Monday, May 2, 2011

Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo

This code word, transmitted from a walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan to the situation room at The White House, signalled the successful end of a 9 1/2 year quest to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. A relative handful of U.S. Navy seals had, as a result of painstaking intelligence work by others, found and , in a early morning firefight, killed him. We have finally achieved one of our goals in the "war on terror."

Or have we? What will be the consequences of our action? Have we removed the head of the snake that is Al Queda or have we given others a reason to hate, and possibly attack, the U.S? Will the disaffected of the world rejoice at the death of a person under whose direction many Muslims died as well? Only time will tell.

We have extracted a small measure of justice for the 9/11 attacks, as well as the embassy bombings and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. We have shown those persons intent on terrorist acts that if they attack us, they will be brought to justice. We have also exposed the Pakistani government and military as, at best, disingenuous if not duplicitous in their professions of aid in the hunt for Bin Laden and in the fight against worldwide terrorism. The blood of many of those killed after 9/11 is on their hands.

Whatever the outcome, we, as a country, seem to feel better now that he is dead. Spontaneous celebrations erupted from coast to coast as word spread of his demise. Personally I feel both elated and apprehensive. My only wish is instead of the burial at sea that he received, that his head had been placed on a pike at Ground Zero, and below it a sign,"Sic Semper Sicariis" (Thus Always Unto Terrorists).

Friday, April 15, 2011

In Memoriam

I really don't want to write this post, but I thought it might be cathartic. As you can see from my profile, I have been a fan of British sports cars, especially "Bugeye" Sprites, for decades. To further this mania, and to acquire more knowledge of these LBCs (Little British Cars) I belong to several online forums or groups. I have learned much while also sharing the knowledge I have concerning them. But just as, if not more, importantly the members of these groups have become friends, even though I have yet to meet any of them in person. The majority live in the USA, but there are also people from Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia online. We are a diverse group, sharing our interests including, but not limited to LBCs. Questions are asked and answered, opinions are given and for the most part, we get along. Many of the members have met each other, either at regional or national events, or to help work on our little "beasts." A few years ago over a dozen went to California, some from across the country, to finish the restoration of a car for a group member who was unable, due to physical limitations, to complete it himself. Many call themselve the "Organization of Sprite Handymen In Transit" (the acronym for which results in a common phrase of frustration.) One of the founders of this organization (more of a loose confederacy) and the "Godfather" of the forums, was a contractor from New Jersey named Frank Clarici. Frank could take a car destined for the scrap heap, rummage in his bins and boxes of parts, work his magic and emerge from his garage with a presentable, if not astoundingly restored car in a matter of weeks. The rest of us, mere mortals, would take months, years or even decades to accomplish the same. He would do this not only for himself, but for anyone who shared his love for these little cars. Money was rarely involved, and then only for "out of pocket" things that Frank did not have "lying around." His philosophy was "pay it forward" and help someone else in turn when the opportunity presented itself to you. He loved to share his knowledge as well. Frank knew more about Sprites than anyone, with the possibile exception of the car's designers. He was the expert. When confronted with a car related problem, the universal response on the forums was "Ask Frank, he'll know." And he did. He would respond quickly and pleasantly (unless your problem was "made in China") without writing what a dumbass you were to be asking in the first place. Frank Clarici passed away this week, unexpectedly and suddenly, at the age of 55. He leaves a wife, son, daughter and grandson upon whom he doted. He also leaves uncounted friends, many who he never met. I never met the man, but he was my friend.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Customer Service

Customer service - what a concept. You meet your customers' needs courteously and in a timely manner, you make the customer happy, and he or she returns and does more business in the future. If you are really good, your customer recommends your services to someone else.

This post, as you might have guessed, is not a recommendation. It concerns one of our large regional banks, which I will not identify except to say that their name is an improper fraction properly expressed as 1 2/3. My history with this institution began when my preferred bank was purchased by another, then another, and a third. It has been, until recently, a rather benign relationship. It started with a savings account, than an IRA and finally a "convenience" checking account, not my primary one.

The savings account, like many, got closed and combined with another at a different bank. The IRAs are still there, growing both through contributions and compounded interest, albeit at a currently abysmal rate. The checking account has had its ups and downs, and was used intermittently. The paper checks, still bearing the name of the next to last bank, rarely got used, The debit card was down to 1 -2 uses a year. The final straw was a statement showing a monthly charge to "maintain" this account. It was time to close it.

So I go to the bank and state my intent. This,of course, entails a short wait to see a "bank officer" since a mere teller (oops....customer service representative) could not possibly complete this task. So I'm ushered into her office to complete the transaction. She, of course, needs to pull up my information on her computer monitor, which shows all of my accounts. She then asks the fatal question as to why I want to close my account. I, to the best of my recollection, tell her that I don't write checks any more and that I don't want to pay fees when I (literally) have tens of thousand of dollars (my IRA) on deposit in her institution. This reply, an obvious cue for her to offer me an incentive to keep my account open, goes right over her head! Then, as I am about to leave with my (fee depleted) balance, she mentions that if I ever want to open a new checking account (!) the bank had some "no fee" accounts that I might investigate!! So much for customer service....

Needless to say, no new business will come to this bank from me. Additionally, as my IRA certificates mature, they will get "rolled over" to another institution, probably my credit union. I know that I'm a small fish and the loss of my business will not affect their botom line. But if they treat all of their customers with a similarly cavalier attitude.......

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Midwinter Beatdown

OK, I give up, "Uncle!!" This last week has finally broken my spirit. Old man winter, you win. Now please go away! I have once more reached the point where I am sick of snow, in any quantity. It does not matter if it is 1" that just needs a quick scrape with the shovel, or 8" that requires firing up the snowblower. I've endured both this week (the "small" accumulations several times) and I'm just tired of it.

I am also tired of the winter driving. Go out in the morning, clear the sidewalk and driveway, clean off the car and scrape the windows has become a mantra for me as I prepare go to sleep every night. Who needs sheep to count when one has innumerable snowflakes to consider? Then it's "slip sliding away" to work, keeping a close watch ahead to the car in front and a dubious watch in the mirror as the car behind closes on you to a ridiculously unsafe distance. Repeat twice daily, or as needed.

And don't even talk to me about longer vehicular excursions. 3 times this winter I have travelled to northern Ohio to see friends. 3 times I have returned in weather conditions considered "less than ideal." The last time (yes, this week) involved snow on the roads, ice on the windows, whiteouts and 3+ hours of "white knuckle" driving in a stretch that normally (that is, the other 3 seasons of the year) takes 2 hours (or less in the Mini .)

There is a saying: "Michigan seasons - Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Winter, Winter." Hopefully we are well into 3rd Winter, because I am done. In another 4 weeks I hope to have the Mini on the road and winter behind me. We shall see....

Monday, February 14, 2011

That's What We Do*

This line is, of course, from the Chrysler Super Bowl ad featuring Eminem and the new Chrysler 200. But it is also about more than that. It is about grit and determination. It is about enduring and overcoming adversity. It is about having pride, not only in yourself, but also in what you do and where you came from. It is about Detroit, but it is also about many other cities in the "rust belt" that have been counted down and out by the pundits on the 2 coasts.

For a long time it has been fashionable to discount places like Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Gary as relics of a bygone era of heavy industry, of sweat and steel. Instead we heard the accolades for Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle or whatever the media showcased as the "next era", the model for into what or where the country needed to evolve in order to stay competitive with the rest of the world. "Made in America" became a codeword for overpriced, underdesigned and uncompetitive.

Well no more. It took decades of decline and inaction to spur a new attutude among American companies, especially in the automotive industry. While we have not yet, and may not ever again, become the undisputed leaders in manufacturing, America is showing a revitalization of innovation and design. There are, for example, more hybrid vehicles on the market with American nameplates than foreign. There are US firms designing and selling full electric vehicles that rival anything else on the market.

It is not only innovative design, but also quality that has made a comeback. The much maligned American worker has shown that, given the opportunity, he or she can build a good product at a competitive price. Why else would companies like BMW assemble vehicles in South Carolina that are then exported around the world? There is a pride in workmanship that has returned after a too long an acceptance of "good enough." We now remember the pride and perserverance that built an industrial colossus, the greatest producer of goods in the world.

Once again we need to show the world that we are not "down for the count" but on our way back up. We can and will if we work hard enough, long enough and strong enough. Why? Because that's what we do.

(*Correction notice - The original post misquoted the commercial as "it's what we do.")

Monday, January 31, 2011

There's a Storm Coming

I love quoting semi obscure movie dialogue....think "Terminator" at the end, Sarah Connor in her jeep. Well, there's a storm coming here, not like in the movie, but also dangerous. The current forecast, as of 6:30 PM 1/31/11 is for up to 18" of new snow, along with high winds gusting as high as 35 mph. In other words, a blizzard, starting tomorrow afternoon and lasting through Wednesday.

But it could be worse, as south of here the prediction is for as much as 1" of freezing rain. Given the choice, I'll take the snow. I, and my 5.5 hp dual stage snow blower, can deal with snow. In most cases even 12" of snow will not break tree limbs or down power lines. Ice can and will do that.

Even given that, the meterologists are predicting a "prolonged event." In other words, it ain't leaving quickly. So we here will wait and see, prepared as much as possible to hunker down for the duration. The snowblower is prepped, shovels are ready, and the larder has been stocked. The firewood is cut and ready if needed and the kerosene heater resides in the garage beside a 5 gallon container of fuel.
I am not worried about myself. I do worry about friends of mine who live south of here in the belt where freezing rain is predicted. May they stay safe, and may their power not be interrupted.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy New Year

Well, the the holidays have come and gone, along with their attendant (obsolete word alert!!)hoopla and fol de rol. Presents were given and received (thank you and you're welcome - you know who you are). The new year was anticipated, welcomed and enjoyed, in that order, by many. The new calendar, which like the new model cars has new visuals but the same stuff "underneath", was hung.

Speaking of cars, the new year also brought my annual trek to the NAIAS - North American International Auto Show - held in Detroit at Cobo Hall and Arena. Like last year's show there was an emphasis on "green" cars and technology. Unlike last year's show, the crowds were bigger, a sure sign of a slightly improved economy in the region. The number of fanciful "concept" cars was again low, and again the emphasis was "green" for those that were displayed. There was lots to see, and I saw most of it.

Personally, a few cars stood out from the rest, for various reasons. First and foremost were the hybrids. The "star" of those was, not suprisingly, the Chevrolet Volt. There was one on a turntable, and another on the show floor "open for inspection" as well as an entire "loft" area dedicated to its technological underpinnings. The production Volt is a surprisingly "normal" looking 4 door hatchback, not as stunning as the concept but more acceptable to the mainstream.

Unfortunately, at over $45K "out the door", it is a little out of my price range. What would be in my range, were I in the market, was not (gotcha!) the Toyota Prius but rather the new Honda Insight. If the long term durability of gas/electric hybrid technology were not an unanswered question, this vehicle would be very attractive. Again, a 4 door hatchback, smaller than the Volt, with a sticker price of $20K.

Among the "normal" cars, nothing really stood out to me. The "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" cars, like Porsche, Lexus, and Ferrari were stunning, as usual, with Porsche returning after a 1 year absence. (Interesting aside, every person who approaced any of the Porsches tried the door handle to get in...... they were disappointed.) The Mini (of course, I had to look) stand was mobbed with people checking out the new Clubman (4 full doors and available All Wheel Drive). I'll look at one next time I'm at my dealer - fewer people and free coffee. Chrysler showed a slew of their Mini fighter Fiat 500 (Cinquocento to the cognoscenti). It exhibits lots of panache, but I have questions about the Italian engineering and durability as opposed to the Germanic roots of the Mini's.

The one car that really caught my eye was a classic. Hidden at the rear of the Mercedes exhibit was an absolutely pristine 1954 300SL "Gullwing" coupe. It was silver, of course. From an engineering standpoint, it was decades ahead of its time. Some of the features were lightweight, but strong, construction, 4 wheel independent suspension, and direct gasoline fuel injection. This last technology is used in the newest high efficincy engines just being introduced here and abroad.

All in all it was, as usual, an enjoyable experience. For a few hours one can roam the show and forget the cold and snow outside. At least in my mind's eye, I am driving down the highway with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair.