How We Spend Our Days Is How We Spend Our Lives: Annie Dillard on Presence Over Productivity

How We Spend Our Days Is How We Spend Our Lives: Annie Dillard on Presence Over Productivity

“The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less.”

The meaning of life has been pondered by such literary icons as Leo Tolstoy (1904), Henry Miller (1918), Anaïs Nin (1946), Viktor Frankl (1946), Italo Calvino (1975), and David Foster Wallace (2005). And though some have argued that today’s age is one where “the great dream is to trade up from money to meaning,” there’s an unshakable and discomfiting sense that, in our obsession with optimizing our creative routines and maximizing our productivity, we’ve forgotten how to be truly present in the gladdening mystery of life. From The Writing Life (public library) by Annie Dillard – a wonderful addition to the collected wisdom of beloved writers – comes this beautiful and poignant meditation on the life well lived, reminding us of the tradeoffs between presence and productivity that we’re constantly choosing to make, or not:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

She goes on to illustrate this existential tension between presence and productivity with a fine addition to history’s great daily routines and daily rituals:

The most appealing daily schedule I know is that of a turn-of-the-century Danish aristocrat. He got up at four and set out on foot to hunt black grouse, wood grouse, woodcock, and snipe. At eleven he met his friends, who had also been out hunting alone all morning. They converged “at one of these babbling brooks,” he wrote. He outlined the rest of his schedule. “Take a quick dip, relax with a schnapps and a sandwich, stretch out, have a smoke, take a nap or just rest, and then sit around and chat until three. Then I hunt some more until sundown, bathe again, put on white tie and tails to keep up appearances, eat a huge dinner, smoke a cigar and sleep like a log until the sun comes up again to redden the eastern sky. This is living…. Could it be more perfect?”

Dillard juxtaposes the Danish aristocrat’s revelry in everyday life with the grueling routine of a couple of literary history’s most notorious self-disciplinarians:

Wallace Stevens in his forties, living in Hartford, Connecticut, hewed to a productive routine. He rose at six, read for two hours, and walked another hour—three miles—to work. He dictated poems to his secretary. He ate no lunch; at noon he walked for another hour, often to an art gallery. He walked home from work—another hour. After dinner he retired to his study; he went to bed at nine. On Sundays, he walked in the park. I don’t know what he did on Saturdays. Perhaps he exchanged a few words with his wife, who posed for the Liberty dime. (One would rather read these people, or lead their lives, than be their wives. When the Danish aristocrat Wilhelm Dinesen shot birds all day, drank schnapps, napped, and dressed for dinner, he and his wife had three children under three. The middle one was Karen.)


Jack London claimed to write twenty hours a day. Before he undertook to write, he obtained the University of California course list and all the syllabi; he spent a year reading the textbooks in philosophy and literature. In subsequent years, once he had a book of his own under way, he set his alarm to wake him after four hours’ sleep. Often he slept through the alarm, so, by his own account, he rigged it to drop a weight on his head. I cannot say I believe this, though a novel like The Sea-Wolf is strong evidence that some sort of weight fell on his head with some sort of frequency – but you wouldn’t think a man would claim credit for it. London maintained that every writer needed a technique, experience, and a philosophical position.

At the heart of these anecdotes of living is a dynamic contemplation of life itself:

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading – that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?

The Writing Life is sublime in its entirety, the kind of book that stays with you for lifetimes.

In China, fake European wine more worrying than tariffs

In China, fake European wine more worrying than tariffs

The amount of knock-offs on the market may increase as Beijing investigates wine imports from the European Union. -Reuters
Terril Yue Jones
Sun, Jun 09, 2013

BEIJING – Bruno Paumard, the cellar master at a vineyard in China, can’t stop laughing while describing a bottle of supposedly French wine a friend gave him two years ago. It’s white wine, with a label proclaiming it is from the vineyards of Romanee-Conti, the bottle bearing the logo that is on bottles of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, and declares its origin as Montpellier in southern France. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, better known for highly prized and highly priced vintages from France’s Burgundy region, makes only a tiny amount of white wine, labelled Montrachet. It has nothing to do with the equally prestigious Lafite, which is from the Bordeaux region, and neither brand is produced anywhere near Montpellier. “It’s the most magnificent example of a hijacked brand of wine I’ve ever seen,” says Paumard, who works with Chateau Hansen in China’s Inner Mongolia. “It doesn’t get better than that.” Read more of this post

Mobile gaming still eludes a troubled industry

Mobile gaming still eludes a troubled industry

7:07am EDT

By Malathi Nayak

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – To get a sense of how investors view the promise of mobile gaming, one need look no further than Japan’s GungHo Online Entertainment. With just one game under its belt, its stock has risen tenfold since October and its market cap almost equals that of decades-old Nintendo.

From veterans like Electronic Arts to rising stars such as “Clash of Clans” maker Supercell, the $66 billion video game industry is scrambling to devise games and experimenting with ways to appeal to a generation of players that spends more time on mobile devices than on computers or consoles. Read more of this post

How do you build a culture of innovation? Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, describes why empathy is an important part of the equation

How do you build a culture of innovation?

by SHANE PARRISH on JUNE 2, 2013

How does a successful company maintain a climate in which new ideas and risk-taking are encouraged? In this interview, Tim Brown, CEO and president of the design consultancy IDEO, describes how he thinks about innovation and why empathy is an important part of the equation. Organizations are well intentioned. They put people in charge of innovation. They hold meetings on innovation. They mandate innovation. Yet, despite all of these words and actions, to no one’s surprise, they largely fail to innovate. That’s because innovation is cultural. A 2009 study in the Journal of Marketing set out to identify the factors that predicated whether a firm would innovate or not. While there are a lot of variables at play, the study found, the most important driver of innovation was internal corporate culture. An article in Sloan MIT Management Review identifies a series of “building blocks” for an innovative culture, including hard-to-measure characteristics such as values, behavior, and climate. “An innovative climate,” the authors write, “cultivates engagement and enthusiasm, challenges people to take risks within a safe environment, fosters learning, and encourages independent thinking.” Here’s the transcript of the Interview with Tim Brown. Read more of this post

How to Make Mistakes; “Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are.”

How to Make Mistakes

by SHANE PARRISH on JUNE 6, 2013

In Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking, Daniel Dennett, one of the world’s leading philosophers offers a trove of mind-stretching thought experiments, which he calls “imagination-extenders and focus-holders” (intuition pumps). They allow us to “think reliably and even gracefully about really hard questions.”

The first intuition pump is on mistakes.

History Rhymes

The history of philosophy is in large measure the history of very smart people making very tempting mistakes, and if you don’t know the history, you are doomed to making the same darn mistakes all over again.


Mistakes are not just opportunities for learning; they are, in an important sense, the only opportunity for learning or making something truly new. Before there can be learning, there must be learners. There are only two non-miraculous ways for learners to come into existence: they must either evolve or be designed and built by learners that evolved. Biological evolution proceeds by a grand, inexorable process of trial and error — and without the errors the trials wouldn’t accomplish anything.

Evolution is the Enabling Process of Knowledge

Evolution is one of the central themes of this book, as all my books, for the simple reason that it is the central, enabling process not only of life but also of knowledge and learning and understanding. If you attempt to make sense of the world of ideas and meanings, free will and morality, art and science and even philosophy itself without a sound and quite detailed knowledge of evolution, you have one hand tied behind your back. … For evolution, which knows nothing, the steps into novelty are blindly taken by mutations, which are random copying “errors” in DNA.

The Key to Good Mistakes

The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are. The fundamental reaction to any mistake ought to be this: “Well, I won’t do that again!” Natural selection doesn’t actually think the thought; it just wipes out the goofers before they can reproduce; natural selection won’t do that again, at least not as often. Animals that can learn—learn not to make that noise, touch that wire, eat that food—have something with a similar selective force in their brains. (B. F. Skinner and the behaviorists understood the need for this and called it “reinforcement” learning; that response is not reinforced and suffers “extinction.”) We human beings carry matters to a much more swift and efficient level. We can actually think the thought, reflecting on what we have just done: “Well, I won’t do that again!” And when we reflect, we confront directly the problem that much be solved by any mistake-maker: what, exactly, is that? What was it about what I just did that got me into all this trouble? The trick is to take advantage of the particular details of the mess you’ve made, so that your next attempt will be informed by it and not just another blind stab in the dark. Read more of this post

Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being; Feeling sad, mad, critical or otherwise awful? Surprise: negative emotions are essential for mental health

Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being

Feeling sad, mad, critical or otherwise awful? Surprise: negative emotions are essential for mental health

By Tori Rodriguez  | Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | 40

A client sits before me, seeking help untangling his relationship problems. As a psychotherapist, I strive to be warm, nonjudgmental and encouraging. I am a bit unsettled, then, when in the midst of describing his painful experiences, he says, “I’m sorry for being so negative.”

A crucial goal of therapy is to learn to acknowledge and express a full range of emotions, and here was a client apologizing for doing just that. In my psychotherapy practice, many of my clients struggle with highly distressing emotions, such as extreme anger, or with suicidal thoughts. In recent years I have noticed an increase in the number of people who also feel guilty or ashamed about what they perceive to be negativity. Such reactions undoubtedly stem from our culture’s overriding bias toward positive thinking. Although positive emotions are worth cultivating, problems arise when people start believing they must be upbeat all the time. Read more of this post

Can Positive Thinking Be Negative? Research suggests limits to looking on the sunny side of life

Can Positive Thinking Be Negative?

Research suggests limits to looking on the sunny side of life

By Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz  | Tuesday, June 7, 2011 | 9

“Accentuate the positive,” the 1944 song by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen cheerfully implored us. From Benjamin Franklin’s 1750 Poor Richard’s Almanack(which advised readers that “sorrow is good for nothing but sin”) to today’s parade of motivational speakers, Americans have long embraced an optimistic, “can-do” attitude toward life. Plug “positive thinking” into, and you will find a never-ending supply of products designed to help us see life through rose-colored lenses, including a “Power of Positive Thinking” wall calendar and an “Overcoming Adversity with Encouragement and Affirmation” poster series.

In fact, however, positivity is not all it is cracked up to be. Although having an upbeat attitude undoubtedly has its benefits, gains such as better health and wealth from high spirits remain largely undemonstrated. What is more, research suggests that optimism can be detrimental under certain circumstances. Read more of this post

Demand For Lunch with Warren Buffett Crashes By 71% As Charity Lunch Raises Least In 6 Years

Demand For Warren Buffett’s Company Crashes By 71% As Charity Lunch Raises Least In 6 Years

Tyler Durden on 06/08/2013 12:20 -0400

Warren Buffet Glide Foundation Lunch_0

Demand for Warren Buffett, the investor, peaked in 2012 when an anonymous donor bid $3,456,789 for the annual Glide Foundation’s eBay lunch with the Octogenarian of Omaha. Demand for Warren Buffett, 82, the Obama tax and fairness advisor, however, is a mere fraction as the stunned Glide Foundation found out last night when the final bid for the “Power Lunch for 8 with Warren Buffett to Benefit GLIDE Foundation” auction closed at the lowest possible 6 digit increment, or an embarrassing $1,000,100. This was the lowest demand to have lunch with Buffett since 2007.This is a stunning result considering that with every passing year, for obvious reasons, the likelihood of many more such “power lunches” drops exponentially. We hope Buffett-demand is not a proxy leading indicator for the stock market or else a 71% plunge is coming. The San Francisco Business Times reports on the stunned response:

Glide stunned as Warren Buffett lunch raises just $1 million

The last few minutes of bidding for the annual charity lunch with Warren Buffett are normally happy ones for supporters of San Francisco’s Glide Foundation. In recent years, last-minute bidding has regularly pushed the price to record levels. Last year’s lunch for eight almost tripled in the final minute of bidding, closing at $3.46 million. With bidding nearing the $1 million mark by mid-afternoon Friday, expectations ran high that the lunch with the Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO could cross $4 million for the first time. But as the auction closed at just $1,000,100, some attending the invitation-only countdown party at Restaurant Lulu in San Francisco could be heard speculating that a glitch must have occurred. At the party, I asked Alan Marks, eBay’s communications chief, about the possibility of a glitch. He defended the integrity of the auction. Read more of this post

The business lessons behind Disney’s magical experiences

The business lessons behind Disney’s magical experiences

Caitlyn Coverly, Special to Financial Post | 13/06/07 | Last Updated:13/06/06 12:16 PM ET

Premiere Of Disneyland's "Mickey And The Magical Map" New Stage Show

Michael Colglazier, President of Disneyland Resort, speaks prior to the premiere of Disney’s new stage show “Mickey and the Magical Map” at Disneyland on May 23, 2013 in Anaheim, California.

Last week, 250 GTA business professionals participated in “Disney’s Approach to Business Excellence,” an all day workshop offered through the Disney Institute and organized by McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business in partnership with the Certified General Accountants of Ontario (CGA).

Workshop attendees watched case studies, answered questions, and participated in several group exercises led by Bryan Tabler and Amy Rossi, two facilitators from the Disney Institute and veteran employees of Disney.  The goal of the day was to learn the strategies Disney believes are key to the successful maintenance of The Walt Disney Company. These strategies are regarded as Disney’s five universal assets of a successful business — also known as the Disney Chain of Excellence — made up of leadership excellence, cast excellence, guest satisfaction and financial results/repeat business. Read more of this post

Truly Great Companies Add More Than They Extract

JUNE 7, 2013, 11:52 AM

Truly Great Companies Add More Than They Extract


Perhaps no business consultant enjoys higher esteem in the corporate world than Jim Collins. Over three decades, he has sold millions of copies of his books describing the characteristics of what he terms “great” companies. It is hard not to admire his diligence. Along with a large team of researchers, Mr. Collins spends years gathering evidence and analyzing companies. The primary measure he uses for greatness is how well a company performs for its shareholders over a given period of time. The problem – as we have all been warned – is that past financial performance is no guarantee of future results.

For “Good to Great,” his most successful book, published in 2001, Mr. Collins selected 11 companies as truly elite performers. They included Circuit City (now bankrupt and defunct); Fannie Mae (taken over by the government in 2008 after huge mortgage losses); Pitney Bowes, whose stock has progressively tanked over the last decade; and Altria, the world’s largest tobacco company, which has actually performed well in the marketplace, but earns its revenues almost exclusively from a product that causes five million deaths a year. In “Great by Choice,” published in 2011, Mr. Collins and a co-author, Morten T. Hansen, call out seven companies for “spectacular” results – outperforming the overall stock market and their industry competitors by at least 10 times over a 15-year period. They also set up comparisons with companies in the same industries that performed markedly less well. The most striking comparison involves Microsoft, which Mr. Collins and Mr. Hansen identify as a great performer, and Apple, which they cite as the comparative laggard. Yes, you read that right. Here’s why: the 15-year period the authors happened to examine was 1987 to 2002.

How could so much research miss the mark by so far? Read more of this post

Look How Much Richer You Would Be If You Bought Company Stock Instead Of Products

Look How Much Richer You Would Be If You Bought Company Stock Instead Of Products

Mandi Woodruff | Jun. 8, 2013, 11:39 AM | 27,001 | 4

Whether it’s the latest iGadget or a hot new car, as consumers, we’re always scrambling for dibs on the “next big thing” in stores. But what if we put that money toward stock in the companies behind our favorite products instead? That’s a question recently explored by the Online Trading Academy. With the benefit of hindsight, their team has taken a look back in time to see what might have happened if we’d ditched the supermarket and invested in the stock market.

In 1990, Apple peddled the Macintosh Classic for $1,500. That much cash in Apple stock would have earned you $98,606 today.

Adjusted stock price in 1990: $6.45

Stock Price on April 5, 2013: $423.20

In 1986, the revolutionary Microsoft Windows 2.0 sold for $100. But if you’d put the money directly into company stock instead, today you’d have $11,480.

Adjusted stock price in 1986: $0.25

Stock price on April 5, 2013: $28.70

In 1985, if you chose to invest $200 in Best Buy Stock, instead of splurging on a Sony Walkman for the same price, you would have $36,343 today.

Adjusted in 1985: $0.14

Stock price on April 5, 2013: $25.45

Forty years ago, you could have dropped $460 on an IBM personal typewriter. But you would have made $38,113 if you’d invested that cash in IBM stock instead.

Adjusted stock price in 1962: $2.52

Stock price on April 5, 2013: $209.41

In 1984, a high-end riding lawn mower from Home Depot would have set you back $2,595. A better idea would have been to put that money in stocks and walk away with $699,199 today.

Adjusted stock price in 1984: $0.26

Stock price on April 5, 2013: $70.06

In 1968, if you stuck with your old fridge in lieu of a $500 GE refrigerator and invested that money in stock instead, you would have $47,763 today.

Adjusted stock price in 1968: $0.24

Stock price on April 5, 2013: $22.93

Walmart charged $15.95 for a toaster in 1972. With that cash in Walmart stock instead, you would have earned $30,403 today.

Adjusted stock price in 1972: $0.04

Stock price on April 5, 2013: $76.39

In 1982, you could have ruled the roads in a $6,572 Ford Mustang. A savvier spender would have put that money into Ford itself, and walked away with $314,433 today.

Adjusted stock price in 1982: $0.26

Stock price on April 5, 2013: $12.44

You couldn’t keep Nike Air Jordan’s on shelves back in the late ’80s. But if you saved that $65 and put it in Nike stock instead, you’d have $9,789 to show for it today.

Adjusted stock price in 1987: $0.39

Stock Price on April 5, 2013: $58.97

If you’d had the forethought to invest your annual coffee money ($520) in Starbucks stock in 1992, you’d have enough to buy a franchise of your own: $46,934.

Adjusted stock price in 1992: $0.64

Stock Price on April 5, 2013: $57.80

In 1970, you could have fed Big Macs to a family of four for $2.20. If only you’d put that money in McDonald’s stock instead, you’d have a cool $1,116 today.

Adjusted stock price in 1970: $0.20

Stock price on April 5, 2013: $101.42

Welcome return of bond volatility

June 7, 2013 5:24 pm

Welcome return of bond volatility

By Michael Mackenzie in New York

Long a benign indicator, the temperature gauge of the US bond market is flashing on the dashboards of investors; volatility is back and it should be welcomed not feared. Thanks to the Federal Reserve staking out a flexible approach to scaling back its $85bn a month bond-buying programme, bond prices have been fluctuating to a degree not seen since the US debt ceiling fracas during the summer of 2011. Trading in currencies, equities and emerging markets has also felt the lash from bigger swings this week, leading up to the release of employment data on Friday. The creation of 175,000 new jobs last month only fans uncertainty as to when the Fed may look to reduce its hefty bond buying later in the year. It means the turmoil we have seen across markets is not going to fade any time soon as investors take a hard look at their bond portfolios. This is particularly so as their benchmark, the Barclays US Aggregate Index, has registered a slide of around 1 per cent, its worst performance at this stage of the year since the savage bear market of 1994. Read more of this post

Inflation figures for services reflect different economic trend than those for goods

Inflation: Beyond goods and people

Jun 5th 2013, 17:11 by R.A. | WASHINGTON

THE datasphere is bursting with inflation indexes (inflation inflation?). The Bureau of Labour Statistics provides consumer and producer prices while the Bureau of Economic Analysis gives us all manner of deflators. There are headline and core series (the latter stripping out especially volatile prices). One can look at price indexes for personal consumption expenditures (PCE), core PCE, “market-based” PCE, and core market-based PCE. There are chained indexes. The Cleveland Fed computes up median and “16% trimmed-mean” CPI. These different indexes provide a check on each other, and are often good at highlighting particular sorts of trends in the data. And new research by economists at the New York Fed suggests another way of chopping up inflation figures that looks especially informative. As it turns out, goods prices and services prices tend to behave very differently, with important implications for macroeconomic policy. A post at the New York Fed’s Liberty Street blog discusses the issue. You can see the divergence in core goods inflation and core services inflation in the chart below:

goodsandservices Read more of this post

China’s foreign ports: The new masters and commanders; China’s growing empire of ports abroad is mainly about trade, not aggression

China’s foreign ports: The new masters and commanders; China’s growing empire of ports abroad is mainly about trade, not aggression

Jun 8th 2013 | COLOMBO |From the print edition


FROM the ground, Colombo’s port does not look like much. Those entering it are greeted by wire fences, walls dating back to colonial times and security posts. For mariners leaving the port after lonely nights on the high seas, the delights of the B52 Night Club and Stallion Pub lie a stumble away. But viewed from high up in one of the growing number of skyscrapers in Sri Lanka’s capital, it is clear that something extraordinary is happening: China is creating a shipping hub just 200 miles from India’s southern tip.

The old port is cramped and stuffed full of containers. To its left, a vast new breakwater curves into the ocean. Alongside it a Chinese ship has just delivered three giant Chinese cranes (see picture) to a new container terminal built by a Chinese company and run by an entity controlled by another Chinese firm. The terminal opens in July and will be complete in April 2014. The old port took centuries to reach its present capacity. China will have almost doubled it in under 30 months. Operated at full capacity, it would make Colombo one of the world’s 20 biggest container ports. Read more of this post

Winners and Losers in the Coming Super-Network War


Winners and Losers in the Coming Super-Network War


Ciena, Cisco, Oracle, and F5 Networks could benefit as a battle looms between content and distribution.

The 17% surge in shares of networking-equipment firm Ciena (ticker: CIEN) last Thursday, following better-than-expected fiscal second-quarter earnings, was no doubt driven by some of the animal spirits lately boosting tech stocks. But the surge was not entirely adrenaline-based.

The network—the very “pipes” that carry the data, along with the software directing it, whether on the global Internet or a small corporate network—will play an increasingly pivotal role in commerce and work and play, particularly as a dramatic new age of content and services unfolds. Read more of this post

Cloud Computing and the Changing Role of the CIO

June 7, 2013, 12:44 PM ET

Cloud Computing and the Changing Role of the CIO

Irving Wladawsky-Berger

Last week I wrote about the 2013 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium which I recently attended. The Symposium included a number of talks and panels on the key issues facing CIOs, as every business is essentially becoming a digital business. Big Data and cloud were the most prominent transformative technologies discussed at the Symposium. My remarks last week were focused on Big Data. I now want to turn my attention to cloud computing, and its impact as a key driver of the changing role of the CIO.

These days, few question the importance of cloud to individuals, companies of all sizes and the economy in general. In a just published report by the McKinsey Global Institute, “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy,” cloud is listed as one of 12 technologies with significant potential to drive economic impact and disruption by 2025.  The report said: Read more of this post

One Company’s Trash Is Another’s Treasure; Clean Harbors’ growing dominance of the hazardous-waste-disposal business has helped drive 20% annual revenue growth for a decade


One Company’s Trash Is Another’s Treasure



Clean Harbors’ growing dominance of the hazardous-waste-disposal business has helped drive 20% annual revenue growth for a decade. Why the stock could rise 45%.

Clean Harbors has gotten awfully good at fixing other people’s problems. The hazardous-waste manager spent months in the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April 2010. The company laid booms in the Gulf to contain oil, cleaned beaches and scrubbed ships before they headed back to the Mississippi. Clean Harbors (ticker: CLH) made $220 million for its efforts. It played a similar, though less lucrative role, after Hurricane Sandy flooded refineries near New York and New Jersey. Clean Harbors has a long history with America’s least desirable waste. It helps manufacturers, energy firms and chemical companies dispose of their everyday byproducts, stuff that’s classified as hazardous by federal and state officials. And it has a pretty tight grip on the market; the company handles about 70% of U.S. hazardous waste sent to incinerators and 20% sent to landfills. As long as it’s not radioactive, Clean Harbors can take it. The diverse capabilities sets the company apart even from giants like Waste Management (WM), which doesn’t have the incinerators required for some types of hazardous material. Nor is there much competition on the horizon; U.S. regulators haven’t authorized a new hazardous incinerator or landfill in nearly two decades. Read more of this post

US spends at least $80bn a year on intelligence alone, which is more than the defence budgets of all but a handful of countries.

June 7, 2013 5:53 pm

Data intelligence complex is the real story

By Edward Luce in Washington

More than half a century ago, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans of the dangers posed by the country’s growing “military-industrial complex” – a phrase that entered instantly into everyday language. “The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government,” the outgoing Republican president said. “We must be alert to the … danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.” Ike was chiefly warning about the power of the Pentagon and the big defence companies that had grown up around it. Today his prescience would be applied to America’s vast army of federally-employed data analysts and the hundreds of software companies they employ. The US spends at least $80bn a year on intelligence alone, which is more than the defence budgets of all but a handful of countries. Read more of this post

For Retirees, a Million-Dollar Illusion; The topsy-turvy world of the markets — particularly the ultralow yield of bonds — is upending what many people thought they knew about saving for retirement

June 8, 2013

For Retirees, a Million-Dollar Illusion


A MILLION dollars isn’t what it used to be.

In 1953, when “How to Marry a Millionaire” was in movie theaters, $1 million bought the equivalent of $8.7 million today. Now $1 million won’t even buy an average Manhattan apartment or come remotely close to paying the average salary of an N.B.A. basketball player. Still, $1 million is more money than 9 in 10 American families possess. It may no longer be a symbol of boundless wealth, but as a retirement nest egg, $1 million is relatively big. It may seem like a lot to live on. But in many ways, it’s not. Inflation isn’t the only thing that’s whittled down the $1 million. The topsy-turvy world of today’s financial markets — particularly, the still-ultralow interest rates in the bond market — is upending what many people thought they understood about how to pay for life after work. “We’re facing a crisis right now, and it’s going to get worse,” said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “Most people haven’t saved nearly enough, not even people who have put away $1 million.” Read more of this post

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