Boomers Reimagined

“In the mid-1880s,…growth of colossal corporations in the aftermath of the Civil War had produced immense, consolidated wealth for business owners, but the lives of the working people…had become increasingly difficult.” In her book, The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes one of Teddy Roosevelt’s political rivals as observing: “We plow new fields, …open new mines,…found new cities…we add knowledge and utilize invention after invention. (Yet) it becomes no easier for the masses of our people to make a living. On the contrary, it is becoming harder.”

Sound familiar?

Although America’s unemployment rate has been dropping, long term unemployment remains a major issue. It’s estimated that over a million Baby Boomers are members of the long term unemployed cohort.

More than 15% percent of the approximately thirty-six million Baby Boomers born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1954 are expected to live active, healthy lives into their 90s. Since retirement savings for many of those Boomers were severely diminished during the recent financial crisis, many of them will need to continue working at jobs which are both psychically and financially rewarding well past the traditional 65 year old retirement age. Meanwhile, American businesses including the legal and medical professions are reducing their labor forces through the use of automation and robotics.

To remain a successful capitalist economy, America needs consumers for the goods and services it produces. Although many of American industries’ customers may come from outside of the United States, it will also be necessary for Americans to consume local goods and services. To do so, they will require sufficient incomes.

As columnist Tom Friedman points out, the US needs to rethink its social contracts because labor is important to a person’s identity and dignity as well as to societal stability.

For the country’s future well-being, political and business leaders need to focus not only on helping millennials who are entering the workforce but also on redeveloping the American economy to keep healthy Baby Boomers engaged in jobs which are both psychically and financially rewarding. The challenge will be to create opportunities to unite the natural resources of Boomer experience and expertise with the 21st century skill sets of Millennials.

Suggestions?

Confessions of a Fair Weather Football Fan

seattle seahawks logo 600x337 150x150 Confessions of a Fair Weather Football FanDenver Broncos 150x150 Confessions of a Fair Weather Football Fan
The NFL season has just gotten started for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I like football. I just don’t care about the NFL until post-season. The same is true for baseball. It wasn’t always this way.

I was raised in a small New England village with a great baseball field about 100 yards downhill from our back porch. Between the ages of 5 and 13 , during the daylight hours when I wasn’t in school, doing homework or participating in organized sports at another venue, that’s where you’d probably find me with the other guys from our neighborhood playing baseball in Spring and Summer or touch football in the Fall.

When I was growing up, New England didn’t have an NFL team and the Jets didn’t exist, so the New York Giants was my default team of choice.

In later years, I lived in Pittsburgh where I became a Steelers fan. But now, although, I’ve lived more than half of my life as a resident of New York State, I’m not emotionally committed to the Giants or the Jets. I may, at times, like certain NFL teams more than others but I’m not passionate about any of them. Although, during the Broncos/ Patriots game I was definitely rooting for New England. But, since the Patriots lost, I have no Superbowl preference.

I’m a fair weather fan.

Which is why the NFL season started for me earlier this month. Now that “the wheat is separated from the chaff”, “the cream has risen to the top”, or whichever metaphor you choose to use to describe the process which brought the contending teams to the playoffs, I’ve gotten interested.

So, I’m looking forward to the SuperBowl’s emotional ups & downs, and to watching some amazingly gifted athletes and their coaches perform under pressure. The commercials will be fun, too.

I’ll find watching them to be inspiring and educational….even if I’m just a lowly fair weather fan.

Let Us Turn Our Thoughts Today To Martin Luther King

The centennial of the Civil War was being commemorated in 1962. Nelson Rockefeller was New York’s governor. Racism was matter-of-fact for most white American, whether overt or unconscious. So it took a certain amount of political courage for the Republican governor to select a controversial African-American like Martin Luther King, Jr. to deliver Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

No one had heard Dr. King’s speech for more than 50 years until last Fall when staff members of the New York State Museum in Albany discovered a long forgotten reel-to-reel tape.

You can listen to it here http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/mlk/index.html

Sherlock Holmes, Season 3

sherlock season 3 start date 300x157 Sherlock Holmes, Season 3

 

I’ve been a fan of PBS’s updated version of the Sherlock Holmes series but I’m concerned that I’ll be disappointed with Season 3.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock has perfectly captured the main character’s charismatic, highly intelligent, extremely analytical, anti-social, and slightly annoying personality. The concentrated blue-eyed gaze,deep voice, and unkempt air of the unknown British actor made for compelling TV.

During the series second season, Cumberbatch had gained a bit more exposure to American audiences in supporting roles in the remake of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “War Horse” but those roles didn’t diminish Cumberbatch’s credibility in his primary role as Sherlock Holmes. I had no problem buying into the premise that Cumberbatch was Sherlock or that Martin Freeman was Dr. Watson. As a fan and viewer,  I bought into the premise and identified the actors with their roles.

However, prior to Season 3′s debut things have changed.

Not only have appearances by Cumberbatch in prominent roles such as the lead in HBO’s “Parade’s End”, the latest Star Trek movie, and the voice of Smaug in The Hobbit become more frequent. But Martin Freeman’s role as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit films have also heightened his profile.

So, my concern is that as I watch Season 3, I’ll find it more difficult to become as emotionally involved in the series as I have during the previous two seasons because my objective, analytical brain will be reminding me about the actors’ other roles.

I’m hoping I’m wrong.

Postscript:

After watching the first two episodes of Season 3, I sensed a certain smugness which I found disappointing and off-putting. However, after reading Emily Nussbaum’s assessment in The New Yorker http://ow.ly/t6EQB , my attitude has been somewhat altered.

 

Elvis & Me

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On Elvis Presley’s birthday in 1973, the general manager of WGLD-FM in Chicago, an Elvis fan, decided to change the format of the radio station from progressive album rock to pop oldies. He made this rather rash decision without consulting with the station’s corporate headquarters at Sonderling Broadcasting. The general manager’s name was…Charles Manson. (No, not THAT Charles Manson).

Meanwhile, I was living in Washington, DC where just after Christmas I had been relieved of my duties as a DJ at Sonderling’s WMOD-FM and collecting severance pay because of a Chicken Man joke. Allow me to explain.

While introducing a recorded commercial message for a sale on chicken at the Giant Foods chain voiced by  the owner of the chain’s local advertising agency, the morning DJ had introduced the spot “And now, a word from Chicken Man”. The Chicken Man radio series which satirized the superhero genre was a favorite among young radio announcers at the time.

Unfortunately, an associate at the advertising agency who was monitoring WMOD-FM and heard the comment was unamused. She complained to the station’s local sales manager who then mentioned it to me. As it happened, I was unofficially in charge of the programming department while most of the other managers were out of town on business. I had also attended a holiday party on the previous evening at the home of the advertising exec who had voiced the spot.

Confused about why the agency would find the DJ’s comment offensive, I decided to contact the agency owner to get a better understanding of the problem so that management could address the situation upon their return. Luck wasn’t with me that day and the person who answered the phone was the young woman who’d made the original complaint. I attempted to explain that radio listeners tend to presume that the relationship between a radio station and the businesses it advertises are friendly and that the Chicken Man comment was obviously meant to be cutely humorous. Her response was that she didn’t like my attitude. She then hung up, complained about me to station management, and I was summarily fired.

That brings us to January 8th, 1973 when the company suddenly found itself in need of my services to help get the situation in Chicago under control. So, I found myself in the odd situation of collecting severance from the Sonderling’s Washington station while simultaneously collecting a management paycheck from its Chicago station where I had been hired as program director.

As it turned out, Charles Manson resented my appointment by corporate management to the Chicago position and he ended up dismissing me 6 months after I’d taken the job.

However, my former college radio station manager at Northeastern University at just taken a job in Pittsburgh to launch a new Top 40 station and he offered me a job as one of his first two employees. The other person he hired was a young kid named Bob Pittman. And, together, the three of us launched one of America’s first FM Top 40 radio stations, WPEZ.

Pittman later hired me at WNBC, New York and at MTV: Music Television.

So, you might say that I ended up as a member of MTV’s original management team because of Elvis.

Here’s to The King!


 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2014 300x187 Happy New Year!

Video Content Is Revolutionizing Learning

We Baby Boomers are “digital immigrants”. We’ve had to learn to adapt to computers, email, digital downloads, smartphones, texting, tablets, etc. The Millennials are “digital natives”. To them, the constant stream of rapidly changing media tools have always been a part of their lives. Here’s an interesting infographic about “digital natives” and learning courtesy of KZO Innovations:

KZO Innovation Final REV Video Content Is Revolutionizing Learning

Presented by Kzoinnovations.com

JFK and the Brand Ideal

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Most of the media analysis surrounding the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination has been focused on its impact on journalism and American perceptions about TV in terms of news.

However, I’ve also been struck by how TV helped Americans who were between the ages of 7 and 45 during the “Camelot” years to emotionally connect with the Kennedy family. Vaughn Meader’s comedy album, “The First Family” not only made us laugh at the Kennedy’s but also, because of JFK’s publicly good-natured reaction to it, with them.

CBS Sunday Morning ran a story about JFK’s father, Joseph Kennedy’s plan to market his son for the presidency “like soap”. That story encouraged me to consider the consequences of Joe Kennedy’s marketing campaign and I’ve concluded that its result, to those of us watching, was a message about the ideal family and its values, attitudes, and behaviors.

Jim Stengel, in his book GROW, discusses the concept of the Brand Ideal. According to Stengel , a brand’s success relies on its ability to satisfy one of the following fundamental values: elicit joy, enable connection, inspire exploration, evoke pride, or positively impact society.

The Brand Ideal of Jack and Jackie Kennedy could be described as “a youthful, healthy, intelligent, cultured, loving couple who represented the hopes and dreams for America’s future”. In other words: Camelot.  [ Feel free to quibble with this description and its basis for validity. I use it only for the purpose of example.]

The fact that Baby Boomers still revere JFK and Jackie today despite what we’ve learned about their very human flaws and short-comings seems to me to be a testament to how well Joe Kennedy’s marketing of his son worked.

Your thoughts?

JFK with Caroline 150x150 JFK and the Brand Ideal

November 22, 1963

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November 22, 1963 was a Friday.

I was a typical shallow, self-possessed, care-free teenage male in the first couple months of my first year in high school at Mount Pleasant High in Providence, Rhode Island.

On Friday’s, my last class of the day was gym. In 1963, gym class for males was an active, athletic program to prepare young men for military service and which required students to develop skills on the parallel bars, pommel horse, horizontal high bar, still rings and for rope climbing. The gymnasium also served as the school’s basketball court, so the space was cavernous and the class was noisy. Consequently, we couldn’t hear messages being transmitted over the school’s loudspeaker system.

So, on that Friday, after I’d showered and walked along the typically noisy corridor to my locker, I was in a good mood and oblivious to what was going on around me.

I  was in a good mood because that night was scheduled to be opening night for the Mount Pleasant High School Dionysiac Player’s production of Thornton Wilder’s classic play, “Our Town” and my theater debut as a member of the stage crew manning the main spotlight.

My original plan had been to try out for the football team but, at the last moment, I wisely changed my mind. The football coach was also my Geometry teacher and, for some reason, there was an unsettling level of antipathy between us.

So, instead, I decided to join the theater group at the urging of my friend, Mike Grace. It was a decision that, to this day, I’m glad I made.

Arriving at my locker and fetching my things for the bus ride home to Smithfield, I was blithely mocking the sweet young woman I’d befriended whose locker was to my right. She was emotional and, because I couldn’t hear what she was saying, my initial thoughts were that she was laughing. But then I realized that it wasn’t the sound of laughter but of grief that I was hearing.

When I asked her what was wrong, I presumed that she was reacting to a misunderstanding or breakup with her boyfriend. The usual stuff of adolescent drama.  So, when she told me that the President was dead, it didn’t register. I laughed thinking that she was telling me some sort of sick joke. Then, I looked at her face…and I knew.

John F. Kennedy was a mythic figure in Southern New England. In 1963, Rhode Island’s population was heavily Roman Catholic Italian and, although JFK was Irish, he was one of our own.  His was like a death in the family.

The first reaction I can recall was wondering how this tragic event might affect the play.

Our theater group had worked hard, rehearsed and devoted much of our lives for the previous two months in order to be ready for this moment. The school wouldn’t cancel opening night, would it?

Other than the moment when I was told about the assassination and the overarching sense of loss and sadness which enveloped the school, there are two incidents that I most vividly remember about that afternoon. The first involved one of the wise guys who, like me, was bused in from Smithfield and with whom I’d shared classes since elementary school. He started laughing and making jokes about Kennedy’s assassination. I was appalled and, frankly, embarrassed for him.  Over the years, I’ve wondered if he sometimes stopped to consider how he’d reacted and, if he did, how that affected his life.

The second incident occurred when we discovered that the school administration had, indeed, canceled opening night for our production of “Our Town”. Of course, it was the appropriate decision under the circumstances. But, we were emotionally invested in our work and had difficulty accepting the decision. What shocked me was when the student who played George Webb, one of the play’s primary characters, lay down on the stage and while pounding his fist sobbed “Why did he have to go get killed on opening night?”  I understood the kid’s angst but found his self-absorbed attitude embarrassing.

The Mount Pleasant High School Dionysiac Players production of “Our Town” did go on as scheduled on Saturday night. And, as I recall, the show was well-received by an audience which was probably affected more than usual by the play’s story of day-to-day life, youthful love, premature death, sorrow and grief. That play continues to touch me to this day.

On Sunday afternoon, while continuing wall-to-wall commercial-free live coverage of the weekend’s sad events were being broadcast on the existing three television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS), Mike Grace and I were doing a project for Mike’s aunt and uncle in the living room of their home when I happened to glance over at a TV and noticed the Dallas police escorting Lee Harvey Oswald down a corridor. It all seemed pretty mundane until, all of a sudden, a man in a black hat stepped out from the crowd, shoved his hand towards Oswald’s stomach and shot him. The black-and-white photo we’ve all seen over the intervening decades of Oswald crumbling in pain is still shocking. But, to see an actual murder occur live on a national TV broadcast as it happened was stunning. At first, it seemed unreal. And, thinking that I might be imagining it, I asked Mike if he’d just seen what I saw.

The 48 hours from the moment  when JFK was killed on Dealey Plaza until the moment when Jack Ruby’s bullets ended Lee Harvey Oswald’s life,  were surreal and shook America’s sense of order and complacency to its core.  This was a time in American life when we lived daily on the brink of nuclear holocaust in our conflict with the Soviet Union. We were all subconsciously concerned that, at any moment, we might get word that the missiles were coming in.

Leading up to this anniversary, journalists have been focusing on how coverage of the events of that weekend changed news because it was on TV. I would argue that it changed America.

For the first time, we were able to not only hear but to see events as they happened. Radio had provided us with theater of the mind. With TV, we were there…watching Jackie grieve at her husband’s coffin, watching little John-John salute the passing caisson, seeing Lee Harvey Oswald murdered in cold blood.

On that weekend leading into Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, we were shaken to the core.

When World War I began, we got our news on time delay via newspapers.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we learned the news from radio.

John F. Kennedy’s assassination was the first calamitous event which we Americans shared communally through television.

It remained the most significant historical event of my lifetime through the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in the late 1960s, the Kent State Massacre, the murder of John Lennon and other tragic events which we experienced through the years.

For me, a change began to occur when I watched the Challenger disintegrate as Dan Rather was covering its launch live in 1986. It became obvious to me that I was going to continue to witness these occasional tragedies through my remaining days.

Then, of course, came September 11th.

jfk gravesite 150x150 November 22, 1963

 

 

PS- A fellow Rhode Island native, Bill Flanagan, has an interesting insight on how the death of John F. Kennedy affected our parents who were his contemporaries in the World War II generation. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/jfk-assassination-when-a-nation-coming-of-age-lost-its-youth/

Time For A 21st Century Bull Moose?

Debt ceiling 150x150 Time For A 21st Century Bull Moose?There’s a scene in the HBO John Adams miniseries where the Tea Partiers tar & feather a British cargo ship agent in protest over taxes being imposed by the King. It’s a brutal and deeply disturbing scene which makes vividly clear how painful, demeaning and barbaric tar & feathering really was. As the naked, suffering man is carried away after being tied to a pole, John Adams is shown to be dismayed and concerned about the mob’s actions.

I’m reminded of that scene today as I watch the chaos in Washington as we read about the rift in the Republican party between the majority of Republicans and the Tea Partiers. Even the business leaders who originally supported the Tea Partiers are starting to realize that the group is getting out of control.

As the news media have been analyzing what’s brought us to this latest tipping point in the nation’s history, we’ve heard about how Americans have been self-selecting and are choosing to live in areas where they and their neighbors tend to agree politically. We’ve also been educated about the gerrymandering which has created partisan voting districts, both extremely liberal and extremely conservative.  And, since most Americans don’t vote in the mid-term elections or in the primaries, those hardcore ideologues that do get to control the show.

In New York State, where I live,  I’m not allowed to participate in a primary because I refuse to declare a political party affiliation. I’m an independent (not a member of the Independence Party) who prefers to vote for the person and the ideas rather than along party lines. I understand that this rule was adopted as part of some political gamesmanship in order to give one party an advantage over the other. But, it seems to me that we’d be much better off if all registered voters were allowed to participate in the primaries so that the extremists could be tempered by more moderate voices.

If I correctly recall my American history, there’s a certain similarity between our current political situation and that which existed 100 years ago back in the pre-World War I early 20th century.  There was inequality in the distribution of wealth and the existing political parties represented ideas which were inconsistent with those of most Americans. So former president, Teddy Roosevelt ran as a third party candidate for the Bull Moose Party. His platform was geared toward diminishing the influence of the wealthy and powerful in order to provide more overall balance to the system during an era which, as the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has pointed out, seems quite reminiscent of our own.

Perhaps, we need a 21st century version of the Bull Moose Party to challenge the Democrats and the Republicans and to represent the majority of Americans whose values are fiscally conservative (sensible)  and  social liberal (open-minded).

We’ve had third party presidential candidates in the recent past but Ross Perot  was a libertarian who hurt the Republican candidate (George H. W. Bush) and Ralph Nader was an extremist liberal who hurt the Democrat’s candidate (Al Gore).  Instead, we would need to have a candidate with the charm, charisma, and political savvy of Bill Clinton combined with the integrity of Warren Buffett.

Prior to his most recent nanny-state rules, I would have leaned towards Michael Bloomberg. Now, I’m not sure who’d fit the bill.

Any suggestions?

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