Things could get better. But they could get much, much worse: An economic preview and personal convicitons.

The Great Wave

The Great Wave

Are you sick of this yet?   Even if you’re unaffected by the recession of late, it’s likely you’re sick of the news, commentary, posturing, and problems.  I know I am.

Yet I can’t seem to let it go.  As a culture, I think, we all tend to look for some as-of-yet undefined, great, “The End,” somewhere ahead – a cataclysmic final page to the story of the individual, nation, or world.  It’s built into our upbringing as Americans.  And, just as I did during the first few days after September 11, 2001; I find myself wondering, “Is this it? This time?”   And though I find myself feeling more worried over time instead of less, I still feel confident in answering, “Nope.”

Similarly, I’ve been asking myself over the past few months “Is it over yet?  Is this it? Is now the time when things start turning around?”  Agian, I feel some level of confidence in answering, “Nope.”  What I want to do is tell you why I think that way.

The problems we face today, I feel, are caused by two problems with the great American economy.  They are specifically that we embrace debt, and that certain parts of the American Lifestyle grow in expense faster than the average earnings of the average American.   This second problem simply feeds the first, as we buy on credit so we can have the things we can’t truly afford.   We do this again and again for things as basic as insurance coverage to cars, homes, groceries, and any number of other things.  Eventually our flow of income is completely diverted to other sources and bills start going unpaid.  The once profitable flow of cash and income turns back upon itself in a crushing wave of debt.

Because Debt and payment plans in general are  such a basic part of the American Lifestyle it’s become an investable and insurable asset in the economy.  But when this debt wave began to crest  and break, those companies who invested heavily in debt instruments found themselves suddenly worthless.  (An example, I recently read that insurance giant The Hartford has a stock value now less than the actual value of it’s vast cash reserves.  Wild.)

It’s been a rough ride so far.  I’ve worked with several young families who one week had plans to begin their retirement investment program, or insurance program; and the next week they call to say they’ve lost their jobs and will be moving home with mom and dad.  (Mom and dad are usually in pretty dire situations, too.)

The big problem is that there are certain parts of the average American’s budget which grow bigger and bigger each year or each generation.  These monsters eventually consume the rest of the budget and force the individual into insolvency.   These are especially:  The cost of Health Care, which inflates at about 7% per year (or doubles in cost every 10 years if you want to think of it that way) and which increases as a person ages;  the cost of housing, which, on average, inflates at about 5% per year;  and the cost of an advanced education, which costs, on average, 7% more each year.

Most people only gain about 3% per year on their income.  Do you see the problem here?

With the help of the recent government plans and bailouts, etc, there could be an end to the current financial crisis very soon.  Things could get better.  But it could get much much worse.  Here’s how:

The U.S. Government is just like an individual in some ways.  The Government also has a budget, has ongoing financial obligations, and carries a huge amount of debt.   In recent times, that ebb and flow of income and payments has remained essentially in balance – though there are always those who disagree.

However, by the end of the next decade, a massive swell is moving down the pipe.  For most of us, we’re hoping that if we ignore it it will go away.  It wont.  It’s the cost of social security, medicaid and medicare.  In about ten more years the monster of health care doubling yet again plus the huge amount of retirees combine to completely devour the federal budget as it is today.

There are only two outcomes:  the federal aid programs continue, thus necessitating a vast tax increase; or the federal aid programs are diminished, thus requiring each individual to care for his or her own families’ needs.

It is most likely, in my opinion, that the government will write itself a credit line, trying to swallow up this problem in a long stream of gulps rather than all at once.  More credit means a much larger debt payment in the budget.  More payments means more taxes and cut programs.

Now imagine for  yourself – your health care costs have more than doubled as you are now 10 years more unhealthy and health care costs have inflated at 7%.  Your children’s education now costs twice as much as it does today.  And your tax bill has just increased.

Add to those the car payment, house payment, utilities, and other living expenses.  Will you have enough to even get by?

Now imagine if this begins to happen today.  More debts go unpaid.  More banks become insolvent and start to call in the debts they’re owed by the average cardholder.  The cycle continues and industry after industry fails.

In reality, these things have been going on bit by bit for a long time and will continue long after we’re through the current crisis.  It is unlikely that the ’08-’09 recession will suddenly be driven into a second great depression.  If things get worse it will probably be gradual and will take place after the recovery from our current recession.  Putting off problems is our national pastime today just as it has been for the past century or so.

(It’s no wonder, then, that the youth of today have to take on more and more debt to get through college.  Nor, then, should it be a surprise that people are choosing to live with their parents for decades longer than they did a generation ago, or that the last thing a person does before leaving this world is to devour all their estate on paying for the high cost of long term care and other medical needs.  But I get off subject.)

The answer to this impending crisis, both individually and in a worldwide sense, is to avoid debt.  If, as a society, we weren’t clamoring for bigger and better homes than our parents and their parents had, and if banks hadn’t been willing to give it to us, treating debt like an unfailing and perfect resource,  it would not have come to this.

Avoid debt as much as you can.   Save up for yourself.  Only those who aren’t already stretched to their budgetary limits will survive if this next wave comes crashing down.

Here’s a nice blog by a nice guy.

While at work and spending time researching companies and industries in the area, I found a link from a local recording studio to No Sweat Apparel, and the blog of the owner, Adam Neiman.  In his most recent post he discusses how being a Jew and the election of Barak Obama have inter-played in unexpected ways.  It’s worth a read.

Other entries on his blog were also very insightful and well written.  I recommend you check it out.

-Greg

Ah, an idea.

Ryan turned me on to a cool utah event – the geeklunch.  It’s the opportunity once per month for coders and other technology related professionals to meet and network in the Salt Lake City valley.  About 3 months later I finally start thinking…  Why not a southern utah version?  I wonder if I could help develop enough interest to create a lunch or dinner once per month in St. George or Cedar for the geeks.

There aren’t really any group or networking opportunities down here that I’m aware of.  Wonder if there’s any way to fix that.  Does anybody know of any groups that already exist?

-Oreo

A reaction paper: How has Pop Culture Influenced me?

I have 2 professors who never ever give 100% on assignments.  It’s like they think it’s against the rules.  One day I was complaining about this fact to my neighbor in class while our papers were getting handed back.  The assignment was to react to the question “How has Pop Culture Influenced my Life?” or an article called “Alternative to What?”.  Sure enough, for the first and only time, I got 100% from this professor.  He said that I had fulfilled the assignment perfectly.  So, just as I did last time I got a nice ego-boosting compliment from a professor, I have decided to post it here to fill some space.

Option 2: How has pop culture affected/created your identity?

As tempting as it was to react to the “Alternative to What?” article, I felt that it would be more of a growing experience for me to examine the ways in which pop culture has changed me. I look to my past to see who I was and when I changed and why and I feel that in large part it was exposure to pop culture.

One incident that comes to mind is the following:

As a 16 year old I dated a young lady named Cara. Cara had an older sister who felt I was a good match for her younger sister and tried to encourage our relationship. She gave me a mix tape of her favorite music. I tried listening to it. I didn’t recognize any of the artists, and didn’t care for any of the songs save one. I filed the tape away in a shoe box. About 2 years later I was in my first year of college. I had come back for Christmas break and in my intense boredom I examined the contents of my closet. I put in this mysterious unlabeled tape and was amazed to hear some of my favorite bands and songs. “Ooh! R.E.M. – Orange Crush!” and similar comments were to be heard issuing from my mouth.

I wondered what had changed. Had I changed to match the music or had the music changed me? I still don’t know. I know that as my friendships changed and evolved over time I was exposed to new music, and sometimes new music led me to new friendships.

It seems to me that youth today talk about music a lot. The kind of music a person listens to is often seen as a key to understanding what ‘type’ of person he or she is. I know that for me when I run out of conversation I ask “What kind of music do you listen to?” (Or, if I know them better I ask “Which super power is better: flight or invisibility?” This is another trick I learned from my personal choice of pop culture – talk radio.) In group therapy sessions it is common for the facilitator to suggest that the participants bring a CD with a song that they feel ‘describes them’ on it. I find it significant that not only listening to pop music but sharing it becomes a therapeutic experience. I once had a college course where the professor asked us to bring the lyrics to a song to class that we felt described us and I quite enjoyed the search, but I wished that I could have played the song for the class.

As I grew up I always harbored a secret desire to be a DJ. I wanted to play my music for everybody to hear. I suspect that on some level this was a desire to find acceptance. The thought was that if people accept my music they must accept me – after all, this music is so me. Later in life I did have the opportunity to be a DJ for the SUU station. I found I had a knack for it and even heard of people from other towns recording my sessions off the air for replay at home. (This was before the advent of the mp3.) I felt great when I was on the air. Napster was soon invented and we’d never heard of the RIAA, so I was determined to be the ‘music man’ of the dorms. My computer was constantly downloading songs. I made mix CDs for all my friends for Christmas. (Here, tiny Tim, Have a piece of my soul.)

Looking back, I realize I was something of a freak.

Yet at the same time I fit in perfectly. We were all music freaks together. We were young and in love with pop music. When we were angry we drove around town with angry music blasting. I can’t remember any aspect of my life that wasn’t touched by my desire to be constantly enveloped with music. Friends who went on missions said “The hardest part was that I missed music.”

Two nights ago, when I should have been working on this paper, I spent my time on Youtube looking up music videos of yesteryear and today. I watched the White Stripes, Fall-out Boy, Ok Go, and many more. The viewing was like a kind of therapy for me. Songs that were “me” I would listen to. Songs that weren’t got skipped. Songs that were partially me got fast forwarded to the good part.

I only just noticed but even as I write this paper I have an online music player called “Slacker Internet Radio” playing on another desktop. I don’t even know why, exactly.

How has this music changed me? My initial / gut reaction is the feeling that it has kept me current. By allowing myself to be swallowed whole by the music monster (or the movie monster or the TV monster or any of my many other pop-vices) I allow myself to be ‘with’ people – especially the people that I care for. I know that my friends are listening to the same stations. I know that as I form friendships I can share the most current version of myself with them.

I once had a friend come to my apartment in tears. She had apparently told her boyfriend “I love you” for the first time. He had responded with “Oh.” Transaction theory tells us that we expect equal levels of communication. I think that music is an almost harmless way for us to ‘test the waters.’ At least, it is for me. I can play a bit of my music for people who visit – leave the computer jamming in the back room when the guests arrive – and see how they react. I’ll know which of the party goers is going to be my best bet for friendship. I’ll know who to send to chat with my soft-rock loving wife. I’ll know with whom my Pink Floyd friend can bond. My national borders are marked with the likes of David Gray, Sting, Guster and Carbon Leaf. I pledge allegiance to adult alternative stations and NPR. Why go around asking who loves me when I can easily, and less emotionally riskily, ask who heard last weeks episode of “Car Talk” or who listens to “The End” on trips to Salt Lake City?

Music has given / created a method of bonding with others. When music is not an option, other aspects of pop culture fill in the gaps. Have you seen “Good Night and Good Luck? Don’t you love it?” Do you watch “Life? Best new series of the year by far.” Relationships are developed based on the most transient aspects of culture. Is it good this way? I’m certainly not in a position to make a value based judgment here; I’m too busy checking out the latest Modest Mouse video on Youtube. Have you seen it?

So…

You know those little non-words that we all use?

Like, um, anyway, well, so, uh, y’know…  The list goes on.

I find myself getting bugged by the word “So.”  Here’s what happens:  People will talk then end with “So.” as its own sentence.  Why?  I do it too, but why?

In any case, it’s started bugging me, and everybody does it.  So.

Just going crazy in my own little world here.

So.

-Greg

Dear America,

Hey, it’s me again, America.

I thought that I had better drop you a line since all these decisions are going on.  I wanted to let you know how I feel, particularly about these ‘elections’ going on.  If at all possible, America, (I thought it best to let you know sooner rather than later) I would like to vote for that nice semi-black guy or maybe the old crazy doctor.  Possibly I’d like to vote for the conniving Mormon, but I’m not really set on that either.

See, I thought I had better let you know, America, that I want to vote.  I want to be involved by voicing my opinion.  You probably remember I didn’t show up last time to vote.  And the time before that I seemed a bit grumpy.  You may have wondered why.  Well, I guess it was my own fault for not letting you know sooner, but I had actually wanted to vote for the folks who never made it to the election in which I was allowed to vote.

Remember me, America?  I’m what you call ‘independent’ or ‘undeclared’ depending on where I live.  I don’t get to vote right now.  That’s why I’m letting you know, see?  I was hoping that if I said something now, maybe you’d be nice enough to give me the chance to vote for the guy I actually support.  I sure appreciate the fact that those folks in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada are excited and having lots of fun voting or taking polls or whatever it is that they do over there.  I just don’t happen to live there, America.  I want to have my fun too.

Dear America, could you find it in your heart to let me vote for who I want to vote for no matter what the people in Nevada or Montana say?  I’d sure appreciate it.

Well, like I said, just wanted to let you know.  Good job on the amber waves, etc.  Keep it up.

Your friend,
Greg

Linuxing it up at the ol’ Howard Jones Express

I’m sitting in a bed in the Howard Jones Express in Salt Lake City. I must be somewhere near the railroad tracks. Guess how I know. I think I would have felt disappointed if there hadn’t been some kind of train horn or sirens or gang wars going on in the vicinity of any given Howard Jones motel.

Thought I ought to update the concerned citizens of the intertubes. I’m still using Ubuntu. It’s been mostly good. There have been some weird bugs, which I understood from the beginning would be likely to happen. There have been some weirder bugs that I didn’t expect which have apparently gone away on thier own. Linux bugs are moody, I guess.

Good things: It’s speedy and easy to upgrade / add programs. Desktop effects make me feel more awesome than the sterile windows users. When I find a problem I discover that somebody else has already figured out how to fix it and I don’t have to use a useless support script made by a soulless giant in redmond washington.

Bad things: It’s not perfect. Why is it that I expect perfection from Linux but put up with hundreds of flaws in windows? I’ve been programmed. I’ve figured out how to fix most of the problems I’ve encountered so far, but I still understand so little. One last bad thing: I still have to use my windows box to play warcraft or other windows games. I know some people have gotten these games working with WINE but it’s fairly technical and still imperfect.

As for being a student, I find that the laptop is perfectly acceptable. In fact in every way but in playing some of the newest games, Linux is preferable to windows. I find it more stable and more fun (once I get it working right…) .

Finally, I find myself wondering between horn blares if closing the site to but a select few was the best thing to do. It could be much better this way. It could wither and die.

-Greg