Sunday, October 26, 2014

$2.99 Gasoline

Dave Ouzounian Photo on Facebook
     I filled up the tank of my Toyota 4Runner for about $45 the other day. It took 15 gallons and the gasoline was priced at $2.99. I thought I was doing well but then saw my old friend Dave Ouzounian having posted a photo on FB where the price per gallon was $2.89.  Darn Illinois gas taxes.  This is the lowest we have seen gasoline for years. It is amazing because every few years since 2006, there has been a prediction that gasoline was going to hit $5 per gallon and the impact that was going to have on our economy.
      More people talk about gasoline prices than any other product or commodity. If we had to choose one item replace the consumer price index it would be gasoline. It may not be the most accurate indicator from an economics standpoint, but it is certainly a very good emotional indicator. Gasoline is simply a large and visible expense. Based on 15 gallons per fill-up and 5 fill-ups a month, gasoline expenses would be $300 a month if gas prices were $4 a gallon but only $225 a gallon if gas prices were $3.  The savings of $75 is significant to most people.

      This drop in prices is certainly welcome news to most drivers.   It is the lowest prices we have seen since the winter of 2009 which was the pit of the Great Recession.  It is easy to forget, at least easy for me to forget, that gasoline was under $2 per gallon 11 short years ago.
      What is the reason for this drop in gasoline prices? It seems to our own domestic petroleum production. We have a massive, and until recently untapped, oil resource. There are billions of barrels of oil underneath our country.  For years, energy wonks have been saying that this oil could make us energy independent of the Middle East which is a most interesting proposition. The problem was that our oil, which had the potential to make us almost independent of imports, was shale oil. The oil was infused in rock and sand. Getting this oil had traditionally been more expensive than any imported oil, so it never was the economical choice. That all changed with the development of a new drilling technique called fracking.

What is fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing is the process of drilling for natural gas and oil underneath the ground. Water mixed with other components is pumped into the ground to create cracks (also referred to as fissures or fractures) to release the gas into wells that have been built for collection.
Groundwater protection remains a main goal and paramount to the success of and well operation. Both the well’s design, the casing, and the inherent risk associated with the hydraulic fracturing process itself all factor into new shale gas well development. Over the years, this technology has been used safely and successfully in over one million wells. Regulators together with operators have mitigated many of environmental risks. Shale gas, or natural gas, producers most often will leave a small wellhead behind on the property along with several storage tanks, and a metering system to measure shale gas production.
      I can almost hear the chants "Drill baby drill" which were a popular slogan from the Republican 2008 Presidential Campaign. Per Wikipedia, Michael Steele, at that time a former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland and soon to be Chairman of the Republican National Committee, used these words at the Republican National Convention. Shortly before the convention, Erik Rush titled a piece "Drill, baby, drill" in his conservative blog The Other Rush. It resonated with people both positively and negatively. Some have attributed it as the 2008 version of the 1964 slogan "Burn, baby, burn" used by radicals in the urban race riots of the 1960s. I know John McCain used the "Drill, baby, drill" slogan, but, in my head, I only hear Sarah Palin voice saying it.
       The slogan and, perhaps more so, the fracking technology have made oil more abundant and have brought prices down to levels not seen before the Great Recession. No one is currently talking about $5 per gallon gasoline these days. The only question is how long this will last. Every article and newscast reporting on the drop in gasoline prices finishes with the sobering "no one is sure how long this is going to last."
      Are there any problems with fracking? It all depends who you ask. Within in the industry, there are, of course, no negative reports. Amongst environmentalists, it is a different story. To them, fracking is a horrible thing that needs to stopped immediately.

The entire process of fracking — from drilling a well to transporting waste — endangers our water and the health of our communities. There is clear evidence of the growing damage caused by fracking:
  • Some people who live near fracking sites have become seriously ill from drinking contaminated water. Others can light their tap on fire due to the amount of methane in their water.
  • The oil and gas industry isn’t required to disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process, but many are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.
  • Communities with fracking have seen declines in property values, increases in crime, and losses in local tourism and agriculture.
  • Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, leaks from fracking industry sites.
      So, what are we to do?
      The majority of the consumer public will probably enjoy the lower gas prices. Good or bad, we value convenience, prefer lower prices, and tend to think short term.  Maybe prices will go below $2 per gallon.  Maybe prices will get to the 1970 levels of $.55 per gallon... plus you get a free glass!  No fracking way this will happen.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reading the Morning Paper... Again

Democratic Blog News
     In this digital age, it is a well noted truth that less people read newspapers with every passing year. This has had a devastating impact on the newspaper business with papers in general thinning down due to losses in advertising. Papers have merged and even gone out of business. Most every newspaper has down sized considerably and have tried to build their online presence with various degrees of success. The hardest part of going online is monetizing it. Most every paper is available online for free. Out of all the newspapers I have perused from time to time online, only the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal require a subscription.
      I certainly have been part of this trend. I have home delivery of the New York Times but only on Sundays. This gives me a hard-copy of my favorite day but more importantly, my Sunday only subscription gives my full online access to the New York Times. Thus, I have the app on my PC, iPad, and iPhone. It is quite convenient. Even more convenient and free is Google News which is my home page on all my web browsers. It organizes all the news from a variety of domestic and international papers and provides different perspectives on the same story. I have to think about going to the New York Times app whereas Google News is the home page on the web-browser I use the most. Google News and Yahoo News both have similar capabilities. Both allow users to read the stories or watch videos. For basic news, they are quite good and quite sufficient. I access all of these on my PC, iPad, and to a lesser extent my phone. These have been my news sources these days.

     The problem is not just circulation revenue.  The loss of circulation has impacted advertising revenue and this is what has really hurt the industry the most.  The Sunday New York Times used to be as thick as a phone book because of all the full color advertising inserts and full page ads in the paper itself.  Today, the Sunday Times is less thick then a weekday version of paper in the old days.  The same is true for the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Detroit News, and The Boston Globe to name a few.  This is just another consequence of the speed and power of the internet.  The Newspaper Advertising Revenue graphs shows how ad revenue is the lowest it has been since 1950.

      Even with this convenience I have not habitually read the Times or Google News. I turn to them when I hear of a news story the perks my interest but I do not access them by habit. That is simply because I have not really had a daily routine in which the habit of reading the news fit into a natural time slot. When I used to commute to New York by train, the morning commute was when I read the paper.
      Lately, I have been reading the news every morning. Furthermore, I have been reading the newspaper everyday. Yes, I mean the printed on paper newspaper. This is because, with my full time position at North Park University, I have a routine. I am at my office most days before around 7 am. I am the first one in most days. The School of Business and Nonprofit Management has a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. Our offices are in an old house, so the paper is waiting for me on the stoop every day. I bring it in with and sit an peruse the paper, old style, from front to back. It has been quite pleasant and quite informative.

     There is something about laying the paper out on the desk, scanning each page for articles and ads of interest, reading them, and then turning the page.  It is different from doing the same on a computer screen.  Both have their advantages and drawbacks.  It just feels good to be a little old school at my new school.
     Last week, I experienced something I completely had forgotten about. It had rained all night and I had the pleasure of having to read a half wet newspaper.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Pale Blue Folio

   Gloria, a close friend of ours, needed an amplifier and microphone for a small fundraising gathering ( Naturally, she sought me out. Normally I would have been at the event she was hosting but I had a musical engagement of my own that weekend that same evening. If I was going to her fundraising, I would have taken some equipment and set it up.
     As most of my equipment is bulky, I was trying to think of a low weight compact option for her. Eventually, I remembered that I had brought a very small Fender amp when I lived in Connecticut. Occasionally, I needed a to take an amp and oud into the city on the train. So, I needed something small and compact. I used it a lot when I was playing with the Nour Folk Ensemble. To add an element of coincidence, Bedross Der Matossian, Professor of History at the University of Nebraska who was to be the guest speaker at the fundraiser was in the Nour Folk Ensemble as well.
     To make a short story, more convoluted, I went in the basement and retrieved the black back with the small Fender amp in it. I retrieved a microphone and cable from a gig bag in the garage and thought to test it out to make sure it worked. I opened the black satchel and took the amp out. There was a muted royal blue, fake leather, 8.5x11 folio in the bag. I used that folio to carry the program notes and lyrics for Nour. It still had those notes and programs inside it. It was kind of cool and nostalgic… well as nostalgic as something eight or nine years ago can be. It made me reflect on the practices we used to have at NYU. I thought about Ayda Erbal who was the musical director and organizer of Nour. I thought of Ozan Aksoy the very talented ethnomusicologist who was so skilled on so many instruments and who brought and infused a Kardes Turkuler like style to our selections and arrangements. I thought of the concerts we did. I thought of my time in New York City. It was a good little journey down memory lane. It was amazing what finding something that I have not seen or used for eight years could trigger.
     It did not end there.
     The surprise came when I removed the last of the Nour concert notes in the folio to reveal a logo on the inside front cover of the folio. It was the oval logo of the Ford Motor Company. As my first full time job was at Ford, the wayback machine of my memory jumped back another thirty years to 1976. I had completely forgotten that this folio was from my days Ford which lasted until 1983.
     Ford always held a mystique in our family. My maternal Grandfather Levon, worked in the foundry until he retired in the mid or early 1960s. Ford Motor Company paid him a pension until he passed in 1974 and then continued to pay the same to my Grandmother until she passed away in 2007. The paid forty plus years of pension which may have actually been longer than my Grandfather actually worked there.
     I was so proud to have gotten that job. I loved the idea of the auto industry. I loved the idea of the Ford legacy and legend in and around Dearborn and Detroit. I thought I would work at Ford until I retired and was even more certain I would be some kind of bigwig there. After all, I was a Detroit boy. I grew up there and went to college there. I pretty much was doing what many of us thought we were supposed to be doing and what most certainly seemed like a natural progression. It did not turn out that way. There are no regrets at all. I was glad to have started at Ford and equally glad I worked at Colgate in New York City.
      Thanks to that benign folio, of which I have several simaler, I had a great and unexpected trip back to my Ford days and with co-workers like R.K. Jones, Arnie Campbell, Emil Ruta, Caroline Straub, and so many more. I remembered my bosses like Don Olson, Carlos Dominguez, and Ron Rieger. I remember sitting in the first Deming and Taguchi lectures as Ford was struggling with adopting quality principles and practices. I thought of starting work before PCs were invented. I reflected on our offices in the old Edison Elementary School that Ford bought and turned into offices. I thought of my summer job at Ford that Armen Topouzian arranged for in his department. I got wonderful experiences that set the basis for the rest of my corporate career. They were great memories of great days at a great company.
     I probably should go through more of my old stuff and see what else pops up.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

September 2014: The Sporting Scene

     Michigan Football: Michigan Football and the Athletic Department seem to be in dire straits these days. Students and alumni alike are clamoring for the firing of the head football coach Brady Hoke and the Athletic Director Dave Brandon. When Rich Rodriguez was the coach these same folks wanted him replaced with a "Michigan Man." Well, they got their wish. Brady Hoke was an assistant of Lloyd Carr from 1995 - 2001. Brandon, who came in a year before Hoke in 2010, is probably even more of a "Michigan Man" given that he played football for the late great Bo Schembechler from 1970 to 1974. Brandon was a backup quarterback who only an appearance in one game.
      Brandon runs the Athletic Department like he ran Domino's Pizza where he was CEO when Bain took them over. He brought his corporate style to the Athletic Department. He runs things in a no nonsense bold and determined style where performance is demanded and expected. In his first year, he fired Rich Rodriguez and hired Hoke who by all reports was not the first choice. It looked like exactly the right move as Hoke went 11-2 in his first season beating Ohio State and then going to the Sugar Bowl and beating Virginia Tech. Excellent. The faithful was delighted. We all thought that this new coach in Bo and Lloyd tradition was bringing us right back to glory. Everyone was psyched. The problem was the Hoke massed that impressive record with Rich Rod's guys which included the great Denard Robinson at quarterback. The fan base did not see that as the problem until maybe last year and for sure this season.
     Hoke's record deteriorated from 11-2 to 8-5 in 2012, 7-6 in 2013, and this year 2-3 so far. He has recruited well or supposedly well per the rankings. Either the recruiting was over rated or Hoke and his staff have not developed that talent into a team that meets the expectations of the fan base. The criticism is opposite that of the Rich Rod era. In every year of his coaching tenure at Michigan, Rodriguez had improved offenses. The continual improvement in offense was impressive and exciting. His issue was on the defensive side. His teams were not able to hold the opposition to fewer points than the substantial numbers the offense was posting. Hoke has the opposite problem. The defense has improved... a lot. The offenses of last season and this season are giving up too many turnovers that have turned into points that the defense is marginally responsible for.
      To top all of this off, Hoke blew it this past Saturday against Minnesota. Quarterback Shane Morris suffered a leg injury. He was clearly limping and he was left in the game. A few plays later, Morris took a vicious helmet to his chin hit and was clearly woozy. He was again left in the game. There has been massive criticism of Hoke for not putting the health and safety of his "kids" on the priority and requirement that is college football in 2014. He first claimed that he was not aware. By saying that, he dug a deeper hole for himself on many levels. As head coach, he is supposed to the CEO or general of his team. The devil is indeed in the details and when he blows something like this... well, everyone jumps to the conclusion that everything else is run in the same haphazard manner and thus it is clear why a team with class recruits is underperforming. It is not just about headphones (Hoke is the only major head coach who roams the sidelines without headphones), but it is most definitely about his management style.
     During the Notre Dame trouncing, I was tweeting and Facebooking about the differences between Brian Kelly and Brady Hoke on the sidelines. Kelly was animated and on fire. Hoke looked like he was not engaged in the game. Kelly was coaching his key players after both spectacular plays and mishaps. Hoke was not shown talking to his players at all and when he did, the conversations did not seem energizing and motivating but rather benign. Cool and calm works if you are John Wooden with his record. For Hoke, with his record, his sideline behavior looks more like deer in the headlights.
     Suffice it say, what many reporters, tweeters, bloggers, and Facebookers have already noted or wished: Hoke, as head coach of Michigan, is a dead man walking. He will lose his job unless by some miracle they run the table for the remainder of the season. The sentiment, at least on the fan and student side, extends to Brandon as well. Whether one or both go, this matter is clearly out of my hands. The new Michigan President Mark Schlissel has some tough decisions to make in this his third month in the position.
     Here is my fear. I do not want to get into the same coach musical chair cycle that both Michigan State and Notre Dame experienced before they settled on their current program defining coaches. Michigan could be headed in that direction if they replace Hoke and get another coach that does not deliver a string of 10 win seasons in short order.
     We are a spoiled lot, us Michigan fans. From the day Bo beat Ohio State in his first season, the expectation and pride has been very high. The Big House aura and record string of 100,000+ crowds, the overall winning percentage, the number of successive years going to bowl games, the record string of games not being shutout, the distinctive helmets, and so much more have given the fan base both pride and high expectations. It has been a much bumpier road of late. "Of late" either started when Ohio State hired Jim Tressel or Appalachian State upset us (some say the biggest upset in the history of college football).
     What will happen? With regards to the AD and head coach? I will have to wait and see how Schlissel and Brandon or just Schlissel alone handles this. I hope it is just in Schlissel's hand and I hope that he replaces Brandon and then he and new AD layout a strategic plan that the AD then carries out, the first action item of which is what to do about the head football coach. In the meantime, I do hope Michigan runs the table as I am still a big fan. What is the probability of that happening? Very low.
      Wrigley Field: I went to a Chicago Cubs game the evening of September 24th. They played their longtime rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, against whom they always play well. It was the last home game of the season and the weather was just perfect for any sport played outside. It was a pretty good baseball game that the Cubs won 3-1.
     I have not been at the opening day of any major league baseball team. Now,

I can say that I have been to a last game. This was the Cubs last home game of the 2014 season. This does not have the same coolness as being able to say I was at opening day. But, in this case, there was a coolness factor. Being at that game was something very special.
       It was the last game in the Old Wrigley Field. On September 25th, the Cubs are beginning a major renovation of Wrigley Field. It will be a four year project that will be done, for obvious reasons, in the off season. The project will cost half a billion dollars is being funded entirely by the Rickett family who are the Cubs’ owners. While the plan includes expanding concourses, vending, and restrooms to bring those spaces and offerings up to modern standards, the whole project is designed to keep preserve and maybe enhance what makes Wrigley Field so special. The plan is being called both a renovation and restoration. Both words describe what they intend to accomplish in terms of both renovation and restoration:

  • Wider concourses, more restrooms, and more food and drink vending are absolutely needed in this modern era. Currently the concourses floors are cement and the atmosphere is dingy to drab. The renderings of what is planned look like a brand what can be called both retro with ironwork reminiscent of the 1930s with modern amenities. 
  • Any plan for a modern baseball field has to include state of the art corporate suites with all the appropriate luxuries that will bring in premium revenues. While doing this, the seating capacity of the stadium. 
  • The iconic parts of the stadium will be restored and look the same. The ivy covered walls will remain. The historic marquee will remain. It seems that even the classic old time scoreboard will be preserved though a Jumbotron will be added in left field. 
  • The press box will be expanded and modernized to state of the art telecommunications standards.
  • Many of the changes will not be noticeable to the fans. The current stadium is old and is common with old structures the cement and structural steel need to be replaced. The plan calls this in terms of replacing the wooden roof with a more modern structure. The cement in the stands will be removed and new seating platforms installed. The water pipes into the stadium and the plumbing within are all being replaced. The electrical in the stadium will be replaced.
     The Cubs fans are truly a die-hard lot. They are very reminiscent of the Boston Red Sox fans before their recent post season successes. Both teams have been part of major league baseball for well over a century and both teams had early success followed by long agonizing droughts throughout which their fans were incredibly loyal. My Grandmother Gavoor was one of those Bosox fans. She would watch every game and would refer to them as the “Gosh darn Red Sox” when they lost. For a comprehensive history of the Red Sox nation before the Red Sox World Series wins in this new century check out Fenway Park Living Museum. There was also a great soliloquy in the Farrelly Brothers movie Fever Pitch in which Jimmy Fallon explains the whole curse of the
With my good friend and Cardinals
fan extraordinaire Claude Ohanesian

     The Cubs have been in ten World Series. They have only won twice: 1907 and 1908 hardly the modern era. Their last appearance was in 1945. In 2003, the Cubs did make it to the NL Championship but did not advance to the World Series.

Back in 1945, a man by the name of William "Billy Goat" Sianis attempted to bring a goat named, Murphy, to Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the World Series. Sianis was the owner of the "Billy Goat Tavern" and was a diehard Cubs fan.

Since there was no signs or warnings that barred animals from the park, Sianis figured he would have no problem bringing Murphy to the park. Ready with one ticket for himself and one ticket for Murphy, Sianis and his pet watched the game until late in the game when they were asked to leave. Orders came directly from Cubs owner, P.K. Wrigley, asking that both Sianis and his pet goat be ushered out of the park. The reason given was "because the goat stinks". As a disgusted Sianis left, he was heard saying "The Cubs ain't gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field."

After the Cubs lost the Series to the Tigers in seven games, Sianis sent a telegram to Wrigley that said "Who Stinks Now?" Diehard Cubs fans believe the curse still exists today.
     While the Billy Goat curse is well known, it is not the only curse. In fact, there is entire website dedicated to Chicago Cubs Curses. There are five of them which may be independent or actually related to the Billy Goat Curse (cue the eerie music soundtrack). The most recent incident was in the 2003 playoff game against the Marlins when:
Steve Bartman, a local 26-year old global human resources worker from the Northern suburbs of Chicago, became the latest "goat" when he attempted to catch a foul ball near the left field wall. As Cubs left fielder, Moises Alou, attempted to catch the same ball, Bartman, and others could be seen deflecting the ball. What could have been a momentum killer for the Marlins eventually was a major blame to the collapse of the Cubs after being one game away from the World Series.
     One of the weirdest Cub curses was about the 1986 World Series between the Red Sox and Mets in which Boston’s first Bill Buckner flubbed a routine ground ball that went between his legs for a hit. The Mets won that game forcing a game seven which the Mets also won. Until they won their World Series earlier in this century, that play is prime proof of the curse of the Bambino to the Red Sox faithful. What does this have to do with the Cubs? 
A picture taken over 20 years ago showing Buckner walking off the field after committing the error revealed something that has been undiscovered until recently. As Buckner walked off the field, he removed his glove, exposing a worn Chicago Cubs batting glove with the Cubs logo on the back. Buckner had previously played for the Cubs before joining the Red Sox and was apparently wearing the batting glove for luck. Instead it acts as one more piece of evidence as to why the Cubs Curse exists.
     Buckner was wearing a Red Sox uniform and a Cubs batting glove. He was double cursed.

     To see and learn more of what is planned go to The Wrigly Field Plan Site. It is a most informative website.