Saturday, December 16, 2017

More than a napkin

Below is a humble cocktail napkin from a recent flight.  The inscription -- which I failed to notice at first -- has a richer significance. 

John Maddente photo
After I buckled up, a man next to me begin to banter with our flight attendant who obviously loved her work (I'll call her Laura).  Although he gave me permission to identify him for this post, I recall only his last name -- Weingarten.  Back to the flight...

Laura and Mr. Weingarten appeared to know one another rather well.  When Laura left to serve other passengers, Mr. Weingarten pointed out that both of our napkins contained this friendly, hand-written, greeting and that she had produced one for him on a previous flight.  What I learned next was my inspiration for this post.

Mr. Weingarten explained that on a previous flight, two other flight attendants took notice of Laura's gracious attitude toward her customers and criticized her napkin gesture (not knowing they were within earshot of Mr. Weingarten) because it made them look deficient. 

Shortly after Laura's colleagues finished upbraiding her, Mr. Weingarten motioned Laura to come over for a private word which he concluded with this counsel... "Don't let them crush your spirit".

The story continues.  A busy executive who travels over 150 days per year, Mr. Weingarten found a portal the airline uses to garner customer feedback.  He supplied his flight details and Laura's real name in order to extol her exemplary service and attitude. 

Airline managements take these passenger inputs quite seriously.  Laura was commended as a result.  I know not whether the other two attendants were cited in Mr. Weingarten's message, but this post is dedicated to all the Laura-types in our midst.  Don't let them crush your spirit.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Of small plates and anxious diners

Restaurants matter!  I’ve harbored an almost religious attraction to places serving tasty Chinese food, Italian food, steaks, etc. since childhood.  Now in my 50s I’m speaking out against a form of dining that started to proliferate across the U.S. about 10 years ago. 

I dislike a restaurant concept called, “small plates”. It’s not the portion size that bothers me.  OK, part of the problem is size-related, but one can obviously consume as many little bites as one wishes and leave satisfied.  Nor is the problem entirely due to flavor (I've enjoy tapas and tiny treats served at other small plate eateries).  The problem is the convoluted experience of a small plate "dinner".  For me, there are several problems with this dining style, but here's a taste of what I mean...
Small plates photo -- Wikipedia
After eying a group of baby plates spewed across a table that's invariably too small to accommodate them -- I’m drawn to some of these gastronomic strip teases more than others.  Now -- how many pieces of the great stuff shall I eat?  I want to be mindful of my fellow diners, but if I ignore the less appetizing small plate items I'll leave hungry.  Wait, did he order those marinated artichokes as his main dish?  OK, how many small plates shall we order for the next round?  One?  Two?  Twenty?  Who votes for which plates to order?  You going to finish those artichokes?   

I hear a sharp rebuke coming from Small Plate devotees, “Just order more small plates that you like, Bozo and don't sweat the rest!”   No.  Thanks for the appetizers, but I’ll go elsewhere to enjoy an entrĂ©e in simple, adult-plate bliss.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Economics 101 for the rest of us

Warren Buffet and Carl Icahn are familiar investors.  Fewer people may know Ray Dalio.  Mr. Dalio founded an investment firm 40 years ago called Bridgewater Associates.  With $160 billion under management, Bridgewater runs one of the largest hedge funds in the world.
Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio, Bridgewater website

I recently discovered (after about 3 million other people) a thirty minute YouTube video that Mr. Dalio produced to explain fundamentals of what he refers to as the economic machine

This video, which he narrates, has been translated into several languages and viewed over 3,200,000 times.  The content begins slowly with concepts that could be embraced by most eighth graders, but progresses to explain the primary levers that policy-makers use to manage and stimulate the economy.  You can find it here.  

There are numerous lessons cleverly and clearly explained here.  Example: I hadn't appreciated why economists seem obsessed with Wage Growth until I watched this simple animated video.  (The importance of wage growth has less to do with the oft-used and sometimes politically-charged phrase, "income inequality" and more to do with the masses ability to consume and thus deflate credit bubbles).

Also, you may come away thinking differently about the notion of Credit, which Mr. Dalio asserts, " the most important part of the economy and probably the least understood".  Finally, what Mr. Dalio refers to as a "beautiful deleveraging" is the type of soft landing we all pray for to avert the "social disorder" some have worried about for years.  The antidote, according to Mr. Dalio, is for policy makers to apply the correct mix and emphasis to each of the four economic forces illustrated below. 

YouTube video, "HOW THE ECONOMIC MACHINE WORKS" by Ray Dalio
Spending cuts, are generally what people think of when they hear about "austerity" measures exercised by government, individuals and businesses, to lower spending on goods and services.  The image second from the left refers to a combination of debt defaults and debt restructuring by and between banks, businesses and individuals.  Wealth redistribution occurs primarily through higher taxation on upper income Americans.  Finally, the money-printing image refers to Federal Reserve purchases of government bonds and other financial assets ($2T since the Great Recession).
So what's the correct mix and emphasis of lever-pulling required for a soft landing?  Perhaps a more prescriptive video from Mr. Dalio, to address that question will appear on this same platform at