Saturday, December 31, 2016

October 2016: Three Writers

      Bob Dylan: The 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to an American. The singer/songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the honor for "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition" per
     Upon hearing this news I immediately thought of a poster my good friend, Jack Hachigian, had hanging in his Michigan State dorm room. The poster was titled The Roots of Rock & Roll. The graphic was a majestic tree. The roots were all the folk and blues artistics. The branches were all the classic rock bands. I want to say that Bob Dylan was the trunk of the tree. Jack was the only one I knew that had that poster. I was impressed by the poster and also impressed that he bought it and proudly displayed it.
     In reflecting back on the poster, I remember not being sure if giving Dylan that much credit was warranted. I did, however, try to understand the point of view. I listened to Dylan more seriously and remember being more impressed with his lyrics and the number of songs he had written many of which, like “Mr. Tambourine Man,| I thought were written by others. Bob Dylan was truly a gifted songwriter. I got to appreciate him more though I never fully bought into the premise of the poster.
     I tried to find the poster via a Google search to no avail. I was interested to see my reaction to it forty years laters. Perhaps, it is better left to memory.
     What did I know? The Nobel Prize people awarded Dylan the most presitigious prizes in literature. This time around, I was more awed than worried whether he was deserving.
     The awe comes from fact that Dylan is not a typical prize winning author. All the previous Nobel Prize winners wrote books. Bob Dylan writes songs. I was in awe that the committee thought out of the box and honored Dylan’s body of work in this way.
     There was a time when poetry and songwrting were one in the same. I don’t authoritatively know this. I know it anecdotally or maybe even in passing. I bounced this notion off of an English professor colleague and she said I was correct. It makes sense as poetry until the introduction of free verse was rhythmic and rhyming. That is exactly what most song lyrics are.
     I always appreciated Bob Dylan. I was a child of the 1960s and my introduction to pop music, everything was called Rock n’Roll back then, was first the Beatles and then a variety of different artists and groups including Bob Dylan. Of course, I liked Bob Dylan without conciously realizing the greatest impact was from his lyrics/poetry. One could argue that that foundational anthem of the antiwar movement was Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
      When I was in college, my friend Peter Ziedas introducted me to Leonard Cohen. Upon the very first listen of the first song, Bird on a Wire, I was amazed, fascinated, and mesmerized by his words and delivery. I think Leonard is the better poet. Certainly Dylan had more commercial success and social impact. If they had given the Nobel Prize to Leonard Cohen, I may have been less surprised but I may have also been less excited.
     They may have also given the prize to Lennon and McCartney. One could argue that they wrote some high quality lyrics and had an profound impact on the culture. In this case I would have been both less surprised and less impressed.
     I cannot imagine, well for that matter no one can imagine, the Nobel Committee ever wondering how I might react to any of their decisions.
     Awarding the prize to Dylan may have an influence on how we define literature and poetry moving forward. Poetry used to be an art form accessible to the masses. One could argue that the epic works Homer’s works up through Longfellow were the Netflix series of their times. Common folk read them and were entertained. Longfellow like Dylan was quite popular and perhaps even more of a commercial success. In Longfellow & the Day is Done, I noted that:
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 recent years, poetry has become more and more esoteric. It is most written by acadamic poets whose target audience and readers are other academics. The masses get their poetry fix from greeting cards, rap, and country music. Perhaps awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan will change this… if it needs changing at all. Perhaps a rap artist may bestowed with the same honor.
     Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, MN. He adopted the name Bob Dillon which later changed to Bob Dylan. Many think he was channeling the poet Dylan Thomas but other sources say it was Marshall Dillon from the Gunsmoke TV Series. For me, I like the Gunsmoke theory. It adds to his Americana. He was raised Jewish but claimed to be a born again Christian in 1979 which, by virtue of not proclaiming anything else, still is. He grew up in Hibbing, MN. In high school, he was drawn to Rock and Roll but moved on over to Folk Music while at the University of Minnesota.
     He dropped out of college and moved to, where else, New York City where he began playing clubs and making a name for himself. He wrote his own songs and made a big hit with “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They are a-Channging.” Both, in my humble view, were the sound track that of the unrest that was stirring due to both the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements. They were the right songs at the right time. They resonated with the baby boomers, the first TV generation, coming of age with the belief that a new age of peace could be established.
     Maybe Jack’s poster in his dorm room was correct after all. I think I may have just written the justification I was looking for. Not bad, it only took 45 years.
     I first heard about Dylan being named a Nobel Laureate on Facebook. It was a posting by the University Dean at North Park University, Liza Ann Acosta. She fired off a few posts on October 13th as the news was breaking:
What what what????? Que??? Bob Dylan? Are my ears deceiving me???? Whut? 
OMG secretary is comparing Dylan's work with Homer and Sappho. 
I am slowly recovering from my amazement. I am thinking of how I will incorporate this into class tomorrow or Monday. I may need the weekend to read Dylan. I mean listen. Gah. No. Read. READ. Ok. Listen and read.
     By the way, Dean Acosta has a PhD in Comparative Literature.
     I responded to here last post with what I thought was a clever and meaningful comment: “gee... i hope we don't get all academic on him now. LOL.” She immediately responded with, “Too late!” and provided a link to Yale University Press book entitled Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown by David Yaffe an assistant professor of English at Syracuse University.
     Somehow I wanted to Dylan and his songs to stay pure and untouched. I did not want academic wonks putting him under the microscope and making more and, perhaps even, less of him. His words and songs influenced a generation in our formative, Wonder Years for those who might relate, years. We heard and grasped them in real time. I am probably airing a fear that someone, through the lens of time, looks back and does not get it right or, even worse, trivializes the times. Those times they are a-trivialized don’t resonate very well.
     But, I was too late. There are many books on Dylan and his writing. There are courses in which his work is studied. No doubt that with his being named a Nobel Laureate, there will be more courses and books. As is often the case, yesterday’s rabble rousers and creators of new art forms become the mainstays of tomorrows academics. In this modern age, this simply happens, like everything else, at a much faster pace. My how the times they have a-changed.
     Upon announcement of his Nobel Prize, Dylan said he was not going to attend the award ceremony. A week or so later, a press release infomed us that he would attend. In the end, he did not go. Patti Smith performed his song, A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall, at the ceremonies.
      I think not attending the awards ceremonies is fine, it’s all right. Which evokes my favorite Dylan song which I present here.

Don't think twice, it's all right

Well it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
Ifin' you don't know by now
An' it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It'll never do some how
When your rooster crows at the break a dawn
Look out your window and I'll be gone
You're the reason I'm trav'lin' on
Don't think twice, it's all right

And it ain't no use in a-turnin' on your light, babe
The light I never knowed
An' it ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
I'm on the dark side of the road
But I wish there was somethin' you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin' anyway
But don't think twice, it's all right
No it ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
Like you never done before
And it ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
I can't hear ya any more
I'm a-thinkin' and a-wond'rin' wallkin' way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I am told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don't think twice, it's all right
So long honey babe
Where I'm bound, I can't tell
Goodbye is too good a word, babe
So I just say fare thee well
I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right
     Leonard Cohen: While writing the above in which I referenced Leonard Cohen, news broke that Cohen had passed away. Cohen passed away on November 6th at the age of 82. He was born in Quebec in 1934.
      He wrote mesmerizing poems and lyrics. As stated earlier, he had as big an impact on me, and maybe even more, than Dylan’s. He, like Dylan, was known as a songwriter and folk singer. To me, he was also a poet. In fact, back in the day, the day when I was an undergraduate, everyone that listened to Cohen told me he was a better poet than musician.
      Yet, oddly, know one could reference a poem that he had written that wasn’t a song he had already recorded. I was, therefore, curious to see just how good a poet he was. I bought a collection of his poems: Selected Poems 1956 – 1968.
      I have a view that the greatest poets are known for a dozen or so of their poems. While they may have written a great body of work, their place in literary history is based on these few poems. I found enough poems in the Selected Poems books that confirmed that Leonard Cohen was a good poet.
     Upon hearing of his passing, I looked for the book. I am not sure where it is. I wanted to include my favorite poem of his in this in this letter. I searched online to no avail but did find my second favorite poem of his, “The Rest is Dross,” which I will include at the end of this session.
     I really appreciated his work from my college days. His first two albums, The Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs from a Room, were my favorites. They were valued parts of my music collection but unlike other artists these were not records that I listen to over and over again. One had to be in the right mood, with the right people, and in the right ambiance to listen to his songs. They required more attention and thought than the offerings of other bands. They were the fine liquor of my my music collection.
     As I got older, my musical tastes gravitated to the music I played. I almost exclusively listened only to Armenian, Turkish, and Greek music. Leonard Cohen was like a yearbook brought out every once in awhile to refresh a fading memory. As he never was in the mainstream, I never heard much about him either in the media or from others.
     Then sometime in the late 1980s or 1990s, I heard from John Bilezikjian that he was touring with Leonard Cohen. I was totally surprised by this news. John Bilezikjian was a talented oud player. He was certainly capable musically to accompany Cohen, but I did not think they were compatable in terms of their styles. They were disjoint sets in my brain… no intersection. What did I know? They toured together for several years. John always spoke highly of Cohen and the experience of touring with him. Here is a youtube of them performing Everybody Knows in 1988.
     Because of their working together, I sought out Leonard Cohen’s recordings in which John was in the band. The primary album was I’m Your Man. I enjoyed the recording but they were less in terms of depth and gravity of Cohen’s earlier work in my humble opinion. Also, the oud just wasn’t prominent enough for my taste.
     After Cohen’s passing, there were numerous old interviews of him replayed on NPR. He was a very NPR kind of artist. I do believe Cohen’s passing got more air time than did Dylan’s be awarded the Nobel Prize. I learned that Cohen was a heavy smoker, battled drugs, was quite the lady’s man, and gained wonderul insights to his Jewish-Zen spirituality. The drinking and cigarette smoking explains why his voice kept getting lower and lower over the years. It was also revealed why Cohen went back on tour in 2004. He had to. His long time business manager and close friend basically “misappropriated” $5M of his savings leaving him only $150,000.
     In these interviews, he was engaging and lighter than I would have expected. I found quite refreshing. He did not seem bitter about his manager stealing all his money. He was quite centered. It was a pleasure hearing these interviews and reflecting on lyrics and life. In a certain way, I understood his Hallelujah a bit better after these interviews.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
      To me, I will always remember the Leonard Cohen from this 1968 BBC performance and, of course, the poem below.

The Rest is Dross

We meet at a hotel
with many quarters for the radio
surprised that we've survived as lovers
not each other's
but lovers still
with outrageous hope and habits in the craft
which embarrass us slightly
as we let them be known
the special caress the perfect inflammatory word
the starvation we do not tell about
We do what only lovers can
make a gift out of necessity
Looking at our clothes
folded over the chair
I see we no longer follow fashion
and we own our own skins
God I'm happy we've forgotten nothing
and can love each other
for years in the world
     William Trevor: I was well aware of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. I got to know their artistry at a young age. William Trevor? I had never heard of him until November 24th. There was a short piece, almost an obituary, by Mark Salter on the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal: William Trevor’s Endless Empathy. I think the phrase Endless Empathy made me read the article.
The blow felt heavier than the news of other notable deaths this year. William Trevor, the Irish novelist and master of the short story, died this week. He was 88, so it didn’t come as a shock. But the news left me distraught, realizing I would never read another Trevor story for the first time.
     Until that moment, I had never heard of William Trevor, let alone read anything by him. Salter, a speechwriter and former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and thus quite able to turn a phrase of his own, went on to say, “we’ve lost a great contemporary writer, possibly our greatest.” Wow. How could I not even be aware of him? I asked the aforementioned Professor Acosta. I felt I was OK, since she, as a professor of comparitive literature, was also blissfully unaware of William Trevor.
     Well, blissful unawareness didn’t have to remain that way. The man who the New Yorker referred to as “probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language” was no longer an unknown to me. So, I went out and bought a book. Did I buy a book of short stories? Of course, I should have and actually thought I did. The book I bought was called Excursions in the Real World. In fine print under the title, it said Memoirs. These memoirs are of his growing up in and around Cork, Ireland where he was born in 1928.
     Trevor’s writing in his memoirs are precise, tightly crafted, meticulous, and eloquent in a way you would expect from a gifted Irish writer. I am not sure if this style is natural and that it flows easily with minimum re-writes or if it is the result of painstaking work and edits. Excursions in the Real World is a book that I have to put down. I want to only read it a vignette, or chapter, at a time. I had to read and savor everyword. Reading Trevor is akin to sipping fine cognac. Actually, the more I am reading this book, the better I am used to reading Trevor’s prose. I am experience the admiration Salter had for Trevor’s writing. In reading him for the first time, his prose unfolds in slow motion and blooms like a flower.
     I will close this lengthy letter with the first paragraph from the chapter in his memoirs called “Bad Trip.”
There have been terrible, ugly journeys that are remembered by me now for different aspects of distress. Races against time have lost. Delays at airports have triumphantly ruined weekends. Night has come down too soon when walking in the Alps. Theft has brought travel to a halt, toothache made a nightmare of it. Once a ferry mistakenly took off before its passengers had arrived on the quayside. Once the wheels of an aircraft did not come down. “Kaputt!’ a German grage mechenic declared of an old A.30 on an autobahn, and that was that.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

November 2016: Two Recent News Items

     The hardest part of writing this letter was choosing a title. Usually, when I cover a few, unrelated topics, I call it a Potpourri. Given on the topics is about the 75th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, potpourri just sounded too light and frivolous. While this is the November Letter, it was only started in November and finished in December.
     A new years resolution will be to be more timely in 2017.

     Whitechapel Bell Foundry: I have written a few times about how we lament the closing of school, store, facrory or other institutions that iconic in our lives. We have warm memories about these kinds of places. We can rekindle those memories by visiting these places again. Some visits are annual, such as homecomings at schools and holiday seasons at department stores.
     But, economic conditions and demographics change. These places close. We feel bad, we feel like part of ourselves are diminished in the closing. Our memories are on their own and cannot be refereshed by a visit.
     I feel bad when places I have never seen, been meant to, close. Today, I felt something new. I am feeling bad about the closing of a place I have never heard of… until today.
     A short article in the Wall Street Journal reported that Whitechapel Bell Foundry was closing. This foundry which has made both Big Ben and the Liberty Bell is closing and the business is being sold. Whitechapel claims it is the oldest manufacturing enterprise operating continuously on the same site.
     Alan Hughes is the great-grandson of the man who bought the company in 1884 was quoted in an interview in Spitalfields Life: “The business has been at its present site over 250 years. So it is probably about time it moved once again. We hope that this move will provide an opportunity for the business to move forward.”
     This company has made bells for centuries. Their largest customer has been the Church of England. Their bells are in use in Westminster Abbey, St. Alban’s, and other famous churches. They have made original bells, patched and repaired them over the years, and then replaced them.
     They had a great year in 2015. Business was up 27% but the sales and manufacturing leadntimes are amazingly long.
Bell projects take a long time, so churches commit to new bells when the economy is strong and then there is no turning back. We are just commencing work on a new peal of bells for St Albans after forty-three years of negotiation. That’s an example of the time scale we are working on – at least ten years between order and delivery is normal. My great-grandfather visited the church in Langley in the eighteen nineties and told them the bells needed rehanging in a new frame. They patched them. My grandfather said the same thing in the nineteen twenties. They patched them. My father told them again in the nineteen fifties and I quoted for the job in the nineteen seventies. We completed the order in 1998.
     The lead times are indeed long. 43 years of negotiations?! A minimum of 10 years in the sales and delivery cycle? How do you plan in a business like that. I am quite certain they are not using Sales and Operations Planning.
     They are certainly a make-to-order shop. It would be cool to see how they make the kind of large bells the churches mentioned would buy. The challenge of getting a clean and sound casting is a must. I cannot imagine how they finish and tune the bells and how long it takes from start to finish to produce a large bell.
The Liberty Bell

     My last thought is about the Liberty Bell. The huge crack in the bell bothered me from my grade school days. Clearly, it was a defective product of this historical foundry. Supposedly, the mix of metals used made the bell too brittle. Given the excessive lead time and all, perhaps, the US should consider asking them to fix or replace it. If it takes them up to 43 years to sell a project, the warranty ought to be 200 – 300 years.

     Fading Infamy: This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surpise aerial attack using fighters and dive and torpedo bombers on the American Naval and Army bases in Hawaii. The US was caught completely off-guard and the attack was a rousing and complete victory for Japan. The casualties were staggering and a blow to the American government, and people.
     President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a speech on December 8th that was broadcast to a stunned nation huddled aroud their radios.
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. ~
     Roosevelt’s words resonated: a day that will live in infamy. As a result of this attack that began at 7:55 am and lasted only 75 minutes, the United States entered World War II. On December 8, the United States declared war on Japan. A few days later, December 11, Japan’s Axis allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the US. This was still the days when countries declared war on each other when armed forces were deployed.
     I remember clearly growing up around a generation of adults in their forties and fifties. For them, Pearl Harbor was a very big deal. Beause of them, it became a big deal for me. The big difference was that I did not live through it. I did not experience it. My view of the event is second hand. For my children and grandchildren, it will not be much more than an historical event perhaps a significant historical event. The way they look at is probably the way I look at the sinking of the Lusitania. It was huge in its day but the memory has faded.
     When I was born, there were still WWI veterans around. If they were 18 – 25 when the US entered the war in 1917 when the US entered the great war. They would have been in their 60’s in 1960 when I first really became aware of such things. Many TV shows in the 1970s featured the occasional plot line where the last of those veterans showed up for a reunion and were alone all their comrades had passed.
      As this was the 75th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, veterans that were actually there are all in their 90s. Sadly, but naturally, as that generation of Americans passes, the Day of Infamy will still be noted but not in the same way. The same is said for all thoses huge days in history. I am seeing it happen with the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. It is even happening with 9-11.
     The Wall Street Journal had a couple of very good articles commemorating the day. Robert R. Garnett, a professor of English literature at Gettysburg College noted in an Op-Ed piece, Aboard the USS Arizona – Dec. 7, 1941:
Only minutes after the attack began, a Japanese bomb hit the Arizona, triggering a volcanic explosion in the forward magazines. The ship broke in half and quickly sank. Almost 1,200 sailors and Marines, including all 21 musicians, died. 
We sleep peacefully in our beds at night, it has been said, because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf. But few of the sailors on the Arizona were rough men. Many were homesick young recruits, 18- and 19-year-old boys from rural and working-class America. One bandsman had enlisted the year before at 16. Arizona’s dead remain entombed in their sunken ship, America’s most poignant war memorial.
     We need to read articles like this to remember how many died in that 75 minute attack (most of the Pearl Harbor movies did not have to condense time very much at all). 2,400 Americans died at Pearl Harbor. Half of them were on the USS Arizona, the sunken hull of which is both tomb for those killed and a war memorial.
     A neverending debate about the Pearl Harbor attack concerns just how much the US knew about an impending attack and we might have done about it. A related discussion is about how, on that fateful day, we were caught so flat-footed. There had to be a scapegoat. But, I was not aware of who they were. Sure, I have seen the various movies. Having watched a few of these movies, it seemed to me that there was plenty of blame to spread around both in the State and War Departments.
The USS Arizona sinking
     Thanks again to the WSJ, my primary news source these days, there was a December 2nd article, The Admiral Who Took the Fall for Pearl Harbor. Admiral Husband Kimmel was the Commander of the Pacific Fleet at the time. Per the article, earlier in 1941, President Roosevelt himself had referred to Kimmel as “one of the greatest naval strategists of our time.” Within ten days, this four star admiral was relieved of command and reduced in rank by two stars to Rear Admiral. He retired from the Navy in 1942 and spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name and reputation and have his rank restored. Upon his death in 1968, his family took up the cause to this day with no real change.
     Kimmel’s army counterpart was a three star general, Walter Short. He was in charge of the Hawaiian command and thus shared in the responsibility with Kimmel of defending the islands. Roosevelt assigned a special committee, the Roberts Commission to investigate what happened at Pearl Harbor. The conclusion was dereliction of duty for both Kimmel and Short. Like Kimmel, Short was relieved of command and reduced in rank by one star. He also retired in 1942 and passed away in 1949.
     Both men wanted a court martial to better be able to defend themselves and their actions before the attack. Both were refused. In 2000, a nonbinding Senate resolution was narrowly passed exhonorating both men.
     Kimmel was portrayed by Martin Balsam in Tora! Tora! Tora!. Jason Robards portrayed Walter Short. In the film, they both were in total shock after the attack.
     Pearl Harbor marked the US entry into World War II. If I ever visit Hawaii, I will go to the USS Arizona Memorial.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 2016: Christmas Letter

At the Great Wall with Professor Schilling
     I have been in the habit of writing a Christmas eLetter. It is a good habit. It is definitely a “feel good” and therefore I believed a noble habit. They have had, as my friend Ara Topouzian would love to point out irritatingly often, the same ring to them. He would say this because I would write them on Christmas morning, when it was still dark and no one else was yet up. The ambiance was “not a creature was stirring,” as I sat by the glow of my computer screen with a hot cup of coffee sharing my thoughts. Well, that is exactly what I am doing this morning. It is good to revive this part of the tradition once more… and I actually look forward to the “what again” comical soliliquy Ara will deliver later this week? That has also become part of this tradition.
     This is not your standard Christmas Letter that we still get a few of with Christmas Cards. I used to hate these letters and even penned a parody of them. Now, I actually cherish the few we get because in this Facebook age of continual updates there is no real need to them anymore.
     So what am I doing up so early writing a Christmas Letter?
     Allow me to extend this already overly long prelude with some more history of why I do this. I started this early Christmas morning ritual in the late 1990s or early 2000s, it was a time when my children were in their teens and not so eager to wake us so very early to see what Santa had brought. I, however, in the habit of getting up early to catch the train to Manhattan, could sleep in an hour or two and still be up at 6:30.
     What to do?
     I didn’t want to turn the TV on and wake others. There was no interest in fetching the newspaper as the news of the world would only dissapte the tranquility of the moment. I kind of liked the dark and the silence. So I made a
With the Faculty and Staff of the School of
Business and Nonprofit Management
cup of coffee and sat there and thought. As it was Christmas, my thoughts drifted to family and friends. I thought about those I would see later that day but thought more about those I would not see. I decided to send an early morning email to the folks I worked with in Latin America. It was, at that time, a short and simple email, wishing them Merry Christmas, appreciating the interactions, accomplishments, and comraderie of the past year and wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year.
     It was a quite natural thing for me to do. It seemed like a very Armenian thing to do. It was definitely a very Latin thing to do. For many people I worked with over the years, work was work and friends were friends. It is not like that for Armenians nor is like that for Latins. In both cultures, business had the best and most meaningful results when there was a personal connection. It is that warm blooded bond, dak ayrun in Armenian and sangre caliente in Spanish. This cannot be faked, it has to be genuine and natural… I think in businesspeak some folks use the term authentic.
     I realized this when my colleagues in Latin America used to say, “you are different than the other Americans.” Larger? Less effective? Goofier? Probably. But, what they meant was that I went the extra mile to get to know them and
With Oswaldo Arias
make a connection beyond the business relationship which actually ended up building a firmer foundation for the business relationship. It was as they say: authentic.
     In 2004, I began writing a monthly eLetter. The first letter explains how and why I got into this. I continued sending out my Christmas morning emails and given the amount of writing I was doing, these early morning greetings became eLetters of their own. In 2009, a bit late mind you, I put 2 and 2 together and realized that my eLetters were really a kind of low tech blogging, so I started a blog and put all my old letters in the blog. All Christmas morning missives thus became blog posts as I will no doubt do with this one.
     There was an old Armenian tradition. I am not sure if it started in the US, but I suspect my grandparents generation brought it with them from the “old country.” Christmas morning a father would take his boys and go visit the homes of his dearest friends, wish them Merry Christmas, have a drink, and perhaps something to eat. Clearly, for this to work, most men had to stay home. I always liked this notion of taking a stroll through the village to visit friends on Christmas morning, give them a big hug, and wish them well. My Christmas morning emails were a tech-enabled way of doing exactly that. It is what I am doing now.
     When I left Colgate-Palmolive and moved to Newell Rubbermaid, I continued the same tradition of sending a Christmas morning email to my team. It was OK but I wanted to, and I do believe did, tell my Latin colleagues that they were different from my American colleagues.
      Yesterday, I FaceTimed Andres in Uruguay and Angel in Mexico City. I texted a Abraham in Panama. This morning I am thinking of all the good people I have met and worked with not only in the US but throughout Latin America and the rest of the world. So here is a toast to all of you reading this!
     I am no longer in the corporate world. I am doing something very different and something I love even more. I am a faculty member in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University here in Chicago. It is the best job I have ever had, which is saying something after my time in Latin America. It is also and encore career. So, I am feeling double blessed.
     For my work life to be meaningful and truly fulfilling, I believe there has to be a bond with the people I work with. A unversity is a wonderful place for this attitude and approach. The students are both our customers and our products. Students learn best when there is a connection and bond (watch how you react here Ara) with the students. The same is said for one’s faculty colleagues and the administration. I am thankful that North Park is rich and well-endowed university in this regard. It is a congenial and caring place. I am delighted to be there.
     At Colgate, I was a road warrior as I travelled 50% of the time. Since 2006, my business travel has been a mere fraction of that. This year was a special year for travel too. In March, I had the opportunity to visit Costa Rica. We took a group of Grad Students, Faculty, and alumni there to visit businesses and nonprofits. As Costa Rica was part of my old stomping grounds (we built two warehouses there in my tenure), I assisted in arranging the places we would visit. Colgate colleagues and good friends, Jim Gerchow, Oswaldo Arias, and Maria Royo helped planning some wonderful visits. It was great to reconnect with them. While, we missed seeing Maria, Jim and Oswaldo were above and beyond hosts. It was great seeing them.
With Jim Gerchow

     In May and June, Professor Schilling and I were visiting professors in China. We had the pleasure and honor of being at the Anhui University of Finance and Economics. I taught Quantiative Methods to graduate students and Marketing Channels and Supply Chain to undergraduates. It was an amazing experience. The students were taking their first full course in English. Read more about my impressions here.
     On the personal side, allow my share my delight and joy in having three grandchildren. Aris is the oldest at two and a half years. His brithday is one day after mine which is very cool. Vaughn will be two in early January. These two fellows are up and around, curious and energetic, and if I may gloat, pretty bright. They keep me active and running when we do get to see them.
The Grandsons 
Aris’s sister and Vaughn’s cousin, Lara is our first grandaughter. She is just six months old, cooing, and charming us with her smile. Her birthday is one day after her brother’s and, thus, two days after mine.
     In closing, I would like to wish everyone the blessings of the season. May we all be healthy and happy in 2017. With all that has happened around the world from terrorism in so many countries, the tragedy of Aleppo, the murder rate here in Chicago, and evertyhing else, this Bible passage seems more important than ever.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. ~ Luke 2:14
     Peace on earth, good will toward men indeed.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This Crazy Election Night

     It is election night, November 8, 2016.  I should be grading papers, but I just tuned in the coverage of the election.  My network of choice is MSNBC.  I am not even sure why I like them but it has become my TV news channel of choice starting with the ascent of Trump.  It should be noted that the morning crew, when I normally watch the network, has been pretty well pro-Clinton and anti-Trump. There was a bit of an entertainment factor in that the talking heads and pundits on this network were completely mystified by the popularity and populism of Trump.  Mika Brzezinski, in particular, was often... um... what's the word... discombobulated at the things Trump would say, do, and amazingly still gain in popularity.  
     It has been a crazy campaign.  In this age of polarization, the electorate has been equally polarized.  There seemed to have been three poles.  Those that love Clinton and abhor Trump, those that are ardent about Trump and detest Clinton, and finally there is the pole that cannot believe that Clinton and Trump are the best we can do.
     The polls?  They have shown Clinton leading almost the entire time since the conventions this past summer.  She blips up when Trump has the boorish things he is prone to say and tweet or when old videos were shown where he was shown to be a sexist pig.  The polling would get closer when Clinton's email would dominate the news.  Bottom line, the polls had everyone believing that Clinton was going to waltz into The White House.  
    The results thus far at 9:33 EST are showing a much much closer than expected.  The talking head and pundits are admitting they did not see this coming.   They are comparing this to Brexit and calling it the Brexit factor.
    I have been suspect of the polls for some time.  There are three reasons for this.  First, no one has been talking about the margin of error.  Going into election day, the polls got close, perhaps within the margin of error which would make the election a toss up.  Secondly, when polls were more accurate then they appear now, most polling was done by telephone.  With cell phones and caller ID, large numbers of people simply do not answer and hang up if they accidentally answer and realize it is a polling call, they simply hangup.  This means that pollsters have to work harder to get samples and work even harder to get good representative random samples.  That is clearly in play in this election.   Lastly, and I have been spouting this for the past week, there are a lot of Trump supporters that simply do not say they are for him.  Why would this be?  I am guessing that folks simply were a bit ashamed to admit they were voting for a candidate that said so many un-Presidential and boorish things.  Perhaps, the experts simply have underestimated just how large the disenfranchised segment of the population is.  They are sending the political establishment a message.  
     When the Great Recession hit on the eve of President Obama's election, I predicted we would come out of it more like a European country like England or maybe Italy than the America we were or thought we were.  I would say that is the case.  But, I never expected a populist candidate like Trump to have any chance.  In this regard, I did not see this coming.  I always thought populist candidates got elected in third world countries, not here.
     "No one has and advantage of information tonight.  There is a word for it, it is called a barnburner."  This is what I just heard on MSNBC.
     It is now 12:30 am EST.  Three key states are outstanding:  Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.  Trump, with 244, is within striking distance of the needed 270 electoral votes.  Clinton has 215.  
     The buzz on Facebook is all Clinton supporters somewhere between being worried for this country to just freaking out.  The Canadian website for providing information on immigrating there has... crashed.  Forbes just printed an article "Global Markets Plunge As Republican Donald Trump Gains A Path To U.S. Presidency."  After hour trading has been suspended in some exchanges because the markets have dropped 5% and thus triggering the automatic suspension of trading safeguards.  This is crazy... and he has not even won.
     There was a talking head, an academic one whose field of study is Presidential elections, on MSNBC.  He made a great observation.  When a party has held office for two terms, they rarely win the third.  It happened when Andrew Jackson was succeeded by Martin Van Buren.  The next time it happened was when George Bush, the elder, succeeded Ronald Reagan. 
     Earlier in the day, when I was thinking about this post.  I had the notion that Clinton would be elected.  The slant I was contemplating was that I would hope she would be a better president than people who didn't vote her might have expected.  I would have hoped she could have provided a level of leadership that would bridge the divisiveness that seems to be at a peak with this election.  Another talking head just said the following with regard to the people that voted for Trump:  This is not a rainbow coalition.  Many folks in both camps were simply elated that this election was ending today.  The basic notion was to put this behind us and move on.  If Trump wins, I think that the divisiveness will become even worse... if that is even possible.
      Probably another post looming when we learn who the President Elect is.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hey, Here's an Idea: Hack the Bomb Making Websites

     This past weekend there were bombings and attempted bombings in New York and New Jersey.  It was fortunate that no one died in the two bombs that detonated in New Jersey and Manhattan.  29 people were injured in the Manhattan bombing.  It was even more fortunate that two other bombs, one in Manhattan and another in New Jersey, did not detonate.  Through great police work and help from some astute citizens, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was arrested on Monday after a gun battle in which he was wounded.
     As this story was unfolding on Sunday, I was driving home to Chicago from Detroit.  We had the news on in the car listening in on the story.  We learned how two bombs did not detonate.  We learned that of the 29 people injured all were released from the hospital and thus none of their injuries was too severe.  We also heard a lot of speculation on who might have done this and where they might have learned how to make such bombs.
     Apparently, there are numerous websites that provide instructions on bomb making.  My first thought was "Really?  Who would have thought?"  My second thought was, "Well, actually, that makes sense.  There seems to be information on the internet for just about everything and anything from hobbies, to auto repair, to... well bomb making."  My third thought was "Why the hell aren't we doing anything about these websites."  I thought about an earlier post on the same subject to counter the jihadi websites by simply out marketing them:  Who's Better at Social Media?
     OK then.  There are websites that instruct would-be Rahimis how to build a bomb.  Presumably, our crack intelligence agencies know where these sites are.  That is half the battle.  If we know where such sites are, why haven't we taken them down?  Why haven't we infected them with viruses that render the posting server and any visitor's system useless.  We could create a virus that dials a potential jihadi registry from a visitor's cell phone.  Maybe we already do these things but are clandestine operatives are actually keeping such practices clandestine.  Maybe we aren't doing anything because of our commitment to free speech.? Maybe it is better to leave the sites up and monitor who visits them?  
     Just maybe, we just aren't thinking deviously enough.  I say leave the sites up, but infiltrate them.  Let's change the flipping bomb recipes to make them all duds.  Heck, let's change the bomb instructions to actually make them blow up while the bad guys are building them.  This would be both fun and preemptive.  Perhaps, we add a few lines that say something like, "Congratulations on building your bomb.  Now it is time to test it." Then we could provide instructions that would detonate the bomb and kill the builder.  It would save lots of innocent lives not to mention the costs of hunting down the bomber after the fact.   Furthermore, when a bomb goes off, the blast, smoke plume, and rubble would alert everyone to the location of a potential cell and the authorities can then investigate the family and friends of the ill fated bomb maker. 
     Clearly, per the reports I have heard, the jihadists are using the internet.  All I am saying is let's use this information and develop methods to beat them at their own game.


     Note:  While I have heard about such recruitment websites and bomb building websites, I have never visited any of them.  I have no interest in even searching for them.  The last thing I would ever want to get on a government list or even worse a jihadi list of any kind... I mean I bought a pair of shoes online a year ago and that company sends me an email every day.  How many shoes do they think I need or buy?  I can only imagine what visiting one of these websites would result in.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

To Deplore or Not to Deplore...

     This seems to be the question... on all the news channels this morning.
     Hillary Clinton calls half of Donald Trump's supporter deplorable.  Trump and his supporters, I am not sure which half, take great exception to this.  Clinton backs off on using the word half instead of some.  Then, Mike Pence, who is Trump's running mate lest anyone forgot, on some other news talk show is baited to call David Dukes deplorable.  He declines saying he is not a name caller.  Whatever I just wrote is approximately what happened and now everyone is analyzing, over-analyzing, hashing, and rehashing the use of this word.
     To me, the whole frenzy over this is deplorable, well maybe just sad, definitely a waster of time, and clearly not making the deplorable (agonizing?  paralyzing?  terrible?  insipid? lame, dumb, moronic? oh... what word should I use) choice we have of Clinton or Trump any better.  I have no comments on Gary "Aleppo" Johnson.
     What does the word deplorable actually mean?  What are some other words Hillary could have used instead?  Thankfully, as I am typing this on the internet, I can do a search on the word.  Thanks to Google, we have the following:

     I think Hillary could have made it much more interesting if she had chosen a few of the synonyms listed.  Perhaps, she might have chosen to call them wretched instead.  This gives some glimmer of hope that with assistance, perhaps a government program, they could be made un-wretched.  She might have called them execrable which would have sent everyone to their dictionaries to look up the meaning.  It would have been fun hearing the talking heads trying to pronounce execrable.  She could have gone all 1940s or 50s on us and called them lousy.  If she had called them lousy, there would have been a tie in to an article in the Wall Street Journal today informing us that lice have become resistant to over the counter treatments. 
     Dang, she could have used the word diabolical.  She missed the boat on this one.  Diabolical would have allowed her campaign to allude to some Old White Male Conservative conspiracy to take over this country and force Moslems and refugees and such to have to register with the government, build a ginormous Berlin Wall, and such... Nah, this is just silly talk. 
    No, she used the word deplorable and that is lamentable and regrettable just because there is nothing much else happening in the world and that is what the media is focusing on to fill the airwaves.
    Heck, Google even tracked the usage of the word since 1800.  How they do that has to be the subject of another blog.  But, as the graph shows that there has been a deplorable decline of the usage of deplorable at least until today.

     OK.  Now, I am lamenting that I took time for this bloggy bit instead of tackling the many tasks I should be doing.  I think I will go make a lousy cup of coffee and get to it then.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Evolution of Terror

       Terrorism is abhorrent and it seems to be getting more dastardly every year.
     Sometimes, bombing and killings are so frequent, I believe we can become numb to them.  I believe, for sure, that I can be numb to them.  It takes events that have happened recently to remind me just how horrible these attacks are and how even more horrible they have become.
     First, armed terrorists attack the departure areas of airports.  This happened March 22nd in Brussels.  It also happened on July 2nd in Istanbul.  Terrorist armed to the teeth, pull up to the departure/ticketing area of the airport.  They go in and kill as many people as they can until they are killed or blow themselves up.  They do it when the airport is full of people.  They kill wantonly with automatic weapons and shock the world.  Such departure areas of major airports have no security and are full of people that have practically nowhere to run or hide in such an attack.
     On August 8th, gunmen assassinated Bilal Anwar Kasi in Quetta, Pakistan.  Kasi was a prominent lawyer and had served as president of the Balochistan Bar Association.  Later that day, when his friends, family, and colleagues gathered at the emergency room where Kasi was taken and later died, gunmen burst in and killed 70 people.  This was a two stage plan the kind I wrote about in June of 2013 in piece titled Terror Cubed.  To me, the planning and carrying out of such a plan is another level of evil and hate that I cannot comprehend.
     The worst case, and the one that prompted this post, happened in Gaziantep, Turkey on August 21.  A young boy, like 11 or 12 according the reports, became a suicide bomber killing 54 of which 22 were children and injured even more.  This happened at a wedding.  I was shocked and sickened by this twist of a happy life affirming day that was turned into hell.  It prompted me to post the following
on Facebook:

Really? A wedding party? The biggest problem with terrorism is that innocent people die. The kind of people are dying in such terrorist activities are the vast majority of folks who just want to live their lives, work, raise families, and have some peace. It doesn't matter on the political persuasion or what the nationalities involved, terrorism is a crime.

      I am sick of it.  Note that I did note who the perpetrators were in these crimes.  I don't care and it doesn't matter.  In most of these cases, innocent people are the victims.  It doesn't matter if it is in Israel, Paris, Brussels, Antep, or Quetta.  It doesn't matter if it is a mass shooting like we seem to have cornered the market on in the US.  I do not care if the victims are Christian, Jews, or Moslem.  Almost everyone that loses their lives in such attacks are just everyday people.  What seems to matter to me is that the victims are innocent people who are killed in the name of some cause or by some maniac.  They are killed in buses, airports, shopping, at marathons, children in schools, movie theaters, and now at a wedding.  The are killed doing everyday things and lately at major life events like a funeral or a wedding.  It is very disturbing.
     Wars, to me, are quickly becoming no different.  They are state or wannabe-state sponsored terrorism on a larger scale with a bigger budget and thus a larger body count.  Who got killed in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq?  The vast majority are indeed folks who just want to live lives, work, raise families, and have some peace.
     There are three religions intertwined in all this.  All believe in one God.  All claim to profess peace.  What am I missing here?  
     Yeah, yeah, yeah... the are socioeconomic factors, evil leaders, and other reasons and excuses.  But really, what are we all missing here?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Remembering Sosy Krikorian Kadian

Sosy Krikorian Kadian
   There is a famous quote from the great Armenian writer William Saroyan. The quote is inspirational and speaks of the resilience and pride of the Armenian people especially in the Diaspora. The last line basically says that whenever two Armenians "meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” No one I have ever met embodied this spirit more than Sosy Krikorian Kadian.  If she were one of the two people that met, their new Armenia simply shined brighter.  
      Sosy passed away on August 12, 2016.  Everyone that knew her, even casually if it was even possible to know Sosy in merely a casual way, was saddened to hear the news.  We knew that we had lost someone quite special.  She was part of that great American generation but in a very American Armenian way.  While she was born in the US (October 18, 1928) and, as far as I know, never visited her ancestral homelands which are in present day Turkey, she carried that noble spirit of those lands, the yergir, and people in her heart and in her soul.  Nonetheless, she created a new Armenia in everything she did.  Her Armenia was an inspiration to countless Armenians.  
     We got to know Sosy at the Armenian Week in the Poconos which started in the mid-1980s and ran until the late 1990s.  With her father, Anoush Krikorian, they were responsible for the cultural programs at these gatherings.  There were poems, plays, songs, and dance some well planned and other more impromptu that entertained everyone.  She involved everyone, those who were willing and those who were more on shy side.  She especially loved to get the children up to sing or recite as they were clearly our future.  Her energy and enthusiasm were boundless and, what always impressed me, completely authentic.  With her guidance and example, we created a new Armenia every night in the Poconos.  
     Sosy made everyone feel welcome, engaged, and special.  At the Poconos, this included my wife's grandmother Anagil, our parents, us, and our children.  Thus in our specific case, Sosy's charm and magic easily spanned four generations.  
     As I write this, her funeral services are tomorrow.  I wish I were still out East so I could attend.  No doubt there will be many in attendance by people who all see Sosy in the same way.  There will certainly be more people that want to eulogize her or share a few memories than can possibly be accommodated.  She was that kind of lady.  
Sosy and Hagop
     Sosy and Hourig Papazian-Sahagian partnered through the years in many different cultural events and shows.  Before leaving New York for Chicago in 2006, this duo got me involved in a production called The Way We Were.  It was play, a musical revue, about the first generation of Armenians to come to the US.  It was a delight and honor to perform with the troupe for two performances.  I was glad to have had that experience.
     One cannot think about Sosy without fondly recalling her husband, Hagop Kadian.  Hagop, a wonderful fellow, had passed away in 1994.  They were a great and endearing couple.  Many of the Facebook posts on Sosy's passing comment that Sosy and Hagopig are together again, dancing again as they were renowned for.  The great Onnik Dinkjian, a close friend to the Kadians, wrote a verse in tribute to Sosy and Hagop in his song Karnan Dzaghig:

Sosyin baruh yar djan, Hagopin heduh yar djan
Polor ashkharuh yar djan, chigah numanuh yar djan yar yaro djan

Sosi's dance, with Hagop
There is nothing like it in this world.

Anyone that has ever seen Sosi and Hagop Kadian dance knows that Onnik captured a perfect memory.  He also captured something much more. When the danced they did indeed create a new Armenia for themselves and everyone in the room.

Our deepest condolences to the Baylerian and Kadian families.
Asdvadz hokin lusavoreh.


Photos in this posting were taken from Nvair Beylerian's (Sosy's daughter) Facebook page.

Also, please read Ara Topouzian's lovely tribute to Sosy on his blog

Friday, August 5, 2016

July 2016: Turkey

     Let’s begin with a caveat, a most obvious caveat. I am writing this letter about the Republic of Turkey and I am an Armenian American living in the Diaspora. Three of my four grandparents survived the Armenian Genocide and migrated to the United States to create a new life. My fourth grandparent, my paternal grandmother, was born in Andover, MA. Her father, Nishan, for whom I am named had the foresight to leave Ottoman Turkey after the pre-Genocide pogroms of 1895 and 1905. I am concerned about Turkey and what happens there because of the shared history and the fact that I might have even been a citizen of that country. While I am concerned, my views are biased in the obvious slant but with a recent twist.
      I used to want chaos and anarchy in Turkey. This was early on in my life. Most of my adult life, I have been looking and hoping for any and all changes that might be favorable to the Armenian Cause of admission of the Genocide, neighborly relations with the Republic of Armenia, and ultimately restitution. Admittedly, the probability of these things happening was always on the rather on the very low side.
     The point of this letter is really the current state of affairs in Turkey. It all seems to revolve, even orbit around, their enigmatic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Plain and simple, I think he is a bad character. All of his actions in the past year have been to consolidate power in a most dictatorial manner while garbed in the rhetoric of being legally and democratically elected. Erdoğan is following the play book of Russia’s Putin and Venezuela’s Chavez.
     Oddly, I am probably aligned with many of my Turkish friends and acquaintences in this country on this view of Erdoğan. They tend to believe in the secular state created by Kemal Attaturk. We may agree or not agree on the Armenian Genocide. But, I sense that we agree that Erdoğan is a bad character.
     I did not always think he was a bad character. From an Armenian perspective, we saw the restoration of the Aghtamar Church. We saw the Republic not thwart the restoration of the St. Garabed Church in Diyarbekir and the generally embracing of the Armenian heritage of the city by the city government. How much of this was due to Erdoğan? That is certainly debatable now, but when these events were unfolding, I was giving him the benefit of the doubt. We did see Erdoğan extend an olive branch of sorts to the Armenians in April of 2014. We mostly rejected it as a ploy to undermine the significance of the impending 100th Anniversary of the Genocide.
     And let us not forget that Hrant Dink was assassinated during the early days of Erdoğan’s regime.
     There was an eletion in June 2015. In that election Erdoğan’s party, the Justice and Development Part lost seats in parliament to a Kurdish based reform party. This election gave hope to liberal minded folks in Turkey as well as Kurds, and Armenians around the world that maybe the country was headed in a better direction. But, sadly, it was just a “Turkish Spring.” The hope was soon dashed as a government could not be cobbled and another election was called. Immediately, there was terrorism in Turkey and Erdoğan blamed the Kurds. The second election in November 2015 put Erdoğan’s party firmly in control again and he lauded this victory “as a return to stability.”
     I was pretty certain he and his party loyalists had allowed and maybe even planned the terror events to separate the Kurds from the real Turks. Recreate a threat that fires up old animosities and fears and win the election. Sadly, it worked. Even more sadly, no other countries, like the United States, or press seemed to see what seemed so very obvious.
     Maybe, deals had been cut behind the scenes. That is the only possible explanation. An entire US government of bright people could not have missed what seemed so obvious. Is the “alliance” with Turkey that important. Is the Incirlik Air Base so critical to our strategy in that part of the world that we are willing to overlook Erdoğan’s actions and believe only his rhetoric?
     We Armenians have our own rhetoric. We tend to believe that we are superior to Turks in most regards. We think we are smarter, more honest, harder working, and, oddly, better fighters… we only lost everything because of duplicity and overwhelming force strength.
     I have to give the variousTurkish governments from Ottoman days to today their due on two fronts. They are great and clandestine planners of whatever it is they do to hold power. Secondly, they are consummate diplomats. This explanation is the only thing that helps me make sense of it all. With regard to the United States, it goes back to at least the early days of the Republic when the Turkish government so deftly engaged Admiral Mark Bristol into their camp. That hoodwinking has lasted policywise to these times. There seems to be no end in sight either.
     In the war against ISIS (ISIL, Dash, or the Devil Incarnate take your pick), Turkey is our ally. They have taken in refugees. They have fought with us to defeat this very real and very scary threat.
     Sure they have. No really, they have.
     Yet, early on in their engagement, all they did was attack the Kurds who were valiantly fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It was horrible and the only folks that really called them on this in the West were political cartoonists. Again, maybe our diplomats dressed them down behind closed doors. But maybe, a deal was cut behind those closed doors. The United States and allies can keep bases in Turkey (ah… Incirlik again) and Turkey helps us fight ISIS while also teaching the Kurds a lesson. While they were teaching the Kurds a lesson, amid all the chaos in Syria, they could allow ISIS or Turks pretending to be ISIS to freely attack the last Western Armenian village, Kessab. The force that attacked Kessab originated in Turkey and picked a most convenient night when the border crossing they used was left unattended.
     So, while I was having some positive thoughts about Erdoğan before 2014, they have all been dashed (DASHed perhaps) since the election that signaled the famed “return to stability.”
     At the time of this writing, July 31st, there was an Op-Ed in the New York Times. It was written by Michael A. McFaul, a Hoover Institution Fellow, a Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford, and was, from 2012 – 2014) Ambassador from the United States to the Russian Federation. In his Op-Ed, he stated:
Since… 2012, Mr. Putin has consolidated his hold on power in Russia. With renewed vigor, he’s weakened civil society, undermined independent media, supressed any opposition and scared off big business from supporting government critics. And he made the United States and its senior officials unwitting elements of his malign strategy.
     Change the year from 2012 to 2015 or 2016, replace Putin’s name with Erdoğan’s, and try tell me that the statement doesn’t ring equally true!

     To this point in this letter, I have not even addressed the elephant in the living room: The July 15th coup attempt in Turkey. It was gripping news. It seemed the military, or as it turned out a faction within the military, tried to take overthrow the government. The military has done this in Turkey several times in the history of the Republic of Turkey. They had traditionally done so to protect the tenets of the Republic created by the much revered Kemal Attaturk. Attaturk created a secular and democratic Republic. When the military perceived either the deomocrocy or secular state threatened they would take over for awhile and restore order… return the country to stability.
     Erdoğan and his party have been more Islamist than most followers and adherents of Attaturk are comfortable with. Erdoğan cleaned house at the top of the military to, no matter what excuse was used, prevent the military from taking over his government when the country was beginning to look less secular. He replaced the top brass with generals and admirals loyal to him. The newcasters kept pointing this out during the coup and stressing that this coup was different and less effective because it was only “a faction” of the military leadership.
     Erdoğan called on the people, the loyal people of the Republic, by facebook mind you, to hit the streets and thwart the coup. They did. They won. Erdoğan said it was an uprising of the people to protect democracy in Turkey. I was kind of disheartened that he did not use the words “return to stability” at all. That’s OK, because I have no problem facetiously quoting his words over and over again in this letter.
     Erdoğan was praised in the reports the evening of the coup for his bold and most successful action in support of the democratically elected government. And then…
     Then he gave his first speech. It was a firebrand speech in which he vowed that all perpetrators would be brought to swift justice. He accused Fetulah Gulen, a cleric based in the United States who has set up Islamic schools all over this country, as being the perpetrator of the coup. He said he would be asking the United States to extradite Gulen (he said nothing about Incirlik… that must only be brought up behind those closed doors I keep referring to). He talked about restoring the death penalty for these traitors… maybe they can have public hangings like they did to Armenian citizens… err traitors… I mean enemies in 1915. Heck, the perpetrators of the coup might even have Armenian blood! Why not disgrace and denegrate their heritage before hanging them.
     I must apolgize. I was doing so well avoiding hyperbole until that last paragraph. Let’s get back to the facts... well the facts as I think I see them. claims that 124 Generals and Admirals have been arrested. Half of these were promoted after the 2013 purge of the military leadership. So, basically, half of those arrested were Erdoğan’s appointees. Appointing and annointing people only to arrest them later is right out of Stalin’s playbook to drive both fear of and allegiance to a megalomaniac.
     In an article on, Professor Fatma Müge Göçek of the University of Michigan reported that:
In a crackdown that rapidly spread across civil and military services, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the closure of thousands of private schools and many universities. Some 15,000 employees at the education ministry were fired, while more than 1,500 university deans were asked to resign.
“Asked to resign,” indeed.
     It really has become a purge after the putsch. Erdoğan immediately blamed it on his old ally turned nemisis Fethullah Gülen. Gülen and Erdoğan teamed up during the Justice and Development Party’s rise to power. They were both working toward making Turkey less secular. When the party and Erdoğan ascended to lead the government, Gülen became the odd man out, a Trotsky to Erdoğan’s Stalin to continue a tenuous analogy. Gülen exiled himself to the United States, a much better choice so far than Trotsky going to Mexico, and lives the life of a “humble” cleric whose Hizmet (Service) Movement sponsors around 1,000 schools around the world.
     Erdoğan is blaming Gülen for, well, everything related to the putsch. He wants the United States to extradite him. Needless to say, the United States is probably not going to do that without some hard evidence. I read the following in a blog of Dani Rodrik, the Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government:
…is the CIA behind Gulen? In fact for most Turks this is a rather rhetorical question, with an incontrovertible answer. The belief that Gulen and his activities are orchestrated by the U.S. is as strongly held as it is widespread among Turks of all political coloration – secular or Islamist.
     Dang, if only the CIA were that good.
     Gülen on the other hand has an opposite point of view. In a July 16th article in the Daily Mail, Gulen basically accuses Erdoğan of staging the coup as an excuse to crush all opposition and consolidate power. Basically, most Armenians I know probably have the same perspective.
Speaking from his home, Gulen claimed democracy in Turkey could not be achieved through military action.

He condemned the plot, although authorities in Ankara are not convinced.
He said: 'There is a slight chance, there is a possibility that it could be a staged coup. It could be meant for court accusations and associations.'

He added: 'It appears that they have no tolerance for any movement, any group, any organisation that is not under their total control.'
     I do stand corrected, Gülen only said there was a “slight chance” a mere “probability” that it was all staged. And if he did, it was only in a heartfelt effort to maintain stability.
     I am not sure where Turkey will end up. I feel confident in saying the following however. Erdoğan will come out of this with a greater grip on power and he will hold on to that power for the rest of his life. Turkey will be less secular and a democratic republic in name only. The United States policy towards Turkey will proably not change much (WTF is wrong with us?). Life will be more difficult for the Kurds in Turkey. Even though his image is everywhereAttaturk will continue to be downplayed. Erdoğan is the new father of the country… in his own mind.
     Next? Trying to figure out what the heck is happening across the Ararat border in Armenia.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

May Letter: China

     June 11: I am visiting professor in China. Even though I am not really a bucket list kind of guy, doing something like this would be in my top ten.
     The university I am teaching at is the Anhui University of Finance and Economics (AUFE). AUFE is in the province of Anhui and in the city Bengbu. There are 28,000 students in this university. North Park University’s School of Business and Nonprofit Management (SBNM), where I am on the faculty, has an on-going relationship AUFE’s departments of Industrial Economics and International Trade.  I am here with Professor Pam Schilling. We are the fourth and fifth professors from SBNM to teach summer courses at AUFE.
     My term here is a short month: May 15 – June 15. I am teaching two courses. One is an undergraduate course, Marketing Channels and Supply Chains, and the other is a graduate course, Quantitative Methods. There are 47 students in the undergraduate class and 25 in the graduate class.
     What amazed me first and foremost about China? It was much greener than I had expected even in the middle of heavily populated cities. Second, I had heard that the air quality in many cities was so bad, people wore surgical masks while outdoors. While I saw some folks with masks, I did not find the air quality so bad. I recall it being worse in Mexico City when I used to routinely travel there.
     My fascination with China goes back to my junior year of high school. I was in a social studies class called Current Affairs. One of the topics we studied was Red China as it was known back in those days. I was amazed to learn that the population of China was 1 billion people. The global population at that time, 1970, was 4 billion. I recall thinking, “wow, one in four people in world is Chines and I know nothing about the country and culture.”
     Well the Current Affairs class was a good place to begin the learning journey. As it was a class called Current Affairs, we studied the establishment of the People’s Republic of China and how Mao Zedong (though he was Mao Tse Tung back in those days) forged a new country out of what had been multiple spheres of European and American interest. The called it foreign control and imperialism. The country, through rather harsh means, eliminated opium usage and imposed a strict one child policy.
     Of course, I read Mao’s Little Book. I was a little disappointed. I expected some kind of amazing revelation. It just was not there.
     On the plane coming over here, I read a Wall Street Journal article on the legacy of Mao. He was made out to be a despot responsible for the death of thousands. His darkest period was during the Cultural Revolution which began Mao was 73 years old in 1966 and lasted until 1976 when Mao died. The article portrayed Mao as an old man trying to cling to power. He thought the Party had was influenced by too many bourgeois members and he wanted to get basic to what he believed were the basic tenets of his form of communism. The result was brutal and chaotic. It took the country backwards, even though President Richard Nixon visited, in 1972, and normalized relations between the two countries.
     The only place you see Mao’s photo these days is on the currency. He is on every denomination. There is also his large portrait on the Gate to the Forbidden City (The Tian-an-men) facing Tiananmen Square. No one would refer much to Mao. If I try to bring him up in conversation, and believe me I was more curious than anything, people would just say he was our First Leader or the Father of our country. The few students would simply say, “I can’t talk about that.” Needless to say, I would drop the subject and any further inquiry.
     In my modest study of China in high school and college, I learned enough to sense a pattern. Throughout the 2200 years of Chinese history, there were long periods of great prosperity and short periods of foreign occupation or chaos. Mao ended the most recent period of foreign occupation with the creation of the People’s Republic in 1949. The chaos, however, was not over. Mao forged a country with an iron fist. The communal system resulted in mass starvation during a period called The Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s. It ended with the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s death.
     When I was in high school and college, it appeared to me that Mao threw off the shackles of foreign occupation and influence. I speculated that, if the right moves were made, China was on the brink of a new era of stability and prosperity. It seems looking back that my prognostication was correct. But here, the First Leader is not given that credit. Most believe here that the country we know today started in 1981. The architect of the transformation was Deng Xiaopeng. While he did not hold any official office such as President or General Secretary, he was considered the Paramount Leader. From 1978 to 1989, he led the country through the market-economy reforms that created the economic powerhouse that is today’s China.
     I have not heard his name mentioned nor have I seen a photo of him.
     On one of tours, the tour guide was very knowledgeable. She would refer to Mao as “Our first leader.” She did not say much else. I gave her my little soliloquy about Chinese history being long periods. She was relatively unimpressed. I suggested that we were in the front end of an era of great prosperity. She might have been mildly impressed. Then, I floated this idea out there. I wondered if a century from now, historians might refer to this government as a dynasty. She looked at me like I had three heads and said “This is not a dynasty.” Of course it isn’t a blood line dynasty but it sure a party one.
     So much for the history that no one really wants to or can talk about. I will have to read up more on this when I get home.
     How much planning is appropriate in Free Market System?: While in China, Professor Schilling and I discussed the China miracle and whether their approach to the market-economy was better than ours. Professor Schilling was definitely on the side of the freer markets which are basically the underlying philosophy that American business and business schools are based on. I took a slightly different perspective. I look at a continuum of the free – planned spectrum and wonder what the optimum point on that spectrum may be at any given time and set of economic conditions.
     I asked that question in the pit of the Great Recession. Should the US attempt to define what we wanted to be in the next five or ten years? If other countries, like China which is poised to become the world’s largest economy, are beating us by planning their free-market economy more than we are, maybe we should consider about taking a step or two in that direction? I realized I was basically suggesting that we set and implement a Five Year Plan which to me was synonymous for failure in the old Soviet system.
     These were not epic debates with Professor Schilling but rather discussions over breakfast or while walking to and from AUFE. She is more steadfast in her view and that makes sense given that she has an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. My perspective came into focus after two weekends of tourism in which I took China’s affordable and very efficient trains to Xian and Beijing. The train to Xian was an old fashioned train that rumbled along probably at an average of 50 mph. It took 14 hours and that trip will be the subject of another letter. It was efficient at what it did. The train to Beijing on the other hand are modern high speed trains that cruise ever so smoothly at 185 mph. That trip was 3.5 hours. I was really impressed.
     Then I was kind of depressed. We have been hearing about high speed or bullet trains in Japan, France, and now in China for over 30 years. Our passenger rail system is a joke be comparison even
to China’s regular old slow trains. There have been occasional discussions about testing a bullet train system between a couple of cities but nothing has ever come of it. Nothing. Thirty years later, we have a decrepit and inefficient old train system. In half of that time, China has really cool and affordable high speed trains between all of its major cities. Bengbu is not a major city but it has a high speed train station for travel to Beijing and Shanghai for certain. There is a plan to provide high speed service to Xian. And us?
     This point was hammered home on a walking tour I took in Beijing. It was with a company called Urban Adventure which is based in Australia. The COO of the company was visiting their Beijing office and was on the tour with us. During lunch, the topic of trains came up and he lamented that they would be a great addition in Australia especially between Sydney and Melbourne. They have been discussing such a route since the 1980s but like the US, nothing has happened.
     I did Google “bullet trains in the US.” Actually, I Yahooed it since Google is not allowed in China. There seems to be two classes of articles in 2015 and 2016. One basically asks “Why is there No High Speed Rail Network in the US” and the other is reporting on being close to starting on projects in California. Of course, there are articles on Amtrak’s Acela which is considered higher speed (medium speed if you will) and not the high speed or bullet trains found in Japan, China, and Europe.
     It seems we are creeping towards a pilot in California. There is $68 B project on tap to link Los Angeles and San Francisco with a 200 mph train. It is scheduled to be completed in 2029.  2029? That seems like a long time.
     Apparently, the automobile, aviation, and highway construction lobbies want to protect their turf. The Republicans with the Cato Institute and the Koch Brothers behind them seem to think that privatization is the only way to do this which makes the prospects of this happening in any meaningful and impactful way… slim.
     Chinas biggest cities also have amazing subway systems and commuter rail. The US has the same in the a few cities but only Washington DC’s has the modern look and feel of China’s.
     The difference? Some central planning. The government decided that the have 1.4 B people. They have to figure out some way to provide good, safe, fast, and reasonably priced transportation to move people around the country and to and from work. They looked at the US (I am guessing) and decided that if they relied solely or mostly on autos, the roads would be ridiculously congested. As a result, even in Beijing, the traffic seems to flow.
     Keeping things tidy: China is a pretty green place. Even in the biggest cities there are parks with beautiful flower and landscaping. There is an army of folks tending to these parks and, at least in Bengbu, basically sweeping the sidewalks. I have seen more street cleaning vehicles then I might see in the US in five years (oddly they all have speakers playing “It’s a small world after all” for some reason). By plan, they have invested in civic beauty and order. Sounds OK to me. Things look pretty nice.
     I remember in the 1960s when the Southfield Expressway was built in Detroit. It was a beauty when it opened. The undulating north-south expressway went under the main east-west roads from 9 Mile Road in the north to I-94 in the south. The banks of the expressway were beautiful grass that was kept well maintained. When the city and state slid into economic troubles the maintenance of the road followed a similar trajectory. It was disappointing to say the least and more so indicative of the erosion of civic pride that I thought existed in my childhood.
     I like the free market system. But, I think there has to be a bit more planning in the US. When it comes to competing with a country like China, it seems one of us is playing checkers and the other chess.

Some of our undergraduates at AUFE

The East Gate of Anhui University of Finance and Economics