Archive for February, 2014

Aunt Jeanne McDonagh…pass it on

February 21, 2014

I was Jeanne’s favorite nephew.

Of course the entire down stream of nieces and nephews would say precisely the same thing.  That was her best and most enduring trick.

With Jeanne it was a “light” thing – she was loaded with it.
Jeanne was everything a woman wasn’t supposed to be. Single throughout. A WAVE during the war. A Congressional Aide to arguably the most powerful woman in the US Congress. A independent business women and a traveling saleswoman for years. A hard nosed fashion clothes buyer for huge department stores. Worked as a full time employee for Congressman Chris Shays (CT) — a Republican for God’s sake — into her 80s.
She was a hundred miles ahead of the feminist era. She didn’t feel compelled to fight for her beliefs. She just was her beliefs.
She was the first single woman I ever knew who owned her own car…and could drive like a guy.  She lived in the world fully. She went to the Cotton Club and the Stork Club and claimed she didn’t miss much of the NY and Washington scene of the era. She was known to have a drink or to…and was a smoker, and did both well, if not professionally.  She loved Broadway musicals. She loved politics and the DC action it generated during her years with her Aunt Mary Norton who was the first Democratic congress woman elected to Congress.
She knew more than her share of DC, NYC and NJ luminaries of the times — was well read, and confidently formed points of view and opinions from her own political and ethical perspectives. She was funny and laughed easily and without restraint. She could change her mind if she didn’t get it right the first time.
She was loyal to those she loved and those she believed in. She came to believe that it was kind of her reason for living to help people to believe in them selves. She listened and she got involved with people…and she had a huge an unrelenting conviction for family…and for integrity and honor.  She was a hopeful idealist and irrepressible optimist in human kind. And she was a ‘nobody’s fool’ realist about how things really worked.
She told it the way it was. The way she saw it. She was absolutely unafraid to brooch uncomfortable subjects that needed to be discussed.
Jeanne honored her own light by being true to it. She was the person she wanted to be. She ran her life the way she wanted to run it…mostly to support her own personal need to grow and to stay vigorously alive and aware…and to be meaningfully helpful and committed as a friend.
She was an example and a beacon of how one should deport themselves…and how one should value others…and show up in their lives when she felt ‘showing up’ was the most important thing a person could do for another. To let them know they were important to her.  She didn’t miss too many.
Jeanne appealed to the light and goodness in others — and they responded in kind. She loved the hell out of people in her life — and they loved her back. She was loyal and they were loyal back.
With Jeanne, the big things…the important things, were all little. Mostly Jeanne cared about people.  She listened to them and valued them as human beings. She honored people for who they were individually. She listened to them, she offered advice if she felt she had a insight that might help…and tangible help if she could.  She loved people who loved her…and they loved her because they knew she was for real…and really did care about them.
Jeanne cared about being clear and reflectively thoughtful…and value, ethically and god centered. She loved her past and her recollections — but lived entirely in  the present…and was committed to being reality based — and to staying that way. Which meant that she stayed connected to — and centered on — keeping god and her personal relationship with god at the absolute core of her life. That’s why she prayed reflectively and went to church daily.
Most of all, Jeanne cared about  family and dear friends. She cared about outcomes of relationships she had with people. She thought carefully about people, and thought about them ‘in their personal context’ — and in terms of what she might do or say that might help nudge them in a more productive or promising direction.
Jeanne kept things simple and small. She was happy because happy works better than glum — and optimistic because hope is way better than despair.
31 years.  And Manhattenville. And a good old Irish Catholic upbringing. 
Clearly, I loved her dearly.

Some long ago recollections…framing the future. Not so good.

February 20, 2014

(written after reading a Robert Reich article reflecting on his fathers 100 birthday and extoling the Greatest Generation’s take charge/take care of business rescue of America and the world)


I remember sitting in a hotel suite out in Santa Clara CA with a pal named Bob Shultz, a fellow VP of Marriott — sometime around 1980 (the economic era dominated by “stagflation”) where we were pulling together assumptions that would provide ‘context’ for the coming year’s annual and 5 year business plans.

He said “So what do you think the economic environment will be over the next few years, Joe?”

I said that I was pretty confident it would remain shitty for the foreseeable future. I said that I thought that stagflation was a pretty clear indication (at least to me) that the American economy was flat lining — that we were living in a largely “sated” economy…where Capitalism was losing its reason for being – to provide meaningfully better products and service solutions to satisfy significant consumer needs.

I remember saying that I thought most of our society’s big and basic important needs — shared by large percentages of the population — were fulfilled and satisfied. I mean, how many cars can a person drive…how many fast food burgers can a man eat a day…how many suits can you wear at once…how many fancy watches does one need to tell the time…how many theme park trips can you take the kids to before they get sick of the place and it just isn’t worth the money anymore.

I also recall saying that it seemed to me that we were in this horrible place where the proponderance of new products and service entities were largely cosmetic, style related and minor. That the big solutions to the big problems and big burning societal and consumer needs that drive economies are already pretty much taken care of.

I thought that it was pretty clear that economically we had eroded down to being a “replacement” economy — which was not big enough or robust enough to sustain jobs and incomes we have become dependent upon to keep the economic engine ruining at levels anywhere close to what we have become used to. It’s just not there.

I also remember saying that I thought that the somewhat “desperate” moves to embrace what we were calling a “service economy” was sort of creating an ‘air ball’  economy where essentially you eat yourself — spending money for services that provide no real tangible value — at least not the kind of value you would gotten if you had produced and sold tangible products and goods.

It was my feeling (and still is) that a healthy economy requires that you generate money before you spend it — and we were no longer doing that…and that spending money in a service economy is spending “savings” if there is no new money being generated. Like shoveling money into a giant hole in the ground.

And, in retrospect, that’s exactly what we did. And, in doing so, we relearned the lesson that when there’s not enough new value generated money coming in to sustain all the companies that make pretty much the same products in the various business sectors that comprise the whole…well, then the biggest and strongest companies grab what business there is — and the weaker companies are taken off the board — as are almost all of the jobs they once provided. Gone.

And, we speculated, that it’s about at this point, where running in place and delusion sets in. Where we make shit up to try to reverse the cascade — things  we believe in because we want to — that what we are doing is worthy and useful – like creating wars to chase terrorists we created – or, getting all excited about dot com nonsense…or, creating housing bubbles that promise the illusion of health and growth and vitality — or, like what we are currently doing with the information/ espionage economic era…where we try to pretend that all the data collection and data management and CRM bullshit adds value to the economy (which it decidedly does not). In fact it is all quite a joke when you consider the cost of doing all this nonsense for the value received.

And all the while, because we really don’t seem to have option, we eat our “seed corn”, hoping that things will all turn around real soon. Before that runs out.

Bottom line, from where I sit, it looks like the game is over for while.

Infrastructures are crumbling, companies continue to fail and disappear…and jobs are lost forever…and people are forced to take way less in wages just to have and keep jobs that are left…and prices go up as demand goes down, as companies attempt to stay viable…and people get scared and don’t say shit about anything for fear everything will be taken from them…and many, even smart people, get really stupid and grasp at straws and slide into denial and delusion on almost everything.

And fear about sliding into the great economic tank of our forefathers, translates into everything everywhere getting cut back, truncated and delayed or eliminated — compounding the problems of people not having jobs or enough money to stay alive. And the anger increases along with the fear and angst noise levels…and preparations are made to forestall “trouble” — and no one talks about it.

And finally the whole apple cart starts tipping over as the personal economies of significant portions of our society start to fail…and the failed find themselves increasingly denied safety net benefits once established to keep us from falling through.

And, its important to note, that the great decline of everything we once loved about the world we lived in — all started when the “greatest generation” finished solving all the important problems and satisfying all the big consumer needs and wants.

When we hit “sated”, the economic growth engine stopped and the collapse began.

The future. I’m figuring everything will start perking up again once the collapse of fucking everything gets bad enough to do something about it. We still have to have WW-IV or something with that level of specific gravity — to catalyze change.

We’re are indeed getting to the “holy shit we got to really do something here pretty quickly” point I’m thinking.

Another 5 or 10 years max. Then you’ll see another greatest generation once again take the field and save humanity from itself…because they have to.

At least I sure hope so. It’s entirely possible we could trash the place beyond repair just as easily.

I sure would feel better if I thought there was someone working on a ‘save the baby’ plan out there somewhere.