Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 2011: Need for a New Race to the Moon

May 5:  Today was the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s 15 minute flight into space.  I was all of eight years old then and I remember the impact the space race had on me.  Yuri Gagarin and the Soviets beat the US and Shepard into space by 23 days.   So, in actuality, Shepard was the 2nd man in space.  He was the 1st Amenican.  Gagarin orbited the Earth.  Shepard just peaked his head into space.  I think he was only in space for a grand total of five minutes.   He did not fly again until 1971 when  he was on the Apollo 14 mission and actually walked on the moon.

The Soviets took an early lead with the Sputnik satellite and Gagarin’s flight.  It shocked us as we were still feeling our new found economic and military superiority coming out of World War II.   President John F. Kennedy also felt this shock and motivated our nation, or at least NASA, to win the space race.  We out spent, out manned, and out engineered  the Soviets to win that race and land a man on the moon.  No other country has landed a man on the moon.  President Kennedy pushed an agenda of engineering, science, and math tied to the Space Race and it had an effect...  at least on me.

Some recent news has me believing we need a similar galvanizing mission or challenge of this nature today.  

What was this news?  On April 25th, the IMF released a report projecting that China will overtake the US are the predominant economy in the world.  That projection is not all that astonishing given that their economy is surging and they have four times the population as we do.  The surprise to me was that the IMF report forecasting that China will surpass us as early as 2016.  That fact astonished and jarred me.  But, I was in a distinctly small minority in finding this news unsettling.

What has happened to our national sense of competition and striving to be the best or to be #1.  I fear it has been supplanted with individual greed.  It is not that individual advancement and greed has not been parts of most societies throughout history.

The questions I ask myself at this point are:
  1. Did we ever has a sense of striving together?
  2. If we did, have we lost it?
  3. Can we get it back?
The first question is easy to answer.  I think we did just that World War II.  Factoring out the treatment of Japanese Americans, we seemed to pull together in a real meaningful way to beat the Axis Powers and free Europe and Asia from tyranny.  Maybe I am naive, but this is the sense I took from growing up in the 1950s and 1960s.  There was a common sense of purpose and a common sense of sacrifice.  Everyone worked to achieve the common goal.  

This continued a bit through the fifties and sixties in fighting the Cold War and striving to win the Space Race.  While there was a shared sense of purpose and mission.  People were not all making the same sacrifices and everyone was not working toward the same goal.  The World War II notion of a collective sense of sacrifice and mission was still believed by my parents and grandparents generation.  It made less and less sense to my generation.  This difference became the famed Generation Gap of the late 1960s and early 1970s.   The focal point for this Generation Gap became the Vietnam War.  

We won the space race and we were all happy.  But, we were had changed somehow.  Wall Street took over and the striving for quarterly results dominated at the expense of strategy.  We become a nation of outsourcing, mergers, and acquisitions motivated by consolidations and cost reductions.   

While this was happening here, other countries developed that sense of collective mission and sacrifice.  Japan became an industrial power in the years following World War II.  By the time we took notice, their electronics and automobiles were serious threats eating into our market share.  They caught us flat footed.  They killed our consumer electronics industrial segment.  We survived in automobiles flourishing again in the 1980s and 1990s only to require a government takeover of GM and Chrysler a few years ago.  

There is probably a natural evolutions of economies.  People, governments, and corporations make sacrifices to grow and prosper.  At a certain point, the three segments lose their hunger and become complacent and thus vulnerable.  Complacency plus favoring the short term over the strategic makes us vulnerable to countries that have a strategic industrial strategy and are hell bent on making it happen.

I believe that after the Great Recession of 2008 - 2010, we have emerged as something less than we went into it as.  Maybe we are becoming the UK.  Our middle class continues to erode make us like most societies in the world:  a small rich class of HAVES and very large class of HAVE NOTS that struggle to make ends meet and survive.    OK it is not this horrible in America as yet, but I believe we are headed in that general direction.

So the answer to the above question #2 is Yes.  Yes, we had the common sense of purpose and sacrifice but we lost it in the 1960s and 1970s.  We have yet to regain it.  I believe that the IMF report should be taken as an economic Pearl Harbor.  It should be a call to action for the leadership and people of this great nation.  We need to pull together to drive more science and engineering graduates.  We need to pull together to create strategies to build our manufacturing base up.  We then need to execute those strategies and create meaningul jobs.  We need to do this whether we remain #1, #2, or even #3.

Since John F. Kennedy, we have tried to declare war a few times.  We have declared war on poverty and inflation.  President Lyndon Johnson declared War on Poverty in his 1964 State of the Union Address.  A few years later the worst rioting and looting occurred in poorest sections of Newark, Detroit, and Los Angeles.  That War was not what I would call a success.  Certainly Lyndon Johnson did not win it.  Arguably, we are still fighting this war.

The War on Inflation was actually a little comical.  In 1974, President Gerald Ford declared War on Inflation.  He wanted every American to take up a personal fight against inflation.  He called his program Whip Inflation Now and encouraged everyone to wear buttons with the letters WIN.  The whole program became fodder for every comedian and political satirist in the country.  Inflation was eventually whipped but it had nothing to do with President Ford’s program.

While those wars did not really resonate and take hold like the Space and Cold War with the Soviets, 9/11 had a galvanizing effect.  I saw a greater emotional commitment to the War on Terror. which seems to have culminated with the death of Osama Bin Laden earlier this month.

We need a state of war mentality in regards to our competitiveness.  We need to fight to shore up or middle class.  We need to be serious about our future, our status and stature in the world, and the well being of our citizens.  While we are a country of rugged individualism, we need to mobilize to create a strong and competitive workforce. We need to re-create a business and industrial base that is sustainable and renewable.  We need to renew and we need to renew now.

Maybe we are on the same trajectory as the UK.  Their empire began to fade after World War I and continued to the point where they are kind of an economic and military has been.  They have not been able to resurrect or revive whatever it was that made it great.  

May 16:  This morning I heard a report on NPR.  It was titled “College Student Debt Grows. Is It Worth It?”  The talking head expert in this piece suggested that debt one incurs should not exceed the starting annual salary expected upon landing a job..  This is dependant on the university and major.   The problem seems as bad as the housing crisis.

It made me think about the wonderful higher education system we have here and how we should leverage it to help our own people and industry.   I began to think of what we ought to be doing to turn this ship around.  My plan is simple, at least to say, and is two pronged.

  1. Educate our workforce differently:  We have the biggest and best university infrastructure in the world.  We need to leverage this strength.  We need to educate our young people to compete in the world economy.  We need scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists.
  2. Provide jobs for the new workforce:  We then have to create the jobs to put these people to work to build our business and industrial infrastructure back-up.  

It is a great plan.  There is just one little question.  How the heck do we fund and provide effective incentives to students, universities, and businesses to make this plan work?  Three are models for this:  Japan (30 years ago), Korea, and, of course, China.  We are competing against countries that plot and plan.   They have focused on industries and sectors and have done a great job making inroads and even dominating industries.  Japan did this, as menitoned above, with consumer electronics, automobiles, and heavy industry.  Korea did it in consumer electronics first in microwave ovens and then having LG and Samsung do to Japan what Japan did to the US in consumer electronics.   China took a lot of production from Europe and the US with an army of really cheap labor.  Besides the cheap labor, the government created policies and incentives to facilitate industrial growth in the country.  As a nation, we let it happen.  Cost reduction was the major driver in the move.  There was the “huge sucking sound” that H. Ross Perot talked about in the 1990s about NAFTA.  He was absolutely right, his timing and geography were off is all.

We should do the same thing.  What is our industrial strategy in this country?  Seriously, what is our Industrial Strategy in this country?  Where do we see our place in the world economy in 2016 and 2021?  Where do we want to see job growth in the next five and ten years?  What are we doing to facilitate this?   Our politicians always seem promise the creation of quality jobs and then there is little follow through.  There has to be a partnership of government and industry to make this happen.  We are spending a lot of money funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Maye we can take some of these funds and invest them in our industrial base and our workforce.

We rely on the free market, the competitive marketplace, to drive our business sectors.  Companies either will adapt to be competitive or go out of business.  It is hard to argue that this does not work.  It worked from the beginning of the industrial revolution until today.   There was a lot of debate and criticism when the auto companies were taken over by the government in the Great Recession.  A lot of business people thought we should have let them fail.  The argument is that inept leadership and poor union relations took General Motors and Chrysler to bankruptcy.   I believe the government did the right thing.  General Motors paid back the government last year.  Chrysler did the same just this month.  We only did this with these auto companies and the banks because of the dismal state of the economy in the Great Recession.  We need to consider being more proactive in this regard.

The second part of the equation is education.  We need to make our students the best in the world.  We need to ensure that we are all literate, that we produce good managers, engineers, scientists, and mathematicians.  We need to ensure the education excels both in theory and practicality.  We need to also realize that college is not for everyone.  We need to people to learn trades that will be necessary to support the re-industrialization of this great nation.  

We cannot survive as a nation where the majority of the population works in the service industry.  There is no wealth or growth in that.

May 20:  I learned of another report that has a slightly different angle.  This comes from the Boston Consulting Group

Within the next five years, the United States is expected to experience a manufacturing renaissance as the wage gap with China shrinks and certain U.S. states become some of the cheapest locations for manufacturing in the developed world, according to a new analysis by The Boston Consulting Group.
Hmmm... which are we to believe?  Do we believe China will overtake the US or rather should we believe that manufacturing jobs will return to this country in great numbers?   Certainly, trends develop and play out faster these days than ever before in human history.  I am less sure that humans are equipped to keep up let alone ahead of these changes.

Think about it.  In just about a twenty year span beginning in 1996 to 2016 we have exported a large measure of our manufacturing base to China.  In the next four or five years, we can see both China becoming the predominant economic power and manufacturing jobs to return here.  It is a little mind boggling.  

Why would the jobs come back here and not to the next low cost geography like Africa or Latin America?  Without us being prepared and having an Industrial Strategy, jobs will only return here if the transportation costs increase to the point where production has to be near the points of consumption.  

Jobs and industry will not return here unless we want them too.  We equals the government, corporations, and people of this great nation.  We allowed the jobs to leave.  China had a strategy and funded that strategy to make it happen.  We went for the big fat cost reductions that moving production to Asia offered.  We allowed our corporations to make the easy short term profit decision.   Some of us foresaw the consequences but were not in positions of influence to affect policy.  So, the jobs left and we saw our stock market soar.  The same short term thinking, and yes greed, caused the housing market and banks to melt down causing the Great Recession.

We are a very independent country.  We have great pride, as well we should, in our freedoms and our independence.  But without a strategy and clear mission, short term optimization usually does not guarantee long term optimization.  This is a position that W. Edwards Deming was most passionate about.  It was true in 1970 and 1980.  It is even more true now.

We need determined leadership to make this happen.  We need determined and intelligent leadership to convince all the different segments and constituencies to get on the same page and then to work to realize the goals and objectives.

This is a gargantuan task.

May 25:  I sat down to work on this letter this evening.  First, I thought I would do a little Twitter.  Time magazine posted the following.  

TIME 50 years later, watch JFK's famous 'Moon' speech, now an American icon

I did not realize that John F. Kennedy made his famous Moon Race speech until after the Alan Shepard flight.   A 1:45 minute excerpt of the speech is embedded in the Time article.  You hear President Kennedy lay out the objective:  "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”  I find the message inspiring today.  It was a different time but not all that long ago.  President Kennedy emphasized that we were doing this as a nation and doing it for mankind.  It was noble and good.

I believe we need something just like this.  We need something positive and looking to the future to drive us as a nation and unite us as a people.  We need something to galvanize us, give us a goal that we can collectively work for.  We need something positive to work for and do.

I will be called naive and overly optimistic by some.  Others will accuse me of being too liberal or too conservative.  Don’t ask me how are why I could be accused of both but believe me it will happen.  I will be happy if I can at least get people thinking about this.

I am certain my ideas are not remotely close to a plan.  The ideas need to be discussed, beaten into a plan, and presented to the American people, universities, and corporations in a way that unites us all.

I would love to President Obama lay out a proposal and fund a plan that does just as President Kennedy did 50 years ago.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


May 21st came and went uneventfully.  To me, it is what I both expected and kind of hoped for.  I really would like to spend more time here with friends and family, doing the things that provide fulfillment and.  I really look forward to meeting and getting to know grandchildren at some point.  I am not sure if there is ever a good time for the world to end.  May 21, 2011 just did seem like it was the time.
Perhaps none of us are any good and we were all left behind. Gee, I am pretty sure that is not the case. I know some very good exemplary people that would have been taken up.  

This whole end of the world thing did create a certain amount of buzz.  My little blog piece, The Rapture - May 21, 2011,  had a record number of hits.  Well it had a record number of hits for my blogs.  In one day, it became the most read posting ever. I was amazed to see that 350 people read it.  I had a really teeny little glimpse of what going viral must be like.

Clearly I was not alone in my fascination with this event that did not happen.  I read one article in the Washington Post over the weekend of what people were planning or not planning to do.  My favorite were some young people who were recruiting others via social media to leave clothes strewn about, full outfits, to give the illusion that people were raptured right out of their clothes.  If they had been able to pull that stunt off on any grand scale, I am sure it would have really freaked out some people.  There were others that were planning to spend time in worship with others feeling the same way.  The vast majority of folks simply went about doing whatever it was they had planned.

We were in Washington DC to celebrate my son’s 30th birthday.  He and his wife live in Georgetown.  It happened to be Georgetown University’s Graduation on May 21.  People had travelled from all over the United States and the world to be with the children or grandchildren who were graduated.  I did see one of those sign toting “the end is near” cross between a street monk and homeless person.  While his sign was predicting our demise, he seemed oblivious to all the hype about May 21.  His sign was what they call “evergreen.”  I am sure he is using the same sign today without modifying it one little bit.

I read about people who firmly believed that The Rapture was going to happen and that they were going to Raptured.  These people liquidated all their assets to advertise the coming of this end.  There were stories of people that ran up their credit cards touring the US before they were Raptured up.  They all believed so strongly that money become worthless to them.  I had conjectured the same, but I only conjectured.  I wonder how those folks are feeling today.  Yikes,  not only do they feel let down that nothing happened but now their finances are in shambles.  They have to figure out a way to re-group and move forward.

This whole thing was due a 89 year old evangelist named Harold Camping.  He went into seclusion as soon as he realized that The Rapture would not be happening on the day he has been predicting for months.  He emerged today expressing that he was totally “flabbergasted” and “astounded” that The Rapture did not occur.   While he was expressing how disappointed he and his followers were, his radio network quietly retooled their branding that seems to include not mentioning The Rapture affair at all.  

Camping went on to say that God decided not to torture those left behind for five months but rather to make the event, when it does come, happen all in one day.   I am a bit impressed that the Almighty shares such top level strategic information with him.  In reality, it seems as if Harold Camping is trying to extend his fifteen minutes of fame.

He did not deserve the first fifteen minutes and certainly should not be granted any kind of extension.

I am glad everyone I know and care for is still around.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Rapture - May 21, 2011

May 12:  There was a report on NPR’s All Things Considered as I was driving from my client to my teaching gig.  It was about The Rapture which many believe is supposed to happen on May 21st just nine short days from now.  What is The Rapture?  This is when God comes down and takes the true believers, the faithful, up to heaven.  Everyone left behind is basically in deep trouble.  They shall suffer though the end of the earth.

There have been a a popular series of Christian novels written about this.  Left Behind is a series of sixteen novels written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.  There is way more dogma surrounding this than I would ever want to get into here.  This is supposedly all outlined in The Bible in the books of Ezekial, Isiah, Thesalonians, and, most certainly, Revelations.  To understand just how little I understand consider the folliowing lines from Wikipedia

Left Behind is a series of 16 best-selling novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, dealing with Christian dispensationalist End Times: pretribulation, premillennial, Christian eschatological viewpoint of the end of the world.

Really?  Dispensationalist?  Pretribulation?  Premillenial?  Eschatologica?  And the end of the world?  I do not know what these words mean. I suppose I should have read these novels.  I also suppose, given that these words sound so very confusing to me, that I will be amongst those left behind.  I do not think I can do much in the next nine days to make a difference.  If I were to valiantly try to make amends or changes, I would have to assume an all knowing and all powerful God would have to know I was just doing it to save my soul.  Plus, again given my confusion by the worlds used, I would probably not know what to change or how much to change.   

I remember the Harmonic Convergence event of the 1980s.  There was even more hoopla (hoopla then is what we call buzz these days) about that then there seems to be for this weekends end of times. I remember the 2012 Mayan End of the world which have been “recalculated.”  The NPR piece talked about other ends of the world that clearly did not happen.  I guess I am of the belief, well at least the hope, that this one will pass uneventfully.  

May 19:  It is my sister Laura’s birthday today.  She would have been 53 years old today.  She passed away in 2002.  My sisters Nancy and Ani, my cousin David, and my mother always exchange emails this day and share spiritual feelings   

Amid thinking about my sister and how fast time has gone since she passed, I was reminded again by Yahoo News about the coming rapture on May 21st.  We will actually be in DC to celebrate my son Aram’s thirtieth birthday.  His birthday is actually on Monday but we will celebrate it on Saturday and Sunday.  If the rapture were to happen on the 21st as some are predicting it will certainly be a memorable birthday for my son and all how made the trek to celebrate it with him.  

In theory, we could start the festivities with the ten of so people and end up with some number less then that.  The pious and true believers in our little group might not be there for the birthday cake and the opening of the gifts.

Other than the crazy scariness of being “left behind” and thus somewhat damned, there are other questions that have come to mind:
  1. I have to get some specific things done for my client in preparation for a meeting on Monday.  This will require taking my laptop and spending sometime working over this weekend.  If the rapture occurs, will the meeting be cancelled?  Should I not waste my time preparing now for something that won’t even matter in a few days?
  2. At the birthday dinner, should I order obscenely expensive champagne and cognacs?  I mean if apocalyptic events unfold during dinner I might not even get the bill.  If I get the bill and were left behind, I wouldn’t care much about paying a credit card bill.  A bad credit score would be the least of my worries.
Both of these questions presuppose that I would be among the “left behind.”  Just because I am asking this inane borderline sacrilegious questions mean that I may not make the pure of heart cut.  I have doubts about my own worth and value in this regard.  I attribute it to being human and a combination of jerk and asshole... at times.  The people quoted in the various articles about this May 21st rapture thing are all 100% that this is going to happen and they will be going to heaven.  I just wonder how they can be so sure about either?

OK, it is clear that I am not taking this seriously.  Part of me must be a little concerned or I would be even more scathing and facetious in my words here.  Yet, if I were to guess and mind you it is only a guess, nothing will happen.  I want to hear what those so sure this was going to happen will have to say come Sunday morning.  I suppose they will go back to the algorithms they used in their calculations, make some changes, and come back with another date some time in the next few months or years.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Clouding Around

In my short avocational writing career, I began handwriting a page each day.  It was more or less five hundred words.  It all began on June 25, 2002.  I dutifully wrote page after page, in several notebooks.  Others would call it keeping a journal but I prefer to call it my daily writing.  In the beginning, I thought I was writing a novel 500 words a day.  That didn’t quite work out.  While the novel did not work out, the exercise of writing everyday was therapeutic, improved my analytic skills (or so I think), and definitely improved my writing.

In February 2004, I began writing and sending out a monthly letter, This Side of Fifty.  I have been doing that every month since.  I first hand wrote and then typed theses letters.  After another of two years, I began typing my monthly letters directly into my PC.  It was much easier.  

Two years ago, as I began writing for our business blog, I began to write more and more directly into my PC for those postings as well.  I was at about at 70% handwritten pages and 30% directly typed in.   Last year, I was a bit tired of my daily writing with no purpose.  Most of the postings were drivel.  I committed to improve the quality of my daily writing.  I had already begun posting my month;y writing on a blog.  It eventually dawned on me to begin posting more often on my personal blog.  

For my monthly letter, personal and work blog postings, I have been typing directly directly in Microsoft Word and saving the files on my hard disk.  I missed the handwriting and the pens, but it was much more efficient and effective.  The typing and handwriting flip-flopped and became 70% typing and 30% handwriting.    I worried about backing up my hard drive but what can I say?  I like a little risk.

With clients and teaching, I find myself using many different PCs.  I used one at my primary client, several others at the colleges I teach at, and my personal computer at home.  It was not easy to work on things at all these different venues.  I used thumb drives and I emailed the files to myself.  

Then I learned about Google Documents.  Google Documents is a virtual file storage and retrieve system.  Google saves my documents on their servers.  I can retrieve and edit these files from any PC anywhere that has internet access.  They call this operating in the cloud.  I guess it is because your files follow you around like a cloud over your head.  Google Docs even has a suite of software that is like Microsoft Office Lite.   So, it is not even necessary to have the suite of products that cost me hundreds of dollars to buy and then to upgrade.  The suite on Google Docs is free and they are constantly upgrading it and the upgrades are instantly available to everyone for free. I am typing this on Google Docs using their word processor.

This is all good as long as I have connection to the internet and as long as the good folks at Goolge maintain their servers and software so that my files are reliably available to me.

Sometimes Google Docs is slow.  I type and nothing happens for a second or two and then they letters appear like they are typing themselves.  Earlier this week, I saved a document but could not see it in the directly.  That was odd.  I was a bit miffed.  It showed up a few hours later.  As long as these issues are rare events, I can live with them.  If these kinds of issues become more prevelant.  I may have to consider a return to the non-cloud past.

I use Blogger for my three personal blogs.  It has been  relatively easy to use and is almost WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) in the editing mode.  Actually, for my finished bloggable pieces, Blogger and Google Docs back-up each other for me.  That is cool.  

This week Blogger had the first issue I have ever experienced the website.  I could view my blogs but I could not post or edit for the better part of two days.  It made me feel susceptible to the systems maintenance of others.  I am getting both Blogger and Google Docs for free.  They are both Google products, I have a bulk of my recent writing on these systems and I realized that I am dependent on others to keep my files intact, safe, and available to me.

Earlier today Blogger posted the following on twitter:

We're making progress restoring comments, some blogs with a lot of content are taking a little more time. Thanks for bearing with us.

It is funny because I have admitted that when everything was only the hard drive of my laptop, I never backed it up.  If anything happened, I could lose all my files.  But, as long as I was the one NOT backing-up it seemed OK.  I was responsible for my own maintenance and if I didn’t do anything I was somehow more comfortable than if I were relying on that people that run and maintain Google Docs and Blogger.  That is crazy.

Another dichotomy is that our consulting company, Cadent Resources Inc., is built around a cloud based demand planning and inventory management software that our founder Ara Surenian has developed.  Reliable availability of the our DemandCaster software and back-up of their data is a critical requirement of ours and certainly our clients.  We sell a cloud based solution and yet that I feel is a sound reliable product, yet I am leery about losing a few blog files.  It is pretty funny.

While I am leery, I really do embrace the cloud.  I used Google Docs all the time.  it is just to convenient and easy.  I will used it with greater frequency.  I am sure it will lead to more and more blog postings.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Longfellow & The Day is Done

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a well known American poet.  He was born on February 27, 1807 in Portland, Maine.  He died at the age of 75 on March 24, 1882 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the town of my birth.

In his day, Longfellow was the most popular poet of his day.  He was something of a celebrity.  In that time before radio, movies, and television.   Aside from the live theater and concerts, reading was the central form of entertainment.  The lyric style of Longfellow’s poems written in his easy flowing rhythmic and rhyming style made for easy reading.  His long epic poems provided topics that engaged and attracted readers.  Longfellow is best known for Paul Revere’s Ride, The Song of Hiawatha, The Village Blacksmith and Evangeline.  

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 his day, Longfellow’s works were translated into several languages and his popularity spread around the Atlantic to Europe.  He was a college professor at Harvard and the first American to translate Dante’s Divine Comedy into English.

When I was a school boy back in the city, Longfellow was still featured in school books and anthologies.  I was as fond as any third, fourth, or fifth grader could be.  My Father’s side of the family were all in Boston,  we would go every summer and visit my Grandmother.   One year I encouraged bordering on the demanding to visit the historical sites of the city I already felt was magic.  We went to Fanuel Hall before it was a shopping mall, Bunker Hill, the Old North Church, and the USS Constitution better known as Old Ironsides.  At my insistence, we also visited the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Cambridge and visited his gravesite in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

I read some of his poetry.  I read my Father’s favorite, Paul Revere’s Ride, and most certainly The Village Blacksmith.  I read parts of The Song of Hiawatha.  The opening lines of these poems are classic.  The are memorable still a large number of people.
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,

Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
These lines are part of Americana.  Most everyone has heard them even if they do not know the poem they came from or unaware of who wrote them.  In fact, there is even an old school yard joke based on his last name:
He is a poet and doesn’t know it.
‘cause his feet are Longfellows.
I was impressed with his home  It was clear to me that he was a man of means.  His yellow clapboard mansion had served as one of George Washington’s many Headquarters in New England and the Mid-Atlantic Colonies during the Revolutionary War.  I remember reading, even before I visited, that the upstairs was not part of the tour and only descendants were allowed to visit the second story.  I recall wondering what kinds of mysteries and secrets must be up there.  I am not sure what made me think that.  I look back on it with a bit of amused nostalgia.

Why do I write about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow tonight?  

I got home after a long day.  I was working at my primary client’s from 6:30 am until 5 pm.   Then I went to the College of Lake County and gave a final exam to my Statistics class.  I got home at 9:30 pm and still had to do my bit of daily writing.  I thought of my favorite Longfellow poem, The Day is Done.  This is not a classic that I had read or even knew about as a school boy.  I stumbled on this poem as an adult long after my interest in Longfellow had waned.  It is not a long poem by Longfellow’s standards but I liked the humble tone of it.  I liked that the famous author knew that not every poem needs to be an epic monument.  I like that he realized that even readers sometimes just want to read something lighter and more soothing after a long hard day.

As I grew older my interest in Longfellow had long waned.  I was not alone.  I would dare say that his reputation and fame began to erode from the moment of his passing.  Poetry was less and less widely read.  My guess is that, today, it is a field dominated by academics.  Walt Whitman was a contemporary of Longfellow.  We can consider Longfellow amongst the last and probably the most successful of the populist poets.  Walt Whitman changed the nature of American poetry.  He was the first darling poets of the academic world.  Academics adore the depth and symbolism of Whitman’s work and have neglected the more romantic rhyming narrative style of Longfellow.

When I studied poetry more seriously at the University of Michigan, I took the same view of Longfellow.  I was looking for layers of meaning and symbolism.  I was looking for a depth that was not in the musical narratives the Longfellow penned.  Yet, I harbored a certain nostalgia for him as he was a favorite of mine in childhood.

When I stumbled across The Day is Done in the late 1980s, I reversed course and began thinking more of the old master.  I do want to read the entire Song of Hiawatha someday.  It would be appropriate to do so while camping on the shores of the Great Lake perhaps.

I present The Day is Done for your enjoyment.

-------------- o --------------

The Day Is Done

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me,
That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavour;
And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labour,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.