02 December 2009

The Great Kayak Adventure

History is filled with explorers taking big and not so big ships on great voyages of discovery. In the 1500’s, a Portuguese expedition apparently sailed to Australia. In the 1600’s several European ships came upon Australia, and in the late 1700’s, British expeditions stopped and claimed Australia for themselves. This was about the time the Americans were throwing the Brits out of the American colonies, so maybe the English needed a new place to go. The biggest adventurers were probably the early Aboriginals, who showed up about 13,000 BC but neglected to tell anyone.

Last week I had lunch with the Governor General of Australia. She seemed like a very nice lady, but I asked the guy sitting next to me why Australia had a Governor General. The only generals in the U.S., where I come from, wear military fatigues, have crew cuts, and look even tougher than the kids who used to hang out in the alleys of Berwyn, Illinois, when I was a kid. Quentin Bryce looks or acts nothing like any generals I have met. The guy next to me said the Governor General was appointed by the Queen (i.e. The Queen of England – Aussies don’t have their own queen, maybe it’s a money saving idea if you want a Queen just borrow one).

I am digressing a bit from my later day exploration of the seas, which occurred this morning. A friend (to save her embarrassment let’s call her "J") and I decided to explore the wilds of Sydney Harbour. A power boat (sometimes referred to as ‘stinkpots’) or big sail boat (always referred to as ‘financial holes’) would have been too easy. We decided to explore by kayak, perhaps replicating the early travels of natives thousands of years ago.

I have never been in a kayak; J was in one once. There are some differences I was surprised to find between modern kayaks and American canoes, with which I am more familiar. The kayak has cool compartments for towels and stuff. Everything still gets wet, but the idea of compartments and tight fighting tops with straps and bands that make it hard for everything but water to enter (including humans) is neat.

Kayaks have a rudder and pedals. This is especially gratifying when you are in a two person kayak and the other person is sitting in the front thinking she is determining the course. It is like being a back seat driver in a car but steering the car from pedals in the back. It gives one a great sense of power, which can be exercised so subtly that the person in front does not know you are steering, unless of course you hit the rocks, which we almost did once.

The kayak rental office has a very large sign and map on the wall prohibiting renters from going too far out into the Harbour. A big black line on the map extends from a lighthouse across the mouth of the Middle Harbour. It reminded me of military maps showing where the minefields were or early navigation maps depicting where the ship-eating dragons lay in wait. I do not know how we signed all the forms and never noticed the big map with the big black line.

Armed with weird shaped paddles, life jackets, water bottles, and sunscreen, we soon embarked on our journey of exploration after being warned the ship was due back in 2 hours unless we wanted to pay more. I cannot imagine the King of England telling Captain Phillip he needed to return by whenever in 1788 or he would be charged more rent for the boat. Oh for the good old days.

After avoiding being run over by speedy stinkpots and bisected by financial holes, we managed to cross the bay and follow the shoreline of beautiful beaches and friendly natives playing in the waves. Soon we were well past the lighthouse, which seemed vaguely familiar but J did not remember it either when asked.

After missing the rocks by the lighthouse (the ship’s log – if the ship had a log - would have noted we were well clear despite J’s protests otherwise), we followed the coast in search of some beach inhabited by ghosts, according to J. I am unsure why we were looking for ghosts but if I had hit the rocks maybe we would have found a few. There is also an area called Quarantine Beach J wanted to find; I was afraid to ask how the place got its name. Why would you ever want to go to a place called Quarantine?

We took in quite a bit of water from errant waves and the wake of boats (and totally unrelated to the ever capable steering) and decided we needed to beach the ship and bail it out before turning back; otherwise we would be swimming back. A pretty little beach lay directly ahead, but we had a bit of a rough arrival crashing on the beach carried by a larger wave. I managed to gash my arm when the rudder flipped upside down and then managed to cut my leg as the next wave crashed the boat into me as I was scrambling out.

Looking around, it was clear we landed at a nudist beach. The women mostly covered up when we crashed the party; the men, especially the overweight ones, stayed natural. Only in my nightmare would I land safely on a beach island occupied by clothed women and naked men.

So we stood there on Naked Men Island, trying to control a water filled boat too heavy to move and with me bleeding profusely. J rushed to find a bucket and bailed while I held the boat and tried to direct the flow of blood into the water and away from the boat seats. I realized shortly thereafter, I was scenting the water for sharks – just what we needed to add to the adventure.

Soon we were off again, having escaped the possible cannibals, and paddling back to port. Unfortunately, the wind had risen considerably and we were paddling directly into the headwinds. J tired after all the paddling, bailing, and pulling and pushing the boat on the beach and became the official lookout. I paddled furiously now convinced we needed to get back as fast as possible before every shark in Australia learned of a possible meatball sandwich in the yellow kayak in Middle Harbour.

We managed to paddle through two sailing regattas on the return trip and avoided the array of big and bigger boats. We missed the rocks again (yes our esteemed lookout reminded me often when things looked closer that they seemed to be from the rear seat), and we pushed through the determined wind. The sharks stayed away, and I finally stopped bleeding.

So in the chronicles of Australian explorations, let the footnote show Scott and J surveyed the coastline of a part of Sydney Harbour on 29 November 2009 and found it to be ever present.

16 November 2009

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

This morning I flunked the mirror test. This is really of great concern. I can’t think of anything worse than flunking the mirror test. The consequences are very bad. I looked again; maybe my aging eyesight is mistaken. No, it appears I really did fail to pass this essential test.

I have been fighting the tendency to gain weight my entire life. When I was young, there was a popular albeit sophomoric joke, “Do you want to lose 10 ugly pounds? Cut off your head.” While not as drastic a measure, when my weight creeps up, I eat less and try to exercise more. It is not a fun regime.

If you consult a doctor about ideal weight, he or she is likely to show average and ideal weight charts based on the latest research. The doc may calculate your BMI (Body Mass Index) or even more esoteric calculations like your waist to hip ratio.

I have less sophisticated ways to calibrate ideal and not so ideal weight measures including:

The Scale Test. As referenced above, when my weight passes a certain line (170 pounds / 77 kilos), I know it is time.

The Mirror Test. Whenever I can no longer bear to look at myself naked in the mirror, it is time to go on a diet.

The Shrinking Pants Test. When my pants become too tight; it is not due to fabric contraction or improper cleaning, it is a clear message from the fat fairy.

So this morning I passed the scale test and my stretched jeans have not shrunk too badly but the mirror does not lie. I am not looking good even holding my stomach in and not breathing.

The challenge of weight management becomes more difficult with age. Over time, we shrink; I understand gravity does it. If you want to maintain that height of yesteryear, sign up for the next lunar mission. On earth, we are doomed.

Therefore it is possible to pass the scale test but flunk the mirror test as the body compresses and showcases the extra kilos. This is just not fair; but what else in the aging process is fair?

Why is losing weight so difficult and to be dreaded so? Probably because it is so easy to gain weight. Let me count the ways the solar system is aligned to make us fat and inhibit efforts to slim down.

A Fat Baby is a Healthy Baby. Typical of the common beliefs when I was an infant, my mother felt a fat baby was a healthy baby. I think child diseases were a major concern then, and parents felt thin babies’ survival was more at risk than fat babies. So my generation received plenty of food as long as income was there to buy it. My generation has been overfed from our earliest years.

We are surrounded by high-fat high-calorie tempting food. I often stop for a morning coffee on the way to work. Coffee shops have been able transform a no-calorie, no-fat product (coffee) into a high-fat, high-calorie offering by adding milk, creams and sugars. Then they complement the transformed coffee with high-fat, high-calorie muffins, brownies, biscuits, and cakes. Good luck trying to find something healthy at your local coffee bar.

High-fat, high-calorie food tastes really good. We have grown up with hamburgers and chips, pizza, fried chicken, and other assorted good tasting bad-for-you stuff. What tastes better, a cupcake or an orange? If you’re not sure, let me tell you– it’s a cupcake with frosting.

We are addicted to high-fat high-calorie food. Overeating is an addiction. If someone is addicted to smoking or hard drugs, they can quit albeit with difficulty. But you cannot quit eating food. Instead, we have to reduce the intake of what we are addicted to but we must keep consuming stuff or we will die. This is a very difficult position to be in.

We are comforted by eating. When I am stressed, I often turn to food for comfort and security. I also need activity; I am never comfortable sitting quietly for long periods of time. Some drug company came up with a new disease, “restless leg syndrome.” I have restless body syndrome, but the answer for me is not drugs it is finding a better outlet than eating.

Social and business settings require drinks and typically big lunches and dinners. This is true. Sometimes I can offset the big meals with a rigorous workout at the gym; other times I should offset big meals by eating less at other times, but this is very difficult. As I consume more, my body calls for even more input. And the weight creeps up, the demand for food increases.

Friends think they are being nice by telling us how good we look instead of comparing us to a pachyderm in the zoo. Enough said.

Some of the common ways people try to lose weight are more form than substance. A few of my pet peeves follow. I am not a doctor and claim no medical knowledge or expertise but I will share some non-scientific and not necessarily accurate observations.

Common Myths of Overweight People and Diets

People are fat because their metabolism is low. Wrong. I know lots of overweight people and they all eat more than I do. People are fat because they eat more than they need to sustain their activity level.

People are fat because they have a “fat gene.” This is a new one. I have no doubt that people have different genetic issues and some may be more attracted to the satisfaction food can provide, but give me a break. This just means you have to be more careful in what you eat.

You should not diet because you will just re-gain the lost weight. It is true that most who lose weight on a diet will regain the lost weight. However, if the same people never went on a diet and continued to gain at whatever rate they put on the extra pounds in the first place, how much heavier would they be without the time spent eating less? Every day spent eating less is a day not spent eating more.

Walking burns calories and causes weight loss. Theoretically, if you walked all day, you would burn appreciable calories but you don’t burn many walking around the block. I figure I burn about 100 calories a mile (1.7 km). If I walk for 30 minutes at a brisk pace (say 15 minutes per mile), that is a lousy 200 calories. Eat a brownie and you need to walk for an hour to make up. Yes walking is good for your heart and circulation, just don’t walk to the neighbors’ house and figure you can afford a couple extra beers.

Going to the gym reduces weight. I try to go to the gym 3 to 4 times a week. I have noticed that there are two types of people who go to the gym. Those who are focused and have a hard workout and those who hang around, socialize, and occasionally lie on the mats and meditate about working out. The latter group evidently assumes that by going to the gym, their mere presence causes the pounds to float away. Dream again.

It is not how much you eat but what you eat. This is the basis of countless diet books, which all seem to sell well and make the authors bazillions of dollars. The basic fact is you consume a level of energy units (calories) and you burn a level of calories. When you consume too many, you gain weight; when you consume too few you lose weight. Most of the diet formulas are really schemes to reduce your caloric intake. Try eating less and you will achieve the same results.

If you don’t clean your plate, children in India and China will starve. This theory was popular with The Greatest Generation (i.e. my mother) but the concept is not so great. I never understood the precise connection.

When I was doing work in India a few years ago, I had dinner with a family near Delhi. As the mother encouraged her son to eat more, I asked if her mother used the starving children in China and India story when she was a child. She replied, “Yes but not the China part.” That makes sense.

I have a friend who lives in Houston, Texas, who manages to stay if fairly good shape and never seems concerned about dieting and weight management. But I think Gary’s ideas may not be very scientific. Here are a few of his wisdoms passed on to me that seem to work for him.

If you break something in two (like a biscuit), many of the calories escape into the air. If you break tasty morsels into multiple pieces, eating only a small piece at a time, most of the calories are simply lost.

If you eat a piece of fruit or vegetable, that neutralizes bad stuff you also eat. Eat a banana and the secret stuff in the fruit attacks and removes the calories in a donut for example.

Drinking water causes weight loss. Washing down biscuits and cakes with lots of water makes the calories flow through the body without stopping or adding fat.

Eating while standing or walking makes the calories harder to collect in the body compared to eating while sitting. No wonder people who ‘eat on the run’ tend to be thinner.

Hanging around thin people makes you thinner while hanging with fat people makes you fatter. This evidently has something to do with electrons and complicated physics. I guess the fat molecules hop across to others nearby. Have you noticed how couples are often both thin or fat? Proves the point.

I am not looking forward to next week after failing the mirror test today. I will recheck the mirror test tomorrow hoping for a miracle or temporary loss of eyesight, but it appears I am about to embark on a difficult journey that involves combating gravity, the alignment of the solar system, habits bred since birth, evil temptations on every street corner, addiction, and fewer and fewer role models. It sounds like a horror film; only it’s not a film. At least I have some handy techniques from Gary to help me through the process.

22 September 2009

Something for Nothing

Ben Franklin, the American Statesman and colonial leader, was once quoted as saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” What he probably did not realize was he was establishing the basis for one of the world’s most powerful and impactful economic behaviors which has become a cornerstone for the capitalism and consumerism that has dominated world economies in the 20th and 21st centuries.

How do I know this? It is obvious.

Last week, I experienced the shear joy of exchanging my coffee shop punch card with the requisite 10 distinctive punches for a free cup of coffee. Getting something of value for free is the ultimate consumer victory. I was thrilled.

Upon later reflection and when the after glow of success had diminished, I realized the coffee shop punch card effectively let me save 30 cents a cup for 10 cups. With an outsized salary and considerable savings, 30 cents is just not material to my lifestyle. But it was not the amount saved that was important, it was the idea of getting something for nothing.

One example does not prove theory, however; so let me share the other examples.

Store coupons are a multi billion dollar business. The satisfaction of submitting coupons at the supermarket – 50 cents off on Campbell’s soup with a coupon – means it must be time to buy even if we already have soup. And store sales escalate with double or triple coupon promotions. How many people really need the 50 cents? Not as many as those who use the coupons.

Store loyalty cards are now popular. Every time I buy $400 (cumulative) of prescriptions at a certain pharmacy, they send me a $10 off coupon on my next purchase. This brings me back to collect my $10 worth of free merchandise. If they reduced their prices 2.5%, it would have the same economic affect but then I would not be getting something for free.

Airline miles are reaching absurd levels of non reward. Fly 50,000 miles on a major airline, and you are theoretically entitled to a free ticket. Only the airlines offer very few seats to mileage using customers and the seats are almost always to destinations that no one wants to go. But it is fun to watch the free miles accumulate and think you can use them someday.

When I was divorced, my wife demanded a share of the miles I accumulated during our marriage. I transferred Continental miles to her account as requested and at a cost of $750 per 50,000 miles imposed by Continental for the transfer. She immediately went out and used the miles to purchase a $500 ticket to fly to Houston and felt she was so lucky to find a mileage seat. Nice marketing Continental.

When I signed up for a credit card at my local bank, I was offered the choice of a free card or a fee based card that accumulated miles on Qantas. The mileage card made no sense economically but when I asked the banker, he told me everyone gets the mileage card. After paying the annual fee, the customers view they are getting miles for free.

Last year my company sent out traditional Holiday Cards at Christmas time but included a voucher for 2 free movie tickets. “Why would anyone care about 2 free tickets to the movie? I asked.” What little I knew. The tickets were very popular because the employees felt they received something for nothing.

Every month there is at least one outdoor market in my neighborhood. The card tables are filled with useless stuff but sales are brisk at perceived bargain prices. For example, you can buy candles that smell like vanilla beans for $10 compared to $15-$20 at department stores. It would not occur to me to go to a department store in search of a vanilla bean smelling candle; but now I don’t have to. And I bought it at a discount!

Ben Franklin’s admonition has spread around the world. The quest to find a bargain is portrayed in the cult Australian film, “The Castle”, as a dialog refrain between father and son as they buy useless stuff at perceived low prices.

So what drives our behavior to save pennies when our pockets are full of dollars? Perhaps it is Ben Franklin’s early words of advice. Or maybe it was the Great Depression and stories and behaviors passed down from that generation. Or maybe it is part of our consumer culture and one of the behavioral rules to play the game. I am not smart enough to know, but I do know 10 more coffees and I will get a free one.

30 August 2009

The Importance of Banks

The three of us sat quietly in the conference room; there was not the customary banter about work and people. We waited for the phone to ring; but it remained still. We checked our Blackberries for that elusive message, but they were also at rest.

Night replaced day; employees left for home unaware of the tension that was building in Room 6.03. My young General Counsel asked me, the old, experienced hand with the grey hairs to prove it, “Is this normal?” “No,” I replied without elaboration.

It was my birthday; but I had no plans to celebrate. My family was far away; my mind focused on the crisis before us.

I am Chairman and CEO of one of the bigger companies in Australia; let’s call it Propco rather than the real name. But the Company is very real. We have 250 employees and another 350 employees in a sister company that is still tied to us financially. These employees depend on the Company for their livelihood. In a recession, there are no jobs for them if we fail. We pay good salaries and benefits; I feel responsible for each and all of them.

I also feel responsible for our investors, typically pooled retirement accounts and pension funds, who have entrusted us with their future. I feel responsible to the banks, who loaned us precious and now scarce capital to expand our business. The burdens weigh heavily; we cannot fail; too many are counting on us and me specifically. This year has not been a good one for me to sleep.

The Company is a model corporate citizen. We are the leading property company in environmentally sustainable efforts. When we were public, we led the international Dow Jones corporate sustainability index. This year, as others cut back their environmental efforts, we launched a Sustainability Institute to fund and coordinate worldwide research on sustainability efforts and results in the commercial property sector.

We support key charities to help those in need. When the Property Council solicited donations to provide for homeless kids, we gave more than any other company in Australia by far. When neighbors lost their homes in the Victoria bush fires last year, we donated land and built a house, which was auctioned and all the proceeds donated to the bushfire victims.

We are the number one rated company in Australia for worker safety. Ask the Mayor of Sydney about us, and she will describe us as a poster company for corporate citizenship.

We did not reach this precipice of corporate life or death by poor performance or bad investments. The Company is outperforming all of its peers. Our office buildings are among the best in Australia; maintenance and presentation are unsurpassed. Our tenant retention is an unheard of 80%. As industry wide average rents decline, ours are increasing; as market vacancy increases, our vacancy diminishes. Our performance is above budget and all expectation. Our portfolio is exceptional and our employees even better.

We stand at the edge because of the global liquidity crisis. We have loans that were made when banks had money and these loans are now maturing when capital is unavailable. There is no issue of our ability to repay the debt; we just do not have a billion dollars of cash to pay the loans off now.

We sit and wait for the call from a U.S. international bank, our lender facility agent, telling us that all the banks have agreed to extend the loan maturity from 4 June until 30 June. This large international bank was saved from failure by the U.S. Government. If they had failed, our hopes would likely have suffered similar fate.

No one benefits from our failure. The employees, who are productive members of the community, lose their income; investors lose their investment; banks lose part of their capital they will not be able to relend; the community loses a key and active force for good.

Under Australia law, if the Directors determine the Company will be unable to pay their bills in the next 12 months, the Directors must close the company and cease doing business. Failure to act accordingly is both a criminal and civil offense; continue doing business when you know you will default on a loan translates into jail time and loss of personal assets. The stakes are high and no one, including me, will take that chance.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a United States’ issue. Australia, and much of the non US world, does not treat debtors so kindly.

If Propco were closed due to ‘insolvency,’ a receiver will come in, liquidate the assets, and pay whatever proceeds to the creditors. If our portfolio were liquidated at fire sale prices, because potential buyers cannot access capital, it would result in major property devaluations and certain further bank defaults. It is probable, the property industry would collapse in a series of loan defaults triggered by asset devaluations, and the banks would fall next. The economy would be devastated; an economic depression almost a certainty.

Propco is one of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of businesses around the world that rely on banks and related financial institutions for capital and liquidity. If major banks were allowed to fail, companies everywhere would fail – not because of poor performance but due to the sudden withdrawal of financial liquidity in global markets. A global depression would be the inevitable consequence.

Back in Room 6.03, the CFO’s Blackberry phone buzzes and then rings. Citibank has received the extension approvals; the risk of default has been pushed back until 30 June. The agent cautions, however, no one believes we can refinance the loan by 30 June and there will be no more extensions.

In the weeks that followed, staff worked day and night, weekdays and weekends to refinance the maturing debt. Thanks to the active leadership of key banks including a German bank, which was saved from illiquidity by the German Government, the loan was refinanced on 30 June, to the amazement of all participants except us.
Our employees continue to work productively, our investors continue with their retirement funding plans, our banks feel assured their loans will be repaid. The economy has stabilized giving hope that a recovery is near.

For those who argue that major banks should be allowed to fail and the Federal Reserve and other governments’ central banks should not have acted proactively to provide bank liquidity, I think their theories are not based on real people and real business.

16 August 2009

Nanuk: A Dog's Life

A friend recently asked me if I liked dogs. I recalled an essay I wrote a few years ago about our family dog, which I enclose below.


Nanuk was my third son. He was the only member of our family with four legs and a bark, but he was definitely a family member. Today, Nanuk died. And amidst the sadness that consumes me are my memories of him that I will take to my grave.

Ross was 8 years old and Andrew 13. It was an overcast day in San Diego even in Rancho Santa Fe, which lies inland from the Coast. My wife, Jill, was out of town, visiting her mother as I recall. Andrew had a soccer game in Rancho Santa Fe, and Ross and I were there to cheer him on. Ross’s soccer game started a couple hours after Andrew’s finished, and we boys had time to kill.

Across the street from the Rancho Santa Fe soccer field is Helen Woodward, a care and adoption facility for pets, especially dogs. With time on our hands and nothing better to do, we wandered across the street to Helen W. This was a fateful journey.

I grew up with a dog. Mandy was my best friend as a child. He watched over me when I was only crawling, and went everywhere with me when I was walking. I know the attachment that can form between a boy and his dog.

Andrew and Ross were immediately enthused about the idea of adopting a dog. As we wandered through the outdoor pens, Andrew was attracted to Charlie, one of the most enthusiastic and excited dogs in the place, but probably the ugliest dog too. Ross was attracted to a shy but comely dog that looked part golden retriever and part something else. I was concerned the shy dog would not be as friendly if adopted. I was wrong.

When Jill returned, she was confronted by two bubbling boys who could not wait to share their excitement about what they saw at Helen Woodward. It was not fair. Jill had never spent much time around dogs and was definitely not a fan of owning a dog. But no one could resist the excitement that poured from the two boys with ever more promises of taking care of the pet. Her resistance melted under the earnest pleadings of her young sons.

Upon returning to Helen Woodward, Jill did not care for Charlie. That was okay, because another family was there and wanted to adopt the non-stop jumping and gyrating Charlie. Ross’s pick was being viewed by a single, working woman who wanted to adopt him. Jill liked the shy dog’s looks and demeanor, and the Helen Woodward staff could not resist Ross’s imploring that Nanuk be given a home with a family instead of a single person. We left that day with Nanuk.

It did not take Nanuk long to adopt his new family. He had lived with a woman for four years and then had been given up for adoption when she lost a place to keep him during the day when she was at work. Nanuk was not shy; he had been rejected by the only person he ever was attached to and put in a sterile pen. He was depressed and probably feared added rejection. Once he realized we would not reject him, he moved right into the family circle.

Soon after we adopted Nanuk, Jill had Nanuk at the Veterinarian, who discovered that Nanuk had hip dysplasia. This is a degenerative disease that eventually leads to loss of the use of hind legs. The Vet explained to Jill that’s Nanuk’s mobility would be affected as he aged, and it would probably affect his lifespan. Jill called Helen Woodward to complain, and, their staff apologized and suggested Jill return the dog and they would return it to the original owner (who did not want it). The Helen Woodward staff did not feel anyone would want a dog with serious health impairment.

We decided to keep Nanuk, realizing we would have to face his mobility issue some day. The boys had quickly become attached to Nanuk and Nanuk to them, and we could not bear the thought of rejecting Nanuk and sending him to where he was not wanted and could not be cared for.

Nanuk became best buddies with the boys. Wherever they went, he wanted to be there to. He did have a few unusual characteristics at first. He felt the need to defend Jill against strange men – i.e. any males Nanuk did not personally know. Whenever one approached Jill, whether it is at the shopping center or in the front yard, Nanuk would growl and bark. I had nothing to do with this characteristic; it must have been related to something in Nanuk’s memory and his former owner. Eventually, Nanuk learned no one was going to harm Jill, and he stopped his ferocious demeanor and begged everyone for pets and treats without discriminating sexes.

The second characteristic was his insistence that he pee everywhere possible to leave his scent. At soccer games, this included lawn chairs, scorecards that fell to the ground, and the conventional bushes, fire hydrants, and the like. Nanuk’s desire to be the last to pee somewhere stayed with him throughout his life.

In contrast to his initial shyness, he became the friendliest dog who ever lived. That is an overriding statement, but I believe it to be true. He liked all dogs, people, and other animals in that order. He would run up to strange dogs, his tail wagging, eager to sniff and be sniffed. Some dogs are not so friendly, and Nanuk never won a fight. When attacked, Nanuk would lie down and whimper. I don’t think he was afraid; I think he was disappointed his new acquaintance was not to be a friend.

I remember one time a man with a pony came to a children’s party on our cul-de-sac in Houston. He also had a fierce looking, huge Doberman pincher staked to his truck with a big metal chain restraining this made-for-movies monster. Nanuk saw the creature and immediately trotted over to welcome the dog to the neighborhood. Jill and I looked with horror as Nanuk approached the creature. Jill screamed, “Nanuk you idiot, stop.” Nanuk didn’t care. He went up to the creature sniffed the surprised monster, who was then pulled back by his owner; afraid the Doberman was about to kill Nanuk. Nanuk plodded back to our yard, tail wagging, and peed on the nearest bush. For Nanuk, every day was a happy day.

In San Diego, I would walk Nanuk at night before bed. Not once, but twice, Nanuk encountered a skunk and ran up to the furry black and white slow moving denizen. Nanuk’s tail was wagging 90 miles an hour, at least. But when he went to sniff his new friend, he discovered that some animals really smell bad. One night, Andrew and I washed Nanuk with Campbell’s Tomato Soup. I had read somewhere that tomato soup helped reduce skunk smell. Afterward, Nanuk smelled like very bad soup.

Nanuk tried to befriend wild coyotes in San Diego. Fortunately, the stray coyotes always ran away from the tail wagging, hard charging dog. Fortunately, one of us was always close behind and pulled Nanuk back from chasing into the canyon after his wild cousin.

Our move to Houston was difficult for all the family; but Nanuk was probably the first to adjust. Andrew and I flew to Houston first, because Andrew had high school band camp before the start of high school, and Jill and Ross needed to stay in San Diego. I remember waiting in baggage claim with Andrew, looking for Nanuk’s kennel to arrive. When it did, Andrew went running to the kennel, opened it, and exclaimed, “Nanuk is okay.” What a relief amidst Houston’s hot August weather.

For the next few nights, Andrew and I slept on the floor of the new house without benefit of any furniture, which was due to arrive the week following. We could have stayed at a hotel, but Andrew was worried that Nanuk would be lonely in the empty new house. So the three of us, Father, Son, and Dog slept together on Andrew’s bedroom floor.

Nanuk soon made friends around the cul-de-sac. His home away from home was the Quirk’s, who lived next door. Ann and George always welcomed Nanuk whenever he came over for a visit, which was every day. He played with their three dogs, opened the toy chest in their house and helped himself to their toys, begged for his daily treat, and hung out. When we could not find Nanuk, he was usually at the Quirks.

George Quirk recounts the story of when he was napping in the rocking chair, and Nanuk showed up. The front door was not secure, and Nanuk head butted the door, as he was prone to do, and walked in. When George did not notice Nanuk (because he was asleep), Nanuk barked and nearly frightened George out of his chair.

Nanuk became a party animal on Broken Bough Circle. Whenever there was an outdoor, pool party, especially with kids (who tended to drop food on the ground), Nanuk wanted to be there. He let us know he needed to go out (presumably to go to the bathroom) and would disappear into neighbor Jay’s backyard to bogie with the kids, who loved him and fed him pizza. I would wander over after a while, claim Nanuk, and apologize for his intrusion, which no one ever seemed to mind.

Nanuk was always quick to want to meet new visitors, especially workmen who may have lunches to share. One afternoon, I was looking for Nanuk around the cul-de-sac, calling his name without response. Then the Mexican workers who were working on Jay’s garage begin hollering “Nanuk” in heavy accents. I was mystified. How did they know Nanuk? Sure enough Nanuk emerged from behind the garage, appreciative of the tacos he shared with the workers for lunch. Nanuk was everybody’s friend.

When we first moved to Houston, Nanuk needed a job. Everyone needs tasks to do so they feel productive and contribute to the well being of the society around them. Nanuk’s self-chosen task was to make sure all the squirrels stayed up in the trees. I do not know why Nanuk assumed this arduous task, for there were many squirrels in the cul-de-sac, but he did. For years, until he became slow and lame, Nanuk would charge out of the house, and run around until he was satisfied all the squirrels were up in the trees. One time, in the back yard, Nanuk actually caught a squirrel. Jill and I think the squirrel fell out of a tree or off the telephone wire; because Nanuk was never that fast and catching a squirrel was his impossible dream. With the squirrel at his feet, Nanuk just did not know what to do. He had never caught a squirrel, and was unprepared for that eventuality. The squirrel was dazed (supporting the tree falling theory), and when Nanuk came inside, the squirrel wandered off, unhurt but dazed.

Today, Ross and I took Nanuk to the Veterinarian in Houston. Nanuk could no longer rise or walk without pain. Otherwise, he was alert and loving. The San Diego’s Vet’s warning had come true. But we made the right decision then. Nanuk had a wonderful life, filled with love and affection. And he gave us ten years of unquestioning love. Oh how I miss those big, longing brown eyes, the enthusiasm and wagging tail to greet me when I came home tired from out-of-town travels, the constant companionship for all of us, and knowing that my other two sons had someone to turn to who always, without question, understood their side of every story. Thank you, Nanuk.

21 June 2009

A Few Rays of Sunshine

There has been considerable discussion in the media recently about economic “green shoots.” It appears economists and politicians are seeing the earliest indications that maybe the global economy is stabilizing and may soon begin to improve. The analogy is the springtime emergence of green shoots from plants emerging from winter hibernation leading to subsequent blooming flowers.

I don’t care for this analogy; maybe it is because I grew up in Chicago and know green shoots are often followed by late winter snow storms.

Lately, I have been feeling some rays of sunshine finding their ways through the overcast. Sunshine beats green shoots every day. Sunshine brightens the day, brings energy and vitality, and warms the body and spirit. My doctor says he has fewer patients when the sun is shinning and more after a few days of dark skies and rain.

It has rained quite a bit in Sydney lately. By the time the storms pass, it will have rained several consecutive days. Yet, there are brief periods of sun between the showers which blow through. A few days ago, a rainbow painted the sky above and touched down at our door; surely a symbol of better times ahead.

I continue my uphill journey, but the glimpses of sunshine lighten my burden and quicken my pace. After a year long winter of personal grey skies and stormy weather, the rays of sunshine, even if intermittent, offer hope to a brighter future.

My wife signed a divorce settlement agreement last week after months of acrimony and accusation. I cannot read the terms of the agreement; the scanned copy has been faxed or scanned too many times. I called my attorney, but he lacks a legible copy. "No worries," he says, he and my wife’s attorney will figure it out.

But why not resign a legible copy? No one wants to ask my wife to sign anything again. I have signed three settlement offers from my wife’s attorney, only to have them withdrawn by my wife because she wanted to add more demands. Now she wants to add more demands again, but the documents are executed by all and will not be changed – even if they cannot be read.

I signed up without forethought for an internet dating service and am overwhelmed by the number of single women who want to meet me. Maybe they all are ugly or have psychological issues; maybe there is an ax murderer among them; I don’t know but I appreciate their expressions of interest after being the subject of non stop criticisms for so long. It gives me a measure of hope and confidence there is someone out there who will be my partner and friend.

At work, the mood has definitely experienced some sunshine. In a market environment suffering from tenant contractions and rising unemployment, we succeeded in gaining agreement on the largest new lease for an office tenant this year in Australia. The tenant had firmly rejected our proposal previously, but our staff persevered and would not accept “no” for an answer.

Our $600 million loan is now due June 30 after securing a last minute extension; it now looks like we will be able to refinance and extend the maturity date. No easy feat with 10 banks in the syndicate and the lead bank in the process of being nationalized by the German Government.

After being told by a local bank they would make no more property loans this year, we were approved for a big loan on a development project in North Sydney that was desperate for funding.

The capital markets have been closed for a year with only smaller buildings trading due to lack of debt availability. We signed a Letter of Intent last week to sell a big office building; if it closes it will be the largest asset sale in Australia for many months.

Our one derelict building, unoccupied and uninhabitable is now under terms of agreement to sell it for $75 million for a critical public use.

Today is the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere; from now forward for the rest of the year, the days will become longer. That means more sunshine awaits.

So there are still problems; too much work to do; too many things that can and will go wrong. The economy is still weak and revenues are under pressure. My wife is still sending accusatory emails and calling with confrontational tone. My youngest son continues to dream of a career in Hollywood as the movie industry downsizes. And I continue to live alone.

But the sunlight lingers behind the cloud cover, waiting to break through and light the world. And I continue to climb my mountain, until I reach the sun. I know I am getting closer.

04 June 2009

Introduction to Australian English

I grew up in America and learned English there. Subsequently, I have traveled widely and conversed in English with people from countries throughout the world including business associates, travel and tour guides, and friendly folks at restaurants and public places. Only when I moved to Sydney, however, did I realize that a second form of English existed. I guess the Scots have their own version of English too but I question whether their language can really be called English since no one outside the country can understand them.

I have encountered many ‘men of few words’ in my journeys. However, in Australia it is more common to meet men of ‘few letters.’ It is typical in Australian English to eliminate letters from multi syllabic words. I am surprised there are still 26 letters in the alphabet here.

I do not know the historic antecedents which led to the widespread demise of long words here, and I thought at first it was the penchant to be economical and efficient with speech. Others more knowledgeable than me suggested otherwise including the following theories:

• You can’t talk and drink beer at the same time and
• Chants at sporting events are easier if they are short (‘go’, ‘stop’, ‘kill’…..)

And we know going to sporting events and drinking beer are favorite pastimes.

For visitors who are unaccustomed to Aussie English, here are the rules as I perceive them.

As indicated, Aussies prefer shorter words or phrases. If an Aussie wants to use a long word or phrase, he or she just drops most of the letters after the first or second syllable. It conserves effort and time. Why, for example, would anyone want to say ‘Good Day’ or ‘Guten Tag’ or ‘Buenas Dias’ when he or she can get by with G’day? And why attempt a long five syllable word like ‘university’ when all you need to say is ‘uni?’

If you try this technique and want to delete miscellaneous letters or syllables to speed up the conversation but are unsure how many to drop, my advice is to drop as many as you want and then tack a ‘y’ or ‘ie’ on the end of the mangled word. This rule allows you to condense any word as long as you then end it with a ‘y’ or ‘ie’

Think Barbie for barbeque or Brekkie for breakfast. Want to guess a few others?
• Footy
• Sunnies
• Truckie
• Westie
• Pokie
• Soapie
• Mozzie
• Vinnies

If you need to contract a word and adding ‘y’ or ‘ie’ just does not seem to work, it is okay to delete the letters and add an ‘o’ on the end. So the garbo is the trash man; one’s bizzo is what you do for a living; and you buy petrol at the servo.

A few words and phrases which seem to come up all the time include some of my favorites.

When a guy has questionable ethics or character or his actions are highly suspect, he is ‘dodgy.’ Maybe he is trying to dodge the law or behavior rules; but ‘dodgy’ just sounds like an appropriate label for an untrustworthy character.

When someone is really screwed (American phrase) or stuck in an undesirable situation, he is ‘stuffed.’ Maybe he is figuratively dead and faces the added insult is being stuffed. I don’t know. I do know it does make it a lot easier to say you’re stuffed than trying to explain the complex set of circumstances that led you to some yet to be described set of unfortunate circumstances.

Give and take negotiations are called ‘argy bargy.’ I get the impression that you cannot have ‘argy’ without ‘bargy.’ Maybe the derivation is arguments among barristers? These days every time I need a bank to do something; I get argy bargy, so maybe bargy is something to do with bankers.

When it gets too cumbersome for an Aussie (short for Australian with i.e. ending making it acceptable contraction in Aussie English) to speak sentences and words – even condensed words, they just use initials. In the United States it is okay to use State abbreviations (TX for Texas for example) but you still verbalize the word (‘Texas’). In Australia the States are often just referred to as abbreviations -- N-S-W, VIC, W-A, etc.

Other abbreviations which save time and effort include The Melbourne Cricket Ground stadium which is called the ‘MCG,’ and Tasmania which is just ‘Tassie.’ Even the newspapers revert to acronyms such as ETS (Energy Trading Schemes) and in my profession, woe is to you if you do not know about LVR’s, ICR’s, and EVR’s. Some people can speak sentences without using real words; but everyone seems to understand.

The weather in Australia is either raining or is ‘fine.’ In the U.S., there may be a 10% chance of showers, a 50% chance of clouds, and a 40% chance of sun according to various computer models and multiple simulations based on 100 years of data; in Australia the weather is just ‘fine.’ I kind of like ‘fine.’

‘Bugger’ is an expression when you are upset or angry at an unexpected setback. In the U.S., the comparable phrase is ‘Oh Shit.’ Aussies are more polite. I think maybe early settlers here used to exclaim whenever they saw one of Australia’s many crawling denizens and the phrase just achieved more extended usage.

The use of the pronoun, ‘on’ is different Down Under. In American English, ‘on’ simply means on top of. Here ‘big on’ may mean enthusiastic as in he’s big on cricket. ‘Good on you’ is a complement which seems self explanatory and replaces the more traditional sentence structure that includes a verb.

The most universal phrase in Australia is my favorite, ‘No worries,’ or ‘No worries, Mate.’ This phrase has multiple meanings but I have come to learn that one common translation is roughly as follows: something bad is about to happen or just happened but relax because there is nothing you can do about it. When I was in the Whitsunday Islands watching a Category 5 cyclone approaching recently, the prevalent attitude on the island was ‘No worries.’ In the U.S. there would have been evacuations, 24 hour news coverage, and panic. “No worries’ may not mean no worries but it is a great phrase and reflects the optimistic sunny attitude in Australia.

So this weekend, if you’re going to the footy in the arvo with your rellies, don’t forget your sunnies. Stop by the servo to fill the ute on the way. Hopefully the weather will be fine and your team will give it a fair go. If your team is losing, no worries, she’ll be right in the end. Good on you, mate. G’day.

25 May 2009

Walking Uphill

It seems like I am always walking uphill, and I am beginning to think this is not my imagination; maybe I really am always going uphill. I start in the morning in Kirribilli, across the Harbour from downtown Sydney, take the ferry or train, and walk up hill to my office in the CBD. At night I usually walk uphill to the Harbour Bridge and walk across the bridge to Kirribilli.

Sometimes I even walk down to walk up. Take the Cahill elevated walk from Macquarie Street to the Harbour Bridge. It is uphill all the way until you reach the bridge. Then you are required to walk down steps in order to walk uphill back to the Bridge walkway. Who would design something like this?

Sometimes I have to climb stairs instead of walking up hill. From Argyle Street, there are 69 stairs to reach Cumberland Street and then another 64 stairs to the Harbour Bridge walkway. I think I would rather walk uphill than climb so many stairs.

I know theoretically if I end where I started; the uphill walks should be balanced by downhill walks. But I don’t remember walking downhill; only the uphill hikes. Maybe it is an Australian thing. Perhaps the earth rotates in such a way that it is uphill to the CBD in the morning, but cosmic changes make the return journey uphill in the evening.

Sound crazy? If you’re from North America everything else in this country is crazy. The sun comes up in the wrong place; Christmas is in the summer, and the country celebrates the Queen of England's birthday in the wrong month. By contrast, always walking uphill would not come as a surprise.

My life seems like a metaphor with one uphill journey after another. Let me count the hills I have walked recently.

• Managing a company through an economic downturn. How do you grow when the surrounding world is shrinking? You don’t; you just try to shrink less.

• Banks. Lately, I have been dealing a lot with banks. Getting them to agree is more like climbing a mountain.

• Saving money. It is really challenging to save money here. The Government takes the first 45% of my salary. Then they take 10% every time I buy anything. If I were to buy a house in the suburbs, the State Government requires an infrastructure charge that can add $100,000 to the cost of a home. I see the charge but what happened to the infrastructure?

When I started working in Sydney, the Aussie dollar was almost at parity with the U.S. dollar. Since then, it has averaged about 2/3 the value. So I am paid in discounted dollars, taxed at 45% and then taxed again in the U.S. My soon to be ex-wife wants the rest. No wonder saving money is a challenge.

• Gaining weight. At first I lost weight in Sydney, probably due to all the walking – in the U.S. I drive a car everywhere. But I am regaining weight in response to high calorie coffee (I drink uncontaminated black in the States), too many business lunches and dinners, an Aussie beer now and then, too much Aussie wine, working too many hours, eating snacks to compensate for insufficient sleep, etc.

• Exercising. Everyone says exercise is good but who has the time? I typically work 12 hours a day and am tired the other 12. Last week I went swimming for the first time in years; I almost drowned in the slow lane.

• Dealing with my soon to be ex-wife. This may be more like jumping off a cliff.

• Dating single women after being married (and faithful) for 30 years. Aren’t I too old for this?

• Communicating with my youngest son; “I don’t need your advice Dad. I only graduated a year ago and am working on a finding a job.”

• Sleeping after reading the latest missive from my divorce attorney outlining my wife’s latest demands and my limited options

• Sleeping after receiving the latest invoice from my divorce attorney.

• Sleeping after meeting with the banks.

• Sleeping after meeting with the investors explaining what happened to their investment.

So lately my life has included a lot of walking up hill. But one thing about hills; there is always a top. I sense I am getting closer to the top and when I do reach the top of the hill, it should be all downhill from there …. unless there is another taller hill blocking my path.

10 May 2009


In 1977, Mel Brooks released the movie, High Anxiety, and introduced the Psychoneurotic Institute for the very very nervous. I would not qualify for the Institute but lately I seem to be suffering from an occasional bout of anxiety. As I talk to others, I am finding anxiety is pretty common; I have lots of company. So what are the causes of such widespread anxiety? There are so many causes and events it is a wonder we all do not suffer permanent anxiety.

Here are a few examples I have encountered.

Flying Anywhere

• Getting There. Anxiety starts even before you get to the airport. Did you forget anything? Do you have the flight time correct? Do you have your ticket? Does your bag weigh too much? What did you forget?

Driving to the airport or taking a taxi knowing that the plane is leaving whether you are there in time or not causes concern. Add some traffic congestion and a late start and suffer all the way to the airport.

I used to fly occasionally from Tijuana Mexico. Aero Mexico had a rule; the plane departed when the captain wanted to. If the captain had a hot date waiting in Mexico City, the plane left early. Passengers arrived very early; no one knew what the captain’s plans were that day.

• Long Lines. Okay, so you arrive early; why is the line so long? If there is more than one line, the odds always dictate you will pick the slowest moving line. Should you switch to the back of a faster moving line? No, as soon as you switch, the old line will pick up and the new line will slow. Always happens. Maybe a mathematician will figure out why this is and win a Nobel Price someday.

• Security. I always feel guilty when I approach the presence of so many uniformed security officers, even though I would never bring anything that raised questions (sorry but my son must have put the scissors in the bag officer…). In India, there must be 10 security checks just to reach the gate. India is not for people who worry.

• Taking Off. Planes taxi on the runway for a couple days before they actually take off. This is just the suspenseful build up to the take off; it is the airline’s equivalent of foreplay. Taking off is a game to see if 1 million kilos of metal and flesh can lift off the ground before the runway ends.

I have a friend who formerly did business in one of the remote areas of Russia. Occasionally a Russian flight would crash taking off or landing at the local airfield. The Russians just left the debris of the crashed plane at the end of the runway and scavenged the downed planes for parts when needed. Imagine how secure you would feel seeing other planes that previously crashed on the same runway. Maybe you can take comfort that the parts in the crashed planes have been reused and possibly are in your plane.

Late for a meeting or an appointment

• I hate being late for a meeting. Driving in traffic always raises the worry I will be late. Driving in traffic, running late, and having to go to the bathroom are the perfect storm for anxiety sufferers.

• I suspect driving to a job interview, stuck in traffic, in need of a bathroom probably surpasses even the perfect storm. It is not comforting to know that there are a few hundred other qualified candidates who want the same job and you are about to show up late for the interview.

• I can become anxious even walking across town to a meeting if I am late, the crowd is moving too slowly, and the crossing lights seem synchronized to delay my progress.


• My blood pressure rises as soon as I enter a doctor’s office. Just being there adds stress. If I do not feel ill when I go (for a check up for example), I feel ill by the time I leave. There have been studies that people who go to a hospital for treatment have a greater chance of getting sick than those who do not go.

• Dentist offices are even worse. The sound of the drill sends chills – too many memories of childhood cavities. The American CIA really did not need water-boarding to make terror suspects talk; they just needed to let a dentist drill’s shrill sound to emanate from the room next door.

Public Restrooms

• It is bad enough to use a public restroom (or airplane bathroom) not knowing how disgusting or diseased the person was who used the toilet before you did. But if there is only one or two usable toilets and you cannot go right away, you struggle knowing the line to use the facility is probably growing longer and the queue impatient.


• Everyone I know seems to have trouble sleeping. For me, it is too much on my mind after a long day dealing with problems. As I slow down, the problems linger longer. I often solve issues lying in bed; but I would prefer not to solve so many issues at 3 AM.

Other Anxious Moments

• Dealing with my soon to be ex-wife. The stress level spikes just seeing her name on the email or seeing her number on the ringing telephone.

• Dealing with a divorce attorney or receiving an invoice from one.

• Entering the dating scene after being married and faithful for 100 years

• Being married in general

• Being single

• Borrowing money when the banks do not want to loan. I met with one banker who said, “my first answer is No; my second answer is No; my third answer is No. What else can I tell you?” I replied “The first three answers don’t work so let’s discuss answer number 4.”

• Having the guy next to you retrenched

• Being retrenched instead of the guy next to you.

• Being the boss and having to retrench both guys

• Having a cockroach run across the dressing area or bathroom countertop as you ready for bed and disappear before you kill him.

• Going to Mexico in the midst of the Swine Flu epidemic. Mexico can be a tough place to visit even without the flu. Now you can get robbed and contaminated at the same time.

The environment in which we live is filled with anxious moments and events. I am unsure of the best solutions to deal with these moments but here are a few recommendations I have encountered.

• Drink 4 glasses of red wine a day. This was the philosophy of a guy I worked for. He never seemed too stressed so it seemed to work; but the company did eventually fail.

• Take sleeping pills. These things seem to work for a short time and then stop working. According to one warning label I read, they cease to be effective after a few days and will then actually cause insomnia. I guess this means you have to switch to other pills every few days. Sounds like a marketing plan from the pharmaceutical industry based on addiction.

• Find a low stress job. I do not believe they exist but if they do, most people I know will find a way to introduce stressful conditions into an otherwise unstressed situation.

• Arrange to meet God and work out a deal. The devout seem to be less stressed (unless they signed on as a suicide bomber but are not fully convinced about the 21 virgins waiting for them in the afterlife).

• Exercise to the point of exhaustion. You may be too tired to be stressed.

• Read a book or The Economist Magazine – it takes longer to read than most books.

• Pretend you’re a writer and author columns on such current topics like “Anxiety.”

I do not think anxiety can be avoided; but the recognition of its widespread presence seems to lead to a less anxious feeling. Misery does like company. So encountering and recognizing more anxiety can lead to less anxiety. If the ‘more is less’ argument does not appeal, talk to your doc and get drugs.

01 April 2009

The Bug in the Bedroom

Last night I noticed a bug walking across the floor of the bedroom as I readied for bed. I ran to the bathroom for Kleenex to catch this misplaced creature and flush him away; but when I returned the bug was gone. Where did he go? Not under the bed, not on the bed, not under the table, where is that buggar?

As I climbed into bed I could not help wonder if the ugly critter had somehow gotten into the bed. Perhaps even under the covers. Lights on, out of bed, covers peeled back, but no sign of the creepy denizen.

Lights out, back in bed, time for sleep. It is late and I have an early meeting tomorrow. So what happened to the buggar? Could it be in the pillow case? Probably not. Why do I care; it was just a harmless bug. Maybe I should check the pillows.

If it was a cockroach, I would be more concerned. Roaches travel in groups. See one roach and there are relatives nearby. I hate roaches. Once I went to brush my teeth, and there was a roach on the bristles of my toothbrush. Yuck!

Once I stayed in a cheap motel and the wall seemed to move when the lights were out but a little light creped in from outside through the thin curtains sufficient to show movement and shadows. When I turned on the lights, I was astonished to see roaches on the wall. The lights remained on all night and I slept not.

But the creature in my bedroom last night was not from the hated roach family; he was just a brown buggar intruding on my private space. Maybe he is nocturnal and when I turn on the lights, he will be out of hiding. Lights on; no bug.

Once my ex-wife and I had a cat who used to catch big bugs and bring them home to show us. One night the cat let a katydid go under the covers of our bed and danced around the bed as the bug moved under the covers. My wife awoke and screamed; I thought Hells Angels motorcycle gang had broken in and we were under attack.

This was not a katydid. Nor was it one of Australia’s many venomous spiders or scorpions; it was just a bug. So where did it go? At least I know it was not in the pillow case.

31 March 2009

An Economic Primer by a Non-Economist

The news today is dominated by economic data, which seems to always be bad. When the colored graphs in the newspapers and websites always point down, that usually is not a good sign. The only up pointing graphs seem to be an increasing amount of bad stuff (unemployment, foreclosures, etc.).

With economics on the front pages, I thought it could be helpful to understand economic terms that are now so casually used without definition or explanation. If you were a political science major like I was, some definition and guidance could be essential. So here is what I have come to understand about common economic terms.

Toxic assets. This is a difficult one. How can something that is an asset be toxic? It appears to me that this is a case where an investment banker declares an obtuse financial instrument that normal people (including high paid executives evidently) cannot understand an ‘asset,’ sells it to someone else, who then implodes, and the guy who sold it gets a bonus.

Negative growth. How can growth be negative? This is another oxymoron. It is as though politicians and economists fear using the word 'down,' so they call it 'anti-up.' This is a phrase created to avoid saying more pejorative terms like we’re all going down the drain.

Infrastructure. Governments spending money on infrastructure is very popular across the world. Governments everywhere are going into debt to fund infrastructure projects. Since you will have to pay for it, you should know just what is ‘infrastructure?’ It is anything the Government wants to spend money on (house insulation, college scholarships, tanks, etc.).

Global Recession. When a politician blames the ‘Global Recession’ for everything that goes wrong and for an inability to balance the budget, he/she is saying “Don’t blame me; it’s the other guy’s fault.” In that sense, a global recession is how my soon to be ex-wife viewed our marriage.

Economic Stimulus. This goes hand in hand with Global Recession. The phrase means politicians can spend money that they do not have because there is a Global Recession. The worse the Global Recession appears, the more money politicos are allowed to spend. When you hear one of them conjuring up memories of the Great Depression, be prepared for truly massive spending.

Liquidity Crisis. When banks don’t make loans necessary to sustain business, it leads lots of people to drink; hence a liquidity crisis.

Mark to Market. This is a strange accounting technique used to force companies (like banks) to write down assets that are otherwise performing just fine. By writing down assets, banks no longer have appropriate reserves or balance sheet capacity to make new loans, which causes borrowers to default and requires even more mark downs in an unending downward spiral. I think the concept was invented based on a guy named Mark, who went to market but lost his money gambling while he was supposed to be buying groceries.

Retention Bonus. This phrase was made famous by AIG recently, who paid traders in London retention bonuses after they lost a trillion dollars. Unlike a performance bonus, a retention bonus is earned by going to work every day and doing your job. I suspect the unions were caught by surprise when they read about AIG. They must all be asking themselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?” I can see the new bargaining position – no major salary increases just big retention bonuses for everyone.

Softening Conditions
. I never realized conditions could be ‘soft’ like toilet paper. This is a polite way of saying things are going from bad to worse or we are about to be flushed.

Promising. This adjective can apply to investments, economic conditions, or even your social life. Generally it means past performance is pathetic but things are unlikely to get worse.

Productivity. This is an economic term that measures how much stuff is produced per worker. When productivity is rising, it means each worker is producing more stuff; and it generally leads to rising employment levels. When productivity is declining, it usually means people aren’t buying as much and you still have lots of workers who aren’t producing so much. Declining productivity is a precursor to rising unemployment as companies fire unneeded workers. Similarly, when a politician produces a lot of words that do not accomplish anything, it is political productivity. As long as their productivity remains high, politicians are unlikely to lose their jobs.

Default. This word has two different meanings. It can mean the norm or the condition achieved when no other direction is given as in the default position. However, if you read this word in the business section in the newspaper in Australia, it means ‘stuffed’ as in the company is stuffed because of too much debt and too few banks.

Economic Cycle. Things that go up eventually go down and vice versa. Think of a bicycle tire that rotates as you peddle. Any point on the tire rotates to the top and then to the bottom. The economy is similar; in recessions economic activity declines and in periods of growth or expansion, activity increases. So where are we in the economic cycle today? Think of a flat tire.

09 March 2009

Waiting for Hamish

The palm fronds were horizontal in the wind; the rain was so thick and descending so fast the harbor and surrounding islands were no longer visible, hidden behind the curtain of cloud and water. The wind was loud, making its own angry noise as it blew with a ferocity I had not before encountered.

We looked out our glass encased rental home, built to showcase the stunning views in every direction during normal times. Perched on the top of the steep hill, the house did not offer the magnificent views today; instead standing alone and unprotected against the unimpeded wind.

A category 5 cyclone (aka hurricane), the most powerful of storms, marched steadily toward our island retreat. We recalled other Category 5 storms like Andrew in Florida, and the damage that resulted. Katrina was only a Cat 3; and New Orleans has yet to recover.

It was not supposed to be this way: a reunion of friends from the U.S. on an island off Australia’s northeastern coast; an idyllic setting for snorkeling, unspoiled beaches, and visits to The Great Barrier Reef. It was to be a respite from the pressures of work and home.

Three guys who have experienced great success yet are struggling late in life with terrible economic and business conditions and difficulties at home. Three genuinely nice guys who have known each other for 25 years during long careers in the U.S. and are well respected and liked planned this sojourn, our first together despite knowing each other for so long.

Gene organized the trip. A senior partner at one of New York’s most prestigious law firms, Gene is overseeing a staff of transaction hardened attorneys in a market were there are few transactions. He struggles with a long term marriage which offers increasing volatility and uncertainty. Two of his adult children accompanied him for a trip of bonding and mutual support.

Glenn flew up with his wife, Mary, from Melbourne. Glenn and I worked together in New York at a public company (Glenn as CEO and me as President); after I left Glenn sold the company to a big Australian company, that later became insolvent when the credit markets collapsed. Glenn became CEO of the combined company and has worked day and night to salvage the company from liquidation. This was his time to relax for a few days and reconnect with his wife.

I am CEO of an Australian company in Sydney after a long career in the U.S. Now, however, I too am struggling with too much corporate debt in a debt-starved marketplace and too little income in a deteriorating property market. To add to my difficulties, my wife of 30 years has filed for divorce in the U.S. and seems determined to pursue aggressive and expensive legal remedies to insure a comfortable lifestyle for her and not much for me. The three of us needed this break from the daily pressures of life; we looked forward to it with much anticipation; it was to be our R&R and an opportunity to recharge our physical and mental batteries.

Yet, now we stood in the path of one of the most powerful storms ever to cruise the Australian coastline. There was no place to hide; no bridge to cross to safety; no planes or boats leading away from the storm’s path. As we looked out from our glass enclosure, we waited for Hamish to come.

We did all the preparatory things you are supposed to do when a storm approaches. We filled the bathtubs and various containers with water in anticipation of losing power and water. We secured flashlights, matches, and candles. We bought extra food and drink (including several six-packs of beer) at the grocery store; placed outdoor furniture in the pool so pieces would not become airborne missiles, and moved away movable objects from inside windows. We located safer spaces to hide and discussed how to communicate and where to go if the behemoth hit at night.

Our only transportation on the mountaintop was a buggy (aka golf cart). Amidst the driving rain, the buggy stopped working. This was surely an omen; even the buggy feared to venture out. We borrowed a buggy from the neighbor for trips to town.

The Aussies in town seemed eerily calm and unconcerned. “No worries, mate,” was a common response to questions of pending destruction. “When is the storm projected to hit here, I asked the woman at the news stand?” “Tomorrow” she replied, with an air of indifference. “No worries, if the police want you to evacuate, they will stop by and tell you.” “But where do we evacuate to?” “The police will know; maybe the conference center.”

I realized all of the local residents who exuded such self confidence were 25 years old or younger. I guess the older residents left town when they could. The last cyclone to hit the islands was 10 years ago, and most of the people we met were not here then.

We drove the buggy to town and stopped first at the tour office where we had made snorkeling reservations the previous day. The girl in the office at the time lacked concern that the storm would affect the next day’s outing; that was yesterday. Today the office was locked up, windows taped, and a hurried sign posted “No tours until further notice.”

We drove to the Italian Restaurant we planned to have dinner that night. “Only accepting dinner reservations before 6:30 pm” the manager said; the restaurant was closing early so employees could look for safety before Hamish came calling.

Hamish appeared to be slowing down according to reports we picked up in town. That was both good and bad news. At least it would not hit until the following day when we could react in daylight, but it also met the potential for more damage and a longer encounter with the unwanted visitor. The projected path continued to point at our island.

The news was sporadic; even the Australian television news did not give much coverage; no news people on islands holding on and trying to avoid being blown over in the gale force winds; no camera coverage of damage on islands already hit; no scary stories of past natural calamities. Either the Aussie public didn’t care or the media was not as reckless as their American cousins.

That night the wind blew in waves from hard to ferociously hard. The gusts drowned out the sounds of crashing waves on the beaches below and rain from above. But the house held without noticeable breaks.

In the morning, we received some good news. According to my Blackberry internet browser, the storm seemed to be moving slightly east toward open ocean. We all took turns squinting at the miniature picture of the cyclone’s path on the small Blackberry screen. Yes, we all agreed, even those of us with questionable eyesight, there was movement off course. We seemed no longer destined for the 280 k/hour winds at the eye of the storm.

Finally some news on the limited selection of television stations on this island. Hamish was indeed moving away from the coast; high winds and rain would continue for most of the day but Hamilton Island was no longer directly in the path. We drove around the island later as the rain abated; there were few others about but we did meet a woman who told us the island was under curfew and many of the residents had been evacuated to the conference center and were not yet allowed to leave. Later, they opened the doors and everyone was outside looking at the limited storm damage and wondering what the big deal was. By the next morning, the stores were open and we were packing to leave the island paradise to be experienced some future trip.

Once again, the Aussie attitude of “No worries Mate,” came out like the winner, although I fear the day when people do not take threats seriously. And for Gene, Glenn, and myself, we finished our long island weekend without once worrying about banks, or debts, or even issues at home. And Gene and his children bonded; and Glenn and Mary shared an unforgettable experience together.

04 March 2009

What's the Rush?

Today I walked to the pharmacy during lunch. I was not in a hurry; my next meeting was not for an hour and the drugstore was close to my office. As I approached the traffic signal, the pedestrian light turned to flashing red. This is the universal symbol to run quickly to beat the dreaded steady red hand. So I was in no rush but I ran; it would be unthinkable to waste a minute waiting for my turn to cross the street. Others ran too; and I bet they were not in a hurry either. What is it that causes us to rush when we are not hurried?

For some reason, it just seems intolerable to have to wait at a red traffic signal. I could be doing more productive things like going somewhere. But to be stalled seems wasteful. Everyone needs something to do, especially Type A personalities like myself. Doing nothing drives me nuts.

Maybe that is why traffic signals have push buttons for pedestrians. We can push the button repeatedly and take satisfaction when the light changes. I don’t know about Sydney, but the City of New York disconnected the push buttons years ago but did not tell anyone. It seems computerized traffic management programs and push buttons are not compatible. But New York officials were smart enough to know people waiting at traffic signals need something to do, especially something that they think causes change to occur. So they left the buttons, and New Yorkers push and push and claim satisfaction when the light changes.

I think the only people who do not rush are older tourists. I know they are old, because the walk slowly; I know they are tourists because they are not in a rush. Old people on holiday cannot rush because they have too much time to go places they don’t know how to get to. Everyone else is in a hurry whether they are in a hurry or not.

People driving cars are in a rush too, but they are fined for rushing. In the U.S., drivers used to accelerate when the traffic light turned yellow to avoid waiting at a red light. Then some entrepreneur had an epiphany and convinced cities to install cameras at traffic signals. Now if you speed up, you receive a fine in the mail. This has become a big moneymaker for cities. What cities need to do and have completely failed so far is to equip drivers with push buttons like pedestrians. The time would pass more quickly if drivers had buttons to push to seemingly make the lights change. Maybe we could start a rumor that it takes three drivers to push at once; that would keep everyone stopped at a traffic light occupied.

15 February 2009

The Road to Somewhere

I am driving on the road to somewhere; I do not know where the road leads; I have no map and no modern navigation. I wonder what I will do when the road forks or intersects but for now the road is straight with no choices to make.

This is unusual for me. I am normally disciplined; my plans are usually clear and well considered; the path forward is generally known. New encounters and experiences in route are welcome but the path is otherwise set.

In contrast, I am now adrift, driving forward with no sense of destination or what lies ahead. I know how to drive and so I drive.

I look about and amidst the uncertainty and unfamiliarity, I yearn for the familiar where roles were known, friendships certain, and relationships defined. I remember when I worked during the day, returned home at night to dinner with my family, did things as a couple with my wife, and vacationed with my family. Now I drive alone.

I want to turn back but I realize the road past traveled no longer exists. My wife is divorcing me after 30 years of marriage. I want to go back to better times, but there is no way back.

In hindsight, our relationship was never that close. In recent years my wife turned hostile, blaming me for all that troubled her, criticizing me every day for perceived faults and foibles. She made my life miserable but I do not think of that now; I yearn for the familiar road.

I realize that road was not as good as I choose to remember; if it was we would not be divorcing. But I choose to remember the prior roads that led to happy places.

Oh how I want to go back and correct her misunderstandings, wrong beliefs, and misconstrued memories. I want to explain her misperceptions and remind her that I am a good person not deserving of such hostility. I know she will not listen but cannot yet accept this. Everyone who has driven this road tells me I cannot go back; I must give up the hope and proceed forward; this is hard for me to do.

I want to change the past, but it is not possible. I apologize for my faults, but she takes that as confirmation that her criticisms are justified. She seems irrational and maybe even mentally unbalanced; I am unable to connect with her or even have normal conversation. The familiar road exists only in my memory; I cannot go back.

So I drive on; less confident often looking in the rearview mirror trying to glimpse where I have been. The road continues straight, however, distancing me from whatever went before.

I observe the changing landscape, always curious about new things and new experiences; but curiosity does not compensate for my loss of what was familiar. Formerly I sought new experiences and craved learning new things, but I always knew I could go home when I tired of what was new. I cannot go home now because home no longer exists.

She wants our home; she wants our savings; she wants our friends; she demands my past. I live in the present passing unfamiliar towns and wondering where this road goes.

I have always been successful in business. I know how to make money but I always left our social life to her. We were a team; I made the money and she made our friends. She took the lead, but we both were very involved with raising our children, who are now grown.

Now I continue to make money but am cast into the unfamiliar role of developing a social network. I know how to drive but I lack the skills to maintain the car.

I know I must let go of the past and establish a new destination and route to go there. But I am not able to let go so easily and have no destination. I know what I must do but actually moving ahead is too difficult for me. So I drive not knowing where I go.

I look in the mirror; I am older than I remember and older than those around me. How did I age so? How much longer will I be able to drive?

Should I pick up a passenger? There are many candidates but none seem right. I compare them to my first meeting with my wife many years ago, and they compare unfavorably.

Why did she become so mean and treat me so badly? Is it my fault? Did I neglect her so? What should I have done differently?

I know this is mostly her fault but doubts emerge. Did my behavior elicit her behavior? I am confused; I want to go back and change history; but I cannot go back because there is no back.

I call my children; they are wonderful young men. We love each other, but they have their own lives, and I do not want to burden them with my problems. It is important they realize their mother and I love them so much; we just do not like each other that much right now.

The road occasionally turns but continues without end in sight. Oddly there are no sign posts to tell me where I am going. Others who have traveled this road warn me it is a long and difficult journey where the destination remains unclear and unknown until it is reached. They also warn me the road is one way with no turn-a-rounds.

So I continue to drive on the road to somewhere.

30 January 2009

Cricket: An American Perspective

The first international game of cricket was played between the United States and Canada in 1844 in New York. I don’t think much cricket has been played in either country since that time. In all my years living in the United States, I never knew of a cricket game being played locally. That indicates the American appetite for cricket.

Cricket does have drawbacks from a North American perspective. One of the biggest issues today in American baseball, arguably America’s ‘national pastime,’ is slowness of play. Major league baseball is trying to ensure 9 inning games are played in less than 3 hours. The same is true in the Japanese leagues.

In cricket, they try to complete 2 innings in 5 days for Test matches. If they fail to conclude 2 innings in 5 days, a draw (tie) is proclaimed. That’s right; play for 5 days and no one wins. This is hard to accept for Americans who are often so focused on winning.

I am pretty sure cricket in Australia was invented by one of the local beer distributors for a couple reasons. First, beer is very popular in Australia. In our corporate office, we have three refrigerators for the employees; and the biggest one is for beer only. Woe to anyone who tries to sneak a lunch in the beer frige.

Secondly, consider how much more beer can be consumed in a five day test match compared to a nine inning baseball game, especially when played on hot summer days. I suspect cricket started out as a three hour contest until the beer distributors re-invented it.

The owners of the early cricket teams were almost certainly cheapskates. The facts are compelling:
The ball is not even round or smooth sided. Clearly the cricket teams were saving money by using factory seconds for balls and then subsequently created some law requiring uneven balls.
They also created a law requiring the use of one ball for the entire match; imagine using one baseball for five baseball games! And the consequences for losing a ball in a match are particularly onerous.
Only the keeper is allowed to wear gloves even though the ball is very hard.
There are no groundskeepers to smooth out the pitch between at bats; they just let it go unattended

Can there be any doubt the guys who owned cricket teams implemented rules to keep costs low and then called them ‘laws’ to prevent future and more expensive innovations? And then they sold beer at the games so the fans would not realize the balls were warped or the grounds uneven. Over time fans came to believe oddly shaped balls and cracked, uneven dirt were essential and strategic parts of the game. This is really brilliant marketing.

In baseball a single run often determines the winner of a game: in soccer a single goal often makes the difference between victory and defeat. In cricket, if you don’t realize 350 runs in the first at bat, your team is probably in trouble of losing. Miss a few runs going to the bathroom, its okay; you can watch a few hundred more when you return.

Americans like to keep score, and at a baseball game many of the spectators will have score cards duly recording what happens with each batter. I do not advise trying to keep a score card in cricket. Meticulously recording 600 or 700 runs on a scorecard seems like a futile exercise.

As an American visitor in Australia, let me share some insights and instructions to those visitors less familiar with cricket, using more familiar baseball terminology.

A ‘bowler’ throws a ball somewhat like a baseball pitcher but with a few differences. First, the bowler does not bowl; he bounces the ball toward the batter. For ease of description, we could call him more appropriately the ‘bouncer.’ We can’t call him a pitcher because the ground is also called the ‘pitch’ when it is not being called a ‘wicket’ (more on wickets later). He starts from somewhere in the outfield, runs like a wild man toward the batsman (i.e. the batter), stops suddenly and bounces the ball using an unusual arm motion.

There are actually two bowlers in the game at the same time. One bowler faces batters at one end (say to the west) while the other bowler faces batters to the east (there are actually two home plates but only one is used at a time). The bowlers (i.e. bouncers) take turns, switching after 6 pitches which represent an over even if the bounces were not over the proper batting area, in which case the referee could declare the over is not over. .

In cricket, everything is called a wicket. If you don’t know what to say, just complain about the wicket or talk about a challenging wicket, or whatever. Aussies have a habit of truncating words; in cricket they just use the same word for almost everything; it must save effort.

A wicket is an out. It is also the thing (a piece of flat wood on top of a three pronged stand) behind the batter. It is also the ground that the bouncer bounces his ball. It may be a few other things too. It would be like baseball calling everything a ‘base’ including outs, the infield, the bases, and the pitching mound.

So the bowler runs in from another postal code, bounces the ball on the wicket, the batter swings and hits the ball, which is caught on the fly for a wicket unless the batter misses the ball and it hits the wicket behind the batter, which is then declared a wicket. Okay so far?

To obtain a wicket, the fielder must catch the ball on the fly. So the bowler bounces the ball and the batter tries to bounce it back so it cannot be caught on the fly or it would become a wicket. If you’re a batter, wickets are really bad.

If the bowler bounces the ball and the batter bounces the ball, the batter and his partner (another batter who is not a batter because only one batter can bat even though two play at the same time) can run back and forth passing each other from base to base. Instead of four bases there are only 2 in cricket, so there is a lot of back and forth but it does seem rather efficient.

A grand slam home run in baseball is equal to 4 runs and is achieved when the ball goes over the outfield fence on the fly with the bases full. In cricket, you get 4 runs also, but you just need for the ball to reach the fence line while bouncing or rolling. Cricket has another advantage; you can hit a foul ball that rolls to the fence line and is still worth 4 runs. You can even miss the ball and get a home run if it rolls far enough. Baseball has one catcher; cricket often has several for this reason.

In cricket, if you hit the ball over the fence on the fly, you receive 6 runs; but bouncing the ball is usually safer.

There are also some very weird rules in cricket. They probably all had some obscure origin -- such as Lord So-And-So did something in 1624 that had an unacceptable result. For example, if the catcher (alias the keeper) takes off his hat and puts in on the ground and the batter hits the ball which hits the hat, the batter is awarded 5 runs. It is unclear if the 5 runs is a penalty for the sloppy keeper or a reward to the batter for making a trick shot. If you enjoy reading the Rules of Golf, I suspect you will find nirvana reading the Laws of Cricket. The Law on not running far enough to reach the base line after hitting a ball should be fairly simple (as in no run scored). The Laws of Cricket devote several paragraphs to definitions, and multiple consequences under various conditions depending on whether the failure to score was viewed as deliberate or unintentional. Cricket fans definitely like rules (which they call laws, suggesting criminal penalties for transgressors).

So for baseball fans, calling a cricket match using baseball lingo would go something like this.

The bowler bouncer (as opposed to the non-bouncer who is between overs) runs a 440 dash, bounces the ball off the wicket which careens toward the batter batter (as opposed to the batter non batter). The batter batter swings his bat as the ball bounces off the wicket, assuming the potential over is over, trying to avoid having the ball hit the wicket behind the wicket or hitting it on the fly to a fielder who would earn a wicket. The batter batter only nicks the ball, which goes between catcher 1 and catcher 2 (which could be the bowler non bouncer) and into the field behind the wicket behind the wicket but fails to hit the keeper’s hat. The batter batter and the batter non-batter run back and forth slowly and earn a run each time they cross the line by the wicket that is behind the wicket unless the fielder hits the wicket behind the wicket with the ball while the batter batter or batter non batter are not yet over the line with their bat.

If a batter makes a wicket, he is retired and the next batter comes up. A side is retired when everyone but the last batter non batter has made a wicket. Then the other team bats, unless it is tea time or too late.

There is an element of dodge ball in cricket which adds another aspect of interest. Unlike baseball, if a bowler hits a batter with a ball, it is the batter’s fault. If a batter dives to avoid being circumcised, the ball may hit the wicket, causing a wicket. And if the batter stands steady and bravely takes the hit, he will still get a wicket if the referee determines the ball would have caused a wicket had it proceeded through the batter’s body and come out the other side. I think this rule must have been sponsored by the National Rifle Association (Aus branch) a few years ago.

The condition of the pitch or wicket plays a big role in cricket. In baseball, the infield is carefully manicured to ensure consistency in the bounce or roll of hit balls. In cricket the pitch is hard dirt (I was told it is grass but I did not see much green so unless Aussie grass grows brown, the pitch is compacted dirt). The surface develops cracks and ridges contributing to dramatic uncertainties and inconsistencies on the path of the bouncing ball. This works to the advantage of the bowler, because the batter must remain a bit tentative or risk being decapitated.
There are lots of subtleties to the game of cricket, none of which I fully understand. It does seem like the perfect sport to share conversation and a beer, unafraid of missing too much of the action but enjoying the skills of the players and late game suspense. Like so much in Australia, it is a game to be savored and not rushed to conclusion. And the relatively few breaks mean fewer TV commercials and TV timeouts, which would otherwise slow the game down and probably add a few more days to the Test. And when in doubt, you can always remark about the wickets and order another beer.

19 January 2009

Obama in the Morning

This Tuesday (Wednesday in Sydney), Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44 th President of the United States of America. People in Australia and around the world will celebrate his inauguration because of what he represents to the world: a man with global vision, leadership, intelligence, and moral values. They will welcome his spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, his first reliance on consultation and diplomacy, and his moral suasion. He is a welcome replacement for the dark, insular years brought about by his predecessor.

Many Americans welcome his ascendancy for other reasons. Those of us who have lived long can remember the dark times of segregation and racial hatred that consumed and divided our country. We have our own stories.

As a young man at University in the 1970’s, I became friends with a black woman, who was a classmate. She told me of her efforts with friends to work for the election of a black candidate for mayor of Bloomington, Indiana, where we lived. Soon I joined the campaign and became very involved. Bloomington was a southern city at the time. While home to Indiana University, the non-University community was conservative and rural. Blacks and whites lived in separate neighborhoods and did not mix. Whites socialized in country and western bars; blacks had their own destinations. A black man running for mayor was easily dismissed in the white community.

As we begin to build some momentum drawing on the Black and the University community support, the threats begin to arrive. The hate mail, the death threats, especially to our black campaign workers, the midnight phone calls threatening to kill children and families brought a terror I had never before encountered. I saw it in their faces every day; fear, real fear for themselves and their families. The Klu Klux Klan threatened to mobilize. The feeling of terror was real and omnipresent.

At campaign meetings we counted attendees, worried that some would be missing and not found. Campaign workers in Mississippi had been killed recently working on a similar mayoral election. We were scared, but we persevered. We were on a righteous mission in a democracy we all believed in.

In the end, our candidate won in a historic election for southern Indiana. It was a point of light on an otherwise dark canvas.

Having witnessed the intense racial hatred in my lifetime, it is overwhelming for me to see a black man become President. Having grown up with racial violence dominating the news, listening to the racial slurs and intolerance in my own family, and believing personally and fervently in human dignity and equality, I could not imagine a President Barack Obama. I am sure millions of others could never envision such a thing either.

Tuesday is my day, and it is the day of millions of Americans who thought they would never experience the nation coming together to elect a black President, not in their lifetime.


Barak O’Bama never had much of a chance. Hilliary Clinton had the Democratic nomination all but locked up. But Obama went to Iowa, a rural farm state in the middle of the country to campaign in the first primary contest. He was the longest of long shots.

On a cold winter night last February, my older brother who was then 70 years old and his 69 year old wife braved the cold and ice and snow to drive to the meeting hall in Algona, Iowa, a small town in the northeastern part of the state. . In a primary caucus, you have to show up in person and announce your vote for your candidate. My brother, Bing, formerly the head of the opposition Republican Party in the County, stood with his wife Molly, shivering from the cold but waiting patiently to announce for Barack Obama. With Bing’s determined support and thousands like him, Obama won Iowa and went on to win the nomination.

So when Barack Obama puts his hand on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used in 1860 and is sworn in as the 44th President, my brother Bing in Algona Iowa and I, in Sydney Australia will be watching. For me, it will be around 3:30 AM on Wednesday, but that’s okay. This is my day. This is the day I never thought I would see.

If I appear a little tired Wednesday at work, please excuse me. I will be up early watching my new President and wondering how so much can change in one lifetime.