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By Tom Demerly.

cali

I survived the collapse of Detroit, the Middle East after 9/11 and watched East Germans through binoculars while dodging spies. I’ve never had a sense of looming change like California. The ground beneath your feet is unstable, and it’s not just geology.

California is ruled by silent fear. The culture is collectively grasping the dead image of the California dream.

It must be similar to sailing on the RMS Titanic in 1912 or being on Wall Street on 9/10. Everything seems fine, but there is a tectonic uneasiness. Consider that both the Titanic tragedy and the 9/11 attacks happened by the slightest of circumstances. California is vulnerable to a similar flutter of the butterfly’s wings. It is a culture perched on the fulcrum of the American dream, or nightmare. It can so easily go either way.

I lived in Mission Viejo, California for a year. The neighborhood was idyllic with soaring palms, manicured landscaping, and artificial lakes. Traffic jams of BMW’s delivered perfectly coiffed teenagers to the local high school in what looked like a cattle call for an Abercrombie catalog shoot. If nothing else, Californians are beautiful.

When I arrived in California I walked around a corner to discover two 40-ish females hefting their breasts in comparison. “Oh!” The woman remarked when she noticed me, “We’re sorry… we just got these.” Californians eat natural foods but have artificial breasts. They are afraid of the inevitability of aging and spend enormous amounts in a losing battle to avoid it. There is a cultural aversion to dressing your age in California.

California is crowded. So crowded that I lived inside a massive, sprawling strip mall. The expanse of strip malls is like a skin-eating disease on the terrain. The lesions have connected with each other across the tissue of the landscape to engulf the corporate housing boxes of consumers. We were caged there between purchases and labor shifts.  It resembled an above ground ant nest with nice landscaping. The ants drove Benzs instead of following scent trails.

My cell between the strip malls in California had 2 windows, 2 rooms and cost about $1600 a month. Now I live in a house with 17 windows, 9 rooms and it is $800 a month. I also have a massive yard. In California I slept with my head 9 feet from the front bumpers of cars parked outside. And their constantly bleating alarms. I did have a nice pool though.

Southern California is fragile. One morning on my five-mile commute to work a traffic light went out. One traffic light. The ripple effect throughout Orange County was bizarre. Nearly the entire distance of my five-mile route was delayed or stopped because of one traffic light failure. One. What would happen if there were power failures here like the East Coast power failure of 2003?

California works (now) because of a little known but real principle of space management called the “chicken coop” theory: When there are too many chickens in the coop to all sit on the floor at once you must continually bang on the side of the coop to keep some chickens in the air. The result is an unsustainable society of increasingly collective fatigue. If every Californian had to drive somewhere at once the roads could not handle the number of vehicles. If too many Californians flush their toilets at once…

You may ask, “What about the authentic surf culture? The liberal, progressive attitude and the tolerant society?” Those are the depictions of California we see in themed mall stores, music videos and media. The reality has shifted to an industry of depicting those things. Instead of being California, California is in the business of selling California to the rest of the world, or at least what they think California is. Or was.

What was most embarrassing is that many Californians were very up-tight about being laid-back. They were incapable of poking fun at themselves. When they made fun of me for calling a carbonated beverage “pop” I would reply, “Sorry dude, it’s totally soda man, that was so lame of me…” they would stare at me blankly, as if I had just taken the laid back Dude-God’s name in vein. The reality is that the California surfer dude is simply a hillbilly with a trust fund. Sorry to totally harsh on your scene dudes.

Mostly, Californians are lonely and afraid, and I was one of them. I asked a close friend who was moving if he needed help. He said, in all seriousness, “I don’t want you to help me because you might need me to help you.” That was California in a nutshell.

I went to the same pretty little check out girl at the grocery store every time for a year. The last week I lived there the girl asked, “Why do you always come through my line?”

“I think you are pretty.” I told her. She told me she was taking her break at six and asked if I wanted to have coffee with her next door at Starbucks.

“No,” I said. “I am moving back to Detroit tomorrow.”

By Tom Demerly.

pearlharbor-flash

06:14, Hawaii-Aleutian Time Zone (UTC-10:00), 7 December, 1941; 221 miles north of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean.

Navigating through the dark, Pacific morning under strict radio silence the Japanese aircraft carriers Zuikaku, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and task force flagship flagship Akagi came about into the wind on mild seas. Deck crews stood ready at the wheel chocks of idling attack aircraft with exhaust flame flickering from their cowlings. Dawn would break in minutes.  Communications officers on the high decks changed signal flags to indicate the attack was underway.

Chocks were pulled and throttles advanced as 50 Nakajima Kate dive bombers began their short take off rolls from the carrier decks. They were laden with massive 1,760-pound armor-piercing bombs. Another 40 Kates carrying top-secret long-finned, shallow water torpedoes thundered forward on the flight deck, drowning out the cries of “Bonzai! Bonzai!” from the deck crew.

Secret Operation Z was under way. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor remains one of the most successful combat operations in history. Achieved with total surprise after maintaining strict security a massive naval armada of over 60 total Japanese vessels crossed 3000+ miles to stage near simultaneous attacks on multiple targets with miraculous precision and minor losses. The American naval capability was compromised to such a degree that it would take months to mount a tangible offensive in the Pacific. That more Americans did not die at Pearl Harbor is likely a function of the attack coming early on a Sunday morning.

Days earlier on November 26 the secret task force had left the covert naval installation at Etorofu Island and sailed over 2100 miles to its “initial point”. On December 2nd they were assembled stealthily under cover of bad weather to begin their final attack run toward the aircraft launch area north of Oahu. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, back on mainland Japan, issued a coded radio message via morse, “新高を登る!” or “Climb Mount Niitaka!”. This signaled the attack was to proceed as planned.

A new U.S. Army SCR-270 mobile radar array mounted high up Opana Point on Oahu detected the Japanese attack force 70 miles away but believed they were friendly aircraft. At 07:40 local the Japanese attack force spotted the Hawaiian coast at Kakuku Point. They had navigated partially by following the radio transmissions of music from the island.

Flight Officer 1st Class Shinpei Sano launches from the flight deck of the Akagi in an A6M2 model 21 Zero after sunrise in the second attack wave. Sano died in the Battle of Midway in June, 1942.

Flight Officer 1st Class Shinpei Sano launches from the flight deck of the Akagi in an A6M2 model 21 Zero after sunrise in the second attack wave on Pearl Harbor. Sano died in the Battle of Midway in June, 1942.

The attack began with total surprise and withering precision. Air superiority over Pearl Harbor was quickly established by lightweight, highly maneuverable Japanese A6M2 Zero fighters, the equivalent of today’s F-16. The Americans were unable to mount an effective air defense. As a result, air-attack commander Mitsuo Fuchida transmitted a famous morse radio message in the clear, “トラ,トラ,トラ…” or “To-ra, to-ra, to-ra!”.

Fuchida’s torpedo and dive bombers destroyed their targets with impunity as the Americans attempted to mount a defense with anti-aircraft guns. Two ships, the USS Nevada and USS Aylwin were able to start their boilers and run for the channel toward open ocean. Only the Aylwin, staffed by four new junior officersmade it to sea. The Nevada ran aground intentionally in Pearl Harbor after its commander was seriously wounded.

My mother, Velma Demerly, was in Lafayette, Indiana on December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. She is 92 now. The video above is a brief interview of her recollections of hearing the news that day. Her response typified the American misunderstanding of the gravity of the attack and the U.S. isolationism at the time.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was an incredible tactical and strategic success for the Japanese. It put the Americans on the back foot at the beginning of WWII. There were 2,402 Americans killed in the attack. By comparison 2,977 people in the U.S. died in the 9/11 terror attacks.

The social effects of the Pearl Harbor attack touched every American for decades. The Pearl Harbor attack lead to the first and only operational use of nuclear weapons five years later when the U.S. launched nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those attacks combined with a protracted and bloody island hopping, sea battle and air campaign across the Pacific finally brought WWII in the Pacific to an end five years later on August 15, 1945.

Remembering the Pearl Harbor attack is critical to our current political and military doctrine. The Pearl Harbor attack along with the 9/11 terror attacks stand as examples of why the U.S. must maintain strategic defensive capabilities and constant surveillance miles from our borders. It has been 72 years ago today since the first bomb fell on Pearl Harbor. The lessons learned from that tragic attack remain as relevant now as today’s headlines. Unless we remember we are condemned to repeat the past.

By Tom Demerly.

christmasshopping

Here we go; Holiday Shopping Season. Black Friday, Cyber Monday. This is the 25-day period when retailers earn their net profit for the year and consumers do most of their buying.

Before the gun goes off this Thursday at midnight (and even before) let’s take a brief look at what customers should demand in the post-recession economy.

There are more retailers and fewer customers than any time since the early 1980’s according to industry expert Mark Ellwood, author of Bargain Fever; How to Shop in a Discounted World. That means you have more choices and retailers have to get it right.  The margin for error- literally and figuratively- is razor thin. A well-run retailer is doing well to earn 1% net profit on gross sales after all expenses at the end of the year. Also, this year, the holiday shopping season is unusually short, only 25 days, because of Thanksgiving’s proximity to Christmas on the calendar.

Stores, both online and brick and mortar, have two major tools to earn sales: Great customer service and lowest price. A wide spectrum exists between these extremes and some especially skilled retailers manage to combine the two. Whether you aspire to the Tiffany’s personal shopping experience or a Walmart elbow-throwing, door-busting footrace to the big screen aisle these are the minimum standards you should expect as a customer:

1.    You should be treated as a Lady or Gentlemen.

You’re giving away hard-earned money at the end of the worst recession in history. You’re not a number, not a commodity. You’re not easily replaceable. Life long retailer and founder of the quirky, niche specialty retailer Harry’s Army Surplus in Dearborn, Michigan, Irv Zeltzer, said it best, “Every dollar has 100 cents”.  To earn that precious 100 cents retailers should treat you with respect and reverence. Retailers should value you.

2.    You Deserve to be Waited On.

Remember when clerks waited on you? Good service means there are employees or well-designed online resources to find out information and help you with buying decisions. This is a key feature since it adds value and savings to a purchase by reducing costly errors and returns. Your time is tangibly valuable. A sales associate or web resource that helps you make a faster, wiser purchase saves you time, and time is money.  Smart retailers also know good customer service reduces returns and adds to sales and profits.

3.    You Deserve Honesty and Openness in Pricing.

There are a lot of pricing shenanigans this time of year, triple and quadruple mark-downs, fine print, weird return policies, coupons, membership buying. Straightforward pricing is a key tool to understanding the value of a purchase. Beware of convoluted pricing schemes. Remember, the time it takes you to figure out if a deal is any good just cost you something more valuable than money; it cost you your time.

4.    You Deserve Good Service After the Sale.

Retailers should do “back end” planning for their post-holiday returns and customer service. The staff should know the policies and be empowered to make decisions. Lines shouldn’t be long and waits to make returns should be short. Retailers have a great opportunity to retain customers and earn new ones with great service after the sale. They need to get this right. It will bring in customers during the other 345 days of the year.

Customers fall into a trap of using price as the measurement of quality in a retail transaction. Good value is about more than markdowns and low prices. If you are focused on what you deserve as a customer before you line up on Friday morning you’ll have a better shopping experience this season.

By Tom Demerly.

tom52

I turn 52 today. I worried about that. Getting old. I decided to stop worrying about it. Instead I decided to worry about not living. I decided to stop looking into the rear view mirror of life and saying, “I remember when I…” instead of saying, “Right now I am…”

I was most worried about not doing things anymore. That scared me about aging. About being too old. Then I decided to stop worrying and just keep doing things. It really is that simple.

There is a physical element to aging. I’ve had three knee surgeries, a broken back, too many broken left arms to remember, a broken right arm and hand, eye surgery; heart surgery, a stroke and I have a cardiac implant. Those things affect me a little, and they are a badge of experience; a life well lived. An active life. So I work around them. And the more I do the less of an issue they are. They are not a reason to stare in the rear view mirror looking at what is behind me. They are a reason to keep moving, keep doing, keep living. Because there is no denying some day something will catch up to me that will have a limiting factor on living. Until then, it’s a race to get as much stuff done as I can. There are people who, at 52, are so much less capable than I am. Actually, there are people at 23 who are.

An embarrassing element of aging is beginning to understand how stupid I was when I was younger. In my thirties I knew everything. It was amazing how smart and successful I was. Good looking too. I was wrong of course, but I thought I was quite impressive at the time. Now I know better. Some of the errors of judgment I made still sting pretty badly. The only thing I can do about those errors is own them and not make them again. Some people say they have no regrets. They must not have taken many chances. I have plenty of regrets. I’ve also taken a lot of chances. That I don’t regret. I still have time to take more. I guess I don’t regret that I have regrets. Is that possible?

The good news about being older is we may be truly smarter. Most of us. I hope. The greatest fear I live with is not learning something from my mistakes. The fear of repeating them. As a result I remind myself of them often. Another risk is being fixated on what I did wrong. Not having the confidence to take on more risk, and do it wisely tempered against what I’ve learned from experience. I suppose that’s called “good judgment”.

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that, like the lyric in the Pearl Jam song, “…that what you fear the most will meet you half way…” failure has a way of finding you if you live your life to avoid it. In the cruelest irony if you navigate life to a warm, comfortable death bed with no regrets, no mistakes then there is a tendency to realize, in your final moments, that you could have done more. That is the cruelest regret. I don’t have that one.