Don’t Go Through Michigan

I’ve written periodically about my travel foibles and yesterday gets special recognition as a bizarre travel day. No, I didn’t have to sit next to a guy in coach eating baked beans, though I am still traumatized by that unfortunate occurrence a few weeks ago. Yesterday’s tale started out with a scheduled meeting today in Irvine, California.

While I pause to sip my coffee, please look up two things: (1) the relative geographic locations of my home in Washington, DC and Irvine, CA and (2) a logical travel plan to get from one to the other. Once you’ve digested these two things, please tell me the best way to make this trip. If you said, “Fly from DC to Grand Rapids, Michigan then take a car service from Grand Rapids to East Lansing, Michigan, then fly from Capitol Regional Airport in Lansing (that makes it sound really big….um, it isn’t) to Chicago, then from Chicago to Orange County, CA” you win the prize!

OK, so in hindsight, that wasn’t the best route, but it is the route I chose when my business partner urged me to join him for a meeting in East Lansing and further encouraged me to meet him at a different meeting in Grand Rapids and ride to East Lansing together. As I now sit at my desk in DC, having never made it to California, thus missing the primary meeting I needed to attend, I kinda wish I had flown nonstop from DC to California. Alas, I did not.

It all seemed to be running smoothly when I arrived at the Lansing airport at about 4:30 PM for my 6 PM United flight to Chicago, which was going to leave me plenty of time for my connection to Orange County, CA. With perfect weather in both Lansing and Chicago and a plane already at the gate, nothing could go wrong. Until it did. At about 5:30 PM, they announced that our flight was delayed to 7:30 PM due to weather in Chicago. Hmmm, the radar showed no rain within 100 miles of Chicago.

It quickly became clear to me that I would miss my connection to Orange County, the last of the day, and quite likely would end up spending the night in Chicago and perhaps the entire next day trying to figure out a way home. My plan B was to fly back home immediately and do my California meeting by phone. So, I quickly rebooked on a 7:30 PM Delta flight to Detroit, connecting back to DC, landing at 11:30 PM. It was a long layover in Detroit and, trust me, you don’t want to ever spend more than 3 hours in Detroit for any reason, even in the safety of the airport. But, it was my best option, so I grabbed it.

Then a series of “firsts” kicked in. The first first was when I was working with the United gate agent (United, recall, was my original carrier) to make sure United refunded my original ticket to pay for the Delta flight home. It was only 6:45 so probably a good 15 minutes before my 7:30 Delta flight to Detroit would start boarding. My cell phone rang and it was the Delta gate agent. She said, “Oh hi Mr. Robertson – are you coming with us to Detroit tonight?” Wait, what? Have you ever gotten a call from a gate agent telling you to hurry up to the gate. I asked why she was calling when it was still 45 min before take off. She replied, “Well, all the other passengers are here and ready so if you’re ready, we can go early.” It sounded more like the departure for a family beach trip than a major airline sending off a flight. Seriously, did you know that all the passengers could get together and vote to leave early? Good to know.

So, I sprinted the entire length of the Lansing airport – all 100 yards of it – and jumped on my flight to Detroit. That’s when the second first occurred. Indeed my 7:30 PM flight did leave early. So early, in fact, that it LANDED in Detroit at 7:29. I’m not making that up. We landed one minute before we were supposed to take off. Hey, I really love this democratic “we the passengers” approach to aviation. I’m going to vote all my flights to leave early from now on (question: is this a majority rules type thing or does it have to be unanimous?).

The other great thing about this was that, instead of spending 3 perilous hours in Detroit, I could make the 8:15 connection to DC and get home earlier. Well, not so fast. The pilot announced that since we had actually arrived in Detroit before we had left Lansing, they had no open gate for us. Natch. No worries, he said, we’ll have you to a gate by about 7:50. We were arriving at Gate C2 and the 8:15 to DC was departing out of Gate A18. A quick check of the airport terminal map in the Delta magazine showed that those two gates are very close together (note to self: those friggin’ terminal maps are NOT drawn to scale).

Indeed, we pulled up to gate C2 at 7:50, with plenty of time for me to sprint the not-drawn-to-scale distance from C2 to A18 and my assistant had confirmed there were open seats on the 8:15. But, as luck would have it, when the Delta agent came out to steer the jet bridge to our plane we got a student driver. You cannot make this up – it took her 10 minutes to get the jet bridge to the plane, thereby leaving my aging legs only about 5-10 minutes to run the marathon from C2 to A18 (seriously, it’s like a goddam mile).

I tried anyway. I sprinted with my suit jacket on, wearing a heavy backpack and carrying my suitcase. I made it! I got to the gate at 8:10. Yay. Perfect timing. Perfect timing, that is, to watch the 8:15 pull off the gate and head to DC without me. I sat panting at A18 for about 10 minutes deciding whether or not to have a heart attack, finally deciding not to. I had a few drinks, caught the 10 PM and was home in my own bed by 12:30 AM.

Next time, I think I’ll take a more direct route.

 

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Allergies, God, and Sinuses

As a religious person, I don’t want to ever suggest that God screwed up, but, like all of us folks down here that He created in His own image, He has good days and bad days. You know what I’m talking about; there are some days you arrive at your job in the morning and, by 10 AM, you feel like you’ve accomplished a week’s worth of work. Then there are other days, you walk out at 6:00 PM, having worked a 10 hour day, feeling like you accomplished nothing. Same for God, including that all important time frame when he was doing the design engineering work on our bodies. He clearly got tired on certain days when He was designing us (see: knees and spine) and had other days where He was either super caffeinated or just really insightful (see: eyes, ears, immune system). As we’ve entered spring here in the DC area and the pollen is so thick you can cut it with a steak knife, I wanted to make a few comments on God’s engineering work on our sinuses.

When designing a system to hold fluid for a purpose, but then let it drain away, an engineer has two basic options to drain the fluid: (1) pump it out or (2) let it drain by gravity. God, having designed the most sophisticated pump in all of engineering history (the heart), He was unable to miniaturize it to fit in the sinus cavities, so He did what any smart engineer would do, which is use gravity to drain the fluid. Now, He had the added challenge that He had already designed the immune system and the fluids it required (highly viscous fluids it turns out), so all of this work had to retrofit the fluid He had already decided on. That’s fairly typical when designing a drainage system actually. Engineers, not even God, usually don’t get to choose the fluid. The fluid defines the system, then the engineer figures out how to move the fluid. So, even with a viscous fluid like snot, gravity is a viable force for drainage.

However, something then went horribly awry in the design. Arguably His worst day ever in the engineering lab of human creation was the day He put the final drains in for the sinuses. In order to get the sinus cavities to fit neatly into the human skull, leaving us all with our attractive facial features, cute little cheek bones, and a functional nose through which to have a second option to inhale the oxygen He designed us to live on, He put the sinus drains on top. That’s right, He designed a system to drain fluid by gravity, but put the drains on the top, instead of the bottom. So, if we all walked on our hands or stood on our heads for a few hours a day, our sinuses would feel just fine in the spring. Alas, as we walk around on the two awesome legs He designed for us (well, all but the knees), our sinuses just fill with snot til we can’t breathe, sleep, or function in polite society. Like I said, we all have good days and bad days at the office. Please hand me the Zyrtec.

 

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The Hypocrisy Olympics

I have written extensively about liberal hypocrisy. Just type the phrase into the search bar on my blog site and you’ll find them all. But, the women’s marches this weekend across the nation really set the bar for hypocrisy and sore loserdom. Let’s back up and look at the facts.

In November, Donald Trump won an election. That’s how democracy works and, in our current two-party system, it worked perfectly. Each party put forth a candidate, we got a chance to vote, and President Trump won. Trust me, I understand that the losing party is upset. I lived that in 2008 and 2012. But, in neither case did I or anyone else protest or march on Washington. Indeed, protesting or marching against a democratically elected president makes no sense in a democracy. The losing party just needs to go find a better or more electable candidate and try again in four years. That’s what we did. It failed in 2012 and worked in 2016.

So, if marching against a democratically elected candidate in a show of poor loserdom isn’t the cause of these marches, what is? Oh, you say these women were marching against misogyny. I’ve seen that posted all over Facebook for the past 24 hours. And, here’s where the left wins the Hypocrisy Olympics. For the past 25 years, the Clintons have been the two most misogynistic politicians of our lifetime. The comments President Trump made about women are awful and indefensible, but also (I regret to say) not far off the mainstream of the way men, men the women at the marches know, love and are married to, talk. Again, to avoid nastygrams, I am not defending his choice of words; I’m just pointing out that it is, as he explained, locker room talk that happens a lot.

Bill Clinton raped women. He RAPED women. He abused women. He ruined their lives. And, when it came to light, what did Hillary, that great defender of women’s rights do? She supported him by attacking and discrediting the women, for the sole purpose of advancing her political career. Making a reasonable assumption that every woman at the marches voted for Hillary, the hypocrisy is simply too deep to even fathom. These women voted for another woman who openly defended rape and abuse and then traveled far and wide to march against a dude who used some really inappropriate language to describe women. Both behaviors are bad, but one is clearly worse than the other.

Thus, the gold medal in the Hypocrisy Olympics goes to every woman who voted for Hillary Clinton and attended yesterday’s marches.

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Polarization Begets Polarization

I’ve had several discussions with left-leaning friends since the election wherein they expressed a hope and desire that Trump will be more “centrist” or less “polarizing.” They were shocked when Mr. Trump nominated cabinet members who they find to be very conservative. I find that odd from members of the polarizing party. You really can’t have it both ways.

President Obama was the most polarizing figure in American politics in my life time and it was a strategy, not an outcome. By pitting people against each other, especially along racial lines, Obama very successfully motivated his base for two presidential elections. Unfortunately, it also created a very ugly country. And, sadly, a polarized country created an opportunity for another polarizing candidate, like Donald Trump, to win by appealing to the other half of the polarized nation.

I think many of us are now saddened by all the nastiness in politics. I know I am. But, it’s really not fair for the left to ask the right to de-polarize what they polarized. Put differently, democrats made this bed and now they have to lay it in.

 

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The Tyranny of Consensus

If you’ve been following the Trump nominees’ confirmation hearings, you have no life. Sorry, just kidding. If you’ve been following the Trump nominees confirmation hearings, you have no doubt noticed that their comments often diverge from the positions Mr. Trump staked out in the campaign. I’m fascinated that the media doesn’t seem to understand this, not even the somewhat more conservative media outlets, like the Wall Street Journal. A front page article in today’s WSJ described these nominees as being on a “collision course” with the POTUS-elect. I’m not surprised the Washington Post and New York Times don’t get this, since having spent a single day in the real business world would be an immediate disqualifier for working at either paper. But, the WSJ should understand the business world a little better than this. Why is it that private enterprise runs so much more efficiently than government? That’s a much longer blog, but the high-level answer is that they’re run by people who know how to hire and manage other people.

Donald Trump is the first business person to become president with no prior government experience. For reasons that baffle me, that seems to worry people. If it worries you, then these confirmation hearings should help quell those fears. Here’s a quick primer in how effective managers build their teams. They go out and find the absolute best and most qualified person for each position, ideally finding someone much smarter than themselves. Effective hiring managers in business put little or no effort into figuring out, a priori, whether the person he or she is hiring agrees with them or not. It doesn’t matter. I’ve sat on numerous company boards of directors and the most effective management teams I have observed are the ones where the CEO not only tolerates, but actively encourages dissenting opinions. In my own partnership, when we discuss new deals we’re contemplating, we always make the more junior people voice their opinions first so that they won’t have their views influenced by what the senior partners are thinking. If that means a deal that’s being championed by a partner dies because a smarter or more insightful junior person had a key insight, that’s a fantastic outcome.

It is apparent from the Trump confirmation hearings that Mr. Trump has hired people in exactly this way. He apparently conducted a very thorough vetting process before he chose his cabinet. Indeed, he spent weeks deciding on a Secretary of State before choosing Rex Tillerson. Do you really think he didn’t ferret out over those many interviews the differences of opinion that Elizabeth Warren got out of him in a 3 hour interview? Of course he did. But, the difference between Mr. Trump and President Obama is that Mr. Trump has run large organizations very effectively and understands the importance of hiring smart, highly qualified people for key senior positions, independent of whether they agree with him or not.

Now, contrast this approach with that used by Mr. Obama. As a community organizer, he had no skills at anything when he came into the most challenging job in the world. And, instead of hiring the most qualified people, independent of their views, he hired sycophants like Ben Rhodes, whose primary accomplishment prior to working for Mr. Obama was winning his fraternity beer bong tournament and John Kerry, who may be a smart guy, but was nothing more than a yes man for the President. Hiring like that leads to disasters like the Iran deal because there’s nobody in the room to disagree with a clueless president. This is what James Mattis referred to in his confirmation hearing this week as the tyranny of consensus. Yet another reason to be excited about the transition that will take place a week from today is that we can finally end the tyranny of consensus.

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Andy Fox, 1967-2016

I don’t know what it is about funerals that make me want to write a blog. I guess maybe it’s the inevitability of sitting there in a church, synagogue, or wherever you might be hearing about the end of one person’s life on earth that makes us think about our own life. Maybe it’s that I’m in my mid-50s now so, actuarially speaking, I’m in the 6th inning or so. Oh, I have a few more at-bats in my future, but not as many as I had 20 years ago. That’s just math. I think another part of it is that I’ve had the opportunity to attend the funerals of some really remarkable people in the last 4 or 5 years. That provokes some interesting self-reflection.

Earlier this week, Facebook posted a memory to my page from four years ago when my amazing friend, Paul Witteman, passed on New Year’s Day. I wrote about 10 blogs on Paul and his life, but they all seemed so weak compared to his actual life that I never posted any of them. It still helped to write them. And, if you go back to the very first blog I ever wrote, I said the purpose was for me to get stuff out of my head and that it was for me, not my readers (now apparently up to four).

Then, there was the tragic passing of Dick and Jody Vilardo in a horrible double murder in my home town two years ago. I did post that blog (here).

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Andy Fox. Andy’s brother, Tim, is married to my sister, Amy. Andy passed just before Christmas at the way-too-young age of 49. I met Andy a few times at various family functions, though it has been quite a while since I’ve seen him. So, in fairness, I didn’t really know Andy. And, like the Vilardo funeral, I walked out of this one thinking to myself, “Shit, I wish I had gotten to know Andy better when he was alive.”

Andy was developmentally disabled, which meant he faced far more complex challenges than most of us do. And, it meant his parents, Nora and Denver, had to persevere for Andy in ways that most parents don’t. Denver  even quit his job to start a non-profit to provide supported employment services for Andy and others with severe developmental disabilities.

That’s amazing stuff, but what really stood out to me in the weeks leading up to the funeral and the service itself was just how full a life Andy led despite these challenges. My sense is that the few times I was with Andy, like at my sister’s wedding, were at events that took Andy somewhat out of his comfort zone. I had never had the opportunity to experience life with Andy in his element. For example, multiple people told stories of how much Andy loved swimming with his parents. The pictures of Andy in the pool with a huge smile on his face were a testament to this. I wish I had had the opportunity to spend time with Andy in his comfort zone.

I opened by saying funerals usually provide an opportunity to think about some little piece of my own life. I’m a worrier and a stresser. Always. Every day. I work in a complex profession and take every setback personally. By any measure, my kids have led very fortunate lives, but I stress about them too. All the time. But, listening to the pastor eulogize Andy and listening to his family tell stories about him made me feel small. It made me realize that the barriers I’ve had to fight through and the stress I’ve had to deal with were like the guys hurdling matchboxes in that famous skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus called “Twit of the Year.” I guess I was the twit in this episode!

I cannot imagine, nor do I want to, what it must be like to lose a sibling or, perhaps even worse, a child. I observed this up close yesterday and the pain was intense. At the same time, I think we were all soothed by the amazing rendition of “No More Night” sung by Andy’s homecare provider and home host at the end of the service. I know I was. And hopefully I learned a little something from someone who had to overcome real barriers. RIP Andy.

 

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CNN and Obama’s “Legacy”

maxresdefaultWhen the NY Giants were sending my beloved Redskins to humiliating, season-ending defeat yesterday, I noticed that the Giants coaching staff never called time out and ran to the other side of the field to give the Redskins coaches advice on how to beat them. Probably a good approach in any sport. That said, I find myself compelled to give my friends on the other side of the political field some friendly advice.

One of the things I really love about CNN, as they completely lose their minds, is that they always run a caption at the bottom of the screen with some pithy saying related to the story they’re covering. I rarely watch CNN as I find fake news to be a waste of time, but I do enjoy observing them as they further lose touch with reality. And TVs all over the world (airports, gyms, hotel lobbies, etc.) are often tuned to CNN with no volume so it’s easy to pick up their one-liners through the course of a week.

This morning, in fact, I was at the gym when I walked by a TV tuned to CNN. I have no idea who was on the show or what he was talking about, but the caption at the bottom of the screen asked, boldly, “CAN THE DEMOCRATS CONTINUE OBAMA’S LEGACY?”

This is where the Giants/Redskins analogy comes into play as I helpfully answer this question for my democrat friends: DON’T TRY!

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