all had the same football philosophy as Bo.  The philosophy was a show stopping defense and pounding running based offense.  They all believed in defense but with each coaching succession the offense became more balanced.  Under these coaches Michigan was a great source of offensive linemen, ends, defensive backs, and quarterbacks.  Basically, every quarterback from the late 1980s through 2007, from Elvis Grbac to Chad Henne, has played in the NFL with the most notable being, of course, Tom Brady.

The 1997 defense was amazing.  The defense in the national championship year was the best Michigan ever had since I have been a fan.  They put the stop on everyone.  They were led by Heisman Trophy Winner Charles Woodson.  Woodson was the best all around football player at Michigan since Tom Harmon in the late 1940s.   

While John Cooper was coach at Ohio State from 1988 - 2000 Michigan amassed an unprecedented 13-2-1 record in the greatest rivalry in college football.  It made the Ohio State fans more crazy than it gave glee to the Michigan fans.  Our success was even more bitter to the Buckeye faithful since the Wolverines did so with a fair number of Ohio players.  Charles Woodson was the premier example of this.  The Fremont, Ohio native single handedly beat the Buckeyes in 1997 with an interception in the end zone to prevent a Buckeye touchdown, running back a punt for a touchdown, and on offense he caught a touchdown pass.  He was simply amazing.

Jim Tressel became coach of Ohio State.  He has been the best coach Ohio State has had and I include the great Woody Hayes in saying this.  Tressel was brought in to keep the best Ohio players in the state, stop the bleeding against Michigan, and return the Buckeyes to national prominence.  He has done exactly that by winning an undisputed national championship and beating Michigan 9 out of 10 times with a current winning streak of 7.  It is like a flip-flop of the Cooper era regarding The Game.  While Tressel was brought in to get players like Charles Woodson to go to Ohio State instead of Michigan, it would not have worked for Woodson.  I met Woodson only once and liked him a lot, he was quiet but very nice and approachable.  I asked him why he chose Michigan over Ohio State.  He told me that he never considered going to Ohio State and was a Michigan fan as long as he could remember.

Lloyd Carr was a good coach.  He won a national championship.  He won five Big Ten titles in his thirteen seasons as head coach.  He never had a losing season.  His worst season was in 2005 when they went 7-5 and was the only season his team was not ranked.  Every other year, Lloyd Carr coached teams were ranked in the Top 20.

Carr’s problems began with the arrival of Jim Tressel at Ohio State.  Carr was 6-1 against John Cooper’s Buckeyes.  He was 4-2 in bowl games during the same time period.  The fans loved Lloyd Carr.  After Tressel took the helm at Ohio State, Carr’s record against the Buckeyes was 1-6.  His bowl record also flipped to 2-5.  The Wolverine faithful had less faithin their coach.   Many were thinking college football had changed and Lloyd Carr had not changed his style to match the times.  

It got worse in the 2007 season which was Carr’s last.  He lost to Appalachian State 34-32, the very first game of the season.  It was a major upset as Appalachian State was a Division Ia (or whatever they call it now) school albeit one of the best in that division.  Michigan was the joke of the sports media and college football fans.  Then they lost their second game to Oregon 39-7.  Both Appalachian State and Oregon used the spread, no huddle, offense.  Both teams seemed faster and in better condition.  Both teams seemed to have more talent and be better coached.  Michigan went on to win their next eight games only to lose to Wisconsin and Ohio State at the end of the season.   

There was a lot of speculation about Carr retiring or being asked to retire.  There was a lot of wishful thinking among the fan base that this happen.  Two days after the loss to Ohio State, Lloyd Carr announced his retirement.  The general media consensus was that it was not entirely voluntary.  Lloyd did coach the last game in the Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2008 against the powerful, talented, and reigning National Champion Florida Gators.  Quarterback Chad Henne and running back Mike Hart had not been healthy the last half of the regular season.  They were back at full strength for this bowl game.  Michigan needed to operate on all cylinders to have a chance against the highly favored Gators led by their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow and very talented wide receiver Percy Harvin.  It was a close and exciting game that Michigan won 41-35.  Michigan won with an aggressive defense despite committing four turnovers.  Michigan rolled up an impressive 524 yards while holding the defending National Champs to 399.  The score would have been more lopsided if not for the turnovers.  Florida scored off of two of the turnovers.  The game was a fitting exclamation point on the career of Lloyd Carr.  It marked the end of an era and really had me wondering if the era needed to have ended.

The Rich Rodriguez era began.  It was a change from the Bo school of football.  It was a move to the fast paced, open, and high scoring spread offense.  Michigan was embracing the offense of Oregon and Appalachian State.  Michigan wanted to move to the kind of speed that seemed to confound Michigan in bowl games against the likes of Tennessee, Texas, and others.  It was embracing the future and a move that would leap frog the Wolverines over the Buckeyes.  This was the hype, this was the promise.  This is what the faithful were hoping.for.

The knowing fans knew it would not be easy the first year.  Michigan was losing a fair number of offensive starters but were returning a rather stout defense.  The defense would keep the games close as the Rich Rod offense took hold.  Plus, we had sophomore quarterback Ryan Mallett who showed great promise filling in for Chad Henne during the 2007 season.  OK, he was not a spread style, Vince Young, kind of quarterback but he was one heck of a drop back passer.  

The first crack I felt in the Rich Rod era was that Mallett left Michigan and returned home to play at Arkansas.  Rich Rod did not keep Mallett, he did not give the young man assurance that he would design an offense around Mallett’s strength.  Instead he was committed to his program, his offense, and decided to let Mallett go and maybe even encouraged him to leave for all I know.  Rich Rod pinned his hopes on getting Terrelle Pryor who touted as the second coming of Vince Young.  We did not get Pryor.  He opted for Ohio State which was insult on top of injury.  Michigan was stuck with two unknown third stringers.

All I could think of was why wouldn’t a good coach create his offense around a blue chipper like Mallett rather than let him go in lieu of expecting to land a hot prospect like Pryor.  

Both Proyor and Mallett made the right decisions.  Pryor was part of a team that has gone 10-8, 11-2, and 11-1 in his three years at Ohio State.  After sitting out a year due to transferring, Mallett has led the Razorbacks to 8-5 and 10-2 seasons.  I am sure neither quarterbacks has any regrets not being at Michigan.

There were rumbles that former players were not entirely pleased with Rich Rod either.  It seems he was just too different from what they were used to.  From what I read, he did not endear himself to the former players.  I had the opportunity to chat about this with two ex-players.  They just shook their heads and basically said Rich Rod was not their cup of tea.

I tried to be open minded and waited to see what the team would look like on the field.  That after all is the final arbiter.  I wished Rich Rod success.  I was excited to see his first game against Utah.  I was anxious to turn the tide against Ohio State.  I was full of hope.  We lost to a very good Utah team.

Opening day was a sign of the 3-9 season that was about to unfold.  To say it was ugly or that it was tough to watch is a total understatement.  Michigan fans were used to something more.  We were used to winning seasons and new coaches coming in and doing very well in their first season.  Heck, Bo took over in 1968 and capped off his first season with a huge upset over Ohio State that was touted as “the team of the century.”  Rich Rod’s team only won three games:  Miami of Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.   The defense was dismal and the offense did not have the skill players to execute the Rich Rod scheme.

OK it was a building year.  We heard the cupboard was bare and it would take time to get the skill players in to execute the fast paced Rich Rod version of the spread.  You have to give the guy a few years.  But, no one in the fan base was enjoying this at all.  We got thumped but good by Ohio State and Penn State.  In all the other loses, we either inept looking on offense, defense, or both.

Rich Rod had a good recruiting year and landed some talented offensive players.  Predominant in this were two quarterbacks:  Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.  Both were highly touted and could be the center of something good, something we could build around.  I recall thinking that most of the recruiting was on the offensive.  I was not impressed with that part.

The 2009 season started off with a bang.  Michigan zoomed out to a 4-0 start centered around a very impressive win over Notre Dame.  The fans were feeling good.  We were 1-0 in the Big Ten having beat Indiana in the Big Ten opener.  It was what we were used to.  Cool.  This guy, Rich Rod, may be OK after all.

Then reality set in.  We lost 7 of the next 8 games beating only Delaware State, essentially an exhibition game.  It was as ugly and depressing a finish as the start was uplifting.  We lost heart breakers to MSU in OT and 2 point loses to both Purdue and Iowa.  There were signs of improvement on the offense, but in the Big Ten, the defense was simply giving up too many points and too many yards.

Two years in a row without a bowl trip.

2010 brought about a return to more wins than losses.  The team went 7-5 and is playing in a New Years Day Bowl, the Gator Bowl, against Mississippi State.   Even if they lose, it will be a winning season.  Denard Robinson emerged as the starting quarterback having improved his passing and using his blazing speed to run the spread offense.  In the blazing 5-0 start, there was even talk about Denard winning the Heisman.  He was putting up spectacular numbers in rushing, passing, and total offense per game.  He broke the Michigan record per game a few times and set a season record as well.  He was just named the Big Ten Most Valuable Player.  It is an appropriate and well deserved honor.

Yet, this does not seem enough for most Michigan fans.  Convincing losses to Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State, and Wisconsin have most everyone clamoring Michigan to can Rich Rod and bring in Michigan Alum Jim Harbaugh who has had great success at Stanford building an old Michigan style, a Bo heritage style, football team.  Even with a positive win loss record, people are fit to be tied about not being able to play with the Big Ten elite teams.  The defense was inadequate for sure in all the losses and this particularly rankles the fan base.  But, it must be noted that the offense was pretty much contained as well in the loses to Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Recently, on December 2nd,  the University of Michigan football team had their Annual Football Bust.  It has always been called a “bust” and is no reflection on the Rich Rodriquez era.  It is simply the end of season award dinner.  Anyone can attend and I suppose it is ticket sales to the general public.  When I lived in Detroit, I always thought about going, but never did.

There was buzz about this event both before and after the Bust.  This year was the 25th Anniversary of the 1985 team and the players on that team planned a reunion at the Bust.  Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback of that team and, being the very successful coach of the Stanford Cardinals, the coach everyone wants to replace Rich Rod.  The press was drooling over possible next coach being at the Bust.  It did not happen.  Jim Harbaugh decided not to come claiming that he had to focus on both recruiting and bowl game preparation.

At the Bust, in his speech, Rich Rod got all overemotional.  He emoted about wanting to be a Michigan man.  It was a plea, an appeal, to all.  He wanted to stay.  He was dedicated to his job and mission.  He wanted all to know this and be aware.  He was on the verge of tears or did actually shed tears, it doesn’t matter.   There is no crying in baseball… er football.  There is especially no crying when you are being paid $1M plus.  At that point, you are, no matter how you cut it or whatever spin you want to put on it, you are being paid for performance.  You are being paid to get a job done.  Pure and simple.  We give you $1M a year and you build a football team that is competitive that contends for the conference championship every year and has national prominence.  Pure and simple.  Sure you can be emotional and passionate in your job.  You are after all a football coach.  But don’t whine, hem, and haw if your job is on the line because you have not delivered.    Praise your players that is what the event was about.

The bottom line is that Rich Rodriguez is half a coach.  He has built an exciting and potent offense.  That offense was pretty potent against most opponents this year except Ohio State.  We scored enough points to win every game except Ohio State.  

We scored enough points to have won every game except Ohio State if we had a defense that could actually hold the other team to 20 points or less.  That is what Ohio State and Wisconsin are capable of.  That is the kind of defenses Michigan used to have and I do believe the fan base is clamoring for.  Coincidentally, it is the kind of defense that Jim Harbaugh seems to have at Stanford.  Rich Rod had a good defense at West Virginia but it was clearly the doing of his defensive coordinator and current head coach there:  Bill Stewart.

So, what is to happen to Rich Rodriguez?  I think he is gone.  Athletic Director, Dave Brandon, is a no nonsense results oriented manager.  He has not given Rich Rodriguez the “he is our coach and we have a contract with him we are delighted to honor” kind of endorsement.  I believe like many he is waiting until after the Gator Bowl in which Michigan is playing Mississippi State on New Year’s Day.  If Brandon was to sever ties with Rich Rod, the buy out on his contract is $4M versus $2.5M after the end of the year.  I would wait for two weeks to avoid having to pay $1.5M.

The problem is that waiting hurts our recruiting.  We have lost a few because no one is sure if Rich Rod will be there next year.  Oddly, the two I have heard about are offensive players:  a quarterback and running back.

I would have loved this experiment to have worked but something needs to be done to stem the losses to MSU and Ohio State.  When I feel a little bad for wanting him gone, I simply remind myself how much we are paying him and how much we will have to pay him to leave.  Rich Rod will be just fine no matter which path Dave Brandon takes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

E-Cigarettes?

I am as my blog title indicates this side of fifty. On this side of fifty, I am not necessarily the first to know about emerging trends and fads. It is OK, I am comfortable with it, my children kind expect that of me. Witness my not having a clue who Lady Gaga is on http://thissideoffifty.blogspot.com/2010/05/may-2010-coljungt.html.

Just today, I became aware of something new, well new to me at least: e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes? Huh? Virtual cigarettes maybe? A social networking site where one could don a smoking persona? Maybe e-cigarettes is a service where one could hire a surrogate to smoke cigarettes for you and you get a video of this person smoking your favorite brand. E-cigarettes? I could even see Apple coming out with an iCigarette that was more intuitive to use.

No it is non of those things. E-cigarettes are electronic cigarettes. They are tobacco-less cigarettes composed of three parts: a battery, the section that holds the liquid nicotine, and the mouth piece. The cigarette is plastic. The tobacco part of a regular cigarette is the battery. the extra long filter like part is the liquid nicotine vessel and mouthpiece. The nicotine holder screws into the battery cylinder and the mouthpiece snugly fits on the end.

The gizmo works this way. When one draws on the cigarette, the battery heats up the liquid nicotine which turns into a smoke like vapor. When exhaled, the vapor looks like smoke but is essentially benign. This means people can smoke these e-things anywhere.

Look at these youtube videos to see how e-cigarettes work:
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pV8j81qX4U
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqz6TvAKcBQ&feature=related
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxZjGUiaIS0
There are two other reasons touted why these cigarettes are better. First, as they use no real tobacco products, the synthetic nicotine is the only ingredient that has any harmful effects. There is no tar, salt peter, or any other chemicals found in tobacco cigarettes. The producers claim these cigarettes are a healthier alternative to smokers. A second advantage is that e-cigarettes cost less. A person that spent $160 a month on Marlboros now spends $40 a month on e--cigarettes.

E-cigarettes have been around for a few years. It baffles me that I have never heard of them until today. This took me back to F. Ross Johnson’s the megalomaniac CEO of RJR Nabisco in the 1980s. He pushed a $350 million effort to innovate and launch a smokeless cigarette in the company’s RJ Reynolds division. The smokeless cigarette did make it to the marketplace but was a colossal dud of Edsel proportions. I actually bought a pack of those products as there was a lot of hoopla about this “innovation.” Unlike e-cigarettes, the smokeless cigarettes had to be lit. The problem was taste. The were absolutely awful.

According to my limited research, these e-cigarettes have a loyal and growing following. I am debating whether to try one or not. I read also that producers are working on an e-cigar that functions on the same principle and supposedly tastes like a real cigar. I suppose, if I am going to try anything, it would be an e-cigar.

I am still kind of astonished that I had never heard of e-cigarettes nor have I seen anyone ever smoke one. Given the fascination I had with the failure of the smokeless cigarette int he 1980s, I would have certainly been interested in knowing about and tracking the e-cigarette market. They are on my radar screen now.

Over and out until the next time I am a day late and a buck short on in regards to a new fad or innovation.