Saturday, November 29, 2008

Getting Ready To Feel Merry

I'm not really feeling merry yet.

But I do have a perfect day for hanging the lights outside. The sun is shining and feels warm. It looks like the perfect day for crawling up a ladder and attaching lights to the soffits and eave troughs.

But I don't really feel merry yet.

My Mom is coming up from Pensacola to spend Christmas with us this year. It will be her first Christmas with my lovely wife Darlene and our daughters Alannah and Ashley-Rae. Darlene has gone the extra mile in planning to make this Christmas special. She has already made enough Christmas pudding to feed a large military installation. And she has already specked out the lights, cedar roping, and wreaths I am to install and deploy this afternoon.

But I still don't feel merry yet.

Thursday was the American Thanksgiving day. A holiday I miss every year since returning to Canada. The smells in the house, the family gathering, the great eats, the days worth of football on television. And the four day weekend.

On Thursday I sat at my desk at the office and put out fires, wrestled with programmers over revision specifications and design issues. I answered problem tickets and talked to the business users of our systems to gather needs for new January business.

And I didn't feel very merry.

But at least I didn't have to watch the Detroit Lions lose 42-10 to the Titans.

I should probably start this morning by dragging out all the boxes of decorations. The Christmas trees – one a pre-lit beauty for the living room in front of the big cathedral window, the other a fiber-optic tree to set downstairs by the fireplace and pool table. The nativity settings, the small winter villages, candles, holly, nutcrackers, mistletoe and tree ornaments.

Then I'll drag out the ladder, the boxes of lights and outdoor decorations, and Darlene's blueprints.

I'll follow her directions. I'll use some imagination.

But I won't feel terribly merry as a I do it.

I'll probably drink a beer or two while do so. So I might feel just a little merry.

But tonight, with neighbor's coming over for a visit – I will sit down and relax.

Christmas is a lot of work. No wonder we start preparing a whole month early.

Because it takes about a month for me to really feel merry.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Catching Economic Pneumonia

The American Automobile Industry is in serious trouble.

Chrysler and GM are both faced with potential bankruptcy situations. The American federal government is struggling with finding a way to bail them out – hesitant to throw money at a problem where money won't likely solve the plight but instead only post-pone it.

The outlook at this moment is very gloomy for the Motor City of Detroit. This is a town that has already seen itself erode away to a mere shadow of its former metropolis status – with no signs of healing as city political scandals and racial tensions continue to undermine any chance of recovery.

What many American's may not know is that there is also a great deal of the Automobile Manufacturing done on the other side of the Detroit River – in my hometown of Windsor, Ontario. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution brought on by Henry Ford's invention of the mass assembly line, Windsor has hosted major manufacturing facilities for the Big Three – as well as all the supporting services such as tool and dye shops for parts manufacturing.

The vast majority of employment in Windsor is directly related to the manufacturing of American automobiles.

Over the last three years, we have seen plant shut downs and companies going out of business as the Big Three continue to crumble under pressures of low car sales, high gas prices, and the cost of a unionized labor force.

The Canadian federal government is also looking at ways to assist the Canadian Big Three entities. But much like the Americans, they realize that simply throwing money at these problems will not resolve the crisis at hand.

Over the past three years strides have been made in the quality of the Big Three products, as well as the fuel consumption. And the Unions have made some concessions to ease the burden on the Big Three. But in both Detroit and Windsor, the public outcry is a finger pointed right at "foreign" automotive manufacturers.

Right up the 401 from Windsor in Woodstock is the Cami Automotive assembly plant – jointly operated by GM and Suzuki. Up the highway further is the Toyota manufacturing plant in Cambridge. Each is supported by the same parts manufacturers, trucking firms, and suppliers used by the Big Three. As well, there a numerous plants across the United States manufacturing the "foreign" automobiles.

Yet Ford sends their parts to be assembled for many of their models in Mexico.

Quite clearly, the collapse of the Big Three is larger than just North America. The scope of impact of such a collapse would be felt in absolutely every sector of every economy in every country on the planet.

Yet as one drives through Detroit – you see all kinds of signs, billboards and bumper stickers urging their population to "Buy American". And oddly enough, Windsor – a Canadian city - has bumper stickers quoting "Want to lose your job? Keep buying foreign cars!".

I don't think those Canadian Auto Workers realize their American Auto Workers think of them as foreigners taking American Jobs away.

And I can only wonder what the bumper stickers in Mexico say.

If I were a betting man – which I am not – I would bet on the Big Three declaring bankruptcy. I would bet on the Big Three status to be in receivership by the end of 2009. And I would bet that the Big Three would find themselves being completely restructured – and in the end – find themselves to be much more capable of doing business in this new global economy.

Sometimes when something is really broken badly, it has to be completely taken apart, the damaged parts replaced or redesigned, and then put back together again.

And that is what I see about to happen to General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.

And the World economy will catch a bad cold, but heal.

The North American economy will catch pneumonia but it will survive.

But Detroit and Windsor will disappear as we know them today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stinking At Lying

My eldest daughter Alannah is going through some growing pains.

She is dragging her Mom and I through those pains with her.

Last night I arrived home late. The sun had already set, and as I walked in the door I detected the aroma of something good.

Alannah met me standing at the top of the stairs, looking very authoritative as she looked down at me on the landing.

"What smells so good?", I asked as I hung up my coat and set down my briefcase.

"Mom made cake, Daddy", answered my seven year old. "But it came out really bad, come see!"

"That's not very nice, Alannah", I replied. "I'll bet Mommy worked really hard on that cake, with her back hurting so much. It sure smells good."

I walked up stairs, and Alannah led me into the kitchen. She pointed to the cake pan on the counter. It was a carrot cake in a rectangular Teflon cake pan. Only this cake looked like all the ends had been dug around, like when you make a sand castle and dig a moat around. And in the center of the cake was a huge gouge.

I looked at Alannah.

"I told you it looked bad", said my little seven year old demon – with the sweetest most innocent look on her face. There were crumbs around her mouth as she smiled so innocent.

"What happened to it?", I asked, giving her the chance to confess.

"I don't know, it just came out of the oven that way I guess". She shrugged her shoulders as she kept smiling at me.

My heart sank.

"Let me see your fingers".

Her tiny digits were coated with the gloss of carrot cake sugar, the orange crumbs embedded under her nails.

She kept smiling at me, never losing eye contact.

"How did this cake get all over your fingers, Alannah?"

She went to the counter and started picking up crumbs around the pan with the finger tips. She looked back at me, smiling. "See?".

"How did the crumbs get all over the counter?" I asked.

But the answer did not come quick enough. Up the stairs came my lovely wife Darlene. She was smiling and ready to tell me the day's events.

"Mommy?", I said to direct her attention to this matter at hand. "Is there something wrong with this cake pan? It seems to leave a moat around the outside of cakes, and even make big holes in the middle?"

The 'lovely' slipped from my wife's face. The rage washed it away.

"Go to your room, Alannah, I'll be in in a moment". I said. Alannah wisely exited the kitchen quickly.

There was yelling.

There was screaming.

And then the rage washed away and the tears came.

I left Darlene after a bit of listening, and I went in to see my eldest un-exorcised demon. The jig was up, and she knew that we knew that she knew what she was doing.

I sat down on the end of her bed. And I just looked at her. I couldn't hide my disappointment. After a couple of minutes of listening to her sobbing 'I'm sorry!', I told her how I felt about liars, and how I felt about thieves. I sentenced her to a grounding from the Wii video games and to staying in her room all the while expressing to her my disappointment.

Just before I left her to her solitude and study, I asked her "How did you ever possibly think you were going to get away with that?".

There was no answer.

"Alannah, I guess I am disappointed for several reasons. One – you must think I am stupid to think you could fool me. Two – you wrecked Mommy's cake and you don't even seem to care?. And three – you really stink as a liar. Lying is not something somebody learns. You're either good at it or you're not. You my friend, stink at it. If I were you I would never do it again."

She looked at me.

"I don't like liars, Alannah." I repeated. And I left the room.

Later that evening, as we sat around the table eating supper, I asked the same question I ask every night.

"So what did you do today?"

Ashley-Rae started to answer as she always does … "I got out of bed and I put on my slippers …".

Alannah cut her off before she could continue.

"I used my finger to dig around the outside of the cake because I didn't think anybody would notice", she stated.

I looked at her.

"But Dad did", she continued, her eyes to the floor. "Daddy's not stupid you know".

I smiled at her.

"And that's the truth, Daddy", she finished.

"I know it's the truth, Alannah."

"Because I stink at lying" said Alannah.

I got up and hugged her in her chair.

"Yes, you do Alannah", I said. "And it's a good thing too. 'Cause I really like you".

Thursday, November 06, 2008

One Swift Moment of Promise After Eight Years of Mess

It seems that in one swift moment – albeit after two years of anticipation – the world has changed.

I knew that it would be a historic event if it were to come to pass. How could it not be? Barack Obama is the first black man to be elected President of the United States. That's a big deal. An achievement I did not think I would see in my lifetime.

In this year, man found water on Mars. And in this year the United States of America elected an African American to the highest office in the land.

But I thought in this apathetic society of today, it would happen, it would be acknowledged like a new home run record, and then off we would go to the next thing.

But I was wrong.

I have never been so moved by a political event. The falling of the Berlin wall was close, but this made me kind of well up inside. This was magical.

The scenes of the rest of the world so surprisingly erupting in celebration surprised me beyond words. I do not believe these scenes were staged. I don't think they could have been? Who could have staged them?

The whole world breathed a huge sigh of relief. And that sigh produced the warmest global breeze of change of attitude the world has felt in my lifetime.

And I wonder.

I wonder, had the election turned out the other way – how would the world have reacted? Would they have pointed to America again as frauds – as they did after Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, only to have George Bush's brother Jeb's state Florida upset the cart declaring hanging chads on ballots would decide the Electoral College for the Republicans?

I think that for as fine, decent, honest and sincere I believe John McCain to be, I believe the world would have cried out "FOUL!" if somehow this time he would have come from behind and won this election.

So now the world awaits the inauguration of President Elect Obama.

A feeling of awe is in the air around the globe.

But usually when great news breaks – compelling as this historic moment – the New York Stock Exchange reacts in an upswing. A rise as though riding the wave of optimism.

But instead the NYSE continues to fall.

Is it a sign that this optimism is premature? Or perhaps artificial?

Or is it a sign that the current American President has made such a mess in world affairs and economic policies that there is doubt even a change as large as the one to President Obama shows little hope of cleaning up such a large mess.

So in one swift moment – indeed the world changed.

But the mess will take much longer to fix. It took eight years to make.

Congratulations Mr. Obama. I wish you all the luck and best wishes. And I believe that you will have a world full of prayers behind you.

What a truly amazing time to be alive.

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