Monthly Archives: December 2009

2010: Ready or Not — Here’s To You, Kid

Wow. Another year in the dumper. A year ago I celebrated New Year’s Eve with my family in Dublin. This morning I chased the treadmill belt for almost an hour here in NE Ohio — with just enough snow falling to make the roads too slippery and dangerous to hit the concrete on the last day of the year. Oh well. Like most years, 2009 proved to be a slippery road for many.

For instance:

  • The stock market appears to be off life support. And that’s good news for most, especially for people like me who are moving into the golden years and need to start tapping retirement accounts. But consider this: the U.S. stock market is completing its worst decade ever. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “In nearly 200 years of recorded stock-market history, no calendar decade has seen such a dismal performance as the 2000s.” As you’re chewing on your New Year’s pretzel, consider what your retirement will be like if we go through another decade or two of similar pathetic results.
  • The number of people who are unemployed — or who are underemployed — remains unacceptably high. And this is the issue that will define the Obama presidency — and dictate the outcome of the 2010 elections.
  • The debacle and contentious debate over health care represents a lost opportunity to extend medical coverage and reduce costs. Just sayin’. And it demonstrates how polarized we remain as a nation over virtually every significant issue. That inability to compromise, to achieve consensus — caused in part by a total lack of civility — represents every bit as much of a threat to our future as soaring deficits, wars we can’t possibly win, the unwillingness of Major League Baseball to repeal the designated hitter rule and so on. Where’s my blood pressure cuff? I digress.
  • Government Motors is going to survive — and that’s good news for thousands of people and communities who depend on real jobs that pay decent wages.
  • And finally, we can put the pitchforks back in the garage. You and huff and puff — and Tweet and blog — but you can’t change the shameful and unethical (if not illegal) behavior on Wall Street. Woot.

Saying all that, I’m fortunate. No real complaints personally about 2009 — or for the decade that fades away at midnight as well. In fact, I’ll look back on the aughts as being the best of times for me professionally — having the opportunity to teach at Kent State and to be associated with so many wonderful students, faculty and administrative staff.

Since there is no chance of me being awake to ring in the new year, let me raise my glass now and wish you a happy new year and every success in 2010.

And to the new year 2010 — here’s to you, kid.

Let’s go get ‘em.

Running and New Year’s Resolutions

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions — or for that matter setting major career or life goals. Maybe it has something to do with living in the heartland rather than in the power alleys of New York or DC. But I do set one goal for myself each year. And it involves running.

I aim to run at least 1,000 miles a year. And in the past quarter century I’ve only missed once as best I can tell. It happened eight years ago when I tore my calf muscle post-Labor Day playing senior men’s tennis. Sigh.

I know that because I checked the runner’s log and calendar that I’ve kept every day for more than 25 years. For most of that time I’ve used “The Complete Runner’s Day-By-Day Log And Calendar” — now written by Marty Jerome, who took over the calendar following the death of his father, John, in 2002. John Jerome took over in 1985 from another runner, Jim Fixx.

So on any given day I can tell where I’ve run and when and for how far. I have notes about the weather and who I’ve run with, if anyone. And I know what I was doing on what for me are memorable days: when my daughter had knee surgery while she was in high school (treadmill) and on the day my son was born (four miles with a local high school track team) and so on.

And I suppose that this compulsive note taking and record keeping really isn’t as important as how I’ve spent at least some of my time during the past 25 years. As I’ve opined on many occasions here, I enjoy both the physical and mental benefits of running. It’s always been a time when I could relax, recharge and refresh myself. Today it’s my time “off the grid” — alone in the dark and enveloped in silence. Not a bad way to start most days.

Anyway, I expect I’ll run for the final time in 2009 early a.m. Thursday morning — giving me just slightly more than 1,300 miles for the year. And I can see from my daily logs and notations that I am actually running more now — but more slowly and almost always alone. I guess I could resolve to do something about those last two points in 2010. But nah — it ain’t going to happen. If nothing else, resolutions need to be grounded in some form of reality.

So I’ll just try to keep at it — hitting the concrete or chasing the treadmill belt as often as I can and for as long as I can next year and in the years thereafter. And with running — as with everything else — I’ll just try to keep doing the best I can.

Hey. That’s not such a bad resolution.

Football Coaches: Balancing Work and Family

I’m never quite sure what to make of these last weeks of the year. If you are fortunate enough to have a job if you want one — and unfortunately that’s still a big if for millions — you have to work hard to balance the multiple and often conflicting demands of work and family. That’s true throughout the year certainly. But it strikes me as being even more challenging during the holidays.

Hey. I’m quasi-retired and I’m under the gun to try to do a little work, head to the store, collect the trash, rush to the airport, visit with family and friends and so on. You know — let’s call them life things. We all deal with them — and I have it easy in comparison with most. Trust me.

That’s why the Urban Meyer story touches on an issue that is — and dare I say it? — more important than sports. Citing personal health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family, Meyer over the weekend said he was resigning as head football coach at Florida. Then a day later he changed that to taking an indefinite leave. Whatever. That’s the sports story.

More importantly, Meyer’s story is about trying to balance work and family — or more generally, work and life. William C. Rhoden has an interesting take on this in his NYT column, “A Seesaw Day in a Groping for Balance.”

This is an issue that ripples throughout our society, involving women and men, young and old, poor and rich. And trying to figure out a way to balance work and family gathers considerable commentary and attention, but few, if any, easy solutions. For instance, I did a Google search for “work and family balance” and found more than 46 million citations. Go figure.

And if you are interested in this issue, the Sloan Work and Family Research Network and Boston College has a comprehensive Web site full of research studies, background information and tips. (Disclosure: I have a modest and informal relationship with this organization via my association with Corporate Voices for Working Families.)

Finding the way to strike the right balance between work and family is difficult.

Urban Meyer, and I expect most football coaches in the top-tier of their profession, know this whether they want to admit it or not.

Hey. We all do.

Holiday Travel: Leave That Fruitcake Home?

OK. I’ll admit it. I enjoy the holidays. It’s an extended time to visit with friends and family. I eat and drink virtually guilt free. I still manage to maintain my rigid daily schedule: get up early, scan the Internet and e-mail, down some coffee, and then hit the concrete or elliptical trainer. And this year I’m done traveling — spending an enjoyable day with my folks and family in Pittsburgh over the weekend.

Dare I say it? Woot.

Now I’m planning to hunker down through the start of the New Year — sitting by the fire and reading as many dead-tree newspapers, magazines and books as I can get my hands on. Not everyone is so fortunate, including my son and daughter who will be encountering the maze of airport security this week while returning to their respective homes.

Given the increased security at airports, is it still OK to bring that fruitcake aboard? Well, maybe. But, maybe not.  I came through security at Reagan National in DC a week ago carrying two gifts: cranberry bread and some cookies. Those two items were poked, shaken, tossed in the air like batons, and X-rayed. Yum. Based on that examination, it’s hard to figure how someone could walk on a plane heading to the USA with, apparently, a bomb strapped to his leg. I digress.

Anyway, the Transportation Security Administration is — and I guess understandably so — somewhat vague now about what you can expect at airport security. So for those who are traveling, here are some tips from smartertravel.com.

Also, here’s an informative story broadcast on CNN.

And since I’m not going anywhere and this is another short holiday workweek even for those of us who are quasi-retired, I might as well take the rest of the day off. You’ll find me sitting, reading, dozing and munching on fruitcake. Got to love the holidays.

A Festivus Miracle

Well, as I opined yesterday, Festivus is my favorite holiday. Saying that, I tend to keep the celebration as simple as possible. Just having the opportunity to air my grievances all day — face to face, online, whatever — gives me great joy.

So yesterday’s celebration was special — given that I had the chance to partake in another long-established holiday tradition: the ceremonial unclogging of the kitchen drain.

Hey, can it get any better than that?

Nah. And I was kinda chuckling about it throughout my five-mile Christmas Eve running tour of the neighborhood this morning.

What more can you ask of the holidays — beyond the opportunity to spend quality time with family, friends and the plunger?

Nothing.

So as we head into that other holiday, best wishes and Merry Christmas.

Happy Festivus: Grievances Anyone?

I guess I don’t have all that much to complain about. I hit the concrete for my five-mile run at 5 a.m. on what is a seasonally cold and still morning in NE Ohio. And I can report that nary a human or a vehicle — save the solitary garbage truck — distracted me during my hour-long endorphin-enhancing journey. What a great way to start my annual celebration of Festivus.

Ah, “A Festivus for the Rest of Us” — a day set aside to “air our grievances.” Gotta love it. But for those not yet into the spirit of Festivus, here’s the back-story:

“Happy Festivus” is the traditional greeting of Festivus a holiday featured in “The Strike” episode of Seinfeld. The episode first aired on December 18, 1997. Since then many people have been inspired by the goodness of the Seinfeld holiday and they now celebrate Festivus as any other holiday.

According to the Seinfeld model, Festivus is celebrated each year on December 23rd. However many people celebrate it other times in December and even at other times throughout the year.

The original slogan of Festivus is “A Festivus for the rest of us!” Instead of a tree an unadorned aluminum pole is used, in contrast to normal holiday materialism. Those attending Festivus may also participate in the “Airing of Grievances” which is an opportunity to tell others how they have disappointed you in the past year, followed by a Festivus dinner, and then completed by the “Feats of Strength” where the head of the household must be pinned. All of these traditions are based upon the events in the Seinfeld episode.

And here’s a story from the Chicago Tribune that gives even more perspective on the history of Festivus and its original creator.

For a pajama-clad citizen journalist could there be a more fitting holiday than one designed to air grievances? Let’s see: health-care reform, Afghanistan, Government Motors, Wall Street Fat Cats, Pittsburgh Steelers, and on and on.  Wow. What a great holiday! Wonder if the Republicans have the traditional Festivus aluminium pole set up in the Senate in advance of tomorrow’s vote on health care. Oops. I digress.

So Happy Festivus.

And while I know this isn’t the politically correct thing to say these days — Merry Christmas.

Hope everyone navigates the holidays without encountering any real grievances.

The Holidays, Working and Shopping

I couldn’t think of a compelling headline this morning. Maybe my nerves are still frayed from yesterday’s first — and for me at least, last — holiday shopping excursion of the year to a local mall. Hey, what happened to the Great Recession? I expected a modest crowd, not a scene that resembled the finale of Braveheart.

Oh well. I guess it’s good for me to leave the mother ship on occasion and mingle with the masses. No point adding recluse to my list of personality quirks. And even being quasi-retired, I have to concede that this is one of the least productive working weeks of the year. Might as well push back from the computer, pocket the BlackBerry, silence that damn chirping sound and venture out into the real world.

And I’ll admit it. It’s kinda of fun to get swept up in the frenzy of trying to find the best possible item at the lowest possible price. Forget baseball, football and so on. Isn’t discount shopping now the great American pastime? Hey. I’m being robbed unless the price tag proclaims 50 percent off or more. Don’t you feel the same way? Woot.

But for all the merriment and mirth, holiday shopping is big business and extremely important to our economy and to jobs. The National Retail Federation estimates that we spend some $437 billion in retail sales — online and in stores — during the holidays. And that’s why last weekend’s snowstorm that brought life on the East Coast (except in the Senate) to a halt raises some big concerns for retail outlets — with maybe $2 billion in lost sales.

Hey. This year we bailed out the Wizards of Wall Street and bought a controlling interest in Government Motors on the premise that they were too big to fail. Better add holiday shopping to the list.

So c’mon folks. Let’s go for it.

And the spending on holiday gifts is good for the economy and jobs.

Are the holidays too big to fail? Clearly.

Health Care and Snow Days: Kinda Weird

Well, let’s see. Some snow falls over the weekend Inside the Beltway and the federal government and just about everything else in the DC area comes to a halt. Yet members of the Senate hunker down, brave the storm, and work day and night to pass their version of a health care bill. That strikes me as being somewhat weird — and ironic — given that Congress doesn’t appear to accomplish much any other time. Go figure.

Hey, maybe as a matter of public policy and governance we need more snow days.

Or maybe not — depending on how you view the Senate legislation that is now gaining speed like a sled heading down a slippery slope for a Xmas Eve vote.

Does anyone really know what is in this bill — or the one that passed the House in November? I sure don’t. And it doesn’t appear to me that anyone is all that enthusiastic about it — liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans. Full disclosure: I would have liked to have seen some form of a public option — recognizing that we would have to raise taxes  on incomes below the $250,000 a year threshold to pay for it.

Saying all that — we get back to what is always a key point and issue: trust.

I sincerely believe that virtually all elected officials view what they are doing to be in the public interest. And health care — like most — is an extremely complex issue without simple solutions. Yet it troubles me when I read about some of the concessions that were made to various senators to gain their support for this measure. And having firsthand experience of how the business community and insurance industry drove a stake into the heart of Hillary Care a decade ago, I find some of the allegations that members of Congress caved to industry lobbyists to have more than a measure of credibility.

So it goes.

What we really need is more trust — a fewer snow days.

Snowstorms and E-mail: A Holiday Present?

OK. What’s everyone in the DC area complaining about? When you live here in the heartland, you expect the snow and, sheesh, look forward to it. Remember the light dusting of 17 to 20 inches we had in early 2008? Well I do. Here’s the view from my front window. Wonder if I ran outside that day?

Actually, I was thinking about that while running on the modestly snow-covered concrete early this morning. There’s something even more relaxing and peaceful about running in the winter and in the freshly fallen snow.

Clearly the storm that ripped through the East Coast is a serious matter. Several have died as a result of the snowstorm, travel and shopping plans have been disrupted, and I know from experience that digging out from something like this is not all that easy or fun.

Still, if you have the opportunity, relax and enjoy the snowstorm. And I’m starting to embrace the notion that sometimes we need unexpected events to force us out of our routines and take a few minutes to relax. I opined on that early this week — and then chuckled when BlackBerry users (myself included) experienced an e-mail outage.

And I was thinking about that again early this a.m. during my usual routine of scanning the various online news sites and so on. In a WaPo series of articles, John Freeman called out the BlackBerry as one of “The Worst Ideas of the Decade.” Woot. Here’s from the article:

Enabled by an umbilical attachment to the hand-held, the average office worker sent and received 100 e-mails a day in 2009 – almost as many telegrams as a high-output operator sent in Western Union’s heyday.

But those operators simply passed messages along. We’re supposed to think and respond and sort as well. How are we doing? Not very well, considering how many of us spend our mornings and nights and weekends replying to e-mails in an effort to get to the bottom of our inbox.

The problem is, the more e-mails we send, the more we receive. So the empty inbox is a phantom, an impossibility – and the attempt to achieve it the ultimate Sisyphean task.

For those enjoying the East Coast snowstorm and elsewhere, go ahead. Shut down the smart phone. Turn off the computer. And enjoy and relax.

Consider it an early holiday present.

Do You Really Want To Work From Home?

Even in my quasi-retirement, I manage to keep to a fairly rigid set schedule. I get up around 3:30 a.m.; scan e-mail, Web sites, Twitter and so on; quaff a pot of coffee; and then hit the concrete or the elliptical trainer for an hour or so. And hey. I still manage to get to the office most days by 7:30 or so.

Short commute: 13 stairs, and generally no traffic heading in either direction. Sound ideal? Well, for the most part it is. But it’s a big change, particularly after 40 some years of jumping in a car every workday and racing to and from a real-world office. And I’m not convinced it’s ideal for everyone.

I was thinking about that this morning after I read an article by Petula Dvorak in The Washington Post, “Dispelling the fantasy of working from home.” Dvorak is a WaPo reporter who worked at home while her office at the newspaper was being renovated. Her take on what she describes as “the home office fantasy”: It ain’t easy working at home — given family pressures and interruptions.

Then there is the issue of being isolated — of only being connected to others via the Internet, e-mail and mobile phones. I’ll admit it. I’m delighted — for the most part — that I’m not commuting to Kent State every day now — but I miss the contact with students and faculty.

And I expect this idea of being removed and isolated from associates and workplace friends will become an increasingly important issue and concern as more people work from home (either for an organization or on their own) or as they join the nation of nomads who work — or in many cases these days, look for work — out of coffee shops, book stores and so on.

Here’s from Dvorak’s article:

The coffee shop owners are in a tight spot, their stores serving as the new harbor for a good deal of the recession’s white-collar detritus. The people laid off are haunting the java joints with their laptops, searching for a routine that gets them out of pajamas and away from “Wheel of Fortune.”

Or they are now freelancers and consultants who create their own cubicle, complete with Wi-Fi, electrical power and a latte for just $4. The baristas call them campers or squatters. And I became one. I know where the free Wi-Fi is, where they kick you off the system after two hours, where the outlets are ample and the seats comfortable.

But in all these places, what was missing was real human contact, something beyond “tall, skim, cap.” We all came there to be together, away from our homes, but once inside, we didn’t interact. There is something essential about having a community of people. And for parents, if possible, having adult time, adult space.

Wow. “There is something essential about having a community of people.”

Go figure.