HILLBILLY ELEGY

November 9, 2017


Hillbilly Elegy is without a doubt one of the best-written, most important books I have ever read.  A remarkably insightful account of J.D. Vance growing up in a significantly dysfunctional family but only realizing that fact as he became older and compared his family with others.  As you read this book, you realize it is a “major miracle” he escaped the continuing system of mental and physical abuse prevalent with poor, white, Eastern Kentucky “hillbilly” families.  When moving to Ohio, the abuse continued.  Even though financial conditions improved, conditions remained ingrained relative to family behavior.

 I grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember.” That’s how J. D. Vance begins one of the saddest and most fascinating books, “Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Published by Harper, this book has been on the NYT best seller list since its first publication and has rarely dipped below number ten on anyone’s list. Vance was born in Kentucky and raised by his grandparents, as a self-described “hillbilly,” in Middletown, Ohio, home of the once-mighty Armco Steel. His family struggled with poverty and domestic violence, of which he and his sister were victims. His mother was addicted to drugs—first to painkillers, then to heroin. Many of his neighbors were jobless and on welfare. Vance escaped their fate by joining the Marines after high school and serving in Iraq. Afterward, he attended Ohio State and Yale Law School, where he was mentored by Amy Chua, a law professor and tiger mom. He now lives in San Francisco, and works at Mithril Capital Management the investment firm helmed by Peter Thiel. It seems safe to say that Vance, who is now in his early thirties, has seen a wider swath of America than most people.  The life he has lived during his adolescent years is absolutely foreign to the life this writer has lived.  This makes the descriptive information in his book valuable and gives a glimpse into another way of life.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is a regional memoir about Vance’s Scots-Irish family, one of many who have lived and worked in Appalachia for generations. For perhaps a century, Vance explains, the region was on an upward trajectory. Family men worked as sharecroppers, then as coal miners, then as steelworkers; families inched their way toward prosperity, often moving north in pursuit of work.  Vance’s family moved about a hundred miles, from Kentucky to Ohio; like many families, they are “hillbilly transplants.” In mid-century Middletown, where Armco Steel built schools and parks along the Great Miami River, Vance’s grandparents were able to live a middle-class life, driving back to the hollers of Kentucky every weekend to visit relatives and friends. Many families, on a regular basis, sent money back to their relatives in Appalachian Kentucky for aid and support consequently “keeping their boat afloat”.

Middletown’s industrial jobs began to disappear in the seventies and eighties. Today, its main street is full of shuttered storefronts, and is a haven for drug dealers at night. Vance reports that, in 2014, more people died from drug overdoses than from natural causes in Butler County, where Middletown is located. Families are disintegrating: neighbors listen as kitchen-table squabbles escalate and come to blows, and single mothers raise the majority of children (Vance himself had fifteen “stepdads” while growing up). Although many people identify as religious, church attendance is at historic lows. High-school graduation rates are sinking, and few students go on to college. Columbus, Ohio, one of the fastest-growing cities in America, is just ninety minutes’ drive from Middletown, but the distance feels unbridgeable. Vance uses the psychological term “learned helplessness” to describe the resignation of his peers, many of whom have given up on the idea of upward mobility in a region that they see as permanently left behind. Writing in a higher register, he says that there is something “almost spiritual about the cynicism” in his home town.

Mr. Vance mentions Martin Seligman as being one psychologist that aids his efforts in understanding the “mechanics” of his family life. Commonly known as the founder of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman is a leading authority in the fields of Positive Psychology, resilience, learned helplessness, depression, optimism and pessimism. He is also a recognized authority on interventions that prevent depression, and build strengths and well-being.

Learned helplessness, in psychology, a mental state in which an organism forced to bear aversive stimuli, or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are “escapable,” presumably because it has learned that it cannot.  This describes the culture that Mr. Vance grew up in and the culture he desperately had tried to escape—helplessness.

Vance makes the proper decision when he enlists in the Marine Corps for four (4) years.  This action took place after high school graduation.  Just graduating from high school is remarkable.  The Marine Corps instilled in Vance a spirit in which just about anything is possible including enrolling and completing study at Ohio State University and then going on to Yale Law School.  He escapes his environment but has difficulty in escaping his lack of understanding of how the world works.  There are several chapters in his book that give a vivid description of those social necessities he lacks. “You can take the boy out of Kentucky but you can’t take Kentucky out of the boy”.  This is one of my favorite quotes from the book and Vance lives that quote but works diligently to make course corrections as he progresses through Yale and beyond.

In my opinion, this is a “must-read” book. As a matter of fact, it should be read more than once to fully understand the details presented.  READ THIS BOOK.

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HEAD OF THE HOOCH

November 5, 2017


It’s a wonderful thing when your city offers entertainment and events for citizens and visitors.  Chattanooga, Tennessee is famous for doing just that—things to get people downtown to enjoy all that’s available within a very short walking distance.  One such event is “Head of the Hooch”.  This two-day race is occurring right now, with Sunday being the final day of the race.

HISTORY:

The Head of the Chattahoochee is a rowing regatta held in Chattanooga, TN every year on the first Saturday and Sunday of November.

It is definitely one of the world’s largest rowing regattas, with two thousand (2,000+) boats racing over a two-day period.  More than nine thousand (9,000) seats are rowed.  Twelve hundred (1,200) boats compete on Saturday alone, more in one day than any other regatta. Participants come from over two hundred (200) different organizations. In 2012 alone, the regatta welcomed crews from twenty-seven (27) different states. The Head of the Hooch has seen a growth in entries from other countries also with teams from Canada, Germany, Sweden and Australia.

The Head of the Hooch event has been recognized by national magazines as the regatta to attend: the weather is nice; the city is great and the racing has the largest number of entries per event of any major regatta. The regatta is organized and hosted by the Atlanta Rowing Club, Roswell, GA and Lookout Rowing Club, Chattanooga, TN.

The regatta is a head race – competitors row a five thousand (5,000)-meter (3.1 mile) course on the Tennessee River ending at Ross’s Landing Park in Chattanooga. As mentioned earlier, races are typically held the first week in November.    In this form of racing all boats start sequentially by event and race against the clock.  The race course map is given as follows:

The Head of the Hooch, also known as the Head of the Chattahoochee and ‘The Last of the Great Fall Regattas’, was run for the first time in 1982 by the Atlanta Rowing Club.  The first year there were two hundred twenty-five (225) rowers filling one hundred and five (105) boats.  For sixteen (16) years the regatta took place on the Chattahoochee River in the Roswell River Park located in Roswell GA. In 1997 the regatta had outgrown the park.  From 1997-2004 the regatta was held at the 1996 Olympic rowing venue in Gainesville GA.  The course there was located on the upper part of the Chattahoochee River.

In 2005, due to the large increases in entries each year, the regatta moved to the Chattanooga Ross’s Landing Riverfront venue. The venue and city have the capability to accommodate the continuous increase in rowers and spectators each year. Each year since 2005 The Hooch and the City of Chattanooga have welcomed over six thousand (6,0000) rowers and more than fifteen thousand (15,000) spectators.  I just came from the venue and there are thousands of people on the Veteran’s Bridge, the P. R. Olgiati Bridge and stationed along the Riverfront Parkway.

watching the rowers traverse the course in the Tennessee River.

The Hooch is a unique event.  It attracts athletes, family, alumni, local residents and those who travel to attend. It combines a rowing regatta, arts market and the close proximity of the Tennessee Aquarium, the Discovery Museum and Hunter Art Museum all within walking distance of the venue.  Many hotels and restaurants are right in the downtown close to the venue.  In all, a perfect match.

 

As the Hooch moves through its third decade, its director and committee members continue to improve, grow and enhance the regatta that started as a small event on a Saturday many years ago.

In 2015, the Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee estimated the economic impact of the Hooch over five (5) million dollars. That year the Head of the Hooch raced twelve hundred fifty-six (1256) boats (37 events) on Saturday and eight hundred and sixty-two (862) boats (43 events) on Sunday. Almost eighty percent (80%) of the competitors are High School/College crews.

PROCEDURED FOR THE EVENT:

For any event of this magnitude there must be processes and procedures to maintain some semblance of order.  After all, there are winners and others who place and show.  With a multitude of categories, there must be order.  Here is a list of procedures for the participants.


ROWING TO THE START

  • Assemble your crew at least 30 minutes before your race is called.
  • Place your oars near the launch dock scheduled for your race before your race. Please check the race schedule posted at the regatta site on race day to determine which dock your race will launch from. This is typically only an issue in the mornings when both launch and recovery docks will be used for launching.
  • Pay close attention to Control Commission call to launch. Please launch when your race is called to avoid congestion at the docks.
  • Move quickly onto the dock when Dockmaster gives instructions to do so.
  • Move quickly off the dock and immediately row away from the dock so that the Tennessee River current does not push your crew back onto the dock.
  • Row to the start area with purpose. Do not delay. If prompted by Regatta Officials to move along more quickly, please comply. There is no time to wait for crews that are late to the start.
  • Start Marshals will ask you to stay pointed upstream at various stations near the start. These stations are marked by large rectangular green buoys. They are numbered so that you know which station to row to.
  • Plan to be at Buoy #1 not less than 10 minutes or more than 15 minutes before your scheduled race. Crews that arrive too early and impede (block) other crews may be subject to a penalty.
  • As you approach Buoy #1, sort yourselves out in roughly numerical order by bow number. At Buoy #1, you should be within five bow numbers of the bow numbers around you.
  • The marshal will send you in a group of 10 to the next buoy. Row immediately with all rowers on the paddle when instructed and do not wait for exact bow number order.
  • Before you are asked to bring your crew across the river and row to the start, remove warm-up gear so you are ready to race.

GET READY TO START

  • You will be sent across the river in groups of 3 to 5. Do not wait for exact bow number order; begin to row immediately when instructed.
  • Once you have crossed the river, you will be instructed to row toward the start chute in numerical order. Follow the crew in front of you by about 1 length of open water.
  • A marshal will be located about 200 meters before the start to space the crews by about 15 to 20 seconds. Crews must speed up or slow down as instructed by this Marshal. Novice crews should be particularly aware of this.
  • Crews should build to full pressure and race pace as they approach the start line. Do not catch up with or pass another boat in the chute before the start or you will be subject to a penalty.
  • The start line is set so that the start boat is located right at the red steel channel marker. This allows the start chute to be wider and avoids the possibility of hitting the red channel marker.

From the JPEG above, you can see the venue for the “Hooch”.  You are looking at the Chattanooga Riverfront Parkway with the Tennessee River to the left.  Please notice the boats stationed to the right of the digital picture.  You can see the number is significant.

 

Plenty of room for the crews to position their boats waiting to practice and for their event.

One of the best things about attending this event is ample seating to watch the crews and the race itself.

This photo is from the 2016 event. Again, the first week in November.

Not only is this a team sport, but there are contests for individuals competing against each other or against the clock.

I certainly hope you can “carve out some time” next year to join us for this terrific event.  It’s always the first of November.  (By the way, the temperature in Chattanooga right now is 76 degrees with a relative humidity of twenty percent (20%).  Not bad at all.

 

MONEY AND BANK SAFETY

November 1, 2017


Do you ever wonder if the money, hard-earned money, you earn every week or month is safe?

According to the FDIC:  “The basic FDIC coverage is good for up to $250,000 per depositor per bank. If you have more than that in a failed bank, the FDIC might choose to cover your losses, but there is no promise to do so.” Sep 13, 2016

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) preserves and promotes public confidence in the U.S. financial system by insuring deposits in banks and thrift institutions for up to $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each ownership category by identifying, monitoring and addressing risks to the deposit.  This is the law.  Good to know.

The following list will indicate that our banking system has experienced some “hard times” in the recent past.  Let’s take a look at bank failures in this country and then we will look at the safest countries relative to bank and customer money.

BANK FAILURES:

The following list is taken from the web site: Bankrate.com.

YEAR                      NUMBER OF BANK FAILURES

2016(Estimated)                              1

2015(Estimated)                              8

2014(Estimated)                            18

2013(Estimated)                            14

2012(Estimated)                            51

2011(Official)                                 92

2010(Official)                                157

2019(Official)                                140

As you can see, from 2009 through 2016 there have been four hundred and ninety-one (491) bank failures in this country.

Now, The Survey of Consumer Finances is conducted and published every three years, most recently in 2013. According to the Federal Reserve, “the survey data include information on families’ balance sheets, pensions, income, and demographic characteristics.” Data from previous SCF years show significant changes in checking account balances since 2001. Our analysis of average savings account balances based on the same data can be found as follows:

YEAR     AVERAGE CHECKING BALANCE

2013                       $9,132

2010                       $7,036

2007                       $6,203

2004                       $7,382

2001                       $6,404

As you can see, most people are definitely covered if and when their individual bank fails.  That begs the question:  what are the safest countries in which to deposit money?  Let’s take a look. Some may be very surprising.

SAFEST COUNTRIES IN WHICH TO BANK:

  1. Czech Republic — The Czech banking sector is unusual in that foreign-owned lenders dominate the industry, but consumers don’t seem to mind, ranking them the 14th safest in the world.
  2. Guatemala — The densely populated Central American nation of 15.5 million people has three key players in its banking system — Banco Industrial, Banco G&T Continental, and Banco de Desarrollo Rural. All three are seen as being fairly sound, according to the WEF’s survey.
  3. Luxembourg — It’s no surprise Luxembourg scores highly, as the country is famous for its financial sector. Its Banque et Caisse d’Épargne de l’État is often cited as one of the safest on earth.
  4. Panama — As the country has no central bank, Panamanian lenders are run conservatively, with capital ratios almost twice the required minimum on average. Traditionally seen as a tax haven, the country has made substantial strides to shake off that reputation since the financial crisis.
  5. Sweden — Although Swedish lenders are being squeezed by the Riksbank’s negative interest rate policy, Swedish banks are still among the safest in the world, according to the WEF.
  6. Chile — In July, ratings agency Fitch cut the outlook of the country’s banking system to negative, based on “weakening asset quality and profitability,” but that hasn’t spooked Chileans, according to the WEF.
  7. Singapore — Singapore is renowned as one of the world’s great financial centres, and the soundness of its banking sector reflects that.
  8. Norway — As an oil-reliant economy, Norway has faced serious issues in recent years, and in August, its banking system had its outlook cut to negative by Moody’s. However, the country’s banks remain very sound, the WEF’s survey suggests.
  9. Hong Kong — Another global financial centre, Hong Kong is home to arms of most of the world’s biggest banks, and some of the world’s safest financial institutions.
  10. Australia — A small group of four major banks divide up most of Australia’s banking sector, while foreign banks are tightly regulated, making sure the system is sturdy.
  11. New Zealand — New Zealand’s banking sector is dominated by a group of five financial players. Decent profits and growth without too much competition has seen the sector thrive, although it slips from second last year to fourth in 2016.
  12. Canada — Canadian banks have long been a byword for stability. The country has had only two small regional bank failures in almost 100 years, and had zero failures during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Last year, the country’s banks were seen as the safest on earth, so confidence has clearly slipped a little.
  13. South Africa — South Africa’s so-called ‘Big Four’ — Standard Bank, FirstRand Bank, Nedbank, and Barclays Africa — dominate the country’s consumer sector, and are widely seen to be pretty safe, with only one other nation scoring higher.
  14. Finland — Finland’s banking sector is dominated by co-operative and savings banks, which take little risk. The country’s central bank governor, Erkki Liikanen, below, has led the way on proposals to split investment banking and deposit-taking​ activities at European lenders. Ranked fourth in 2015’s list, Finland’s banks have got even safer this year.

According to the same company that made the list above, the United States ranked number thirty-sixth (36) in depositor safety.

CONCLUSIONS:

I’m definitely not saying run out tomorrow and transfer all of your money to a bank located in one of these countries above but really, can’t we do better as a country?  Can’t the FED just get out of the way?  Regulations and banking philosophy are to blame for the failures given above—not to mention plain OLE GREED.  REMEMBER WELLS-FARGO?

 

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