Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rabbit's Feet

I am always thinking about topics.  I am looking for topics that I can write about on my personal and business blogs.  I am looking for topics that I can speak about at my local Toastmaster’s meetings.  Sometimes the topics are abundant and there are plenty to choose from.  Other times it is like looking for water in the desert.  

Yesterday, April 24, 2011, upon sending out my monthly letter I made a mental note that I would like to have another posting before month’s end.  The ink was barely dry on that mental note when an idea just popped into my head.  The idea was Rabbit’s Feet.  I am not sure why or how that idea bubbled so quickly and easily to the surface.  I am guessing it may have been do to the slight fever signaling an oncoming head cold.  No matter what the idea came and I am running with it.

Upon thinking about Rabbit’s Feet, the first thing that came to my mind was that I had not thought about Rabbit’s Feet for a long time and I could not remember the last time I actually saw one.  They were quite popular when I was growing up in Detroit.  I remember several of my friends and schoolmates having them.  These white or gray furry things mounted on a key-chain were a common site hanging from the belt loops of boys pants.  I cannot remember where the girls put them.  No school children used backpacks in those days or they would have been hung on those.

While many had Rabbit’s Feet, I never had one and never cared to have one.  I never valued lucky charms, amulets, or talismans.  I valued more something that belonged to an ancestor in the family.  Being Armenian and given how we ended up in the United States made such relics rare.  I suppose that rarity made the few things that were around all the more precious.  

So, what is a Rabbit’s Foot and why is it a lucky charm to some?  A little web search uncovered the following:

  • In Western Europe, prior to 600 B.C., man considered rabbits to be sacred, because of their belief that spirits inhabited the bodies of animals, and also because of their belief that man directly descended from a select few of these animals.
  • In some cultures, the foot of a rabbit is carried as an amulet believed to bring good luck. This belief is held by individuals in many parts of the world including Europe, China, Africa, and North and South America. It is likely that this belief has existed in Europe since 600 BC amongst Celtic people living in Britain. In variations of this superstition, the donor rabbit must possess certain attributes, or have been killed in a particular place, or killed by a particular method, or by a person possessing particular attributes (e.g. by a cross-eyed man).
  • Also from Wikipedia:
    The belief in
    North American folklore may originate in the system of African-American folk magic known as hoodoo. A number of strictures attached to the charm that are now observed mostly in the breach:
  • First, not any foot from a rabbit will do: it is the left hind foot of a rabbit that is useful as a charm.
  • Second, not any left hind foot of a rabbit will do; the rabbit must have been shot or otherwise captured in a cemetery.
  • Third, at least according to some sources, not any left hind foot of a rabbit shot in a cemetery will do: the phase of the moon is also important. Some authorities say that the rabbit must be taken in the full moon, while others hold instead that the rabbit must be taken in the new moon.
  • Some sources say instead that the rabbit must be taken on a Friday, or a rainy Friday, or Friday the 13th. Some sources say that the rabbit should be shot with a silver bullet, while others say that the foot must be cut off while the rabbit is still alive
I am too much a statistician to believe in amulets or charms to influence the probability of certain outcomes.  I believe opportunities come along everyday to almost everyone.  It is the rare few that a actively on the lookout for such and ready, willing, and able to act when one is presented.

Growing up, I never thought the Rabbit’s Feet my chums had were real.  I just assumed they were fake furry things.  I do not believe I actually ever touched or felt one.  I was a little surprised when I did that I could feel the bones or the plastic core shaped like a bone.  I also believed, until yesterday, that Rabbit’s Feet were a thing of the past.  A quick internet search dispelled that rumor.  Rabbit’s Feet are easily and economically available.  You can buy them in various primary and secondary colors for $.99 each or two for $.99 in natural colors.  I find it hard to believe that they were any cheaper back in the 1960s.

Seeing these products on, I wondered who is still buying them and why? Do people still carry them around?  I do not think I have seen anyone carry one around.  Maybe they are still popular among the school children.  I have no idea since I am not often around that age group.  

For the life of me, I never understood why every other kid had a Rabbit’s Foot when I was in elementary school.  Was it a fad?  Was it family tradition?  I have no idea.  I just know I never had one and never wanted one.  Somehow, the prevalence of this amulet back in the day was fascinating enough to  reside in the recesses of my memory all these years.   Why it popped up now is a mystery to me.  

As stated above, I am too much of a statistician to believe that luck, or rather probability, is influenced by an amulet or talisman of any kind.  Baseball pitchers are notorious for having a favorite hat, glove, and other routines that they believe are part of their winning streak.  My paternal Grandmother believed in numerology and had several books on the subject to help her pick the winning lottery numbers.  I have friends that go to casinos all the time.  They all think they can beat the odds and each one of them has a mental Rabbit’s Foot they call a system.

People often claim about having luck or not having luck.  Much of what is called luck are opportunities afford to almost everyone... those with luck simply see the opportunities and seize them.  Success breeds the confidence to keep it up.  Success comes from hard work and perseverance.  

Let me finish this posting with two quotes that sum up how I look at luck.   The first is from Thomas Edison who said “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."  Another Thomas, Thomas Jefferson, said:  “I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 2011: Reflections on the Armenian Genocide

Scene from 4-24-11 demonstration in Istanbul
Pnoto: Cigdem Mater

April 10:  I have dedicated every April letter to writing about the Genocide of the Armenians that occurring in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1920.  I find it strange this year that I am feeling like an empty vessel in this regard.   Well that is how I feel today.
Have I written all I can about it?  Or am I just feeling that for all the deep insights and passionate expression of the injustice, we are just banging our heads against a rubber wall.
We will dutifully write our congressmen.  We will hope and pray that the American President uses the word Genocide when he gives his remarks commemorating the tragedy that befell our people.
Maybe it is simply that April 24th, the day of commemoration, falls on Easter Sunday this year. Easter Sunday is a joyous day of rebirth in which all Christians rejoice in the forgiveness of our sins and realize the potential of everlasting life.   Maybe, this year, God is telling us to take a break, to take some deep breaths and reflect on what we really want.
As a people, we will not do that.  We will commemorate the Genocide but not on Easter Sunday.  We will commemorate it the next day on April 25th.  We will have rallies.  We will gather and listen to speeches.  We will lament that Barack Obama did not use the word Genocide yet again.
There are almost no survivors of those dismal days still with us.  Those precious few are at least 95 years old.  They will not play a central role in the commemorations. 
In one sense, by waiting and being firm in their position that it was not Genocide, Turkey is slowly winning.  With the passing of years, the events of nearly one hundred years ago are becoming more history than current events.  I have often likened it to the plight of American Indians.  This country treated them horribly.  We are now acknowledging that but that is about it.  It happened a long time ago.  It was a dark period of our history that we are not proud of and that is about it.  I can see the same thing happening in Turkey.  This is, of course, what the government is doing.  There is much more going on in Turkey or so I am always being told.
There are no survivors left in our family.  My maternal Grandmother was the last and she passed away in 2007.  My grandfathers died in 1959 and 1974.  Various great aunts and uncles are all gone as well.  The link to what they called the “old country” is all gone.  They are all buried in the United States where they lived the majority of their lives. 
Armenians are not the only people to have suffered such a move.  There are very few Christians and Jews left not only in Turkey but in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt per the CIA World Factbook.  These numbers, percentage-wise, would have looked different 100 years ago.

% Muslim

Many Jews and Christians have been displaced from their ancestral homes in Iran and Iraq.  It is and is not about religion.  Really bright intellectual people will say it is not about religion.   It is a socio-political-economic problem.   I do not always buy into that view entirely.  I am not so sure how to separate the religion vector from all this.
While we fight and struggle to right a 96 year old wrong.  The world moves on.  Turkey, as mentioned is struggling with many issues relating to a rising tide of Islam, a tolerance movement, citizens revealing and reveling in their minority heritage, and the old guard trying to protect the secular republican ideals and state created by Ataturk.   Turkey could have protests the likes of which have toppled governments in Egypt, Tunisia, and still evolving in Bahrain, Syria, and other countries.  What is happening in Libya is simply horrible.
So, what is the 96 year old issue that we Armenians keep bringing up year after year compared to the forces of change now rocking the Middle East.  Sure, we need to pursue this.   But, we also need to navigate within and around the upheavals happening in the Middle East.  What if such upheavals occur in Turkey, Azerbaijan, or Georgia?  What does that mean for Armenia and Armenia’s security?  As a collective people, we need to make sure that the territorial integrity of Armenia and Karabagh remain intact and our brothers and sisters there stay safe and secure.
What if such an upheaval comes to Armenia?  It is certainly possible.  The government there is arguably in the hands of or heavily influenced by oligarchs.  Corruption in Armenia is a real issue and the fairness of elections is a matter of serious contention.  It is a very poor country.  The real shame is that it did not have to be.
What if such an uprising occurs in Armenia?  Will that give Turkey the opportunity to annex the last bit of Armenian land in the region?  Will it afford Azerbaijan the chance it has been waiting for to trying to take back Karabagh and perhaps go further into Armenia?  These might be the kinds of issues we probably need to consider in addition to the annual protests, commemorations, and beseeching of US and Turkish governments to admit what really happened.
Some Armenian brothers and sisters in Germany have created a new site:  The site is dedicate to preserving on-line the Armenians and Armenian life in the Armenian Highlands now commonly referred to as Anatolia.  It has just begun and and has some great promise (though I would prefer authentic instrumented soundtrack… but that is just me.)  It is worth checking out and contributing in terms of content or donation if you are so motivated.
April 15:  I am out of whatever Armenian funk I was in.  Sometimes it is just a bit frustrating to be Armenian.  Allow me to elaborate a bit.
The Diasporan Armenians and the citizens of the Republic of Armenia are not as united as they could and should be.  I personally felt a fair number of my brothers and sisters there looking at me as a foreigner.  Of course, I am.  I am a citizen of the United States of America and not the Republic of Armenia.  I have not lived in Beirut nor in Istanbul.  I grew up in Detroit, Michigan.
I have not lived in an environment where there is a large concentration of Armenian’s around.  I do not know the language as well as I should.   I do not understand fully what is going on it Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, or even LA.
It matters not.  I feel as Armenian as anyone, no matter how they view me.  I live a dual life.  I live and Armenian-American life.  I can look and act like a typical American and yet be Armenian at the same time
How are things changing in Turkey?  There will be a second annual April 24th Commemoration in Taksim Square in Istanbul.  The commemoration is sponsored by the Human Rights Association, Turkey Istanbul Branch - The Committee Against Racism and Discrimination.  The commemoration is not sponsored by Armenians.
How have things not changed in Turkey?  This week in Bismal a district of Diyarbekir (the current manifestation of the ancient Armenian capital Dikranagert) there were protests resulting in the killing of at least one protester.  Per the Hurriyet Daily News, the Supreme Election Board of the country vetoed the candidacy of twelve independent candidates.    As the candidates were Kurdish, government foul play was highly suspected.  There was a national uprising and protests that resulted in one death which sparked more protests.
How have things not changed in Turkey and how Armenians react to things?  There was a also a lot of buzz on the Armenian Listserv about the vandalizing of the ruins of a monastery near Van and Aghtamar.   There were debates about the newsworthiness of the report, if Kurds really had done this as reported, and using the word “Kurds” was insensitive or even racist in some convoluted way. 
Some people living around whatever is left of Armenian religious building Turkey may well be racist.  Others may simply know that the Armenians probably are not coming back to claim any of these structures and stones.  The availability of precut stones is valued for construction and repair of the humble abodes in some of these rural locales.   We are saddened by the photos of Armenian cross stones used for wall construction or table tops.   We are sick to our stomachs when we say the same relics used as stair steps or even worse urinals.  There is a huge frustration among Armenians that so few care, that we can do nothing about it, and a vast majority of sites are gone.  Look at the before and after photos on just one site to get a feel for what has happened
Lots of things change in 100 years.  No matter what Armenians in the Diaspora claim or claim to want, we have little voice in Turkey and perhaps just a bit more in Armenia. 
April 16:  In settling in for a night’s sleep, I did what many Americans with too many televisions in their homes do.  I flipped on the TV in the bedroom.  Turner Classic Movies was just beginning “America America” the classic 1963 black and white film by Elia Kazan.  I had heard my parents speak of this movie often.  I had to watch it.  Once I started, I could not stop. 
The movie is based on a 1961 book by Kazan of the same title.  It is loosely based on the immigration of Kazan’s uncle Avraam Elia Kazanjoglu.  The movie begins in 1896 in a non-descript village in Anatolia around Mt. Aergius in Cappadocia.  The town is made up of Greeks, Armenians, and Turks.  Almost immediately there is a massacre of the Armenians in the town.  This is the kind of localized atrocities that led to the Genocide of the Armenians in 1915. 
The lives of the Greeks and Armenians in this village were portrayed to be quite miserable.  They were sheep.  They were always afraid of what the Turks might hear them say or how the Turks might react to their actions.  Most did not want to leave their ancestral homelands.  But, Stavros Topouzoglu, the name given to Kazan’s Uncle’s character, was fixated on getting out and getting to America.  This story is how Stavros struggles first to get to Constantinopolis.  There he works as a hamal, a human mule, loading and unloading ships and eventually makes it to America. 
The depiction of the Turks in Stavros’s village and those he met on the road to Istanbul were very much as the Armenian villagers described them to be in various books and other reports.  It did not look like anyplace or time that I would have wanted to lived in.  I am certain Kazan did not have any intention of being kind to the Turks.  I felt he accurately captured the look of the times. 
April 24:  It is Easter Sunday.  It is also the day the Armenian intelligentsia and leaders were rounded up in Istanbul.  They were never to be seen again.   There is a list on of all those that were rounded up that day.   Not all were killed.  It is worth reading the list to see the names most of which I am not familiar with.  Reading the list definitely took me out of whatever blaise faire I was experiencing earlier this month.  I believe that I will read this list every year.
I woke to read about a roadside bomb that went off outside a Catholic church in Bagdad.  Seven people were injured.  Easter mass was being conducted when the bomb went off.   It seems to me that the outrage is must less than when that Florida preacher burned a copy of the Koran a month or so ago. 
I forget the freedom I take for granted in this country.  I am sitting in the comfort and coziness of my own home typing this letter.  The worst I have to fear is a negative response from a reader.   I think about the protests in Turkey from earlier this week.  I think about the protests in Yemen and Syria.  I think about the protests that have turned into civil war in Libya.  I think of the US military presence in Iraq and the on-going war in in war in Afghanistan.  I think about the taking of this land where I now live in and how it was taken from the indigenous people that were here.  I think of the inhumanity of man to man.
I will listen to Ara Dinkjian performance Adanayi Voghpuh from his album Peace on Earth.  This lovely sad song is for the 1985 Adana massacres but it applies to 1915 and the too many sad parts of the long history of the Armenians.  Ara does a masterful job on this lament.
 I will also listen  to Erkan Ogur and Djivan Gasparyan performing Yemen (Havada Bulut Yok) from Ogur’s album Fuad.   It is a song about Turkish soldiers that went to fight in a war in Yemen for Ottomans.  It is a lament for those that went and did not return:  Giden gelmiyor, acep nedendir?  This lovely sad song has been symbolic in referring to the Armenian Genocide.  It is a lament for those that went and did not return:  Giden gelmiyor, acep nedendir?  Those who have left do not return.  It is too sad.
It is too sad because this song is about the suffering of common people that had to send their sons to die in a war in Yemen.  It is a war they probably could care less about and had no part in the starting of.  They just contributed their sons to go and die for that “greater glory.”  The YouTube shows photos of soldiers from that era.  Yet, the song and that last lines of the chorus applies to the Armenian’s that lived in the same villages.  They too had left and were not coming back. 
There you have it;  my reflections on April 24, 2011.  I really have fulfilled the tag line:  A Letter of Musings and Meanderings.  I have mused and meandered about the grayness of the black and white history reflected through a mirror half a world away and ninety-six after the fact.  Those who were driven off are now all gone. The lifestyle they had is no more.   We need to look forward and act positively for our people… all people.

Video links:
·   Yemen – Erkan Ogur & Djivan Gasparyan
·   Adanayi Vokhpu – Ara Dinkjian
· (The video does not match the meaning of the song… close your eyes when you listen)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

No Fries With That

I went to the Starbucks closest to my home this morning to get a cuppa on my way to my client’s offices.  I gave my regular order “Grande, drip, room” which is nothing very fancy.  The gentleman behind the counter upon getting my cup of coffee and before taking payment asked “Would you like to buy a bag of our Tribute Blend?”  I simply said, “No fries with that... thanks,” paid, and left.

When I said “No fries with that, thanks” the barista, as the Starbucks employees refer to themselves, gave me a little smirk.  The smirk was not directed as much to me as it was to Starbucks.  It was his way of letting me know that it was not his idea to offer the whole bean bag of Tribute Blend but moreso Starbucks’ and probably his store manager.  Well, OK, maybe the smirk was partly aimed at what he may have taken as a smart-ass reply.

I felt no remorse for my statement for two reasons.  First, my tone was neither sarcastic or remotely angry.  It was matter of fact and thus benign.  Plus it was 6:15 am I did add the “thanks” at the end to be polite.  Secondly, I may be getting a little curmudgeonly again, but I am tired of being asked “Is there any way we can get you to buy more stuff than you came in here for?”  I am the customer who willingly walked into their store with every intent of spending a few dollars.  I really just want what I want and do not care to be asked to spend more.  Besides there are numerous impulse items arranged around the cash register silently asking customers to buy more.

I understand that it is a business and they would rather I spend $20 than the $2.12 I actually spent.  I just think they should be happy with the $2.12 rather than the $0 if I should decide never to walk into another one of their stores again ever.  Most of the time, I really truly, “do not want fries with that.”

I believe this all began with the burger fast food  chains.  I am not sure when exactly it began but I am guessing in the 1980s or 1990s.  Every time you order something the server would ask “Do you want fries with that” or “would you like to super-size that?”  It was company policy.  Now, it seems to be the policy at every company.

“No fries with that, thanks.”  This is my policy and stock answer whenever being offered something more than I ordered.  I like the old fashioned, and to me more acceptable, “Is there anythings we can do for you today?”  It is open ended enough and somehow gives me a choice and reply with a simple “no thank you.”

“No fries with that, thanks.”  This will be my stock answer whenever I am offered something more than I came in for except for when I kinda like and kinda want what they are offering.

Oh the challenges we face being consumers...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Michigan Hockey

1948 Michigan Hockey Team
Winners of the 1st NCAA Championship Tournement
I am watching the NCAA Championship Hockey Game as I type this like a wannabe sports reporter.  Since 1999, the college championship series has been dubbed the Frozen Four.  I suppose to give it the same marketing buzz as the basketball championships.  This 63rd college Hockey Championship finds the University of Michigan Wolverines against the University of Minnesota - Duluth Bulldogs.  Michigan is going for their 10th championship whereas Duluth is going for their 1st.

For being such a Michigan fan, I was not aware, until today, that Michigan has the most college Division I hockey championships with nine.  They are followed by both North Dakota and Denver with seven each.    Michigan has won the first championship in 1948.  They won again in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, and 1964.  The Wolverines then took a thirty-two year break until their next championship in 1996 and 1998.  Since 1998, Michigan has been tied for third in the Frozen Four in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2008.  They have been in championship series a record seventeen times.

Clearly, just from reading this blog, I am a Michigan Football fan.  After football, I am a basketball fan having enjoyed the national championship in 1989 and the back to back appearances in the national championship when the Fab Five were Wolverines.  Beyond football and basketball, I have followed swimming, lacrosse, baseball, and softball.  This year I even watched the men’s soccer team on TV as they were in the championship series.  I became interested in Men’s Crew when my son, Aram, rowed for them in 1999 – 2001.

Vic Heyliger was the coach in the glory days of the the 1940s and 1950s.  His record was 228-61-13 in his twelve years at the helm.  Coach Heyliger (1912-2006) hailed from Concord, MA, was an All American hockey player at Michigan, and played center for the Chicago Black Hawks.  Again, until today I was totally unaware of this man and his contribution to Michigan Athletics.

The resurgence in Michigan hockey is due to their current coach Gordon Arthur “Red” Berenson.   Berenson took over the coaching duties in 1984 and has been there ever since:  twenty-seven years. 

Coach Berenson was born in Regina, Saskatchewan on December 8, 1939.  At the recent, Big Chill, the outdoor hockey game in December against Michigan State in Michigan Stadium, Coach Berenson related how he grew up playing on outdoor rinks.  Berenson, like Heyliger, played for the Wolverines while at the business school.  He was also an All American having scored 43 goals in his senior year.  Berenson went on to play for the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, and the Detroit Red Wings.  He was on Stanley Cup winning teams both in Montreal and St. Louis. 

Today’s game is what they used to call a humdinger.  This is not a typical Michigan team.  They do not have one twenty goal scorer.  They are a more defensive team than most of Berenson’s and this is not to disparage the defense of any of Berenson’s other teams.  Duluth is a tough, fast, and aggressive team.  They have a rich hockey tradition and have been in the Frozen Four three times. 

Michigan led after the first period 1-0.  They could have led 2-0.  Michigan scored right off of a face-off in the Duluth end.  It was quick and electric.  They could have led 2-0 as an earlier goal was ruled not a goal because the whistle was blown just before the puck was jammed in.  Duluth also had a near goal caroming one off the crossbar with the loudest clang I have ever heard on a TV hockey game.   In the second period, Duluth came out on fire and really took the action into the Michigan end.  They scored one goal off of a face-off kind of paying Michigan back.  Their second goal was scored on a power play.  It looked like Duluth was about to run away with the game when Michigan scored toward the end of the period to tie it up at 2-2.

The third period was incredibly exciting, well played, and scoreless.  Both teams had great scoring opportunities, great defense, and great goal tending.  Duluth’s power play has been on fire in the post season.  Michigan gave them nine power play opportunities which seemed insane but only yielded on goal.  As I said, defense is the strength of this team.  The announcers were astonished that Duluth only scored once off of a power play.  

Shawn Hunwick, the Michigan goalie, has been on fire in the Frozen Four.  He made forty saves against North Dakota, the then top ranked team in the country.  Michigan led most of the game 1-0 and only took a 2-0 lead when North Dakota pulled their goalie at the end of the game.   He made some good saves against Duluth as well.

As the game headed into overtime, the announcers noted the Hunwick could well be the difference in the game.  That was not to be.  Duluth poured on a furious attack that gave the appearance that they had a man advantage even though they did not.  I even told my wife “they are going to score” about ten seconds before they did.  I was not much of a seer.  It was that obvious.  To me it just seemed Duluth wanted it more in the overtime.  It seemed like they had more gas in their engines.  There are probably a few other clich├ęs I could invoke here.

Bottom line, it was a great game.  I enjoyed watching it.  I was a little sad that Michigan lost but not nearly as devastated as in a football loss.  Good game.  Congratulations to Michigan on a wonderful season.  Congratulations to the University of Minnesota – Duluth on winning their first national championship.

I have watched more Michigan this year than ever before.  I have watched them play Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Miami of Ohio on television.  I actually went to my first Michigan hockey game ever.  Jack Hachigian and I went to the Big Chill on December 11, 2010.  It was a great day.  I drove in the night before and stayed at my parent’s house.  I picked up Jack the next day and we headed to Ann Arbor with both Michigan and Michigan State flags aflutter in the cold December air.  It was great being among the largest crowd to watch a hockey game… ever.

I seems I have become a college hockey fan.