Yesterday I learned … II


1) Yesterday, I learned that some love to hug, and they hug so long that it starts to feel weird. We can feel the message they want to convey. We know that they want to tell us that they’re fond of us, that they miss us, and that they want to strengthen the bond we once had, but in the midst of trying to create that moment, some overdo it. ‘Why are we still doing this?’ we ask ourselves while in the embrace. ‘Is this becoming more meaningful to them, or did they lose themselves in the moment? Would it be impolite if I started patting their shoulder here to signify that this is over for me? Why are we still hugging? They didn’t fall asleep did they?’

Today, I learned that a hug is not just a hug. For a greater portion of my life, the hug was largely indigenous to the female gender. We knew males who hugged. We called them “huggers”, as in, “Watch out for that one, he’s a hugger.” At some point, a shift started to happen. Suddenly, men were hugging each other to say hello, to celebrate their favorite team’s touchdown, and to say goodbye. No one knows when this shift started, but I blame the NBA. We teenagers could distance ourselves and mock the huggers we knew, but NBA stars were the essence of cool in the late 80’s-early 90’s. When they hugged, it took an arrow out of our quiver. For these NBA players, a hug was nothing more than a physical form of saying hello. It was a step above a wave or a handshake, but to us, it was a deep and meaningful physical embrace. We didn’t have anything deep and meaningful to convey to our friends. Others did, and they appreciated the NBA influence. They took these “hello” hugs to another level.

“We’re cousins,” huggers would say. “Cousins don’t shake hands. Cousins hug. Get in here bro.” Some of them even embraced us when it hadn’t been that long since our last hug. Their hugs were so deep and meaningful that they thwarted our attempts to break free. Their hugs bordered on combative. “I think the world of you bra.” We non-emotional, non-huggers learned to adapt to the need others have to hug, but we never fully embraced it, and they could feel it. They adapted to our adaptation. “All right, I won’t hug ya’,” they would say, and they stopped, and we sighed in relief, until we were the only ones they didn’t hug. We never wanted back in, but we recognized the strange way abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.

2) Yesterday I learned that “a little after three” can mean 3:23. In what world is 3:23 a little after three? When I hear a little after three, I think 3:01-3:10. Anything after that should be a little more vague, such as “after three”. The next time block, the 3:23 time block, should list at “around three-thirty”. Today, I learned that we become more aware of time constraints and the relative definition of time blocks when a six-year-old is tugging at our sleeve.    

3) Yesterday, I learned that pop culture defines deviancy upward by defining any actions a criminal uses to evade law enforcement as those of a criminal mastermind. True crime authors characterize actions such as wiping fingerprints off door handles as brilliant. When compared to most impulsive, criminal acts, perhaps it’s worth noting when a criminal puts some thought into their criminal activity, but I’m not sure if I would call them brilliant criminal masterminds. If we take a step back from our desire to view them as brilliant, we might see that their methods are relatively mundane, based on information available to anyone with a TV and access to the internet. Today, I learned that criminals don’t want to get caught. They want to be free, and they want to be free to continue to hurt, maim, and kill as many people as they can. The Unabomber, for example, enjoyed the characterization of a secluded genius with a cause, but court documents of his trial reveal that he was “often unconcerned” with his targets. They reveal that he was meticulous about the construction of his bombs, and he went to great lengths to avoid capture, but he didn’t really care who the victim was as long as he maimed or killed someone. He basically wanted to shower in whatever rained down upon him in his elaborate fireworks show.    

4) Yesterday, I learned that criminal masterminds need a cause to justify their actions. They might not be able to justify their actions to anyone but themselves, but they do seek the satisfaction a cause provides. No self-respecting criminal mastermind would say that they did it, because they enjoy hurting, maiming, and killing people. That would diminish their value, their self-esteem, and their historic value. Today I learned that criminal psychologists say that we learn more from their initial crimes than those that follow, because impulses drive those initial crimes. If this is true, we find that most criminal masterminds are petty people who resolve internal and external, disputes in a violent manner. They also have a bloodlust, and as this bloodlust escalates the need for a cause escalates, until they slap a sticker on their actions to satisfy those questions we have about why they did it. It strikes me that everything these criminal masterminds say is window dressing to conceal their simple, primal bloodlust. They want to put a cause on it, because we want the cause. It wouldn’t be very satisfying, or entertaining, if a mass murderer, or serial killer said, “I just had some basic psychological, primal need to hear people scream.” No matter how many causes we assign to people hurting people, the simple truth is that some of us enjoy hurting people, and the rest of us enjoy reading and watching everything we can about it.

5) Yesterday, I learned that bad boys fascinate all of us. The only reason it’s noteworthy that bad boys fascinate women is that it goes against stereotype. Some of us want to know more about them than otherwise peaceful, normal individuals who accomplish great things. On a corresponding scale, too many of us want to know about the minutiae of the Unabomber’s actions, the motivations, and the aftermath of his terror, and too few of us, by comparison, are as fascinated by the actions and motivations behind Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic output. We label them both brilliant in their own, decidedly different ways, but the Unabomber fascinates us more. Today, I learned that I’m no different. Most of the people who fascinated me in my youth had violent tendencies. Some of my friends in high school, and some of my parents’ friends had violent tendencies on a much lower scale of course, but they fascinated me. I found their ways hilarious and engaging. Is this human nature, or do some elements of our culture encourage this mindset? Most of our favorite critically acclaimed movies have something to do with some low life committing violent acts. When someone found out that I listed the simple, feel good movie Forrest Gump among my favorite movies, they asked, “Why?” with a look of disdain. When I told her that I thought it was a great story, that didn’t help my cause. When I told her all of the others I had one my list that mollified her, but she still couldn’t understand why I would list a feel good movie like Gump among them. Today, I learned that the fascination with violence is universal and cool. 

6) Yesterday, I learned that I’m no longer interested in writing about politics. Today, I realized that I am far more interested in the psychology behind why every day citizens decide to become so political that they’re willing to create a divide between those who think like them and those who don’t.

7) Yesterday, I learned that psychologists state that we have a “God spot” in our brain. Today, I realized that this spot is inherently sensitive to the belief in something, if the rational brain accepts the rationale for doing so. This view suggests that the brain needs belief in a manner similar to the stomach needing food. We seek explanations and answers to that which surround us. Some of us find our answers in God and religion and others believe answers lie in a more secular philosophy, and the politicians who align themselves with our philosophy. They seek a passionate pursuit of all things political, until it becomes their passion, because they need something to believe in.   

8) Yesterday, I learned that there were as many differing opinions about Calvin Coolidge, in his day, as there are our current presidents. Today, I realized that no one cares about the opinions opinion makers had 100 years ago, and few will care about what our current opinion makers write 100 years from now. Some of those writers passionately disagreed with some of Coolidge’s successes, and history exposed some of their ideas as foolish. The historical perspective also makes those who passionately agreed with Coolidge seem boring and redundant. Once a truth emerges, in other words, it doesn’t matter what an opinion maker thought of the legislation at the time. Most opinion writers are less concerned with whether legislation proves effective or not, and more concerned with whether their philosophical views win out. In one hundred years, few will remember if our political, philosophical, or cultural views were correct or not, and even fewer will care. Yet, some of us believe in politics, because politics gives us something to believe in.

9) Yesterday, I learned that Tim Cook is an incredible, conventional CEO of Apple. Former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, was the company’s incredible, unconventional leader, and he helped build the company from scratch. Steve Jobs was a brilliant orator, a showman, a marketer, and a great motivator of talent. If we went to an It’s a Wonderful Life timeline, in which Steve Jobs never existed, Apple wouldn’t exist. I had a 200-word list of superlatives describing Steve Jobs, but I decided to delete it, because it didn’t add any new information we know about the man and what he did. I decided to leave it at those two sentences. Better, superlative descriptions of the man, and what he did, are all over the internet. Walter Isaacson’s book might be the best of them. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created and oversaw a team of talent that created the most innovative company of our most innovative era of America, but Tim Cook has proven to be an incredible steward of that technology. If we flipped the timeline around, and Tim Cook was the first CEO, Apple wouldn’t be the innovator it is today, but I wonder if the less conventional and more mercurial measures Jobs employed would translate to the same consistent levels of growth of Apple we see today under Cook.    

10) Yesterday, I learned that Apple’s stock was ready to fall. Anyone who reads independent analyses from stock market analysts thinks that not only is the smartphone market capped out, but Apple’s position atop this industry is also nearing an end. Reading through some of the analysis of Apple’s projections for their various quarterly reports through the years, we arrive at some common themes. “There’s no way the iPhone (insert number here) can deliver on the projected sales figures Apple is promising,” they write. “Everyone who wants an iPhone already owns one, and numbers show they’re not going to upgrade. Those who don’t want an iPhone are loyal to another brand. The market is saturated, and Apple’s reign is about to end.” Today, I learned these analysts began making such predictions years after Apple began controlling the market between 2008 and 2012. Some of the times they were right, in the sense that Apple missed some quarterly projections, but most of the time they were wrong. Some think that there might be an anti-Apple bias, and there might be, but I think it’s human nature to cheer on the little guy and despise the big guy. I also think analysts/writers want us to read their articles, and the best way they’ve found to do so is to feed into our love of doom and gloom. These stories have a natural appeal to anyone who owns Apple products, Apple shareholders, and everyone else in between, because we love the prospect of the leaning tower. Apple will fall too, for what goes up must come down, particularly in the stock market, but the question of when should apply here. After it falls, one of the doomsayers will say, “I’ve been predicting this would happen for years.”

“Fair enough, but how many times did you make this prediction? How many times were you wrong? How many times did a reader act on your assessment and miss some gains? Nobody asks the doomsayer analysts these questions, because most of us don’t call doomsayers out when they’re wrong. The answer to this question was that on 2/3/2010, Apple stock closed at 28.60 a share, adjusted for dividends and stock splits, per Yahoo Finance. If one of the doomsayer analyst’s customers purchased 35 shares for a total investment of $1,001.00 that investment would be worth $11,170.60 on 2/4/2020. Anyone who invests in the stock market relies on expert analysis to know when to buy and when to sell. We consider the positive assessments and the negative, and some of the times, it takes an iron stomach to read the negative and ignore it. These negative stock analysts had all the information the others had, and yet they consistently predicted Apple would fall, because they knew a negative headline would generate a lot more hits than a positive one.

In our scenario, Apple experiences a significant fall in stock price, and the analyst finally proved prophetic. How many times were they wrong in the interim? It doesn’t matter, because a doomsayer need only be right once, for they can then become the subject of email blasts that state, “The man who correctly predicted Apple’s downfall, now predicts the fall of another behemoth.” The penalties for incorrectly predicting doom and gloom are far less severe than incorrectly predicting good times ahead. The former doesn’t cost you anything except potential gains, which most people inherently blame on themselves, regardless what anyone says. There’s the key, the nut of it all, an analyst can predict doom and gloom all day long, and no one will blame them for trying to warn us, but a positive analysis that is incorrect could cost us money.

The prospect of investing our hard-earned money in something as mercurial as the stock market is frightening. We’ve all heard tales of the various crashes that occur, and we know it will occur again. Most of us need Sherpas to guide us through this dangerous, dark, and wild terrain, and most of them are quite knowledgeable and capable. There are a few who will tell you that it’s so dangerous that you should get out now, and some might even tell us that it’s so dangerous that we shouldn’t even consider making the journey. Those with an iron stomach will tell us that we can get rich working for money, but we can get filthy, stinking rich when our money is working for us.  

Boring Investment Advice from a Know Nothing


“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” was one of the most valuable takeaways I had from working at an online brokerage company. Soon after I landed this job, I entered the training room. The information overload I experienced in the training class was intimidating, overwhelming, frustrating, understandable, illuminating, and intoxicating. I thought I knew something when I finished these grueling classes, and I was eager to put that knowledge into play in the market. Every time I did, throughout my tenure there, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” became the refrain of my pain.

Watching the brokerage’s customers put their knowledge into play in the stock market only reinforced the idea that I didn’t know what I was doing, because some of these callers knew a lot more than I did and they spent a lot more time studying trends. They could recite a company’s tiny, accounting numbers and explain to me how those numbers were indicators for future success. They could explain cyclical trends in the company’s industry and how those trends and numbers coupled with prevailing winds in the market and the nation’s politics could indicate that the company’s stock was ready to explode. They were eternal optimists on the subject of their stock, yet their results ended up being as unimpressive as mine were.

Some of these callers didn’t have the money to pursue their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, some didn’t have the stomach to pull the trigger, and others didn’t have the brains as evidenced by the fact that they asked me for advice on what they should do. Those in the latter group were more memorable for the creative ways they tried to blame the company, and me, when their too primed to fail moves fell through. The theme of these calls was, “You, and your company, shouldn’t have permitted me to do this.”

My lifestyle at the time was such that I provided friends the opportunity to use all of the clever and humorous variations of the word frugal. I had money at my disposal in the post-Reagan era that preceded the tech bubble bursting. Momentum stocks were exploding all over the place, and the excitement from these gamblers (not investors, gamblers) was infectious. I forgot everything my grandpa and dad told me about investing, and I put my foot in the tide. I learned the hard way, that if I was going to make any money in the market, the last thing I should be counting on were my knowledge, or my knowledgeable instincts.

Invest in What you Know

“Invest in what you know,” The wizard of Wall Street, Warren Buffet, advised those of us overwhelmed by the information required to invest in the stock market. The question I ask those who follow this wisdom is how often do your personal preferences align with the popularity of products?

An aficionado of coffee might know that the blend corporation ‘X’ puts together is superior to their competition, but do they really know that, or do they think that? More vital to the subject of personal investing is the question, does the coffee aficionado know anything about the business practices of ‘X’. They might know that ‘X’ makes a superior blend, because ‘X’ only uses the finest quality bean, but do they know how much that bean costs the company? Do they know what percentage of that cost the company passes onto the consumer? The idea that ‘X’ might charge the lowest possible cost possible to the consumer might be a key component to their personal loyalty to the brand, but how does this action affect ‘X’s profit margin? On another note, how many knowledgeable consumers have been frustrated by the number of consumers who for whatever reason, stubbornly insist on drinking an inferior blend? We might insist that our friends try our brand with the hope that they might switch, but how many of them do? They stubbornly insist on drinking their coffee, the coffee they’ve been drinking for a generation. It’s called brand loyalty. Repeat after me, “I know nothing.” Buffet’s advice might be great for novices who have some money to play around in the market, and for them investing in ‘X’ is another way to show brand loyalty, but for serious investors seeking a path to some level of financial independence, it’s been a formula for failure in my experience.

Why do our employers provide us a select list of mutual funds for our 401k? They do it to protect us from indulging in our creative impulses when investing. They know that the key to long-term investing involves the slow growth, and they study the mutual funds market to determine which funds will produce long term and consistent growth.

“Investing doesn’t have to be boring,” I’ve heard creative investors say in response to the adage that if you find investing exciting, you’re probably doing it wrong. Creative investing involves an otherwise intelligent person finding creative end arounds to prove they are as skilled in the investing world as they are in their profession. Creative investors seek to impress their friends with exclamation points!!! They want to tell their friends that they were in on the ground floor of an idea that made them millions, they want to show their friends a physical product to “wow!” them, and they want their friends and family to talk about that investment that put them over the top in the arena of accumulated wealth. Any common Joe can invest in a slow growth, blue chip companies that has an extensive record of paying consistent dividends. Investments in those companies require little to no creativity or ingenuity, and they are the antithesis of sexy, creative investing. Watching such companies plod onward with miniscule, but consistent profits is about as boring as the professions, most common people have, but seasoned investors will say that that long-term boredom might provide the most probable route to long-term success.

On that note, a vital mindset that an investor should maintain is one that recognizes the continental divide between investing and gambling. Some seasoned investors might say that all investing is gambling. If that’s true, we maintain that there is a continental between gambling on an upstart and gambling on a blue chip stalwart that has a proven history of consistent returns. There’s nothing wrong with investing in momentum and growth stocks versus defensive stocks, but most momentum/growth stocks are more volatile than defensive stocks.

The difference between stalwart, blue chip stocks that some call defensive stocks and momentum, or growth stocks are often found in their volatility. A theoretical measurement of a stock’s volatility is the beta number. If a stock has a .44 beta number, for example, the investor knows that that company is theoretically less volatile than most of the stocks listed in the market, a .62 is a little more volatile, but not as theoretically volatile as most stocks. A 2.15 beta, on the other hand, is a number that suggests that that company’s stock is theoretically more volatile than the rest of the market. This number is a theoretical variable that suggests that a 1.0 stock moves in line with the market.

The opposite of investing in growth stocks that promise growth based on momentum are the defensive stocks that generally sell the staples of consumer related products. Defensive stocks generally provide more stable earnings when compared to those in growth stocks, and they generally provide consistent dividends to the investor, regardless what’s happening in the rest of the market. There is always going to be some volatility in a company’s stock, of course, but some would say that a blue chip, defensive stock that offers a dividend could be a better investment for a potential investor than a bank’s certificate of deposit (CD). At this point, many of these companies offer a yield (dividend) that is better than what most banks can offer in the form of a CD, and taxes are lower on dividends from stocks than they are on interest from a CD. The one caveat on investing in a dividend paying stock is the prospect of losing some, or all, of the principle investment in the stock, whereas a bank enters into a locked in agreement on the principle with the consumer when providing a CD for a specified amount of time.

Some call blue chip companies the major players in their industry, or the household names. The Dow Jones Index lists thirty of the major players that have a propensity to either move with the market, or dictate the movement of the stocks in their industry, and the subsequent moves of the overall market over an unspecified amount of time. The stocks listed in the Dow Jones Index are blue chip stocks that generally offer slow growth and dividends to its investors. These investments are what a creative investor might call boring investments.

Be Boring 

I am not an investment advisor, and I don’t pretend to be one on this site, but when I talk about investing it inevitably leads some to ask me what particular investments I would advise they put their money in. I tell them that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night thinking that they might purchase a stock I’m tracking, because I know how much their family is counting on them to make wise investments choices. My one piece of general advice is that they avoid creative or sexy investing and develop an investment strategy that involves getting boring. I tell my friend if he wants to up his income, his best economic opportunities available to him are at the office and in his work ethic and loyalty to the company, for that might result in raises and promotions. If he wants to get filthy, stinking, and “I hate you now because you have so much money” wealthy, the best route to accomplishing that is to have your money working for you. “Working for you” can mean a variety of different things to a variety of different people, but I would advise that an investor in an optimum situation that entails having some disposable cash on hand find the least volatile, blue chip company that pays a consistent dividend. If they are in this optimal situation where they don’t have immediate need for the money from those dividends, they should set up a Direct Reinvestment Plan (DRIP) on that stock to watch the slow growth accumulate over the long term.

Those readers who blanch at the notion that “You don’t know what you’re talking about” is solid investment advice, should know that it parallels the advice Warren Buffet gave elsewhere. “If you’ve got 150 IQ and you’re in my business, go sell 20 or 30 points to somebody else, ‘cause you really don’t need it,” he said. “You need emotional stability. You need to be able to detach yourself from fear or greed, when that prevails in the market. You’ve gotta be able to come to your own opinions and ignore other people. But you don’t need a lot of brains.”

I agree with everything Buffet says here, except for the idea that the novice investor should ignore the advice of others. I advised my friend to create a fake portfolio on one of the platforms that provide that function. I advised him to input data that suggests that he’s made a purchase of some shares at the amount of that day, and then chart that stock’s progress for however long he finds necessary and read all of the data and analytical reports that the chosen platform provides. Then, allow some earnings quarters to go by and read, or watch, interpretations of the company’s quarterly report, and digest all of the negative and positive data provided. (The optimum is to read the company’s own quarterly report, but most of these are about as long as Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and about one-tenth as interesting.) If he is still uncomfortable with his knowledge regarding individual stocks he chose to fake invest in, I told him to delete the stocks in that fake portfolio and start charting mutual funds and index funds in it. Investing in these vehicles requires as much homework as investing in an individual stock, but some outlets like Morningstar.com provide comprehensive ratings on various mutual funds. They also provide a description of the risk the potential investor will experience if they ever decide to push the buy button, a full breakdown on the mutual funds’ investments, or asset allocation, and an outlook that ranges from one month to ten years.

Investing in mutual funds and index funds might be even more boring than investing in blue chip stocks, as it takes away the personal rewards investors seek when picking an individual stock and riding it to the top. If the investor is using the art of investing to prove their craftiness, I suggest that they might want to consider the far less expensive route of downloading one of the thousands of strategy and war games in app stores to satisfy this need. If they are seeking immediate returns on their money, just about every state now has craps tables and roulette wheels in their casinos that provide gamblers a guaranteed payout. For those who have worked hard for their money and now want their money working hard for them, it’s vital that the investor take stock of what they don’t know, as opposed to what they do, or what they think they do. For those people, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” is the best advice I’ve ever heard.

Rilalities


Dad and sonTo buy or to buy not.  When I was younger my dad did not buy me everything I wanted, and I hated him for it (hated being the harmless, preteen definition of hate). A part of me still believes that of part of him enjoyed saying no to me. A part of me also thinks that the constant “No’s” I received from him coagulated into the psychosis that plagued me through my teens and twenties. Another part of me wonders what kind of man I would be today if he gave me everything I wanted. Would I be a spoiled brat? Would I have some sort of obnoxiousness about me that expected to be able to buy everything I wanted —to have everything I deserved— regardless if I had to go into debt to get it? Would I be one of these ‘I deserve it’ adult babies that permeate our culture? Another part of me knows that no matter who our parents are, and whatever psychosis they inflict on us, we’ll have to work through it, and we’ll probably end up in the exact same place we’re at now.

Under-Estimate Children! It might be better for our society if we take a collective step back and start under-estimating children again. Rather than express the joy we should that this young mind is able to use their collective knowledge to state something relatively profound, we now say, “We can learn a lot from our children.” If they say something about chemistry, we think they should pursue a career as a chemist. If they say something about the geography of Salina, Kansas, we think they might have a career as a geographer. How about, it’s a kid who had a serendipitous thought in an opportune moment. Some of the people I know re-characterize these moments with the suggestion that they might be smarter than us. To retain my sanity, I choose to believe this is nothing more than a grandiose compliment, for I can’t wrap my mind around the idea that they think children are smarter than adults. It is a neat thing to say that we can learn a lot from their unfiltered view, but I don’t think I’m going to turn to a kid as a life coach any time soon. Therefore, when they say, “Kids say the most amazing things, kids are so innocent, and kids see things without the heavily tinted sunglasses we do,” I take it with a grain of salt. I have had friends further these cliches and leave me with the idea that some part of them believes it (as a result, this humble observer, believes can only arrive after all the other parts have lost so many wars over the years that they’ve simply given up). Kids are sponges and balls of clay. They see things we don’t on occasion, and they’re unflinchingly honest about what they see, but they have very few original thoughts, and the few original thoughts they have are usually gibberish. They know nothing, except what they’re taught, and when they’re caught, and every kid I know now is just as malformed and uninformed as every kid I knew when I was a kid.

Freaks are people too ya’ know. There was a daily parade of freaks that worked with me on an overnight shift. When I watched this parade exit the building one day, it dawned on me that each of these freaks had a story that was aching to be told. Most of them did not want those stories told though. Most of them didn’t think they had stories, or the kind of stories I tell. Most of them suffered from the Pinocchio syndrome, a desire to be normal boys and girls. The further away from normal these people of varying ages were, the more convinced they were of their normalcy. Most people won’t hear their stories, however, because there’s a fear that you’re too normal, and you will judge them harshly from your vantage point. They only tell their stories to their own. Call it a gift, a curse, or a truth that I am as yet unaware of, but I convinced them that I am one of them.

Psychology fills the gap. How do politicians and writers manipulate their audience? They know their psychology, or they hire someone who does. I cannot imagine a writer, or a politician, succeeding in their craft without first knowing a lot about psychology. Maybe a politician can, due to the fact that they’re usually figureheads among an enormous staff that has a finger on who you are and what makes you tick, and they feed that information into the politician’s Tele-Prompter. A big town writer, writing small-time blogs, can’t get away with that though. They have to have an insatiable hunger for what makes humans tock, and tick, and a progression to psychology is a natural one, for in most cases the science of writing, and the science of psychology are much the same science.       

idealisticIrrational Idealism. I was irrationally idealistic. “I agree that America is the best country in the world, but who’s to say that we can’t all make it better?” was one of my favorite replies. Those currently of an idealistic mind approach me in a manner I used to approach traditional thinkers, with the mindset that this is the first, idealistic thought I’ve ever encountered. Most idealistic thinkers believe that their individualistic twist on an issue is one that has never been considered before. Most idealistic thinkers cannot conceive of the idea that they’re wrong, for they’ve conceived of the idea on their own, based upon their relative influences. Most idealistic thinkers believe that the only reason traditional thinkers stubbornly cling to traditional thinking is that they have never truly considered the idealistic thinkers open-minded ideals before. Most idealistic thinkers cannot fathom the idea that you’ve “been there, done that”, and that you don’t believe their ideas and ideals are effective based on your experiences in life.

Money can Buy some Happiness. A 2010 study suggests that $75,000 a year is enough to make a person happy? Why? To be truly happy, the study suggests, a person needs only enough money to be able to afford certain products, a certain amount of freedom, and the ability to avoid worrying about bills. A person that makes $100,000 a year doesn’t necessarily have greater emotional well-being, and they have no extra day-to-day happiness, than a person that makes $80,000 when all of the individual variables are taken out to achieve a general rule. $75,000 appears to be the leveling off point, or what the researchers call a financiohappiness ceiling, at which an individual can afford all of the luxuries of life without worrying about bills. Or, as Henry David Thoreau once said, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”{1} Does this mean that a man should cease striving to be better, with more money in his pocket as a product of that increased stature, no, but the study suggests that his happiness will probably not increase in relation to his pocket book. While that is a provocative idea, some would suggest that contrary to everything Hollywood has ever told you, it is the striving to be better that makes one happy, and money is simply a happy byproduct that defines better. If your driving force in life is attaining more money, and buying certain products, you’ll probably not be happier with more.

The Pursuit of Happiness.  Hollywood movies teach us to never settle, and that we deserve better. Sports teach us to never be satisfied, and that we deserve more. The pursuit of happiness may break down to focusing on what we currently earn versus what we think we deserve. When asked if he felt he deserved a National Championship after all those years of near-misses, Nebraska Conhuskers coach, Dr. Tom Osborne, said: “There’s no such thing as deserve in college football. If a coach wins a National Championship, he has earned it in that particular year.” When one earns a dollar, there is often little question of its worth. The recipient may believe that they deserve more, but as the old saying goes, “You are only worth what someone is willing to pay.” With that in mind, we have a concretized grasp on that which we’re worth in life, but some part of us believes that we deserve more. Earned is something one works for and is rewarded upon receipt, and deserve is some existential definition of something we feel we should have based on the fact that we’re alive and trying. Controlling for variables in institutions of higher learning, and most union work, it is found that most institutions don’t pay one more for being alive another year. Most raises, given to those in the real world, are meritorious (i.e. earned).

When we see neighbors who don’t work as hard as we do, and we realize that they’re happier, we think we deserve to be happier too. We don’t know what it is that will make us happier, but we’re in a perpetual pursuit of it.  We’re usually unsatisfied with the result, because the relative definition of deserve is relative to that which we seek, which we don’t know and never will.  If a spouse questions this psychosis, we let them know that we aren’t the type to settle.  We also tell them that we deserve better, and we move onto those greener pastures.  In this selfish pursuit of a definition of happiness that we deserve, a definition usually steeped in stupid, self-serving decisions, we incidentally affect the ancillary victims (our kids) of our lives, so that they are perpetually unhappy in pursuit of this definition of happiness that we’ve passed onto them.

The Constraints of Monogamy. I used to claim that I would not conform to the constraints of monogamy, until I began defining myself within “my monogamy”. My monogamy is not your monogamy, and no one else can define it for me. Once I began defining my monogamy, I realized a degree of fulfillment that the single life could never achieve. Once I realized the inner core to my monogamy, I also realized something that couldn’t be defined by anyone else. That cliché that when you fall in love, you think you’re the only person that has ever been in love, is so true, because you get to define it month by month, day by day.

Why does this girl love me? I have no idea, but the inquiry challenges me. I, like most people my age, think of myself as a little, unruly child unworthy of love that will eventually be discovered once she unzips the zipper in the back of my neck to realize the monster that I really am. The truth is that she has defined me in certain ways, and I have evolved myself to meet a new standard. She has deprived me of that sense of emptiness I used to feel every day, that angst that drove me to write beautiful, provocative prose, but in its place is this sense of completion that only I can define.

I used to abhor holidays too, and though I didn’t go so far as to not participate in them, I saw all of them as false and conformist. I wanted something out of holidays and relationships that no one could give me … until I started giving to them. As they say, “It is far more rewarding to give than to receive.” Therein lies the key, once you start giving to a relationship, you start down the road to completion. Once you sacrifice that portion of yourself that used to define you as a strong, single, and rebellious person, you start to realize who you really are, and what you can be. The single life seems so rewarding in the rock star, Hollywood light, until that light begins to expose the underbelly of your empty existence.

I would never claim that my solutions are for everyone, but I can say that you’ll never know yourself completely until you are involved with another person long term. The “constraints” of monogamy actually freed me up more than anything else I’ve ever experienced. Trying to get another person to love me, every day, changed me in ways I couldn’t understand, until I began to experience them for myself. I realized that my definition of the constraints of monogamy were wrong once I began defining my monogamy with “the right person” to assist me through a life of consistency and normalcy.

The Search for Something Shocking. As our culture moves to a more permissive state, I can’t help but wonder if creativity will eventually become a casualty. Television programming is better now than it has ever been. I realize that every person believes in their own superlatives, but it’s my contention that there are numerous mid-level programs on the air now, that are superior in all ways to the top programs of the past generation. Is this a result of more competition, from internet programming and cable, or does it have something to do with the fact that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has loosened the standards on TV? Most TV watchers, of a given age, don’t think it’s even debatable that the FTC has allowed for more coarse language and more violence than they did in the 70’s. The question is if these shows are allowed to be more provocative in these ways, does that provide for more creative writing, or cover for the fact that the writing is not of the quality that existed at one time does it make the writing appear more creative, or is creativity not as necessary as it used to be when the FTC was more constrictive?

This leads us to the question the effect of something shocking. Is something shocking better? I don’t think many would debate that it is. As long as that something is not gratuitous, and it fits the frame of the story, something shocking can capture our attention better than the most creative writing in any venue, and it has us talking about the show the next day at work.  As provocateurs like George Carlin basically said, however, “Be careful what you wish for,” when it comes to tearing down all walls of constriction and small forms of censorship.  “Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and you’ll be left with nothing to rebel against.”  In other words, as the FTC allows for more and more shocking subject matter to be aired in the airwaves, something shocking may not be as shocking as it once was, and we find ourselves playing king of the mountain, until nothing seems as shocking as it once did.

Sprucing and Fluffing.  I got lucky, I say to those that wonder how I met my wife in an online dating forum. I would not say that my approach to her was any more skilled than anyone else’s. I would not say that I used my creative writing talents to appeal to her in anyway.  I would just say I got lucky.

“Just about every guy claims to be as adventurous as Bear Grylls, with Brad Pitt looks, and has a workout regimen that would cause Arnold Schwarzenegger to blanch,” says a friend of mine regarding some of online dating site profiles she’s viewed. She then goes onto provide hilarious examples of the attempts some guys have made to “spruce” up their profile. The import of her message was we’re all onto you fellas, and we think that you’re absolutely ridiculous. The jig is up, she basically says, so why are you continuing to make utter jackasses of yourselves? The answer: it works.

Why do politicians run negative ads every election cycle when everyone and their brother knows that negative ads don’t work. How many politicians say that one of the goals of their campaign is to avoid negative ads? How many polls state that “People don’t care for negative ads,” yet just about every political campaign runs them. How does the notion that “negative ads don’t work” persist? Perhaps it’s because losing politicians run negative ads too. Perhaps it’s because most election analysts don’t focus on the fact that our current leaders ran negative ads in their elections too, and perhaps that has something to do with the fact that we don’t like to be reminded about what that says about us. Some may say that this is a simplistic explanation of modern politics in America today, and it may be, but I would counterpoint with the question: “Which part of you are negative ads trained to appeal to? The complex??”

How many of us would tell a pollster that we want more infighting, more partisanship? What kind of person would say, “I love negative ads! I think that the polarization clarifies matters for me.” No, we prefer that that pollster consider us a wonderful person by saying, “I wish that we could end all this partisan bickering, and get back to creating jobs for the American people.”

How many of us have scrolled through Yelp postings to find what that one negative comment had to say? How many of us have read through positive reviews of products on Amazon.com with the mindset that all of the positive reviews seem to run together after a while, until we find that one negative one that seems to stand out? We all know that one negative comment is far more effective than one hundred positive ones, but when that pollster comes up to us and asks us what we think of one particular negative ad, we respond that we need to get them out of politics.

The point is that we want politicians to appeal to our better half, but other than the politician’s research team knowing that this is not a fundamental truth of human nature, they also know that positive ads can only take them so far, that they all begin to run together after a while, and negative ads about an opponent do provide an excellent distraction away from their politician’s limitations. Negative ads also feed into notion in the zeitgeist that going negative is being real and being more honest with the voters.

So, online dating girl, you go on believing that you know more about these unemployed, overweight guys that live in their mother’s basement posting positive ads about themselves that make them sound like Bear Grylls, and look like Brad Pitt, and they’ll go on posting these ads, because they work, and you will continue to fall for them. And the fact that you keep falling for them, and falling prey to the subject matter in negative ads, says more about you than it does them. The jig is not up, and as David McCraney said, “You’re not as smart as you think you are.”

Today’s Music Ain’t Got the Same Soul


As a former AOP (album oriented person), I have finally come to realize that most songs, on most albums, by most artists, are crap.  It’s a tough admission for me to make, especially after decades of fighting against my “single-loving” friends on this very issue.

downloadThe Beatles may be one of the few exceptions to this rule.  The Beatles made about five albums that were almost top to bottom perfect, but then again they had three bona fide songwriters in their group.  Those three songwriters could usually write one to two great songs a piece for the albums The Beatles would release on an annual and biannual basis.  When The Beatles broke up, these three artists continued that trend.  They would write one to two great songs on solo albums that they would usually release on a semi-annual basis.  One of those songs would get extensive airplay on the radio, and we would all run out and buy the album.  To our disappointment, there would probably be only one other song on their solo albums that could be enjoyed long-term.  A couple of the other songs on those albums were self-indulgent, political rants, and the rest were just filler.  Led Zeppelin may be one of the other another exceptions, but they sold their souls to the devil, and there’s Queen, but Queen had four solid songwriters in their band.

There are other exceptions to the rule of course, and I’m sure you have them in mind, but were those exceptions the first album your guys made for a major label?  If that’s the case, you have to ask yourself how many years of writing went into the making of that first album?  If that’s the case, I submit that that first album was a compendium of all the years this artist(s) spent as a struggling, starving artist.  Kurt Cobain once said that if he knew what he was doing, he would’ve spaced out all the songs on the album Nevermind, to presumably allow some of those single songs to appear as lead singles for forthcoming albums.

From what I understand of the business, and I understand very little, this first album usually generates little to no money for the artist.  The reason for this is that the record company assumes all the financial risk for this unknown artist on their first album, and this unknown artist is usually so eager to sign with a major label that they forego most of their rights.  Most new artists have little-to-no pull in the signing process, and most labels take advantage of them on that basis.  Most labels are also hesitant to give a lot of money to a new artist, because they know that most new artists will go out and ruin their minds and bodies on drugs and alcohol with all of their new found money.  Other than the objective to make the most money they can off the artist, they might also want to keep the artists hungry enough to produce at least one more great album.

After the artist is raped by the label on the first contract for the first album, they’re usually bled dry by the lawyers who try to rectify that first deal.  This gives them the hunger necessary to complete a second album.  This second album is usually rushed by the artist, the label, the lawyers, and all of those with their hands in the pot trying to cash in on the success of the first album.  It usually sells well, based on the success of the first one, and the critics usually label this effort “the sophomore jinx”.  The second album usually contains the “could’ve beens” and “should’ve beens” that didn’t make the cut on the first album, and that album usually sounds rushed, sporadic, and often times sub par, but you can’t blame the artist too much for wanting some of the money they missed out on with the first album.  If the artist was allowed some time to write a new single, and some time is usually reserved solely for studio time in the world of music –because most artists are artistic on their time– you may get one marginal-to-good song on this record that would’ve been a better-than-average filler song on the first album.

“Wait one cotton-picking moment here,” you say. “The artist I listen to says that they don’t do it for the money.”  That’s just good business.  Very few artists, outside the for reals world of rap artists, would tell you they’re in it for the money.  If they believe it is about the money, and for some it is, then they’re probably not very good artists.  For those that are quality artists, that love the art form, money is a happy byproduct that pays the rent and the grocery bills.  Money allows the artist the free time necessary to concentrate on their craft, and that is important even if they won’t admit it.  If an artist is in it solely for the money (or the fame), if they’re being for reals, they’re probably producing the schlock that comprises most of the Top 40.  It is about the money though, for those artists that truly know their craft, and have some idea of the business side, know that when a customer hands over dollars for product, they’re complimenting such products in a manner that allows the artist to keep producing said products.

Sting once said: “Anyone can write a hit, but it takes a true artist to write an album of excellent material.” 

If that’s the case, there just aren’t as many artists out there nowadays.  Either that or my patience for half-hearted material has diminished, because there appears to have been a dearth of great albums in the last ten years.  My guess is either there are fewer spectacular artists out there nowadays, or we have over-estimated these artists in the music field for decades.  Perhaps these artists were never were as intelligent, or as brilliant, as rock journalists led us to believe.  I’m not just taking about the members of ‘80’s hairbands in this critique, or the starlet that tries to show off her body parts to remain relevant.  I’m talking about our favorite artists.  I’m talking about the seminal artists that have graced the covers of corporate magazines for decades.  I’m talking about the artists that the marketing arms of these corporate magazines, and the corporate labels, have led us to believe were complicated geniuses.  Maybe they were just better than most at crafting an image, maybe they are not as deep as we perceived them to be, and maybe we need re-evaluate our definition of the term “musical genius” based on the fact that they can’t come out with three decent songs every two years.

If we are to judge an artist based upon their albums, and not their singles, then we have to assume that they’re not very deep.  The Beatles came out with nearly three albums a year in the 60’s, and they came out with some complete albums, top to bottom.  With today’s artist, we’re lucky if they come out with an album every two years, and as I said those albums usually only produce two decent songs on average.  Whatever the case is, I usually make my own albums out of all of the singles and some of the secondary songs released today.  The rest of the songs released by these complicated artists are just drivel.  Thanks iTunes!

Money matters


“You say money doesn’t matter, but let’s see you do without it,” is a lyric in an old Cracker song.   Those who say such things in art and in life have usually never known a life of need.  I haven’t either in the Ruwanda refuge manner, but I’ve been broke.  I’ve also known what it’s like to go out with all your buddies knowing that you’re the only one who has to budget.  On the flip side of that coin, how many do what they do for the sole pursuit of money?  How many people do things that make them unhappy, because they feel the need to provide themselves with the constant flow of money?  What do we do with that money?  Are we paying bills, providing sustenance for our children, and saving for their schooling and our retirement?  In other words, are we doing what we do for a living for our basic need with some frills lined up on the side?  Or, is the majority of our money set aside for the frills and the superfluous?  What percentage of our hard earned money–earned at a job we hate–spent on the things we don’t need?  If you don’t think I have a point on this matter, look around your town.  Storage units are a thriving business in my fair city, and they are not just filled with speedboats and jetskis.  They’re filled with the items we could not do without at one time.  They’re filled with items that the Jones’ family had that we had to have if we were ever to consider ourselves one of them.  I’m leaving a job that I hated, that I did for the sole pursuit of money.  I’m leaving a job that I loved to say to girls.  I work at the XYZ corporation, and I’ve been there for ‘X’ amount of years.  I loved to say that to girls, and relatives, and friends, and people I met on the street.  I loved to watch the paper gains I made in my 401k and my other investment portfolios and my bank account, but I hated every aspect of the job I did–except for the people of course–and I didn’t feel like I was making gains, other than the paper gains, in life.  It was a tough decision, don’t get me wrong, but I’m now going to live by the credo: “In the United States of America of 2009, you should never have to do a job you hate.  There are too many opportunities out there.”  I didn’t say it, but I will live it, and I will love it.