Monday, June 15, 2015

Chidem Inch: Sedition Medition!

Not sure if this is an actual quote...
but it could have been.
     Some days, it is unclear what I should write about.  Other days, the topic is handed to me on a silver tray as on June 3, 2015.  There was an article in a Turkish Newspaper,  Hurriyet Daily News, with the headline:  "'Journalists, Armenians, gays are ‘representatives of sedition,' Erdoğan says."  Well thank you President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan.
     Needless to say, as too often is the case with Erdoğan, I felt a combination of being offended and amused.  It is bad enough, our last name means infidel in Turkish.  Now, being Armenian, I am a representative of sedition as well?  Sedition?  I was not sure what that exactly meant but I know that if Erdoğan was using the word to describe Armenians, gays, and journalists, it was not a compliment. Per sedition is "the crime of saying, writing, or doing something that encourages people to disobey their government, incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority."
     I can not speak for the gays and journalists, but dang, Recip nailed it with respect to the Armenians.  We do exactly that.  Our lives, especially in the Diaspora are 110% dedicated to encouraging people to 'dis' the government of Turkey.  We most definitely are inciting both resistance and insurrection (dang, I may have to look this word up too).  It is a long standing plot of the Armenian people.  As a nation and race of people, we were directionless for the early part of our history.  Sure, we adopted Christianity, created an alphabet, built lots of cylindrical domed churches, and even had a golden age of sorts.  But, on those very rare occasions when we are honest with ourselves, we had no direction until...
      Our national goal became clear when the Ottomans conquered us in the early 1600s.  We knew almost instantly that our raison d'etre was finally revealed.  It was our job to be irritating agents of sedition to any and all Turkish governments.  We purposely allowed ourselves to be conquered by the Ottomans.  Cunning as we Armenians are, we allowed the Ottomans to treat us as second class citizens for centuries.  We fooled Talaat, Enver, and Djemal Pashas into orchestrating the 1915 Genocide basically tricking the Turks into confiscating Armenian lands, businesses, and monies.  All of this was just a ruse.  They were putty in our hands, puppets at the end of strings we held.   
      What a plan.  They never knew what hit 'em.  But, we didn't stop there.  We had them enacting Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code making it a crime to insult Turkishness.  You don't believe this?  Look at the number, 301, the very year Armenia adopted Christianity as the state religion. Bwah- haha!  Enough?  No way, we just keep working at our national sport.  We even had Kemal Ataturk establish the Presidential Palace in the villa of one Ohannes Kasabian.  The mansion, known as Çankaya Köşkü, might or might not have been bugged.  For sure, we buried treasure underneath the floors.  Saroyan was not quite correct, for every time two Armenians met, we were not creating a new Armenia but rather laughing about the Turkish President sleeping unbeknownst atop of gold buried in the floorboards.  Çankaya Köşkü served as the Presidential Palace until the last piece of our master plan was put in place.  The code name for this last mission was Djermag Pigh.  Our agents convinced Erdoğan to build a new palace, Ak Saray or White Palace, the was so expensive and so ostentatious that it cost his party the election on June 7, 2015:
Turkish voters delivered a rebuke on Sunday to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as his party lost its majority in Parliament in a historic election that thwarted his ambition to rewrite Turkey’s Constitution and further bolster his clout.   ~ New York Times
     I will freely admit, as the self-appointed representative of Armenian infidel seditionists, that the gays and journalists could not have done this without us.  While they are wily and clever too, they needed our 400 year plan to humiliate Erdoğan and the AKP party in this most recent election.  
     The only thing that mystifies me is how Erdoğan found out we were part of this.  There must have been a leak within our ranks... unless, of course, we leaked it on purpose.  Alas, Erdoğan will never know.  Poor sap.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Answering Debbie: Why I am Driving a Toyota

     My car needed service.  I took it to a dealership on the way home from North Park University.  While waiting for my car, I noticed a poster of a photo I have seen before.  It is an old black and white photo in Grand Central Terminal with the sun pouring in through, I believe, the window on the east side of the building.  I took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook with the this message:  "A surprising photo to find hanging from the Toyota dealership in Lincolnwood, Illinois. Immediately, I felt a pull to whatever New York State of mind I thought I once had."

     A friend from Burns Elementary School, who now lives in Texas, made the following comment:  "That is a great pic, but how could you be from Detroit and be shopping for a Toyota?"
     I started reply and after about three hundred words, I decided I was writing a blog post.  So, here we are with my response to Debbie.

-- o --

     Well good question Debbie.  
     It is a question I am still sensitive to as I do care for both the city of Detroit and the people I know that work in the auto industry. 
     When I worked in the auto industry, I exclusively bought American.  Not only that, I exclusively bought Fords because that is where I worked.  I kept buying Fords even after I left Ford and worked for automotive parts suppliers TRW and Rockwell International.
      Because I began my career in quality, I knew that Toyota made better cars at that time. Fact. Period.  My first ever business trip was to visit dealerships that sold both Fords and Toyotas.  We were putting together a database so Ford could actually quantify the warranty repairs for their cars versus Toyotas.  In opening a file drawer, back then such information was not digitized as it would be today, we could tell immediately which folders were for Ford vehicles and which were Toyotas.  The Toyota folders were visibly much thinner.  Without any analysis, I knew that Toyotas simply had significantly less repairs than Ford cars and trucks.  It made a huge impact on me.  
     When I left that industry and became just a consumer,  I moved to Connecticut and worked in New York City.  Yet, I kept buying American cars out of a sense of duty and loyalty that I believe Debbie was invoking with her question.  Out of curiosity and getting a very good deal, I bought in 1994 Camry. Wow. Night and day difference. It was a great car.  It is arguably the best Camry vintage ever made.  I still kept buying myself American but I bought my wife Toyota sedans and then Lexus SUVs. 
     I bought myself two Chevy Blazers. They were OK.  Not great, just OK. I liked them well enough until they started to become very costly rattle traps at about 70 - 80K miles.  That was my expectation for American cars and they lived up to that low expectation.  After the two Blazers, I bought a 2002 4Runner. Again, it was simply a better SUV.  It is 2015 and I still have it. It has 146k miles and runs well. I plan on keeping it till it has at least 250K or maintenance costs more than $4000/year as that starts to equal the very low end of a new car.  It was an oil change and replacement of an air fuel sensor bank that took me to the Toyota dealership where the Grand Central Terminal poster was hanging.
     My auto buying choices are personal and have proven to be sound economic decisions.  My choices are not why Detroit and the auto industry failed.  General Motors and Ford failed me.  
      Regarding the downfall of Detroit, there were many contributors.  It was the auto industry, changing racial demographics, awful local governments, and white flight to name a few. I haven't lived in the city of Detroit since 1969 and the metro area since 1990. Debbie could have easily asked me why I left Detroit, but as she no longer lives there herself she knows the answer. Economic opportunity took me elsewhere. That move to Connecticut was the best single career decision I ever made. Sure, I miss people and places in the metro Detroit.  It was tough to leave but I did and it ended up being a good thing.
      As for the US auto industry?  To me the answer is inept corporate leadership at all three. They were unable to marshal their corporate talent to build vehicles that could cost effectively compete on design and performance quality with foreign automakers. It is that simple.  Look at the market share graph.  It speaks of epic management failure.  In the late 1960s, the Big Three had almost 90% of the US vehicle market share.  They are under 50% now.  This does not happen because they had sound strategies, excellent product development, and world class manufacturing.  
     This is pretty much how the rest of the world looks at the US auto industry leadership.  I do believe folks in Detroit might admit to it now too.  Since the shock of the Great Recession, it seems that the Ford and GM may finally have have management in place who have restructured and retrenched the companies to produce cars and trucks that can compete globally.  There is a great book, American Icon by Bryce Hoffman, on the transformation engineered at Ford by Alan Mulally who joined the company in 2006 and recently retired.  While the book is about the past ten years, it captures the ingrained feudal culture that paralyzed the US auto industry.  
      Sure I no longer buy American cars.  But, my loyalty continued past my employment with three car purchases which were not as fulfilling as any Toyota or Lexus product I have purchased.  I am not talking about toothbrushes, computers, or TVs.  We are talking about cars that, next to our homes, are our largest  purchases.  Should I spend $40K for a car that will last maybe 100K miles that costs me more to maintain and has lower quality out of loyalty?  Should, I continue to shop at Sears just because they are a Chicago icon and that is where I live now?  No.  Companies have to earn and retain customer loyalty... not expect it.
      Here is a quote on Toyota from Alan Mulally from circa 2006 (American Icon, page 130):  
They make products that people want, and they do it with less resources and less time than anybody in the world.  They're a magical machine.  This system of continually improving the quality, putting the variations into the product line that people want  and doing it with minimum resources and minimum time is absolutely where we have to go.  If you at Ford, it's the antithesis.
     I look forward to the day when Ford or GM lures me back as a customer.
     Sorry for the long winded reply to your simple question Debbie.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Stand Up Desks

     The first time I ever heard about a stand up desk was when I read about the CEO of Schneider National sometime back in the 1990s.  It seems that Don Schneider worked at a standing desk because he was believed it made him more alert and created a greater sense of urgency.  I was intrigued and never forot reading that because no one I knew had or worked at a stand up desk. 
     What is a stand up desk?  Historically, they were not so rare.  Think of the Bob Cratchit desk without the stool.  Think of the maitre'd desk at many restaurants.  They especially make sense for restaurant seating staff as they need to be eye to eye with customers, they are always moving, and thus getting into and out of a chair is wasted time and motion.
     A few years ago, I heard about them again from my son.  He had gotten one in his office and just loved working standing up.  He told me that they were now fully electric and could be raised and lowered by a switch.  I did what I normally do in such situations:  I Googled it.  There were a few companies making such desks that ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the size and features.  The web search also revealed numerous articles touting both the evils of sitting in a chair all day long and the health benefits of working on one's feet for at least four hours a day.  
There's an emerging body of research that suggests sitting down all day at work, then sitting in front of the TV at home, can heighten the risk of serious illness, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and other ailments, and premature death.

Physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth-leading risk factor for death for people all around the world, according to the World Health Organization.  ~ CNN Money 
     At that time, I was working out of my home office for both my consulting projects and adjunct teaching. There was no way to justify replacing the desk in my study which was a piece of furniture with one of these desks that would never pass the decor standards of my dear wife. I pursued the idea no further... that is until I began my full time position at North Park University.       I have an office at North Park.  It is, how shall I say it, not very big:  7' x 10.5'.  It is small.  I could get all the hand-me-down furniture available in the basement of the house in which the School of Business and Nonprofit Management was located.  I thought about getting one of those cool electric stand up desks but given the plentiful amount of surplus, i.e. free, furniture and a department furniture budget which was smaller than my office, I didn't ask for a $2000 stand up desk.  
      My office is functional.  The only thing I really wish I had was more desk space which is a spartan 4' x 2.5'.  Next to my desk is an empty square space of 2.5' x 2.5' which I knew should be better utilized somehow.  I thought of getting a bigger desk but facilities has not been the most responsive as they are understaffed and the fact that I already have a desk.  I then thought about buying something myself an end to table for storage and desk extension.  I looked around and could never find anything that was suitable from the criteria of price, dimensions, and style.  So, I did nothing.
     A month ago, I was in an office supply store and walked by the furniture section and saw an offering of stand up desks of varying sizes a few of which looked small enough and reasonable priced to be candidates for my empty space.  I wrote down the dimensions and basically did nothing for a month as it was the end of the semester exam and grading time.  One of the small stand up desks, actually it was really a stand up table, looked like it would fit.  It was not electric but could easily be adjusted.  It cost $200 which was at the upper limit of what I wanted to spend.  
     Before buying the desk, I looked online.  There were a lot of stand up workstations between $60 - $350.  While the dimensions were provided, I did not want to buy anything I could not see, touch, and ensure worked to my satisfaction including the maximum height of the work surface.  I stopped at another office superstore just to see what was available from them.   They had a very study stand on which I could easily use as a computer while standing.  If I lowered it, I could use it as a text book stand.  Best of all, it was the last one and priced to go at $100.  I bought it. 
     It is the stand in the photo.  It is a perfect size of my workspace.   As my first stand up activity, I wrote and posted this blog.  I am so trendy.