We had our first birth in the birth center last night. Success. And we get to bill for nitrous. That means the infernal machine needs to be used only nineteen more times to pay for itself. My daughter, on the other hand, called for attention every time I was about to fall asleep for the first two hours and then woke up from a screaming, bawling nightmare. My wife is asleep in the other room which prevents me from finishing the background pass on the not-very-good movie, unless I put on headphones, which I hate doing when I'm doing surround work.
Our burn rate is a few thousand dollars higher per month than we anticipated, due entirely to construction delays. This means it will be longer before the center is profitable. Nonetheless, confidence is high. My wife pointed out last night that it was effectively equivalent to me putting her through college all over again. This morning I'm mulling over the fact that aside from a brief, glorious nine months between relationships in 2002, and a semi-refreshing, maybe-we'll-make-it period of about a year before we had our daughter, I have given over the overwhelming majority of my earnings to the care of others for more than 20 years now.
I'm partly bitter about that and partly contemplative. A friend of mine was in Variety on Friday because he's got a show set up with Granada and Netflix. He, of course, came to LA about a year after I did. Then his wife (whose family is not just wealthy, they're royal) supported him while he did free work for two solid years, had two kids, went through treatment twice and lived i a $4k/mo apartment while we were grinding dried placentas to make ends meet. They don't tell you that: if you're trying to break in while earning a living, you're breaking in against dilettantes with zero cost-of-failure and infinite hang-time. Then Sunday I discovered that another below-the-line friend had died of a heart attack at 36.
It's all about anchoring, I guess. I've got a tree surgeon coming over to tell me what it's going to cost to make sure the three massive firs in the back don't fall on the house. I'm hoping I can afford it. At the same time I was talking to the neighbor Sunday; her roof is leaking because she got a deal from another neighbor's then-boyfriend but he's a junkie now so whatever warranty there was, yeah notsomuch anymore. Meanwhile they're building out, not up, because it's cheaper, because there's seven of them in there, six adults, and they've got one bathroom and fewer square feet than we do, and one of them is in a wheelchair. But she's on 100% disability, her daughter is on 100% disability, her son works two jobs, both of which are custodial, her one grandson got thrown out of his mom's house for fighting and her other grandson -
He was howling Sunday. Not sure why. It was dark, there was lots of shouting. We're debating calling CPS. He hangs out with me but he's rough. He's eight and enjoys the company of my 4-year-old daughter who is brighter than him by far. He's on the spectrum among other things and he breaks stuff. We let him play with our daughter out doors but he's not allowed in our house unless one of his family members are there. And we're crowded with three people and all our shit in this house but fuckin'A we can still park a car in the garage. They've got seven people in there and I don't even know who the seventh is.
They're building out. They're getting a loan. The contractor is a friend of a friend which worked out oh-so-well last time, right? There's seven of them, two fixed incomes and maybe three jobs between them, none of which make much money. I mean, they've got a blue tarp keeping the rain off half the house (not the roof leak; apparently that's just sort of happening without any remediation).
Anchoring. I don't have a blue tarp keeping the rain out of the family room, my toilet-to-person ratio is 1.5, and we have retirement savings as if we were 20 years older than we are now. And I'm not in Variety but I'm not in the ground, either. And as formidable as our burn rate is, we fuckin' made it this month.
This month, anyway.
"These people" are "us people" under poorer circumstances. There's a real tendency for people to think that poverty reflects a moral or intellectual failing but it's a shamefully dismissive way to view the problem.
- Banksy, AdBusters interview backintheday
The issue is not that these choices are available, the issue is that these choices crowd out the sensible ones. There's a lot of fallacious product design in toothbrushes. At the same time, it makes sense to apply what we know about dental hygiene to what we know about human habit to what we know about materials science to what we know about merchandising because even an expensive toothbrush is what? $4? $5? That's before you get into the land of Sonicare and its ilk and there are justifications to that, too. I have a $140 toothbrush. It was recommended to me by my dentist over my $100 toothbrush because apparently I was brushing hard enough to require some repair at the gumline to the tune of $900 billed to my insurance. The difference? The new one tweedles at me when I brush too hard. First world problems? You betcha. Asymptotic improvement? Mos def. BUT it is innovation in pursuit of improvement.
Dollar shave club, on the other hand, doesn't help you shave better. What it does is provide you access to bottom-of-the-barrel no-name Chinese blades at substantial markup to you. Yeah - a bag of Bic safety razors is like $3 for 24 or whatever so obviously you don't have to purchase that, either, but Unilever spent a billion dollars buying Dollar Shave Club instead of, I dunno, making better razors.
Lather, rinse, repeat. You rightly state that you are not directly impacted by any of these deeply silly Silicon Valley choices but you are indirectly affected. As you state, you're a fan of Blue Apron - what if Silicon Valley spent $120m on improving the efficiency of produce delivery to wherever you are instead of $120m on ways to sell chopped fruits and vegetables for $10/lb?
Henry Petroski has argued many times that necessity isn't the mother of invention, luxury is - we do not invent a fork because we cannot eat without one, we invent a fork because it's easier to eat with one. The inventor/manufacturer profits off of the increase of ease he provides us, and we pay him gladly. The argument put forth in the article (not as clearly as it could be, no doubt) is that the Silicon Valley business cycle is not focused on efficiency, it's focused on inefficiency and predation. And while this is not universally true, the argument for "disruption" is not "make the world a better place" it's "break laws and make money until they legislate you out of existence."
I have thousands of hours of music on hard drives. I used to have hundreds of CDs. My access to music went up an order of magnitude with the advent of Napster... but I can't really say that MP3s improved the state of music. It used to be that technological innovation was largely in pursuit of quality-of-life improvement and that argument could easily be made about Napster et.al. However, the inefficiencies of the music market also provided a living for most of the people involved in its generation.
And that's another issue - companies like RentBerry and Fiverr are, at base, eliminating inefficiencies. However, in a marketplace that's even a little unfair or uncompetitive, "inefficiencies" are often the profit of the disadvantaged. On a perfectly level playing field, assembly line workers in Detroit should have no problems competing with assembly line workers in Guadalajara.
Hi. Freelancer. Years of experience. Union member, skilled laborer. And where I work, the middle has dropped out. I'm one of the youngest people in my industry that I know of and my 20-year reunion was a while ago. See, used to be you started out as a gopher PA and then you became a set PA and then you picked up a skill and then you started making a little money and your network grew and you started making more money and eventually you had a wife and two kids and a house in the Valley. But now there's a sea of film school grads who can work for free because mommy and daddy understand that you have to do that for a while in order to get experience so they'll pay Janie's $1900/mo rent for a studio in Panorama City while she struggles for free until eventually it becomes clear that as soon as she starts to ask for money there's ten more Janies eager to take her place so eventually she's going to go back to live with her parents in Dayton and take orders at Applebee's while meanwhile, the guys that are actually hiring new kids who don't know what they're doing are generally doing it with their parents' money, too, and they're going to fail out within however long it takes for their folx to get sick of paying for their hobbies and in the meantime, we're all getting older and we're all hanging on to the gigs we have and the kids? The kids are not coming up because the opportunities that are available to them are a mirage.
Make no mistake. I'm the other side of that divide. Comfortably. But the gig economy, in my industry at least, is a fucking meat grinder for those without protections. Multiply times everything.
So a "fixed payment annuity" is effectively an agreement between you and whoever manages the annuity. The agreement says that if you make payments over the allotted time, when the annuity reaches maturity, the manager will pay you back. What's typical (what my pension looks like) is you work for a certain amount of time to be vested, then you contribute the requisite number of hours or days or years of employment, then when you've reached that number (and usually a prequalifying age), the annuity manager lets you flip the switch from "putting in" to "taking out" which you typically do until you die.
My grandfather was a regional president of the AFL. He was a tool and die machinist, and then he was a union foreman. His pension kicked in at 65 and provided him with something like 75% of his salary until he died, and then it was supposed to provide his wife with 50% of his salary until she died. I think his other choice was 100% until he died, and then 25% to his wife until she died. That pension was written in the '40s, kicked in in the late '60s, and paid him until the early '90s.
It's not atypical for the money that you get out of a pension will be more than the money you put into a pension. This shortfall is covered by the fact that the pension manager has your money now to pay you later so they can invest it, earn interest, make stock splits, etc etc etc. In other words, they're taking on the risk but also capturing any gains above and beyond what's necessary to pay out the pensions of the accounts under management.
Now take me - I've been in my union since 2008. I got enough union work to start earning healthcare and start vesting in 2013. At the end of this year, I'll be eligible to actually get money out of my pension when I retire - but I'm a six figure guy and as it sits, I think my pension payout when I reach retirement age will be like $137 a month. Now - if I keep mixing high-budget full-pop network shows under my union contract for the next seventeen years, my payout will reach.... drumroll please... $837 a month.
Now granted: That's nice money. But I earn more than that in a day every time I work on a holiday and once I retire, i won't be. And a lot of the reason is that the pension managers can't guarantee they'll make killer gains to cover the shortfall.
A lot of the reason is medical plans. See, retirement and medical benefits are often mixed together and when the 'boomers were getting their rippin' pension and health plans set up in the late '60s/ early '70s...
...they weren't expecting to spend a factor of ten what they were currently spending.
I've got great health insurance. It's good enough that I leave my family for three months a year to keep it. And COBRA on it is like $1800 a month. That's for three young, healthy people. Now - I got a buddy whose wife is currently dealing with early-onset Alzheimer's. I have another friend who has been dealing with skin cancer. And I have another friend who regularly tears himself up falling off of horses. And the medical plan pays out for all that.
Combine that with the fact that it's gotten harder and harder to make the kind of gains that pension plans are used to.
twenty fucking percent. And since like 2011 the interbank rate in the US has been close enough to zero that it might as well be nothing. The rest of the world? Something like 2/3rds of the world's currency was under negative interest rates for the past three years. And if your pension plan was set up on the assumption that it could make an easy 10% a year because it always had forever and ever amen, you have a massive pension shortfall.
So that's pensions. You put a set amount of money in, you eventually take a set amount of money out, and the pension manager covers the shortfall by profiting off your contributions. Great to be a pension manager if that's easy, shitty to be a pension manager if it's hard, used to be easy, is now hard. Pension shortfalls 101.
401(k)s? Those are just bank accounts. They're bank accounts with special tax status but they're just bank accounts. You put money in, your employer matches it, and you play the ponies. You get to see every month (or every second, depending on how interested you are) just how your 401(k) is doing and you get to rebalance it, reallocate it, contribute to it, draw it down, use it as collateral, tap into it under penalty, all that fun shit entirely on your own. If you don't have enough money in your 401(k) when it's time to retire, that shit's all on you - you should have saved more. You should have invested more wisely. Your employer has fuckall to do with it - it's their pension fund but it's your 401(k).
If your pension is with CalPERS, you're fucked because they ran out of money. If your 401(k) was with Enron, you were fucked because you folded your retirement plan into a house of cards.. If you were a public worker, you had no choice other than what CalPERS invested in. If you worked for Enron you had all the choice in the world - but it seemed like the smart thing was to invest in your employer.
Ironically enough, Steve Bannon blames the latter for his worldview.
Okay. Look. I get it. Save the earth one cup at a time. Do right by your supply chain. Get the girl, kill the baddies and save the entire planet. And hooray for having your heart in the right place and sure - this is not a large trade organization and it doesn't have a lot of power so at least they're taking on what they can take on.
But this whole paper is an excuse for inaction. Cliff's notes on Action Item 3, "Measure and Reduce your Carbon Footprint:"
- Farmer Brothers (1800 employees, $240m sales)
- Determined that 85% of their carbon emissions come from roasting coffee
- Determined that 14% of their carbon emissions come from driving coffee
- Determined that 1% of their carbon emissions come from being in business
- So they got their engines certified clean idle
- And bought some carbon certificates
- To advance their goal of reducing their carbon emissions by 80% forty fucking years in the future
How many carbon credits did they buy? So few it didn't even make their self-fellating annual report. And - and here's my beef -
it wouldn't do fuckall about the future of coffee anyway.
Your argument - more money in cows than in coffee. To acknowledge that briefly, ranching is generally done on public lands while farming is done on private but we'll ignore that. One cow takes about 1.3 acres per year and one cow is good for about 500lbs of trimmed beef (and byproducts). Argentinian beef trades wholesale for $330/kt (or so) or $330/2200lb or 15 cents a pound so your 1.3 acres is earning you 75 bucks or, wholesale, you're making $57 per acre.
How 'bout coffee?
I know a shit-ton less about coffee than you do. All I have available to me is public information. When I google "coffee yield per acre" I get an article that tells me traditional methods yield as little as 450lbs an acre while intensive farming can push that up to 3,000 lbs. So right there, I know that if a specialty coffee association member wants to make a difference, he needs to find a modern farm that isn't fucking around because apparently the agricultural multiplier is a factor of seven. But how much are we getting for a pound of coffee?
Good thing your buddies at the SCAA are available to tell me. Looks like $1.75/lb. So even fucking around with shade-grown don't-care cherries-roasting-in-the-sun agriculture, a coffee plantation makes about a factor of ten over beef. But, of course, the capital expenditures to plant an acre of coffee and raise it to harvest are intense and no doubt reflected in that.
So I come back to this point - the links in the paper you shared all indicate that a coffee plantation is good for 30-50 years. They also indicate that 50 years from now, coffee will be coming from very different places. And digging into it a little more, it becomes obvious that an enterprising coffee roaster that actually wanted to make a difference (as opposed to sit around the tradegroup campfire singing koom bay yah) might get involved with some agricultural NGOs attempting to get ahead of the production curve on a crop that has a heavy sunk cost, an admirable response to intensive agriculture and the demand curve of a luxury item.
THEIR REPORT SHOULD BE BETTER THAN THIS.
Because see, if southern Mexico is currently the world's 8th largest arabica producer, I'ma guess that in 50 years south-central Mexico is gonna be the world's 8th largest arabica producer and if white-boy me can have some influence now that pushes things closer to the 3,000lb/acre number than the 450lb/acre number, FUCKIN'A PUT THAT SHIT IN WRITING.
At the most, that's the equivalent of 50 acres of coffee. That's a legit "who gives a fuck" statistic. But your trade group gave it a quarter of a page.
I drink coffee. I like it. I want to keep doing it. And for fuck's sake, if your industry is worrying about 50% of the available land going away in the next 50 years, fuckin' do something about it.
Minimize travelling and transport distances. Choose airlines with green travel credentials and choose economy class.
If you're worried about the carbon imprint of your ass in business class, you're worrying about the wrong damn thing. I mean - sure. Maybe you feel better riding in economy class because your tradegroup told you to. But I'd rather know that you're taking steps to not burn more of the Amazon.
And this paper says fuckall about the Amazon.