Friday, September 19, 2014

Live from the Grand Ole Opry! Parker Millsap!

 

We saw Parker Millsap at his Grand Ole Opry debut.


Keep an eye on this kid, he's going places!  Sort of a cross between a young Johnny Cash and Elvis!

See:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ksf46WnZI5Y

That was his opening number, which blew the audience away.  21 years old.  Not bad on the eye, either!
Here is his new video on NPR, "Truckstop Gospel" which he also played.  Sort of confused the audience a bit, I think.


An interview by a clueless NPR reporter trying to be trendy:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2014/09/11/347466848/an-emerging-voice-of-americana-and-oklahoma



Let's just hope he doesn't get fat like Elvis!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The RV Industry's Dirty Litle Secret: Quality

Many RVs are financed on loans as long as 10-20 years.  Many RVs don't last nearly that long.

After owning four RVs and looking at hundreds more, (as well as visiting various RV "factories" and seeing how they are screwed together)  I can say I have learned a lot about the RV business.  A lot of it is like touring a sausage factory - there are things you wish you hadn't seen.

The dirty little secret of the RV industry is Quality.   Very few RVs are quality made and very few outlast their payments.   Let me explain.

To being with, all RVs are basically the same.  Higher-end coaches might have nicer amenities in terms of floor coverings, wall coverings, and gadgets, but the rest of the hardware, from the hot water heater to the refrigerator and water pump, are about the same across all levels of RV pricing.   The only exception to this rule are the ultra-high-end million-dollar "rock star" buses - but few can afford those (even the people who buy them).

Most RVs are hand built, one at a time.  This sounds great to the novice, until you realize that assembly-line machine made products are far more consistent and reliable to own.   RVs are not built on an assembly line per se, but rather built up in a warehouse by an army of young men (sometimes Amish) who use staple guns, screw guns, and sawzalls to cut, staple, nail and screw (and glue) each coach together.  

The cost of labor is high, and since each coach is built individually (and no two are alike, it seems) there is no savings in labor as in an assembly line.   On the assembly line, a worker has a specialized job and can get very good at it - and very efficient.   In the RV "factory" the coaches are built like houses - one stick at a time.

And since the labor costs are so high and the target prices fairly low, this means a lot of corners have to be cut in the assembly process, as well as the quality of the materials use.

Compounding this problem are the common design elements of the typical box trailer or motor home.  Rubber roofs and laminated walls sound sexy and all (and look cool in the showroom) but the reality is, these items wear out rapidly, causing leaks, which spell doom for a coach.

In the olden days, trailers were made of sticks and staples, and then skinned in aluminum, even the roof.   So long as the seams were kept caulked, the trailer would stay sound.   And maybe that is one reason you see a lot of those older trailers still on the road.   The "box" design of such trailers does provide a seam running around the entire trailer on the sides.   So long as the self-leveling caulk used to seal this remains intact, no leaks will occur.   However, sunlight and ozone, and acid rain, and heating and contracting with the seasons, tends to crack this caulk, causing water to ingress.

When water gets into a trailer, mildew forms, and rot is not far behind.  In a matter of a few months, floors can rot out, ceilings can collapse, and the trailer becomes essentially worthless.,

Modern trailers exasperate this issue due to the use of laminated fiberglass walls and rubber roofs.   When rubber roofs (EPDM) first came out, they were hailed as an advancement.  No more "rocks in a tin can" effect, every time it rained.  And they were less likely to leak and would last longer!   Sadly, their advertised advantages turned out to be untrue.

EPDM rubber roofs seem to last 5-10 years, tops, in the harsh sunlight.   They get chalky and then when in rains, white powdery stuff runs off the roof.   You can try to treat the roof with a cleaner or a sealant, but this is a messy and expensive process and needs to be repeated over and over again.  Some folks try to use conventional roof sealant (tar) with disastrous effects (it dissolves the rubber).

EPDM rubber roofs have worked well in houses - why not in RVs?   Well, simply stated, houses don't drive down the road at 70 mph.   At at 70 mph, aerodynamic effects can cause a rubber roof to "bubble" up, as air traveling over the coach forms a vacuum.  Both our 27' 5th wheel trailer and our 21' Class-C Motorhome had this problem - with the front portion of each forming a 3' diameter bubble due to the vacuum caused by air flowing over the blunt front end.  Fixing this isn't easy.  A new rubber roof can cost thousands of dollars - often more than the coach is worth at that point.   If it starts leaking, well, the coach is toast.

Fiberglass laminated sidewalls make the problem even worse - or more apparent.  Again, when this technology premiered, it was hailed as a milestone.   Prior to that, RVs had aluminum siding on the walls, much like a house (but interlocking more tightly) and people tended to think it looked cheap.   On the other hand, aluminum never bubbled up or wore out.

Fiberglass laminates use sheets of thin fiberglass (gel coated on the outside) which are glued to luan plywood which makes up the outside of the coach.   When new, it looks great and looks "high end" - with large, smooth walls, usually adorned with graphics.   But when water comes in - through the seams at each edge of the coach, the laminate starts to "bubble up" and it looks like hell.

Finding these leaks can be next to impossible.  Water can travel a long way from a leak to the spot where you notice it.   So bubbling at the bottom edge of a coach could be caused by water leaking at the top edge or from the roof.   People try to chase down these leaks with mounds of silicone caulk.  It rarely works, but it does make the coach look even worse - and more unsalable.

Why are leaks so bad?  Rot and mildew.  On our Class-C, the sides over the cab started to delaminate at the bottom (and had started when we bought it used).  One day while making the bed, I was concerned that the mattress was wet.  I pulled it away and realized the entire platform had rotted out, and was filled with water.  The luan plywood had the texture of a damp sponge - as did some of the 1" x 2" "structural" members.

Off to Lowes for new plywood and tons of caulk.  It was all fixed up, but the delamination remained and we never were sure the leaks were all found.   In addition to the problem of water traveling, water can literally be forced into the coach when you drive in the rain.  So a leak at the front of the coach might produce rot at the rear, by the time the water settles.

And once you have a leak, delamination, a sagging part or stain in the ceiling, well, the resale value of the coach plummets.   Fixing these problems is anything but cheap - often exceeding the cost of the coach itself.  So most folks try to live with it, while they can, like a slow-growing cancer that is spelling doom for the RV eventually.

The dealer next door to the campground here in Nashville has a lot of shiny new RVs for sale on the lot.  They look nice, but when you start to look at the details of construction, you see loose parts and corners cut, and shoddy workmanship.

And when you walk down to the end of the line, where the dealer has very used trailers and motorhomes for sale, you see what these shiny new units will look like in a few short years.   I call this row of sad trailers the "leakfest" as most have delamination, leaking, rotting, and mildew issues.

And you see this all the time in fairly new trailers.   A dealer in Florida tries to unload these lemons on people from South Georgia, advertising them as "ideal hunting camps".   One trailer, less than three years old, has a huge leak at the front seam (where water is forced in at 70 mph).   The front edge is gobbed with a mound of caulk.  The fiberglass is delaminated on the side.  Inside is a mold stain on the wall and a 2' diameter HOLE IN THE FLOOR where the floor rotted through.   "You can fix that!" the dealer helpfully offers.   Yes you could, I guess.

But the sad thing is, here is a trailer that sold new for $10,000 and three years later is being sold for $2000.   Things should last longer than that, right?

And then there is blowouts - another little secret.   Most RV wheel wells are just plywood boxes with a plastic "fender" screwgunned to the side.   When a tire blows out (when, not "if") it tears the whole side of the trailer apart.  The plastic "fender" is destroyed and often part of the siding of the trailer is torn off, leaving a large black rubber mark down the side.  This is hard to fix, as the fenders may not even be available.  Two of the campers in the leak-fest section showed signs of blowouts - that were unrepaired.   We had two issues with this - on our 5th wheel and the Class-C.  There was some damage (cracked fenders) that we had to live with - dealers were unable or unwilling to order replacements.

And let's not even talk about slide-outs.  They leak, they jam, they sag, the bottom part juts out.   A big hole in the side of a camper than flexes as it goes down the road - what could possibly go wrong?

OK, you say, that's a low-end unit.  Better-made RVs will last longer!   Yet in the park here is a fancy motorhome with four slides - and delamination on three of them.

RV makers know what sells RVs - glitz and gaudiness and as many flat-screen televisions as you can wedge into a rig.   People want shiny-shiny, and oftentimes these RVs are nicer than the houses their owners own (as they are pre-decorated to a theme and the furniture is all new and actually fits the space).

Quality is a hard selling point, as most folks can't recognize it, and it is hard to discern even to the trained eye.   Usually, you have to keep something for a few years to know if the quality is any good.  And if it is, then it develops a reputation for quality.

Ahhhhh!  But the other secret of the RV industry - the name change game.   There are hundreds, if not thousands of brand and model names for RVs.  Each company has several division names, product line names, and model names.  And these names are routinely retired and new names put in their place.   So you might think the "ACME WEEKENDER FUNTRAILER 25" is a good trailer, after owning it for five years.   But the problem is, ACME dropped the FUNTRAILER model three years ago and dumped the WEEKENDER line last year.  And this year, ACME was bought out by AJAX and now the ACME name is gone.

And maybe the name game is intentional.  If an RV develops an odious reputation, well, you don't have to worry about it for long.  Just change the name.   Heck, some airlines do this, after a major crash.

One mistake we see some oldsters doing is to buy an RV in retirement, spending an awful lot of money, and then getting a "tow behind" to pull behind it.  For the first few years, everything is OK, but like any motorized vehicle it gets old and worn out.  Pretty soon, you staying in a delaminated, chaulky older-style motorhome, pulling a Saturn behind it, and wondering where all the fun went.

We think, sometimes, of maybe getting a larger RV.  But the heartbreak of RV quality prevents us from doing so.   Our old Casita, now 15 years old (!!!) is made of two heavy pieces of fiberglass, joined in the middle in a horizontal seam.  Rain runs right off, so there are no leaks.   And the trailer thus looks like new, after a decade-and-a-half.   Keeping it indoors when not being used, helps, of course.  And its small size makes that possible.

We keep looking at larger trailers, but quality - and layouts - often turn us off.  An "upgrade" should be an upgrade in every regard, right?  Why go to a larger trailer that has a smaller bathroom?  (many do, which I cannot figure out.  RV makers are not very space-efficient, and often waste valuable inches in their designs by using standardized cabinetry and furniture that encroaches on personal space).

Maybe someday, someone will built an affordable quality RV - on an assembly line, without staples and wood, and without seams and leaks - an RV that is durable and simple and easy to use and easy to maneuver, and lasts a decade or longer with minimal maintenance.

Well, maybe we already have it.

After 15 years, the Casita looks like new.  The shell is as thick as a boat hull!  No laminated construction to delaminate.  No rubber roof to replace. No seams, other than the beltline, which is fiberglassed together.  Even the wheel wells are solid fiberlass, and survived a blowout with mere scratches.  And they don't change the name every five years, either!

Happiest Man in the World....


I just met the happiest man in the world.  Listen....

While camping, I ran into a guy who is probably the happiest man in the world.  He is about 10 years older than me, served briefly in Vietnam, and was then discharged.  With his military pay, he bought some land in the Northeast and built a log cabin.  Living "off the grid" for 20 years, he got a job.

He retired a few years back.  He said he was surprised when the Social Security Administration told him he would get $1300 a month in Social Security.   Sweet!   Then, unexpectedly, a mutual fund firm informed him that he had a 401(k) with over $100,000 in it!   Double Sweet!  He didn't even realize he had a 401(k).

So he and his wife now travel in their VW Westfalia camper and are happier than pigs in shit.

Why can't the rest of us be this happy?

Good question.

He has a modest house (now on the grid) that is paid for.  He has an older car that is paid for.  He has few expenses and with his Wife's Social Security, more than enough money to pay them.

That's all it really takes.

Most of us are not as easily amused.   We want an income in the six figures, even in retirement.   We want a fancy new car, or a big motorhome or a vacation condo.   We want all-expenses-paid cruises or trips overseas.

We want, we want, and we want.   And does this wanting and having make us happy?   Perhaps not.

Most middle class Americans would snicker at the idea that $1300 a month is a good amount of money from Social Security.   Most middle-class Americas would laugh at the idea of a $100,000 nest egg.   You need 5-10 times that much, just to retire these days!   Right?

Maybe.  Maybe not.   What you need to retire is just a penny more than you spend.    So long as you can do this, you too can be the happiest man in the world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Media goes Ga-Ga over Apple, Again




We are told that the Apple iWatch is going to change the marketplace!  Yet other wearable watch phones (such as the Samsung, shown above) have been on the market for years, and have yet to change anything.


The media is going nuts over Apple again.  Bloomberg seems to love Apple stories, talking about Apple with bated breath.  I think they want to date Apple and go "all the way" in the back seat of Dad's Fury III.  Sheesh.

The reality of Apple is still the same.  The stock price soared two years ago to nearly $100 a share.  Then in plummeted to about half that.   Now it soars again to over $100 a share.   This is a pretty volatile stock.   If you bought Apple two years ago at nearly $100 a share, you are just now breaking even.  There are better things to invest in.

Yes, Apple has a decent P/E ratio for a tech company (less than 20, which compared to others, in the hundreds, is favorable).   But on the other hand, we are still talking about a tech company - and tech companies live and die by their next product announcement.   People seem to forget how many tech companies that once seemed like industry leaders have fallen by the wayside, when a new product fails to turn out as expected, or worse - a competitor offers a better product at a lower price.  Silicon valley is littered with the bones of such companies (or their hollow shells).

Apple's market model is premised on each new product being a "home run" with each product release being treated like a rock concert.  The Apple faithful line up at the Apple stores, in sleeping bags, overnight, to get the newest and latest Apple product.  Well, that happened for a while anyway.  I am not sure anyone is lining up for the latest O/S release or a new Apple watch.

And will wearable computers really be the next big thing?   Like I said, the Samsung watch (of which there are now three generations) hasn't really taken off in a big way.  It is a neat technical trick, but no one seems to have bitten on it yet.   Will a generation that has never worn watches suddenly decide that they need something on their wrist?   Who knows?  Maybe haberdashery will come back as well.

And then there is the the backlash against wearable computers.   Maybe watches will be accepted.  Maybe not.   Google has run into a wall with "Glass" in that people feel creeped out that a person wearing "Glass" (who looks like a dork, BTW) is filming them.   They even have a name for it - "Glassholes".

About two decades ago, I was at a party, and a friend of mine showed up with a watch that was also a primitive digital camera.   It was a neat party gag, as he went around taking surreptitious candid photos of people.   It was funny for a bit, but then folks got a little weird.  They felt, well, violated a bit.   And the idea of someone with such a watch-camera standing next to you at the urinal, well, was creepy.  Bear in mind that was in the 1990's.   My friend put away the watch-camera and never took it out again, the reaction was that negative.   I wonder if a "Glassholes" effect will hit the iWatch as well.

But again, who wears watches these days?   No one.  Which is why the Samsung phone watch isn't on everyone's wrists already.  The iWatch, in addition to being a "me too!" product, just isn't going to be as popular as the phone and pad.

But the name of the game at Apple is to sell the sizzle.  And Apple's press conferences had the air of a revival meeting, particularly when Steve Jobs was still around (he is alive and well and living in Argentina, according to Twitter).   But the new guy?  Maybe not such a big deal.

So they try to prime the pump.   The latest gaffe was automatically downloading a new U2 album to everyone's Apple device, as part of a free giveaway.   This was a marketing fiasco akin to Oprah Winfrey's giving away Pontiac G6's to homeless people.  "Pontiac - the car of the homeless!" - that basically killed off the entire Pontiac Motor Division.   And people say Oprah has no power.  She bankrupted GM!

The same was true with the U2 giveaway.   Something forced onto people for free isn't appreciated.   And if it is free, people assume it is crap.   I was never a big U2/Bono fan, but let's face it, their "Sell by" date passed a long time ago.   And if they had a chance at a comeback, well, this promotion blew it.   A whole new generation of listeners has learned that U2 sucks and they can't even give away their albums (angry Apple users demanded that the material be deleted from their i-devices).   The promotion backfired, in a big way.

But that is not likely to sink Apple or even affect the stock price.   It is indicative of what is wrong with Apple, at a fundamental level.   Again, Apple's marketing plan is based on hitting home runs every time.  And not just home runs, but out-of-the-ballpark-bases-loaded-winning-the-world-series kind of plays.  Each product has to be a "must have" product, or otherwise, they can't make money on it, even at their inflated prices.

Apple products are OK, although many folks point out that their limited universe has its limitations.   There are certain things you can't do with Apple devices that you can do with more open architecture type devices.   And the marketplace likes open-architecture and has spoken loudly in this regard.

While the media TALKS about Apple a lot, the reality is, the smart phone industry is dominated by Android - with about 60% of the market.  Apple has only 30%, if that.   And the same is true for the computer business, only moreso.  Mac computers are horrifically expensive - thousands of dollars apiece.   PC-based computers cost hundreds, and not surprisingly have well over 90% of the computer market    For the price of one Mac computer, you can own five or more PCs.

And even those who were once Mac die-hards, are leaving the fold.   While the Mac had the initial advantage over the PC for graphics, music, and art applications, newer more powerful PCs have largely caught up in this regard.   In industry, the PC dominates.  In fact, the people who design components for Apple do so on PCs, not Macs.  That sort of says it all, doesn't it?

Apple stays in business by charging far more than its competitors for its products.   And so long as owning an Apple product is seen as stylish and trendy, they can continue to charge these sort of prices and get away with it.   But make no mistake about it, the company is a niche player in all of its markets.   And niche players can fall by the wayside in a real hurry.

The problem for Apple, long-term, is that they have no future "home run" products to generate the huge revenues needed to keep their huge infrastructure (now made huger by the new "flying saucer" campus, which will become a white elephant in short order).   The Apple iWatch is neat, sure.  But is it as groundbreaking as the iPhone was?   Are people going to line up around the block for one?   No.  That sort of buzz has faded, and perhaps folks are a little more jaded about electronic jewelry in this day and age.

And if you look at this history of Apple, you will see that this pattern has repeated itself.   Apple was wildly successful in the 1980s.  They bloated up, assuming that success would continue.  The PC then trounced the Mac in a big way, and Apple lost its way until they developed the iPod.   Apple was able to maintain a monopoly share of the iPod market by buying up the first two year's production of the new 1" hard drives.  By the time the competition could tool up, Apple had the accessories market tied to its proprietary interface.

And a funny thing, Microsoft failed miserably with its "music rental" model of the Zune.   But today, more young people stream music on their phones, than buy it.  And old farts like me are finding it easier to just load music onto a thumb drive (which will play on most car radios, computers, and other devices) than to dick around with the clunky iPod and iTunes interface.

And that is the nature of the beast.  Apple has to come up with a new revolutionary device, or fail.  They lost the personal computer and laptop market to the PC.  Maintaining the Mac, for such as small market share, at this point, has to be a loss-leader for them.   The iPod was a home run, but is largely irrelevant today.   And then there is the iPhone....

Smart phone penetration of the marketplace is pretty much complete at this point.   And the winner is.... not Apple.  The vast majority of smart phones out there are, and will continue to be, third party providers.

So, what is Apple's next big thing that they can charge 2-5 times market value for?   I'm not seeing it.  And with an aging demographic facing retirement, I'm not seeing masses of people flocking to lay down hundreds of dollars on the latest electronic toys.  Hardware is a commodity - the PC business taught us that.   Apple didn't get the memo, apparently.

UPDATE:  Apparently I am not the only one who thinks that Apple's high overhead isn't going to be maintained by Apple Pay or Apple watches or the latest O/S release.

See:

http://money.cnn.com/2014/09/16/investing/peter-thiel-apple-innovation/index.html?hpt=hp_bn6&iid=obnetwork

You need to come up with something that is vastly better than the next best thing," he told CNN's Erin Burnett in an interview airing on OutFront at 7pm ET Tuesday.

Aye, there's the rub.   Out-of-the-ballpark products are not something that happen every day, or indeed something you can plan for.  And given the various media interests involved, I am not sure "Apple TV" would be a success.

The marketplace likes open-source products.   Would you watch television if all you could get was one channel?  Of course not.  That is sort of the premise of Apple TV.

Sadly, all the big firms (Apple, Microsoft, Google) are trying to "control" their customers and steer them into these insulated self-contained closed worlds.   Living in Googleworld is starting to feel a little stifling to me.   I expect to move my e-mail to a third-party provider in short order.   Google is way too creepy.   And Apple has the same problem.

Perhaps there won't be any "next big thing" products in the future - just "apps" which each have their 15 minutes of fame....

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Obsessing about your upbringing or your family is a sure way to fritter away your life.

I had a recent interesting conversation with a reader via e-mail.   I am not sure what he wants from me.  I am not an advice columnist.  No freaking Dear Abby or Sooze "You're Approved!" Orman!   Advice is a dodgy business, as people tend to take it, cafeteria-style, and then blame you when it goes horribly wrong.

People also tend to seek advice they want to hear, and if you don't say what they want to hear, they hear what they want to hear, anyway.   Or, they tailor their fact situation so you end up giving the advice they wanted to hear in the first place.  They are not so much looking for advice as they are for validation of their pre-existing beliefs.

Want some advice?  Think for yourself.  The answers to all of life's little problems lie between your ears.   You just have to shut out the noise and distractions and listen to that inner voice.  Few people do this.  Most try to create as much noise as possible to drown out the deafening silence.

And one distraction for many people is their family and upbringing.   I don't know how many people I've met who feel somehow traumatized by their upbringing or their relationship with their parents or siblings.   They spend (waste) the rest of their lives trying to "figure out" their childhood, much as my late Sister did.   It is very sad.

It is a funny thing, but everyone has these issues, and again, it has to do with how our brains are constructed - as Neural Networks (more on that later).   If you join a cult or go to a Scientology "audit" or visit a psychiatrist or psychologist, the first thing all of them will ask you about is your relationship with your parents, particularly your Mother.   Cults will then try to sever those family ties, which results in a feeling of euphoria, as reported by many ex-cult members, as they are relieved of this burden.   Of course, in a cult, you are just trading one dysfunctional family for another one.

The Scientologists would call your obsession with your upbringing "engrams" and then charge you a lot of money to "remove" them.   If you can remove them all, you are deemed "clear".  This is an expensive process and few achieve it.

Oddly enough, psychologists and psychiatrists call these same issues, "complexes" and then charge you a lot of money to "remove" them.   If you can remove them all, you are deemed "cured".  This is an expensive process and few achieve it.

Now you understand why Scientology and Psychology are often butting heads with each other.  Neither likes the competition in the head-shrinking business.

Sadly, most folks never get beyond their childhood, and psychologists and marketers know this, and know how to use this fundamental aspect of everyone's makeup as a "hook" to rope them in.   Like I said, its the first thing a cult uses to snare their members.

My late Sister once went for a "reading" from some group (it may have been Scientology).   They hooked her up to two coffee-cans tied to a galvanometer (a primitive form of lie detector).  The first question they asked was, "tell me about your Mother".   The needle on the galvanometer went off the scale.  Oddly enough, when she went to visit a therapist, they asked the same question.  Funny how that works.

These examples illustrate how easy it is to manipulate people, simply by going after what is for most, a basic obsession or difficulty.   Everyone, it seems, spends an inordinate amount of time trying to relive the past and wondering whether, "if I had done things differently" how their lives would have turned out.  Norman Mailer, in The Naked and the Dead mentions this effect in passing - and dismisses it as being of no profit.    Yet, it is hard to get the brain to stop obsessing about the past.

And the reason for this is simple:  Your brain is a programmed Neural Network - the most complex on the planet.  Neural Networks are programmed by "training" - inputs are provided and outputs measured, and then the nodes of the network are "corrected" to provide the proper output.  It is a painful process, and the earliest training is the most important and the most significant - it provides the initial weighting factors for the nodes.   It can take years and years of un-training to reprogram a neural network that was improperly trained early on.

So your childhood and upbringing are the focus of your brain, simply because these experiences set the "initial conditions" of the neural network.   You leave home at age 18 and maybe 20-30 years later, you still wonder whether "if only I had asked Suzie to the Prom...."   It is a common thought.   And even though your post-childhood experiences now trump your childhood experiences, in terms of years and intensity, these experiences do not program the brain as strongly as those initial experiences.   It takes a long, long time to un-program a human brain.

Sadly, most folks end up reinforcing their childhood programming over and over again, much as my late Sister did, by obsessing about their childhood and upbringing and trying to "figure out" their upbringing.  This has the opposite of the intended effect.  Instead of moving on to a new life and new experiences, the victim ends up burning those early experiences into their brains, over and over again, essentially reinforcing those horrific lessons.

And many folks do this, spending a lot of time in dysfunctional family chat groups or support groups or whatnot.   And initially, this may seem like a way to find mutual support and "understand your childhood" but the net effect is to make yourself into a passive victim of circumstance and not an independent actor on the stage of your own life.

This was driven home to me at an ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meeting I attended back in 1985.   It was constructive to me, in that the meeting coordinator did give me some good advice.  Rather than try to control my Mother's alcohol consumption and behavior (as my Sister was trying to do with her planned "interventions") the best thing I could do was take control of my own life. 

One of the other participants at the meeting never "got" this.   A young woman in her late 20's, she had a good-paying job at the local hospital.   She lived at home with her parents, who were both drunks, and she was miserable and lonely.   "Why don't you move out and get an apartment of your own?" several of us suggested.    She looked at us as though we were speaking Chinese.   Move out?  Then she would no longer be a victim!

And I realized right there that it takes two to tango in these victim situations.   You have to choose to be a victim, in many cases, and many people think it is their only choice.

Obsessing about your childhood, upbringing, parents, siblings, school, and other things from 20-30 years ago is just a dead-end pursuit.   If you have a great relationship with your family, that is wonderful.  However few do (and most of them are lying).   Rather than obsess about that sort of nonsense, just move on with your life and figure out who YOU are - not as someone's child or someone's sibling, but what YOUR life encompasses.

Yes, it can be comforting sometimes to view your life as a series of unavoidable circumstances and to posit yourself as a passive victim of it all.   But comfort can also be smothering, and while wallowing in that warm insular comfort, you could be slowly suffocating.

It is OK to put your childhood behind you.  I give you permission.  And if your parents and siblings are abusive or even just annoying, there is no need to torture yourself by being around them, just "because they are family".   And for God's sake, you are not obligated to send them money - particularly when you have a spouse and your own family to support.

And you are not "destined" to re-live the lives of your parents, your ancestors, or whatever.   You do have choices in life, if you are brave enough to take them.

Is this easy to do?  Hell, no.   Like I said, your brain is a Neural Network, and early programming is the most powerful and hardest to ignore.  Maybe that is why many orphans are so successful in this world.  Their earliest programming isn't a lot of family baggage, but basic survival skills.

But it is worthwhile to program your own brain.  And sometimes this means cutting off old programs from the past.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Learning to Take Care of Yourself (Stupidty Tax)



Our society no longer trains people to take care of themselves.  Is this by accident or design?

In another posting, I lamented the passing of Home Economics classes, which are being cut (along with Art, Music, Language, Shop, Driver Ed, and anything else not on the "no child left behind" standardized tests).

As a result, more and more people have no clue about how to even feed themselves.   What's more, they don't know how to balance a checkbook, wash their own car (much less wax it or change the oil, or God forbid, change a flat tire), paint a house, or any one of the number of small duties that are required to live on Planet Earth these days in a technological society.

I know that by the time I graduated from High School, I could not balance a checkbook.  I did not know the difference between accounts receivable and accounts payable.  I didn't know the difference between an Invoice and a Statement.   And some of these terms would take another 20 years to learn.   Sad, but true.

And while I could cook a few items to feed myself, like most American boys, I could do little else.

But I did have shop class, and learned how to use basic machine tools and hand tools.  I could do small repairs around the house, and knew how to tune up a car (which back then, required tune-ups).  And I could change a flat tire, for chrissakes.

But today?  I think fewer and fewer people are equipped to deal with living in our modern society, other than as "consumers" who choose what products and services to buy.  Few people, it seems, cook their own food.  Few can fix their own cars (as evidenced by the number of folks I see on the side of the road, staring at flat tires in bewilderment).   And very few have any financial acumen.

Is this all by accident or design?

I was at an RV park the other day and two gentlemen in the adjacent camper told us (with a straight face) that it is "easier and cheaper" to eat at restaurants than to buy food and prepare it.   And I have heard this from many - that "for just two people" it isn't worth the hassle and it is cheaper to just buy fast food.   The two gentlemen were, of course, in bad health.   College graduates, and they basically could not cook or even feed themselves.

By accident or design?   Cutting home economics classes certainly helps the fast-food industry and the restaurant industry - as well as the pre-made frozen dinner people.   Getting people to pay 2-10 times as much for food than they should is a neat trick, when you think about it.   Sort of like those "cartridge" coffee makers ($179 at Wal-Mart!).   Pay 5 times as much for the machine as you would for a Mr. Coffee, and then pay about 4-5X the cost per cup, for the drink.   Same deal.

With cars, it is also convenient when people are ignorant.  When I was a kid, waxing your car was a big deal.   Spending a Saturaday afternoon with the hose and a bucket of suds, followed by a workout with the car wax and some old towels - buffing your "ride" shiny so that it looked like new - that was fun.

Today, most folks I know never wax their cars and rarely wash them.  Maybe once a year they have the car "detailed" and then let it go back to shit in short order.   I am told it is "too much work" and "too much hassle" and even told by some that they "don't know how to wax a car" (!!!).   I think the real reason is that we are so fat and worn out by the restaurant food that the intense workout in waxing a car (and it is a workout) is just too much for most of us.

So we take the car to the car wash.  And we take it to the lube place when it needs an oil change.  And don't bother trying to learn how to fix a car - "it's too complicated with all those computers!" - right?   Just pay extra for an extended warranty and "roadside assistance" so if the car breaks, you can play lawyer with the warranty company, and if you get a flat, just call AAA on the phone and wait an hour for them to change the tire.

Such a long way, we have come, from the nation of self-reliant pioneers.

And who does this benefit?  The car companies who sell leases, so you trade every three years, to avoid the "hassle" of breakdowns?  Why wax your car when you don't even own it?

By accident or by design?

In the financial sector the same is true.  I was a financial Bambi in the woods as a young man, bouncing checks, signing up for odious credit card offers, and generally running my finances into the ground - for decades, even.   It took a lot of hard and costly lessons to finally develop some financial discipline.   I learned things that I should have learned in High School.  Simple things that I have expounded upon in this blog.   Things that are shouted down by the vast majority.   After all, a "miles" credit card is a good deal, even if it has a 25% interest rate, right?   Wrong.

And it ain't hard to figure out who benefited from my financial ignorance - the banking industry, the credit card industry, the loan companies - everyone but me.  

By accident or by design?

There is a stiff penalty exacted upon ignorance in this country - a stupidity tax, if you will.  And most people pay it every day, when they get a payday loan, rent-to-own furniture, pull up at the drive-thru at a fast food joint, buy a lottery ticket, or lease a new car.   Most folks don't even realize they are paying this tax, they are that dense.   In fact, they will tell you what a great deal the stupidity tax is, as it allows you to be as stupid as you want to be.

Myself, I have been trying to go tax-free in the stupidity department, as much as possible.   Yea, I still fall down sometimes, like the other day when I stupidly signed up for XM radio and acted astonished when they bent me over.   I should have known better, but sometimes you need a refresher course in stupid to re-learn these things.

But again, you have to ask yourself, is this by accident or by design?   Because since I was a kid, Federal Income taxes have been slashed from the 50% rates we had back then.   But the stupidity tax has been doubled.  

We no longer protect people from their own stupidity.   Payday loans can charge 300% interest because we abolished usury laws in the 1970s.   People can gamble themselves broke because we decided to legalize gambling nearly everywhere (including the lotto machine at the local 7-11).   People can eat themselves sick at fast-food restaurants, which morphed from occasional treats to America's Kitchen.   And folks can get "upside down" in a car loan or a lease deal in a real hurry today, with loans as long as 7 years, sometimes more.

And let's not talk about student loans and the myriad other bear traps out there that young people can step into these days.   Today, we eat our young.  Mom and Dad are off in retirement village, living off the dividends of their bank stocks.   They want high rates of return to finance their retirement!  And they get them, because their sons and daughters signed up for 25% interest rate credit cards and onerous student loans.   We literally eat our young, often our very own.

There is another way, of course.  There always was and always will be.   When I was young, I could have been smarter - balanced my checkbook, established a savings plan, said "no" to E-Z money financing and other bad deals.

And I did eventually learn these things.  I took a night course in car repair, while still in high school.  I took a course at the local community college in accounting and Quickbooks, and learned how to monitor spending and manage my money.   And I learned how to cook (and better yet, married one) so I bought food (real food) and prepared it at home.

Today, more than ever, it is essential to know how to take care of yourself.   And oddly enough, today, more and more people posit themselves as some sort of "survivalist" who will withstand the end times or nuclear war.   People with a basement of canned food and ammo who can't balance their checkbook or figure out what the Check Engine light means.  I wonder if they really will survive.

And it is funny, in this dog-eat-dog world we have created over the last 40 years, more and more people defend poor financial practices.   "Yo, dude!  Ya gotta keep your finances flowin' by leasing!" one youngster explained to me.  I guess this is his way of dealing with Student Loan debt.   Just make the minimum payments on everything, and then lease your way to apparent wealth.   I wonder how that will play out in 20-30 years.

Be kind to yourself.  And by that, I don't mean "treating" yourself to consumer purchases that are financed by debt or paid for from savings you will need down the road.   Be kind to yourself by learning to take care of yourself.  It's isn't selfish, it is a matter of survival!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Kollege, Part XXXIV



College today is the new High School.  So it is no surprise to me that many college grads end up on jobs that don't require a college education.  Besides, how is a degree in Art History going to "qualify" you for a job?


This CNN report tells another story:

"Though the demand for college graduates rebounded after the Great Recession, it has leveled off over the past 18 months, according to new Federal Reserve Bank of New York research.
This is not to say that recent grads aren't getting jobs. In fact, their unemployment rate has fallen to just over 5%, down from a peak of slightly more than 7% in 2011. And it's less than half the rate of young workers who don't have a bachelor's degree.

But many recent grads are underemployed, working in jobs that don't require degrees. The underemployment rate has been on the rise since 2003 and now stands at 46%"

In other words, these folks all have jobs, but not the jobs they think they are entitled to.

Emphasis on the word "entitled".

I had a dream last night that colleges started offering majors in "Celebrity".   After all, it is a career path, and why not train and groom our celebrities through college education, rather than the haphazard way we choose our celebrities today?  It would avoid that whole Justin-Beber syndrome.

But of course, I am being sarcastic.   Just because you major in something - or a college offers a major in something - is no guarantee you will find a job in that field, or indeed that you will be entitled to one (Engineering and Medicine perhaps being one of the few exceptions to this rule - but those majors do interfere with the all-important partying aspect of college).

Over the last several decades, our government and our politicians have pushed this idea that "everyone who wants to go to college should have the chance to" - which was a swell idea.  Sadly, it somehow got morphed into "Everyone should go to college" and today, more people go to college, as a percentage of our population, than ever before.

People graduate from colleges with worthless undergraduate degrees.  And the sheer number of graduates is more than the job market can absorb - for traditional "college degree" jobs.   And like anything else, the law of supply and demand kicks in.

When everyone has a college degree, a college degree is worth less (but perhaps not worthless).   Like I said, college is the new high school, and a college diploma in liberal arts is about the equivalent of a high school degree in years gone by.

And I am serious about this.  One of my ancestors taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Pompey, New York, and the high school kids had to learn Greek and Latin, as well as master geometry and trigonometry.  It was taken for granted that they should be able to speak and read their native tongue (English) as well.   Today?  Well, they're barely able to handle English.

And my ancestor's experience wasn't an anomaly.   Look at the curriculum of any high school even just a few decades back.  The coursework required was much higher and more challenging.   Today, they don't even teach Latin in most schools.   Heck, anything that is not on a standardized test is chucked.   And we wonder why no one wants to hire these kids.

Maybe the government should create jobs where the only duty is to fill out standardized tests all day long - we have trained an entire generation for that job!

It is funny, but kids learn so little these days.   I learned how to use machine tools in shop class.  I learned the art of lost-wax casting in Art class.   I even made a stab at trying to play the piano and the cello.  I learned enough French in four years to be able to order off the menu in Paris and make a hotel reservation at least (not bad for a "C" student).  All of these skills came in handy in life.  I feel sorry for kids today who have had these programs cut.

And as you might imagine, English and writing classes certainly helped me - along with typing.   I recall telling one young person that typing was a valuable skill to learn in this age of computers.   Her response was "I don't want to be no damned secretary!" - as if that was all typing was good for.  The joke is, of course, the job of "Secretary" is rapidly evaporating, as people are expected to be able to type all of their own documents these days.  Those who can't type, wither on the vine.

Oh, and my young friend who "didn't want to be a damn secretary"?  She ended up being a damn waitress.

And that right there is the problem with "kids these days".   Everyone wants some high-paying status job with a corner office, few duties, and a huge paycheck.   I blame television shows like "The Office" which perpetuate such stereotypes.   Sadly, few such jobs exist.

So, kids go off to college because things like learning to weld or how to wire a house are "beneath them" and they graduate with a worthless college degree in Anthropology (and $40,000 in student loan debt) and work in the service industry at dead-end low-wage and minimum-wage jobs.  They then blame Wall Street for their woes.

Meanwhile, the "dumb" kid who went to welding school or became an apprentice electrician, ends up owning his own company after a decade or so.   It ain't glamorous perhaps, but it is a degree of financial independence and security.

But of course, this posting is worthless.  It won't convince some 18-year-old that maybe going to Party University and getting drunk for four years is maybe a bad idea.   Worse yet, it won't convince his parents, who are scared to death that if junior doesn't leave home at age 18, they'll be stuck with him for life.   And what will the neighbors think, if he goes to welding school?   Again, people care more about what other people think - including people they don't even know or barely know - than what they think about themselves.

A friend of mine in Buffalo mentioned that in that town, there is a shortage of skilled tradespeople.   Down at the Union Hall, they are looking at a crises.  Most of the skilled tradesmen are aging and near or at retirement age.   There is no one in the pipeline to replace them, either.

Sadly, young people with the requisite skills, motivation, and education are lacking.   And the few getting into the business often do so after starting out in another career - perhaps even after wasting a lot of time and energy going to college and then trying to find a college-type job.

Almost everyone ends up finding themselves in their career or life this way.  I know I did.   Everything I learned along the way helped me out in one way or another later on in life.   College was a 14-year part-time experience for me, and I was able to steer that experience based on where my interests took me, rather than cram four years of knowledge all at once - with no idea where I was going with it, if anywhere.

Since then, things have changed, dramatically.  College is now hyper-expensive and nasty new student loan products are out there, which kids willingly sign.   You can really screw things up these days, at age 18, and end up paying for it for the rest of your life.

Maybe college isn't worth a mortgage on your career.   Just a thought!


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Asperger's Syndrome - the Disease Du Jour


Prepare to be outraged.

A reader wrote in her blog that she likes reading my blog, although sometimes she is outraged by what I write.   Well, dear reader, prepare to be outraged again.   If I hold back and try to "play nice" then I might as well just stop writing, as there would be nothing to say, other than to put up a happy face and a "have a nice day!" sign.

The reader in question has a blog concerning Asperger syndrome, which is a popular disease as of late, as are all Autism Spectral disorders.  Asperger's is basically a very mild form of Autism, and if you read the symptoms of it (which are all behavioral) it is not hard to convince yourself you might have it.   To some extent, I believe, there is a lot of self-diagnosing of Asperger syndrome going on these days, particularly by parents (see my posting on Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy).    

To understand Asperger's you have to first understand Autism.  And diagnosis of Autism is on the rise these days, but I think more because of the increased awareness of "Autism Spectral Disorders" rather than any real rise in the number of severely Austic people.  You know if someone is Austic - there is no mistaking that.  But Asperger's is much more difficult to diagnose, and thus it is easier to misdiagnose it.  And there is a lot of self-diagnosis and doctor-shopping going on.

Real Autism isn't funny or cute like Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man."   I had a friend who worked with Autistic and retarded adolescents and adults.  It was hard work and very challenging.   With the retarded kids, it can be rewarding, as they communicate and want to be a part of the greater world.  The facility he worked in ran a restaurant staffed by the retarded, and I used to visit him there regularly, on my lunch hour.

He also cared to Autistic adolescents and adults, and this part of his job was a lot harder.   Many were there as a part of an adult day-care program, giving their parents a breather so they could do things like shop and clean the house and whatnot.  Having an Autistic child, particularly a severely Autistic child, can be a lifelong commitment and a full-time job, seven days a week with no vacation.

We would go for walks with "Nancy" who was one of his patients.   She was about 30 and almost catatonic, as she did not respond, or hardly responded to other people (she did, but you had to have worked with her for months, to appreciate her feedback).   She wore a polka-dot dress from the 1960's and platform shoes.  It was cold out and I asked my friend why she was dressed so inappropriately.

"She will wear nothing else," he replied.   It turns out she fixated on this outfit at an early age, and if her parents tried to get her to wear anything else, she would scream at the top of her lungs as if she were being burned by hot water.   Her parents finally gave in and went back to the store and bought up every copy of the dress (and the shoes) in her size.  Over the years, they have had to replace the dresses many times, but once the manufacturer stopped making them, they had to hire a seamstress to make them from fabric they had to go out and find.

And any new dress had to be put into her dresser drawer for at least a month, so it would acquire the same smells as the other dresses - or the screaming would begin again.

I asked him what caused this and whether there was a cure.  And the story is pretty frightening.   No one really knows what causes Autism.  Many psychologists thought it was cold, indifferent parents (the "refrigerator parent" theory) that caused the disorder.  This has since been discredited and also seen as especially cruel - blaming the parents for their child's disorder.

As for a cure, well, if you don't know what causes it, how can you cure it?   For people with severe Autism, life can be difficult.   They will likely outlive their parents and end up institutionalized.   For the parents, it can be equally as difficult, as things like vacations and retirement plans might have to be changed.

Some parents, however, take this in stride.  I've seen folks with Autistic children, with bumper stickers that say "I love my Autistic Child!"   I do too.  I think they're a scream, quite literally.  I am not sure I could handle that as well as they could.  In fact, I am sure I could not.  My hat is off to them.

Diagnosing Autism is not as hard as Asperger's.  The behaviors are so extreme that they are readily apparent.  Asperger's, on the other hand, is more subtle, and it is all-too-easy to make an armchair diagnosis of Asperger's.  And as more magazine articles and television shows are made covering this syndrome, well, awareness has gone up - as has diagnosis.
 
The reader also wonders if I have Asperger syndrome.  And in response, I would say the question is irrelevant.

Why?  Well, first of all, the diagnosis is based on fairly subtle observed behaviors, not some physical aspect of the body that be measured.   So it is easy to self-diagnose Asperger syndrome or be mis-diagnosed with it.   Second, there is no "cure" for Asperger syndrome (if indeed such a "cure" were even needed - people with this syndrome often function very well in society).   So once you are diagnosed, what do you do?   Nothing.  

So like I say, it is kind of irrelevant.

But I think it is dangerous in our society these days when diseases become popular in the press and get reported a lot and then people start to popularize them.   Remember "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?"   No one gets that anymore because it was an 1980's disease and we've all moved on to "Fibromyalgia".

Remember Lyme Disease?  We were all supposed to get this from ticks, yet the reported incidence of the disease remains small - compared to public awareness of it.   If you walk in the woods and get bit by a tick, you might get it - and it might never be properly diagnosed.   You can either stay home and cower under your bed, or wear bug spray when you walk in the woods, and move on with life.   The popularization of Lyme Disease really hasn't accomplished much in terms of prevention or diagnoses.

And the same is true with Asperger syndrome.   It is all-too-easy to think that you (or your child) may have this disease, as the diagnoses is based on behavior.   Are you clumsy and poorly coordinated?  Do you walk around like Frankenstein (clump, clump, clump!)?   Maybe you have Asperger's!   Do you have difficulty with non-verbal communication?   Do you tend to focus on one intense interest at a time?   Maybe you have Asperger's!

Or.... maybe you are just clumsy.   It happens.  Not all of us are ballet dancers. In fact, few are.   Communication skills are lacking in all of us - particularly in this day and age.   And being focused on one interest - well that is the definition of modern man.  We are all specialists in this day and age.

Which is why people diagnosed with Asperger's can and often are high-functioning people in this country.   Or maybe, people are misdiagnosed.

And sadly, people are not content to diagnose this in themselves or their children, but have taken to applying the label to others - and even those from the past, long dead.   Did Abraham Lincoln have Asperger's?   (We all know by now that he was Gay, right?  The poor dead! They cannot rest in peace).  The label has in fact be flung at me, as I noted above.

But even if the label sticks, what do you do about it?  Again, the cure is, well, "nothing".   And funny thing, many kids diagnosed with this illness (no doubt by their Moms) tend to "grow out of it" - I suspect about the same time they move out of the house.

Of course, one young man diagnosed with this malady recently made headlines when he shot up an elementary school.   I suspect, however, that he did not have Asperger's but rather was a run-of-the-mill Schizophrenic whose sicko Mom doctor-shopped until she found the diagnoses that matched what she learned from a magazine.   This is the same Mom who took Junior to the gun range and bought him firearms, thinking it would help his mental condition - it didn't.  There is a real danger in kitchen-table diagnosis of diseases.

But for the rest of us, the real danger lies in obsessing about something in our lives that really cannot be changed or altered, no matter how much we obsess about it.  Turning any disease or illness (particularly mental illness) into a hobby is a dangerous thing, as we then tend to view our lives through the lens of our illnesses - and become "sufferers" rather than human beings.

I do suffer from some long-term medical problems.  But I'd rather not talk about them.   Why?  Because I don't want to end up as one of those people who just talks about their aches and pains and other symptoms, or who spends all their time on a disease website - or ends up viewing their lives through the prism of an illness, disease, or syndrome.

And sadly, I've known a number of people who have done just that.   Life passes them by while they spend their time naval-gazing and looking inwardly.   Look outwardly, take control of your life, be yourself, not a disease!   Live!

Is that really such an outrageous or offensive thing to say?

Now, don't get me started on ADHD!   Some folks, it seems, just can't come to grips with the fact that their kids aren't little carbon copies of themselves, and have to go looking for explanations as to why Junior isn't doing well in school.   Junior is stupid.  Just scrap those college plans and get him into Vo-Tech training.   He'll probably end up making more money that you!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What Happend to Obama (or more precisely, his fundraising campaigns?)



Barack Obama pioneered the use of the Internet to raise little bits of money from a lot of people.   It worked out well - enough to elect him President, twice.   But lately, his e-mail come-ons have taken on the air of a carnival barker, or worse - Motley Fool!


I donated money to the Obama campaign, both times around.  Now before all you Libertarians go off on saying he's a Socialist, bear in mind that if you think that, then so was Ronald Reagan.  In fact, both parties are not much different from each other, in terms of execution of policy.  One is a little to the Right the other a little to the Left.

The GOP has always posited itself as the party of big-business, fiscal conservancy, and so forth.  If that were true today, I'd vote for them - and so would a lot of other people.   But lately, the GOP is the party of Creationism, anti-abortion, Fundamentalist Christians, Gun Nuts, Tea Partiers, and all manner of crackpots.   Some would argue that the GOP panders to this "base" (base in every sense of the word) as a means of getting elected (much as the Democrats pander to the far-left hippy-dippies and rarely follow through on a real Leftist agenda).

And that would be OK, too, if they were supporting a conservative fiscal policy.  But instead, they merely pander to their own corporate contributors and plunder the treasury for a different group of people.

So.... when it comes down to making a choice between free-spending Democrats and free-spending Republicans, I guess I have to vote for the party that isn't constantly threatening to put me in an internment camp and teach "Creationism" in public schools.  The GOP has gone off its rocker with this far-right gun-nut racist homophobic religious "right to life" bullshit nonsense that constantly denies reality.

The Democrats may be insane too, but at least their perception of reality is marginally better than the GOP's.  Actually a whole lot better.

But Obama's fundraisers seem to be losing their mind, lately.  Since I donate once, I get e-mails from them all the time.   I get e-mails from Speaker Boehner, too, as I once sent him an e-mail saying "stop being a dick with this shutting down the government nonsense!"   In reply, he has spammed my inbox over and over again with his right-wing nonsense.  And he is a sneaky little prick, too.  I put an e-mail filter on him, to send his e-mails to my TRASH file automatically.  But he (or his minions) keeps changing his e-mail "from" address, to bypass my filters.  I must have 20 Boehner filters on my e-mail by now, but he keeps at it.  Little prick!

But Obama's minions are little better.  The e-mails I get are classic come-ons with suggestive titles that invite me to click on what's inside.   They do seem to filter better than Boehner's, although the Obama crew uses the trick of getting other people to send the e-mails, so I end up busy filtering his trash, too.

The latest series of gags is how I can get to meet the President (always called "POTUS" - as a New Year's resolution, can we now bury that term?).   If I donate money, I get into some lottery or something where I can attend a barbecue or luncheon and meet the real President of the You-Knighted States of Amuurica in person!

These e-mails usually have some sort of come on, like, "Do you want an aisle or window seat?" (for my supposed flight to DC to meet ol' POTUS).

Here's the deal:   The donors who get to meet the President (and sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom) arrive in their own private jets.  And they donate a lot more than I got, for that privilege.   It doesn't matter if there is a Democrat or Republican in the White House, that is how it works.

How it has always worked, how it works, and how it will continue to work.   Again, reality calling, pick up the phone.

This is not a bad thing - our country is still the best place in the world to live (please, no comments about how great Sweden or Finland is - they allow less immigration that we do!).   Everyone wants to move to the US of A.  Few want to leave for foreign shores.  That says it all, period.  Reality, again.

It disturbs me, though that the President has stooped to such lowbrow fundraising efforts.   These e-mail come-ons are an insult to my intelligence. 

As with the NRA and Evangelical Religions, the come-ons are pitched as dire necessity.  "If you don't donate today, they'll [come take your guns away]/[legalize gay marriage]/[overturn Roe v. Wade]!!!"

Hillary, of course, completely screwed up her chances in 2008 by not understanding the Internet.  Not only did she not seek out these small donors (whose money overwhelmed her "whale" contributors), she tried to censor content on her own site, if she (or more precisely, her minions) felt there was even a hint of anti-Hillarism.

So, despite the perception that Hillary is a steamroller whose inevitable election is a foregone conclusion, she could be vulnerable.  The hoopla and come-ons that Obama uses to raise money are odious, but then again, they must work, as the plebes keep sending in their money.

On the other hand, if the GOP puts forth an even somewhat moderate candidate, Hillary could be vulnerable.

But, hey, this is the GOP we're talking about. The delusional folks who think Rick Perry is Presidential and that Sarah Palin is an intellectual.

Maybe Hillary in '16 is a foregone conclusion!

Viewer Mail: Reality is Value-Neutral



A reader writes:
Hello Robert:

Let me make this as brief as possible. I notice that most of what you write in your blogs is not something that the mainstream media would tell the average Joe and Jill Sixpack.  So my question is this: Do you think that your way of thinking -- which most people would label as negative thinking -- is the truly sane way to approach life?  My answer is surely a resounding "yes," but I have to ask this question because we are inundated with all these self-help gurus out there proclaiming the need to be positive in a negative world. Zig Ziglar comes to mind when I think of this.

I am of the opinion that mental illness strikes the hardest at people who are sold all the lies they are being presently sold in our made-for-mass-consumption culture. If people were told reality as it is (whatever that may be), then maybe they would be more sane. Of course, no one would be buying worthless stuff and financing themselves to the bone the way they have been, would they?

I spent years going through the whole "positive thinking" schick back in the late 1990s, and I know that most motivational gurus probably despise the very people that made them rich and the ones that attend their seminars. I never spent a lot of money on the stuff (material), but I nevertheless listened to a lot of it rented from the library and had it copied to me by others who were trying to tell me how great this particular Nightengale-Conant speaker was (Denis Waitley, Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, Jim Rohn... and the list goes on).

I think you need to do an article on this industry. Something seem very sinister and peculiar about it. Authors years ago were more realistic on the human condition, and there seemed to be no profit motive involved either. Books like Golden Gems of Life seemed to deal straight-forwardly and forthright with life at the present time (1880s). Are motivational gurus and self-help gurus -- in your opinion -- being 100% honest with themselves and with their audiences? I have a sneaking suspicion they're not.

Thanks for the e-mail.  Excellent comments and ideas!     See my posting on"Gurus".   It explains all.
REALITY is neither "Negative" or "Positive" - it just is what it is.  How you choose to interpret it, is up to you.
The man who lives in fantasy land, believing in "Positive Thinking" ends up getting burned by mean old Reality all the time.
He thinks he can fly, so he jumps off the Empire State building.  For a few seconds, his "positive thinking" is working - he is flying!   But then mean, old reality steps in, in the form of the fast approaching concrete sidewalk, and then spoils all the fun.  This is, of course, a metaphor.   The Empire State building represents leased cars, overpriced mini-mansions, big-gulp sodas, Jet Skis and all sorts of things that consumers (i.e., human beings) buy, that end up hurting them in the long run, financially, physically, or both.
I agree with you.  Positive thinking seminars are not only worthless, they are EVIL.   When you tell someone (or a company's employees) that the whole problem with their lives or company is their ATTITUDE, you are taking what are reality problems and then blaming them on the person or employee.   Poor management loves this, as it takes the pressure off of them.
But it backfires, as you can't fix your person problems by positive THINKING, but rather by positive ACTIONS.  And similarly, all the positive thinking can't save a company that is mired in debt, has second-rate products, and a poor quality reputation.
General Motor's problem wasn't lack of positive thinking.  Their problem was their inability to confront reality and make hard decisions (such as confronting the unions, dealing with their debt problem, shedding unprofitable divisions).  Reality, in the form of bankruptcy, forced them to deal with messy reality.  In the reality of Bankruptcy, they could unload Pontiac and Saturn (the latter a departure from reality if there ever was one - GM spent more developing that division that it would have cost to BUY Toyota Motor Corporation outright).   They could force the union to renegotiate their contract (which required GM to hire people, even if they weren't needed!).  They could shed the onerous retirement benefits off onto the union.  It took bankruptcy for GM to confront reality.   Until then, it was fantasy-land, fueled by cheap gas and robust SUV sales - and the fantasy that it could go on forever this way.
I am not a "negative" person, just a realistic one.  Reality seems "harsh" only to those who avoid dealing with it.  Oddly enough, the folks who fail to confront reality are usually the ones who are most depressed.
Take my friend, who smokes pot all day long and lives in a fantasy world, where "evil corporations" run the world, and "government conspiracies" explain everything.  He is unemployed and 57 years old.  Is he happy?  Is he a "positive thinker"?  Hell no, and his problem is failing to comprehend and understand reality.
Myself on the other hand, am grateful to be alive in a country where you can make a little money without working too hard - where you have the freedom to speak what you want and do as you choose, up to a point.   Where our greatest health problem is too much food!   I marvel at that one, every day.
I am a positive person, because I have a constructive relationship with reality.
With regard to your comment on mental health, you are right on point.
Most mental illnesses are created when a person's view of the world is disassociated from reality.  Whether it is depression or schizophrenia or whatever.
The depressed person (see my posting on LEARNED HELPLESSNESS) tries to alter his environment, and nothing he does seems to make a difference.  As a result, they become depressed and passive (and excellent consumers!) rather than proactive.   And this is why, if you are depressed, changing something in your life can be a way to help yourself.  Even something trivial as a new haircut programs the brain by saying, "I can control aspects of my life!"
For others, (like a friend of mine, who started going off the rails in his teen years, when schizophrenia sets it) reality seems harsh and unobtainable.  Making the transition from straight-A honor student and Boy Scout to adult working in corporate America seems impossible to do.   So he went off into a fantasy world, aided by drugs.   It did not work out well.
I was lucky, I guess in that at age 18 I became a salary employee of GM.   I learned that I could work for a living, that I had job skills, and that the "captains of industry" were just schmucks like you and me.   Reality, as it turned out, wasn't all that scary.  In fact, it was rather mundane most of the time.   But fun nevertheless.
Of course, extreme mental illness is marked by a total disconnect from reality - hallucinations, hearing voices, etc.
Now, to get to your question - does our society induce mental illness (from mild to wild) by pushing a media version of "reality" that isn't real?   I think you are on to something there.   People are dumb enough to believe that a "reality" television show represents reality.  That actors in a car commercial reflect real life.   But most of us realize that the Hollywood version of life is fake.
See my posting on "How themedia portrays our lives".   I noticed this disconnect as a kid, when on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, they showed Ms. Moore going out and buying a brand-new car, on her limited salary.  The television (and movies) always do that - showing us regular folks living in houses far beyond our means and driving cars we cannot afford.  (unless it is a "gritty drama" in which case they show an overboard representation of poverty).
Again, this is why turning away from the media is so important.  The average American watches 4.5 hours a day of TeeVee, and I suspect it makes them more than a little crazy!
Maybe there is some sinister motive behind all of this.  Perhaps not.  I think snake oil salesmen have been around for a long time.  Whether it is an Ad Man from Madison Avenue, a hollywood producer, or a banker, they all know you can sell anything to anybody, if you can first create a disconnect from reality in the purchasor.