Generation X Ascendant

Today I discovered a Washington Post article which argues that Generation X, now firmly in their forties, are wielding the levers of power in politics, technology, and business.   I think this is true in part, but the problem that we, as a generation have, is that the Boomers are still hanging on to many of the top jobs, and as a small generation, we will may be squeezed out early by the Millennials coming in behind us.  Lavanya Ramanathan‘s article in the post argues that the Generation X tends toward the libertarian and conservative.  I have mad a similar point wondering “where are the Gen X Democrats“.  A semi-rebuttal in The Washingtonian argues that Generation X isn’t that conservative, that there are some Democrats.  But I thin the point here is about the shift in which President various parts of Generation X identify with – with the older Reagan-inspired Generation Xers being more libertarian/republican, and the Clinton -ear younger Xers being a bit more Democrat leaning.  However, as I have noted, I really don’t see a lot of up and coming Democrats that are 35 – 51 at this point.  Look at the Democrat response to Trump’s address to Congress the other night!

At best, I think this is the Gen X moment to at least seize the middle management! And then after the Boomers, the deluge of Millennials.

The Moon(shot) is a Harsh Mistress

Last week brought news that Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, had died. Cernan’s mission, Apollo 17, is the only actual moonshot that I have any memories of.  By the time of its launch, in December 1972, I was seven years old, and a big fan of the space program and astronauts. I spent a lot of time reading space program related back issues of Life magazine when we visited my grandmother.

One of the reasons I remember this launch, as opposed to any others, is that it was a night launch.  So, not only was it  more spectacular than the others, since it launched at 11:33 Central time, it meant I got to stay up past my bedtime – which my mom usually rigorously enforced at 8:00 PM.

The other reason I am thinking about moonshots this week is that I am invited to participate in a panel discussion on “moonshot” projects.  For decades now, hard problems that have technology solutions have faced calls for the government and industry to invest in either “a new Manhattan Project” or “a new Moonshot” program.  Energy and cancer research are the primary government examples that come to mind.  In the private sector, Google and Facebook are companies that are talking about moonshot projects.

You may have noticed that we have not solved our energy problems, or cured cancer.  You may also have read recently that Google is killing off its moonshots.  In preparation for my panel discussion, I have been thinking about what makes a moonshot project successful.

The two examples we have, the Manhattan project and Apollo have a number of things in common. First, they had specific well defined goals:  Build a deliverable atomic fission weapon;  Deliver a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth.  Second, they set (or had set for them) a finite time to accomplish this goal: Beat the Germans/end of the war; The end of the decade. Third, they had nearly unlimited access to resources: Both Manhattan and Apollo projects, during their peak funding years commanded 0.4% of the nation’s GDP!  Fourth, they had strong leadership teams in both project management and technical skills: Exemplified in the Manhattan project by General Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer; and in Apollo by General Sam Phillips and Werner von Braun.

So what are the chances for success of recent moonshots?   Lets take a look at the most recent example, the Cancer Moonshot and see if it has anything in common with Apollo or the Manhattan project.

Does the cancer moonshot have clear goals?  The goals as announced in the 2016 State of the Union address are to “mak(e) a decade of progress in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer in 5 years, ultimately striving to end cancer as we know it.”  Cancer is not one monolithic disease, so this goal lacks the requisite tight focus.  And I cannot find any roadmap that lists the ten year objectives were that are to be accomplished in five years. The goals that are listed are also fairly small bore and include using Uber and Lyft to bring patients to their treatments. It smacks of Werner von Braun’s quote about crash programs being based on the idea that if you get nine women pregnant you can have a baby in a month. I give this one a fail.

Is the cancer moonshot time bound?  Well, it does give a five year time horizon, so I will say it passes this test.

How about funding levels?  This article notes approved for $6.3B over ten years, or less than $1B per year.   0.4% of current US GDP would be ~$67B per year, so we are a far cry from Apollo/Manhattan levels. Fail.

And leadership?  As much as everyone loves Joe Biden, he is no Leslie Groves.  And I can’t find a technical lead for the cancer moonshot on any of the websites, so I give this one a fail too.

Bottom line, I don’t expect to see a cure for cancer in five years emerging from this initiative.

Next up – what about Google’s moonshots?

The Return of the Slacker

After a long hiatus I am returning to my blog!

It is probably a good thing that I missed most of the U.S. Presidential election season, but I will note that others did finally pick up on the fact that the Democrats have a  serious succession issues, and, given their losses in the legislatures and state houses, it is not clear where the replacements for the Boomer politicians will come from.  While the Republicans have a substantial crop of Gen X office-holders, I think the Democrats will need to jump from the Boomers (and older, Bernie Sanders!) in 2020, right to fielding a Millennial candidate for President in 2024.  The oldest Millennials will be 41 by then, and the youngest Boomers 60, so the power struggle will be interesting between our two largest demographics.

Gen Xers continue to enter their fifth decade, of course, and 2017 finds quite a crop of celebrity Gen-Xers turning 50.  These include the founder of the greatest Gen-X movie franchise, Vin Diesel, who turns 50 in July.  Also turning 50 in 2017 include Will Ferrell, Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx, Jason Statham, Nicole Kidman, Pamela Anderson and Vanilla Ice.  Kurt Cobain and Anna Nicole Smith would have also turned 50 this year. So 1967 was quite a year in notable Gen X births.


Generation Politics: Where are the Generation X Democrats?

Scott Timberg had a March 7 2016 article on Salon, noting that “The GOP has Presidential contenders from Generation X, while the Democrats have two Boomers fighting it out – why?”  As my post from last April noted the fairly large number of Republican Generation X candidates, and the fact that even before the field was whittled down to Sanders and Clinton, the Democrats were all from older generations.

I am still of the opinion that Generation X is destined to be shut out of the Presidency, as was the Silent Generation. Just the electoral demographics of being sandwiched between two larger generations kills us. I see this cycle as the last gasp of the Baby Boomers, and the successor to whoever wins in 2016 to be pulled from the ranks of the Millennials, now officially the largest generation in the US.

As to Timberg’s question of where are the Gen X Democrats? — I think they are there as he notes, but that being at least in large part influenced by the Reagan years, there are still more Republican Gen Xers than Democrats – at least among the older fraction (according to Pew).  And I think this is reflected in the Generation X politicians that we see on the national stage — more Republicans than Democrats.

Watch for a rising Democrat Millennial to give a key speech at the convention this summer.  That will be your 2020 or 2024 front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination.

Prince and Generation X

In the aftermath of Prince’s death on April 21, 2016 there has, of course, been a huge outpouring of grief and sympathy.  However, by the look of my Facebook feed, those of us from Generation X took Prince’s death the hardest.  This appears to be true in Australia, as well, according to the linked article from Neil McMahon.  If we are most touched by music from the year in which we turn 17 then the chart below from FiveThirtyEight shows how Prince was a dominant force in Generation X’s musical life.  Those of us born in 1965 turned 17 in 1982, the year Little Red Corvette and 1999 were released.  By the time the last of Generation X was getting out of high school (those born in 1980) Prince’s peak chart output was mostly complete.  But for most of Generation X’s formative musical years of the 1980s through the mid-’90s, Price was cranking out top ten hits.   So, for us Generation Xers it is good see him back on top of the charts and getting a lot of radio airplay, even though the reason for the attention sucks.

Three years ago Touré wrote a book about Prince explaining how he became the iconic figure he is.  At the time he also published some articles on the relationship between Prince and Generation X.  Worth revisiting now, especially the Salon article for its take on the relationship between late Boomers and Generation X.

I also see that the internet has decided that Price should be the new face of the $20 bill – which should be renamed the $19.99 and/or the bill formerly known as the twenty.  I think it is a much better idea from the internet than Boaty McBoatface.

Thanks, shaynasaur.
This is so money.

Generation X – National Geographic Gives Us a TV Series

Generation X promo image from
Generation X!

I am glad to see Generation X  getting some media love from the National Geographic Channel.  Last month I caught the episode “The Politics of X” on TV.  Based on that I am looking forward to seeing more of the episodes. The description from National Geographic:

Generation X

Even cynics can change the world. Narrated by Christian Slater, this six-part series re-examines the era on a quest to redefine the so-called Slacker Generation.
One of the episodes is on “The Power of Disruption“.  I am looking forward to watching that one, as I see disruption as a major theme of the 21st century (so far).

A Great Generation X Rant from Mat Honan

This gem written in 2011 by Mat Honan was re-posted by one of my grad school friends (a Gen Xer of course) today.  While Gizmodo titled it “Generation X is Sick of Your Bullshit”, I see that is was originally titled “Generation X Doesn’t want to hear it” on Honan’s tumblr.  5 years later I think it still resonates — but now we are even older and probably fatter.  And we still need to sneak a cigarette and sit down with a beer.

A Generation X Imprint on the 2016 Presidential Race

While Gen X presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have made much more progress than I expected toward the Republican nomination, many of the stories in the news are about the electoral power shift from Boomers to Millennials.  To be sure, given the demographic numbers of Millennials and Boomers relative to Gen Xers, this is bound to be the struggle, and the major reason that I have been of the opinion that we are unlikely to ever elect a Generation X President.  However, just as Sanders is giving new hope to the previously shut-out Silent Generation, the move of Rubio and Cruz into contention on the Republican side does give some renewed political hope to Generation X.

I was amused to see the Cruz camp use a parody of the movie Office Space in an advertisement.  While I have observed that the Fast and Furious movies may be the most successful films to star Gen X actors, I see the 1999 film Office Space as summing up Generation X attitudes toward work.

By the time Office Space appeared, most of Generation X  was in the workforce and fully attuned to the rule-bound grind depicted in the movie. (Full disclosure – I own the Special Edition DVD with More Flair!)  Ask any Gen X white collar worker about “The Bobs”, TPS reports, Michael Bolton, and what they would do if they had a million dollars, and you would get an Office Space based reply.  Not to mention their red staplers.

Did I turn into Lumbergh when I became a supervisor?

So last week when this advertisement made the rounds, it seemed only fitting that it came out of one of the campaign of Generation Xer Ted Cruz.  While Marco Rubio has been more overt in talking about bringing a new generation to power (in an appeal, I think, to Gen X and Millennials) I haven’t seen him be as effective as the Cruz ad in creating social media buzz.  We shall see what happens after South Carolina.

Generation X Turns 50 – February 2016 Edition

Generation X continues to turn 50, and today I want to highlight those of us born in February 1966.  Leading off February, fashion designer John Varvatos turned 50 on February 1st.  Then on the 6th, singer and internet meme legend Rick Astley turned fifty. Those of us who have been on the internet forever owe him a special debt.

Actor Neal McDonough, who I keep seeing more of all the time, Turns 50 on February 13th. And then Justine Bateman on February 19th.  I think Family Ties was one of the shows that captures the Generation X formative years.

On the 20th, supermodel Cindy Crawford hits the big Five – Oh. She certainly has to be among the most successful and famous members of Generation X by any measure.

From Cindy Crawford on Google+
Cindy Crawford

February 24th brings 50th birthday wishes to Billy Zane, and the 25th to Téa Leoni.  On the 27th, Donal Logue turns 50 and Ickey Woods shuffles into a second half-century on the 28th.  Disappointingly, I did not find any leap-year Gen-Xers turning 50 on the 29th.

Finally, just in case you didn’t click at the top, Mr. Rick Astley:

Draft Registration for Women

The topic of requiring draft registration for women came up in last night’s Republican Presidential debate.  The question really took me by surprise, but I guess the issue has been in the news the past few months now that all combat roles in the U.S. military have been opened to women.

I am against involuntary servitude, and this includes both the military draft and other forms of mandatory “national service“.  For men in Generation X, selective service registration has been a fact of life, having been authorized in 1980 by Proclamation of President Jimmy Carter.  Since then, upon turning 18, all men have had to register for the draft.  Beyond that, we have to keep proving that we have registered, providing our selective service number in order to get Federally backed student loans and other financial aid, get a government job, or obtain other federal benefits.  Additionally, failing to register could result in a $25000 fine and up to 5 years in jail.  Some states have their own legislation linking selective service registration for men to financial aid and even to being able to obtain a drivers license.

Of course, these penalties only apply to men.  Could this have anything to do with men falling behind in college enrollments?  Probably not.  But is it fair, especially in light of opening opportunities in the military to women?  Would it demonstrate more of a commitment to equality to require women to share in this responsibility to register for the draft and face the same potential penalties as men?  At least Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush said “yes” last night.  I would like to hear what Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders say on this issue. (If they were asked in their debate I missed it).  Of course, I would have rather heard them say that we no longer need to register anyone for the draft.