Monthly Archives: November 2012

In Need of Repair

It’s unfortunate that many wealthy Americans today feel any higher taxes are sort of a punitive measure against their successes, because it’s not a punitive measure, it’s about  sharing a burden fairly.

That burden stems from entitlement programs, two unfunded wars, tax cuts, and then compounded by woes from overzealous  financial deregulation.

Also, it’s not about being a Republican or a Democrat but about being an American.

Over the past few days, some top Republican lawmakers said they’d be willing to discuss  increasing revenues for the government, it’s an effort to consider America’s well-being as a higher priority than a Republican agenda.

Here’re some timely highlights from a Warren Buffett op-ed piece for the NYT the other day:

“All of America is waiting for Congress to offer a realistic and concrete plan for getting back to this fiscally sound path… Correcting our course will require major concessions by both Republicans and Democrats…

Our government’s goal should be to bring in revenues of 18.5 percent of GDP and spend about 21 percent of GDP – levels that have been attained over extended periods in the past and can clearly be reached again… this ratio of revenue to spending will keep America’s debt stable in relation to the country’s economic output.

Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered (when capital gains and marginal taxes were highest, 1951 – 1969)…  both employment and the GDP increased at a rapid clip. The middle class and the rich alike gained ground (during 1951 – 1969).

(if you) run into someone with a terrific investment idea, who won’t go forward with it because of the tax he’d owe when it succeeds. Send him my way. Let me unburden him.

The ultra-rich, including me, will forever pursue investment opportunities.”

Buffett’s piece is called “A Minimum Tax For The Wealthy.” Give it a read. It’s a refreshing take on money from one of the richest persons in the world.

The Hourglass Shape

Generally speaking, in materially rich cultures, thinness conveys status. And a fuller figure usually conveys status in materially poor cultures.

But across cultures, men prefer the hourglass shape.

There’s even a way for determining a desirable hourglass figure.

Just divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement. If waist/hip equals .70, or less, that woman has desirable curves, regardless of being plus sized or thin.

It’s a cross cultural norm.

This analysis goes the other way too. Across cultures, women prefer a vee shaped torso, noticeably wider shoulders above a narrow waist.

And there’s a way to determine this desirable vee shaped torso too. Divide the waist measurement by the shoulder measurement. If the waist/shoulder is .75, or less, that man has a desirable vee shaped torso.

A symmetrical, healthy looking athletic body type is generally preferred by men and women, even though skinny models and hyper muscled bodybuilders often get more attention.

It seems like different people and cultures are more alike than we might think.

 

An old view

Looking at a house like this there’s no way to tell if the people living there are happy or unhappy. Getting a big house and nice car won’t necessarily be accompanied by happiness.

A marketing firm came up with this poster. The firm was commissioned by Alain de Botton for his BBC program about the Greek philosopher Epicurus. It’s the second episode in a six part series on philosophy.

Epicurus thought we should lead guilt-free and pleasurable lives. But doing it can be tricky; we generally don’t know how to best pursue happiness, so we’re often pulled toward material things, especially with all the marketing around us. What we want isn’t always what we need. That’s what lead de Botton to hire a marketing firm to create an anti marketing campaign – sometimes it takes a thorn to remove a thorn.

There are just three big ingredients for a happy life according to Epicurus. He wasn’t against having a lot of money and felt if you focused on the big three you could be happy with or without wealth. Plus if you’re wealthy and lose it you could continue being happy.

Epicurus’ three ingredients needed for happiness are:

Friendship – characterized by very frequent interactions, an example is never eating by yourself.

Freedom – try to be as self-sufficient as possible, to be free of pressures from an employer.

Examination – taking time to reflect on life and any anxieties so they can be diminished and maybe resolved if you have the time to think them through.

It’s an old view (a few centuries B.C.) of what makes for a happy life. Albert Schweitzer said, “Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you’ll be successful.” I think Epicurus’ three keys to happiness still ring true today.

 

The few or the many?

Since the internet is basically a connection machine fostering interactions and access to many ideas and people, are the opinions of the few paid professional reviewers better than the consensus of the many who’re unpaid and ordinary?

Not too long ago, we looked for opinions in papers, magazines and on TV from professional reviewers.

The other day, I read an essay about whether or not professional reviewers are relevant anymore because there’re so many opinions on the internet.

Do you go see a movie  based on a professional reviewer’s opinion or will you give more attention to opinions of people you see as peers?

One problem with the opinion of the many is that the process can be corrupted and, if you find out, your confidence shaken. People want to help out friends and they usually want to go with what the other friends are doing.

Here’s one example of the system being gamed by a restaurant that was open for less than a year. By requesting and getting positive reviews, it rose to highest rated restaurant in Mexico on TripAdvisor.

The restaurant has since then been sold and the name changed. It was a good restaurant, but not the number one restaurant in Mexico. But someone visiting our town would have gotten an inaccurate opinion from the many because it had been compromised.

I guess it’s not unlike what many businesses do on the web to better their chances of getting a good search result on Google. It’s a cat and mouse game in which Google tries to stay ahead of the people trying to manipulate whatever parameter they think Google uses.

If the professional reviewer or opinion giver isn’t careful, their experience can be manipulated too. If a restaurant critic lets on that she’ll be dining at a certain restaurant, she’ll likely have a carefully orchestrated experience, probably different from the one she’d have from passing through as a regular customer.

It’s probably worthwhile using the opinions of both the few and the many, along with a little bit of common sense.

Cobblestones

Cobblestone roads are the norm in our Mexican town. We also have regular concrete sidewalks, but I prefer walking on the uneven surfaces of the cobblestone streets.

I’ve been doing it for years, you get used to it quickly. Walking on the cobblestones feels good with or without shoes, and I think it probably strengthens my feet and lower legs.

About ten years ago, I started noticing shoes for sale that had thick rocker soles – to mimic the uneven surfaces the Masai people of Africa walked on. The shoe makers claimed it created a healthier way to walk, just look at all the lean and fit Masai, they said.

Also, tradition Chinese medicine apparently has recommended, for many years, walking on cobblestone paths solely for the health benefits. I’ve read about lots of paths in China, constructed of river stones set into concrete, that are there to walk on just for health reasons (as opposed to trying to get somewhere).

I think it’s common to have these paths in the public spaces of large Chinese cities for folks to use. It’s sort of like gravity assisted accupressure massage for feet. Claims are made of lowering blood pressure, helping balance, and reducing frailty in the seniors.

Some people are pretty serious about walking on uneven surfaces. I stumbled upon a company selling cobblestone mats you can roll up and put away after your “workout.”

It’s hard to say how beneficial walking on uneven surfaces is, but I think there’s something to it.

 

 

Identities

Generally, people can be counted on to vote for who they identify with over what may be in their best interest.

This seems especially true in the US. It’s odd that Americans often vote like this, for example, union members voting for Ronald Reagan.

The re-election of Barack Obama sent a message to political handlers that big shifts have arrived.

The US really is a melting pot now. It was a melting pot before, but there was a dominant group in the mix, white folks. Now, trotting out a white male father figure isn’t going to capture enough hearts of the voters to win. Not that there’s something wrong with a white male father figure, but he needs to pitch a bigger tent now because there’re just more non-white, non-male, non-father figures voting these days in the US.

Look at how our sports are viewed and what’s happening. You can claim baseball is the national pastime; but more people actually enjoy football and basketball. Not that there’s anything wrong with baseball. There’re just not as many baseball fans anymore.

The message being presented needs to appeal to a broader group. The old pitch from a traditional figure was made and received, but there aren’t as many people identifying with it anymore.

 

Sport Longevity

You’ll stay with a sport longer if you’re having fun. Focusing on the play aspect more than just the winning is the way to do it.

Unless you’re a professional athlete who’s paid to win, you can step back and enjoy the playful part of your sport. Professionals are different, their participation at the pro level comes with an expiration date. It’s not very long compared to the participation window for amateurs, which can be for decades.

You need other players in some sports just to play the game. And it’s our nature to compete, but sport doesn’t need to be treated as a war, it’s a game you’re playing .

You can play without obsessing with winning or playing to lose, just play to play. By keeping it playful and not escalating it into something more than it is, you’ll be more likely to do your sport  longer.

I used to run a lot, for about 15 years before switching other sports. I’d meet other runners while running who frequently were hyper focused on say, a particular 10k race. I’d often see them out running until the race happened. Afterwards, they’d vanish. They weren’t running for fun, it wasn’t a playful thing for them and they’d stop.

Usually you’re better off pursuing and cultivating appreciation more than achievement. If you like a sport and want to keep doing it for a long time concentrate on the play.

 

Some Mail

I just got a birthday card, arriving the day after Halloween for my birthday that was in mid July. It was a postcard of NYC from a friend there.

My NYC friend has visited a couple of times and knows there’s no official mail delivery, but I’m guessing he wanted to try.

Normally I don’t get any mail in Mexico. Our town of  about 2,500 doesn’t have regular mail delivery, and that’s ok by most folks here.

There’s a woman here who delivers the electric company bills, usually late, to people she knows and she gets tipped for it. But most people know when their bills are due. And lots of us do online bill paying so the bill’s been paid long before you get one, if you do get one.

A couple of days ago, a neighbor told me he thought there was a postcard meant for me at his house. When I popped by later, there it was, so unusual it could have been a message in bottle.

Some mail is better than no mail. And even if it’s four months old, mail is still fun to get.

Success and Failure

This picture pops into my mind when I hear the name Michael Jordan; it’s a spectacular, dominating dunk on his opponents.

By the time someone who doesn’t follow a particular sport knows about that sport’s star player, certain assumptions about the star are made.

The biggest assumption is, the star’s talents are so special that there were mostly successes on the rise to fame and dominance.

But, it looks like most stars have lots of failures throughout their careers. Here’s the great Michael Jordan talking about his failures in a 30 second Nike ad.

He says he has 9,000 missed shots, 300 losses, and 26 misses at game winning shots, wow! I’d never have guessed his stats on failures would be that high. Not just talent, but the drive to keep trying and learning through failures is behind success and greatness.