Thursday, August 21, 2008
Since my teens, when I first read MacBeth, I got the Shakespeare bug and never looked back. Today, because it's my birthday, this sonnet holds a unique significance for me:
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a totter'd weed of small worth held:
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv'd thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
—This were to be new made when thou art old,
—And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I remember the first of these lists in 1998, and they never cease to amaze and amuse me. Perhaps the most unsettling news is how this generation has always experienced privacy as being under threat... it makes films like Minority Report, where personal freedoms can be infringed at the government's whim, tragically plausible.
I find this list always helps to remind me how the world looks to the youngest of generations, who will one take take the reins. As the Indian adage goes, "We are not inheriting the world from our parents, we borrowing it from our children."
This month, almost 2 million first-year students will head off to college campuses around the country. Most of them will be about 18 years old, born in 1990 when headlines sounded oddly familiar to those of today: Rising fuel costs were causing airlines to cut staff and flight schedules; Big Three car companies were facing declining sales and profits; and a president named Bush was increasing the number of troops in the Middle East in the hopes of securing peace. However, the mindset of this new generation of college students is quite different from that of the faculty about to prepare them to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Each August for the past 11 years, Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college. It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Public Affairs Director Ron Nief. The List is shared with faculty and with thousands who request it each year as the school year begins, as a reminder of the rapidly changing frame of reference for this new generation.
The class of 2012 has grown up in an era where computers and rapid communication are the norm, and colleges no longer trumpet the fact that residence halls are “wired” and equipped with the latest hardware. These students will hardly recognize the availability of telephones in their rooms since they have seldom utilized landlines during their adolescence. They will continue to live on their cell phones and communicate via texting. Roommates, few of whom have ever shared a bedroom, have already checked out each other on Facebook where they have shared their most personal thoughts with the whole world.
It is a multicultural, politically correct and “green” generation that has hardly noticed the threats to their privacy and has never feared the Russians and the Warsaw Pact.
Students entering college for the first time this fall were generally born in 1990.
For these students, Sammy Davis Jr., Jim Henson, Ryan White, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddy Krueger have always been dead.
- Harry Potter could be a classmate, playing on their Quidditch team.
- Since they were in diapers, karaoke machines have been annoying people at parties.
- They have always been looking for Carmen Sandiego.
- GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available.
- Coke and Pepsi have always used recycled plastic bottles.
- Shampoo and conditioner have always been available in the same bottle.
- Gas stations have never fixed flats, but most serve cappuccino.
- Their parents may have dropped them in shock when they heard George Bush announce “tax revenue increases.”
- Electronic filing of tax returns has always been an option.
- Girls in head scarves have always been part of the school fashion scene.
- All have had a relative--or known about a friend's relative--who died comfortably at home with Hospice.
- As a precursor to “whatever,” they have recognized that some people “just don’t get it.”
- Universal Studios has always offered an alternative to Mickey in Orlando.
- Grandma has always had wheels on her walker.
- Martha Stewart Living has always been setting the style.
- Haagen-Dazs ice cream has always come in quarts.
- Club Med resorts have always been places to take the whole family.
- WWW has never stood for World Wide Wrestling.
- Films have never been X rated, only NC-17.
- The Warsaw Pact is as hazy for them as the League of Nations was for their parents.
- Students have always been "Rocking the Vote.”
- Clarence Thomas has always sat on the Supreme Court.
- Schools have always been concerned about multiculturalism.
- We have always known that “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
- There have always been gay rabbis.
- Wayne Newton has never had a mustache.
- College grads have always been able to Teach for America.
- IBM has never made typewriters.
- Roseanne Barr has never been invited to sing the National Anthem again.
- McDonald’s and Burger King have always used vegetable oil for cooking french fries.
- They have never been able to color a tree using a raw umber Crayola.
- There has always been Pearl Jam.
- The Tonight Show has always been hosted by Jay Leno and started at 11:35 EST.
- Pee-Wee has never been in his playhouse during the day.
- They never tasted Benefit Cereal with psyllium.
- They may have been given a Nintendo Game Boy to play with in the crib.
- Authorities have always been building a wall across the Mexican border.
- Lenin’s name has never been on a major city in Russia.
- Employers have always been able to do credit checks on employees.
- Balsamic vinegar has always been available in the U.S.
- Macaulay Culkin has always been Home Alone.
- Their parents may have watched The American Gladiators on TV the day they were born.
- Personal privacy has always been threatened.
- Caller ID has always been available on phones.
- Living wills have always been asked for at hospital check-ins.
- The Green Bay Packers (almost) always had the same starting quarterback.
- They never heard an attendant ask “Want me to check under the hood?”
- Iced tea has always come in cans and bottles.
- Soft drink refills have always been free.
- They have never known life without Seinfeld references from a show about “nothing.”
- Windows 3.0 operating system made IBM PCs user-friendly the year they were born.
- Muscovites have always been able to buy Big Macs.
- The Royal New Zealand Navy has never been permitted a daily ration of rum.
- The Hubble Space Telescope has always been eavesdropping on the heavens.
- 98.6 F or otherwise has always been confirmed in the ear.
- Michael Milken has always been a philanthropist promoting prostate cancer research.
- Off-shore oil drilling in the United States has always been prohibited.
- Radio stations have never been required to present both sides of public issues.
- There have always been charter schools.
- Students always had Goosebumps.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Thursday, August 07, 2008
News comes today of America's Big Three automakers on the verge of bankruptcy. I have two contradictory reactions of equal conviction: empathy—in that the employees of these iconic companies are in grave danger of losing their jobs—and contempt—in that these companies steadfastly rejected innovations like hybrids and let unions dictate the terms and costs of doing business.
I regret auto workers have their backs against the wall. It's awful. Most people just want to show up for a job, do their work and go home, and these poor people might soon be on the dole. That completely blows. On the other hand, the autoworkers union has been bolstering a doomed industrial age business model—the ceiling was bound to fall sometime.
Thus, the Big Three have created an artifical market with high production costs that can't compete internationally. Unions have bullied the Big Three into paying employees more than the market says they are worth, and the Big Three have consistently spurned electric cars and their current intermediary, the hybrid (only in the last few years have the Big Three really committed to producing and selling hybrids). And this is only the latest chapter in how the Big Three have stifled competitive innovation—the film Tucker: The Man and His Dream tells a tragic tale:
[Tucker is] the story of entrepreneur Preston Tucker and the innovative car he designed in the late 1940s. The car was attractive, economical, and safe, and had many features not found on the cars of that time—an air-cooled rear engine, disk brakes, independent 4-wheel suspension, an additional center headlight that pivoted left and right for better vision when turning, a padded dash, seatbelts, and a popout safety windshield. Tucker's promotional activities generated widespread public excitement and interest in the car, but the powerful auto industry blocked its production. Only 50 cars were ever made.
So, as sorry as I feel for the auto workers who might lose their jobs, as I read news of the Big Three's impending bankruptcy, I can't help but think, They bloody well had it coming to them.
Big Three face bankruptcy fears
After huge losses and plunging sales, experts aren't ruling out the possibility that GM, Ford or Chrysler might eventually be forced to declare bankruptcy.
By Chris Isidore, CNNMoney.com senior writer
Last Updated: August 6, 2008: 10:00 AM EDT
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It's been a bumpy road for Detroit's Big Three automakers for the past few years. But it may get worse.
Some experts fear that GM, Ford and Chrysler - their sales plunging as fewer consumers buy gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs - could be forced to head for bankruptcy.
Last week, General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) reported a $15.5 billion second quarter net loss. While its operating loss was only $6.3 billion, that's still more than the market value of the company.
GM's loss followed an $8.7 billion loss at Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) and came on the same day that the industry reported a 13% drop in sales, its worst month in 16 years.
Chrysler LLC, which was bought by private equity group Cerberus Capital a year ago and does not report financial results, relies even more heavily on sales of light trucks, such as pickups and SUVs, than do GM and Ford. Chrysler also has virtually no overseas sales to fall back upon.
As such, the credit markets have expressed doubts about Chrysler's prospects, as its finance arm was recently able to raise only $24 billion of the $30 billion it sought. The company has stopped offering leases to its customers due to credit market concerns and the declining value its used vehicles.
'Clock is ticking'
All this had led to increased speculation that there could be a bankruptcy in the next year at one or more of the Big Three automakers. Credit rating firm Standard & Poor's cut GM and Ford deeper into junk bond status last week, leaving their debt just barely above the level normally associated with firms at significant risk of near-term default.
"The clock is certainly ticking," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research. "Obviously there's a risk. Nobody is home free."
Most experts wouldn't give odds that one of them will stumble into bankruptcy, but said there is a chance they could be forced into doing so if market conditions don't improve.
"We think they wouldn't choose to file. But there is a risk they could be overwhelmed by the events," said Bob Schulz, S&P's senior automotive credit analyst.
Making matters worse for the Big Three is the fact that it will take years to fully adapt to the changing consumer trends - or, the shift away from gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs to smaller cars.
"Fixing their product mix and cutting their staff down to manageable levels is going to take a fair amount of time to work down to the bottom line," said Bob Schnorbus, chief economist with J.D. Power & Associates. "If they continue to lose money at the current rate, their chances [of bankruptcy] are uncomfortably high."
But spokespeople at all three automakers insist that bankruptcy is not on the table and said the companies have adequate cash reserves to see them through additional losses.
For example, GM spokeswoman Renee Rashid-Merem pointed out steps GM took in July to raise cash, including suspending its dividend, planned asset sales and additional cost cuts.
GM still has about $26 billion in cash and credit lines available to it. Ford is in the best cash position of the three, ending the second quarter with $26.6 billion in cash and $11.6 billion in available credit lines. Chrysler has $9.4 billion in unrestricted cash and securities on hand at the end of the second quarter.
But GM burned through about $3.6 billion in cash in the second quarter alone. Experts say even with the large cash reserves on hand, the automakers don't have much more than a year to show significant improvement before they reach a crisis point.
"GM looks like they have four or five quarters to get their act together," said Shelly Lombard, analyst for GimmeCredit, a fixed income research firm. Her most recent note on GM is titled "Being pecked to death by ducks."
What would follow bankruptcy?
Even if one or more of the Big Three were to file for bankruptcy, it would likely to be under Chapter 11, which allows companies to continue operations as it tries to shed costs, rather than Chapter 7 liquidation.
"They may not be running the business well. But they're still selling a lot of cars," said Lombard. "It's not buggy whips, it's a real business. I don't think any of them are going away."
Instead, most industry experts say that a bankrupt Big Three automaker might shed some of their weaker brands. To that end, GM is already looking to sell its Hummer brand, for example.
However, filing for bankruptcy protection would be a mixed blessing for the Big Three. On the one hand, a bankrupt automaker would have an advantage over its U.S. rivals since it would be able to shed some burdensome costs
However, most auto experts believe a significant percentage of buyers would shy away from an automaker in bankruptcy due to concerns about getting warranty work done on their vehicle.
Hope for Detroit?
Yet, there is a case to be made that the Big Three will eventually bounce back. In some respects, they should be in better position now than they were just a few years ago. Even as their losses started to pile up in 2005, that was due mainly to costs that were too high, not weak demand.
And while the Big Three were losing market share to Asian automakers, they were maintaining strong sales on expensive pickups and SUVs, which are far more profitable than smaller cars.
But less than a year ago, GM, Ford and Chrysler all won major concessions from the United Auto Workers union that will eventually allow them to significantly lower their health care and benefit-related costs.
At that time, it actually appeared that all three might be getting close to a return to profitability.
But before it could start seeing any of these savings, fuel prices began to soar. With that, consumers stopped buying as many trucks. This March was the first month in five years that cars outsold light trucks in the U.S. market.
In addition to pain at the pump, rising job losses and falling home prices have battered consumer confidence and leave the industry poised to record an 18% drop in sales, the largest decline since 1980, according to J.D. Power & Associates
J.D. Power is projecting no improvement in sales until late 2009 at best.
Still, the Center for Automotive Research's Cole said if the Big Three are able to hang on during this slump, there is a chance that pent-up demand in 2009 could lead to much stronger sales just as some of the labor cost savings finally start to kick in next year.
"It could be a much more robust future than they've had in quite some time," said Cole. "The trick is to survive long enough to get to that future. That's where the challenge really lies." Link.