May 27th
Posted by shambo  as Culture, Reality, Travel

Lapu Lapu []

Let me say this about that.

Over the course of my career, I had numerous occasions to travel to foreign countries on business.  Most of these trips were required to start new businesses or factories in a particular country, or to establish a partnership with an existing company.  Low labor costs were  important to the success of any manufacturing enterprise, but so were local government incentives to start new businesses in these countries.  Many of these countries were so poor that some offered free real estate on which to build factories.  And for creating a minimum number of new jobs, some offered tax holidays for ten years or more.

In 1986, I was asked by the president of a large U.S. electronics manufacturer to fly to the Philippines and begin negotiations with a local company to form a joint venture.  The Filipino company was located in a ‘Free Trade Zone’ on the island of Cebu, some 400 miles south of Manila.  The plan was to fly into Manila, spend the night, and continue the trip to Cebu the following day.

After 28 hours of flying time, not to mention the 12 hours of time difference, I checked into a Manila hotel and immediately went to bed.  Some time around 9:00 pm, I awoke to the sounds of gunshots near my hotel.  The shots continued sporadically over the next hour so I went to the hotel lobby and asked the desk clerk what was happening.  Turns out Ferdinand Marcos had been overthrown only a couple of months earlier and Manila was still a bit of a wild west show.  The desk clerk suggested I stay away from the windows and assured me the guns shots would stop by morning.

The following morning, I was highly motivated to get the hell out of Manila and get on with my business in Cebu.  I boarded a Philippine Airlines flight and settled in for a short two hour flight to Cebu.  After the flight was airborne, a flight attendant stopped by my seat and offered me her single copy of an English language newspaper – given that I was the only non-Filipino on the flight.  Halfway through that morning’s ‘International Herald Tribune’ I noticed an article describing threats from radical Muslim groups located on the island of Mindanao in the far south of the Philippines.

The article went into copious detail of the radical group’s plan, which basically involved kidnapping American businessmen and ceremoniously beheading them.  Apparently, these groups were planning these activities in reprisal for President Reagan’s bombing of their hero’s – Muammar Ghadiffi – residence a few weeks earlier.

I don’t recall ever having read a newspaper article in which I had more interest.

I was met at the Cebu Airport by a representative of the local company and I told him about the article.  He assured me that these threats should be taken seriously, given our proximity to Mindanao, and the general state of upheaval in the Philippines following the ouster of Marcos.  I had really stepped in it this time.

The rep drove me to a hotel in central Cebu City and I walked in to register.  I instructed the rep to drive around the back of the hotel and wait for me there.  As soon as I finished checking in, I departed through the rear door and got back into the rep’s car.  He drove me to Lapu Lapu Island a few miles away where I checked into a small local hotel on the beach.  I gave the desk clerk some cash for his assistance, eliminating the need for identification, and checked-in using a false Spanish surname.

The rep assured me that I was sufficiently ‘under-the-radar’ at this place and that I should get some rest and he would pick me up in the morning.  I unpacked but was in no mood for rest.  On the walk from the lobby to my bungalow, I noticed a small bar near the waters edge.  I decided that a few local San Miguel beers would brighten my mood and walked over to the bar.

The place was a very small indoor/outdoor establishment with a half dozen bar stools and was manned by a single bartender.  Turns out the bartender was an American previously stationed at the U.S. Naval base at Subic Bay during the Viet Nam war.  After the war, he decided to stay in the Philippines and lived off his military pension and a small salary earned as the hotel’s lone bartender.  He was a helluva nice guy and I spent most of the afternoon as his sole customer.

Some time during that afternoon, I noticed a group of women in the water off the beach.  Most of them had small children wrapped in a papoose-like cloth and slung over their backs.  I asked the bartender what they were doing and he told me they were hunting for small mussels that grew in the shallow waters off the beach.  He told me that the hotel would not allow the women to set foot on hotel property, but Filipino law required the hotel to allow them to fish in the waters just off the beach.  The bartender pointed at two hotel security men armed with 30 caliber rifles whose job was to keep the women, and any other panhandlers, from disturbing hotel guests.  Apparently, as long as the women did not get any closer to the beach than ankle deep water, the guards left them alone.

I ordered another San Miguel and walked the 30 feet to the waters edge to have a look.  As I approached, one of the women took her baby off her back and held it up so I could see it clearly.  She was saying something to me in Tagalog and holding her baby up in my direction.  She walked toward me and was nearly out of the water when she was intercepted by the guard and forced back offshore.  I could see I was causing some degree of disruption and retreated to the bar.

I asked the bartender what the woman was saying and when he told me, I was shaken to the core.

“She was trying to sell her baby to you” the bartender explained.

“WHAT?”  I couldn’t believe it.  “Why in the hell would she sell her baby?”

“Probably so she can feed her other kids” he explained.  “With her $25 asking price for the baby, she could feed the rest of her family for a couple of months.”

There are few lessons to be learned more harsh than the one I learned that day on the beach in Lapu Lapu.   My fears from the previous days all seemed so trivial afterward.  It suddenly seemed there might be worse things than dying …… like living ….. the way some human beings are forced to live.

And, that’s all I have to say about that.




May 21st
Posted by shambo  as Business, Culture, Management, Technology
Ray Farmer

Ray Farmer


Let me say this about that.

In American culture, failure is avoided like the Ebola virus.  No true American sees failure as anything but their inability to function as a relavent member of society.  Ask any kid about their heros and you are not likely to find a list of famous losers.

The incessant mental pounding into American brains of the malevolent nature of failure has had an unexpected side effect ….. the avoidance of risk.  Avoidance of risk has become so pronounced, it has spawned secondary side effects ranging from the emergence of an ‘entitled generation’, to the cancellation of the space program, to the pandemic of political correctness.  We’ve become a nation of people who have abandoned the pursuit of successs in order to avoid controversy, contention and failure.

In my experience, avoidance of risk is remarkably like (wait for it – wait for it) FAILURE!!  One of my heros  – Helen Keller – lived by the aphorism that: “Security is mostly a superstition.  It does not exist in nature nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.  Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

Helen Keller had bigger cojones than most of today’s citizens of our politically correct, risk avoiding nation we used to call America.  Americans are now more accurately called American’ts.

I’m no different.  I, too, have been lured by complacency and rationalized it by believing I had accomplished more than most, rather than aspiring for true excellence.  Let me tell you a story about a guy who understood the difference between playing to win vs playing not to lose - the late Ray Farmer.

Ray was a Senior Vice President of one of the world’s largest electronics corporations.  He was a smart man who worked hard; a combination damn-near impossible to beat.  He was also my friend and mentor.  In the late 80′s, Ray chose me to lead a small team tasked with developing a way to defeat our Japanese competition at their strength – manufacturing.  He placed no constraints on me as to how to proceed.  He simply said “Figure out how to do it and let me know what you need.”

Sixty days later the Chairman-of-the-Board, the President, and the Executive Vice President, along with a gaggle of corporate hangers-on, assembled in a conference room to hear my proposal.  Ray sat in the back of the room and remained silent during the one hour presentation.  When I finished, a totally robotic, computer controlled factory had been proposed, the likes of which had never been accomplished in America.  In the late 80′s, inventing a factory with no human workers was truely an impossible misson – particularly in the 18 months I committed to complete the task.

As a loud argument ensued between the President and the Executive Vice President regarding the impossibility of my proposal, Ray continued his silence. The Executive Vice President recited the hundreds of ways the project would fail, the complete waste of funds, the damage to the company’s reputation in the press, and the inadvisability of having a ‘manufacturing guy’ lead the company’s bellwether technology program.  The President argued it was time the company got off it’s complacent ass and tried something truly ground-breaking, and if this could not be pulled off, the company was doomed to defeat by the Japanese anyway.  The Exec V.P. would not let it go until the President pulled rank and shouted that the discussion was over and authorized the project on the spot.

That night, I left the office totally exhausted, heavily burdened by the responsibility of my commitment, and looked forward to the first of many scotch-and-waters. A car pulled up beside me and the guy in the passenger seat rolled down his window.  It was the President.  He motioned for me to approach the car and proceeded to give me the most insightful, unequivical, and illuminating management direction I have ever received.  He pointed his finger right at my nose and said only three words ……. “Don’t  f**k  up.” And with that, he drove away.

That simple direction wiped away all fear of facing the ‘impossible’ task I had proposed.  My job was crystal clear from that moment on.  Or so I thought.

Ninety days later, the same crew – the Chairman-of-the-Board, the President, the Executive Vice President, Ray and the obligatory corporate hangers-on assembled in the same conference room to bear witness to our first progress report.  Ray as usual, sat in the back of the room, silent as a mime.  One hour later, I had reported that the project was ahead of schedule, met all it’s goals to date and was significantly under budget.  The Chairman and the President were glowing in their praise of their #1 ‘Tiger Team’ and of it’s leader.  The Executive Vice President sat mute through all this adulation, much to my enjoyment.

As the corporate big-wigs filed out of the room, I gathered my presentation material and prepared to leave when I looked up to see Ray in the back of the room.  I was sure I was in for more praise as he was the one who picked me for the job.

“What in the hell do you think you are doing?” His face was turning red, and I knew this was no act.  He was truely pissed-off.

“What are you talking about Ray?”  Before I could begin repeating all the good news of what we had accomplished, Ray taught me how it’s done if you want to succeed in difficult situations.

“You have not failed at anything you and your team have attempted so far.  And you know why?  Because you have not attempted anything you knew you could not accomplish.  I did not pick you for this job so you could personally succeed.  I picked you for this job to find out what is possible for this corporation to achieve.  And that, my young friend, will not happen unless you start attempting a few things that are so difficult that even you and your team of hot-shots believe are impossible.  This company is in trouble and we are counting on you guys to show us the edge of the envelope so we know how far to raise the bar.  Stop being so afraid and try something so difficult that you run a real risk of failure.”

Ray Farmer passed away some fifteen years ago, but he left me with a most valuable gift.  Failure is not to be feared.  It can be used as a valuable learning tool by anyone who uses it rather than avoids it.  Looking back on my career, I find most of the things I have really learned were not due to any successes I may have had, but in it’s failures.  Failure of course, is not the end result any of us want.  But you really can’t achieve anything worthwhile without plowing headlong through the learning experiences only achievable through failure.

And, in the words of my hero Ms. Keller, it transforms life from ‘nothing’ to a ‘daring adventure’.

And, that’s all I have to say about that.




Aug 14th

Mars or Afghanistan ?

Let me say this about that.

If you are anything like me, you have been captivated by the accomplishments of America’s latest space exploration program and the landing of the space ship ‘Curiosity’ on the surface of Mars.  As a younger man, I worked on the Apollo moon landing program so it should be no surprise that I am a big supporter of America’s space program.

Unless you are a ‘techie’, you probably have no idea how difficult it is to fly a spacecraft 350 million miles and land it safely on the surface of another planet – within the desired target the size of a basketball court.  And, oh, by the way, Mars isn’t exactly a stationary target. It spins on it’s axis, just like Earth.  Plus, it’s orbit around the Sun isn’t circular – it’s elliptical.  At different times of the year, the orbit of Mars around the Sun – and thus it’s relative position to Earth – varies by some 15,500,000 miles.

Yet the geeks at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California landed this mobile laboratory – the size of a P.T. Cruiser - on the surface of Mars, and within a few meters of it’s target.  Now get this – it landed within 60 seconds of it’s programmed flight time, after a flight of 8 1/2 months!!!  Try to shoot an arrow from New York and hit an apple on someone’s head in Honolulu, while they are riding in a open convertible,  and you get an idea of the precision required by the flight of Curiosity.

Why then, I must ask, with all this skill, is the Obama administration shutting down America’s space program?  Perhaps a better question might be: “Why was the Curiosity program funded in the first place?”  Relax dear readers for I have discovered the answer.  Indeed, it is a true epiphany.  (We geniuses have them from time to time).

The Curiosity program is not about the exploration of space at all.  It is about… (more…)

Jun 13th
Posted by shambo  as Current Events, Economics, Education, Family

Let me say this about that.

A little over two years ago, I wrote an article entitled “Parenting for Dummies”.   That article had one basic point:   “Every parent who teaches their kids that they are ‘special’ is leaving them grossly unprepared for adult life”.  Fast forward to the summer of 2012 and I discover an article about a high school commencement speaker telling the graduating class that “….you are NOT special.”

The article described the speaker’s commentary as the students and parents gasped:  ” You have been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped, nudged, cajoled, wheeled, implored, counseled, consoled, encouraged, kissed, fed, trained, tutored, coached, had your mouth wiped and had your butt wiped.  But, don’t get the idea that you are anything special.  Because you’re not.”

The man giving the commencement address was just not some old unemployed burnout, but the son of David McCullough, two time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  His message:  “Every parent who teaches their kids that they are ‘special’ is leaving them grossly unprepared for adult life.”

Empirical evidence shows the last couple of generations have produced increasingly soft and entitled offspring…… kids who go to college, party through four years of majors in Drama, or Fine Arts, or Sports Commentaryor Indian Mysticism, and are shocked that they can’t get a job.  I mean hell, they have a degree and everyone knows they are ‘special’, so what gives?  But, this is the ‘good news’.

According to the nonprofit organization American Student Assistance, American college students borrowed…    (more…)

Apr 16th
Posted by shambo  as Culture, Family, Growing up, philosophy

Real Cowboy

Let me say this about that.

My dad was a cowboy.  Really, he was a cowboy.  But the range he rode, the cows he punched and his nighttime campfires out on the prairie, were all in his head.  He was a 19th century cowboy trapped in a 20th century laborer’s body.  His character, his personality and his outlook on life were all shaped by the ‘cowboy codes’ of the 1870′s, as they were described in the Zane Grey pulp fiction cowboy novels he constantly read.  Cowboys were strong, self-reliant, quiet-spoken, and tough men.  And this described my dad to a “tee”.

When I was five years old, we lived in a small house in southeastern Tennessee.  It was a rickety old place with intermittent heat, a leaky roof and a wood-fired cooking stove.  Dad kept a supply of wood under the house and would bring an arm-load to the kitchen whenever my mother started to prepare dinner.  One night dad went to fetch a load of wood, which generally required him to chop a few pieces of kindling with a hatchet.  After he had been gone for a few minutes, he called for my mother to come outside.  There she found my dad sitting on the ground with the hatchet buried 1/2 inch deep into his left shin.


Mom had a scream like a banshee that terrified everyone within earshot and made even the slightest dilemma seem dire.  But this time she got it right.  Blood spurted from around the hatchet blade with a rhythm that coincided with Dad’s heartbeat.  This was not good.


“Honey, now calm down.  It’s nothing I can’t take care of.  Now bring me a towel.”

My mom managed a moment of sanity and fetched a small towel from the kitchen.  Dad calmly jerked the hatchet from his shin bone, wrapped the towel around the wound, secured it with duct tape and…    (more…)

Mar 29th
Posted by shambo  as History, Military, Travel

The Inchon Move

Let me say this about that.

I have been interested in military history since I was a kid.  Later in life, my profession often required me to travel internationally, which also afforded me the opportunity to visit many of the great battle sites I had read about as a child.  However, visiting the site of a great military battle and ‘participating’ in one, are entirely different experiences.

In the late 1980′s I was put in charge of five large manufacturing operations in Asia – one of which was in Seoul, South Korea.  During my visits to this plant I often took the opportunity to travel around the country to develop sources of supply and local partnerships.  Travelling from Seoul in the northernmost part of Korea, to Pusan in the southernmost part of the country, gave me ample opportunity to visit many Korean War battle sites.

One Saturday afternoon, with little to do until the following Monday, I decided to drive from my hotel in Seoul to the site of the ‘Battle of Inchon’, some 30 miles away.  For those of you who do not share my passion for military history, I will give you a thumbnail sketch of the significance of the ‘Battle of Inchon.’

In mid-1950, the U.S. Army had been driven completely out of North Korea – then South Korea, and were hanging on by a thread on the southern tip of the country in Pusan.  The vastly superior North Korean troops threatened to push the Americans into the sea until Gen. Douglas MacArthur devised an incredibly audacious plan.

MacArthur could see potential disaster in an all-out battle with the North Koreans, attacking his much smaller army with their backs to the sea.  Rather than surrender or attempt a risky Naval retreat while under fire, MacArthur decided to move some of his reserves off the peninsula, maneuver them 500 miles back north by boat, and attack Seoul from the Port of Inchon.  In short, he changed the battle scenario from the North Koreans attacking the Americans to their front – to – getting attacked by the Americans from their rear.  War correspondents called it “The Inchon Move” and it joined the lexicon of brilliant tactical maneuvers from American boardrooms to sporting events to poker tables.

I had no idea how to get to Inchon, and in those days, very few road signs were in English.  I asked the hotel manager for a map to the city of Inchon which he dutifully provided, albeit in Korean.  Confident that I could match the Korean characters on the map with the characters on the road signs, I rented a car and was on my way.

After about two hours it became obvious I had … (more…)

Mar 11th
Posted by shambo  as Growing up, History, Relationships, Women

Genny - circa 1941

Let me say this about that.

Genny, as she was called by her parents Ed and Pearle, was born in 1923 in Buchanan, Virginia, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  While Ed was a muscular man, standing a few inches over 6 feet tall, Pearle was a short rotund woman whose world revolved around caring for Ed, Genny, her brother and two sisters.  Much of Genny’s childhood was spent during the ‘Great Depression’ in this backwater farming community where every waking moment was spent avoiding starvation.  There were no paying jobs available to anyone, so Pearle and the four kids spent most of their time tending the garden and canning what they grew there, as well as the fruit from their pear and apple trees.  Ed supplied wild meat with his shotgun and small fish pulled from the nearby James River.  It was a hard life, but manageable to anyone who was willing to work equally hard.

By the time Genny graduated from Buchanan High School, she had grown into a striking young woman, who had taken her statuesque build and dark hair from her father’s side of the family.  She probably could have had her pick of any available young male – had there been any around.  World War II was in full swing and most men were in Europe or the Pacific.  As most of the traditional labor pool was in uniform, women picked up the slack in factories around America, churning out equipment and weapons for the war effort.

Considering she was smart, easy on the eye, and had a work ethic born out of a depression-era Appalachian Mountain upbringing, she had little trouble finding work a couple of hundred miles up the road at the Martin Aircraft Company.  At Martin’s Middle River plant, Genny would bind up her raven locks in a kerchief, put on her leather gloves and build B-26 Marauder bombers, alongside a few thousand other ‘Rosie-the-Riveters’.

Genny – my Mom – and all those other women, defined the term ‘True Grit’.  She told me years later that the ladies were periodically marched from the assembly line to the tarmac to watch test pilots take one of the new Marauders up for a test flight.  She said the women would hold each other as the planes gathered speed down the runway, knowing that the life of the pilot was hanging on the quality of the work they had done a few days earlier.  “They didn’t all make it” she told me. When there was a crash, the women … (more…)

Mar 5th
Posted by shambo  as Culture, Growing up, Investing


Let me say this about that.

In 1957, I had just reached the age of twelve years and began to contemplate my future.  Or, as was the common expression in those days, “what was I to become when I grew up”.   Adult men in the deep south back then were defined by how they earned their living.  In the backwoods of the Appalachian mountains in the mid 50′s, farmer, trapper, blacksmith, and laborer were perfectly honorable professions and the vocation of choice for most of my schoolmates.

My parents were very poor and lightly educated; my father never graduating from high school.  Their history however, did little to deter them from pounding the ethic of hard work and education into the heads of my younger brother and me.  My father worked two jobs in the nearest town, some thirty miles away, and tended our small thirty acre farm during his rare time off.  In his absence, our mother took over working the farm with her staff of two pre-teen sons.

Hard work – seven days per week – did not pose any hardship on my family.  It was simply the price of not starving to death.  Studying hard in school, even the two hour round trip school bus ride, was no imposition either.  School work provided an escape from the daily grind of digging weeds from the vegetable garden, carrying buckets of water to the hog lot, clearing land of pine saplings to plant hay for our single cow, milking that cow and feeding the chickens.

When I entered junior high school, my mandated study routine became more than just a way to please my parents – it became a portal to another world I never knew existed.  My classmates in the 7th grade fought over the school library’s National Geographic magazines in order to get their first glimpse of a woman’s breasts from photographs of African girls.  I found them fascinating as well, but for me, there was so much more to experience.  I was mesmerized by… (more…)

Sep 20th
Posted by shambo  as Cars, engineers, guys, Technology

Bored engineers - not good

Let me say this about that.

I was watching the “College Game Day”  program on TV last Saturday in preparation for a glorious day of holding down the couch and watching football.  During the preview of the Michigan State - Notre Dame game there was a segment that showed a group of students on the front lawn of a fraternity house on the Michigan State campus.  The fraternity had towed a junk car onto their lawn, painted it in Notre Dame colors and were encouraging the Spartan faithful to pound the hell out of the car with sledge hammers.

I think the car was a 1985  Nissan, which was made out of an alloy of pig iron and Kryptonite, and is basically indestructible.  Anyway, not much damage was done to the car, no Notre Dame fans fainted from shock, and the Michigan State fraternity guys came off looking like a bunch weenie-boys.  This effeminate display got me to thinking about college life for the current ‘politically correct’ generation and how much it has changed since I attended college.

I went to college at one of the toughest engineering schools in the country.  Basically it was 4+ years of hell on earth.  I rarely got more than four hours of sleep a night, worked my butt off seven days a week, and felt lucky to carry a C+ to a B- average.  When a rare chance to have a little fun came along, we cut it loose like we had been given a ‘death row’ pardon.  The “beating the hell out of a car with a sledge hammer” on the Michigan State campus last weekend reminded me of a similar college prank when I was a sophomore – way back before the age of political correctness – back when college pranks could be lethal.

The year was 1965 and a fraternity had towed a 1952 Ford Victoria onto their front lawn, painted it with our football rival’s colors, and were charging a dime (remember 45 years ago a dime was real money) to smash the car with a 9-pound sledge hammer.  Great fun … for about ten minutes.  A crowd of fifty or so engineers standing around watching some guy slug an inanimate object with a hammer gets boring in a hurry.  So, someone in this gaggle of geeks decided to… (more…)

Sep 13th
Posted by shambo  as Animals, Current Events, Food, Nascar

BBQ'd raccoon - mmmmmm

Let me say this about that.

Every so often, we hear a story that shakes our confidence that man is really at the top of the food chain.  There was the recent news coverage of the lady in the Florida Keys who caused an accident while driving down the highway as she shaved her “coochie”.  But hell, everyone living in the Keys is a little off-center.  Then, there was the bill introduced into the Florida legislature last year that would make it unlawful for humans to have sex with  alligators, but aren’t all politicians busy with crucial legislation such as this?

But now, we are confronted by the startling revelation that all NASCAR fans may not be candidates for membership in MENSA.  Shocking really, as NASCAR fans paint themselves as the prototype for ‘real Americans.’  But if this latest story is true, I’m afraid that we all might have to start taking banjo lessons.

Shortly after the completion of this years NASCAR race in Bristol, Tennessee, a 27 year old race fan was arrested for ‘streaking’  through a convenience store parking lot. First of all, this incident proves that NASCAR fans are about thirty years behind the latest fad.  ‘Streaking’ was abandoned by most of the civilized world back in the 70′s, but one explanation might be that this young man lived in West Virginia.

And, yes, there was alcohol involved which added a charge of “public drunkenness” to “indecent exposure”.  Much of this might have been written off as the bad judgement of youth, but then things got really weird.  Waiting in the car for the young man to complete a couple of nude victory laps around the convenience store parking lot, was his girlfriend – and…    (more…)


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