Tough decade?

Inspired by Tom Brokaw’s interview on The Colbert Report, aired 12/16/09.

We are on the verge of a new decade. The 2010s. The two-thousand tens? The teens? Twenty-tens, perhaps? Despite its lack of a decent sobriquet, we are almost forced to expect things to be just a little bit “better” in the decade to come. I know many people who have had a rough year, personally, and are eager for it to end. Well, think of it this way. The worst (we hope) decade, politically, socially, and economically speaking, that we will have to endure in our lifetimes, is about to come to a close.

Think back to 1999. Prince’s song “1999” was re-released, and we were dancing in the streets as N*Sync, Britney Spears, and the Backstreet Boys were topping the charts. Our biggest fear was the Y2K bug, which fizzled into nothing more than a scare. The 90s brought some huge strides forward. We saw technological breakthroughs like the internet, widespread use of cellular phones, and the cloning of a mammal. Around the world, we see the reunification of Germany following the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall. Nelson Mandela was released from prison after thirty years therein. Here in the United States, we saw the successful presidency of Bill Clinton, and despite his personal indiscretions, he left office with a growing economy, the first budget surplus since the 1960s, and the second highest end-of-term approval rating for a president. Admittedly, there were some points of trauma (e.g. the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Desert Storm), but overall, it was a positive decade, and we couldn’t wait for things to be even better in the next millennium.

Enter the 2000s. The decade begins with the heavily contested presidential election, making our political system the brunt of jokes the world over. Bush Jr. left office with a 22 per cent approval rating, the lowest ever recorded since the poll was first taken. In 2001, we have the September 11th attacks, and months after that, a plane crash in Queens, New York killing 260. Natural disasters claim the lives of well over 100,000 worldwide. These include the European heat wave of 2003, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Thailand, and the Sichuan Earthquake in China, which alone claimed just under 70,000 lives. The United States engages in two separate wars which still wage today. Over 6000 coalition soldiers’ lives (and also those of countless civilians) have been claimed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Economically, we faced the greatest crisis since the depression, and we will leave the decade with the number looming right around 10 per cent. Banks have failed, automakers have failed, and in addition to personal job losses, we also face a public debt that is growing at an out of control rate. Most recently, the first public health pandemic in more than forty years, the H1N1 influenza virus, has a death toll of over 15,000 worldwide and continues to grow. I think I’ll stop there.

Despite all the hardship, we persevere, and we hope. Barring the 2012 Apocalypse that John Cusack has warned us about, the next decade begs to be better than our current one. Despite any personal gains one has experienced in this decade, looking at the big picture, it was a tough time worldwide. Do not be depressed, nor discouraged. Let us bank on the fact, or rather the probability, maybe even just plain hope, that the best is yet to come, and we might enter a post-war golden age like that of the 1950s. Or just something a little smoother than we’ve experienced over last 10 years. Come on 2010. We’re ready.

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Jersey Shore

DISCLAIMER: In writing the following, I am about to concede any shred of “journalistic credibility” that I once had. Unfortunately, temptation has gotten the better of me. If I start to sound like Perez Hilton, somebody please let me know. Enjoy.

You watched it. Maybe you DVR’d it, thinking you’d get around to watching it, but after all the chatter on Friday morning, you popped it on as soon as you got home. Everyone is talking about it, especially us New Jersey natives. It’s MTV’s Jersey Shore.

I stumbled onto watching the show, having no intentions to originally do so. I’m always the first person to cast judgement when it comes to “shitty TV.” “How are you going to waste your precious time on that garbage?” Maybe even a “This is what’s wrong with America.” Well, I’m not sure if this makes me a hypocrite, or maybe I’ve just seen the light, but I now know the appeal of devoting time to such a horrible, entertaining show.

The cast is comprised of four jacked guys and four thick girls. They take pride in their Guido and Guidette heritage, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to be proud of where you come from. Like any MTV show, melodrama ensues, and everything degenerates into drunken nudity in the hot tub.

The characters are unbelievable, each having his or her own claim to fame. JWOWW exhibits her absurdly fake breasts, Angelina knows she’s the greatest cock-block around, and Ronnie is the only man the universe with the secret recipe for Ron-Ron Juice, an alcoholic beverage comprised of vodka, blackberries, vodka, fruit juice, and vodka. Its potency can be likened to The Situation’s sensitivity. Extreme. Tough on the outside (he knows when he needs his protein and has abs of steel), The Situation showed us a softer side in his chivalric quest for the heart of Sammie. And who could forget the lovable runt Shnorkel, or Schnookums? Maybe it was Snickers. Nobody really knows. Thinking about this excuse for a female human being is all I need for an instant laugh. Sorry, dear.

I could go on and on breaking down Thursday’s episode, but no black and white text could do these two hours justice. It’s for situations (no pun intended) like these that I reserve the classification “scum of the Earth.” But for some reason, we can’t help but get amped up for the next episode.

Why is it that we are drawn to this program like hair gel to Pauly D’s blow-out? Maybe after seeing this tragic looking crew, we can dub ourselves more moral, smarter, or better behaved (but certainly not as huge) than others. A bit of a social pat on the back. I believe that it’s the total audacity of the characters that draws us in. If nothing else, they’ve got nerve. The nerve to call themselves faithful to significant others at home, and then admire each other’s genital piercings the same night. The nerve to go out of one’s way to try to break up another’s inconsequential relationship. The nerve for the following quote, “So this guy at the bar looked at me. What was I to do,” delivered just before the first punch. These lunatics simply do the things that we do not. Whether they are oblivious, ‘roided up, idiots, or just don’t give a shit, it is genuinely exciting to watch humans break the social norms established by society, and have it delivered to us in a polished hour of highlights each week.

Now I don’t feel so bad about watching. To all those I’ve called out in the past, my sincerest apologies. Grab your sausage and peppers, Peroni’s on ice, and a tall glass of Ron-Ron Juice, and enjoy the show.

A final word to critics. Those from New Jersey who boycott the show and are mortified that these eight cats are “representing” New Jersey, ease up. It’s not a documentary on the history of the state and its people. It’s a trashy MTV show designed to attract viewers. Appreciate it for what it is, and don’t get overzealous in your pride for the motherland. And to Italian-heritage groups, offended by the “defamation” of your culture, get over it. These people exist, and there is a substantial number of them. Don’t hide from the truth, but don’t let a sample size of eight, chosen for their extreme attitude, behavior, and hair gel usage set the standard for your thousands of years of rich history. The rest of the world is smart enough not to pass such gross judgement, so you should be, too.

HMFIC

I recently sat down with Father and watched a short piece on James Cameron and his ground-breaking cinematic epic, Avatar. Avatar sets a new standard for movies to come, employing the use of digital 3D actors based off of real ones. While the film offers enough eye-candy to warrant a trek to the theater, it was the making of the film that struck me most. All software editing and programming aside, the success (or possible failure, though I can’t envision this) of this film depends upon one thing: James Cameron himself.

A notorious stickler for detail (perhaps obsessive control freak is more appropriate), the buck stops at Cameron. There is no democratic process on the set. It’s his way. Period. Cameron wears a hat with a simple, block-letter embroidery, “HMFIC.” This serves as a simple, visual reminder to himself that Cameron is indeed the “Head Mother Fucker in Charge.” While at the surface, this may seem tyrannical and unfair, for such a grandiose project, this leadership is a necessity. No doubt that the director will call upon the advice of others if he is looking for a second opinion, but in any clashes, questions, indecisions, it all comes down to one man. If the movie flops, odds are that Cameron will not be too crushed. It is his masterpiece, sink or swim, and like Old Blue Eyes, he did it his way.

Ironically, on the very same day, the universe conspired to have me stumble upon a leadership presentation by Colin Powell that is definitely worth a read. It should take you about 20 minutes, but will render some lessons that can affect you for life. Any time there is a group interaction, leadership of some sort comes into play, making deeper knowledge of the concept quite empowering. The ideas can be applied to fields like the military, business, and other social situations. One idea that really resonated with me in this report was that to be a good leader, you will probably have to piss some people off. Being fair and trying to treat everyone equally is a recipe for disaster.

For instance: I’m the president of the sales division of a start-up. Two of my five employees are making 70% of the sales. I could “be fair” and present an even commission structure to the entire group, in an attempt to satisfy everyone. But these attempts will only bother the best and most valuable of the workforce. Alternatively, I could offer a higher commission rate to my best salespeople. This might present some frustration to the inferior performers, but if I have to upset one contingent of people, shouldn’t it be the worse performers? Fairness is a touchy word and should be approached with caution from an executive role. I’d go so far to call it subjective. My fair might be different from your fair.

So, in closing, step up, and make your decisions with impunity. Stand by them, believe in them, and don’t be afraid about upsetting people, as it’s probably going to happen anyway. Reach down and find your HMFIC voice, and realize that sometimes you need to be the relentless tyrant, the alpha and the omega, the head motherfucker in charge.

Cold remedies

It happens every year around this time. Friends and family rejoice, you hit the bottle, stay up late, and ultimately, your body succumbs to all of the bugs floating around, and you get sick.

When I fall into this trap, I actively do everything possible to convalesce myself quickly, and I will share what I’ve learned for expedited healing, so we can all get back on top as soon as possible. Everyone knows the basics: bed rest, some fresh air, and mom’s chicken soup. Therefore, below you will find some of the lesser known solutions to cold- and flu-like symptoms. My rationale is that combining numerous of these remedies will either have an additive effect on healing, or that this “shotgun method” will produce one with real efficacy.

1. Ginger

My experience in treating a sore throats with ginger is encouraging. You can pick up ginger root (not the pickled ginger you eat with sushi) in the produce section of your grocery store. One option is to make a ginger tea, boiling peeled slices of the root in a pot of water for 15 minutes. Alternatively, take a few slices of ginger and place them in your steeping tea. The most instant and effective way is to cut a small cube of peeled ginger, and chew on it, swallowing the vitriolic juice. It will produce a strong burn in your mouth and taste buds, but outperform Chloroseptic without polluting your body with synthetic chemicals. You can swallow the ginger (it is known to aid in digestion), or spit out the slurry once it stops producing the desired bitter juice.

2. A small serving of alcohol

There is no scientific evidence behind this, just anecdotal from my experiences. Plus it makes a great excuse for a morning shot of whiskey. Alcohol has been shown in studies to have preventative effects on colds. Aim for red wine to get the added benefits of the anti-oxidant resveratrol.

3. Tea

Aside from being the world’s most delicious drink, the steam from a freshly boiled cup of tea will help loosen up mucous in the nose. It is also an excellent vehicle for delivering other remedies. Add honey to soothe and coat the throat, ginger (see above), and lemon juice for its concentrated vitamin C. Flushing the body with any healthy fluids will also aid in healing.

4. Vitamin C and Echinacea

Studies have shown that supplementing your diet with this potent combination can help reduce the incidence of colds by up to 86%. If you’ve already developed a cold, taking these supplements can reduce the duration by up to 1.5 days.

5. Garlic

Another delicious cure, garlic is believed to have both antibiotic and anti-viral properties. The biologically active compound, allicin, is responsible for this. A 2001 study showed that garlic was effective as a preventative measure and also shortened duration. The biggest side effect? You will smell like garlic. Strange how we love the smell of garlic in the kitchen, but despise it on people.

6. Neti Pot

This is probably my favorite cold helper. And it sure beats blowing your nose into snot-filled tissues all day. Neti pots are ancient devices that are filled with a saline solution used to irrigate the nose. Simply pour warm salt water in one nostril, and allow it flow out the other. It will flush out plenty of mucous and loosen up the rest so it can easily be blown out just after use.

A problem I’ve run into is being totally clogged up, and not being able to initiate the flow. Enter Tabasco Sauce. Taking one teaspoon of this has an immediate effect on the nasal passages. If you can handle it, have a teaspoon, and feel it start to loosen up clogged sinuses in seconds. From there, you should have an easier time Neti Potting. Watch with joy and delight as your sink fills up with expelled yellow and clear mucous. Delicious.

Feel better.

Your NPR Name

NPRIn recent times, I’ve been listening to a lot more NPR. There are many pressing issues (health-care, elections, wars) that both the country and world are facing, and it is nice to be up-to-snuff on these talking points.

I’ve been pleasantly plagued by the unbelievable names that the anchors have. Soterios Johnson? ME-shell Norris? Giles Snyder?

While I can’t take credit for this, I will share with you how to find your own NPR Name.

1. Insert the first letter of your middle name into your first name, maintaining the order of the original letters.

2. Replace your last name (entirely) with the smallest place you’ve ever visited.

Brian Radvansky would be a bumbling amateur on-air. Briman William Creek, Domestic Correspondent, can hang with Ofeibea Quist-Arcton any day.

Post your NPR name in the comments. You’ll be broadcasting in no time. Have fun!

Putting it in perspective

I’m sitting at Gate B43 of Newark Liberty International Airport, and I’ve just been informed that my flight has been delayed. Again. I’ll be lucky to catch my connection in Atlanta and make it to San Diego by nightfall. In situations like these, I’m reminded of a brilliant stand-up bit performed by Louis C.K., the lovable peligroso and star of Lucky Louie, TV’s funniest canned-after-season-one show.

The comic was on an airplane, and laments about the complaining he hears from a fellow patron regarding broken down WiFi, and a 40-minute taxiing affair on the runway. (YouTube link). C.K. gives us all a piece of brilliant advice here: Put it in perspective.

Before the advent of big old jet airliners, you would be lucky to get a spot on a Greyhound and concede the next 3 days to making it from New York to San Francisco. And here’s a man complaining about a 40 minute delay, failing to see the beauty of air travel. Cross country travel is possible in the scope of a few hours. A trip that once took months in a covered wagon (along with disease and other hardship) is now doable in the amount of time it would take to watch 5 episodes of So You Think You Can Dance. The standard cross country trip circa 1846 went a little something like this: Mary gets pregnant, Judah dies of dysentary, Ezekial succumbs to a snake bite, and you are stuck eating squirrels and rabbits for the week. Now you can drink a Woodford Reserve and coke while watching The Hangover and texting fellow flyers. Rather than ask how jaded we are, let us frame it as how lucky and brilliant we are. Using science, mathematics, engineering, and precise logistics and control, we can manipulate 500-ton flying machines, with the ability to mobilize over 1,000 people. We can fly a 747 over 8,800 miles without stopping for gas.

I don’t think the time will come when I watch a plane take flight, and fail to marvel at its ability to lift up hundreds of people, 7 miles into the air, and land on an extended driveway in another part of the world. What was once science-ficiton and resulted in the ridicule of geniuses is now humdrum, everyday travel. You can get from London to Sydney in 21 hours. Austrlaia was once dubbed the Antipodes, referring to a place that is the polar oppositie point to an origin (the British Isles), and a current project, LAPCAT is trying to trim the flight down to 2 hours.

Next time you get hung up on checked baggage fees and shitty peanuts, take a deep breath, and realize exactly what’s happening. Enjoy this sunset taken from seat 14A.

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Open a Roth IRA now

cashThe future is, for the most part, uncertain. Sometimes that can be scary, but often it is exhilarating. It all depends on how you look at it. While I can’t really say where I’ll be next year, I’m pretty certain that when I get to (if I make it) to 60+ years of age, I’m going to stop working hard, and retire to making sandwiches at a deli/bagel shop, or stocking produce at the supermarket. I’ll do these things not to get away from my lovely bride (TBD) of 30+ years but because they are things I enjoy doing, and they provide an honest, though incredibly modest income. I don’t plan on descending into a sedentary lifestyle at this age, so how will I fund fun, excitement, and Viagra come 2048?

Enter the Roth IRA. It’s a fairly new (1997) investment vehicle that can help prepare you for the distant (or not so distant) future. A Roth IRA stands apart from other investments in the form of an incredibly beneficial tax break.

Assume you are 25 years old, currently working full-time (kudos to you), earning $45,000/year. You are able to contribute $5000 per tax year to a fund of your choice, whether it be a CD, mutual fund, or stock. The marvel of compound interest allows your money to grow, and if you continue putting in $5000/year for the next 40 years, assuming a rate of return of 8%, come age 65, you’ll have banked nearly 1.4 million dollars. Hopefully this is padded by your 401(k) and/or pension, and your gig at Stop & Shop picks up the rest. Your $200,000 principle has matured into a much larger sum, assuming this long term growth rate. Whether we can expect that rate over the course of the next 40 years is debatable; current models of markets are being reviewed and revised, and all the things regarding growth that we assumed as givens are being tested.

So why are you better off in a “Roth IRA” instead of just investing into a regular index fund? The Roth IRA, both principle and interest you earn, are tax-free and penalty-free. Instead of paying a large portion of this sum back to the government in taxes upon withdrawal, it’s all yours. While taxes may not seem like a big deal, 20% of a million dollars is a lot of money you’ll have to pay back to IRS. The money istaxed before you invest it, like any stock investment you’d make on your own anyway.

Another benefit – There is no tax or penalty if you need to withdrawal any or all of the principle (after 5 years of opening the fund). So you turn 32, and decide that the $35,000 you’ve invested would be much better in your buddy’s brilliant startup. Pull it all out, and give him the $35,000. No questions asked.

If you are buying your first home, you can pull out up to $10,000 of the earnings in addition to the principle without penalty. A great deal in itself.

The sooner you start, the better. Forgoing a few years can mean forgoing thousands upon thousands of dollars. Step one? Open an account with a brokerage (if you haven’t one already) like Fidelity, TDAmeritrade, or Vanguard. You should be able to follow the simple steps from there and make your first contribution. Intimidated by the internet? Pick up the phone and call one of these companies. As they will be managing your money, they are more than happy to help you get started.

What to invest in? That’s a story for another day. Many brokerages run life-cycle funds, an investment that adjusts risk according to your age (e.g Fidelity Freedom Fund 2050). The money is managed for you; all you need to do is pick your estimated retirement year and you’re set. Even if you are a speculative investor and enjoy buying a selling stocks frequently, you can do this within your Roth IRA and not pay tax (up to 35%!) on the capital gains or dividends.

The one certainty is that you will need money when you retire. Take those idle minutes at work, close Gmail and Facebook, and do just a bit of research on this. Plan on opening the account and making your first contribution this week, even if its a small one. The first step is the hardest to take. Barring a 2012 apocalypse, you can look forward to turning in that application at the bagel shop with pride, satisfaction, and piece of mind. Get to it.

Some related links:
Roth IRA Wiki
Roth IRA Calculator
Fidelity’s Roth vs. Traditional IRA

Email me with any questions.