Changing Over Time

Here’s some welcome, but not especially surprising, news:  scientists have concluded that our personalities change over time.

seniors_teensThe University of Edinburgh did an interesting study that confirms what should be obvious — people in their teenage years are a lot different from those same people as geriatrics.  The study looked at data compiled about the personality and character traits of people who were evaluated in 1947, at age 14, as part of the Scottish Mental Survey, and then tried to track down those same people down years later, when they hit age 77, to evaluate them again.  The study looked a personal qualities like self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to excel, and found very little correlation between the 14-year-olds and the 77-year-olds on the conscientiousness and stability of moods qualities, and no correlation on the others.

Any study of personality and character traits is not going to be as precise as, say, measuring the flow or neutrinos, because of observer bias.  The University of Edinburgh results, for example, rely on teacher assessments of the 14-year-olds — it’s not hard to imagine that your gym teacher might have a different take on self-confidence than your English teacher, for example —  and the 77-year-olds rated themselves and identified a close friend or family member to complete the survey.  I imagine, however, that by age 77 most people are going to drop the posturing and evaluate themselves pretty honestly.

So life, and time, change you.  No surprise there!  It would be weird indeed if a lifetime of experiences, good and bad, didn’t actually alter the way you reacted to other people and the world at large.  I carry around memories from my 14-year-old self, but other than that I don’t really feel a great connection to that awkward, tubby, dreamy, self-absorbed person on the verge of high school — which is kind of a relief, really.  I imagine that if most of us met our 14-year-old selves, we’d find it fascinating, but then conclude that we really weren’t all that likable back then, and give our parents, siblings, and friends a lot more credit for putting up with us.

The key, of course, is to change for the better.  It’s a worthy goal.

Here We Go Again

You’d think that, after the crash of the housing market, the failure of banks, the stock market plunge, and the Great Recession of 2008-2009 that still is affecting the economy in many parts of the country, modern Americans would have learned a painful but lasting lesson about taking on too much debt.

It looks like you’d be wrong.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York report on household debt says that Americans are collectively approaching the record level of debt that we had accumulated in 2008, and probably will break through that record this year.  According to the report, by the end of 2016 our collective household debt, which includes everything from mortgages to credit cards to student loans to car loans, had risen to $12.58 trillion, which is just below the 2008 record of $12.68 trillion.  Even worse, last year our debt load increased by a whopping $460 billion, which is the largest increase in a decade.  Mortgage loan balances are now $8.48 trillion, which accounts for about 67 percent of the total debt load.  And the total amount of debt increased in every category being measured.

The experts say there’s reason to think that 2017 is different, because there are fewer delinquencies being reported now — about half as many as was the case in 2008 — and fewer consumer bankruptcies, too.  Who knows?  Maybe the banks that are extending all of that credit are a lot more judicious in their loan decisions than they were in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and maybe Americans have become much more capable of juggling enormous amounts of personal debt.

And maybe we’ll all live happily ever after in the Land of Narn.

It’s a good illustration of how people have changed.  Anyone who lived through the Great Depression was permanently scarred by the experience; they became forever frugal, suspicious of any kind of debt, and relentlessly focused on building up their savings and paying off that mortgage so they and their friends could hold a “burn the mortgage” party.  The lessons they learned during the Great Depression were still motivating their decisions decades later.

The “Great Recession” clearly hasn’t had the same kind of lasting impact.  It seems that modern Americans just never learn.

Chris Rock’s “Total Blackout”

Last night Kish and I went to see Chris Rock with Mr. and Mrs. Jersey Cavalier.  Rock is on his new, “Total Blackout” tour, and Columbus is one of the first stops.  In fact, he’s got another show here tonight.

chris-rock_12-06-2016-827x620Rock was flat-out hilarious, but if you’re going to the show, let me offer a word to the wise.  Don’t take your cell phone!  Presumably because Rock doesn’t want any pictures taken during the show, or annoying rings from the audience, or recordings of any part of the show, all cell phones are taken and placed into Yondr pouches that are then locked.  People get to keep their bagged and locked phones with them, but they can’t use them until they walk to the unlocking station at the end of the show.  The Virginia Cavalier graciously walked all of our phones back to our office, which is nearby, so we didn’t have to hassle with the locking and unlocking, which expedited our departure from the theater.

This phone-locking process caused two interesting effects.  First, the area outside the Palace Theater was an absolute scrum before the show.  Security did nothing to put people into orderly lines, so you basically had a mob of impatient people who didn’t know why it was taking so long to get into the show, pushing and jostling and hoping the show didn’t start before they got to their seats.  It was a totally unnecessary melee that could have been avoided by some decent planning and security — which presumably will come later on the tour.  For now, my suggestion is to get to the show early.

Second, after the first two warm-up acts, there was a 20-minute intermission before Rock came on.  Imagine — in the modern world, a 20-minute intermission in which people can’t use their cell phones to check emails and text messages, post a selfie to Facebook, and otherwise pass the time!  When the intermission started, people seemed confused by the absence of their cell phone security blankets and unsure of what to do.  Ultimately, they ended up actually talking to each other, or intently watching the backdrop slide show of covers of vintage comedy albums.  The lack of cell phones sure made that 20-minute intermission seem a hell of a lot longer, but by the time it was over everybody was definitely primed for the show.

Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars - ShowAs for Rock, he was brilliant.  The topics he addressed were wide-ranging, encompassing racism, the police, guns, his own celebrity status, the Trump era, religion, his daughter’s freshman orientation, the need for bullies, his divorce, men and women, and of course sex — with a lot of other subjects touched in between.  He’s got a knack for looking at the world in a different way and then capturing his observations in hysterical one-liners.  He’s got to be one of the best stand-up comedians to ever grace the stage, period.

A few other points about Rock.  First, he’s the consummate professional.  Those of us, like Kish and me, who sat in the cheap seats in the back of the theatre appreciated his carefully modulated volume and clear delivery, designed to reach every corner of the venue.  He paces back and forth, so everybody can get a good look, and gave the people in the front row high-fives both before and after the show.  How many big stars will do that?

Second, although Rock uses more profanity than any other comedian I’ve seen live — in the barrage of MFs and f-words, you quickly start to not even notice the “shits” — in his performance the obscenities somehow seem less profane.  They’re just part of the act, helping to set up the one-liners, providing segues from one topic to another, and preserving Rock’s urban street cred.  And, in a way, the profanity masks the fact that some of what Rock has to say isn’t in line with the current PC worldview.  He’s the detached observer, skewering both the silly justifications of the pro-gun lobby and the bland reassurance offered by school administered with equal flair.  His willingness to tilt against all sides is one of the things that makes his shows so interesting.

I’ve been to a number of stand-up shows, and the show last night was the funniest I’ve ever seen.  It’s a must-see if you live near one of the towns on the tour.

Bussing The ‘Hood

I really hate litter — and I also really like our neighborhood.  So when I’m out for my morning walk I pick up the random bits of trash that often litter the ground and pitch them into the trash cans found around the perimeter of Schiller Park.  It’s a beautiful park that is a cornerstone of our community, and it really bugs me when litter makes it look shabby.

There’s no end to the trash that thoughtless, ignorant jerks will leave behind to mar the landscape and become somebody else’s problem — discarded Starbucks cups and lids are a perennial find, but candy wrappers, newspapers, and Red Bull cans are commonplace, too,  and once I found and tossed a beggar’s cardboard “please help me” sign positioned right next to his tossed Old English 16-ounce can.  

The world would be a prettier, better place if everyone picked up a few pieces of unsightly debris — and if the stupid litterbugs ended their nasty habit in the first place and started caring about the appearance of their cities instead.  And don’t get me started about smokers and their casually tossed cigarette butts!

The Raffi Years

The other day, a colleague was talking about one of his young children and their behavior in the car.  It made me remember when Richard and Russell were little, during what I now think of as “the Raffi Years.”

71zba6fuual-_sl1259_Raffi (whose name is actually Raffi Cavoukian) was a singer of children’s songs whose CDs dominated the playlists when the kids were in the car in the early ’90s.  We had multiple Raffi recordings, and they were played on strict rotation.

At first, our discovery of Raffi — no doubt occurring through the “Moms’ grapevine” by which women with children disseminated information about what to do to keep from being driven crazy by those little hellions at home — was a blessing.  A Raffi CD actually got Richard and Russell to stop poking each other, fidgeting in the back seat, and repeatedly asking “when are we getting there?”  Instead, they listened to the music and would pipe up “put on Raffi!” whenever we got into the car.

And that quickly became a double-edged sword, because as they listened to the music, we did, too.  And I’m not saying that Raffi’s music was utterly puerile, but songs about baby whales that are targeted for little kids simply aren’t meant for repeated listening by adults.  At first I appreciated Raffi for helping to keep the kids occupied on car trips and introducing them to music, then repeated exposure to his songs started to really irritate me, and finally I would grit my teeth whenever the kids wanted to replay “Baby Beluga” again and think about how pleasant it would be to drive steel spikes into my eardrums.

Of course, one day Richard and Russell decided they’d had enough of Raffi and moved on, and soon enough they were listening to their own music on Walkmans and iPods and other devices.  I feel grateful to Raffi for getting us through the squirmy years, but it was wonderful to take his CDs out of the car, forever.  And I’ve got no desire to hear him sing, ever again.

The Bridge Report

It’s not just gigantic dams and spillways that we need to worry about.  Those of us who regularly use the nation’s interstate highway system should be thinking about whether that bridge that our car is rolling across is safe, too — because a recently released report has concluded that thousands of our bridges are structurally deficient.

Lines of cars are pictured during a rush hour traffic jam on GuoOK, perhaps we should read this report with a healthy grain of salt, because the source is the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.  Getting a report from the ARTBA about whether more bridge repair and construction projects should be funded is like getting a restaurant review from the head chef — you’ve got to think that there’s a bit of self-interest lurking in there somewhere.

Still, the report is based on Department of Transportation data, which scores all bridges on a nine-point scale.  Here’s an amazing statistic:  173,919 of the bridges in the U.S. — more than one in four — are at least 50 years old and have never had major reconstruction work.  I know they built things well back in the ’50s and ’60s, but 50 years of carrying increasing loads of cars and trucks over rivers and inlet and gorges, without an overhaul, seems like an extremely long time.  The report also concludes that more than 55,000 bridges in America are structurally deficient and 13,000 bridges on our interstates need to be replaced, widened, or repaired.

So, our interstate highway system needs work — and by the way we need to figure out how to fund that work, because the increasing fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks means that the gas tax is producing less revenue than expected.  And we need to get local and state governments, who haven’t been carrying their share of the maintenance load, off the dime, too.

I’m sure I’ve driven over dozens of the bridges on the ARTBA’s “deficient bridges” list, without being aware of the structural deficiency issues.  Let’s hope that people pay some attention to this particular area of infrastructure need, before we have another catastrophic bridge collapse that finally spurs people into doing what they should have been doing for years now.