Category Archives: Life

My Five Years in Saudi Arabia

As many of you know I spent my early 30’s working in Saudi Arabia for Adnan Khashoggi, arguably the richest man in the world at that time.  The late 70’s was an exciting time there as the Saudi used their new oil wealth to modernize their country and turned to the West to aid in this project.  Roads, airports, schools, hospitals, etc., you name it and it was being built.  Companies from Europe, the U.S., Japan, Korea, were all there to compete for these lucrative projects.

To do the manual labor, workers were brought in from poorer Muslim countries such as Yemen and Pakistan.  It was a win for all, or though it seemed so at the time.  (More on that later.)

Saudi Arabia was, and is, ruled by the House of Saud.  The culture was, and is, like nothing I had ever known, and apparently little has changed.  Women cannot drive or go anywhere without their husbands.  In public their clothing can only reveal their face.  Being Homosexual or Transgender is not acceptable and punishable by death.

If you wanted to work there, you had to accept their culture, and to be honest it never bothered me.  It was their country and I was a guest.  This was obviously much harder if you were a woman and there were many Western women there with their spouses.  I understood their plight but would always remind them that it was their country and their culture.  No one was forcing any of us to be there.

Many of my Muslim friends became Westernized and immigrated to the West or simply lived by one set of rules when in Saudi and another when visiting or working in the West.  “When in Rome, __________________________”!

I have always felt lucky to learn about and experience different cultures.  For the vast majority of Muslims, their religious based culture works well for them.  Too many Westerners believe that Muslims need to embrace reforms, which will make their culture more like ours.  It’s never going to happen because they believe we are the ones who need to reform.

Islam is not only a Religion; it is a Political System with very strict laws derived from the Koran.  Being concerned about the huge influx of Muslims refugees does not make one a racist.

In the past many Muslim immigrants came seeking a new life and embraced our culture.  But that is not the case today.  Muslim immigrants fleeing their war torn Country have no intention of assimilating and accepting our Western Culture.  To the contrary, they are demanding that we accept their Culture which, as I said earlier, is like nothing I had ever experienced.

“Democracy”, “Separation of Church and State”, Equal Rights”, these are all beliefs they will not embrace.  And, just as I learned to respect their Culture, in return, I expect the same acceptance and respect from Muslims for our Culture.

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The Legend

Many of you know Bo as a star at DFA over the past 20 years but before that Bo became a football legend at the University of Washington.  Bo is being honored at the Husky game this weekend and this recognition is well deserved.  I just wanted to share this  article I dug up giving you a few highlights his storied career.

Bo Cornell was a hulking football player who ran over people, his fearless style allowing him to move easily from Roosevelt High School to theUniversity of Washington to the NFL.

He had a name suited for toughness, but only because his younger sister, Cindy, couldn’t pronounce Bob.

The Miami DolphinsBenny Malone, however, even had trouble spitting out Bo.

In 1974, Cornell was two games into an NFL position switch with the Buffalo Bills — from backup fullback to starting linebacker — when he chased after Malone on a running play moving away from him. When the Dolphins tailback finally turned up field, the pursuer delivered a massive blow.

“I hit him in the head and we both went down; he was out cold,” Cornell recalled. “He had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. I chipped a big chunk of tooth. I felt I should have been carried off, too.

A lineman told me that was the hardest hit he had ever seen in his life.”

Today, Cornell travels in a far less violent world. At 56, he’s a slighter man with a mild demeanor. He’s into finance, a regional director for California-based Dimensional Fund Advisors. An Issaquah resident, he’s been married to his high school sweetheart, Jeanie, for 33 years and has two grown children.

Cornell started playing football when he was 8, advancing to each level with the same players, among them Jim Currie, Rick Smith, Steve Grassley, Bob Vynne and the late Hugh Klofenstein. As Roosevelt seniors, these guys had become such a cohesive unit they won seven of eight games and captured the 1966 Metro League championship, beating Sealth 14-13 in the Thanksgiving Day title game.

Cornell was durable, lifting weights at a downtown gym up to six times a week, starting when he was 15. He got the tough yard whenever needed but was equally impressive in the open field. He returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown against Lincoln. He scored from 79 yards out against Shorecrest. Recruiters everywhere sought him out.

The UW was not an automatic choice. Cornell pursued an Air Force Academy appointment, thinking he might become a pilot. Yet he was nearsighted and failed a two-day physical at McChord Air Force Base. He signed a national letter of intent with Stanford and placed it in a mailbox, only to have immediate second thoughts. His father retrieved it from a postal worker.

At the UW, Cornell played for two bad teams and one good one, but was consistent throughout. He scored 20 touchdowns and rushed for 1,250 yards in his career. When his team went 1-9 in 1969, he lost just three yards all season while running for 613 in a wishbone offense. Demonstrating his versatility, he caught 33 passes as a senior when the Huskies switched to a passing attack.

The pros wanted him. Cornell was the Cleveland Browns‘ second-round draft pick and spent two seasons as a special-teams player. The Bills traded for him and asked him to move from offense to defense in his second season in Buffalo, considered a radical move at the pro level.

“That was one of the things I was most proud of,” he said. “I had to learn everything on the run. I hadn’t played any defense since high school. To me, it was just football. I wanted to play. I knew I could do it.”

 

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“Where Have All The Flowers Gone”

For those of you too young to remember, this is the title of a song written in 1955 by Pete Seeger and made popular by the “Kingston Trio” and “Peter, Paul, and Mary” in the 60’s.  The question raised several times in the lyrics is: “When will they ever learn?”  (If you are not familiar with the song, I suggest you go to You-Tube and watch the music video.)

Why is all this relevant?  After all, this is not the 60’s.  But in some ways the situation in the Middle East today is not all that different than it was in Southeast Asia in the 60’s. (You know the history.)  We had to stop the plague of Communism before it could spread all the way south to Australia enslaving millions along the way.  It was called the “domino theory” whereby one nation after another would fall. They had to be stopped!

Now here is where I see similarities between the 60’s in Vietnam and the Middle East today.  In Vietnam it became obvious that most Vietnamese did not want us there.  The North Vietnamese wanted to reunify their country and the Viet Cong in South Vietnam wanted the Americans out.  Realizing just how much we were despised we came up with a program to “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese.  Advisors known as the “Green Berets” were trained to work with the Vietnamese and to give them the ability to defeat the communist.  Billions (in todays dollars) were spent training the South Vietnamese and equipping them with the best weapons and lots of air support.  Yet almost 10 years later we beat a hasty retreat from Vietnam as the Viet Cong closed in on the capital, Saigon.  57,000 Americans lost their lives and many more were maimed for life.  In addition, several hundred thousand Vietnamese died.

Are you starting to see any similarities?  I took part in only one “joint operation” with the South Vietnamese and it was very evident that they did not have the same level of motivation as the enemy, why would they.  Their political leaders and the U.S. were asking them to fight against Vietnamese. And worse yet, what if they lost and the Viet Cong won.  Well that is exactly what happened and they paid the price after the Americans left.

Now to the Middle East 50 years later–after 10 years of training and spending billions to build an effective Iraqi Army they seem to be totally incapable of accomplishing anything against ISIS (a group that would make Hitler proud).  Our current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs claimed this past week, that the Iraqi army may need American advisors on the ground “to be all they can be!”  I wish he had been old to enough to experience how that strategy worked out in Vietnam.  He might have a different opinion.

So—“will we ever learn?”  There is no American solution to the problems in the Muslim world.  That is a very sad fact but it is still the truth.   And the sooner we acknowledge the truth and change our strategy, the better off we will be.

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When Did We Lose Our Moral Compass?

I would love to have feedback on the words I am about to write. Our country has never had totally pure motives when dealing with other countries or even our own citizens. However, I have always been able to rationalize our actions by telling myself, at least our “code of morality” is no worse than that of any other country, but I am starting to have serious doubts and it’s very troubling.

You are no doubt familiar with the drone attack, ordered by President Obama, to take out Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Al-Awlaki was an American citizen who had moved to Yemen and was advocating terrorist attacks on the U.S. and U.S. citizens. Being a threat to America, his voice was silenced once and for all with the drone attack.

When this attack was reported in the news, the debate began over whether or not the President had the Constitutional authority to order the execution of a U.S. citizen without any “due process” as required by law. That debate continues but it is likely that nothing will come of it. I am not a lawyer and feel unqualified to question the legality of the President’s action against a self-described enemy of this country. But debating the legality of this attack is missing a bigger issue regarding what our government did in Yemen.

Al-Awlaki’s 16 year-old son, an American citizen, who had moved from Denver to Yemen to live with his cousins was targeted two weeks later and killed along with four of his relatives while having dinner 250 miles away. Why? Roger Gibbs, former White House Press Secretary, suggested the boy would not have been murdered if he had a more responsible father.

For me, this is not a “constitutional issue” but a “moral issue.” Evidently the President expressed regret about what happened to the son, but no one is being held accountable. You might think that as the world’s only super power we would have the opportunity to show not just our military might, but to also show moral leadership. Unfortunately we seem to be headed in the opposite direction.

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General Mattis-“It’s Fun to Shoot People”

A buddy of mine recently sent me a link a to story regarding Marine General James Mattis who, during a speaking engagement back in 2005, claimed it was fun to shoot people and fun being shot at (and missed). I had never seen the story and my buddy was inquiring as to whether or not I had ever met this “bad ass” Marine during my time in the Corps. The answer was no. I served from 1967-1970 and General Mattis joined the Corps in 1972.

I don’t recall ever enjoying being shot at, watching my colleagues die or seeing them maimed for life. Though I felt no guilt about the killing of NVA soldiers, their death was not something to be celebrated.

The General’s comments made it seem as if combat is like a big bar brawl, calling himself a “brawler”. To me this sounded like the boast of a man who had never seen combat up close and personal. So I went to Wikipedia to review his career.

He joined the Corps too late to see combat in Vietnam and by the time of the Gulf War he was already a Senior Officer. And, as anyone who has ever served in the Marine Corps will tell you, senior officers rarely get shot at or actually kill anyone. It’s the field officers, (Captains and Lieutenants) and the enlisted men (from the Gunnery Sergeant on down) who do the actual fighting.

I will always be proud of my service as a Marine and the views of men like James Mattis are not representative of the brave Marines I served with in Vietnam. I wonder what his views would be if he had actually experienced lethal combat.

But thinking about his time of service, it occurred to me that those Marines who had served in Vietnam (and survived) were retired by now. It is doubtful that today’s senior officers in the Marine Corps, just by historical circumstance, have ever seen combat “up close and personal”.

This observation is in no way intended to question their leadership ability, intelligence or courage. I would like to believe, that unlike General Mattis, they understand that combat is not a game (and it is certainly not fun.) Instead it is a duty that requires sacrifice and courage in the service of our country.

The Marines with whom I served had more courage than most people could ever imagine and many of them made the ultimate sacrifice. In my opinion, General Mattis demonstrated nothing but disrespect for them, their wives, mothers and children, who had to greet a Marine at the door delivering the news about their sacrifice.

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“March Madness”

I love it, all basketball fans love it, and we will all be spending a lot more time on the sofa watching (or hanging out at our local “sports bar”).  College sports has become one of the “crown jewels” of the entertainment industry, creating incredible amounts of wealth for those with the power to direct that wealth into their own pockets.  I am certain the NCAA and the “Big Five” major conferences are having a great time counting their money, but they have to be looking over their collective shoulders at the increasing threats to the monopolistic and exploitive system generating all that wealth.

As a reader of this blog you know I have written about this scandal for the past couple of years.   Public awareness of the injustice of the system is growing rapidly and a “full court press” (no pun intended) on the NCAA and the major conferences is emerging.

In no particular order, here is a short list of current developments that will hopefully put an end to what can only be described as “disgraceful” and a real black eye for our American system of “higher education.”

 

  1. Northwestern University football players have filed with the National Labor Relations Board to organize as a union.
  2. Ed O’Bannon’s class action lawsuit against the NCAA for the profitable use of player images, without their permission, (and with no compensation being paid), will go to trial June 9.
  3. Pac 12 Commissioner, Larry Scott, came out against the “One and Done” rules stating that the amount of time a scholarship athlete must stay in college should be increased to return to the objective of actually offering an education to those playing the game.  But he also stated that young athletes should not be required to attend college.  They should be allowed to pursue a career in professional sports whether it is in the NBA, the NBA Development League, the NFL, MLB, overseas or anywhere else opportunities arise.  You know, the sort of options and freedom all the rest of us have.
  4. Four college athletes have filed suit against the NCAA and the Big Five conferences alleging that they have created a “cartel” which prevents players from negotiating with individual schools to get the best possible deal in exchange for playing ball.  The prices are all “fixed” and relative to the amount of money being made off the players, the compensation is miniscule, especially for star athletes who bring in the big bucks.

As the NCAA, as we know it today, slowly sinks, maybe the NCAA orchestra will be playing “Nearer, My God, to The” and Kevin Spacey will be cast as Jeffery Immelt in the mini-series, “House of Shame.”

One last note on the hypocrisy embedded in the NCAA rules.  If a player gets a free meal, he or she can be declared ineligible and the school punished.  But if a university, in order to make certain an athlete is eligible, gives athletes credit and a passing grade for fake classes, the NCAA does not consider that a problem.

Huh????  That’s right.  The University of North Carolina admits it was happening for several years but evidently that’s okay with the NCAA.

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CEO Primer

Question:  What do you do as a CEO when GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) doesn’t give you the results you need to impress investors?

Answer:  Make up your own standards and report the results both ways.

Question:  What do you do, when you fail to make a profit over the past four years, to keep shareholders happy?

Answer:  Make promises about the profits to come in the future.  The true believers will hang in there until you can unload your shares at a price based on those promises rather than past results.

Question:  How do you support a high price for your stock when investors begin to question the reliability of your promised profitability?

Answer:  You create rumors about a potential takeover from a buyer with very deep pockets.  It reminds me of realtors always claiming there is another offer coming in.

Question:  How do you gain credibility with investors in our wealth and celebrity obsessed culture?

Answer:  Always make certain that the media puts the word “billionaire” before your name in every report about your company.

Question:  How do you learn to develop “celebrity” status in the business world?

Answer:  You watch the “Iron Man” movies and learn from Tony Stark.

I must admit having a little fun writing this but I am also having flashbacks to the late 90’s when we had a plethora of tech related companies trading at huge “multiples” (whoops can’t say that, because there was no P/E when there was no “E”).  I should say “trading at ludicrously high prices.”

The “bigger fool” theory of investing is back and I just want you to keep this in mind and stay diversified.

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