“SameTime 7:15” Shows Value of Staying With It

Okay, New Year’s Resolvers, here are links to some nice common-sense pieces about how to make successful changes as ’09 kicks off. Veteran Resolvers won’t be surprised to learn that the advice herein looks pretty familiar, because, after all, how many ways are there to say Set Reasonable Goals, Don’t Try to Do Too Much at Once, Start Small, and Stay With It?  Anyway, here’s a short refresher course and a longer piece on the value of Moderation, pegging one key idea to each letter of the word: M, O, D, etc.

I stress again that most of us simply don’t stay with anything long enough to get past Pain and into Gain. Experts say it takes anywhere from 4-6 weeks to form a new habit of any kind; up until then, the effort may seem futile, but it isn’t if you stay with it.

Long-time consistent effort is so rare that I love to celebrate it when I can. That’s why last year I linked to Art Garfunkle’s 40-Year Reading List, an enviable accomplishment I will try to emulate this year, noting every book I read on the blog.

Today I celebrate another marvel of consistency as heard on NPR this morning.  As 2007 began, a group of six young photographers resolved that every day of 2008,  precisely at 7:15 PM, each would take a photograph.  If you scan through some of the results, you’ll find some extraordinary work and some mundane point-and-snap, but I’m not focusing (no pun) on the artistry here. I’m talking about the sustained  effort, the putting one foot in front of the other, the dailiness, the sticking with it.

I didn’t hear the whole NPR report, but I’ll bet these photogs found some unexpected and healthy changes in themselves as a result of pledging this effort and staying with it 365 times.

As Gail Sheehy noted years ago, the real missed appointments are with ourselves. These six people vowed to set a daily appointment with themselves and they kept it. Check some of the results here.

What do you want to become in 2009? Whatever the goal–better fitness, dropping bad habits, reading more, helping people, decluttering, taking photos–staying with it is the key. Happy New Year!


A Meltdown Primer: Two Must-Reads

I pull myself away from rearranging the songs in my iPod Broadway Hits playlist long enough to recommend two articles from the December issue of The Atlantic. According to these articles by Henry Blodgett and Virginia Postrel, the only thing we learn from studying the history of market  bubbles (from South Sea to dot.com to housing)  and financial meltdowns is that we do not learn from studying the history of market bubbles and financial meltdowns.

Or, put less cutely, we–even the most financially savvy of us, with the possible exception of Warren Buffett–are prey to powerful forces of greed and self-deception, and when we want to convince ourselves that something is too good but still true, we’re very good at doing it.

Shades of Rudyard Kipling, whose “Gods of the Copybook Headings” was discussed here recently.  In this sobering view of life,  human nature is obdurate stuff,  changing glacially if at all.

Reading these pieces, I’m already shaking my head in resignation as I think about the cavalcade of Congressional hearings into What the Hell Happened  that will air over the next few months. At each of them, we’ll hear several variations on the “Never Again” theme as the New Regulators sweep in to nail the barn door shut now that the horses are gone.  Alas, human nature does not change with a new tally from the Electoral College.

I’m not wholly pessimistic here. I do think the New Regulators will re-jigger things to make it much, much harder to screw things up in just the way they were screwed up over the past 4/6/8/10/12/18/25 years, just as the bolted-cockpit policies put in place after the September 11 attacks made it highly unlikely that anyone will ever replicate those attacks in just that way. Future credit-default swappers, mortgage bundlers and Bernie  Madoffs will be forced to develop new tactics. And they will.

Still, despite their less-than-rosy conclusions, there’s  value in reading articles like these from The Atlantic.  To echo the old wisdom from the AA prayer, we need the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference between them.

 The Blodgett piece is here.  The Postrell piece is here.

New Gadget Eases Agony of Cowboys Blowout

No, I haven’t turned in my Dallas citizenship and fled the country after yesterday’s disgraceful Cowboys loss,  the team’s worst defeat in the Jerry Jones era which began in 1988. Two words: Puh. Thetic. Back up the garbage truck to Valley Ranch and clean house. This team is going backwards since last year’s 13-3 season, which ended in the whimper of a loss to the Giants in the first round of the playoffs.

With this team’s play over the past several years, I can’t see how the “America’s Team” hype can be sustained much longer, although I do recall a wise and wealthy bookie telling me a decade ago that there is some deep and irrational desire on the part of America to see the Cowboys win. “People just love that team,” he said. “They feel better when Dallas wins.”

Well, okay. There are the large mysteries of life, the ones so arcane we hardly expect to understand them: Free will vs. destiny, animal consciousness, life on other worlds, etc. And then there’s the Deepest Mystery of All: Why can’t the Cowboys win in December? Sportsgabber Norm Hitzges rattled off this stunning figure while sifting the ashes yesterday: Since 1998, the Cowboys are 14-41 after Thanksgiving Day!

Think about that. The players have turned over several times since 1998. I think there’s one guy left from that year. They’ve had 3 or 4 coaches who brought differing philosophies and regimens. And yet, the December Decline haunts them year after year. What in the world could account for  it?

And now to happier things.  I’ve been an AWOL blogger the past few days due to the usual holiday slowdown and my obsession with the iPod Nano Ann  and I got each other for Christmas.  Now I see what all the shouting was about.

 This little sliver of metal is amazing, and I can’t believe what a healthy sound it delivers, thanks also to the great Logitech Elite speakers I bought to power it. Strong subwoofers and such a deal for less than $90 at macmall.com.

Anyway, I’m having a great time creating dozens of playlists from my unruly batch of iTunes songs and some favorite CDs. Now if I can just figure out how to blend in that audio crossfade, I’ll be in such bliss I’ll forget about the December Disaster. After all, it’s only a game. Only a game. Only a game. . .

No Bailouts for George Bailey



Count me among the sentimental millions for whom the holiday isn’t complete without watching that great Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart chestnut, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Try, just try to keep your eyes dry as George Bailey’s friends and neighbors bail him out (no government bailouts for the Bailey Building and Loan) in the movie’s final scenes.

IAWL is also one of those iconic movies that keeps getting reinterpreted in light of changing times. One savvy take  here gives the devil (Mr. Potter) his due; the raucous, raunchy Potterville that triumphs when George gets his wish never to have been born is probably, on balance, a more financially robust place than Bedford Falls.

Another take from Slate magazine a few years back goes one step further, acknowledging that in terms of actual American reality, the Potters won out over the Baileys long ago.

 Today, alas, the Bailey Building and Loan would be a tiny division of Chase Bank before it was sold off to a Lehman Bros. holding company. After that, its assets would be bundled up with AIG credit-default swaps and sold to a Lithuanian hedge fund. Sorry, Clarence.


Love of Labor Lost?

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the ongoing crisis of the Big Three automakers and what it portends for organized labor.

Many observers seem to think that if the Congress passes the “card check” bill that makes it easier to unionize, we’ll see a return to the glory days of Jimmy Hoffa Walter Reuther, George Meany and the Tailfin Titans of Detroit.

We may see an organizing uptick in AFSCME-style government unions and in  low-paid sectors like hotel maintenance, but I wouldn’t look for any big union resurgence in manufacturing (of the little we have left).

As I argue in this NPR/KERA radio commentary, large global forces are at work here, and barring some almost-unimaginable burst of protectionism, the unions can’t turn back the movement of history. Read and/or listen if you like.

Have Yourself a Literary Little Christmas

In what has become a holiday tradition in just two years–and yes, MUSE MACHINE posted its 666th entry last week, though I’m not a Satanist and hope to avoid boycotts–we continue the 2008 Roundup of Best Books. In recent days I’ve posted the New York Times‘ Top 100 and Amazon’s bests.

And the giving never stops. Click  here  for  National Public Radio’s critics’ picks of every genre under the sun, from fiction to literary letters to politics, mysteries, foreign fiction and more. It’s too late for Amazon deliveries at this point, but hit your local Barnes & Noble and brighten someone’s holiday, or your own, with a great book.