GLOBAL PEACE INDEX-2019

June 15, 2019


We all hope for safety within our neighborhood, our city, our state and certainly our country.  One of the reasons, if not the reason, people and families are streaming north from Central America is the lack of safety due to gangs and the drug culture.  People simply want to live, work, raise their families, educate their children. The drug culture does not allow that to happen.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at safety world-wide.  We do by accessing the Global Peace Index or GPI.  

The Global Peace Index has just published the thirteenth edition of their index which ranks one hundred and sixty-three (163) independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness. Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the GPI is the world’s leading measure of global peacefulness. This report presents the most comprehensive data-driven analysis to date on peace, its economic value, trends, and how to develop peaceful societies. The GPI covers 99.7 per cent of the world’s population, using twenty-three (23) qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources, and measures the state of peace using three thematic domains: the level of Societal Safety and Security; the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict; and the degree of Militarization.

The results this year show that the average level of global peacefulness improved very slightly in the 2019 GPI. This is the first time the index has improved in five years. The average country score improved by 0.09 per cent, with eighty-six (86) countries improving, and seventy-six (76) recording deteriorations. The 2019 GPI reveals a world in which the conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have begun to abate, but new tensions within and between nations have emerged.

Despite this improvement, the world remains considerably less peaceful now than a decade ago, with the average level of peacefulness deteriorating by 3.78 per cent since 2008. Global peacefulness has only improved for three of the last ten years. The fall in peacefulness over the past decade was caused by a wide range of factors, including increased terrorist activity, the intensification of conflicts in the Middle East, rising regional tensions in Eastern Europe and northeast Asia, and increasing numbers of refugees and heightened political tensions in Europe and the US. This deterioration was partially offset by improvements in many of the measures of the Militarization domain. There has been a consistent reduction in military expenditure as a percentage of GDP for the majority of countries, as well as a fall in the armed services personnel rate for most countries in the world. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) remained the world’s least peaceful region. It is home to four of the ten least peaceful countries in the world, with no country from the region ranked higher than 30th on the GPI. However, despite ongoing armed conflict and instability in the region, it did become marginally more peaceful last year. The bulk of the improvement occurred in the Safety and Security domain, with average improvements in score for the homicide rate, incarceration rate, terrorism impact, Political Terror Scale, and violent crime indicators.

We are now taking a pictorial look at the numbers:

As you can see, Iceland is the most peaceful country on the globe.  This has been the case for some years now. You will notice that the United States is an embarrassing 128 on the list.

As you will see below, Afghanistan is the most dangerous country to live in followed by Syria, South Sudan and then Yemen.

RESULTS:

CONCLUSIONS:  I would encourage you to look at the entire web site to get a better understanding of the condition our globe is in.  Also, it’s may just help you plan your next vacation.  Some places you definitely do NOT want to go.

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UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

June 5, 2019


There has been a great deal of discussion lately concerning UFO.  Are they real? Where do they come from?  How long have there been sightings from reliable sources.  Please take a look at the following article from the magazine “MILITARY CULTURE”.   

Encounters with unidentified aircraft by pilots have once again prompted Department of Defense officials to take action.  More specifically, the Navy confirmed that the service is drafting guidelines to establish a formal process for pilots and military personnel to report UFO sightings, Politico first reported.  The move comes following a surge in what the Navy called a series of intrusions by advanced aircraft on Navy carrier strike groups.  “There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years,” a Navy spokesperson told Politico.  “For safety and security concerns, the Navy and the [U.S. Air Force] takes these reports very seriously and investigates each and every report.  To improve upon past investigations, the Navy wants to establish a formal process so that “such suspected incursions can be made to cognizant authorities.”

The Navy confirmed a fleet-wide message on the UFO-reporting initiative is in the works.  While this development comes sans any admission of the existence of alien life, it signals a return to DoD acknowledgement that the series of recently documented encounters are at least authentic enough to warrant further investigation.

What if, and it’s a big what if, we make contact?  What if we have an opportunity to talk to these ETs?  How would we do that.  Is there a UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE we might use to strike up a conversation?  Let’s look.

Merriam-Webster defines language as “A systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures or marks having understood meanings.”  The operative words in this definition are ‘means of communicating’ and ‘understood meanings’.  There are 116 different “official” languages spoken on our planet today but 6900 languages AND dialects. The difference between a language and a dialect can be somewhat arbitrary so care must be taken when doing a “count”.  English, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Spanish etc, all have specific and peculiar dialects; not to mention slang words and expressions so the discernment between a language and a dialect may be somewhat confusing to say the least.. 

The book of Genesis (Genesis 11: vs. 1-9) recounts a period of time, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, when an attempt was made, by mankind, to become equal with God and that one language was spoken by all the people.  We are told that the attempt was not met with too much favor and God was pretty turned off by the whole thing.  Go figure!    With this being the case, He, decided to confound their language so that no one understood the other.  This, as you might expect, lead to significant confusion and a great deal of “babbling” resulted.  (Imagine a session of our United States Congress.)  Another significant result was the dispersion of mankind over the earth—another direct result from their unwise attempt.  This dispersion of the populace “placed” a specific language in a specific location and that “stuck”. 

Regardless of the language spoken, the very basic components of any language are similar; i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, etc.  You get the picture. The use and structure of these language elements within a sentence do vary.  This fact is the essence of a particular language itself. 

Would mankind not benefit from a common language?  Would commerce not be greatly simplified if we could all understand each other? Think of all the money saved if everything written and everything spoken—every road sign and every label on a can of soup—could be read by 6.8 billion people.  Why oh why have we not worked towards that over the centuries as a collective species.  Surely someone has had that thought before.  OK, national pride, but let’s swallow our collective egos and admit that we would be well-served by the movement, ever so gradual, towards one universal language.  Let me backup one minute.  We do have one example of a world-wide common language—

MATHEMATICS

Like all other languages, it has its own grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and word order, synonyms, negations, conventions, abbreviations, sentence and paragraph structure.  Those elements do exist AND they are universal.  No matter what language I speak, the formula for the area of a circle is A=π/4 (D)²

  • π = 3.14159 26535 89793
  • log(10)e = 0.43429 44819 03252
  • (x+y)(x-y) = x²-y²
  • R(1),R(2) = -[b ± ( b²-4ac)]^0.5/2a
  • The prime numbers are 2,3,5,7,11,13,17,19,23,29,31,37—You get the picture.
  • sinѲcscѲ = 1

 Mathematics has developed over the past 2500 years and is really one of the very oldest of the “sciences”. One remarkably significant development was the use of zero (0)—which has only been “in fashion” over the past millennium.  Centuries ago, men such as Euclid and Archimedes made the following discoveries and the following pronouncements:

If a straight line be cut at random, the square on the whole is equal to the squares on the segments and twice the rectangle contained by the segments. (Euclid, Elements, II.4, 300 B.C.) This lead to the formula:  (a + b)2 = a2 + b2 + 2ab

The area of any circle is equal to a right-angled triangle in which one of the sides about the right angle is equal to the radius, and the other to the circumference, of the circle. (Archimedes, Measurement of a Circle, (225 B.C.)  Again, this gives us the following formula:

A = 2pr·r/2 = pr 2

These discoveries and these accompanying formulas work for ANY language we might speak. Mathematics then becomes the UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE.

With that being the case, why do we not introduce the “Language of Mathematics” to our middle-school and high school pupils?  Is any school district doing that?  I know several countries in Western Europe started this practice some years ago with marvelous results.  This “language” is taught prior to the introduction of Algebra and certainly prior to Differential Equations.  It has been proven extremely effective and beneficial for those students who are intimidated by the subject.  The “dread” melts away as the syntax and structure becomes evident.  Coupled with this introduction is a semester on the great men and women of mathematics—their lives, their families, were they lived, what they ate, what they smoked, how they survived on a math teacher’s salary.  These people had lives and by some accounts were absolutely fascinating individuals in their own right.  Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus, was a real grouch, a real pain in the drain AND, had been jilted in his earlier years.  Never married, never (again) even had a girlfriend, etc etc.  You get the picture. 

What do we really know about the greatest mathematicians?  Do we ever study them when we use their wonderful work?  I think not.  Think about it.  PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!

TELECOMMUTING

March 13, 2019


Our two oldest granddaughters have new jobs.  Both, believe it or not, telecommute.  That’s right, they do NOT drive to work.  They work from home—every day of the week and sometimes on Saturday.  Both ladies work for companies not remotely close to their homes in Atlanta.  The headquarters for these companies are hundreds of miles away and in other states.

Even the word is fairly new!  A few years ago, there was no such “animal” as telecommuting and today it’s considered by progressive companies as “kosher”.   Companies such as AT&T, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Southwest Airlines, The Home Shopping Network, Amazon and even Home Depot allow selected employees to “mail it in”.  The interesting thing; efficiency and productivity are not lessened and, in most cases, improve.   Let’s look at several very interesting facts regarding this trend in conducting business.  This information comes from a website called “Flexjobs.com”.

  1. Three point three (3.3) million full-time professionals, excluding volunteers and the self-employed, consider their home as their primary workplace.
  2. Telecommuting saves between six hundred ($600) and one thousand ($1,000)  on annual dry-cleaning expenses, more than eight hundred ($800) on coffee and lunch expenses, enjoy a tax break of about seven hundred and fifty ($750), save five hundred and ninety ($590) on their professional wardrobe, save one thousand one hundred and twenty ($1,120) on gas, and avoid over three hundred ( $300 ) dollars in car maintenance costs.
  3. Telecommuters save two hundred and sixty (260) hours by not commuting on a daily basis.
  4. Work from home programs help businesses save about two thousand ($2,000) per year help businesses save two thousand ($2,000) per person per year and reduce turnover by fifty (50%) percent.
  5. Typical telecommuter are college graduates of about forty-nine (49) years old and work with a company with fewer than one hundred (100) employees.
  6. Seventy-three percent (73%) of remote workers are satisfied with the company they work for and feel that their managers are concerned about their well-being and morale.
  7. For every one real work-from-home job, there are sixty job scams.
  8. Most telecommuters (53 percent) work more than forty (40) hours per week.
  9. Telecommuters work harder to create a friendly, cooperative, and positive work environment for themselves and their teams.
  10. Work-from-home professionals (82 percent) were able to lower their stress levels by working remotely. Eighty (80) percent have improved morale, seventy (70) percent increase productivity, and sixty-nine (69) percent miss fewer days from work.
  11. Half of the U.S. workforce have jobs that are compatible with remote work.
  12. Remote workers enjoy more sleep, eat healthier, and get more physical exercise
  13. Telecommuters are fifty (50) percent less likely to quit their jobs.
  14. When looking at in-office workers and telecommuters, forty-five (45) percent of telecommuters love their job, while twenty-four (24) percent of in-office workers love their jobs.
  15. Four in ten (10) freelancers have completed projects completely from home.

OK, what are the individual and company benefits resulting from this activity.  These might be as follows:

  • Significant reduction in energy usage by company.
  •  Reduction in individual carbon footprint. (It has been estimated that 9,500 pounds of CO 2 per year per person could be avoided if the employee works from home.  Most of this is avoidance of cranking up the “tin lezzy”.)
  • Reduction in office expenses in the form of space, desk, chair, tables, lighting, telephone equipment, and computer connections, etc.
  • Reduction in the number of sick days taken due to illnesses from communicable diseases.
  • Fewer “in-office” distractions allowing for greater focus on work.  These might include: 1.) Monday morning congregation at the water cooler to discuss the game on Saturday, 2.) Birthday parties, 3.) Mary Kay meetings, etc etc.  You get the picture!

In the state where I live (Tennessee), the number of telecommuters has risen eighteen (18) percent relative to 2011.  489,000 adults across Tennessee work from home on a regular basis.  Most of these employees do NOT work for themselves in family-owned businesses but for large companies that allow the activity.  Also, many of these employees work for out-of-state concerns thus creating ideal situations for both worker and employer.   At Blue Cross of Tennessee, one in six individuals go to work by staying at home.   Working at home definitely does not always mean there is no personal communication with supervisors and peers.    These meetings are factored into each work week, some required at least on a monthly basis.

Four point three (4.3) million employees (3.2% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time.  Regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 140% since 2005, nearly 10x faster than the rest of the workforce or the self-employed.  Of course, this marvelous transition has only been made possible by internet connections and in most cases; the computer technology at home equals or surpasses that found at “work”.   We all know this trend will continue as well it should.

 

I welcome your comments and love to know your “telecommuting” stories.  Please send responses to: bobjengr@comcast.net.

THE MOSES ILLUSION

April 8, 2018


Portions of this post were taken from an article in The Chattanooga Times-FreePress.

Let’s do a quick quiz:

QUESTION:  In the Biblical story, what was Jonah swallowed by?  How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the ark?

Did you answer whale to the first question and two of each kind to the second question?  Most people actually do, even though they are aware that Noah, and not Moses, built the ark in that story.  Noah—not Moses.  You knew that.

Psychologists call this phenomenon the “Moses Illusion”.  This is just one example of how people are very bad at discerning factual errors in the world around them.  Even when people know the correct information, they often fail to notice errors and will even go on to use that incorrect information in other situations.  An “official” definition of this illusion goes something like this:

“In pragmatics and psycholinguistics, the Moses illusion is a phenomenon whereby listeners or readers fail to recognize an inaccuracy or inconsistency in a text. It is also called the semantic illusion.”

Research from cognitative psychology shows that people are naturally very poor fact-checkers and it is very difficult for individuals to compare things we read or hear with what we already know about a specific topic.   The Moses illusion (also known as semantic illusion) was first identified by T.D. Erickson and M.E. Mattson in their article “From Words to Meaning: A Semantic Illusion” (Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 1981).

In this era of “fake news”, this reality has very important implications for how people consume journalism, social media and other bits of public information.  In the study mentioned above, eighty (80) percent of the participants failed to notice the error in the question despite later correctly answering the question, “Who took the animals into the Ark? The failure occurred even though participants were warned that some of the questions would have something wrong with them and were given an example of an incorrect question.  Psychologists call this “knowing neglect”.  People have relevant knowledge but fail to use it.

OKAY, why are human beings so bad at noticing errors and misinformation? Psychologists believe that there are at least two forces at work.

  • First, people have a general bias to believe that things are true. (After all, most things that we read or hear are true.) In fact, there’s some evidence that we initially process all statements as true and that it then takes cognitive effort to mentally mark them as false.  At one time, I personally believed just about everything written.  I suppose it was because I considered this to be somewhat of a legacy relative to the writer.  In days gone by, a non-fiction writer would write to inform and not to confuse.  Back then I felt that most writers did NOT have a political agenda. Today, I would be absolutely incorrect with that supposition.
  • Second, people tend to accept information as long as it’s close enough to the correct information. Natural speech often includes errors, pauses and repeats. (“She was wearing a blue – um, I mean, a black, a black dress.”). One idea– to maintain conversations we need to go with the flow and accept information that is “good enough”. Just move on and if people

don’t fall for these illusions when the incorrect information is obviously wrong. For example, people don’t try to answer the question “How many animals of each kind did Nixon take on the Ark?”.

Detecting and correcting false information is difficult work and requires fighting against the ways our brains like to process information. Critical thinking alone won’t save us. Our psychological quirks put us at risk of falling for misinformation, disinformation and propaganda. Professional fact-checkers provide an essential service in detecting incorrect information in the public view.  They are one of our best hopes for zeroing in on errors and correcting them, before the rest of us read or hear the false information and incorporate it into what we know of the world.

FAKE NEWS:

Why on earth is there so much fake news?

There are two main creators of fake news. The most egregious creator comes from non-journalists who put out spammy garbage you see on the web that’s simply untrue. As mentioned earlier, we generally believe just about everything written with the goal of checking it later, then there is no later.  The second creator of fake news is not so much fake news, but biased news coming from journalists with an agenda. Biased news isn’t as egregious since we all have our biases that are hard to extricate from our actions. However, biased journalists can do greater damage due to their large platforms. I would like to see a disclaimer at the beginning of each blog or tweet, when needed— “WARNING:  this is garbage.”  Don’t hold your breath for this to happen.

With the use of clickbait titles, misinformation, and satire, fake news has the ability to affect public opinion about a person, country or issue. I am amazed at the number of people who gain information, political and otherwise from the late-night television shows.

Findings indicate viewers of late night talk shows tend to be politically unsophisticated and low news media consumers, relying on incidental exposure to news about current events that are introduced throughout the day in the course of other activities (i.e., news headlines on email servers, jokes in late night monologues) with one notable exception.  Viewers of “The Daily Show,” are on the other end of the political spectrum, reflecting high levels of political sophistication and high news media consumption. They tune into “The Daily Show” for a “twist” on news stories with which they are already familiar, expecting Stewart and his team to provide a humorous slant on current events. Apparently, the other late-night shows—-not so much.  It’s mostly relative to political discourse garbage.

CONCLUSION:

I know I need to slow down and take the time to ask the question—is this information true, partially true, completely false?  What do I know relative to this new information?  I am to the point of turning off the television set and reading a good book.  Who do you believe these days?  What news or media outlet gives a non-bias, only-the-facts, information-filled narrative?  I honestly can NOT answer that question at this time.

Heavens to Murgatroyd

January 8, 2018


Portions of this post are attributed to: tobeerndt@yahoo.com

Our English language is constantly evolving to match changes in culture, religion, technology and other areas of reality.  Over the past two or three years the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language has added many new words.  A few of these words are given below:

  • Adorbs
  • Binge-watch
  • Cray
  • humblebrag
  • listicle
  • side boob
  • vape
  • YOLO
  • live-tweet
  • second screen
  • sentiment analysis
  • cord cutting
  • hyperconnected
  • acquihire
  • clickbait
  • Deep Web
  • Dox
  • Fast follower
  • Geocache
  • In silico
  • Smartwatch
  • Tech-savvy
  • Vaping
  • E-cig
  • Bro hug
  • Hot-mess

These new words describe to some extent where we are today relative to technology and “pop-culture”.  These new words are entirely appropriate, but just as sure as we add words, we remove from daily usage words that just do not seem to fit. Lost Words from our childhood: Words gone as fast as the buggy whip! Sad really! Let’s take a look.

Murgatroyd!…

Do you remember that word? Would you believe the email spell checker did not recognize the word Murgatroyd?  Heavens to Mergatroyd!  If you are over fifty (50) or even forty (40) you have said, Heavens to Mergatroyd.

The other day a not so elderly sixty-five (65) or maybe seventy-five (75) year old lady said something to her son about driving a Jalopy and he looked at her quizzically and said “What the heck is a Jalopy?”

OMG (new phrase)! He never heard of the word jalopy!! She knew she was old….. but not that old. Well, I hope you are Hunky Dory after you read this and chuckle.

About a month ago, I illuminated some old expressions that have become obsolete because of the inexorable march of technology. These phrases included “Don’t touch that dial,” “Carbon copy,” “You sound like a broken record” and “Hung out to dry.”

Back in the olden days we had a lot of ‘moxie.’ We’d put on our best ‘bib and tucker’ to’ straighten up and fly right’.

Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumping Jehoshaphat! Holy moley!

We were ‘in like Flynn’ and ‘living the life of Riley”, and even a regular guy couldn’t accuse us of being a knucklehead, a nincompoop or a pill. Not for all the tea in China.

Back in the olden days, life used to be swell, but when’s the last time anything was swell?

Swell has gone the way of beehives, pageboys and the D.A.; of spats, knickers, fedoras, poodle skirts, saddle shoes and pedal pushers. AND DON’T FORGET…. Saddle Stitched Pants

Oh, my aching back! Kilroy was here, but he isn’t anymore.

We wake up from what surely has been just a short nap, and before we can say, Well, I’ll be ‘a monkey’s uncle!’ Or, This is a ‘fine kettle of fish’! We discover that the words we grew up with, the words that seemed omnipresent, as oxygen, have vanished with scarcely a notice from our tongues and our pens and our keyboards.

Poof, go the words of our youth, the words we’ve left behind.  We blink, and they’re gone.  Where have all those great phrases gone? (My Favorite)” Let’s all go to the beach Saturday”..

Long gone: Pshaw, The milkman did it. Hey! It’s your nickel. Don’t forget to pull the chain. Knee high to a grasshopper. Well, Fiddlesticks! Going like sixty. I’ll see you in the funny papers. Don’t take any wooden nickels. Wake up and smell the roses.

It turns out there are more of these lost words and expressions than Carter has liver pills. This can be disturbing stuff! (“Carter’s Little Liver Pills” are gone too!)

We of a certain age have been blessed to live in changeable times. For a child each new word is like a shiny toy, a toy that has no age. We at the other end of the chronological arc have the advantage of remembering there are words that once did not exist and there were words that once strutted their hour upon the earthly stage and now are heard no more, except in our collective memory. It’s one of the greatest advantages of aging. Leaves us to wonder where Superman will find a phone booth… See ya later, alligator! Okidoki

Personally, I like the “old” phrases.  They have meaning to me and to those I associate with but like the lady with her grandson, I use these words and my grandchildren look at me as though I have just fallen off a turnip truck—flown in from an alien planet—come down from the mountain.  I suppose times are a-changing.


Portions of this post are taken from the publication “Industry Week”, Bloomberg View, 30 October 2017.

The Bloomberg report begins by stating: “The industrial conglomerate has lost $100 billion in market value this year as investors came to terms with the dawning reality that GE’s businesses don’t generate enough cash to support its rich dividend.”

Do you in your wildest dreams think that Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, would have produced results such as this?  I do NOT think so.  Welch “lived” with the guys on Wall Street.  These pitiful results come to us from Mr. Jeffery Immelt.  It’s also now clear that years of streamlining didn’t go far enough as challenges of dumpster-fire proportions at its power and energy divisions overshadowed what were actually pretty good third-quarter health-care and aviation numbers.  Let me mention right now that I can sound off at the results.  I retired from a GE facility—The Roper Corporation, in 2005.

The new CEO John Flannery’s pledged to divest twenty billion ($20 billion) in assets perhaps is risking another piecemeal breakup but as details leak on the divestitures and other changes Flannery’s contemplating, there’s at least a shot he could be positioning the company for something more drastic.  Now back to Immelt.

Immelt took over the top position at GE in 2001. Early attempts at changing the culture to meet Immelt’s ideas about what the corporate culture should look like were not very successful. It was during the financial crisis that he began to think differently. It seems as if his thinking followed three paths. First, get rid of the financial areas of the company because they were just a diversion to what needed to be done. Second, make GE into a company focused upon industrial goods. And, third, create a company that would tie the industrial goods to information technology so that the physical and the informational would all be of one package. The results of Immelt’s thinking are not impressive and did not position GE for company growth in the twenty-first century.

Any potential downsizing by Flannery will please investors who have viewed the digital foray as an expensive pet project of Immelt’s, but it’s sort of a weird thing to do if you still want to turn GE into a top-ten software company — as is the divestiture of the digital-facing Centricity health-care IT operations that GE is reportedly contemplating.  Perhaps a wholesale breakup of General Electric Co. isn’t such an improbable idea after all.

GE has lost one hundred billion ($100 billion) in market value this year as investors came to terms with the dawning reality that GE’s businesses don’t generate enough cash to support its rich dividend. It’s also now clear that years of streamlining didn’t go far enough as challenges of dumpster fire proportions at its power and energy divisions overshadowed what were actually pretty good third-quarter health-care and aviation numbers.

One argument against a breakup of GE was that it would detract from the breadth of expertise and resources that set the company apart in the push to make industrial machinery of all kinds run more efficiently. But now, GE’s approach to digital appears to be changing. Rather than trying to be everything for everyone, the company is refocusing digital marketing efforts on customers in its core businesses and deepening partnerships with tech giants including Microsoft Corp and Apple Inc. It hasn’t announced any financial backers yet, but that’s a possibility former CEO Jeff Immelt intimated before he departed. GE’s digital spending is a likely target of its cost-cutting push.

This downsizing will please investors who have viewed digital as an expensive pet project of Immelt’s, but it’s sort of a weird thing to do if you still want to turn GE into a top-10 software company — as is the divestiture of the digital-facing Centricity health-care IT operations that GE is reportedly contemplating.

The company is unlikely to abandon digital altogether. Industrial customers have been trained to expect data-enhanced efficiency, and GE has to offer that to be competitive. As Flannery said at GE’s Minds and Machines conference last week, “A company that just builds machines will not survive.” But if all we’re ultimately talking about here is smarter equipment, as opposed to a whole new software ecosystem, GE doesn’t necessarily need a health-care, aviation and power business.

Creating four or five mini-GEs would likely mean tax penalties.  That’s not in and of itself a reason to maintain a portfolio that’s not working. If it was, GE wouldn’t also be contemplating a sale of its transportation division. But one of GE’s flaws in the minds of investors right now is its financial complexity, and there’s something to be said for a complete rethinking of the way it’s put together. For what it’s worth, the average of JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst Steve Tusa’s sum-of-the-parts analyses points to a twenty-dollar ($20) valuation — almost in line with GE’s closing price of $20.79 on Friday. Whatever premium the whole company once commanded over the value of its parts has been significantly weakened.

Wall Street is torn on General Electric, the one-time favorite blue chip for long-term investors, which is now facing an identity crisis and possible dividend cut. Major research shops downgraded and upgraded the industrial company following its third-quarter earnings miss this past Friday. The firm’s September quarter profits were hit by restructuring costs and weak performance from its power and oil and gas businesses. It was the company’s first earnings report under CEO John Flannery, who replaced Jeff Immelt in August. Two firms reduced their ratings for General Electric shares due to concerns about dividend cuts at its Nov. 13 analyst meeting. The company has a 4.2 percent dividend yield. General Electric shares declined 6.3 percent Monday to close at $22.32 a share after the reports. The percentage drop is the largest for the stock in six years. Its shares are down twenty-five (25%) percent year to date through Friday versus the S&P 500’s fifteen (15%) percent return.

At the end of the day, it comes down to what kind of company GE wants to be. The financial realities of a breakup might be painful, but so would years’ worth of pain in its power business as weak demand and pricing pressures drive a decline to a new normal of lower profitability. Does it really matter, then, what the growth opportunities are in aviation and health care? As head of M&A at GE, Flannery was at least partly responsible for the Alstom SA acquisition that swelled the size of the now-troubled power unit inside GE. If there really are “no sacred cows,” he has a chance to rewrite that legacy.

CONCLUSIONS:

Times are changing and GE had better change with those times or the company faces significant additional difficulties.  Direction must be left to the board of directors but it’s very obvious that accommodations to suite the present business climate are definitely in order.

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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