Friday, July 7, 2017

June 2017: Derev

     Picking grape leaves is a tradition.
     I grew up with this tradition. It has become something I have been doing for the past several years. My cousin Chris has been doing it for even longer. It is an old Armenian tradition that my grandparents generation brought with them from the yergir or “old country.” Armenians call the leaves derev, which just means, um… duh…. leaf. We also used the Turkish word yaprak which was no more clever than the Armenian and means leaf as well. But when Armenians and Turks say derev or yaprak in the singular, it really means grape leaves.
     We pick them and use them to make sarma, or what the Greeks call dolmades. The leaves are cleaned and blanched. If not used right away, they are either frozen or canned for later use. The stuffing of the stuffed grape leaves, is either a meat based but most often a rice based mix of spices, onions, pignolia nuts, and olvie oil. The mixture is rolled like small cigars in the grape leaves and neatly arranged in a slow cooker. There is art in the picking of the leaves, the making of the stuffing, the rolling of sarma, and even the cooking.
     I really only focus on the picking of the derev.
     Back in the day, the picking of the leaves was mostly women’s work and you used to see mostly older ladies picking leaves along the roadside from the vines that grew wild. They were dressed like they had never left the “old coutnry” even though they had been in the US for thirty years. They were Greek, Arab, Assyrian, and, of course from my perspective, Armenian.
     My mother’s mother, our beloved, enigmatic, and inimitable Grannie, used to do this. She took me, as far as I can recall, just once. I must have been 11 or 12 years old. I remember driving around in her sky blue Ford Falcon. We would drive until she saw some vines and leaves. I presume she had a method or idea where she was going. To me, it just seemed that we were kind of aimlessly in search of the derev. We stopped and picked some here and there. I do recall being that helpful in what as to me at that young age a relatively boring outing.  Obviously, that one trip had an impact on me.
     Even when Armenians of that generation were not hunting for derev, they would loudly exclaim “derev” and point whenever vines were spotted on a car ride. I would look and just a clump of trees and bushes along the roadside. I could not tell which were grape leaves from the density of the flora.
     My how times have changed.
     I riding my bike around the roads and bike paths near my home here in Chicago’s North Shore, I have learned to spot derev. They are everywhere. I think it should be the state vine of Illinois. I spot them when riding my bike and driving my car. I find myself channeling my Grannie’s generation by pointing and saying “derev.” There may be a genetic component to this behavior.
     This is the only remotely agrarian thing I do. My people were farmers two and three generations ago. They grew things and tended animals. They sowed and planted. They harvested and reaped. They tending livestock, lets say chickens and maybe sheep, and slaughtered them. I have never done any of that. To me, the food chain is basically grocery stores and restaurants. Killing and dressing a chicken? Catching and gutting fish? Sure, I know abot such, but only in concept.
     My dad would tell stories of his maternal grandmother, Almas, on the farm they had in Andover, MA. She would go into the yard, catch a chicken, put her foot over the neck, and slice its throat. My father in-law, who ran a grocery store in Waukegan for may year, told me how they would get crates of live chickens. As customers would select one, they would put the head of the chicken in the noose end of rope that was nailed to the table. They would then throw the chicken and break its neck. The would then de-feather, gut, and dress the bird for the customer. As I said, these are concepts to me. I cannot imagine doing any of it unless forced to by what I can only classify as apocolyptic changes in the world around me.
     But, I do pick derev.
     It has become a hobby and passion. It is nothing obsessive. In terms of both hobby and passion, it is minor. I pick a few hundred leaves every year which is the equivalent of two to five bottles of storebought leaves. My cousin Chris in Michigan is much more prolific picking several hundred leaves.
     Back in the days when I had a small aspiration of being a hippie, one of the draws was the concept of returning to the land; living a simpler life and all that. There was a strong message which for some turning into a yearning to grow our own food. Picking grape leaves is the closest I have come to any of that. This is the one, and again I emphasize, very minor thing I do in that regard.
     I did contemplate planting an apple orchard when living in Connecticut. But, it was nothing more than a contemplation. I did, on a whim, buy and plant a strawberry plant. But, since I did not fence it in to protect it from deer and rabbits, the little plant was eaten to the ground the first night I planted it. Sure, I thought of growing vegetables. But that truly required excavating a plot, building a fence, buying and replanting seedlings, fertizlizing, watering, and tending. I was exhausted just thinking about it and confirmed again that I was a much better contemplater than an implementor.
Aram's Black Walnut Tree

     My most successful planting occurred in 1981 when my son was born. I was 
cutting the lawn and found a black walnut seedling. Instead of mowing it down, I decided to replant it. It was only four inches high. I had no expectation that it would survive the summer let alone the first winter, but it did. It has survived until today when It is a majestic, towering, and nut bearing tree in the backyard of the house we moved from in 1989. I am quite proud of what I call Aram’s tree. I was sad to leave that tree when we moved.
     Not to leave Armené out of it, we decided to plant a tree in her first year. In her case, we bought a golden delicous apple tree. It was hardly a sapling as it was already six feet tall. That tree still thrives in the opposite end of the same backyard. I doubt the current owners of the house realize the significance of those trees. I drive by the old place now and then mostly to see the trees.
     Picking grape leaves appeals to me on a few levels. First and foremost, it involves no tending and preparation on my part. There is no excavating,
Armene's Golden Delicious Apple Tree
rototilling, nurturing of seedlings, fertilizing, insect spraying, or building and maintenane of chicken wire enclosures. As far as this agrarian habit, mother nature does all of the work. The stuff is abundant and grows like weeds around here. I imagine that is what most of my neighbors think they are: weeds.
     Secondly, I do it when I want. Of course, I have to do it in season, All I have to do is be observant and find where the leaves are and when they look ready for picking. As being observant is the first cousin of contemplation, I find this quite natural.
     Thus, I have found my little agrarian niche. For a few moments every year, I have kinda returned to the land, I have sorta become a hunter gatherer… well… at least a gatherer. It makes me feel marginal helpful in bringing home foodstock that did not come from the grocery store. And maybe most importantly, I was in another small way channelling that very special first generation of Armenians and keeping a bit of the “old country,” a place I barely know and certainly have never lived in.

Sidenote: OK… I will admit that the last few paragraphs reek of a load of neo-hippie psychobabble. At least that is what I would say if I was reading this instead of writing it. Of course, I added this observation myself instead of having to hear Ara Topouzian make the observation.
      In doing this for several years, I have learned something unexpected as well. I have experienced a bit of what all farmers, gardeners, and gatherers learned. I have learned about the year to year variation of the crop. This learning appealed to the statistician and quality management part of my education and work experience.  I suppose that maybe some naturalist has written it all down, but I have learned a few things the old fashioned way. I have experienced them. It is a great ancillary benefit of my little hobby and passion.
     The womenfolk, either of my parents’ generation or about my age, would always say that the derev are best picked before Father’s Day or the first day of summer. They believed after that date, the leaves would be too tough and veiny. In making sarma, it is best to have the tenderest, most delicate, and largest leaves possible. Plus, after this date, there is the distinct possibility of bugs eating holes in the leaves making them unusable.
     What is the reality that I have learned? There is certainly some truth to the lore. But, I have also learned that there is always new growth right into August. I look for lighter color leaves that indicate new growth. It does become harder to find good leaves the deeper we are in the summer.
     While the first day of summer might be a decent rule of thumb, I have noticed a fair of year to year variation when the first harvesting of leaves is best. The readiness of the first crop is dependent on rain and temperature. As temperature and rainfall vary, so does the best date for picking leaves.
     Another thing I learned, and really no one had to tell me this, is this: no more matter how perfect the leaves look, if they are too high, amid blooms of poison ivy, or in a thicket that looks like tick heaven… leave them, pun intended, and move on. I am sure our first generation of derev pickers knew this because there are no stories of people breaking bones, dying, or getting seriously ill from picking grape leaves. Since they never articulated this advice, and many were fond of dishing out advice like pilaf, I am guessing they just assumed that none of their descendents would be that stupid.
     There was a lot of lore about that first generation of immigrants not sharing where they found their leaves. They did not want others to find their little nirvana of vines and leaves. “You can help me to pick da derev, but you don’ tell anyvone vere ve go.” Maybe because leaves are so abundant around here, no one really cares to protect their gathering grounds. There is no need. In fact, the opposite is true. A few Armenians have noticed that I do like to pick leaves. They will tell something like the best leaves ever are at some location or another. One auntie told the best leaves ever were behind a church in my town. I checked it out. Nothing, nada, zilch. This leads to the next learning I have experienced.
    Just because the leaves were unbelievable at a particular location one year is no guarentee that the leaves will be anywhere near as good the next year. In 2015, I saw a clump of derev on the way to church in early June. The leaves looked huge. I went back the next day and was amazed. I must have picked 75 perfectly tender leaves that were larger than my hand. The next year, I really looked forward to returning to that same location. There were still leaves growing but they were nothing special. In fact, I did not pick any from that spot. The spring of 2015 was very wet and cool. It made the leaves perfect in that location for that year. I have also noticed that places where leaves were good last year may still have vines this year, but the bugs found and ravaged them.
     I would say that every other time I am out someone will stop and comment or ask what I am doing. The police often will do this. I am guessing they are doing their duty in checking to see why this goofball is picking leaves on the side of a busy road. I tell them what I am up to and they understand. Then, they ask if I would call them when the sarma is made. Just this past week, another cyclist stopped and asked if I was Assyrian. He told me how he used to go out derev picking with his grandmother. Virtually everyone that has done this with their grandmother has fond memories of the experience.
     One lady, who lived across the street from a spot I was picking leaves, came running over when she saw me. Her gait and body language told me she was concerned bordering on the upset. Was I picking leaves from her special location? She asked what I was doing. I said picking grape leaves for stuffed grape leaves. She was immediately relieved. She thought I was picking the gooseberries which were growing around the grape leaves. I did not even notice them nor did I have any idea what to do with them if I picked them. We had a nice chat about our gathering hobbies.
     Hmmm… enough for now. Out to gather up some more leaves.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Viva Kazan!

     On May 5th, I watched Wallace Beery portraying Pancho Villa. It struck me as such an odd casting that I blogged about it:  Vive Cinco de Beery.  While I didn't mention it in my blog, I was thinking that a movie I had seen about Emiliano Zapata was much better.  As luck would have, TMC aired Viva Zapata on Sunday.  I was able to catch the tail end of it.  My memory served me well, it was a much better movie.
     First of all, the movie was written by John Steinbeck and directed by Elia Kazan.  A great writer providing the dialogue and story matched with a great director, a master of black and white films with a wonderful sense of drama and history.  To top it off, Marlon Brando was cast as Zapata and Anthony Quinn as Zapata's brother Eufemio.  Brando was so much more believable as Zapata compared with Wallace Beery's portrayal of Villa.  Alan Reed, an actor who I am not familiar with, played Villa in the Viva Zapata film.  He played a much better Pancho Villa than Beery.
     Steinbeck and Kazan did a masterful job portraying the plight of the poor in Mexico.  They showed the smolder and fervor that was Emiliano Zapata and how he championed their cause.  I would watch this movie again.  The betrayal and death of Zapata was so well done in the film that it one of the most gripping scenes in film in my humble view.  The movie was the first in which Kazan shot on location and strove to use strong local accents for the characters.
     Of course, I was familiar with John Steinbeck.  I read almost every book he wrote beginning in 9th Grade.  And most certainly, I was familiar with the work of Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn.  It wasn't until the early 2000s, that I paid attention to and began to admire the talents of Elia Kazan.  Well, better late than never.
     My Dad, always spoke highly of Kazan's film, America America.  In in the early 2000s, I got it in my head to finally watch the film and see what he found so intriguing.  Before watching it, I did an internet search and learned that a Greek fellow born in Istanbul in 1909 wrote and directed the film.  Elias Kazantoglu came to America and changed his name to Elia Kazan.  He went to Williams College and Yale.  He started off in New York City as an actor but gravitated to directing.  Beyond the films mentioned here, he directed On the Waterfront and A Street Car Named Desire.  His last film was made in 1976 but he lived on to the age of 94 and passed on in 2003.  
     I learned that he wrote a book that he turned into America America which I bought and read.  I liked the book.  Then I watched the movie.  I appreciated why the movie so impressed my Dad.  America America was the story of how Kazan's family left the waning days of the Ottoman Empire and came to America.  
It is a great movie and definitely one that each Armenian should see.  
     I also learned today that Elia Kazan also wrote an autobiography which is now on my reading list.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Walking by Hanson Hall

     One of the small pleasures about teaching at North Park University is walking past Hanson Hall.  As Hanson Hall is part of our school of music, I can often count on hearing some lovely music wafting out of the practice rooms.  It could as routine as someone just practicing scales.  It might be a soprano voice working on an aria, a violinist practicing a sonata, or a clarinet learning a symphonic piece.  I have heard trombones, trumpets, and oboes.  It is always a treat as our music students are quite talented. As I never think about it until I hear the music, it is always a pleasant surprise.
      I think of it as a culture break in my day.  Most of the time it is just a matter of seconds as I walk by.  Sometimes, when I hear something especially intriguing or lovely, I might stop listen even more. It is part of the campus ambiance.   But it will soon be no more.
     The University is planning a renovation of Hanson Hall that will last from June through the end of the year.  The renovation will include improved climate control, an elevator, and acoustic treatment of all rooms.  When I first heard about, it seemed like a great thing to do.  Then it struck me, acoustic treatment of all rooms means they were soundproofing the place.  After the renovation, I could still walk by but... there would be no more music to be heard.  Oh no.
     Well, the next time I saw Craig Johnson, the Dean of the School of Music.  I brought this up to him.  He confirmed my fears.  Yes, they were sound proofing all the practice rooms and performing spaces.  I would no longer hear beautiful music when I walked by Hanson Hall.  I made my case, tongue in cheek, for why I thought this was not a good idea.  As expected, I was not successful in changing any of the plans for Hanson Hall but he did understand.  Dr. Johnson went on to point out that a student practicing in one room could hear the students practicing in other rooms.  That could be distracting for sure.  He also said that if I could hear the students practicing outside the building, they could hear all the street nows.  Yes, I could see how this could also be distracting to the musicians.  There are a fair number of ambulances, sirens blaring, on Foster Avenue en route to Swedish Covenant Hospital a few blocks away.
     Hmmm... what might be done? What would be a win-win here?
     They should set the rooms up for recording.  Students could then listen to their practice sessions and have a better idea of what to work on to improve.  Given that they would have to mic each room, they could then provide a feed from a random room to a speaker system mounted on the outside of the building to keep the ambience going.
     Seems like a great and not terribly expensive idea to me.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Viva Cinco de Beery!!#Reception
      It is near the end of the semester.  Monday is the last day of classes.  While being a professor is not a terribly stressful job, it is good on a Friday afternoon at this time of the year to come home, kick off my shoes, plop down in the easy chair, feet up, and peruse what might be on the television.  A scotch on ice might be in order, but not today.
     It is amazing how often, even with hundreds of channels, there is nothing on TV.  At this time of day, I tend to favor movies.  I seem to like shoot 'em ups, comedies, and then everything else.  I don't think I have ever watched a musical on purpose.  Today, it didn't really matter what I watched.  There was something therapeutic in the surfing and searching.  As Seinfeld once noted in his eponymic sitcom, I was not really watching TV, I was more interested in what else was on TV. 
      Like some kind of modern prospector, I was looking for some nugget of gold.  Harold and Kumar?  Interesting but not today.  The Road Warrior, the Mel Gibson original?  Almost.  Diary of a Mad Black Woman?  Mmmm... no.  I, Robot... oooh, science fiction with Will Smith.  I made a mental footnote of the channel and kept surfing.  Dr. Strangelove?  Bull Durham?  One of my all time favorites, Groudhog Day.  Nah,  nope, uh uh.  TCM, not surprisingly, was airing a black and white movie. Wallace Beery was starring.  This had possibilities.
     It was movie I was not familiar with.  Besides Treasure Island, how many Wallace Beery movies could I name anyway?  This one was called Viva Villa!  The film is a Hollywood, thus fictionalized, biography of the Mexican revolutionary Franciso "Pancho" Villa (1878 - 1923).  Villa joined the cause of Francisco Madero and helped him to overthrow of Porfirio Diaz.  Pancho Villa is a Mexican hero often being portrayed as being dedicated to bettering the existences of the peasants. 
     Wallace Beery?  Really?  He was a horrible Villa.  It was like he was portraying Wallace Beery pretending to be Pancho Villa.  His tried to speak in a Spanglish accent and, well, he sounded ridiculous.  Too much of his Missouri roots came through in his Mexican accent.  Everyone else in the film had much better accents.  Oddly, he wasn't much different as Long John Silver but was infinitely more believable to me.  It mattered not.  This MGM film was a success back in 1934 when it was made.  It was nominated for a few Academy Award categories but being up against classics like It Happened One Night, The Thin Man, and The Gay Divorcee, it did not win.  It grossed $1.9 million and a profit of $87,000.  These are minimal numbers by today's standards but solid performance the era in which it was made.  The crowds liked the movie and its star, Wallace Beery.
     I suppose TCM showed this film in honor of it being Cinco de Mayo.  Cinco de Mayo honors the Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862, in which the Mexican army defeated the French.  The holiday is bigger in the US than in Mexico and often confused with Mexican Independence Day here.  Mexican Independence Day is actually September 16.  It kind of all makes sense that TCM would show this caricature of Pancho Villa played by Wallace Beery for a Mexican holiday that we have blown out of proportion.  I was definitely entertained by it all.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

February 2017: Anniversary Letter

The lobby of The Dearborn Inn
     It has been 13 years for this letter. Until last two years, I was really good at writing a monthly letter. Let’s atribute it to a dedication to my teaching position that surprised even me… and that is a good thing.
     In 2017, I would really like to get back into the daily writing and monthly letter topic. Yes, you could call it a New Year’s resolution. Wish me luck.
     January 7: While this is my February letter, I began writing it on January 7. Here’s why.
     It is 7:40 am. The time doesn’t really matter, except that I may be like many other writers, simply more lucid in the early hours. The time doesn’t matter as much as the place does this morning.
     I am at the Dearbron Inn.
     I am in the lobbly of the Dearborn Inn sitting at the same desk where on July 20, 2002 I sat and wrote my daily page. I had started my daily writing of one page on June 25th of that same year. As written in several previous letters, I had the notion to chronicle my 50th year with insights, humor, and a transformation to a much better physical and mental human. I was 26 days into that regimen. The chronicle, which was to be a best selling book, is, in theory, still pending.
     I remember that morning because up until then, it was the most beautiful location in which I did my daily writing. Perviously, I had written at home, on the train to Manhattan, or in a coffee shop in Manhattan. Being in the lovely lobby of the Dearborn Inn that morning led me to want to write in beautiful lobbies of classic hotels. Sitting here today has me thinking the same thoughts. 
Desk in the lobby of The Dearborn Inn
     While I was handwriting my page that morning in July 2002, I remember thinking that I should always write in the lobby of a grand hotel when I could. At that time, I was travelling a lot for Colgate. I also travelled throughout Latin America, often stayin in Inter-Continental Hotels which fit the bill nicely. When I was not traveling, I was in Manhattan. Well… there were certainly grand hotels there including the Waldorf Astoria right across from my office and an Inter-Continental just two blocks away. It was a grand idea to write my life changing great books in the lobbies of great hotels.
     I never got the same feeling that I felt in the Dearborn Inn that July morning in 2002. Perhaps, it was the location in the heart of the Ford country. I mean Henry Ford was sternly gazing over my shoulder from his portrait that was above the fireplace. Maybe it was, a mere stone’s throw from Body and Electric Engineering where I had my first grown-up job.
     Alas… it really only brought me to this reflection. It is, however, a good reflection. It really matters not where one writes, it is the routine and relative comfort in the location. I love my home library. It s a great place to write. The coffee is probably even tastier and most certainly cheapter at home. The ambient noise, early in the morning, is more controllable at home. There was a lady vacuuming here when I first began. I hate vacuum cleaner noise if I am trying to write. Actually, I hate vacuum cleaner noise if I am doing anything other than doing the vacuuming myself.
     The desk? Well, the desk here at the Dearborn Inn is a lovely cherry Hepplewhite partner’s desk. It is an antique while my desk at home is nice, it is Bombay not antique. The biggest difference at home is that I, sadly, let the desk and workspace get cluttered. I have a resolution to prevent that from happening moving forward, let’s see how that resolution works. Here the desk only had a lamp on it. It was a pleasure to sit down, pull out my laptop, put on my reading glasses, and get to writing.
     What brought me to the Dearborn Inn that July Saturday morning in 2002?
     I was here, then, visiting my parents, as I was living in Connecticut. The AYF Junior Olympics was that weekend at Dearborn High School. I had arranged to meet my old and dear friend Bob Jones at the Inn for breakfast. He loved having what he called a “fat breakfast” at the Ten Eyck Room in the Dearborn Inn. I got up early and arrived an hour early for our 8 am breakfast. It was a sunny Detroit summer morning. I arrived early with the intent of writing, just as I am doing this morning. I found this desk by the window in the front of the hotel. I really enjoyed writing in the lobby of the Dearborn Inn. It is a beautiful lobby in a grand hotel.
     Knowing that the Dearborn Inn, now a Marriott hotel, underwent a major renovation, I was wondering if the lobby would look the same and if the desk would still be here. As the Inn is a classic hotel, Marriott updated things that needed updating, no doubt behind the scenes and in the rooms, but kept the essential spirit of the place the same. I was delighted to see the desk in the same location that I recalled. I was even more delighted to experience the same feel as I did fifteen years earlier. In fact given the passage of time, it was no mere feel, it was a magic I felt in that place and at that desk.
     What brings me here today?
     We are here for a wedding. Haig Berberian and Melanie Topouzian. Haig is from Boston and Melanie is from Detroit. It is really cold, like single digit lows. They are having their wedding on the same day as Melanie’s parents twenty something years ago. We are delighted to be here and be part of the festivities. It is the first time staying at the Dearborn Inn.
     It was a true nostalgic pleasure writing at that desk again.

     Robert K. Jones (August 29, 1937 – August 26, 2015): Beyond the Ford history of the Dearborn
Robert K. Jones

Inn and surroundings, I think it was more the memory of my friend, Bob Jones. He was on my mind that morning back in 2002. That is not a big revelation as I was meeting him for breakfast. Bob, or RK, as he was also called, was often on my mind. Thinking about him made for the magical feel of writing in that pleasant space back in 2002 and even more so now.     He was my best friend from my few years at Ford. We stayed in touch after I left Ford and even after I left the Detroit area. We did not call or write enough but truly Bob was often on my mind. When back in Detroit with some free time, I would try to get together with Bob. That Saturday in July 2002 was one of those few times.
      I met RK in the fall of 1976. I was working in the Warranty Analysis Department, my first full time grownup job, for only a few months. One morning my supervisor, Carlos Dominguez, came and told me that an engineer, Bob, was transferring into our department and the Carlos thought he was someone I should get to know and be friends with. I asked why he thought that. I was simply curious as to what was behind his suggestion. Carlos said it was because we were both smart, personable, and well-read.
     Carlos could not have been more correct. RK was the right person at the right time to help me develop a more balanced and worldly view. He embraced life and learning in a most charming, almost innocent yet deadly serious, way. He wrote, painted, thought, and was involved. He lived in and was dedicated to the City of Detroit. He never moved even though he could have. Bob loved his alma mater Wayne State University.
     Bob was a classic fellow. He always dressed Brooks Brothers both formally and what we now call business casual. He loved to write letters and always used a fine fountain pen and Crane stationary. Under his signature, which was always RK Jones, he always sketched a pair of wire rim glasses with round lenses. These were the only kind he ever wore.
     We had drifted apart, probably since 2010. By we, I mean I drifted apart. Bob became a lot more conservative in both politics and religion. He would genuinely contest my centrist bloggy bits on both fronts pointing out the flaws he saw in my logic and premises. I did not react well to such, I must admit. For some reason, I can handle criticism from just about anybody else. I could not handle it from RK. He used to challenge my thoughts and views more from the left. I think I was just confused by the shift in his change in perspective.
     He sent me a letter in August of 2015, just before he passed. I did not get that it was a good-bye letter. Because he did not specifically say it was. I did not respond. I only learned that he passed away in a Christmas card from a mutual friend. I felt horrible, an odd mix of stupid, sad, and empty.
     I know the lesson here. Keep in touch with those you value even if the context of the relation or friendship has changed a bit or maybe even a lot. It is a bitter lesson to learn once. I have been relearning this lesson a few times in the past few years. It is more important as I am at an age where people that I know, love, and value will be passing on with greater frequency.
     Writing most of this letter at The Dearborn Inn was even more special. I did have a “fat breakfast” in the Ten Eyck Room. I wished I could have had just one more with RK.

     George Orwell: In my anniversary letters, I often will quote another, generally someone from the pantheon of great writers. Thanks to the January 14th Wall Street Journal for providing this passage from George Orwell in a somewhat regular column, Notable and Quotable, in the Opinion pages. I am not sure how much of this applies to my beyond the first phrase, but Orwell could write.
All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed.
      It has been a pleasure writing these letters and the blog that grew out of it. I look forward to doing it more.
     Thanks to one and all for the great support and encouragement over these 13 years.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January Letter #2: The Inauguration and the Day After

     OK.  It has been an amazing and crazy couple of days.  I might have even used the word daze.
     The polarization in this country is astounding to me.  I am not sure if will end in the foreseeable future.
     We inaugurated a new President on Friday.  His supporters are exuberant that he is in office.  The very next day, the opposition, led and organized by women, staged the largest protests ever in the history of this country.  I have heard both sides from people I know and like.  What I have heard is mostly ranting.  I can actually relate to parts of what both sides are saying.
     We are in for a most interesting next few years.  It will probably get very ugly and very tense.  Unless the President can demonstrate that he indeed intends to serve everyone as stated in his inaugural address, I can see that Democrats will probably make inroads in the 2018 elections and he may have to govern his last two years without the majority in one or both houses of Congress.  Mandates seem to have a lifespan of two years.
     We are divided people.  The divisions are along the overlapping lines of:
  • Liberal and Conservative
  • Rural and Urban
  • Coastal and Inland States
     This is further confounded with various religious beliefs and racial subsets.
     On one side, the dissatisfaction of those feeling disenfranchised has been building for years to the point where a guy, no one expected to last the first two caucuses, was elected president to the surprise of almost every professional politician and news analyst.  Upon his election, it was apparent immediately and exemplified yesterday that his opposition were going to show their dissatisfaction without any gradual build-up at all.  They started at 100% dissatisfaction.
     He won the Electoral College but lost the overall popular vote by the widest margin ever for someone who won the election.  This is partially why, folks that didn't vote for him, are so upset.
     This is the point in such an essay, where, if I were a better historian and more clever writer, I might say something like the following.  You are all assuming that this is the United States in the year 2017 that I am talking but it is really Rome (or fill in another empire) just 20 years before it collapsed.  Nah, nothing like that.  I am talking about these United States and these most interesting times.
     I am probably one of the few citizens that would use the word interesting to describe these times.  Some, who proudly have adopted the name Deplorables, are giddy and pleased today.  Others, men and women, who have with the same fervor and have adopted the monicker Nasty Woman, are as appalled, sad, angry, and determined as the Deplorable are giddy.
     Me, I am sitting here feeling very Rodney Kingish.  I am part of the some silent minority that wishes we could "All just get along."  I applaud differences of opinion and ideas of what course of action we should or should not take.  Debate is a great thing.  It maximizes the probability of making the right decisions and minimizes the probability of unintended consequences.  The debate can and sometimes should be lively and heated.  But, they shouldn't breed hatred and disgust which both sides seem to have for the other right now.
     Not only do I feel like Rodney King, who was the butt of jokes when he made his famous statement, I also feel like one of the Three Stooges with arms spread out trying to hold back two men in a fist fight.  The Stooge, who I want to say was Shemp, says "Gentlemen, gentlemen..."  only to be punched by both.  We are in a "if you are not with me you agin me" era.  We are in the times where compromise means that "If I were to agree with you, then we would both be wrong."
     Trump?  I am still astonished that he was elected.  But he was and he is now our President.  He seems to be moving quickly with his agenda that is not surprisingly further irritating those that are not pleased with his having been elected.  White House websites about inclusion are reported to have been shut down.  The day after the inauguration, Trump and his press secretary both berated the press for reporting that the numbers at the Trump inauguration were so much less than at Obama's.
     My Uncle sent me a youtube: Best Compilation- People Who Laughed at TRUMP...and said he would never be President.  I relate to this video simply because I thought his running was a joke and would add a degree of levity to the Republican primaries.  I was as surprised as anyone that he started winning and then kept winning.  Then, when he secured the nomination, I thought he would never beat Hilary.  The more boorish things he said and did, I felt even more strongly that Hilary was a shoe-in.  Boy oh boy, was I wrong.  Were a lot of people wrong.

     Having said this, he defied all the pundits and defied all of the odds.  Is it possible that he will, in fact, Make America Great Again.  Will he build that wall?  Will he bring back jobs?  Will he beat ISIS?  And on top of this, will he in the process become President of all the people?  I know likely readers of this post, who when they get to this paragraph, will be formulating a no holds barred negative response to me seemingly moronic suggestions.  Well, I do not think he will be nearly as successful as he brags about.  The checks, balances, and realities of actually governing will make that hard to do.  But on the other hand, as none, nada, zip, of my predictions about him have been correct, I have to be open to the possibility that I may well be wrong again.  Let me use, again, two of the words from the first line of this piece.  Amazing.  Crazy.
ABC News Photo showing inaugural crowds for
for Obama on the left and Trump on the right
     He and his people keep shooting themselves in the foot (and missing?).  Today, Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, was on Meet the Press.  She was addressing the aforementioned reports in the press that Obamas inaugurations drew more attendees than Trumps.  The White House Press Secretary said that it was indeed the other way around.  Todd Carter asked why, on his first official facing of the press, did Sean Spicer lie?  Kellyanne's response was, "your saying it is a falsehood... the press secretary gave alternative facts."  Alternative facts? Oh my.  Here we go.  Watch this the interview here.  One thing I think we can say about Trump is that he will not zig and zag for the sole purpose in improving his approval ratings.
     The opposition?  Well, they are certainly upset.  They are upset to the point where they are exercising their rights for free speech and public assembly.  I can see vigorous organization over the Trump term to express various viewpoints and more likely to get head starts on the 2018 and 2020 elections to get some elected power back.  The estimates of attendees of the Women's March were hundreds of thousands with no reported incidents of violence or destruction i.e. no arrests.  It was peaceful and purposeful.  More people I knew posted selfies of their participation than any other events of this kind I can possibly think of.  It is unprecedented and seemingly grass roots.  The tone has been set for moving forward.
     Will this antithesis lead to synthesis and positive direction for the country?  Will Trump allow his cabinet to have different points of view as he said?  Will Republican Senators and Representatives challenge executive policy and initiatives that their constituents do not agree with?  Will Trump continue to tweet whatever comes to his mind about anybody or will he just stop?  Will the polarization continue to intensify or will we somehow come together for the greater good?
      With all my hope that we can just get along and that Trump becomes the unifying leader he has been saying he will be, I am not optimistic on either count.  That is a bit sad.  I will follow the advice of the opposition and voice my opinion to my Representative and Senators.  All three are Democrats if that matters.  I probably won't follow either party line.  I would be doing the same thing if Hilary Clinton got elected.  As of right now, criticizing Trump is considerably easier than criticizing the opposition.  But, as stated above, I have underestimated him at every turn so far.
      Here are some tidbits, mostly from Facebook, from both camps that may or may not shed light, and perhaps a bit of comedy, on this new USA we find ourselves in:
  • From my friend Nvair:  What comes next, you ask?  November 6, 2018!  That's the date in which 33 senate seats, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and 39 state and territorial governorships (and numerous state and local elections) will be up for re-election.  If people are not happier, the "mandate advantage" could easily disappear. 
  • Tom posted: Armenians know all too well what #AlternativeFacts are and they are not truths. Armenians stand up!!
  • The New York Times posted an article with photos and facts, if you have not already had your fill: Women’s March Highlights as Huge Crowds Protest Trump: ‘We’re Not Going Away’.  Agree or disagree the photos and reported turn out are most impressive.
  • There were postings on Facebooks regarding the attacks on Trump's son Barron.  My view?  Leave him out of it as Obama's daughters were, I thought, respectfully treated.  I hated the way Chelsea Clinton and Amy Carter were treated. 
  • Saturday Night Live was hosted by Aziz Ansari last night.  He had some good ones.
    • "Yesterday, Trump was inaugurated.  Today and entire gender protested against him."
    • On racists spouting off with greater frequency since the election, "You have to go back to pretending... we never realized how much effort you were putting into pretending.  You have to go back to pretending."
  • I saw several posts, "I hope Donald Trump is a good President.  Wanting him to fail is like wanting the pilot to crash plane we are all on."
  • My sister Nancy posted a "corrected" post of Betsy DeVos who will be the Secretary of
  • I was happy to see a positive tweet from Trump on the protests.  There were also tweets taking a few shots.
  • My colleague and friend, Ann, who teaches accounting forward a wonderful post setting a performance baseline for the Trump Administration.
    • Inauguration Day 1/20/2017
    • Gasoline $2.32/gallon per the AAA
    • Dow 19,827
    • NASDAQ 5555.33
    • Unemployment 4.7%
    • (I might have added inflation and average mortgage rates).
     Let's see what unfolds.  Fasten your seat belts.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

January 2017: The Transition of Power

     It is Martin Luther King Day. I attended a celebration today at North Park University. As I expected, the transfer of power from President Obama to President Trump influenced the speeches almost overshadowing remembering the man in whose honor we gathered. Given the contention the election has left in its wake and the extreme polarization in this country, this is no surprise.

     President Obama: Eight years ago, I voted for Barack Obama. I used Ronald Reagan’s yardstick from the 1980 Presidential Elections to make my choice. Reagan asked, “Ask yourself, 'Are you better off now than you were four years ago? '” I even modified it and asked as second question, “Is the country better off now than it was four years ago?”
     The answer to both these questions was a resounding “No!”
     We were at the beginning of a very serious economic crisis that would eventually be called The Great Recession. The economy began to quickly unravel in September of 2008. It quickly became a campaign issue. For me it was the only campaign issue. I was let go from my job at this very time. It was bad timing indeed. I have never recovered economically and I should be in the middle of the so-called disenfranchised segment of the population.
     I probably would have voted for the esteemed John McCain. I was in the most likely
The Onion still has a sense of humor.
demographic to vote for him. I did not. The main reason I did not was because McCain said there was nothing wrong with the economy. What?! Really!? He lost my vote then and there. Having Sarah Palin as his running mate did not help his case either.
     It was the first time I had voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate. He seemed saavy and was cleary very smart. I thought he woud be able to lead us through this quagmire.
     Note that I have, otherwise, voted for Democrats for House, Senate, and State offices. I believe in voting for the best person and not straight party tickets. I am kind of a centrist. I basically follow my cousin Davids tenet of being a fiscal conservative and wanting social justice.
     Obama was, of course, elected. I have oft used the analogy that he was given the keys to the that was going 150 mph a mere 100 yards from a brick wall. Yes, he was elected the President, the first black… er… half black President of these United States. Unfortunately, for those hoping for the Change they could Believe in, the only thing he and his administration could really focus on was the economic disaster he inherited. Sure, they had a mandate with power in both the House and Senate. Nonetheless, the economy was broken. It had to be fixed. That was Job 1. There were hard decisions to be made. In a crisis of that proportion, the crisis sets the agenda and action plan.
     His speeches in accepting the nomination, his victory speech on election night, and his inaugural address were excellent in my opinion. Barack Obama is a great speaker. He makes sense when he speaks. He is also a great interviewee. This past Sunday he had his last interview as President on 60 Minutes. He was authentic and a gentleman. He did not take the bait.
     I was never an Obama basher. I voted for him in 2008. In 2012, I used the same Reagan yardstick. The country was most definitely better off than it was in 2008. I did not feel I was, so after a bit of grappling I decided to go for Romney knowing it was going for a losing effort.

     I remember Obama’s first inauguration. It was a really cold January day. I am not in the habit of watching the inaugurations live. But this was an historic day for the country. Imagine this country electing a half white half black, who everyone just calls black, President. It was nothing any European country has ever done. So I tuned into the NPR coverage of the inauguration. Yes, I listened to it on the radio as I was off to Newell Rubbermaid’s offices in Oak Brook to sign my termination papers and review my severance etc. It all kind of tied in together in my little mind.

     President Trump: It is now the night before the inauguration.
     Like it or not, Donald Trump will be the 45th Presdient of the United States.
     I did not vote for Trump. I did not vote for Clinton either. I was dismayed that this great country this was the best we had to offer.
     I did vote. Yes… I did vote for Al Leppo. People say I wasted my vote. Maybe. But, there was no way Hilary Clinton was going to lose the State of Illinois. I could have voted for Donald Duck for all the difference it would have made.
     I am not a huge Hilary fan. I could not vote for her. Neither could I vote for Trump given the bombastic things he said and did during the campaign. I could only justify voting for one as it was a vote against the other. Forget it. I voted for the Libertarian.
     Clearly, everyone but Trump underestimated the sheer number of disenfranchised folks out there. When these folks applied the Ronald Reagan yardstick, they were not better off than they were four or eight years ago. Hilary was nowhere close to being the answer. She was the political establishment, the very folks the disenfranchised blamed, right or wrong, for the dimished country we became post recession.
     Along comes The Donald. He runs an unorthodox campaign promising to make America great again and… Voila! We have a populist candidate who defied all odds and got elected. The contrasts with Obama are striking and yet this is the transistion we are making this week. You cannot make this up.

     Term Limits and The Electoral College: There was talk this week that Obama would have been elected to a third term but for our term limits. Term limits are indeed a two edged sword. You hate them when a guy you love has to leave office, but you love term limits when a guy you loathe has to leave.
     The same kind of rationale applies to the Electoral College. Trump is on of the few Presidents to not win the majority of the vote. People are quite OK with the Electoral College when things go their way, and hate it, as the anti-Trump does in this past election. Hence, the feeling that “He is not my President.”

     He is not my President Movement: There will be people protesting in the inauguaration. There was a huge rally this evening, the night before the inauguration, in front of the Trump Plaza in NYC with an impressive list of NY celebrities and politicos speaking. It is all over the news. The protests at the inauguration itself might be unprecedented. People are upset to the core that The Donald got elected. They do not like it and are collectively going to express their displeasure. On Saturday, there is another huge Women’s March planned in several cities simulataneously which is probably more anti-Trump than anything else. I know several folks in Chicago who will be head downtown on Saturday to March. Trump has to be seeing all this. I wonder how he views this fervor.
     Trump has the lowest approval ratings for an incoming President since Abraham Lincoln. I guess Lincoln’s oppostion took exception to his anti-slavery stance. So, the anti-Trump crowd quote the low ratings and the Make America Great Again crowd compare him to Lincoln.
     Sixty Democrats are not attending the inauguration. I heard a talking head congressman today on NPR whose name or state I do not recall. He justification for not going is all the things Trump said and did during the campaign that would have destroyed the campaign of any other candidate. Merryl Streep gave the same kind of message when she received her lifetime achievement award from the Golden Globes. While her words are definitely old news today, the night before the inauguration, they were right on.

But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. ~ New York Times
     Streep was refering to his imitiation of a handicapped reporter that happened to anger him. Then he denied what he did. In my book, that is not what I want our President to behave. He talked about the election as being rigged but when the only rigging appears to have come from Russian hackers to his favor, he is mum about it. He disparged a beauty queen in a twitter rampage. I do not approve of this kind of behavior from a candidate running for President let alone a Presdient elect. It discredits the office, the country, and our people. Obama never would have done that neither would have Reagan or Clinton. It is just unacceptable behavior.
     I am not against his tweeting per se. I am against the President of the United States criticizing people, well, like Meryl Streep, in an open forum like twitter.
     There was a quote floating around on Facebook. It was from Theodore Roosevelt.

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else." ~ Theodore Roosevelt Association
     I respect the Office of the President and whoever is elected. I may or may not agree with their policies but I respect the person and the office. I also believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and agree with the 26th President and criticize the President using our very precious right of free speech. This is the only way democracy can work.
     Many folks were not happy with the election Barack Obama in 2008. I heard several people say that “he was not their President.” Many more folks, I believe, shared that sentiment but called his early actions and policies trying to stem the Great Recession as socialist. Not quite communist, but most definitely a socialist. In his second term, most criticism was that he was the most ineffective President ever and comments along those lines. There was certainly a certainly a racial component to this. We can debate the degree of such, but it was most certainly there.
     Black folks looked at the election of Barack Obama a positive sign. It was a sign of hope as in the campaign slogan. With the election of Trump, many feel like the hope was taken away. The world was so impressed that we elected a black President, he even got a Nobel Peace Prize before he did anything.

     Polarization: Donald Trump did tweet something earlier today.

     I agree with Franklin Graham. We are polarized in the contry. I believe the main axes are race, disenfranchised or not, and liberal vs conservative. Most people can’t and don’t think in several factors (using the language of Design of Experiments from Statistics). People get even more confused when there is interaction between these factors. It has stifled the effectiveness of the our government since Obama was elected.
     Trump, however, is not helping. I am allowing a glimmer of hope to see if the office grounds him and once in office he can demonstrate to be a President of all the people.
     People love Trump or hate him. I am a centrist. I try to see the whole picture or use this all as a rationale to be wishy-washy (folks do criticize me for this). Obama has a madate when he was elected in 2008. Trump and his supporters believe they have a mandate with majorities in the House and Senate. The voting public, however, changed their minds and started electing Republicans as early as the 2010 midterm elections eroding Obama’s so-called mandate. I fully believe that the same will happen to Trump if people are not seeing what they want to see in 2018.

     Hrant Dink: This section has nothing to with Trump or Obama except their unwillingness to call what happened a Genocide. Nonetheless, I am compelled to make a few comments.
     Today is January 19, 2017. It is the ten year anniversary of his assassination of Hrant Dink outside the offices of the Agos newspaper. As of the time of this writing, there were no stories of this in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.
     I was interested to see, post coup, if there were protests in Istanbul. Armenpress from Yerevan had a good article on commemorations in Yerevan and Istanbul including videos. I was a bit surprised to the number of protesters in Istanbul. It was nothing like the numbers 10 years ago, but it was something.
     To me, Hrant Dink is and should be honored as a Martin Luther King of Turkey. With Erdogan’s clamp down after the “coup,” this is not happening any time soon.
     Another blog post on Hrant Dink:  Five Years Later

Sunday, January 1, 2017

March 2016: A Potpourri

     Preface: OK, it is January 1, 2017. I am just posting my March 2016 Letter. I really should have and could have posted it in March especially when I realized, upon reviewing it this morning, that it was practically completed. But, I didn’t and hereby resolve, with all the good intentions that underlie our new year’s resolutions, to be on top of my daily writing and monthly letters in 2017.
     This letter is mostly about a trip to Costa Rica back in March. But, being a Potpourri, I also wrote about the US elections, actually the primaries back then, and the passing of Patty Duke.
     It is kind of a fitting end to 2016 which is a year that bothered a lot of people. Many were upset by the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and this is a central part of their condemnation for 2016. While I wish him well and hope that he will make a positive difference, I stand by what I wrote back in March.
     Another reason some folks were glad to see 2016 end is because of number of celebrities that passed last year. Patty Duke was one of them. She passed away in March. With the passing of David Bowie, Prince, and the very sad mother/daughter passing of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, I am not sure many remember that it was the year in which Patty Duke passed as well. I had reflected, in my own This Side of Fifty way, on my admiration for the actress.

     Cost Rica: At one point in the twelve years of e-letters that evolved into a blog, I thought about dedicating certain month’s letter to certain themes. February was always the anniversary letter and I tried to make June the Health and Fitness letter. My second letter, March 2004, was a Letter from Buenos Aires. Vive! Mexico was the March 2005 letter. I thought to make each March letter a travel letter. That did not happen as planned.
     This month, however, I did go to Costa Rica and I am delighted to report a bit on that wonderful trip to a fantastic country.
     It was my first trip out of the country since 2010 when I went to Istanbul. It was my first trip to Latin America since 2007. I was excited for the opportunity to return one of the places I had spent so much time.
     This trip was organized by the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University. Every year, during spring break, we organize a trip to country to learn how local businesses and nonprofits operate, learn about their challenges, and to broaden our perspective. There is, of course, ample time for tourism. The size of the contingency is somewhere between 8 -12 and is made up of graduate students, alumni, professors, and friends. In recent years, they have visiting Vietnam, Turkey, South Africa, Greece, and Argentina.
     Our Dean, Wes Lindahl, organizes these trips and always chooses a co-director to assist with organizing the site visits and other logistics. I was fortunate to get that responsibility this year because of my experience and connections in Costa Rica. I was excited for the opportunity and looking forward to connecting with some old friends.
     There is something special about Colgate people. There is a bond that is different than other companies I have worked for. Even if we have not been in touch for years, it doesn’t matter. One email and it was like we have not skipped a beat. This was the case with four wonderful people.
     Jim Gerchow is one of my oldest Colgate friends. We met on my second overseas trip for the company to Venezuela. It was a different and more prosperous country back then in 1991. Jim was the manufacturing director at
Jim Gerchow is standing on the left
the plant in Valencia. We hit it off from the moment we met and our friendship has grown ever since. When he was named Vice-President of Manufacturing for the Africa and Middle East Division, he relocated to Weston, CT and lived about five house away from us.
     When I called Jim, he immediately responded, like I knew he would. He offered for us to visit his brother in-laws company, Financiera Desyfin, for which he was a board member. He also arranged for us to visit the Federación de Organizaciones Sociales which is basically the organization of nonprofits and social enterprises in Costa Rica.
      On top of this, Jim and lovely wife Vicky opened up their home to our group. It was a most lovely evening of food, drink, and conversation at their magnificent home, right out of Architectural Digest, overlooking San Jose. It was so warm and generous of them to do this.
     Oswaldo Arias is another great Colgate friend. He even was a direct report of mine for a few years when we were working on improving the performance of SAP in Latin America. While he reported to me, working with Oswaldo was truly more like a partnership. Oswaldo was one of the best IT folks I have ever worked with. He is brilliant but with the calmest demeanor you could imagine which came in handy when he was explaining the intricacies of data structures to me. He is as expert as anyone in SAP Order to Cash that I know. He currently works for HB Fuller in their Shared Services Center for Latin America. He hosted us there and gave a great overview of what a shared service organization is and what they are capable of.
     Oswaldo, who always does his homework, realized it was the 125th Anniversary of North Park University. So, amid the lavish buffet he arranged for
Oswaldo is third from the left
us, he provided birthday cakes for our university.
     Ralph Dias is a great friend. He never worked at Colgate but rather with us, but he was an essential part of our global logistics team. Ralph is the account executive from DHL assigned to Colgate. Ralph is an excellent man and a good friend. When I wrote him, he arranged a visit to DHL Costa Rica where, Arnoldo Carranza, another old friend is General Manager. Arnoldo was gracious in hosting our group and gave a tremendous overview of running a 3rd party logistics company in Central America.
Arnoldo is the second from left in the back

     Maria Royo is simply amazing. I had neither seen nor talked to her since 1997 or maybe even earlier than that. In January, we connected on Facebook. It was good to be in touch her again. She was always a bundle of energy in managing IT for Colgate Costa Rica. In fact, two of her team, Oswaldo Arias and Gerardo Cambronero moved on to global IT positions in Colgate. A few weeks later I got the Costa Rica assignment. When I wrote and told her about this trip, she was all over it making wonderful suggestions of companies and organizations to visit. She organized three visits for us.
     Unfortunately, I did not get to see Maria on this trip. Maria runs her own IT consulting firm and also is the President of GS1 in Costa Rica. We were scheduled to spend half of our first day in country visiting a nonprofit she had arranged for us to visit and then end up at her offices for an overview of GS1. Sadly, our connection in Dallas was tight, our flight from Chicago to Dallas was delayed, and we missed our first day. Maria was unavailable due to business commitments and I am sorry I did not get to see her.
     Juliana Holguin is the current General Manager of Colgate Costa Rica. I got to know Juliana, who started in Colgate Colombia, when she was a Marketing
Juliana Holquin
Manager in New York. She sat right outside my office and we became good friends. We were not able to connect before we traveled but we were able to have breakfast one morning and reconnect.
     The trip was a great blend of the old and the new. While it was a great pleasure to reconnect with old friends, it was just as special to make new friends of students and alumni on this trip as well as to get to know valued colleagues better. It was great to spend a lot more time than normal with our Dean, Wes, his wife Deb, and Dr. Pier Rogers who is the Director of our Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management. You get to know folks better on such a trip.
     I appreciated the younger crowd of Max Sluiter, Rhianna Giberson, Cheryl Devenny, Heidi Bush, and Fran Caan who were gracious in allowing me to hang out with them and remember when I was their age. We were also joined by Maree Bullock and Zofia Lutnicka two friends of North Park and now friends of mine.
Maria Royo

     Life is constantly changing. People come in and out of our lives. When it is all said and done, no matter what one’s accomplishments are, it is truly the people that we meet and work with that make all the difference. The people make for the best and most lasting memories. It was a great pleasure in to reconnect with wonderful Colgate and DHL folks and have them meet and mingle with the folks I currently work with.

     Is this the best we can do? 2016 is a Presidential Election year in the US. Maybe it is just a function of age but I find myself asking a very simple question, over and over again: “Is this the best we can do?”
     The Democrats are offering up Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The Republicans seem to only have Donald Trump much to the dismay of the party leadership. Does this become a year, where as a voter, I am picking the best of the worst? Is it a year where my vote for one candidate is really a vote against the other candidate? Both of these are, how do they say it? Ah yes. Lame.
     In my opinion, it is a sad state of affairs.
     Let’s get this out of the way. I do admire one of the candidates: Bernie Sanders. Yes, I admire Bernie Sanders. Why? How? It is not for his political views. He is a bit too socialist for me and I say this as I get a bit pinker with each passing year. I am just too much of a free market and fiscal soundness person to ever be a socialist. But, I admire Bernie for one reason. It is clear what he stands for. It is clear what he believes. It is clear what he will try to advance if he defies the odds and ever becomes President. Bernie Sanders will not change his views because of any poll results just to get more votes. In this day and age, this is a refreshing trait in American presidential politics.
     Hilary on the other really wants to become the president. I believe she will say anything to get elected. She will change any view she has if poll results suggest she will gain more votes in a significant demographic.
     The Republicans? Oh my. The Donald. Really. When I saw he was running early on, I figured he wouldn’t even make it to the Iowa Caucuses. Boy, did I ever figure wrong. He can say any ludicrous thing he wants contradicting other ludicrous things he may have said and people are eating it up.
      I think people are eating up what Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are selling because there are significant segments in this country who are disenfranchised. We have most definitely come out of the Great Recession a different country. Many of the Trump supporters are simply no longer working or underemployed. These folks were off the radar screen of the mainstream of both parties and Trump, simply, resonates with them.
     Sanders also resonates with a different group of disenfranchised Americans. He has great appeal with the youth who do not see the career and lifestyle prospects that other generations enjoyed.
     When I think of this election and the dearth of choices, I am wondering if we are in the era of 1837 – 1861 when we had a rash of Presidents between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln who, to me, seem entirely inconsequential.
Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841
William Henry Harrison, 1841
John Tyler, 1841-1845
James Knox Polk, 1845-1849
Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850
Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853
Franklin Pierce, 1853-1857
James Buchanan, 1857-1861
     I am certain that these presidents had some attributes. Perhaps, if I were to read up on this, I might even change my opinion. But, none of them were really covered or emphasized in any US History course I ever took.
     So, I think we are electing another Millard Filmore or Franklin Pierce. In this great nation of 320 million people, is this the best we can do?

     Patty Duke (1946 – 2016): Patty Duke passed away on March 29. She was 69 years old. She was a great child star back in the day. I had not heard much about her in recent years, but she was highly regarded mostly for her amazing role as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.
Patty and Cathy
She even won an Academy Award for her role in the 1962 film.
     I knew that she was married to John Astin. I knew that Sean Astin, of Rudy and Lord of the Rings fame, was her son. Until I read her obituary and biography, I did not know of her troubled and hard childhood. It seems that is often how it is for child stars. I did not know that she suffered from bipolar disorder and became an advocate for mental health causes. I also did not know that John Astin was Sean’s adoptive father not his biological one.
     I write about Patty Duke because I liked and watched here TV show: The Patty Duke Show. It aired 104 episodes from 1963 – 1996. The show was about two teenage girls, cousins in fact, who looked remarkably alike. Patty Lane was a typical American teenager living with her family in Brooklyn Heights. Wikipedia called her chatty and rambunctious. Cathy Rowan Lane was the cousin from Scotland who came to live with her cousin. Cathy was kind of the flip side of Patty. Wikipedia referred to her as “sophisticated, brainy, and demure.”
     Being only ten years old, I watched and liked the show because I was kinda sorta attracted to Cathy. I liked that she was sophisticated and brainy. I did not really like the Patty character as much… she made me nervous.
     I thought they were two different people played by two different actresses. I felt foolish when I realized Patty Duke played both characters. Now, in hearing of her passing, I smiled on my naiveté. It was certainly a testimony to her acting skills…