The NYTimes quoted blogger Daniel Akst’s post that did a great job of summarzing the author’s feelings on being thrifty. I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I’m quoting the entire NYTimes piece here:
Debtor No More
Can thrift set us free? In The Wilson Quarterly, Daniel Akst, a lifelong saver, thinks so:
To be thrifty, after all, is to save, and to save is not only to keep but to rescue. Thrift is thus a way to redeem yourself not just from the unsexy bondage of indebtedness but also from subjugation to people and efforts that are meaningless to you, or worse. Debt means staying in a pointless job, failing to support needy people or worthwhile causes, accepting the strings that come with dependence, and gritting your teeth when your boss asks you to do something unethical (instead of saying “drop dead”). Ultimately, thrift delivers not just freedom but salvation — which makes it a bargain even Jack Benny could love.
NYT article is here.
In which I launch into yet another tirade against what I shall henceforth refer to as The Irresponsible Generation. The inspiration for this one came after reading a book review in The Economist of The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took their Children’s Future—and Why They Should Give it Back, by David Willetts.
Apart from Rock & Roll, the boomers have not contributed much of note to society. After trading tie-dye for coat & tie they systematically betrayed every value they espoused in their youth and messed up everything they touched. Free sex led to herpes and then aids; drugs led to endless tv ads flogging cures for things we didn’t know we had; focus on spirtuality evolved to commercialization of everything from yoga to the dalai lama; anti-materialism evolved into competitive consumerism on an unprecedented scale.
The good news is the Jonesers are in charge now (like the author of the subject article’s book, born between 1955 and 1965).
And as we have done every step of the way, we will continue to take a practical look at what is broken and develop a workable solution that focuses more on the collective good rather than individual gain. I am confident that somehow our generation will set right the financial mess created by The Irresponsible Generation (aka Boomers).
(And we’ll likely live longer, too.)
You may be able to access this article on The Economist website here.
Finally, it’s over. As 2009 comes to a close it drags with it an entire decade. A decade of excess, disgrace, war, political and economic hubris, lame duck leadership, and, finally, economic ruin for all.
Paul Krugman’s OpEd piece in the NYTimes summed it up nicely. In it he recaps a decade that left us all ten years older but economically pretty much where we started. A decade, in other words, of zero gain or improvement in our economic situations – if we were lucky – and worse off, whether we were lucky or not, if you consider things like inflation and future prospects.
And who do we have to thank for this wasted decade? Well, who was in charge? Not just at the Whitehouse, but at the big corporations, banks, and investment firms? Who were these people who were making the decisions that led to our nation’s rapid decline? I’ll provide a hint: think about this in terms of the ages of these captains of industry and masters of the universe.
Here’s a list of some of them, and the year they were born – just to get things started:
GW Bush, POTUS, 2000-2008: 1946
Robert Willumstad, Chairman and CEO, AIG – 2006-8: 1946
Richard Fuld, Chairman and CEO, Lehman Bros – 1994-2008: 1946
Henry M Paulson, CEO, Goldman Sachs, 1998(?)-2006; US Treasury Secretary, 2006-2009: 1946
John Mack, CEO, Morgan Stanley, 2005-pres: 1944
Kerry Killinger, Chairmand and CEO, Washington Mutual, 1991-2008: 1949
Ken Thompsom, Chairman and CEO, Wachovia, 2000-2008: 1950
Stanley O’Neal, Chairman and CEO, Merrill Lynch, 2003-2007: 1951
These are a few of the architects of our financial meltdown. Notice any trends now? They were all (except for Mack – 1944) born between 1946 and 1951. They are all part of the demographic known as Baby Boomers.
They were not born between 1955 and 1965, a demographic slice that is mostly anonymous and generally lumped in with Baby Boomers. It is a demographic that should be recognized as separate. Some people refer to this demographic as The Jonesers.
The good news is that the Boomers are pretty much nearing the end of their run, at least as far as leading our country and its major institutions (as they grow into old age they will almost certainly continue their reign of terror, wreaking havoc and leaving in their wake destruction and ruin we can’t even begin to imagine).
President Barrack Obama was born in 1961 – he is a Joneser. The Jonesers are in their late 40s or early 50s now – and are quickly reaching the leadership ranks. Bring on the new decade – call it the Tens. I like that – “Tens”. Full of promise, of excellence. And let’s try to forget – quickly – the decadus horribilis that was the Zeros.
In a recent NYTimes article, Michael Pollan wrote about his favorite rules for eating and asked readers to submit theirs. It occurred to me that over the years I’ve accumulated a few of these so I lobbed mine into the mix, where it will no doubt be lost forever.
Decided to find my post and resurrect it here.
Tom’s Rules For Eating:
1. Two fists: that’s how much food you should eat in one sitting – and don’t keep eating until you feel full.
2. Two feet, four feet, no feet, (no blood): for dinner rotate your main source of protein daily – chicken/poultry, beef/pork/lamb, fish/seafood, (vegetarian).
3. Minimize or avoid pure carbs (bread, pasta, potatoes) at dinner time – save them for breakfast or lunch – you’ll sleep better.
4. When eating out split everything, never eat a whole main course or a whole dessert.
You can read the original article here and post your own rules.
Learn and play, stomp and splash
your way through puddles of water.
Here you’re not in charge of your life –
not yet that’s for later.
20 – 70 Adult.
Now you’re in charge. Live fully here –
fear not to place your bet.
This is it, no rehearsal
slay all chance for regret.
You’ve made it – or not
By now it matters little.
The die is cast, enjoy this stage –
next will feature spittle.
Surround yourself with family and friends
You still have time and mind.
Use them well, enjoy them now
for tomorrow they may end.
It’s been a good run, you’ve beat the odds.
Now lay for one last sleep
And let your soul return to ocean
wisdom earned it keeps.
That was fun, it’s over now
What on earth did you learn?
Life is living, love and learning
Let your passions burn.
Things are different. Things are changing. This has always been true. But I have a feeling it is true on a broader scale now than most people realize. Feels like the kind of change we haven’t seen since the 60s, when things really were changing in fundamental ways – ways that shaped our society for the next 50 years. That’s the kind of change I feel like we’re in right now. Not sure where it’s going, not sure what it means – but here are some data points.
In today’s paper, two items caught my attention.
Item: after 26 years Buell motorcycles are going to go out of production. Harley announced they are dropping them, and Eric Buell himself said his company is finished. Why? With Harley’s declining profits and production forecast they are scrambling to cut costs, and anything that isn’t core to their business is going.
Item: after 42 years the PGA tour is dropping the Greater Milwaukee Open from its tour line up, citing US Bank’s decision to pull its sponsorship. I remember going to this as a kid as well as attending in more recent years. The course was near where I grew up, and I used to play golf on that course – was always fun to see how the pros tore through the toughest holes to come in 20 under par for the tournament. Now it’s done.
There are plenty of other things going on in our world that are signaling something – but what? That’s what I’m trying to make sense of. Other things:
Item: I was talking with a buddy last night – a real estate agent – who was sharing with me his lack of enthusiasm for his job. This is a married guy with kids and nice home in the burbs, and there he was saying he was feeling depressed, saying he felt like he couldn’t find a way to apply the skills he had spent his whole career developing.
Item: He was sharing this with me after I said I had been wallowing for the last several months, and lately feeling depressed about future prospects. I know I’m good at what I do, and I have 20+ years of experience backing up the skills I’ve worked hard to develop. Yet I feel like there just aren’t any places I can find that are valuing those skills and hiring people like me.
Now I really don’t believe this last one – I think I’ve just hit a low spot and need to pick myself up and get my head back together and get on with my job search. But the fact that my buddy, in a completely different line of work, feels the same way; and Eric Buell appears to be throwing in the towel – all these make me stop and wonder if we aren’t in the middle of a real shift in the way our society is ordered.
Twenty years ago when I was just getting started in consulting I mused on the possibility that corporate jobs would eventually be held by only a very small percentage of people – people who had very high emotional intelligence, and were adept at politicking and relationship management. These people would form the nucleus of a company, and the rest of the employees would be contractors – outsourced to locations near or far to the lowest bidder in the most economically efficient manner possible.
Just as manufacturing jobs saw a rapid decline in the 80s, could it be that white collar, professional jobs are seeing a similar hit today? So many tasks that have been traditionally done by educated upper middle class workers have been automated or outsourced – could it be that what we’re seeing is nothing less than a reordering of the workplace? If so, what is the nature of that reordering? Which job types or categories are taking the hit? How many workers will ultimately be affected? And what will become of them, their families, and the communities they live in?
These are scary times – and they are a changin’.
I drive a car, sure. But I also spend a lot of time on two-wheels, both bicycle and motorcycle. For two years I commuted 20 miles to work on two wheels. That, and being naturally inclined to observe human behavior and think about what underlies the things we, as a species, do during the quotidian thrum of our lives, fascinates me. So here are thoughts on why using your cell phone to text or talk while driving your car should be banned, or at least penalized severely if you’re caught doing it, along with a proposed way to implement a workable penalty system.
First, the problem. It’s really pretty simple.
a) Cognitive Science research shows that the notion of “multi-tasking” is a fallacy. Our minds can only pay attention to one thing at a time. What people presume to be multi-tasking is actually quickly rotating attention – but total attention – among several individual tasks. What this means is that when you are paying attention to one thing your mind cannot be paying attention to another thing.
b) Talking to someone on a cellphone is substantially different than talking to someone face to face. Why? Because when someone is sitting next to you they can see most of the same things you can see. In behavioral psychology we called this “shared context.” So when you are having a rambling conversation with your front seat passenger and you suddenly pause mid-sentence there is no need to explain the reason for your pause. Both of you can see that the pickup truck in front of you suddenly swerved completely out of his lane to avoid hitting a mattress that was laying in the middle of the freeway, and you are going to swerve, too, in order to avoid hitting it. Your passenger is just as stunned as you are, and there is no need to explain or say, “hang on second while I see if I can avoid killing myself.” This is called shared context. And it is almost entirely absent in a cellphone conversation.
The other thing that’s missing is eye contact. My wife goes nuts when I’m driving and having a conversation with a friend who happens to be in the backseat. My periodic Linda Blair-like headspins take my eyes off the road for a second or so and she doesn’t like this. But maintaining some level of eye contact with my conversation partner is important to me. Helps me confirm that they are still engaged in the conversation and tracking, instead of sitting there quietly listening to their iPod and doing a crossword puzzle or checking their email on their Blackberry. Again, more shared context.
Without shared context our minds have to work overtime in order to bridge the gap created by the lack of shared context – we try to visualize the other person, and how they might be reacting to what we’re saying, so we can adjust our conversation delivery accordingly. Or we’re trying to visualize the scene they are telling us about, so we can respond more empathically to show that we are listening and have heard them – things that often are conveyed through non-verbal cues when the conversation takes place face to face.
All of this places a tax on our cognitive load. All of it requires continuous brain work to keep it flowing so the person on the other side of the call doesn’t notice any gaps. The result is our ability to attend to the task of driving is reduced to something like a 75 year old who has had a two-martini lunch. Pity the owner of that mattress in the center lane of the freeway: your Chevy Tahoe is going to turn it into confetti while you’re on the phone chatting with Aunt Bertha, because your reaction times are severely diminished from their usual Schumacher-like capability.
So – if we accept that multi-tasking, at least in terms of driving, is a fallacy, and therefore talking or texting or whatever while driving a vehicle is not a good idea in terms of safety, then what can we do about it?
Outright ban? Good luck enforcing it. Unfortunately hands free talking doesn’t alleviate the problem, and it’s very difficult for law enforcement offices to detect.
Harsher penalties? Definitely. If people knew that getting caught for “driving while distracted” would result in penalties as severe as say, drunk driving, it could result in fewer people doing it. This comes with a big IF attached to it: if people thought there was a pretty good chance they would be caught doing it.
And that’s where we’re at today – California, along with over a dozen other states, has a handsfree cellphone requirement for drivers. It is a no-points penalty, though, and it is not widely enforced as far as I know (I see people talking on handheld phones as much as ever). Beyond that, as we’ve already pointed out, handsfree or handheld doesn’t matter – lack of shared context is the problem, not holding the handset (how many people drive a stick, anyways? It’s not like you need two hands to drive a car these days.).
Proposed approach: the blackbox recorder
Forget trying to ban cellphone use (or texting, or managing your ipod) while driving. Instead, put in place mandate requiring the manufacturers to include blackbox-like recorder function for these devices and an accelerometer. The accelerometer (or a GPS chip) is used to detect when a given handset is underway in a vehicle. The accelerometer also detects when that vehicle has been involved in a crash. When a crash is detected, the handset uses the blackbox function to automatically store the last two minutes of handset activity in a non-volatile, non-eraseable memory; and if it has signal, it automatically sends a text of the activity file to the cellphone provider.
The accident investigation laws and procedures are changed to make the cellphone’s blackbox file of the driver and any passengers discoverable as evidence, and are required in the completion of an accident report.
This combined with DUI-like penalties would be a workable first step in getting people to “shut up and drive.” Is it a perfect solution? No. Is it an 80% solution? Yep. And I really don’t care about Big Brother, and my privacy being infringed and all that. This is more like a red light camera – the only time my data is being made available to the government is when I’m in a crash. Otherwise my privacy is protected, and what I do is not accessible, even to the hackers.
I’m not expecting this to be fixed any time soon. In the mean time if you see me on my motorcycle while you’re driving and yacking away on the phone, don’t be surprised if my demeanor is less than friendly – people who threaten my safey are not my friends.
Coda: This blog post was the basis for an Op Ed piece that was published in the November, 2009 issue of Porsche Club of America’s monthly member magazine, Panorama. A reprint of that article is here.
Just took the WHO’s self-assessment on ADHD (adult) to see where I would land. Turns out I’m Moderately ADHD affected, one click below full blown ADHD. Thought so.
Yeah, I have difficulty finishing projects, especially after the hard part has been done. Yeah, I’m not a very good organizer – if there’s more than about 10 steps to something I get really confused (actually, sometimes three is the upper threshold). My mind wanders when I’m in a conversation that really doesn’t interest me – and that comes up a lot. I don’t remember details of conversations very well either. I get bored easily, and am confused when confronted with multiple competing possibilities. I can be quick-tempered, although as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better at managing that – much to my wife’s joy. Sounds like a veritable trainwreck, doesn’t it?
But here’s the thing. When presented with a raft of new information – a new experience, a business problem, a new situation – I can look at it all as if I had never seen any of it before, which means I can encounter new things with huge levels of objectivity, and low levels of judgement which might otherwise impair my ability to be an accurate, impartial observer. I’m also a very strong lateral thinker, in the true sense of the term. I have strong right brain skills for words, concepts, and abstraction; and a strong left brain for analytical and structured thought. The challenge (advantage??) lies in the fact that I can’t really switch one or the other on or off at will. They are both functioning all the time. When it comes to concentration there are times when I find it hard to focus on any one thing – like what I want to do next with my life. And there are other times when I have a laser-like focus and ability to concentrate deeply for as long as needed to accomplish something – often giving me an advantage in competitive situations. Like motorcycle roadracing.
Roadracing is chess at 100 miles per hour. To be good at it requires strategy and tactical excellence. Focus, concentration, situational awareness in constantly changing circumstances, complete adaptability to those circumstances, dynamic analysis of what’s going on – these are some of the skills or cognitive processes at work during a roadrace. It’s similar to air dogfighting, I suppose – the winner is the one with the best skills and quickest mind, not necessarily the best equipment.
My Myers-Briggs type is INTP – with a borderline E/I. What I like about MBTI and the whole Jungian point of view is the neutrality of the descriptions of the various personality traits. N and P speak to lack of attention to detail, and willingness to leave things open – not as negatives, or defects, but as states of being. No more or less valid than high attention to detail or decisiveness. Any given set of traits enables some good things even as it precludes others. The challenge, I believe, we have in our society is figuring out a way to engage and reward individuals who have some of these ADHD traits.
Mainstream business and the world of information technology do not readily accept or reward individuals who have many of the traits associated with ADHD. In previous eras these individuals could be employed in trades, working with their hands, moving large machines around. In MBTI parlance they would be the SPs. As work has become more and more specialized, and industrial work and manual labor has either been outsourced offshore or given to immigrants, we are disenfranchising some of our most creative and energetic people from the world of work.
This is too bad. I should know – I’m one of them.
Today’s headlines includes news that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer would be publishing its final issue in the coming days, and its staff of 180 would be reduced to 20 or so. This is the lastest casualty in the newspaper business, which is seeing many of its century-old icons bite the dust. Then again, if you think about it, it really does sorta make sense. I mean, how many people does it take to capture any given image? Or document any given story?
There is too much capacity chasing too few data points. There are so many cameras deployed on cellphones and hanging around people’s necks; and there are so many twittering bloggers now – does the “official” media ever get a scoop before it hits the internet anymore?
There is certainly a need for professional news organizations – objectivity, fact checking, the ability to cover a story in its proper context. All of these have merit. But the idea of coverage has to change. It is no longer necessary for dozens of news agencies to have their own unique coverage of major events. That is redundant. Seems to me that has something to do with the problem newspapers are facing. Along with lowered readership (because readers are getting their news off the web).
To the Editor:
How in the world anyone could argue that someone like President Obama, who was seven years old during the Summer of Love, has anything in common generationally with a bunch of grey-haired, tie-dyed, social-security-collecting retirees is beyond me (a 49-year-old). There is a new generation assuming its position of economic and political power. Generation Jones includes anyone born between 1955 and 1965, a generation with more people in it than the Boomers born between 1946 and 1955. We Jonesers danced to disco, knew no “free love”, and remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the space shuttle Challenger exploded (not when JFK was assassinated). The Boomers had their run, and now it’s just about over. I wish they would do us all a favor and get over it – and themselves.
– In response to They Warned You About Us, NYTimes Style Section, 1/25/2009