Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 2010: Mid-Term Elections

On November 2nd, we had a general election in the United States.  It is called the mid-term elections because it is the election in the middle of the presidential term.  Barack Obama was elected President two years ago in 2008 and will most likely run again in 2012.   The mid-term election is seen as a referendum by the electorate as to how the President is doing.
President Obama was easily elected in 2008.  His election was seen as a mandate not just because of his margin of victory but also because the Democrats took both the House and the Senate.  It was a big deal.
The economy crumbled in September of 2008 and most people blamed President Bush for the mess the country was in.  It was a time for a change and people voted that way.  John McCain did not really stand a chance given that the economy melted in the very month preceding the election.  He did not help his own cause by downplaying the magnitude of the free fall we experienced at that time.
I voted for Obama.  That surprises many people when I divulge this little tidbit.  Mostly, I did so because I thought we needed a change.  The Republicans had moved too right of center, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were dragging on too long, and mostly the economic mess that was due to way too much deregulation which contributed to the sub-prime disaster that mostly caused the recession. 
I thought Barack Obama was as bright a candidate as we have had since I have been voting.  He is a very good speaker.  He was the opposition and we needed a change in approach.  I did not buy into the “Change” rhetoric of his campaign that extolled change without exactly specifying what that change would be.  I voted for Barak Obama contrary to what my demographics would normally have indicated.
Shortly after the inauguration as the President, his staff, and Congress quickly got to work to stop the economic hemorrhaging, people began to grumble.  The grumbling was about this country, The United States of America, being on verge of socialism.  Indeed.   
I had several discussions with this with my friend and advisor John Surak.  He was truly concerned beyond simple TEA Party rantings that this country was moving in a socialist direction.   He also argued that when we come out of this recession we will look more like a European.  The only question being was would we look more like the UK, Italy, or Greece. 
I agreed with him on what we might look like coming out of the recession.  I believe there is a fundamental macro-economic change happening.   I agreed that the policies were more socialist in nature than we had seen the past 20 years.  I disagreed that these changes would be permanent.  I believed that the recession would be long enough and severe enough that there would be a change in the Congress in the mid-term elections moving away from and even undoing any socialist policies.  I guess I am right.  I am not sure that is a good thing.
The Not American Century?  The 20th Century is called the American Century.  It was the century when we became the most powerful military and economic country in the world.  We took over that mantle from, I suppose, the English.  Because of the US, the Lingua Franca of the world became English instead of the old Lingua Franca, which was French.  The dollar was THE standard in the world.  Countries like Argentina and Ecuador pegged their currency exactly to the dollar.  Hollywood exported the American image and aura to the world adding to mystic and envy.  Countries sent some of their best and brightest to our colleges and universities.   We funded projects wonderful projects through our aid and horrible interventions via other agencies.
Our industrial infrastructure was spared the ravages of World War II.  As a result, our industrial prominence solidified to the point of monopoly until the Japanese economic engine rose up in the 1970s and 1980s.  In the 1980s, we thought our reign might have ended.  We staved off the Japanese until their economy imploded and stagnated in the early 1990s.
With the turn of the century, we have been worried about our century literally being over and the Asian or perhaps Chinese century beginning.  The Great Recession has raised this possibility almost as evident to practically everyone whether they vocalize it or not.  This includes me.
Why am I inclined to believe this?  I do believe that we will come out of this recession, this Great Recession, as something less than what we were when we went into it.  We have exported so much of our manufacturing base that we are essentially a service economy.  Our deficit is out of control. 
Pensions except for government positions are essentially gone.  And as so many states are near bankruptcy, we will have to deal with the elimination of these pensions next.  I will not even get into Social Security. 
Most of what I have just said is my impression.  It is my view of what I am seeing and hearing around my.  It feels real and sadly it feels like what is actually happening:  a realignment of the wealth of nations.  Of course, I thought or was led to think this way during the 1980s and early 1990s.  Then, as mentioned earlier, we were worried about Japan as we are now we are worried about China.  Only time will tell what will actually happen.
One thing that really bothers me is the growing disparity of the haves and have nots in this country.   The distribution of wealth in this country has shifted measurably in the past 50 years and not in the favor of the middle class.  To me it goes hand in hand with the evolution from being a manufacturing country to being a service economy. 

·   1976:  8.9% of income went to the Top 1% of US households.
·   2008:  the Top 1% of households was took 23.5% of income 
·   The average hourly salary was $20.06 adjusted for inflation.  In 2008?  $18.52
·   66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
·   36 percent of Americans say that they don't contribute anything to retirement savings.

The New Normal:  There is a lot of talk about the “New Normal.”  What is meant be this?   I have seen it used when both referring to the economy and also in regards to Supply Chains.  Basically, the New Normal is simply a quick way of saying the coming out the turmoil of this Great Recession things will not be the way they were.  Things will not return to what, going into the recession, we considered normal.  That is the Old Normal.  We will come out of this crisis different,  somehow.  There will be level set change in jobs, banking regulations, government control, etc.  We will never be what we were.  There will be a, simply stated, New Normal.  To those who use this term, the New Normal is something less than the Old Normal.
I do believe we will more like a European country hopefully more like the UK, France, or better yet Germany than Greece, Italy, or Ireland.  Our expectations will be less because we have lost so much of the GDP and middle class because of the loss of our manufacturing base and the jobs that came with it.
You have read in these pages the belief that the US was the market place of the world.  Our consumption of, well, just about everything was head and shoulders above that of consumers in any other country.  With the dampening, if not erosion, of the middle class and perhaps a chronically higher rate of unemployment, a more modest and more frugal American consumer be part of the New Normal.  Not to worry, there are enough up and coming consumers in India and China to more than make up for whatever we stop buying.
This is what I feel.  This is what I believe I am seeing.  It is not based on any real analysis or econometric modeling.  I could be wrong.  It also felt this way before Reagan was elected and the economy revved up for what was essentially a twenty five year run.  Could that happen again?  Many people are counting on it.  Many more are hoping for it.  My mind is not closed to such an eventually.  I just think there the probability of returning to the Old Normal is less than 50%.
This may not all be a bad thing.  We need to get a little of our fighting spirit back.  Certainly, we absolutely should learn to live within our means.  That applies to both the government and individuals.
We have a great university infrastructure.  We should encourage the study of engineering, science, and math.  We should encourage architects of factories and meaningful new technologies and products instead of architects and engineers of sophisticated and arcane investment schemes.  We need more Apples and absolutely no more Enrons or subprime mortgage schemes.  We need to build a sustainable economy that benefits all.
The other thing I know for sure is that the world is more complicated and unpredictable.  China could implode like Japan did in the 1990s and 2000s.  There may be other disruptive technologies that would favor American industry and workers that I just do not see.
Another point to consider is that the major economies are more inter-connected and inter-dependent than ever before.  Corporations are global entities more so than ever before.  That trend will only continue.  The headquarters may be based in one country but need to have a presence in one form or another in all their major markets.   Furthermore, in our fast changing world, economic drivers force businesses to have to be agile and nimble.  Transportation continues to become more expensive.  As freight costs grow and currencies fluctuate, the definition of lowest cost source can change just as fast.
We hear in the US that China is holding down their currency in order keep the balance of trade in their favor.  If this is true, that can only last so long before there has to be a correction.  The longer they wait the more disruptive the correction will be.  Tampering always adds variation to a business or economic process.
Vacillation:  Speaking of variation in processes, this mid-term election bespeaks of it.  Every two years, it seems, there is a flip-flop in one or both of the houses in Congress.  We move left and then right, states change colors from red to blue to red to TEA.  With each election the new president believes he has a mandate from the American people (maybe not in the hanging chads of 2000).  With this mid-term election, we hear the Republicans speaking of mandate again.  All I can think of is vacillation and that is bespeaks of an unstable process oscillating between… mandates.
Under Bush there was a free market and anti-regulation movement.  It was done, in my opinion to the point where carpet-baggers ran amok and practically destroyed our financial infrastructure.  At the next minute, we are over regulating and trying to emulate certain European socialist policies.  Two years later, we have a change in Congress with the winners vowing to unravel the recently enacted health care package.  Where is the steady hand?  Where is the sensible strategic course?
Such vacillations add variation to our economic processes.  I am not even mentioning the shear waste of money and legislative energy in raveling, unraveling, and then re-doing major initiative like health care  over again.  It is a serious time and these kinds of actions do not get us to the sane national plan we need to renew and invigorate our economic engine again.
The economy imploded under eight years of Bush.  Period.  No argument.  The keys to the car were hand over to Obama and crew while it was about to fly off of a cliff.  The new administration had to act and act quick. 
Were they too socialist in nationalizing large segments of the economy?  Would we have been better off letting GM and a major bank or three go under?  If we had done that would the unemployment rate be 5 points lower or 6 points higher?
We can argue that until the next election when the mantle of power changes again.  The bottom line is that they did what they thought was best.  No one will argue that what was done was done pretty fast.  No one will argue that we have probably bottomed out.  Certainly no one should argue that recovery is so shallow that the case for the New Normal makes a lot of sense.
I am a centrist really.  I tend to listen to both sides and pick and choose what makes sense and then develop an opinion and policy that is solid and lasting.  Such policies need minor tweaks and adjustments not major overhauls.  That is either my wisdom or my naiveté. 
Extremes in terms of being too liberal or too conservative either cost too much or not enough social welfare respectively.  Extremes in terms of no regulation to over regulation lead greed to flourish or stifle growth respectively.   Having a population with way too few haves and ever increasing number of have-nots is what?  It is not a definition of a top tier economy.  Things are not always optimized at the extremes.  I think I learned that in 1970 when I first took calculus.
Appendix – Mortgages:  Let’s look at the craziness of regulation and de-regulation in terms of mortgages. 
When I was growing up, bankers wrote mortgages and then owned the paper.  The people who sold and profited from the mortgage were essentially the same entity.  The entities were usually banks.  Mostly, they sold and managed mortgages in a 10-20 mile radius of their office.  i.e. They were part of the community and had to take care in the loans they made because they counted on that income for the next 25-30 years.
In these same times there were solid, tried, and true rules of thumb for qualifying for a mortgage.  They would not grant a mortgage for any more than say 30-35% of the buyer’s cash flow or take home pay.  Why did they have this rule of thumb?  They knew this was the limit of what people could afford and still have enough money to live on.  They knew that this policy good and while it could also be altruistic, the bankers followed this rule to minimize faults on the loans that would require foreclosures.  It was a good centrist, stable, and sustainable policy.
Fast forward to the recent real estate boom before the Great Recession, things had changed a lot.  The people that sold the mortgages rarely owned the paper (held the mortgages).  The people that sold the mortgages were brokers.  All they were interested in was making sales that generated commissions for themselves.  Period.  The entities that held the mortgages rarely held them for the term of the mortgages.  With the mergers of banks, mortgages moved around a lot. 
To sell more mortgages, the rules of thumbs regarding qualification and approval went out the window.  People were allowed to go in debt up to their eyeballs with balloon mortgages and other enticements designed for people to take on debt way beyond what they can afford.  This was done by making the payments cheaper the first few years.  I know, it sounds stupid and is certainly ill advised.  It presupposes that interest rates will not substantially increases and that housing prices continued to increase. 
People need to be protected, sometimes, against themselves.  If credit is too easily come by with limits beyond what people can afford, more and more people will get into severe economic troubles.  The laws of basic economics cannot be violated without consequences no matter what a mortgage broker might say in their sales pitch.
It goes against our sense of freedom and independence, or so the argument goes, to have too much regulation.  People must have the freedom to make choices and take individual responsibility for their finances.    I do not subscribe to that entirely for two reasons. 
First, there is the need to have some regulations to protect people.  Why do we have traffic laws?  Why don’t we simply rely on the freedom and independence of individuals to make good decisions?  Because without traffic lights, stop signs, and speed limits, it would be pure chaos on the roads. 
Second, many people do not have the financial wherewithal to make the right decisions when offered bad choices.  Variable rate and balloon mortgages certainly have their place for people who understand how to use them for short periods to bridge between a purchase and a sale.  Using such financial devices to take out a mortgage larger than one can afford simply adds risk to the equation.
On top of this, secondary investments were created on mortgages.  These futures and derivatives are only understandable to a select few.  To me they are Enron-esque devices that should be severely limited simply because they are not easily understood by the common person.  I figure that if I do not understand it easily, it is by definition arcane and simply a way for a few to make money off of the confusion of others.
The biggest argument that the system is out of control and needs to be revamped is the foreclosure mess we are in.  The record keeping is a disaster and bespeaks of just how much paper was sold solely to generate commissions.  The proper record keeping necessary for sound management from a mortgager standpoint was simply not done.
We need a system where people are free to make decisions within some sane guides and guidelines.
Appendix – Foreclosures:  It is Sunday, November 28 having spent the Thanksgiving weekend at my parents’ home in Livonia, a suburb of Detroit.  I woke up this morning to retrieve the Detroit Free Press to read about the University of Michigan’s seventh loss in a row to The Ohio State University.  I guess I want to wallow in the dismal recent record.  I wanted to read about all the speculation of what would happen to Michigan’s beleaguered coach, Rich Rodriguez.  Would the University keep him for a fourth season or show him the door for taking too long to turn things around and compete with the elite teams in the nation.
Instead of getting to the sports section as I was amazed at how thick the newspaper was.  In this day and age of shrinking readership, shrinking advertising, and hence shrinking newspapers, I was kind of surprised to see such a thick fat Sunday newspaper.  I wondered why?  Was it Christmas advertisements?  No.  It was something different.
It was instead an extra eight sections of the newspaper totaling 142 pages of what looked like want ads. It was not want ads.  It was the 2011 Notice of Forfeited Property Subject to Foreclosure.  It was a paid supplement to the Detroit
Free Press from Raymond J. Wojtowicz, Wayne County Treasurer (   The supplement will be repeated on December 5th and December 11th as well. 
Wayne County is the county of the City of Detroit and the eastern, western, and southern suburbs of the city.  One would expect a large number of foreclosures here in one of the most depressed areas in the United States.  I was shocked to look at 142 pages of foreclosures.  I noticed 9 in the 14000 block of Strathmoor, the street we lived on in Detroit.  Amazing.  Depressing. 
I then read the finer print of the first page of this massive listing.  These 142 pages only include foreclosures due to lack of property tax payment.  Wow. It is even worse.  I shudder to speculate how many pages the list would have been if they had included all foreclosures.
On the front page, there is information on how to and criteria for applying of financial hardship consideration.  There was information on payment plans.  I wondered how many of the poor and disenfranchised actually get and read the paper.
It depressed me.  It made me appreciate the magnitude of the job Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is facing.  It made me sad for my hometown of Detroit.  It made me wonder about the recovery and the prospect for real estate going forward.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Buried Armenian Treasure

Ayse Gunaysu wrote a piece published in the Armenian Weekly on October 2, 2010 titled “Akhtamar:  A Paradise Lost.”  It was a touching piece well worth reading.  Like many articles about the Genocide it was bittersweet, both heart warming and heavy hearted at the same time.

A part that was a heavy hearted and irksome to me was when Ayse related an encounter where a “Turkish gentlemen” wanted to hear the story of an older Armenian lady visiting Van.  The man presented himself as an academic and seemed genuinely interested in the story of the lady’s grandmother and the village she was from around Van.  It was emotional for the lady to relate the story.  At the very end, the man asked if the lady knew if her family had buried any gold and offered to help find it and they would split the bounty.

I am kind of amazed that Turks and Kurds today still harbor the belief that there is Armenian gold in “them thar hills.”  Really?  WTF, as the kids would say.

I know that the Gavoor side of my family buried treasures.  My Great-Uncle Rouben related the story to me.  He was just a young boy, maybe five but less than ten years old.  His mother, Maryam, told him one day they had to go into their fields and bury treasure to keep it from the Turks.  Great-grandma Maryam knew bad times were coming.  Uncle Rouben said they did just that.

What was this treasure?  What was the value?  Could I be rich?  Should I set out on a quest, buy Indiana Jones clothes and go to Kharpert to find that field in the village of Keserig?

The treasure was books.  They buried my Grandfather Aram’s school books.  He had gone to Yeprad College and studying a program of liberal arts:  French, mathematics, history, science, and philosophy.   Why did they bury his school books?  Maryam knew these books would have identified her son as an educated man and thus would have made him a marked man and put the family in jeopardy.   She was unaware as to the extent of what was being planned.

This treasure of ours can stay buried.   The legacy has been transmitted to us all.  My Mother, Aram’s daughter in-law, made sure that I knew the value of books and education.  She evoked the living example of Uncle Rouben and the memory of my Grandfather in her steadfast encouragement to value education.  I, along with my wife Judy, did the same to our children Aram and Armené to the point that we all teach.  Armené teaches second grade at the Hovsepian School in Pasadena, Aram teaches at George Washington Law School in DC, Judy teaches at the School of St. Mary here in Chicagoland, and I teach at the College of Lake County.  The books, their treasure, were indeed buried but Rouben and Aram brought the seeds with them in their hearts and souls, planted them, and they bloom anew. 

Yet, this tale of Asye’s got me thinking.  I once had a plan involving this belief of hidden gold.  I shelved the plan simply because I thought no one would actually take the plan seriously.  The Turkish government got the real bulk of Armenian gold and some used it to found the Republic and seed the businesses that are now the conglomerates that drive the economy of Turkey.  So, who really is out there looking for buried treasure, pieces of eight, yarrrr?

Apparently, there are still people that believe it.  We, as Armenians, should take advantage of this and have some fun with it.  Advantage?  Fun?

Let me explain.

We spend time writing congressmen, senators, and Presidents letters to get the US to recognize the genocide.  It is good, necessary, and serious work.  We should never ever stop until we get the truth recognized.  It is a noble cause.

But, on the other hand, why can’t we have a little fun and play havoc with the Turks.  We should take advantage of their belief that Armenian gold, jewelry, and who knows what else is buried all over our historic homeland.  Let’s play into that.  Let’s start writing letters to mayors, imams, school principals, and chambers of commerce in the municipalities that are now where our villages were.

Let’s state in our letters that our grandparents told us where their family had buried their family treasure.    We could say that while our parents and grandparents were leery of dealing with Turks, our generation is more open and modern.  We believe that the people of the Republic of Turkey are the same and, really, want to be friends with Armenians in Diaspora.  Turkey, after all, is an ally of the United States.  Would they help us find our gold?  Our treasures?   I believe that is all we have to do.  Enough greedy people would act on such information.

We could provide hand drawn maps of the village labeling the homes:  One Kor Zaven’s, another Gevorg Bey, etc.  We have to play it up.  Many families did not have last names in the late Ottoman empire but rather went by trade, profession, or the name of a significant family member.  The maps only have to look old because we will only be sending photo copies of the maps or even pdfs.  I can see this being an email campaign.   We can do it all from the confines of our homes half way around the world.

We would have to involve the whole community.  We need our historians to help us with the fake maps.  Speaking of taking advantage of technology, we could use Google Earth to pinpoint the location of villages.  We then, and here is the sly and clever part, create our fictitious maps to lead folks to locations where schools, municipal buildings, and even mosques built after they unceremoniously kicked us out of what is now their country.  If we do this right, we could have them digging holes in school floors and maybe toppling over a minaret or two looking for gold.  It is a deliciously intriguing idea.  Who says all Hai Tahd has to be serious?  Why can’t some of it be fun?  Why can’t it be fun, devilish, and educational?

How could this in any way be educational?  I am glad you asked.  We could have Armenian School children draw the maps.  It could be a political activism, geography, history, and art project all rolled into one.  It would force families to study where their ancestors came from, what the villages looked like then, and create believable hand drawn maps of those places.   We could have a contest.  Whoever’s map create the most damage to a Turkish municipal building would receive a prize!   Imagine if we make the front page of Hurriyet with showing a photo of a toppled statue of Ataturk in some village because one of our maps.  What a great image and a bit of revenge.

Basically, we use the greed of a few to create a little havoc and destruction in Turkey.  All we did was supply some realistic maps and some rough valuation of the treasure.  Oops.  So sorry.  Our bad.  Any damage and havoc would come from the greed and stupidity of their own citizens.

My original plan was to have every Armenian we know write letters to various newspapers, mayors, etc. as a April 24th commemoration.

Maybe if all of Turkey is flooded with emails, they might catch on.  Perhaps we have to consider doing this face to face.  Maybe we have to send a tourist or two.  I believe like in Ayse Gunaysu’s article we use little old ladies.  The Turks who prey on such would easily believe they are duping the poor old ladies out of their fortunes and begin to dig up the countryside, doing damage to schools, banks, what the heck maybe even a dam!  

Could you imagine if we could convince the unscrupulous that the famous family of Balyan architects actually buried a portion of their wealth under the minarets of the Sultan’s mosque at Dolmabahce Palace?   Could you imagine the furor created over having a gang of Turkish criminals digging under the minarets maybe to the point of toppling looking for gold that isn’t there?  How can we pass on such a delicious idea?

Maybe this is just the project that could unite all our varied and disparate parties and clubs.  Maybe this is what we need to make us one united people!

OK… now I am really dreaming.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

iPad, Nook, Kindle, or Wait Some More?

Yesterday, November 19, 2010, I went to Barnes & Noble in nearby Lincolnshire.   I want to go there and get a book by David Allen called Getting Things Done.  There is a real following around Allen’s method of organization and planning.  You can Google Getting Things Done or just GTD as it is referred to by adherents.  I would expound more but GTD is a topic for a future piece.  Plus, the book I was looking for was out of stock.
Upon walking into the store and before learning they did not have the GTD book in stock, I stopped to look at the Barnes and Noble net pad reader that they call the Nook.  I had heard of the Nook but I had not heard great things about it.  It was a late entry, a me too, well behind Amazon’s Kindle product.  It became a third tier product when Apple unleashed their instantly popular and market leading iPad.
My business partner, my primary client, a close friend, and my niece Melanie were among the first on their block to get iPads.  In short they love them and use them in lieu of laptops for surfing, light email, playing games, and even a very expensive calculator.  My partner, Ara, uses it to demonstrate our software product DemandCaster and for other power point presentations.  Oddly, when I asked all them if they read books, magazines, or news papers, they all said no.
I know the Kindle and the Nook were both designed as monochrome display e-readers first.  They had internet WiFi and then 3G capability only to facilitate the selling and download of books to these devices.  In the third generation of the Kindle and the second generation of the Nook, the price is basically an impulse purchase.  The Kindle is $139 for the WiFi version and $189 for the 3G version.  The Nook is $250 and is only available in WiFi not 3G.   The new Nook has a color screen whereas the Kindle is still only available in monochrome.
When I was looking at the nook in the Barnes and Noble store yesterday an engaging salesperson, Mitchell, came over to extol the virtues of the new Nook.  He was very helpful.  I almost walked out with one.   He took the time and enthusiastically showed me all the features of the new device.   I had never experienced such sales pressure in a Barnes and Noble store.  I am not complaining, I am actually glad that Mitchell took the time to show me the features of the new generation Nook.  I just was not used to any kind of sales pitch in Barnes and Noble where the ambiance has always been more come in, browse, read, buy a cup of coffee, and maybe leave with some books, music, and magazines.
In considering getting a netpad device, I was only considering the iPad or the Kindle.   The only consideration was price.  Did I want to pay $650 for the iPad and have color and full web access?  Or did I want to spend $189 for a book reader.    The iPad, for 3G requires another monthly payment of what $20.   I really do not want another monthly cable/internet/cellphone kind of payment?  No.  It is becoming like a car payment.  Maybe if there is no WiFi and I really need to access the web for something, I will just use my cell phone.  
I really like the Nook.  It is affordable and beyond basic book reading capabilities, it is color, can surf the web, and I could use if for light email.  While it has a smaller screen, I am never that far from my work desktop or my own laptop which I would use for more serious writing such as this posting.
The Kindle is still the most affordable but is strictly a book, newspaper, and magazine reader.  Everyone that I have ever seen reading from one simply loves it.  As I mentioned above, everyone that has an iPad also likes their device.
I understand there are a slew of other devices about to hit the market.  Verizon has just launched an Android netpad with the 7” screen.  It is the same price as the iPad.  There is some value in going to the Android OS since our company email and my phone are both Google/Android based.  But, this is a smaller consideration since I would simply access my various gmail accounts and Google docs via the internet… er… cloud… whatever it is all evolving towards.
Usually with new technology, I wait.  I am not the first guy on the block to go out and get the latest and greatest gizmo.   I wait to see what others buy and use the technology.  I don’t buy the first product out of the shoot.  I wait to see how competitors react.  I wait because I know that either the prices will drop or the capabilities offered at the same price will increase.  In short, I wait. It is funny because the first users of the Kindle, switched to the third generation Kindle, and some even switched or added an iPad to their inventory of electronic/computing gadgets. 
Here is a great article on that explores the dimensions of the e-readers.  It was very helpful as I learned the new Nook is Android based.  I should have just listened to Mitchell last night and just bought one.
So, feel free to weigh in here:
  • Do you have a netpad?  Which one?  Do you love it?
  • If you do not have one, are you planning on getting one?
  • Do you read books and magazines on your device?  I especially want to hear from iPad users on this one.
  • How is the touch screen typing?  Do you text and type short emails?  Or do you do real work?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Winning the Lottery

     As you may know, I was part of the large wave of folks put out of work by the recession that began in September 2008. My case was not really due to the recession but more the result of a new Division President coming in and wanting his own people managing the subsidiary we were running. Being let go in October 2008? The timing was just horrible.
     Being part of the working disenfranchised in the worst recession in US history since the Great Depression was quite an experience. People would often inquire as to how things were going. They would ask about leads, if it were tough, and, more than you might think, what kind of job I might want. When asked what I wanted in my next move, I always joked with friends.
I want my next career move to be: Lottery Winner
Of course, I realize that one must actually buy tickets to have any chance of realizing that ambition.
     We would then have a good laugh and move on to other subjects.
     On November 4th, I read an interesting and most heartwarming article on Yahoo News, Nicest Canadian couple in world dole out lottery winnings The article related the story about a Nova Scotia couple Allen and Violet Large. In July of this year, they won $11.2 Million Canadian in the lottery. Since then they have given almost all of it way. They gave money to their family, a wide variety of charities in Nova Scotia, and kept 2% or about $225,000 for a rainy day.
     Why didn’t they keep the money, spend it on themselves, luxuries, live it up, and travel the world? That is what the vast majority think of, including yours truly, when we contemplate what we would do if we hit it big.
     For Allen and Violet, the answer was easy. They seem to be simple people and very well centered on what is important to them: each other and the life they have built. Allen worked as a welder and Violet in retail. They are retired and quite comfortable in the home and surroundings. They never had further ambitions and see no reason why such a large windfall of funds should influence their lifestyle and priorities at this stage of their lives.
     The article pointed out that Violet is suffering from cancer and was having chemotherapy treatments when they won the prize. This may explain their largess in part. But, I see the glass as completely full simply due to what they said:
"What you've never had, you never miss."

"We're not travelers anyway. We live in the country and we're proud of it. Money can't buy you health or happiness."
      This story hit me in a way that made me think, take assessment of my priorities, and question my values. That is a good thing for anyone to do. It is not unlike when a close friend or loved one passes on and their funeral gives us time to reflect on their lives, our own mortality, and how we might change and live better moving forward.
     Part of lottery winning fantasy was about what the money would free me to do. It would first and foremost free me from having to work for anyone... ever again. When I was working in New York and reporting to a particularly parochial egomaniac, the fantasy included quitting work. But, I did not want to quit abruptly and leave the people that I liked high and dry so I would stick it those I didn’t like by telling them “Oh, I won’t be in tomorrow but I have hired Peter Drucker to come in hold down the fort.” If not Peter Drucker, I would use the names of Michael Hammer, Michael Porter, Joe Juran, Tom Peters, or whoever the guru of the moment was. I liked that fantasy. On particularly bad days, that in actuality were few and far between, I really liked that fantasy.
      How else did I envision spending my fantasy winnings? I would pay off the mortgages of everyone in my family and my wife’s family. I would pay off all debts, buy a sports car, and put on a screen porch. I would buy a place in Armenia and maybe somewhere on the ocean (I hear Mystic, CT or Cape Cod beckoning). This is the easy part. The harder part is then what? Play golf? Actually, learn to play golf? Travel? Climb mountains? What?
     After all my talk over the past few years about wanting to be a lottery winner, the article about this humble and noble couple in Nova Scotia made me really ask what I would do and what is important to me? Paying off any debt I have would certainly be a good use of winnings. Doing the same for close family is even better. Everything else? I could easily live with out them as I am currently living quite well without them. None of that list is particularly compelling. Much like Allen and Violet, I am pretty happy with what I have already. There is nothing more I really need in terms of possessions. I like that I can say that. As for everything else?
"What you've never had, you never miss."
     In my heart of hearts, I would welcome the bounty of free time that seemingly unlimited funds would afford. I would use the time to bicycle more and write a lot more. I would love to cycle four to five thousand miles a year. I would blog in an organized way that would build into books. I would be a prolific blogger and cyclist. I would use the rest of the money to set up an educational trust for my grandchildren (calm down, there is nothing on the horizon at this point). Depending on the size of the lottery winning, I would set up an education foundation to support a school in Armenia and provide college educations for graduates of my elementary school, Robert Burns, in Detroit. I really liked that school.
     Maybe I should actually buy a lottery ticket...