Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September 2011: Michigan vs. Notre Dame and 9-11

It is the 23rd of September.  It is the first day of autumn which is my favorite season.  It is the 23rd of September and it is a cool Chicago day, breezy, with billowy clouds.  When the sun did pour through, it was the glorious gold color that makes this many people’s favorite season. 
We are in week four of the college football season.  Michigan is again 3-0.  The Wolverines beat Notre Dame two weeks ago for the third year in a row.  It was a spectacular game and an amazing spectacle.  It was the first night game at Michigan Stadium.  They had installed lights last year.
Michigan was lucky to win the game.  Notre Dame had jumped out to an early lead.  Their offense was, for the second year in a row, cutting through the Michigan offense like that veritable knife through butter.  This was the second year in which Notre Dame did this in the first quarter.  Notre Dame looked invincible on offense and defense.  Michigan’s statistics were dismal.  They had only one first down in the entire first quarter.
Not only that, Michigan was behind the entire game.  They underperformed Notre Dame in every statistic, at least through the first three quarters.  Notre Dame was leading 24-7 and it appeared like they would cruise on to their first win of the season.  It looked like they would hand Michigan their first loss under their new head coach Brady Hoke.
But, as I said, Michigan was lucky and won the game.  For Michigan, luck had long dreadlocked hair, wore number 16, and played quarterback.  Luck had a name:  Denard Robinson.  For the second year in a row, he was the difference in this classic rivalry.
In the fourth quarter, Denard ran and passed.  He evaded tackles making the Notre Dame Defenders look hoodwinked and slow.   They were hoodwinked by the most artful dodger playing the college game today.  They were all slower than Demard but then everyone is slower than Denard. 
Michigan scored 28 points in the fourth quarter to win this game.  That is four touchdowns.  Wow.  They did not take their first lead until there was only 1:12 left in the game:  28-24.  The crowd was insane.  We looked like we were going to three peat against Notre Dame.  Unbelievable.  Un-called for.  Crazy.  Lucky.
All the Wolverines had to do was hold the Fighting Irish for the remaining one minute and change left in the game.  They could do this. The defense really looked better than the past few years.  Even though they started slow in each game.  The difference between this year and last year is that the defense stayed lackluster throughout each and every game last year.  This year in the three games thus far, under the tutelage of Coach Greg Mattison the biggest difference is that the defense adjusts.  They get run over early in the game and then they adapt and get better.
So, the entire Michigan part of the record breaking crowd had some confidence that our beloved team could hold Notre Dame and win the game.
We were all wrong.
They got the ball on their own 39 yard line.  Tommy Reese, their own talented sophomore QB, had a little magic of his own to display.  The Lake Forest High School grad drove the Irish to a touchdown on four passes.  Bam!  Notre Dame regained the lead 31-24. 
There was only 30 seconds left on the clock.  Things pretty much looked over for like the second or third time in this game.  Michigan fans began to trudge out of the stadium.  The few Notre Dame fans were feeling pretty good about things.  There were, after all, only thirty seconds left.
Denard Robinson, however, was still our quarterback.
Notre Dame kicked off and Michigan began on their own 20 yard line.  On the first play, Jeremy Gilliam, a Michigan receiver found himself all alone in the right flat and Denard completed a pass to him.  Gilliam scampered for a net gain of 64 yards.  Wow… again!  Michigan now found themselves on the Notre Dame 16 yard line with like 10 seconds left.  On the next play, Denard hit Roy Roundtree for a touchdown.  Thank you.  Easy work.  Well, amazing work that looked easy.  Voila.  In two plays, Michigan had the lead again 35-31. 
There was only 2 seconds left in the game.
At this point, it really seemed like this one was in the bag.  Yet, in this game, who knows?  They could run back the kick-off and win.  They did not.  On the kick-off, Notre Dame fumbled, the ball went out of the Notre Dame end zone, and the game ended.  The Michigan fans were ecstatic and the Notre Dame fans were stunned. 
Here is a YouTube of the last 1:41 of the game captures the last 21 points of the game.  Scoring 21 points in the last two minutes of the game is completely wild.  You see the jubliant Wolverines when they scored with 1:12 left in the game to take a 28-24 lead.  Then watch Notre Dame turn the tables and retake the lead 31-28 with just 30 seconds left in the game.  It seemed over, but oh no.  Michigan scored again. No matter how, or anyone, writes it up, you get the full magnitude of what these two teams did that night.   It is the final 1:41 of the game, but it is 13:33 minutes long.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?y=ZsHbCfgPA1c&feature=related
Win or lose, it was a great game.  Someone had to win though both teams played valiantly.  It is easier for the winning side to say that for sure but I saw it in the Notre Dame fans I talked to as they left the stadium.  We all felt the same.  We were lucky to win.  It is a win nonetheless. 
I have been on the other side of games like that where my team has beat the other team on almost every statistic except the score.  No matter what, it is the final score that counts.  So, I had empathy for the Notre Dame fans.
Just upon entering the stadium, we got maize colored pom-poms (sticks with streamers on them).  I almost did not take one, thinking that I would never use it.  But I did take one and was amazed, or perhaps amaized, that I was waving it around every time something exciting happened and every time they played the Michigan Fight Song.   Here is a YouTube of the student section with everyone waving their pom-poms.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0j2UNqVSKjo
When the game ended we sat in the stands just letting everyone else clear out and to give the traffic a head start.  It was midnight and the band did their post game show.  My cousin’s son, hence my second cousin Avo, and his buddy James were sitting in the section next to ours.  I texted him and he was still in the stadium, so they walked over and we debriefed the game.  It was a very special night. 
The team wore throw back jerseys to the early days when Michigan and Notre Dame played.  We bought them, I wore the Michigan jersey and Judy wore the Notre Dame one.  People called us a house divided.  Some of the inebriated students were not so kind to Judy, but she would give them the “that is unacceptable young man” look and most apologized.
It was a great evening of football.  This is longest streak of wins for Michigan since they won the first eight games they played against Notre Dame from 1887-1908.  Notre Dame had a streak of four wins from 1987-1990.
This is certainly a classic rivalry.
9-11-11:  Michigan and Notre Dame squared off on Saturday evening of September 10.  When we left the stadium it was Sunday, September 11th.  There were commemorations during the game for the 10th Anniversary of 9-11.  While playing and singing God Bless America, the  names of the eighteen University of Michigan graduates who lost their lives that day scrolled down the huge video scoreboard.  It was a nice tribute. 
During half-time, two Rangers parachuted into the stadium.  That was something.  They both had video cameras attached to their harnesses.  The video showed on the jumbotron.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0j2UNqVSKjo
I enjoyed the game.  I was happy with the win.  Looking at the videos, I am just getting the full measure of how exciting the end of the game was.  But, I was kind of reserved at the game.  Why was I not ecstatic?  It was partially due to fact that Michigan had a lot of luck going to get that win.  But, I believe it was also partially due to the 9-11 anniversary. 
When driving from Lake Forest to Ann Arbor, I could not help but wonder and fear that this game would be a perfect stage for a terrorist attack.  Thankfully, there was none.  Thankfully, there were none anywhere in the US.  There was a threat in NYC but nothing happened with the arrest of a couple of suspects.  I am sure my fears of terrorism at football games comes from the 1977 Black Sunday movie and Tom Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears
On September 9th, I got an email from Luis Solana a friend and colleague from Colgate.  He wrote, “Ten years ago on Sunday, we were in Brazil.  How to forget!”  How to forget indeed?
It has been ten years since the 9-11-01 attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers in New York City, damaged the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and the crash of fourth plane in Pennsylvania when the passengers fought and kept that plane from ever reaching its target in DC.  It seems like ten years and it seems like just a minute.  These kinds of events when you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when it happened are like that.
In my lifetime, this was the biggest.  It overshadowed the murders of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy.  It overshadows the death of Princess Diana, and our landing of a man on the moon.  I did not live through the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese that triggered our involvement in WWII.  That may have been equivalent.  I will have to ask my parents, who experienced both. 
Ten years ago, I was living in Connecticut and working in Manhattan.  On that fateful Tuesday, I could have easily been in the city at the Colgate-Palmolive offices on Park Avenue.  I wasn't.  I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  I was part of a task force that was there to review the customer service and logistics operations of our subsidiary there.  Stan Brothers, Jim Davis, Alberto Cardona, and I left on Sunday evening.  Luis Solana joined us but he travelled from Miami where he was living at the time. 
We spent Monday preparing for the activity with the Brazilian team.  We reviewed and revised the agenda and our roles and responsibilities.  We asked for and analyzed more data.  Stan was the supply chain finance person on the team.  The rest of us were supply chain professionals.  I had responsibility for Latin America, so I was very interested in the results of this task force.
We kicked off the meeting with the Brazil Team at 8:30 am on Tuesday morning.  We had the VPs of Finance, Operations, and Customer Service and Logistics in the meeting along their key directors and managers.   We were going through the overview presentation, basically their standard business review slide deck, by the Brazilian team when Luciano Sieber came into the conference room and blurted out that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.  We were taken aback.  We asked many questions but Luciano had no more information.  We just assumed that it was an accident due to poor air traffic control or a bad private pilot.  We resumed the meeting.
What seemed like just a few minutes later, Luciano burst into the room again.  He was more agitated and shouted that another plane had crashed into the other tower of the World Trade Center.  This was clearly no accident.  While we sat there trying to make sense of things with limited information, Charlie Catlett, the VP of Operations, got a call on his cell phone from his wife.  She told Charlie that New York and Washington, DC were under attack and that planes had crashed into the White House, the Capital Dome, and the Pentagon.  Under attack??  It sounded dire and wide scale.  Our meeting fell apart.  We were done for that day.
We immediately hit the internet looking for information only to realize that the attacks were nearly not broad as Charlie's wife had reported.  We also realized the attacks were so unexpected, brazen, and shocking that the news machine was stunned and on its collective heels.  There was almost no information the CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, and other websites.  The whole country and whole world was stunned.  The lack of immediate information in the immediate information age was amazing.
The media did catch up.  Once it got revved up, it was relentless, 24/7, and our eyes were glued to the TV.  We went back to our hotel and just watched CNN International.  We called each other while watching the coverage.  "Did you see that?"  "Have you heard from your family?"  There was a lot of "wows" and "OMGs!"  One of us, got tired of watching, the news and calling home, and suggested that we go grab a quick dinner.  We all agreed.  And what did we talk about at dinner?  What had happened in New York, there was no other subject. 
Then we went back to our rooms and watched more.  We looked at the same footage over and over again.  The towers were forever engulfed in flame and smoke; people were jumping to their deaths; there were talking heads of every imaginable leader and analyst.  There was nothing new and yet we watched.  We could not help but watch.
The next day we tried to get back to business.  We actually worked and accomplished our mission there.  We worked to take our minds off the multitude of thought and worries that were on all our minds.  We worried about the same things everyone else worried about.  Would there be other attacks?  How had these events changed our lives, our business, and our families?  Did we know anyone that had perished in the attacks?
We also worried about something else.  How and when were we going to head home?  All travel was suspended.  Indefinitely.   I called our head of corporate security to get his take on things.  There is something in such a crisis that became quite clear.  No one knew what was going on.  People were giving advice and opinion with imperfect information.  They were setting policy because they had to.  Then the policy and advice would change as events unfolded or in this case didn't.
We were told not to fly US carriers home.  OK, that kind of made sense.  Then we heard, while watching CNN so much at night, that if and when air travel resumed, it would resume internationally only for US airlines.  We sought clarification and realized that we were basically on our own.  It was no problem, we were in good hands with our colleagues in Brazil.  But, Wednesday and Thursday, we had no clue how long we would be in Brazil.
On Friday, we heard the first flights to the US would be leaving.  As fate would have it, we ended up on our scheduled return flight which was the first plane to leave Brazil for the US.
It is hard to believe it has been ten years.  I replied to Luis and copied Stan, Jim, and Alberto.  We have a 9-11bond and email each other every year.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Watching Paint Dry

There was a segment in the Beatles Yellow Submarine movie.  It is the only segment that I remember.  It was only a minute long but it seemed so much longer.  It was watching a clock , animated in that psychedelic manner, tick off the seconds to one minute.  There were trying to illustrate the line "Sixty-four years is 33661440 minutes, and one minute is a long time.”  They were also trying to provide an enhanced experience to those watching the movie in an enhanced state of mind.

Basically, time is relative.  A minutes can fly by if one is engaged and engrossed in work or an interesting task.  I am amazed by how quickly time flies when I am surfing YouTube for new  Armenian, Greek, and Turkish music videos.   Waiting in line at a check-out can be an eternity.

When you are doing something you enjoy doing or are very interested in, time can fly by.  When you are bored waiting and would rather be doing something else, one minute seems like a long time.  It is like watching paint dry.

I first heard that phrase, watching paint dry, when my children were on the Wilton Wahoo Swim Team back in the early 1990s.  Swim meets were day long events where it is hot and humid with chlorine scented atmosphere.  Parents are there for the long haul, sitting, and waiting for the one minute out of every two hours that their kid is actually participating.  No matter what you bring to read or do, boredom is inevitable.  It is like watching paint dry.
To say that golf is popular in the US is an understatement.  More men my age express their passion for the game than for any other pastime.  Not only do people play it whenever they can, they watch it on TV in numbers that boggle my mind.  Guys that I know will watch it, discuss it, and marvel over it like I would do for college football.  I do not play golf much, but I do enjoy it when I do.  It is good to be out with buddies.  Plus, I get to smoke a cigar or two which is always a good thing.  One thing I will not do, however, is watch golf on TV.  It really is like watching paint dry.

Why write a little bloggy bit about watching paint dry?  There is certainly a potential for cuteness as long as I keep it short and sweet.  (I may have already exceeded that limit!)  

I am writing this because of my buddy, my pal, Ara Topouzian.  In either an email or text exchange, he got on about some of my recent blog topics.  Tongue in cheek, he said “you’ll write about anything that comes to your mind won’t you, even if it is like watching paint dry.  Hey there is a topic for you, Watching Paint Dry.  Why don’t you write about that?”

So I have.  Ara this one is for you. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Postal Woes

The news has been abuzz with reports of the dire economic condition of the United States Postal Service.  With the advent of e-mail practically eliminating the mailing of letters and the rise of first UPS and then FedEx for parcels and overnight documents, the USPS has lost volumes of business.  Their business is the litany of junk mail we all get, magazines, the parcels people still send with the them, and whatever vestige of personal notes, cards, and letters people still send.  The mass mail that they deliver to each address in the United States on a daily basis is mostly less than the First Class or Premium rates.  Even at that the USPS rates seem more competitive than their for profit competitors.
While their volumes are down, they have until quite recently maintained the infrastructure of Post Offices in every Zip Code along with the mail carriers and the vehicles used to have the mail carriers make their rounds six days a week.  There is a lot of overhead to carry and a lot of real estate and capital equipment to maintain.  So, the USPS is saddled with a costly infrastructure, pricing that generates less revenue than their competitors, and a charter that does not allow them to operate as efficiently if they were a for profit business.
This past week, I need to mail two Michigan vs. Western Michigan Football tickets to my sister Ani in Michigan.  I had Ani if she could use the tickets with ample time to simply put them in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail them.  That would have cost 44¢.  They were not sure if they could use the tickets until the last minute.  When they gave me the thumbs up, I had to use an expedited service.  I chose to go to a UPS store across from my client’s office rather than drive another 15 minutes to the closest Post Office.  If I had gone to the Post Office, I would have filled out a form and maybe would have had to wait in line to send it Express Mail for overnight to second day for $18.30.  At the UPS store, it was painless.  I did not have to wait in line.  I did not have to fill out any forms; the sales associate typed as I dictated.  He put my envelope with the tickets into the mailer and affixed the label.  Did I say painless?  Well it was up until he took my charge card to collect $26.50 for this service.  Ouch.
I could have paid 44¢ but I paid more than $26 more!
It made me think about the incredible value of the 44¢ option.  I can hand-write a letter, note, or card to a friend or loved one.  For this amazingly low price, a USPS carrier will pick it up from the mailbox at the end of my driveway and, in a few day, another carrier will place intended mailbox anywhere in the United States I wanted it to go.   Let’s assume that the process once it gets to the Post Office is highly automated, there is still the personal pick-up and delivery for just 44¢.  The break-even point on that has to be a lot more letters and cards than are currently being mailed.
The Postal Service has a long, storied, and important role in this county.  On July 26, 1775, the Continental Congress established the United States Post Office.  They appointed Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General of the United States for the salary of $1,000 per year.  The US Post Office is the second oldest Department in the US Government (I am presuming either Continental Congress or the Militia being the first).  In those days, the Postal Service was crucial to the communication among the loosely federated states.  We easily forget in this age of instant communication by text, phone, or email that the post was the only way to communicate over any distance.
When I moved to Connecticut and travelled during our time there from Washington, DC to Maine, we often were on Route 1.  It was always Route 1 but in different parts of that geography it was called The Post Road, Boston Post Road, or Washington Post Road.  It was the artery, back then, that linked the country.  It was the information superhighway of it’s time.  Instead of bits and bytes being streaming all over in packets, it was letters, newspapers, and books.  
An efficient and effective Post Office certainly has served this country very well until very recently in our history.  Until the most recent military actions, it was the US Post Office that kept soldiers serving anywhere in the globe tethered to their families.  I remember the volume of Christmas cards and packages was so great in the 1960s that they ran two deliveries per day for the ten days leading up to Christmas.  
OK... email is free and even better it is instantaneous.  I know and get this but it is not the same as sending or, even better, receiving a hand-written and heartfelt sentiment from someone.  Email is great but there is a bit of magic in a letter, card, or even the lowly postcard.  There is something special about opening the envelope and taking out the card or letter.  Saving a letter is somehow different than archiving an email.  
Change is inevitable and what I have just described may well fall by the wayside.  No matter what, I think the days 44¢ door-to-door delivery will definitely go away.  If it is all privatised or run by publicly traded companies, I am sure the trues cost per volume of mail for daily delivery to every address in the country will be reflected in substantially higher prices.  
My love and fascination for the handwritten letter or note will probably start to fade as well when it costs $5 or $10 to get it from my door to yours.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It is what it is...

People are always saying "It is what it is."  This phrase is used often in resolution or mild exasperation when one is expressing acceptance of something that simply cannot be changed.  "It is what it is..."

The popularity of this phrase may be waning.  It was used and overused during The Great Recession.  Business went into the dumpster: "it is what it is."  People were losing their jobs; "it is what it is."  Houses were going into foreclosure; "it is what it is."  Horrible economic news festered an environment where this phrase became a mantra; "it is what it is."

But, I believe that we have been saying it wrong all of this time.  "It is what it is."  Most certainly the first half of the statement is correct:  "It is."  No question about that.  We utter this phrase because we are not happy about "what is."  We would rather have "what should be" or "what isn't."  So, I have decided to use the phrase "it is what it isn't."  I think that would much better convey my sense of being accepting of "what is" but actually really wishing it were not;  "it is what it isn't."

Another alternative could be "it isn't what it oughta be."  This however might be too subtle to become widely used.  I like it however.

Back in the 1970s, a phrase emerged from the Afro-Americian community (if not from the Afro-American community directly, it certainly came from  the TV sitcom idea of how they thought people talked in that community).  It was a kind of greeting;  "what it is." "What it is" indeed.  I was always fascinated by this and the number of white kids who used it trying to be a bit more inner-city or trying to adopt a bit of ghetto cool.  I never used it, but loved to use variations of when responding to such a greeting.    

My friends would say, "What it is?"  I would respond, "What it was."  When I got tired of that, I branched out to various tenses, "what it will be."  I used, "what it might have been" or "what it should be."  My favorite was the past perfect "what it should have been."  Maybe, it is the past future perfect or conditional perfect past, I never fully got the labels thought I could sling the tenses around in a conversation with the best of them.  I like these variations, it is like the verbal equivalent of English or back-spin on tennis shot.

"It is what it is" reminds me of "what it is."  Maybe instead of the simple "it is what it isn't," I think I will mix it up in terms of tense and potential... a lot.

Hey, it is not what it might have been. 

Neither is it what anyone ever promised it would be.