Saying Goodbye To Your Car – Buying A New One

I’ve been thinking about this idea of saying goodbye to your car for a while and when I just read this post about selling a Volvo and buying a new Prius, I thought I’d share my thoughts also.

I traded in my 2001 Saab 9-3 SE last month on a shiny new electric car: A Chevy Volt. More on the Volt later.

I found the process of deciding on a new car and going through the purchase process much more difficult now than I did 8 years ago. Part of the reason was that the Saab was the first car that I ever owned that I really loved. And part of the reason was that there are no cars on the market that did what the Saab did as well as it did them for the price.

I know that Saabs are not known as popular cars. They’re quirky and sometimes unreliable but for the quirky girl that I am, my car was perfect. Here’s why:

  • In a time when oil & gas were cheap the 9-3 had an average of 25 mpg (28 hwy) and carried 4 people easily with plenty of room for luggage/stuff in the trunk.
  • In a time when big engines were becoming more popular for more power, the Saab had a small 2 liter engine with a powerful turbo that engaged with a sport button. Giving you lots of power on demand without sacrificing fuel efficiency.
  • It was an elegantly designed car. The interior was both sporty and had burl-wood on the dashboard, a great balance to have.
  • And most of all, those clever Swedish engineers allowed the back seats to fold down, and sloped the back window all the way to the bumper to add a hatch. This made the car as effective as a station wagon at hauling things, and I made use of it!  So many sedans have a back window design that could accommodate this, and yet they don’t design hatches on them. So frustrating.

There were negatives to the car too. The SAAB did break down in really weird ways and at the end had an unknown unsolvable electrical problem that drove me to the brink of screaming-anger when it would leave me stranded for 30-60 minutes while doing errands.  It was like flipping a coin on whether the car would start if it was still warm from driving, and it kept getting more frequent. And my brother kept saying my car was “Borked”, like the SAAB company. Heckling never helps even when it includes Muppet references. The rust on the fenders and bottoms of the doors was just annoying.

I really struggled to find a car I liked for a long time. The used car market where I usually look was decimated by the cash for clunkers program and a lot of natural disasters leading to smashed cars. Also cars 3-5 years old didn’t have great fuel efficiency. I was left with only new cars as choices for the first time in my life. I needed something innovative and revolutionary to talk me out of my attachment to the SAAB.

I considered the Buick Regal since it has a turbo charged GS version, although at the time I was looking, it was not available. It is an attractive car, similar gas mileage as what I had and in the right price range. I unfortunately found the local Buick dealer was inexcusably rude and the car felt small and the interior wasn’t very elegant. It would have been an OK choice, but it didn’t feel like something I would love for 10 years.

Buick Regal GS 2013 in Red via Motor Trend Online Magazine

I considered buying one of the new old stock SAABs shipped over from Sweden on a suggestion from my brother. Someone bought the one I was considering in Chicago while I was trying to transfer funds to buy it. I worked through a deal with a dealer in another state to buy and ship a beautiful chestnut brown one, but couldn’t sign the papers when I read how excluded everything was from the 3rd party warranty and how SAAB/GM held no responsibility for this quirky 9-5 at a pretty high price and no MPG gains over the old one.

Saab 9-5 Brown Auto Show via Flickr

I briefly considered a suggestion from a dealer of an Infinity sedan because Consumer Reports really likes their quality and the cars are elegant. But the gas mileage sucked.

Infiniti G37 Sedan in Grey

Soooo… I came back to the car I had been watching develop for a long time. The Volt.

I was initially very excited about the car when it was a concept.

Then when I saw the real deal, I was not impressed. It looked cheap and somewhat Delorean back to the future-ish.

chevy volt concept vs reality car - the truth hurts

Then I saw the price. Woah, no way.

Then we heard about the government rebates and sat in a Volt a year later at the auto show. (the first year you couldn’t get close enough to see them). The car was more elegant on the inside than the outside. And it was a practical 5 door.

So we went back and payed more than the car should really be priced at, for the size and looks of it, but we admitted we were paying for the technology development and the novelty of it being new and not so much for the car itself.

Chevy Volt 2013

Am I happy with the Chevy Volt? Yes, it does impress me in different ways than the SAAB did. I don’t spew emissions when I’m driving most of the time now and its a lot faster than people think. I still spend most of my time driving in the left lane and I think its important for people to see an electric car in the left lane passing them. This car is very quick, capable and fun to drive. (sporty) Sure, I sacrifice some battery life driving that way, but I’m still way ahead of the efficiency I had before.

What are the drawbacks other than the price? The trunk is really small. The radio doesn’t have that DVR rewind feature that the Buicks have. It costs more than most luxury cars it doesn’t look like one, and it has the same brand badge as a really cheap Sonic.

Brand aside, the Volt is the best car for us for the next 5-10 years. As gas prices continue to rise and my job will be moving from 25 miles away to 50 miles away I needed a fuel efficient car that I would still be able to put a baby seat in and have the capability to answer the phone wirelessly with Bluetooth. And its a revolutionary technology platform for a car. I like things that are different when they’re really better and I think this car really works.

2013 chevy volt red driving fast in left lane passing all the priuses

My husband likes it a lot too but I think we may need a larger vehicle for kid related stuff so we need GM to make a larger version of the Volt before we buy another one. And he isn’t really ready to say goodbye to his blue 1998 Acura Integra GSR either. He may possibly be more attached to his car than I was to mine.

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Saving Your Yard In A Summer Drought

I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to save my yard, landscaping and trees from the summer drought we are having (July 2012) and I thought I would share what has been working and not working so far.

usa drought map july 2012, its hot!

We had an early spring this year and yet very little rain. This has been a much larger issue for farmers in the Midwest but as an average homeowner I’m not happy about the weather either.

We have tried several ways of keeping our yard alive and green and these are the results.

1. Underground sprinkling system. We bought the house knowing it had a sprinkling system and then didn’t use it for 2 years. By chance, we decided to fork over a lot of $ to have it hooked up this year and then paid again for the control box to be replaced. After all that how well does it work? Eh, not great. Its a lot of money for spraying a lot of water into the air. We still get brown spots where there are gaps in the area sprayed, and I battle certain spray nozzles that soak the roses when the wind blows, therefore defoliating them with black-spot. I don’t recommend this option if you don’t happen to have one installed in the yard already. I think there are better options out there.

2. Soak hoses. We decided early on to invest in some really long soaker hoses. The kind that have permeable membranes rather than the ones that spray in several directions like a sprinkler. We wound them around the landscaping in the front, the roses in the back and the perennials at the base of our lot. We then covered them with mulch and you can’t see anything there at all.

hose connector splitter lawn sprinklers

The key to using soaker hoses is to use a splitter connector at the faucet. (we got ours at Meijer, they come with 2 or 4 connections) This way you can have the soak hose and regular hose connected at all times and there are switches on both ends of the splitter so they can run at the same time or individually. We also leave the soak hose at the base of the lot 365 days a year and just run a regular hose out to it across the lawn when we need to water.

We have come home many times and just switched on the soak hoses around the landscaping and then went on with other things while they ran for 2-3 hours. Plants like hydrangeas and ferns really need this because their roots are very shallow. Also, if your trees are less than 5 years old they probably have shallow roots and can’t reach a reliable water source yet. Help them out with a soak hose in your landscaping around the tree drip line or a regular watering.

If you’re really tech savvy you can buy a programmable electric control box for your hose system/network and set them to run on a schedule. You can even have small connectors from the soak hose set up to water pots individually. We’re not that clever and we just turn them on and off as needed.

3. The good old rotating/oscillating sprinkler. These are still the simplest and best solution for watering a large area without wasting water. The water spray is heavier so less evaporates, you control when its on and off and where you are watering. Yes you do have to go move it every hour or so, but if it isn’t a drought you don’t have to do this every week. They waste a lot less water than in ground sprinkling systems. Remember that trees need water too. If you have some shade in your yard remember to water there even if its green since the trees need water in the heat. If your leaves are turning brown and falling off it is dangerously dry and needs more water. Don’t let it get that far. You can use a splitter at the spigot to run 2 hoses with sprinklers at the same time if you have a small parkway space to water and don’t want to be up all night.

it gets the corners rotating sprinkler vintage etsy

4. Succulents. I experimented with more succulents in pots on our deck this summer because I thought they looked pretty cool. What I found was that they are perfect for a drought because they’re from the dry southwest. I have some other pots with geraniums and coleus but they’re covered by the front porch most of the day and not in full sun. The succulents are basically cacti without thorns and they are the only things surviving without water this summer in the hot 100+ degree Chicago heat.

Weight Loss Strategies & Thoughts

sparkling water bottle for weight loss success stories blog post lemonI have been on a bit of a weight loss journey for the last few months and I finally have had enough success to blog about it.

After I tried a round of IVF in February (it failed) I found that I had gained another 5 lbs on top of the 20 or so pounds I had gained from the time I got married in July 2009.

The IVF hormones and drugs seemed to make me puff up around the middle and I am sure that there was some stress eating along the way also.

I had been battling my lifestyle, stress and eating behavior for years thinking that just changing one thing, or giving up one key item would be the turning point to weight loss success. Boy was I wrong. People who say that are lying.

I had been pretty successful at losing weight when I needed to earlier in life. Once in high school (90’s) while very active in sports and discovering lean cuisine and diet coke and another time in my 20s while dancing up to 7 days a week (2000’s).

Now in 2012 with a sedentary desk job that demanded hours of excel analysis and implementation and a husband/home/cats/yard to take care of I had given up all of my personal interests and hobbies. Yep, every single one of them. I had no way to exercise and no time.

I finally have had some weight loss success because of several factors coming together to change a lot of things in my life. Like hundreds of things. Lifestyle change isn’t really the right word for it, it is more like millions of really small decisions adding up every day. I don’t actually feel like my lifestyle is any different. I am not sure how much of your lifestyle is really about food anyway.

Some of these changes were:

1. I was diagnosed with ADHD, documented by years of childhood report cards with attention issues. Medication helps me concentrate and stick to things until I get them finished, and keeping the long term goal in mind has always been a problem for me with weight loss. Some people may cry foul because many ADHD meds do lessen appetite, but I counter that with the fact that my stomach still growls if I am hungry while taking it. I just eat a more normal amount and I don’t use food as a stress reliever as much since I’m less frazzled in the first place.

2. I mostly gave up cooking, and certainly the idea that I had to provide my husband with a fancy full course dinner several times a week. (I never cooked before we were married) This led to less groceries being bought, less exotic ingredients in the house, less opportunity to snack. Less choice in the matter of snacking. And fewer trips to the store, which are tempting within themselves. I also canceled all those email recipe newsletters, unsubscribed to the food blogs and droped the idea that desert was needed at all. It actually gives me more time to do other things if I don’t have to always be meal planning, cooking, cleaning and prepping. I have a few staple things I still make, (roast chicken, onion/green pepper/mushroom omelette with egg beaters, quinoa veg salad, organic cornbread) but overall the cooking is much less frequent.

3. I reduced portion size by half. It is important and needed its own mention separate from the previous item on the list. Small plates help but someone isn’t going to lose weight on that method alone as certain statistical studies and books suggest. Basically I have the slowest metabolism in the world so my body can make a tiny bit of food last forever. It may have been an evolutionary bonus but now its a huge negative. I probably live on 1000 calories a day because I don’t exercise. There has also been research lately that states that people who have been overweight have cells that have a history of expecting overeating and slow processing. My take on that is I will always have to eat less than my contemporaries because of my history and extra slow metabolism.

4. I don’t eat breakfast. All you breakfast eaters that hate my method can shove it. I know that my eating snowballs during the day. I start out with lots of motivation/focus and as I get more tired/frustrated/stressed I eat more. My resolve weakens. I also have a kind of weird rebound effect to eating where I get hungry again within 2 hours especially if it is sweet stuff. So why sabotage myself by eating first thing in the morning if I’m not hungry? My metabolism isn’t going to get jump started by eating but my stomach cravings will. Sometimes I wonder if this suggestion is deliberate sabotage by the skinny people of the world that seem to talk about food constantly and eat nothing. Here is an article stating that you never start burning fat reserves unless you fast for 12 hours.  

5. I don’t drink soda – I drink organic coffee with organic creamer in the morning (I guess instead of breakfast) and sparkling water the rest of the day. I’m not a big alcohol drinker so cutting that out is pretty much status quo for me. ( a 1/2 beer is enough to make me sleepy) I don’t think soda is inherently evil but I do think I can’t afford its calories and my teeth don’t need the sugar/nutrasweet. (just like most parents thought back in the 70’s when I was a kid). I don’t drink diet soda because my body was past the point of being tricked by sweet tasting stuff that has no actual nutritional value in it and my body was pissed. About an hour after drinking diet soda I get incredibly hungry and inhale just about any food around me because my stomach hurts so much. Sparkling water seems soda-ish enough with the carbonation, but not sweet or with any calories. (avoid the flavored waters with nutrasweet or splenda) Other people make their own infused waters with cucumber, mint or orange/lemon/lime. That is cool too but I’m not going to cut up produce and do dishes at work, so my sparkling mountain bottle just sits on my desk.

6. The only exercise I do occasionally get is yard work and walking. At first I had no stamina to do basic things like mow the lawn (it’s not self-propelled but still it isn’t like we live on a hill either). I did force myself to get through yard tasks whether I liked it or not because I am incredibly embarrassed if the yard looks bad. This is only really something I have time for on weekends so if I have a bonus of some time during the week I do walk around the subdivision. There is a 1 mile loop around it that takes about 45 minutes. I even go out after dark. No excuses. The dog walkers are still out there and the weather is nice in the evenings now that it is summer.

7. I don’t obsess over lunch. If I bring lunch it is a Tupperware of fruit (pineapple, grapes, oranges & apples) or something like broccoli salad. I have also learned that the potbelly chickpea salad is the healthiest thing within walking distance of the office. I also get chipotle burrito bowls from time to time but only eat half. And the rest is for dinner. I told you I could make a few calories go a long way.

8. I like organic products but I am wary of some since they seem to have more fat, sugar and calories than their non-organic counterparts. I think the organic decision is more about long term health and less processed food, fewer chemicals, fewer hormones and pesticides that you ingest to hopefully avoid cancer. This may be more meaningful for some than others depending on your genetics and other factors, but I just think its safer to minimize the risks a bit. Its impossible to go totally organic so I don’t try but when I find a good organic alternative I usually stick to it even if it is a bit more expensive. Just avoid the organic granola/energy bars. Some have as much fat as a big mac.

In summary it took a lot of changes and a lot of time but after 4 months I have lost 15 lbs (to fit into things I wore in 2009). My hope is to lose another 5 and I hope this blog post doesn’t jinx it!

Design Trends 2012: More reprocessing of the past

This article in Vanity Fair describes a design rut that we seem to be in at the moment.

I’m not sure I would describe it as a rut, but I think there is a lot of reprocessing going on.

You may wonder why I care.

I don’t work in design but I do have this habit of moving around a lot, and buying/selling/decorating houses so I can move seems to be my unofficial job. I also have 47 blogs in my RSS reader under the home/interior/design category that I have been using as resources for about 4 years. I see a LOT of design in order to have an opinion on it.

Looking at all these blogs, I have wondered how the 18-25 crowd looks at a lot of the resale stuff, clothing and music from years past as new. (anthology, lonny, backgarage are examples) I attribute this to a specific age group because that seems to be my observation from the bloggers but it could be more widespread.

I do think as a rule the younger generations tend to drive style & design innovations and it then travels through age brackets like waves. By the time it reaches the eldest brackets the youngest don’t want it anymore.

eddie izzard coolness circleIts like Eddie Izzard once said, things work in a circle: cool hip & groovy is right next to looking like a dickhead, but you can’t back into it, there is only one way around.

Some of my thoughts about this younger generation’s design mash ups:

  • They take furniture that my grandparents donated to charity years ago and call it mid-century modern and cool. I sometimes call this style “granny chic”. I make fun of it, but I do have a 1965 stereo credenza in my living room now.
  • Sometimes the rooms look like a 19th-20th century explosion with no 2 pieces with any similarity whatsoever. I sometimes think of it as the garage sale look. (I also have a mixed era home.)
  • This new generation takes jeans and sneakers from the 80’s and call them cool one day and wear bell bottoms from the 70’s the next. (This I can’t do)
  • They have convinced me that yellow gold colored jewelry is ok again after loathing it for about 20 years post 80’s. (about 75% of what I wear is yellow gold now)
  • They like 80’s music, and not really the stuff I feel nostalgic about.
  • The people who haven’t lived through much of the 20th century seem to be driving the rebirth and reprocessing of all the styles from that time.
  • It is also important to note that the millennial generation has the highest unemployment of any age bracket due to the recession. It may not be a surprise that they would think so differently about design/life and choices based on what they can afford and have experienced.

The vanity fair article cites several reasons for this design rut. One being a cultural overload where people just can’t process any more new information because the internet/call phones was too much! This may be true for the Boomer age groups but not the Genx-Millennial. I think the millennial is actually driving the design changes and for completely different reasons.

Does this drastic innovation make me less interested in new stuff? New design? More nostalgic for the past? Not at all.

I feel lucky that all the drastic innovation and change that is listed in the article happen just after I graduated high school. (internet, computers, cell phones, social networks, search engines) None of the available professions at the time really appealed to me so it makes sense that I now work in a field (internet marketing) that didn’t exist in 1993. I look at these radical changes as “normal” and something I need to and like to learn about.

I think there are other elements to this design nostalgia epidemic and reprocessing phenomenon.

1. It is easier and cheaper to reprocess than invent. This relates to my previous post about ROI being the only metric in business these days.  Society has no time for developing cutting edge design. Good ideas come at the sacrifice of time and a lot of re-dos, and time is expensive just like materials. And what materials are available now that weren’t 10-20 years ago? No real innovation there either. Things just keep getting made from cheaper less durable materials. The only R&D going on is how to make things cheaper that look good but fall apart quickly so the customers come back again to buy more. Plus we don’t have enough trees for everyone in the world to own teak/oak/mahogany furniture.

2. We have had a more documented history in the last century than ever before both through museums, video/audio, photographs and the family history of people passing down their personal stories while living much longer. We look back at history and think, boy they had it right.  Nothing is as elegant as how they designed things back then. And they took pictures in B&W, what an elegant design choice! You get reprocessed things like the PT Cruiser/Plymouth Prowler/Chevy SSR, Oxford Heels, Swing Dancing, Sailor Pants, Pea Coats, Red Lipstick/Bottle Blondes, Bombshell hair, Mad Men, Starburst Clocks and just about any kind of hat.

3. Law of diminishing returns: It is also more difficult to keep finding something “new” in design when we have to design so much more stuff. It is common for Americans to replace their entire closet of clothes every 3 years and retail stores have to replace everything on the sales floor every 6 weeks to seem “new” again. We kind of don’t respect good design, or any design. As a culture we want to throw it out as soon as we see it in too many places and be more unique again. Shows like Project Runway also show how anyone can be a designer with training and everyone gets more educated about what the demands of great design should be. This makes the general public much harder to impress.

4. At the same time a certain part of the population is sick of all the new-new-new and the churn that happens. We want useful, dependable, reliable and timelessly elegant.  We don’t have time to go shopping for things every 6 weeks in order to find those elusive great items at a great price before they’re sent off to the overstock stores. And of course when you do need something…you can’t find it anywhere because the supply chain in China didn’t anticipate that need 6-12 months ago, and it’s not “new”. I think some people literally choose to go retro because they see it as timeless. In many cases this is cheaper, more elegant and less work.

5. Globalization happened. We used to think it was quaint to go visit another country and come back with something to remember it by.  Now we see places all over the world in places other than World News Tonight or National Geographic. We see the world on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Imagur, Stumble Upon and Google. What used to be new to us is not all in mash up mode. We take the best of every era as well as every culture in our past to create this new hodgepodge mix that represents who we are. And everyone is more global now than we were 20 years ago. I have had fascination with Asian prints and Indian jewelry as much as Scandinavian furniture. We have bought most of our cars from other countries for a while. It is just lagging that the rest of the items we buy are more globally influenced too. I sometimes click to buy things on Etsy or from a blog link to a store and don’t notice that the store isn’t even in the USA until I see the shipping cost. Sometimes I buy it anyway, it is a rare moment to be unique in my neighborhood.

Lastly, we’ve seen the future before.

We grew up hoping for flying cars and they never showed up.

Our future can be found in watching FUTURAMA. Or Wall-E and  Idiocracy.

We know where things are going, and it seems more about recycling and less about space ships so I’m going to hang out with the millennials and see what else they come up with.

Is More Data Always Better?

google think magazine data overload obesity information ideas processing analysisThere has been a discovery in the online marketing and data/statistics world in the last few years. We have had more websites, products and tools created online than we can possibly keep track of. The terms to describe this deluge of activity we have been hearing the most are “data overload” and “information overload” from both companies and consumers. This Google Magazine uses the term Data Obesity to describe this phenomenon.

They ask the question, why is more data always better?

I think the idea of “more data us better” is common from people who lived before the Internet was prevalent. We had to work hard to find data. Researching something meant going to a library and looking in a card catalog (or maybe something called Gopher) and then finding your way around the Dewey decimal system to find that book. And then sometimes they didn’t even have the book because it was checked out or possibly it was just filed wrong because nobody understood the Dewey decimal system.

On a related note recently we got invited to my cousin’s wedding in Santa Fe New Mexico. My dad promptly went to the library and checked out 3 books on Santa Fe and New Mexico. I cringed. He asked how to find out the flights to book something without a travel agent. I realized I have been traveling since 2000 this way and he stopped traveling about that time so he never has. I introduced him to Travelocity, it was mind blowing and a bit of data overload compared with the OAG book he used to use in the 80’s.

The point here is that finding data was really difficult. People had control over its distribution because it was in print. When it became more freely accessible due to Google and other companies efforts we assumed this would be good, because people could remember where to find it and use it whenever we wanted. We never thought it would get this big so fast. Now travel sites are overwhelming, they have too many choices and there are too many of them trying to get you to opt into something you don’t want while being over charged for bringing a suitcase on a flight. This is just one example of how data has gone exponential so quickly.

Others of us have come to a data overload conclusion when they have 200 emails in several in-boxes, 1000+ rss reader posts from feeds waiting, several work projects, 500+ Facebook wall posts in their feed and hundreds of tweets that have gone un-read. This is among a climate where you have to follow-up with projects 5-10 times to get things done, post blogs/tweets/FB status updates daily to keep on people’s radar, empty the DVR so it doesn’t get overloaded and auto delete something you really wanted, listen to the radio on the way to work just in case something big happens and still find time to scoop the litter box before it gets full and the cats poop on the floor.

And the real purpose in all those tweets/FB posts and feeds is that you business changes yearly and if you don’t know about the latest trend and some real insights about it before your boss asks about it, you won’t have a job for all that long. (in digital marketing)

Having data overload be a “good” problem to have from some people’s perspective (as in that it is growth oriented). The democratization of publishing combined with tracking methodology and databases have all contributed to this problem, giving everyone a voice, a potential following of readers, a data trail to analyze and method to say something important online 24/7/365.  And then we have an even bigger problem of processing what is being said, figuring out if it is important or not and sharing/processing/saving it in some way if it is. Acting on that data is way down the line and many of us don’t even get there.

And this isn’t even the big problem with data overload. Where will we store it all? Why do tweets disappear from search so quickly? Because there are millions of them and the failwhale is full. According to the ThinkQuarterly UK, there are 800 Exabytes of data/information created every two days. It took humans from the beginning of civilization until 2003 to create the first 800 Exabytes, and we’re on a roll now.

Where does all this seemingly random data go? How will we know what it says without having to go into a database table and read specific field information? Where are the software tools to manage all this and still give humans the ability to customize the out put in ways that match the behavior or business purposes that we really need? Does any of this stuff ever get deleted?

These are all huge questions we have to answer as more people publish, share, create, track and do business online. We also have to weigh the possibilities of sharing data openly and locking it behind walls as well as how will people comprehensively find what they need when they want to as well as gauge the validity/accuracy of the information presented?

I’m betting on paid services for personal and business data management/archiving & Analysis tools. We will pay for good analysis, good data access & processing and good reliability/backups when we feel the pain of missing good insight, losing good data and just too much happening. Both personally and professionally. But unless you know how to work with SAP, SPSS, SQL, Oracle or a bunch of other systems data management is largely out of your control at this point. They are the librarians of our digital data and they need to find a workable way to Dewey decimal system it back into order and allow us to use it as humans need to.

Japanese Earthquake Tsunami Disaster is Different from Haiti

japanese earthquake nuclear reactor tsunami mapWithin a day after the Haiti Earthquake in January 2010 (7.0)there were celebrities on TV urging people to donate money to help those who were in need. Within a day of the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 we saw the same attention drawn to the even in the name of help for those in need. Both had telethons on television pleading with the public to donate millions of dollars to the relief efforts.

This time there is a very different mood in the USA a week after the 9.0 scale earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan. (2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami) There have been some Facebook/Twitter/Yahoo links to the red cross to donate but overall the donation numbers I have seen shown on U.S. sites were very low. We haven’t seen any celebrities saying that they have donated money to the cause and our own government isn’t really talking about loans or donations right now in our budget crisis (and yet they’re contemplating invading Libya at the same time). 

We’ve seen the news focus their coverage on the nuclear disaster that was the result of the loss of electricity during the earthquake and the loss of the backup generators because of the water/power of the tsunami. This combined with explosions that cracked containment vessels and a lot of hot spent fuel sitting around in 6 reactors has an enormous risk associated with it. Sure, that is the big-blockbuster-disaster-film story here, but it is not the largest problem facing Japan. The newscasters have a captive audience worldwide with this topic because this is the one issue that could affect people outside Japan.

It is a weird difference in opinion that Americans have about Japan compared with the past earthquakes/tsunamis/disasters in Indonesia & Haiti. At this point in time it surprises me greatly that Americans have issues with a country like Japan to the point that they do not want to help. It makes us look un-educated and small minded. I thought Americans would identify directly with the Japanese, like I do but I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that it is the case.

Some celebrities have been cited making rude jokes about the Earthquake/Tsunami within the last week and Gilbert Godfried was fired as the voice of the Aflac Duck (he needs to be retired anyway) because of rude and insensitive tweets he sent. 50 cent also has been criticized for his lack of understanding and even a government spokesperson in Mississippi had to resign over tasteless rude comments (not really surprising for Mississippi).

I was not always a huge fan of Japan. In the 1980’s I viewed them like many people did, as the reason that US car companies and manufacturing companies here were going out of business. There was the assumption that the Japanese were ruthless and as smart as robots and we felt threatened by that. Now we feel that way about China instead. (I do not feel that way about China though, one of my best friends is Chinese and I’ve spent a lot of time with her family for decades and could never think of them that way)

 In the last 30 years things have changed. I think Tokyo and most Japanese people share a lot of commonalities with us. They love their cell phones & gadgets as much as we do. We’ve adopted their Anime and Video gaming interests as mainstream. Toyota/Honda/Mitsubishi/Mazda sell more cars here than American companies do because people really like them and they’re innovating with hybrids and new ideas like Scion. (I don’t have the exact sales numbers for this, it is more my impression from seeing what is on the road in Chicago). Entire movies have been made about the following for Japanese imports (Fast & Furious) And who is going to give up their big screen TV or computer monitor from Samsung, Sony or NEC? Or their Wii?

But the real change in perception happened when people started liking Sushi. About 10 years ago Sushi started getting popular in Chicago. With it U.S. audiences began to discover the california roll, spicy tuna and the joy of Miso Soup. Along with our broadening pallets beyond teryaki we discovered udon noodles, bento boxes, tempura, sake, mochi and red bean ice cream. (red bean ice cream may also be Chinese, and it is better than the green tea flavor)

japanese sakura flowers white pink trees cherry blossomsWe also discovered through Flickr that Japanese people love their cats as much as we do (Junku) and Sakura is the cherry blossom festival each spring.  A blend of Asian styles from China, Japan and other areas is very popular right now in home decorating, emphasizing the strong minimalist lines of furniture pieces and the delicate organic patterned styles. We also share our love of all things digital with Japan. And who can forget Sanrio and the super-popular Hello Kitty and her cast of friends? Can you get any more cute and friendly than that?

So how did I overcome the feeling of competitive anxiety with Japan? By enjoying the exported food. And the rich culture of preparation that surrounds it that makes it unique and special. Exporting your culture really does change views that people have of your country around the world. Through this I have realized that the Japanese are competitive people, but they are also very nice people and respectful of us as a country too. I’ve come to the conclusion that we can learn a lot from them about managing large populations in small places (like Tokyo) and how to continue to innovate in industry, manufacturing and the economy.

So that is why it bothers me that the U.S. population is not really doing anything to help here. Sure, some closed-minded conservatives will always have rude views, but I really think the people in America should do something to help.

Instead of understanding that Japan is a nation of people with a lot more in common with us than most of the world, a large portion of the U.S. public continues to focus on the differences. The bottom line is that Japan is an industrial/manufacturing/technology based economy like ours. The average person in Japan is pretty well-educated on a world scale, like us.

In fact we really do depend on each other a lot, buying/selling from each other and sharing strong bonds of family and friends across borders. We can’t just stand by and watch these nuclear reactors go out of control and not think about the people who don’t have food, water or homes anymore. It is a disaster just like anywhere else in the world. And that world has gotten a whole lot smaller in the last 10 years with the internet, skype,  international business and Sushi. And we’re not doing enough to help.