Wednesday, March 26, 2014

AGE OF GREED by Jeff Madrick

"Age of Greed" reinforces my feelings of corporate conspiracies.  If you are a member of the 99% you must sometimes wonder why you are relatively poor and some others are so rich.  It is easy to  pick up on conspiracies that explain that others have played unfairly.  Really there is more to it than that, but it is sometimes comforting.  Not to relegate" Age of Greed" to weird conspiracy literature, but rather to use it as an example of how our western Capitalism works.

Jeff Madrick brings in history, starting from the 1960s' but with references further back, such as Roosevelt and the hatred of his New Deal.  Although we can become pretty disgusted with the shenanigans of today's political and economical power players, the problem goes back to human nature.

The first steps are bankers wanting to evade regulations.  Banking has always seemed a safe vocation, but not terribly exciting.  When they are able to evade, distort and change the rules banking becomes more exciting and profitable.  Risk taking increases and fraud becomes more common.

Around the 1970's a movement grew where conservative philosophers proclaimed that rich people deserve to be rich.  It was framed a little differently.  The marketplace was the tool of rationality and central government planning was disparaged.  The truth as others see it is that powerful people resent restrictions on their freedom.  They are attracted to philosophies and stories that justify their view of the world.

William Buckley,Jr. was able to articulate a conservative philosophy that was respected by other intellectuals.  Alan Greenspan, an admirer of Ayn Rand was accepted as adviser to presidents. Ronald Reagan, was able to use Hollywood looks and charm to convince many that "Government is not the solution.  Government is the problem. "  Lots of fraud artists such as  Ivan Boesky are described, but it was the philosophical and political groundwork that enabled them to prosper.

The proof that all men are not equal comes with the statistics that show productivity and wages not aligned as before.  The 1% are able to skim off what might have gone to the 99%.

One counter trend was exemplified by "In Search of Excellence" by Tom Peters who demonstrated that more money could be made by respecting and empowering the workers.  This movement had influence for awhile, but gradually waned as other forces took over.

George Soros, famous left wing sympathizer felt the markets were not rational and was able to take advantage of that amassing billions.  Herd behavior is not always predictable, but for those like George Soros who can pick out a trend overlooked by others there is an opportunity to make money. He is a man who is aware of social inequalities  and has taken a good part of his fortune for progressive causes.

Eliot Spitzer, a very effective prosecutor of Wall Street abuse was put out of the picture.  It is true that his own human weaknesses brought him down from power, but it seems strange that few if any Wall Street bigwigs suffered from the financial shenanigans that led to disaster.

Inequality starts when someone is able to use leverage to gain an advantage.  At the same time that is the advice we are often given.  Save money, make a deposit on a house, borrow some money and wait for the price to go up.  Saving and risking can be virtues, but at some point some people are able to manipulate finances for their benefit, but to the detriment of others.  Finances do serve many valuable causes, but if they are not regulated problems can and do result.

Recently one story that caught my eye is from Tennessee.  As I understand it, Volkswagen with a history and comfort level with unions agreed to a vote of the workers to form a union.  Senator Corker announced that it would endanger expansion in Tennessee.  Volkswagen has denied  that an expansion decision would hinge on the vote results.  It does seem that part of the power structure resists any strengthening of weaker elements.

If you would like to learn more of Jeff's thoughts visit his website at:  http://www.jeffmadrick.com/






Tuesday, March 25, 2014

TRIPLE PACKAGE: A USEFUL STUDY IN GROUP DYNAMICS

This book has been discussed in many quarters and it seemed the authors Amy Chua and Jed Rosenfeld (a married couple) were often fighting the charge of being racist.  In fact they were discussing group dynamics and identifying what groups were most successful.  Why one group grabbed onto the success factors while others didn't is the result of a lot of history.  The dynamics are limited in many ways and naturally tend to change.

The groups they chose to explain their theories are ethnic centric and as such are not only normal, but illustrative of general principles.  When stereotypical behaviours are pointed out it only reinforces racist images to some people, but the explanations are important because usually they do apply to other groups.

If you read this book you are likely to gain a better understanding of group dynamics that lead to success and like the authors be able to point out examples.  There certainly are exceptions and the same dynamics have and will apply to other groups.  The authors admit that individuals can encompass the Triple Package.  Amy and Jed, also were able to identify and analyze some of the dynamics of (financially) unsuccessful groups such as Amish and Appalachians.

The  main immigrant groups studied are Asians, Nigerians, Jews, Iranians, Lebanese and Cubans plus Mormons.  There are trends within these groups that they also examine.  The three factors are: superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control.  It may seem that the first two are contradictory, but not really.  For instance it is common for groups to feel pride in their ancestral past, but also recognize they are not respected in the present.  Impulse control does not necessarily require the first two factors, but they often contribute to the motive for impulse control.

The three factors have a downside and in reality seldom last more than to the third generation.  The downsides include arrogance, neuroses, and the inability to live in the present.  They can propel people to great success, but immigrants normally sooner or later assimilate and enjoy the fruits of their success.  A common phenomenon is that the grandchildren of self made millionaires are often happy to spend the money, but not interested in duplicating the effort that created the wealth, regardless of ethnic background.

One trend that counters the Triple Package was the self esteem movement.  Instead of prodding youngsters to do better it was considered better to build their self esteem by avoiding criticism or high expectations.  A strong current trend is towards instant gratification.  Today's youngsters and even those not so young get frustrated if they have to wait more than a few seconds for a response after a keyboard click.  The authors contend that these trends have contributed to financial bubbles and the increase in national debt.

The Triple Package is more critical to upward mobility than intelligence.  Many observers feel that Jews and Chinese are just more intelligent (arguably a racist assumption), but the authors cite studies that debunk that notion.  The superiority complex and the insecurity drive hard work and demand strong impulse control.

Impulse control is being recognized as a key factor in success.  A famous study was done with young children and marshmallows.  They would be offered a marshmallow and told that if they could wait a few minutes they would get another marshmallow.  Most youngsters couldn't wait and when they were visited many years later it was learned those who were able to wait were more successful by most measures.  A more modern study delved deeper into the issue.  This time youngsters divided into two groups:  one was promised something exciting and it was followed up while the other group's promise was not followed up.  Those who had promises fulfilled were more trusting and waited for the second marshmallow.  Essentially this was another proof that impulse control can be developed.

Many years ago I read an earlier book of Amy Chua's,  "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability."   For many people it also seemed racist but I believe it also just explained group dynamics in a way that made the world more understandable.  In many third world countries minorities often become dominant and are resented by the majority. Democracy can sometimes exacerbate the situation.  The two books illustrate how frustration can get tied into racist excuses, but if you understand the dynamics, the reality is much deeper.

Monday, March 24, 2014

GLENN FORD, FORGOTTEN MOVIE STAR FROM CANADA

Most young people have not heard of Glenn Ford, unless by stretching the definition of young they remember a small bit in "Superman."  He was also forgotten by me until I stumbled on a DVD from the local library that launched an effort to see more.  Many of his movies were part of my youth, but as I shifted to colour a lot of the black and white classics seemed less interesting.  Although born in Quebec in 1916, Glenn moved to California as an eight year old and was not a staunch Canadian.

What did I like about him?  Basically a quiet masculinity.  He played mostly good guys, but occasionally bad.  He did demonstrate versatility, not always playing himself.  Having said that, like many actors he had a persona that was consistent and perhaps it was  the real reason he attracted attention.

His first big success was "Gilda'" in 1946 with Rita Hayworth.  I read somewhere that a photo of Rita from this movie was part of the plot for "The Shawshank Redemption."

Shortly after he appeared in "A Stolen Life" with Bette Davis who played two roles that demonstrated her acting ability.  In "The Big Heat" he played a crusading cop who eventually came out on top.  A young Lee Marvin played the villain.

"Blackboard Jungle" was a movie I watched with my father on tv. It was also probably the first time I had seen Sidney Poitier who left an impression.  Apparently this movie generated some hate mail due to Poitier's sympathetic role.  Glenn played a novice teacher who had to deal with some difficult to control teenagers.  One of the first movies to show how rough classrooms can be.

"Jubal" is the movie that started this project.  Jealousy and deliberate misleading were the key elements. Ernest Borgnine and Rod Steiger were major co-stars.  Peter Ford commented that his father did not appreciate method acting and was annoyed at some of the preparations made by Steiger.   It was a well done movie or it might have killed my project.

"Teahouse of the August Moon" was not at all what I expected.  Hammy in some ways, but had a point.  Marlon Brando also in a role I would not associate with him.  Eddie Albert, Paul Ford and Harry Morgan all future tv characters took part.

"3:10 to Yuma" was a good movie with lots of tension.  Originally Glenn - was offered the good guy role eventually given to Van Heflin.  Glenn preferred to accept the bad guy role.  At one point Glenn is whistling to annoy his captor and we later learn that he was whistling the movie theme.   Story from Elmore Leonard.

"Pocketful of Miracles" was another movie with Bette Davis, but quite different from the earlier one.  Hope Lange played the romantic interest.  This was a comedy with lots of familiar character actors, Thomas Mitchell, Edward Everett Horton.  Peter Falk who went on to better things had a strong supporting role.  Ann-Margaret was introduced.  Glenn won a Golden Globe award.

"The Courtship of Eddie's Father" was still another comedy.  Ron Howard now a well regarded director played the cute Eddie.  It was funny, but very realistic.  Glenn played a flustered father with personal issues.  Shirley Jones, Dina Merrill and Stella Stevens played the three women that got Glenn's attention.

"The Rounders" with Henry Fonda was according to son Peter, Glenn's favorite role.  It was meant to be a fun movie, not profound and I guess it achieved that level.  For my horse loving friends this was not exactly like the Horse Whisperer.  Glenn loved westerns and his son told us that he had learned horsemanship from Will Rogers

I rounded off this project by re-watching "Superman"' to view Glenn in about two minutes screening as the adoptive father.  Another movie combining Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford.

It can be a letdown to realize the person on the screen is not the real person.   I was disappointed to learn Glenn Ford had many affairs and that he worked with Ronald Reagan's election campaigns.  He did voluntarily serve in the US military, but not in combat.  Married to Eleanor Powell who at the time was more famous than him.  They had one child, Peter who became a biographer and supplied some information for this blog in a DVD special feature.   He went on to marry three other women and divorced them all with no other children.  He made the top 10 Hollywood list of popularity in 1956 and 1958 and topped the list in 1959.  I still enjoyed his movies.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Art of Doing

Like many of us, the authors, Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield were trying to figure out the way to success.  They were able to contact a number of successful people and convince them to tell us how they did it. A wide variety of success stories in such fields as tennis, baseball, business, wine growing, music.  Going off standard success stories they also included marijuana, erotic movies for women, dog training, television game shows, blog writing, big game hunting.  The variety chosen illustrates there is more than one way to succeed.  Many of the subjects were allowed to express themselves in crude, but easily understandable ways.

Success can be measured in many ways, most easily in terms of money or ranking.  In this book success meant being at the top, or near the top for a chosen endeavour.  For me a lot of the fields would not be of strong interest, but the critical factor is that each field was important to the teller and how they got to the top or near the top had significant common denominators as well as a strong effort.

Given a different set of successful contributors you would have gotten different details, but I suspect the general themes would be similar.  The underlying factor was that each person felt a unique calling to conquer a particular field.  Monetary profit was not the primary driving factor.  A motivating spur was just to do it better.

In order to do that the authors use the phrase that they all had" intelligent persistence."  That doesn't mean that you need to keep banging your head on the proverbial wall, but when an obstacle is insurmountable you are ready to pivot to a new and strategic effort.  There are sure to be setbacks, but they help to redirect efforts.

The successful ones are all good listeners.  Other people have made similar efforts or are able to take an objective view of the challenges and can help steer someone in a more practical direction.  Taking the time to really listen is an important key to understanding the choices to be made.

They are able to compact their strategies into story form.  A lot of statistics and facts can overwhelm someone you are trying to explain yourself too, but a well thought out story can make a point much more quickly and understandably.  A lot of the stories are very interesting, maybe especially in fields not commonly written about.

Nobody succeeded all by themselves, despite what Mitt Romney supporters might tell you.  Each of the success stories involved support from family, friends and colleagues.

One quote I want to remember is from E. L Doctorow (not one of the subjects).  "Writing is like driving a car at night.  You only see as far as the headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way."  It seems that we can not always see the end of our efforts, but if we keep going we get a better vision as we go forward.

The chapters are all short and to the point.  The variety means you will likely identify with some more than others, but if you pay close attention you will realize there are many niches out there that you can strive in to not only be successful, but also to give your life more meaning.