Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Do You Need a Maid?

 Do you really need a maid?  Chances are, no, you don't.

For over a decade we had a maid, and it was an interesting experience.  After watching the video above (and many other Consuela Videos like it) it brought back memories of the frustration and expense of having a maid in our home.

It sounds logical at first.   You are both working high-pressure jobs that require 10 hour days and are both making "big money" - so why not have a maid come in a couple times a week, you know, to do the major cleaning and laundry and such?  After all, we can afford it, right?

Maybe.  Of course, I also had an office building that needed to be cleaned, so I justified the expense as just an extension of that.   But like so much else, it was just justification.

What it really got down to was, Status.   Yea, it was cool to have a maid, to say that you had "help" like you were a rich person, even if you really were not.

Yes, it does take time to do laundry, to cook your own food, to clean your own bathroom, to make your own bed.   But having a maid doesn't really save all that much time, and it does cost a lot of money.

And what do you do with all this time you saved?  Work more, or just watch TV and goof off?

The maid scenario falls into that same old deal that is so tempting when you are making (what you think is) "big money".   You are a young hotshot attorney or real estate agent, bringing in the big bucks, why not pay someone $10 an hour to clean your bathroom?  That's an hour you could spend on legal work or selling real estate, right?

Wrong.   Having a maid doesn't "Free Up" more productive time, it just allows you more goof-off time, so you goof-off more - probably sitting in front of the television and getting fat.

Then there are the problems with having a maid.  We had two originally, each one coming one day a week.  Both were from Latin American countries.   We had to let one go when she asked us if we could borrow $5,000.   Never a good idea to give the keys to your home to someone who is desperate for money.

Our other maid was loyal and stayed with us for years.   The problem was, she was very helpless in life and would come to us with a lot of her personal problems.   We ended up renting her an apartment, as she had trouble with her landlord.  She lived there for 18 years.

One day, she came to me with a mailing that she was sure was a deportation notice.   On the cover was the smiling face of Ed McMahon, announcing that she had already won the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes!   I explained to her that no, the INS wasn't after her, than since she had a green card, they could not deport her, and moreover, she hadn't won the Sweepstakes, either.

And while that is a funny example, many others were not.  She would get phone calls, in Spanish, from people claiming to be from the Police, threatening her if she did not pay them money.   There is an entire industry of Latin American people exploiting their own, based on poor language skills, fear of the police, fear of deportation, and fear of authority.   Bottom line, of course, is fear.

So it was an emotional drag also, to be her employer, as we felt ourselves being drawn further and further into her life, and when we did, we were kind of appalled at how hard a life she had.  People like to beat up on immigrants these days, and it is a shame, as they have a hard enough time as it is - and are usually beaten up, often literally, by their own kind.

We sold the office building, we sold the house, and when we bought the lake house, we briefly had some cleaning staff come in to help.   But we finally let them go when one of the ladies brought her deathly thin husband along to "help" and we realized he was a meth fiend.   We also realized that now that we were both working part-time and semi-retired, it was kind of obscene to have cleaning help when we were perfectly capable of doing it ourselves.

And it is funny, too, I find that doing laundry, running the vacuum, and putting things away, makes me feel better about myself and also provides with me physical activitity to do during the day.   How many people have a maid and a gardener and a lawn service and then pay someone to tell them how to exercise?

It kind of makes no sense.   And how much did we spend?   I can't rightly say, but it was hundreds of dollars a month, I am sure - which is thousands of dollars a year.  We spent money on a maid and then refinanced the house to pay off credit card debts - and never made the connection between the two (or the six cars parked in the driveway).

It was sad, it was difficult, and it was expensive.   Oh, and she liked to break things.   We went through three vacuum cleaners, including an Electrolux.   She felt that the best way to unplug the vacuum cleaner was to yank the cord from across the room.  And for some reason she felt she had to smash the vacuum head into the furniture - scarring furniture and smashing the vacuum in the process.

And no piece of tchotchke was safe.   Small precious items would be found in a tiny pile of pieces or in a plastic bag.   I would glue some back together, only to see them broken again.   And articles would be moved around the room in an attempt at Mexican Feng Shui.  Ceramic elephants, apparently, had to face a certain direction.   And cardinals!  They were good luck (but most likely to be broken).

Other friends of mine also had maids.  And some of these friends were housewives who did not even have part-time jobs.   They needed a maid to "help around the house a bit" - a gambit my mother also used back in the day.   The problem was (and is) what do these bored housewives do with all this free time?   Sit around and feel useless and sorry for themselves, is what.

She called Mark, "Mr. Mike".

Recurring Monthly Expenses & The Subscription Model.

People spend hundreds of dollars a month on television, cell phones, and internet services, that often detract from their lives, not add to them.  Moreover, these expenses end up swallowing up a huge portion of discretionary spending.

I was talking with a friend the other day, and they were complaining that the cable company "ripped them off".   They were paying $160+ a month for combined Internet, Cable, and Cable telephone service.   The company raised the rate to a staggering $183 a month, and my friend decided to cancel the service.

However, they had set up the service to charge to their credit card (negative option) so the company kept charging them.   They finally got the company to stop charging (they think) and are trying to get a refund on the service.  Good luck with that.

Why did they charge their cable bill to the credit card?  To get the free miles, of course!   More faux financial acumen at work.  You step into a nasty negative-option trap to get a few pennies back a month.  It ain't worth it.   You can't spend your way to wealth!

I mentioned, offhand that I pay $45 a month for AT&T Uverse internet service, and about $20 a year for NetTalk phone service (which I have renewed until 2019).    With $100 a year each for two GoPhone cell phones, this comes to about $760 a year for telecommunications services.   Fairly cheap.

My friend is paying $80 a month for cell phone service, or a total of $2880 a year for telecommunications services, including the $160 cable bill.   Nearly three grand a year to yak on the phone and watch commercials on television.  That to me is a lot of money.   And my friend is always complaining about being broke all the time.  It comes to about 6.5% of their pre-tax income.  It is an alarming amount of money to spend on telecommunications, in my book.

The amount I spend would be about 1.7% of their pre-tax income - and looking at expenses as a percentage of annual income is another good way to spot excess spending - bearing in mind that of all those 1%'s you have to spend, you only get 100 of them, and frankly, most are spoken for by real needs and expenses like taxes, savings, food, and shelter.

And you know what?  Frankly, I think $760 a year is too much to spend.   I continually look for ways to cut this cost further, if I can.  And my communications costs are largely tax deductible as part of my business, too.

It is sad, but most salary slaves squander away a lifetime of earnings this way - one monthly payment at a time.   They convince themselves that they "need" certain things and that they "have to have" them and moreover are "getting a great deal" by "bundling" services together.   But as you can see, the bundle is still very, very expensive and it is faux financial acumen at its worst to think this is how one gets ahead in life.

"But I have to have my television!" they cry.   Well, actually not.   But you know, if you buy a $50 antenna at Radio Shack you can connect your television to it and find out that, thanks the the FCC caving into broadcasters, you can now get as many as a dozen channels even in a market with only four television networks.   And many of these channels are the same basic cable crap you were formerly paying for.  FREE off the air television, and much of it in HD, too.

But better yet, is to just do without.   You know that whole sacrificing thing - getting ahead in life by deciding that no, you don't need to be treated today for being a special person.   In fact, spoiling yourself is not going to accomplish anything except make you a lazy whiny American, and we have enough of those, thank you.

How do you avoid this subscription trap?   Well, to begin with, look at things in terms of annual cost instead of monthly payment.   The local cable company wanted nearly two grand for cable, phone, and internet - and over three grand with the price increase.  My friend was paying another grand for phone service.   Since when did talking on the phone cost a thousand dollars?   Since people decided that they "had to have" a cell phone and were willing to pay anything to get one.

Another way, as noted above, is to look at the cost in terms of percentage of annual income.  Again, you get only 100 of these percentage points, and if you are paying 5% or more of your income to watch television, that is an staggeringly large amount of money.

What my friends are paying just to watch television and yak on the phone (and worse, text) is enough to make a car payment on a fairly nice used car.   Should television cost as much as a car?   I for one don't think so.

But for many folks, this simply isn't an option.   They believe that life requires texting, and thus they cannot live without constantly being in contact with other people, if only to say the most trivial things.  They have to watch their "sports channels" as they "live for football!"   I really feel sorry for such folks, if that is the highlight of their lives - watching other people actually do things.

Do I lead a deprived life by not having cable TV or a smart phone?   Hardly.   In fact, my quality of life is better as a result of it.  I read more, have real conversations with people, and don't interrupt folks every five minutes to answer texts.

You can live better by living on less.  $2000 a year is a lot of money particularly for people who claim to be broke all the time.

NOTE:  If you go on vacation for more than a month or so, most cable providers and internet service providers will put your service on "vacation hold" while you are gone - at a far reduced rate.   But pulling the plug from the almighty TeeVee is really a better option.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why are Facebook People So Gullible?

Facebook is the AOL of the Internet.

Hoaxes, rumors, cons, and outright lies seem to spread fastest through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.   And it is not hard to fathom why.   People using these sites are the consumers of the Internet.   They have no idea how to code HTML or how the Internet even works.   They just want to go to a fun interface that is ridiculously easy to use, and then upload photos and rumors.

To be sure, people have been gullible on the Internet for ages.   But the level of gullibility really correlates to the level of engagement with the Internet and indeed, their own computers.   In the early days of "online" computing, we all dialed up to our local ISP to get online and send e-mails, monitor discussion groups, and explore this new "World Wide Web" thing.

Back then, AOL had its own version of the Internet, and a portal through which AOL users could escape the wading pool of AOL and dive into the deep end of the real Internet.   And once they got out the wading pool, well, they were out of their element.   People called them AOLamers back then, as they were, well, pretty clueless about everything.   The Internet was a place for computer geeks, and people who took the easy route of using AOL were viewed as lazy and superficial.

Today, we see the same thing.   People use a cell phone or pad device to access Facebook (which to them, IS the Internet!) really have no clue how their devices work, how the Internet works, or what is truth and what is fiction.   The great unwashed masses (GUM) are now on the Internet, and it isn't a good thing, trust me.

When the Internet was dominated by computer geeks, there were issues, to be sure.   But computer geeks at least had some level of education and some level of intelligence.   Now, well, they let just anyone on, and the most clueless people are drawn to the easiest-to-use interfaces like Facebook.

Facebook's interface is stupefyingly easy to use.  You set up an account, upload some photos from your smart phone and Wa-La (as they would say) you have a Facebook page.  The interface is so dumbed-down a child could use it.

And I guess that is why I quickly tired of Facebook.   It is a piano with four keys.   You think you are being smart, clever, and original, but really you are just copying what everyone else is doing.

And Facebook is noticing this.   As I noted in an earlier post, the demographic shift of Facebook is alarming - for Facebook.   Not only are they not gaining younger users - they are losing them.  And at the same time, they are gaining older users - way older users - the over-55 set.   In other words, befuddled grandma's (the gender demographic also leans female, 55-45%).

Facebook is getting the reputation as the haven for hysterical old women who spread "Wal-Mart Slasher" scare stories, faster than the speed of light.

Snopes has nearly thrown up their hands in disgust  -  the speed and level at which urban legends are spreading on Facebook is overpowering their abilities to debunk them.   Log onto Snopes these days and you may see ten new entries of new urban legends - and almost all of them are "trending on social media" which means Facebook.

Facebook is trying to stem the tide.  They have tweaked their algorithms yet again in an attempt to quash "fake news" and urban legends from your Facebook news feed.  The problem is, does that smack of censorship?   There are people who believe that vaccines are a deadly hoax or that there are aliens in Area 51.   How far do you go to monitor people's beliefs and correct them?

And what about satirical news sites like The Onion?   Facebook proposes labeling those "satire" as the old fuddy-duddies on Facebook have never heard of The Onion and don't get something is satire unless you label it as such.

So, I am not sure Facebook's latest efforts will work.   You see, spreading rumors and fake news is what people like about Facebook.  The vast majority of the GUM like to spread these sort of stupid Wal-Mart Slasher stories, so they can say they are "in the know" and feel important, much as Grandpa likes to forward you e-mails with "interesting stories" in them.

The reason people like to "like" bullshit stories on Facebook are the same reasons oldsters like to forward chain e-mails.

Granted, e-mail had this same problem, not too long ago.  People were forwarding chain e-mails to their friends, and SPAMMERS were sending SPAM.   "Social Engineering" techniques were used to scam people into giving up their usernames and passwords (Yahoo! seeming to be the worst of these - the new AOL?).    E-mail providers quickly realized they had a problem on their hands.   Eliminate SPAM or die.

So algorithms today tend to filter out SPAM more effectively - perhaps too much so.   When Grandad does a mass-forward, it ends up in the SPAM box, simply because it is addressed to 30 people.   But the solution worked - SPAM is down a lot on e-mail these days.   And folks quickly realized that no one appreciates those mass-forwarded e-mails, rumors, and other junk that it is tempting to forward.

Facebook, well, that is just ALL forwarded SPAM.   In fact, the e-mail aspect of Facebook is difficult to use (perhaps by design).  E-mail has evolved into a more serious business conduit for important things.   Facebook is, well, computer entertainment for the plebes.

It remains to be seen if this new algorithm solves the fake news problem on Facebook.   I suspect it will backfire, as angry Facebookers decry the "censorship" of their favorite fake news stories.

Kollege Part XXXIV (Part Deux)

College has morphed from academic study to an excuse to party for four years.   Why is this?
As I noted in a previous post, something happened to "college" over the last few decades, to make it, well, different than the "college" experience that many of us had back in the 1960's, 1970's, and even 1980's.   College has largely become more expensive, more irrelevant, more dangerous, and more, well, more of everything bad that college was.

Many people today probably would be better off not going to college than going.   Concentrating on a career or trade early in life (as I did) ends up being a better way to focus your abilities and get ahead, than simply "growing up" for another four years in an environment that encourages young people to, well, act like children.
An article in the news a while back, illustrates yet more reasons not to feel sorry for college students with staggering student loan debts.  At UVA, they've found the body of a student that went missing a few months back.   She was 18 years old and everyone said what a great student and athlete she was, etc. etc. etc.
She was last seen leaving a bar at 2:00 AM being following by a man the Police now think killed her.

I'm not playing "blame the victim" here.  If I left a bar at 2:00 AM, drunk out of my mind, and someone clocked me over the head and took my wallet, you'd have little sympathy for me.   After all, I was being irresponsible by putting myself in a situation where I could be easily victimized.

An 18-year-old girl, leaving a bar at 2:00 AM, miles from campus, by herself?   Even stone cold sober, this is not a smart thing to do.   And with the drinking age now 21, what is an 18-year-old doing in a bar in the first place?  Isn't she supposed to be in college?  Isn't the drinking age 21 now?
This isn't sexist advice:  Ladies, there are men out there who prey upon women.   You might want to watch out for them.   Just as anyone wouldn't think about walking through a bad part of town late at night, one should never leave a bar alone at 2:00 AM.   You have to look out for yourself.

And hey, there are men who prey upon men:  Just to take your wallet, or just to clock you over the head for the fun of it.   And yea, I've been there so I know of where I speak.   Walking alone in bad neighborhoods late at night is just a bad idea for anyone of any race, gender, or whatever.

But getting back to the point - why was this young woman who was supposed to be getting a college education, hanging out, underage in a bar?   Isn't the point of college to get an education?   Shouldn't she have been studying her coursework and calling it an early night?

I know what some of you are going to say.  "Well, didn't you hang out in bars when you were in college?"   Short answer: NO.  First, the drinking age had been raised to 21 (which was really unfair, as I was "legal" to drink just months before) so no bars would admit me.   Second, there were few bars in Flint, Michigan, that I would want to "hang out" in.   Yes, I did go to some fraternity parties and got caught up in "partying".   See my posting about dropping out of college.

That's the whole point.  If you want to "party" in college, expect to waste a college career.  Again, I know this from experience.
When I went back to college, I realized that I had wasted a great opportunity first time around.  And this time around, I had to work my way through.  So I ended up delivering the pizzas to the partiers, instead of ordering them.  And yea, I took their tip money, too.   Even though they probably needed it more than I did.  After all, I wasn't the one graduating with student loan debt, they were.

Irony alert:  I wonder how many college grads who can't find jobs and are saddled with student loan debt, are now reduced to delivering pizzas, and thinking back how it was just a few years before when they were ordering the pies and tipping the delivery driver.  I am sure there is more than one!
And back at the shop, I served pizza slices to drunken undergraduates at 2AM.  2 AM is what we call "closing time" - and if you find yourself leaving bars at closing time, I might suggest that you re-think where your life is headed.   Sadly, many 18-year-olds, liberated from parental authority, end up doing dumb things like this - partying instead of studying.  Most just flunk out.  Few pay for it with their lives.

But partying seems to be the name of the game these days, in college.  In Keene, New Hampshire, college students once again trashed the town during the annual pumpkin festival.  If this were an isolated incident (or even the first occurrence in this town!) it would not bear comment.  However, it is one of a series of festivals or post-game celebrations that in recent years have turned into beer-fueled destructive riots.  Kids it seems, have a lot of time on their hands, in college.

And that is the dirty little secret of college.   While guys like me had to hump with two jobs and Calculus to study, many other have an awful lot of time on their hands and courses that are anything but hard.   One way to reduce the amount of nonsense going on in college these days would simply be to increase the amount of coursework.   But since students don't like that, it isn't about to happen.  The college installs a new climbing wall in the student center, instead.
These college riots have little or no cause, other than to cause mass destruction.   Yes, other socioeconomic groups have been known to riot on occasion.   But usually these are the side-effects of some sort of protest gone awry.   What are these college kids protesting?  Not enough beer?
And ironically, it is these white fraternity brothers who would be the first to condemn blacks for rioting in response to an incident of Police Brutality or the like.   "Those stupid N-words," they would say, "always busting up their own neighborhood!  Say, did you get the Molotov cocktails ready for this years P-fest?"  Irony is lost on them.  A lot of things are.  Fraternities suck.
Speaking of which:  Ladies, if you don't want to be date-raped, you might want to avoid fraternity parties.  Not a year goes by where we don't hear about at least once incident on campus where a young girl is violated at a fraternity party.  Just don't go.  You are in college to get an education.  And fraternity brothers are generally self-centered jerks.  The kind of guys who think women should be drugged and raped.  You know, nice fellows you'd like to bring home to Mom and Dad.  Sociopaths.
Sadly, college has become the new high school, and that is scary for a number of reasons.   First, High School sucks - it is a popularity contest, not an educational institution.  Morphing college into high school creates whole new problems.  Since kids are now alone and unsupervised, their worst instincts are now completely unfettered.   And since college is so staggeringly expensive, this four years of partying ends up costing them dearly - effectively mortgaging the rest of their lives.
Yes, kids partied and protested in years gone by.   Well, maybe not so much before the 1960's, when college was not viewed as a right, but a privilege.   In the 1960's, at least, the protesting was ostensibly about issues - the Vietnam War, for example (although most protesters probably had a deferment and were in little danger of being drafted).  And yea, there was a lot of "free love" and partying going on - and some were showing up just for the party.  But a lot of others were not protesting (which is not talked about) and were pretty serious about their educations.
I talked before about my Brother, who partied his way through college in the late 1970's, proud of the fact he was spending the then-astounding sum of $40,000 of Dad's Money and taking "gut courses" like "Drugs in Perspective" and "WW II in films".   (A typical "school day" consisted of getting stoned and watching old John Wayne movies - at least he trained well for his career path as a chronic stoner).
But at the time (1980), he was more the exception than the rule.   And at the time, parents could "afford" to send their kids to college and college wasn't so staggeringly expensive.   Today, the rules have changed, and yet today, people take college even less seriously than before.   College tuition rates have gone up at 2-3 times the rate of inflation for decades, which means the real cost of college has increased dramatically since my brother majored in Bong Science.
The job market has also changed dramatically since those days.   Well, actually not that dramatically.  My brother found it hard to get a job with a low grade average and a transcript that had "party boy" written all over it.   Majors in nebulous things like "communications" or "anthropology" or "psychology" generally don't lead to jobs, unless you are one of the very lucky few, or are prepared to go to graduate school.
Today, the situation is worse.  Gone for good are the days when a Liberal Arts degree was enough to get you an entry-level white-collar job in Corporate America.   Corporations have shed millions of jobs over the years, as computers and automation replace both blue- and white-collar workers.   In order to find a job, you have to have skills that plug-in to our new, technological society.
This does not mean you need to know how to code, or design semiconductor circuits, only that your skill sets be relevant to our world today, not the world of 60 years ago.   And to graduate without any skill sets whatsoever?   Well, you can occupy Wall Street all you want, it ain't going to change the fact that there is no job opening for you - and that you wasted $80,000 in student loans on four years of partying, that you must now pay for for the rest of your life.
But again, as I noted before, the system is stacked against students.   We ask them to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives, at the age of 18.   We entice them to colleges that look like "fun" by installing rock-climbing walls and offering gut courses.   We feed them normative cues that are completely skewed.  And since they are young and naive, they bite on them, big time.   Teenagers are the most suggestible lot out there - which is why we draft them to fight our wars (old people would balk).

President Obama has suggested that we make Community College free.  I am not sure how this will help anything, other than to devalue (further) the worth of a Community College diploma.   College has to be made more relevant to the real world, and not just some abstract exercise in academia.

Regardless of what area you study in, getting real experience in the world is going to be more helpful to you in the long run, than sitting in classes listening to professors blather on.   It is a shame that more schools don't offer more "hands on" courses and engage businesses and industry to offer internships and other job experiences which could really enhance a student's understanding of a field - and perhaps persuade them not to go into that field.

I was fortunate that the fields I chose to study, someone was willing to hire me, pay me, and then pay for my education in that field.   In Engineering, that is still true today.   In the law business, perhaps less so.   In many other fields (bullshit degrees) there is no one willing to sponsor an intern or a co-op student for the very simple reason that there is no business in that business.    The sad fact of the matter is, the vast majority of college students are graduating with degrees that mean absolutely nothing to them, or the job market.

College is basically broken.

Friday, January 23, 2015

What the Heck Happened to Fidelity?

Fidelity is starting to act like Motley Fool and this is not a good thing.

We have been with Fidelity for over 20 years.  And for over 20 years, we've never really noticed they were there.  Like most young adults, we started the account on advice of a parent, as we figured "old people" (e.g., people my age today) know what they are doing when it comes to retirement.

So for nearly three decades, we have put money into Fidelity accounts and watched them grow.   They would send us quarterly reports and we would be pleased to see, most of the time, the amount this month was greater than last month.  And that is, largely, how you should invest.   In your earning years, put money away, into a panoply of things, and leave it alone and let it grow.   A big mistake is to try to "leverage" your savings by investing in "hot stock picks" or gold, or whatever they are hyping on the television.

But about four years ago, Fidelity started to change.  We started getting more mail from them - junk mail.  They sent us a mailing telling us they had set up an "office" in nearby Jacksonville and that we should meet with an "adviser" there.

So, I figured that free financial advice was never too bad a thing, (what was I thinking?)  and we went.   Nice fancy offices, that of course are paid for by me and every other Fidelity investor.   Funny thing, though, financial advisers never want you to think that.  No, no, this is their crib, and you are lucky to be allowed into it!

That was the first thing the adviser told us, that in order to be eligible to hear his words of wisdom, we really should have more money invested with Fidelity, to be a "premier" member or whatnot.   The man, selling status, once again, I see.  But he would stoop to our level to talk to us, out of the goodness of his heart.

And mostly, he talked about himself, and the more he talked, the less I thought I would get any valuable information from him.   He was a young guy in his 30's, with a mortgage, car payments, smart phones, and a cable bill  - no doubt raking in a six-figure salary and then spending every penny of it.  At least he was saving in his 401(k) plan.   But his advice was geared toward the debt generation - people making salaries and then spending in monthly tidbits.

"You shouldn't pay off your mortgage!" he told us, "I could do much better for you in the market!"   That may be true (or sometimes not true) but the point is, in order to carry that mortgage, I would have to cough up a couple of grand a month.   Now, I suppose I could have invested that money with him, and if the rate of return exceeded 5.6% then I would come out ahead and be able to pay the mortgage.   But getting a reliable rate of return like that is hard to do.   Yes, you can make 10% in the market - maybe more, if you risk your capital.  But if the account did not generate more than 5.6% then I wouldn't have enough to pay the mortgage every month, unless I started dipping into the capital, which in turn would mean next month's return would be lower, and so on, until I lost my house.

As a 55-year-old facing retirement, I can't afford to risk $400,000 on a scheme like that, on the premise that I might make a little more money before I retire.  From his perspective - as a 35 year-old with a huge paycheck more than covers the mortgage and he needs a tax deduction to offset his taxes - such a scheme makes more sense.  Hey, worst case scenario, he loses it all and starts all over again.   A lot easier to do at age 35 than at age 55.  He really had no clue, however, what it was like to get old.

His other piece of wisdom was to move funds from other companies to Fidelity.   This is obviously self-serving.  Funny thing, State Farm suggested the same thing, even telling us to cash in life insurance and sell funds and buy new ones with high loads.   At least Fidelity didn't go that far!

As a general rule, I can safely say that any investment adviser is going to advise you to move funds to his company, invest with his company, and do other actions which generate income for the company, points for him, or in some cases, even commissions.  Very few investment adviser will say, "Gee, your portfolio looks great, I wouldn't change a thing!" - and by very few I mean none, whatsoever.

And I wonder if he was being pressured by management - "You there, call clients and start hawking funds!  Get them to move funds around, churn accounts!  Generate commissions!  Get to Work!"  But while he did suggest I move my money around into different accounts, at least they didn't have loads, as my Northwestern agent suggested.   I have come to the conclusion that unless you are utterly clueless about money that an investment adviser is not really necessary  Most young people have a 401(k) that allows them to choose from one of four or five funds.     You can roll this over into an IRA when you leave and even put it with the same company in the same funds.   But other than picking which funds, I think jumping from fund to fund or churning your account is really not a good idea.

But then the junk mail really started coming.   We got these "Fidelity Adviser" letters and e-mails, as well as some sort of "analysis" with pie-charts that really wasn't very illuminating.   Four pages of garbage with no real conclusions or insights.  '"10% of your porfolio is in large cap stocks!" (or whatever)   What does this mean to the average investor who doesn't know what "large cap" even means?   Is 10% too much or too little?  And for my age and retirement plans, how does this factor in?  Pie charts can be utterly useless, as Mint has demonstrated.

We got invitations to online conference calls to discuss our investments.   Did we really need to do this?    For most small investors, swapping funds and jerking your money around is usually the worst thing you can do.   If you have a well-balanced portfolio, this should not be necessary - at all.

But when push came to shove, I asked him, "Well, do you think we need to change the mix of our portfolio at all?"   And he thought about this and said, "Well, your portfolio is a bit on the low-risk side.   Mark's is a bit more tilted toward risk.  Yours should be directed more toward riskier and higher-rate-of-return investments, and Mark's toward safer investments."

I thought about this and replied, "Well, I'm 55, so a lower-risk portfolio makes more sense, doesn't it?  And Mark is 50, so a higher-risk portfolio makes more sense, doesn't it?  And if you average the two portfolios together, it pretty much is the mix you say we should have, right?"

And this stumped him for a minute, and he said, "Well, yea, I guess you are right."

So I am not sure this adviser had much in the way of great advice to give me.   I had 100 questions to ask, but all I got were vague answers.   You see, investment advisers (like insurance agents) are trained to be evasive, as they don't want to be seen as promising anything.

For example, I asked him about annuities, as a friend of mine was into them (I am not so sure they are a great thing, but a I was curious).   What I got from him was that yes, annuities exist, and yes, you can buy one.   No real analysis or discussion or certainly not the answer I was looking for, which was either, "Yes, this might be a good adjunct to your retirement plans to provide a guaranteed fixed income in addition to your other assets" or "No, these are a rip-off, I would avoid them at all costs."

Well, at least he didn't try to sell me one, I guess.  But it leaves me right back where I started, which is having to research the snot out of everything and then come to my own conclusions.   My 30-year track record of investing has taught me one thing - advice from investment advisers has often been the worst advise I have gotten, and it is usually, if not always, self-serving.   I won't go so far as to call them all crooks, but you have to realize they are in business to make a living, and most make a living by selling things on commission.

The other thing that was a bit disturbing is that he sort of pooh-poohed by own investments.  I have a small account of dividend-paying stocks.    When I compare the rates of return of my own stock picks to that of Fidelity mutual funds, I find that I am cleaning Fidelity's clock by nearly 3-1, and this is with a portfolio of relatively boring blue-chip dividend-paying stocks that are considered low risk.  In the last year, the stock market has done well.  My Fidelity funds are doing maybe 8% and my own picks, 18%.  I need an adviser for this?  A mutual fund?

We recently inherited an IRA and we needed to roll it over into Mark's account as an IRA to avoid taxes.  From Publication 590 of the IRS:
"However, you can make a trustee-to-trustee transfer as long as the IRA into which amounts are being moved is set up and maintained in the name of the deceased IRA owner for the benefit of you as beneficiary.   Like the original owner, you generally will not owe tax on the assets in the IRA until you receive distributions from it. You must begin receiving distributions from the IRA under the rules for distributions that apply to beneficiaries."
 So, this has to be handled just so, to avoid paying a huge chunk in taxes.  You know, the sort of thing you want your investment adviser to help you with.

The Fidelity agent who handled the deceased's IRA told use to set up a new account and to go online to do this.   I was a little concerned as I didn't want to have yet another account separate from the original accounts.  Mark wanted our "adviser" in Florida to handle it.

So I called him and..... nothing.  No returned call, no e-mail, nothing.   In fact, it is hard to get in touch with people there, directly.  E-mails go through a central clearing house, and phone calls require a five-digit extension that is routed to voice mail.  So I called and left a message.  I e-mailed and left a message.  I gave account numbers, the phone number of the man handling the deceased's account.

Nothing.  No return calls, no guidance, no coordination.  No help.   This big glass-box office and all these people and they do.... nothing.   So what's the point?

I finally called the guy in Maine handling the deceased's account and after a few weeks, he called back.   We were able to set up the account, which so far has a balance of zero.   We'll see if the proceeds transfer or not.

The second thing was that we had sold a house in Florida and now had a six-figure amount to invest in Fidelity.  I wanted to ask our "adviser" where we should invest this money.   Again, phone calls, e-mails, and no response.

But meanwhile, the junk mail continues to flow in, now peppered with credit-card offers.   Do these people really have my back?  And what on God's earth is going on here?

I log onto their website, which is OK, but like most financial websites, obsesses about stock price and neglects dividends and income.  At least on eTrade I could get a printout of my dividend and interest income and a forecast of income for the next year.   On Fidelity, to see my dividend and interest income, I have to either download monthly "statements" (in an unreadable and confusing format) or just look at the cash balance in my account and guess where the money came from.

But as bad as that site was, Fidelity decides to come up with a "New Exciting Website Experience!" - with all sorts of flashy graphics and nonsense which I am sure loaded really quickly on the developer's computer.   Sadly, on mine, it crashes, even using a UVERSE connection.   On a laptop at an Internet Cafe?   Well forget about it.

And this new website, now in Beta, will be shoved down our throats this spring.   "But wait!" you say, "Maybe the new website will have all sorts of new information you can use!"   And if that were the case, I would be cheering it on.   But from what I can see, when I can get it to load (load site, get coffee, take a dump, come back, it might be up) it is the same data as before, but now made to look more like a Facebook page.   In other words, Fidelity is going all Social Media, now that the trend has already peaked.  And quite frankly, I would not trust my money to a social media page.

Investment houses are based on trust.   You hand them the fruits of decades of hard labor, and they hand you sheets of paper with numbers on them, that say you have so much money.   Banks work the same way.  And that is why both try to use names which sound strong and trustworthy (say, for example, Fidelity).   No one names their brokerage "Joe's Fly-by-Night".   And it is why banks have vault-like buildings that give the impression of safety and permanence.   And yea, a lot of this is illusory, as we discovered about six years ago.   Banks and brokerage houses can fly away with the wind on a moment's notice.

What has changed at Fidelity is not something I can point to and say, "There, right there, it is, that ONE THING that seems to be different!"   Rather, it is a cumulative number of small annoying changes that cause me to lose faith in Fidelity as being vault-like or safe:

1. Junk Mail
2. Junk e-mail
3. Useless reports with pie charts that mean nothing.
4. Indecipherable monthly statements.
5. Investment advisers who don't advise and don't help and don't answer calls or e-mails.
7. A new website that is all flash and just trash.
8. The rates of return are not all that great.
9. A feeling in the pit of my stomach that someone at the top, who is being paid seven figures, is deciding on these changes and they are not going to be in my best interests.
And that right there is the problem.  You see, money saved in mutual fund accounts, or in stock trading accounts, is not guaranteed, or insured by the FDIC.   You can lose it all - every damn penny of it - if the market goes down or if the trading house turns out to be fraudulently operated.  And as a plebe, you have no way of telling the good places from the badi.

Employees of Enron put all their 401(k) into company stock.  The President of the company exhorted employees to "invest it all" in company stock, just weeks before the company collapsed - and even though he knew the place was insolvent.   Moreover, investment advisers were touting the stock and high-priced accounting firms were certifying the books as accurate.
Sure, a few people sounded the alarm.  And if you were "in the know" at the time, maybe you got out.  But most of us don't have all day to search out data on investments and figure out whether company X is going belly-up.

And this is why I say diversification is the key.  Not only to have a panoply of different investments, but to have them spread out over a number of different brokerages and agencies.    It doesn't really help to have a "diversified portfolio" but have it all with one company.  That is not diversification.

Because when it comes down to it, there are no shares of stock or mutual funds sitting in the Scrooge McDuck Money Vault, with your name scrawled on them in Crayon.   Your "investment" is just a number stored in a computer, and represents an equity that the firm may or may not hold or hold blocks of.  Of course, if a brokerage goes bankrupt, you may be protected by the SIPC, but then again, maybe not.  And the SIPC only protects you up to $500,000, which is another reason not to put "all your eggs in one basket".

So, I decided to pull my individually-owned stocks from Fidelity.  $6.95 trades sounds attractive, but free trades at Merrill Edge sounds even better.  And I am glad I did this in 2014, as starting this year, you are allowed only one IRA rollover per yearOtherwise, the amount rolled over is considered a distribution (why this is, is beyond me, other than some wily fellow was rolling over money a number of times and then cashing it out and not paying taxes, leaving a difficult trail for the IRS to follow).

And as for the house money and other inheritances, I think I will re-open my Vanguard account and perhaps roll over some money into that in 2015.  The low management fees and higher rates of return are indeed attractive.

And we'll see if they send me junk mail and Credit Card offers....

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Is CreditKarma a Scam? Is it Worthwhile?

Credit Karma offers for free, what others also offer for free.

CreditKarma is a website that allows you to view credit reports from Transunion, and now Equifax.   It also allows to display your credit scores.   Is this a good deal?  A scam?  What?

Well, it does not appear to be a scam, in that they are not asking for money, stealing from you, or deceiving you.

Is it worthwhile?  In my opinion, no.  The credit reporting industry has changed dramatically in the last year, in that the once-coveted "credit score" which was touted as "intellectual property" of the credit reporting agencies, is now being offered for free by many credit card companies, such as Capital One and Barclay (both of which now offer no foreign transaction fees, too).

Not long ago, financial gurus like Suze "The Sooze" Orman were selling you your credit score as part of a $49.95 "FICO Kit" - and a lot of people were buying.  A good business for the Sooze, for sure.

Worse yet, many credit agencies were selling something called "credit protector" for $29.95 a month or some such, which provided you with your credit score and credit alerts if your score changed or your credit history changed.

And if you went on the credit reporting sites, they would provide you with an annual credit report for free - as required by law - (www.annualcreditreport.com) but would then offer to sell you the "score" for $7.95 which was considered intellectual property.

So getting your credit score was a bit of a pain in the butt, and you'd have to pay to see it.  Sites like Credit Karma seemed like a good deal, as you could see your report and score - for free.

But lately, it seems that the credit reporting agencies have largely given up on trying to play peek-a-boo with your credit score.   Many credit card companies are offering free credit score monitoring as part of the benefits package of the card - even low interest rate cards like I have.

So what is the point of CreditKarma again?  Now that this stuff is free from your credit card, their business model doesn't make much sense anymore.   And this is another prime example where an Internet startup can go from Hot to Not overnight, as conditions change.

Their business model is apparently based on advertising.  You log in, you check your score, and advertisers can then target you with credit offers.  Maybe these are good offers, maybe not.   I am inclined to think that the best offers, in terms of lowest interest rates, are going to be the ones that you seek out, not the ones that find you, through websites.

Generally speaking, it is a bad idea to bite on financial deals offered to you in e-mails, SPAM, online advertising, junk mail, and through telemarketers.   It is not that all of these deals are bad bargains or ripoffs, but that since they are paying to market to you, their bargains cannot usually be the best priced.

For example, in terms of low-interest cards, a small bank in Arkansas usually leads the way.  Simmons First doesn't do a lot of advertising or promotion.   You won't get a junk mailer from them.   They offer a no-nonsense card at a low rate (about 7%) and that's it.   Not a lot of "benefits" or fru-fru, just a basic low-rate credit card.  But they only offer the card to people with perfect credit, so you won't see come-ons from them for 0% rollovers or whatever.

Why are low-rate cards the best deal?   Well, again, if you rely on "willpower" as your bulwark against financial catastrophe, you will likely fail, as willpower ain't what it is cracked up to be.   The credit card companies know this just as a loan shark knows his clients or the pusher knows his junkies.

They know you will think you are "smart" by getting a "rewards" card with a high interest rate, and that you will say to yourself, "Gee, I will get all these frequent flyer miles!  And I'll never pay interest, because I will pay off the balance every month!"  They know this.

And they know that you will fail at this resolution.   Most people do.   It is a resolution I hear all the time from young folks.   Older people don't say this as often.   They've already made such promises to themselves and then broken them.   70% of Americans carry a balance from month to month.  Most from year to year.

So, CreditKarma is a website.  They offer you your credit score for free.  Other places offer your credit score for free, too.   The offers on CreditKarma may or may not be good.   I would look at them with a critical eye.

The main thing, of course, is to stop obsessing about your credit and credit score.   Yes, it is important, when you are young, to have good credit.  You will need a clean credit history to get that mortgage and today, even a job. 

But as you get older, you should think less and less in terms of "Gee, how much more can I borrow?" and more and more in terms of "Gee, how many more payments do I have to make before I am debt-free?"

Checking your annual credit report for misinformation, incorrect information, or fraudulent activity is important, but you can get that information for free on www.annualcreditreport.com.   And really, once a year is all you have to check.

If you pay your bills on time and are not overly stretched on credit, your score should be sufficient.   And bear in mind that credit score isn't everything these days.  If you are applying for a mortgage, they will want to see proof of income as well, and your income/debt ratio is a huge factor in whether you are granted a mortgage.

You may have a credit score of 770, but if you make only $40,000 a year, they are not likely to approve a mortgage for $300,000 - regardless of how good your credit is.  The monthly payments would exceed your take-home pay.

When you obsess about your credit score, you let the credit industry win.   Stop thinking of money as something you borrow - but as something you own.   When you do that, you won't care about your credit score at all - and ironically, you will be offered the best deals in town.

UPDATE:  The Credit Karma site works well, although you have to provide your social security number for them to find your credit score.  Since I already know my credit score and just printed out my credit report, I did not need this information, but what Credit Karma provided, of course was identical to what I got from annualcreditreport.com and from my credit card company.

The full credit report is listed as in "Beta" mode and it did work.

As expected, there is an "offers" page and they want to sell you credit card deals.  The offers all claim they will save me money, but at 7% APR already and a $0 balance there is not much to be saved right now.  The Discover offer was "0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months. Then the variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% - 22.99%" and personally, I think Discover is a waste - no one takes it.

A Barclay Card offer is similar - "0% introductory APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR currently 14.99% or 18.99%, depending on your creditworthiness."

Avg. Rewards Rate Sign Up Bonus Value Annual Fees Your Earnings

over 1 year
2.00% $400 $89 - waived first year $900

What the site HYPES in large letters is REWARDS - cash back stuff.  They claim you will make as much as $900 a year in rewards cash back.   But in order to get $900 based on 2% rewards, I would have to charge a whopping $45,000 on my credit card, every year.   I don't spend that much money, period.

And with the high interest rates, the rewards will be wiped out in short order.   Sorry, but these sorts of deals are faux financial acumen at it worst.   Savings is what you put in the bank, not what you charge on credit card.

Note that they make taking one of these offers as simple as falling off a log.  Be sure you don't click on "take offer" by accident.

*Note that maybe one reason my credit card companies are offering free credit scores is so that I won't go to CreditKarma and thus not shop around my credit cards.   It may explain why credit score, once considered an industry secret, is being handed out like candy these days.

Is Fibromyalgia a Made-Up Illness?

Note: This will surely piss some people off...  But note, I am not saying Fibromyalgia is fake, only asking the question.  Apparently, to some people, even asking questions is verboten!

Note: I am republishing this, as someone set up a Facebook page linking to this site and implying that I am the author of the Facebook page.  I am not on Facebook.  People on Facebook will believe anything published on Facebook, sadly.

 Is Fibromyalgia a disease with a physical pathogen, or merely the result of depression and stress?  The pain may be 'real' but the cause may be literally all in your head.

One sure way to stir up controversy is to say that Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or some other illness that has no physical symptoms (other than reported pain) is a made-up illness.  People will get incensed and say, "Our Pain is Real!"

And that may be true.  But pain does not occur in your joints, your muscles, or even in your nerve endings.  No, it occurs in your mind.  Even if someone saws your leg off with a chainsaw, the pain doesn't occur in the leg, but in your mind, where you actually feel pain.  Similarly, you do not "see" with your eyes, but rather receive light signals.  It is the mind that assembles these into images that we see.

But mental illnesses have a stigma in our society.  And depression is one of those illnesses where we tend to blame the victim.  "Cheer up!" we say, as if it were a cure.  And people are thus reluctant to seek help for depression, convinced it is too trivial a matter to bother a doctor about.

And as a result, it is not uncommon for a lot of maladies to appear in the mind - psychosomatic illnesses.  And these do occur with regularity, particularly among depressed people or hysterical teens.  And some folks often make hay from these things - doctors or political activists with an ax to grind.

And the sufferers from these illnesses do enjoy the attention they get, and are comforted in having an official diagnosis of their ailment.  After all, just "getting too old" or "drinking too much" or "being depressed" are not as concrete a diagnosis as a mysterious disease without any physical symptoms - other than pain.  The mysterious disease has a name and a cache.  And if anyone calls you out on it - that it might be fake - even the Doctor who first gave it a name - you can go on the offensive and call them all sorts of nasty things.  Just wait for it...3.....2.....1.... FLAME!

Having a diagnosis is comforting, and I can say this from experience.  I had neck pains and a "trick neck" that would get stiff and hurt like hell, if I twisted a certain way.   And eventually, I had an MRI which revealed a very physical symptom - a compressed and ruptured disc in my neck.  But while that diagnosed the problem, the cure was..... nothing.  Unless I wanted to risk paralysis and death in an iffy operation that would cost tens of thousands of dollars, the best thing to do was to leave it alone, and apply heat or cold or massage when it got stiff.

But knowing what the problem was, ironically, solved the problem.  And the incidence of neck problems dropped off dramatically since that time.  The mind is a powerful thing, it seems, and having a diagnosis - putting a name on things - is comforting to many folks.


The doctor who invented Fibromyalgia now questions the validity of Fibromyalgia as a disease

And when I think back on it, my neck problems tended to flare up in times of stress -when my muscles and jaw tightened and I would grind my teeth.  And when stress went away?  The pain went away as well.

Funny how that works - the mind is a powerful thing.  And I can say the same thing for Gout and Diverticulitis - once these mysterious symptoms were assigned a name and a cause (and a cure) they seemed less threatening and scary - and mentally I felt better and emotionally I felt better - and as a result, the symptoms have largely abated (even though the physical symptoms, as measured by blood tests or colonoscopies, or MRI scans, persist).  The mind is a powerful thing.

And yes, I have friends who diagnosed themselves with Fibromyalgia, and then went hunting for a Doctor who would confirm the diagnosis.  And let's face it - there are plenty of Doctors out there who will go along with whatever you propose.  Plenty more just sigh and write you a 'script for an anti-depressant and then collect their $40 co-pay.  Why not?  Because chances are, that is what the patient needed.

But my friends with this disease were in a bad physical and emotional state - due to financial stress, marital stress, depression, alcohol use, lack of exercise and lack of mobility, and poor diet.   Stress can lead to tensing of muscles which in turn can lead to muscle pain.  Ask any massage therapist - or even a Chiropractor.  See the diagram above.

Not surprisingly, when my friend changed her situation, improved her finances, started being more active, and ate better, she became less depressed.   And lo and behold, her Fibromyalgia symptoms started to abate - which of course made her even happier, and of course, reduced the symptoms even further.  The cycle of depression feeds on itself, making symptoms worse and worse.   But similarly the cycle of cure works the same way - but making things better and better.

Is Fibromyalgia a made-up disease?  Many doctors characterize it as a set of symptoms looking for a disease.  In the classic sense of a disease vector - some virus, bacteria, organ malfunction, joint calcification, blood disorder, it defies diagnosis.  The only symptom is pain reported by the patient.  And like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (the Fibromyalgia of the 1980's) or Spastic Colon, the "cure" is often anti-depressants, which tend to go after the root cause of the disease, depression, which in turn is often caused by stress.  The guy who invented Fibromyalgia has since recanted his findings, and decided that it really isn't a physical disease of the body, but a symptom of the mind:

According to Frederick Wolfe, lead author of the 1990 paper that first defined the ACR fibromyalgia classification criteria, "the large majority of physicians, sociologists, and medical historians" are skeptical about the validity of fibromyalgia as a clinical entity. Some call fibromyalgia a “non-disease” and “an over-inclusive and ultimately meaningless label.” Wolfe now questions the validity of fibromyalgia as a disease. He considers fibromyalgia a physical response to stress, depression, and economic and social anxiety, and believes the associated symptoms are a normal part of everyday life. In 2009, he wrote, "the tendency to respond with distress to physical and mental stressors is part of the human condition." Wolfe notes that, "opponents of the fibromyalgia concept argue that, as it is a non-disease, we are legitimizing patients' sickness behavior by providing a disease label."

In the 1980's, we saw this same trend, where people self-diagnosed themselves with "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome".  And articles appeared in Woman's magazines (like Fibromayalgia, it is mostly Women who suffer, overwhelmingly) about it.  In short order, it was on the cover of Time magazine and in all the Women's magazines, and that just bootstrapped more self-diagnosis of the disease.  And before long, more and more people diagnosed themselves with "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" and went in search of doctors to validate this diagnosis. 

And eventually they found them.  But within a few years, the hoopla surrounding the disease started to fade and the number of diagnoses started to drop off.  And many doctors remained skeptical that a disease ever existed.  People get old, tired, arthritic.  They eat poorly, they have sleep disorders.  They overwork.  And of course, the get depressed.  All of these things lead to increasing pain levels as we get older.  And when they first set in, they can be somewhat frightening.  After all, our bodies were so good to us in our 20's and 30's, right?  You hit 40 and suddenly everything hurts all the time.

And men, perhaps raised to be more stoic, tend to complain about this less, and just chalk it up to "an old football injury" or one of the many stupid things they did as youth.  But perhaps women, being more introspective and in touch with their bodies, become more alarmed by these changes.

The net result is that these diseases tend to be overwhelmingly reported by women, and rarely reported by men.  Is there a virus that attacks only women?  It seems highly unlikely.

Is there are harm in these diseases of the mind?  Yes, to both the sufferer and our medical community.  For the sufferer, the disease can often become a hobby, which makes symptoms worse, over time.  They now look for every slight change in their welfare and makeup and chalk up whatever feeling they are having to the disease.

And if they convince themselves they are in pain and cannot walk or move (as my friend did) then they stop being active, which results in more pain and difficulty moving.  It becomes a vicious circle.

And of course, some folks use it to go on disability, which like Carpal Tunnel, can be a pretty sweet deal (and just as easy to fake, as it is hard to diagnose and often no physical symptoms appear).

They become enamored of the process  of the disease.  They are not looking for wellness or a cure, but sympathy, a support group, and of course, a chance to shout down anyone who disagrees with self-diagnosed illnesses.  The disease becomes and end in and of itself, and like the pot smoker who blathers on about legalizing pot all the time, the Fibromayalgia sufferer spends all day long on websites and chat groups, bores their friends about the issue, and of course, flames anyone who dares question the "science" of it as being utterly lacking.

They become the friend with the perpetual problem in short order.   Their meaningless lives are now filled with meaning  - a disease with a cool-sounding name that no one can prove you have or don't have.  They have a new hobby - pain.  Hey, it's almost as much fun as self-diagnosing your children with illnesses!


No one has ever died from Fibromyalgia.   No one has ever been "cured" of it, either.

A better approach, I think, is to realize that all pain is in the mind, and that perhaps there may be other causes, such as depression, old age, drinking, arthritis, and the like.  And either getting on anti-depressants, or figuring out what is making you depressed - or just moving on with your life and making the best of it.  No one has ever died from Fibromyalgia.   No one has ever been "cured" of it, either.

So when you decide to label yourself a sufferer from Fibromyalgia, you may end up hurting yourself, as you are labeling yourself a "victim" and then following that well-worn path of victim-hood.  No longer self-actualizing, you instead become a "sufferer".   It is a shitty way to spend the remaining years of your life.  A mild case of Fibromyalgia will turn into a major case, if you follow this path.

Does this hurt the rest of us?  Yes, because we all have to pay for the health care costs of people who go to the doctor for every ache, pain, and illness - imagined or real.   And increasingly, our society caters to this small group of hypochondriacs who whine and moan and won't leave the doctor's office until they have a diagnosis and prescription in hand.
This article has some interesting information about Fibromyalgia.  And while the article details some alleged physical causes of the disease, note how most of the "cures" focus on diet, mobility, and anti-depressants.  Mental state is the key.


Is Fibromyalgia a made-up disease?  In the end analysis, it really doesn't matter if it is or not.   When you make a hobby of any illness, you can end up making it worse, not better.  You can decide whether to define your life around an illness or disease or not.

And this is true, really, for any disease - even the ones that will really kill you.   Is Fibromyalgia a made-up disease?  In the end analysis, it really doesn't matter if it is or not.   When you make a hobby of any illness, you can end up making it worse, not better.  You can decide whether to define your life around an illness or disease or not.

* * *

Note:  Flame postings from insane self-diagnosed Fibromyalgia sufferers will not be posted, so don't bother.  Just go back to your Fibromyalgia chat group and post a message about what a rotten, heartless bastard I am, for not validating your pain.  But in the back of your mind, maybe you should start wondering where this is all taking you or whether it is really a worthwhile way to spend your life.  Get off the chat group and stop self-identifying yourself as a victim.

UPDATE:  Some people claim that there is now a proven blood test (Patented, no less, so that means it's good, right?).  However, it seems there are some questions about the blood test, which is being sold directly to patients (self-diagnosing, again) for $744 a pop.  There is a lot of money to be made off of other people's discomfort and pain!  Fibromyalgia is now an industry.

Actually, it is fascinating to research this further.  You may be interested in this article, which states:

Is FMS Really Psychosomatic?
As with other diseases whose causes are not understood, some have suggested that FMS may be a psychosomatic illness or even a psychiatric disorder. In the past, FMS patients have been diagnosed as hysterical. It is not hard to understand why: FMS sufferers look well and have normal laboratory test results. Their chief symptom, pain, is quite subjective and is difficult to document. In addition, many FMS symptoms also occur in depression and other psychiatric problems.(13) Chronic pain, for example, can accompany anxiety and depression; clinical depression can cause fatigue, sleep disturbance and pain. Some researchers go so far as to question whether FMS even exists as a physical illness. In one study of childhood experiences, FMS patients were found to be much more likely than others to have experienced maltreatment or victimization.(16)

Though psychiatric problems do not cause tender point sites (the chief distinguishing feature of FMS) and we know that FMS patients who have been cured of depression normally continue to suffer from FMS, there does seem to be a relationship of some kind between FMS and various psychiatric disorders.(14)(15)

Furthermore, studies have found that FMS sufferers, when compared to rheumatoid arthritis patients, are much more likely to have a psychiatric diagnosis at some point in their lives, and are much more likely to experience medically unexplained physical problems.
If you read the unhinged (and I mean unhinged) comments from people who have self-diagnosed with this disease, you see there is a lot of mental health issues here.   And most admit they have been prescribed with anti-depressants and pain killers.

PLEASE NOTE that any site linking to this article or Facebook page was not authored by me.   If you read my blog, you know what I think of Facebook and social media in general.  While I respect that author's right to his opinions, it seems he is going out of his way to troll and tweak people, which seems to be working, as the Fibromyalgia faithful have aptly demonstrated on his comments section, well, that they are crazy as bats.

As for knowing anything about pain, I have gout and diverticulitis.  I know far more about pain than you do, unless you have been through childbirth or have had kidney stones (the two things more painful than gout and diverticulitis).  Oh, by the way, did I mention I am allergic to most pain killers?  Yea, you go home  now.

But, I refuse to spend my waking hours on gout or diverticulitis discussion groups (and they exist!) as I visited a few and realized, quite quickly, that the people on these sites wanted to obsess about their illnesses, not work through them.

As for feeling tired all the time, having aches and pains and not being able to lift things, etc., Yea, I have that, too.  It is not Fibromyalgia, though, it is called getting old.   Move on with life.  Looking inwardly at your pain is not the answer to anything.

Then again, maybe you just have Vampire Fungus....