Sunday, March 26, 2017

Outrageous Things!

NOTE: This is a posting I started a year ago an never finished.
How dare I say outlandish things like take responsibility for your own life and stop being a victim!

It is funny, but I hear comments from some folks or read comments online about my blog.  It is amazing to me that anyone reads it.  It is even more amazing that people who hate it, seem to read it even more.  If you don't like what I have to say, read something that agrees with your preconceived notions of the world.

Why not?  That's what 99.9999% of the world does.  The Internet is an amazing echo chamber for your own thoughts.    The Internet is a vast place, my little corner of it barely attracts a few dozen readers.

Some folks claim that I say "outrageous" things here in my blog.   I find that rather odd, in this day and age, when you can put up a white supremacy blog and the ACLU will be the first to defend your "first amendment" rights.   But if I suggest that perhaps most of the problems in your life may very well be the result of your own folly, that is "outrageous" and should be shouted down.

And I make these observations from my own experiences.  Almost every financial, emotional, mental, and physical mistake I have made in life was largely the result of my own doing.  Oh, sure, there were other actors in the world who helped me along.   But when something is probabilistically very certain (such as having a motorcycle accident) you can't foist off the "blame" onto the car that hit you, when it fact, it was a predictable event.

So what are the outrageous things I am saying in this blog?  Here are a summary of some of the horrible things I say here that make me a bad person:

1.  Taking responsibility for your own life is a good thing:   Good for society, and good for you.   When you externalize your problems - by blaming others for your woes - nothing gets done, as the "big corporations" and "Wall-street fat cats" aren't going away anytime soon, nor are the Democrats or the Republicans, or the Muslims or the Russians, or whoever or whatever vague and ambiguous large external force you want to blame for all your woes.

For example, nobody - or damn few anyway - suffered as a result of the Real Estate meltdown due to circumstances entirely beyond their control.   People got greedy and decided to buy and flip houses, or thought their ship had come in and they could afford a fancier house than they really could - at a price and on terms that made no financial sense whatsoever.  Others merely over-mortgaged their homes and "took out" equity to pay off credit card bills (as I did).  No one forced these people to pay too much for homes they could not afford on terms that only Satan himself would offer. 

But no, in America, everything is always somebody else's fault, or at least that is how you get elected - and re-elected - in this country.

2.  Mental Health has to be worked at:  Thinking crazy thoughts will make you crazy.  The more you believe in nonsense, the less sense the real world will make for you, and your brain will suffer from this disassociation.  Conspiracy theories, paranormal phenomenon, aliens, religion, etc, are all nonsense and based in fantasy, not fact.   Sure, it is fun to go on a "ghost tour" or visit a church once in a while.  Taking that shit seriously will just make you insane.  If you read enough online stories about pedophile rings in pizza shops, eventually you will find yourself in jail wondering what the hell happened to you.

3.  Crazy people are no fun to be around, employ, rent to, rent from, work for, or have a relationship with.  And I say this one from long hard bitter experience.  A lot of people say we need to "respect" the needs of the mentally ill, as mental illness is an illness like any other.  And there is a nugget of truth to that, of course.   On the other hand, marrying someone who attacks you with a knife is not a very good idea.  And no, you can't "fix them" like an old car.  The best thing you can do for yourself and your own mental health is to leave the crazies for the professionals.

4.  Obsessing about an illness is never healthy:   It is trendy today in America to claim to have some health problem that is nearly impossible to diagnose, or is something people read about and saw on television and then self-diagnose.   People claim to have all sorts of weird allergies that mystify actual allergists.   Folks claim that  eating "gluten-free" is better for them, when there is no scientific evidence to suggest this, other than for a small number of people with a very rare disorder.  Folks like to spend hours on disease websites complaining of their pains and aches - but of course, never getting better.  It is a shitty way to go through life, particularly as eventually you will acquire a real illness that will put things in real perspective, and you will realize you wasted most of your life obsessing about nothing.

I went on one of these sites once, to research diverticulitis.   What I found was a lot of really bad and contradictory information, and a lot of people who spend every day on the site complaining about their attacks and seeking (and getting) sympathy from others.   I quickly realized this was a dead-end and never went back.  I didn't want to go through life identifying myself as a set of disease parameters, but would rather live life instead.

5.  Buying crap doesn't make you happy or wealthy, just broke.  Having a lot of "stuff" seems like the definition of wealth - to small children.   When you become an adult, you realize that having money is the real definition of wealth, and that owning things is anti-wealth.  Treating yourself to a fancy car or a fancy cell phone is fine and all, but if it comes at the expense of your financial well-being, then it is probably a really bad idea.

6.  Borrowing money isn't a privilege, and it isn't a good idea in most cases.  People obsess about their credit score in this country and look at wealth in terms of how much more they can borrow.  But borrowed money has to be paid back - with interest.  And in this age of low interest rates, it amazes me that people continue to borrow at rates of 15% or more (often far more, for payday loans and the like).  Save borrowing for important things - a home, an education (a real one, not 4 years at party U or a "for profit" college).  Borrowing money for an RV or a boat is just shooting yourself in the head.

7. Keeping track of you money is essential to managing it.   You can't just go through life spending when you want to and assuming that someday money will show up to pay your bills.  Believe me, I tried this and it didn't work!   It is a pain in the ass, but tracking every darn penny you spend is essential to understanding where you money goes and where you are spending too much money in life.

And please, if you are not doing this, you have no real right to say I am spending too much money on X when you have no idea what you are spending your money on at all.
8.  Feeling sorry for people accomplishes nothing.   There are a few people in this world who are truly victimized by circumstance.  Most of them are fighting to reverse their fortunes.   The folks who come to you with long sob stories about how rough they have it are the most likely to be con artists looking to con you out of money.   You might feel better about yourself giving a dollar to a bum, but you haven't changed his life one iota - he will just spend it on drugs or alcohol.    Saying you are "better" than others because you care about the less fortunate is just sick thinking and narcissism.   Want to help the homeless?  Work at a homeless shelter.   Odds are, after a week, you'll re-think your sympathies.

9.  Obsessing about politics is pointless.   Vote.  Donate money to a candidate.   But to get all riled up watching Fox News or CNN is just wasting your own energy on absolutely nothing.   Put that energy to use in your own life, and leave the politics to the politicians.  Your input is limited to the second Tuesday in November, or whatever you can spare in your checkbook for political donations.  Forget about the rest.

10.  Stop believing in something-for-nothing.  There are no shortcuts to wealth or losing weight.  People are not giving away cars, motorcycles, RVs, or tractors on Craigslist for 1/4 their actual value.  A Nigerian Prince has not awarded you lottery winnings.   You don't save money by leasing a car - you get ripped off.   You can't deduct your way to wealth.  Buying a huge house to live in won't make you rich, just house-poor.   No scheme or hyped investment will ever make you rich, but likely will bankrupt you, whether it is gold, bitcoin, houses, or whatever.   Others will make money, not you.  Just stop being a sucker!  It is that simple.

* * * 

Now, some of you might say, "Well, this is pretty obvious stuff, Bob!  I mean, if you have lived on this planet for more than an hour or so, you could figure this out!"

You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.  Legions of people believe in utter nonsense and do stupid things and then allege to be victims and want our sympathy when it all goes wrong.   While we might feel sorry for such folks, a better approach is to learn from their mistakes and move on.

And yet our media, our schools, and even family members all preach the opposite.  We should feel sorry for people and the next IPO for some "dot com" company is the biggest news in investing!   The two are related of course, as the people who want you to feel sorry for them are the idiots who fell for the crap the media sold them.

But that is an outrageous thing to say because the folks who have one hand on your wallet don't want it said.  They want you to be weak, passive, and squandering all your dough on stuff to make yourself feel better about life, even as you go broke.  Why bother trying?  Have another beer and roll a joint and lose your mind.   There, feel better now?

Of course not.

This is, of course, not some grand conspiracy, but something called "human nature" and "civilization".   Throughout history there have been haves and have-nots.   And the haves know how human beings think and act, and how they are prone to feeling sorry for themselves, depression, and craziness, and how these weaknesses can be exploited very easily.  Loan them money for a new Camaro.  They'll feel better about their situation, even as they go broke.   Meanwhile, you make money.   That's how it works.

If you can see through this fog, it suddenly becomes clear.   Sadly, few do - or maybe it is a good thing few do, as it makes it easier to be one of those few!

New Passive-Aggressive Muppet

Is this progress or political correctness?  I cannot decide.

Fresh off the wire:

For the first time in a decade, the classic children's television show Sesame Street will introduce a new passive-aggressive Muppet on the air.

Her name is Julia. She's a shy and winsome 4-year-old, with striking red hair and green eyes.  Julia likes to paint and pick flowers.  When Julia speaks, she often echoes what she's just heard her friends Abby and Elmo say.  Julia is passive aggressive.

Presenting Julia to the gang requires a bit more explanation of her passive-aggression to the other Muppets — and their young viewers.  As Abby Cadabby (the 3-year-old fairy played by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph) explained during NPR's recent visit to the set in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., it can be hard to get Julia's attention.  Big Bird had to repeat himself to get her to listen, for example.  And she sees things where others don't.

"That's just Julia being Julia," Abby said.

Julia, chuckling, then displays a different-but-fun way of playing tag, and everyone joins in.  But when a siren wails, she covers her ears and looks stricken.

"She needs to take a break," Big Bird's human friend Alan calmly explains. Soon, all is well and play resumes.
 * * * 

OK, I went there.  Because when I first read this article about the "Autistic Muppet" (are we being redundant here?) I kind of shit my pants.  I replaced the word "Autistic" with "Passive-Aggressive" as it appears that Julia is not Autistic, but just an annoying person to be around, who wants everything her way and screw everyone else.

Which pretty much describes people with Autism, sadly.

Julia can't play "tag" with the other kids unless she can change the rules of the game and play it her way.   The world is a merry-go-round with her in the center and other people are just wallpaper, and their feelings mean nothing, so she can snub them and they have to "understand" her "difference".

Mentally ill people are like that, sadly, which makes being around them difficult.

And of course, this is on PBS and reported on breathlessly by NPR.   The Left loves Autism and diagnosing it in everyone from themselves, to their kids, to historical figures (who cannot rest in peace, it seems, without being accused of being Autistic or Gay - poor Abraham Lincoln!).

The sad thing is, other than severely Autistic people, it is all-too-easy to make amateur diagnoses of "mild autism" or "Autism Spectral Disorders" (what a cool sounding name!  I sound smart just by saying it!) in yourself, your family, your children, and others.   As I noted, some readers slap this label on me.

OK, from now on, we only play "tag" my way, right?  

Don't get me wrong, people with severe autism have a rough road ahead and so do their families.   They basically will find it hard to work and live in society and will either need the support of a family for the rest of their lives, or an institution.   If you have an autistic kid, you have a lot on your hands.

But this social trend of calling people "mildly autistic" has really got to stop.   Because it is just a trend - like people claiming they can't eat wheat and thus are entitled to "gluten-free" bagels or whatever, wherever they go.

Mental illnesses should not be trendy and hip.  There is something wrong here, and I can't quite put my finger on it (because I am autistic, natch).   Or maybe I am seeing this because of my autism.

No, neither is true.   What we have here is another example of mass hysteria, induced by the media.   A few years back it was "Lyme Disease" which is serious shit, but affects very few people.  But a lot of folks decided they had it.   Before that, Fibromyalgia.   Then "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome".

And when it comes to children, multiply this by a billion.   Little Jimmy isn't dumb as stone, he's dyslexic!  Now we have a name and a condition to staple to his forehead and mark him for life.   Parents will go out of their way to "find something wrong" with their kids, which happened to me and probably would have killed me if someone hadn't put a stop to it.

The problem here isn't the inclusion of an autistic character in the show.  The problem is turning autism into pop culture and creating a world where autism is diagnosed in everyone.

And diagnoses of "Autism Spectral Disorders" is skyrocketing.   Why?  Because it is in all the magazines and on all the daytime talk shows and is saturating the media.  So Mom and Dad go shopping for a doctor who will say their kid is Autistic so they too, can have a special snowflake of their own.

If maybe they just left the kid alone, he'd do OK by himself.

You see, a diagnoses of "Mild Autism" doesn't really help much.  Why?  Because we don't know what causes it and there is no cure for it.   You are just slapping a label on a person, and labels are rarely helpful.

You are also giving a person an excuse not to succeed.   Once you tell people they are damaged goods, they tend to live up to that expectation.    Once you tell people they have an "easy out" because of their dyslexia or autism or whatever, they will use this crutch to get by, arguing that they can't succeed because of their "condition".

Thank God no one ever slapped such labels on me, as I would never have succeeded in life.

We need to stop making illnesses or conditions trendy or popular.  Medicine should not be dictated by what is trending on Twitter or Facebook.   People should not be diagnosing their own maladies online or diagnosing maladies in their children.   Housewives should not be deciding that they know more about vaccines than doctors.   

This trendiness shit ends up being dangerous, and that is why I am more than a little ambivalent about Autistic Muppets.  Because if we go down this road, then, well, we have to have a Muppet for every disorder imaginable.

And a Muppet for every minority group.   Of course, Bert and Ernie aren't gay - just good friends.

Can Refugees Fit In To Western Society? Maybe.

A startling article from the New York Times implies that some Syrian Refugees might not make it in the West.

The New York Times is hardly a conservative newspaper.  In fact, it is now the Left wing "newspaper of record" and there is nothing wrong with that.   Liberalism is not a dirty word.

But this means when the New York Times reports troubles with Syrian refugees fitting into Canadian society, we should sit up and take notice.   It is one thing for Fox News or Breitbart to say this - we can safely assume both are lying all of the time.  But the New York Times?   If anything, we would expect them to wallpaper over any difficulties with refugees fitting into our society.

But a recent article illustrates just that.   Many refugees with professional skills and talents and some English Language skills seem to fit in well to Canadian society.   It is harder for the less-educated and the poor.  The article follows one family who were poor farmers in Syria before they were displaced by the war.  The Father has a second-grade education and cannot even read or write his native Arabic, much less English.  The parents have never had a bank account and the mysteries of balancing a checking account and using the ATM are still not understood nearly a year later. 

The Dad is sending money back to Syria to his own Father, who refuses to talk to him when Dad finally cuts off the funds.   In a fit of pique, he smashes the cell phone provided to him by the government and declares he wants to move back to Syria.

Meanwhile, sponsors of some of these families have had enough.   After spending a year supporting them financially, chauffeuring them around, having to help them with every aspect of their lives, they just want out of the deal - let the refugees get by on their own, and not bother them anymore.

It is a sentiment I understand fully.  Trying to "help" people can backfire on you in a big way, as some folks love to put themselves in peril and expect you to bail them out.  They become dependent on your largess and aid, and thus never learn to act on their own.

We had a cleaning lady from Mexico, who was here legally.   She seemed never to know whether it was snowing or blowing.   I was appalled when I found out she was using a check cashing store to cash the paycheck I gave her (we did withholding, social security tax, and set up health insurance and even a 401(k) for her - she appreciated none of it and would have preferred to be paid in cash).   I ended up "cashing" her paychecks for her and then paying her in cash.

But it didn't end there.   Every week, there was some sort of crises.   A letter would come from Ed McMahon telling her she had won the Publisher's House Sweepstakes and she thought it was a deportation notice.   She was as helpless as a kitten and expected everyone else to handle things for her.  And she refused to learn more than a few words of English.

We moved away, eventually, and she latched onto another one of her clients to help her with her everyday needs, from doing her taxes, to getting government assistance.   She wasn't a stupid person, she just found it easier to rely on other people.

And other people get tired, eventually, of doing this.  It is one thing to show someone how to handle something, it is another to do it again, and again, and again, with them refusing to learn as they prefer you just do it for them.   Altruism starts to wear thin at about this point.

The refugee thing is an interesting one.   Many are fleeing war and violence and strife.   Others just want a better life in a Western country, where going in welfare makes you far richer than working hard in their homeland.  And stories filter back how you can move to Germany and get a free apartment and spending money, just for showing up.   These stories may be exaggerated or even untrue, but they are no different that then "streets paved with gold" stories my ancestors told the folks back in County Cork, circa 1850.

The problem isn't ISIS or Al Queada, or war in Libya or Sudan that is causing this "refugee crises".  The problem is the world is becoming overpopulated and we are running out of resources in the worst parts of the world, such as the Middle-East or Africa.   So people flee from shitty areas and go to places that are less populated and more wealthy.   The window-dressing of religious conflict or conflict between political ideologies is just window-dressing of the real underlying problem - overpopulation.

And often the people overpopulating the most are the least educated and least skilled.   In Saudi Arabia, homeless kids are sent to school - to memorize the Koran which trains them for no other job other than suicide bomber or Jihadist.  A country that still imports petroleum engineers from the West!  But there are no jobs for their own citizens.

How do you fit someone whose world-view is shaped this way into a Western country?   Their children, no problem - they are young an impressionable and will gladly accept a better way of life.  I can only hope the "Dad" profiled in the article doesn't drag his family back to war-torn Syria just because he can't read the road signs and figure out an ATM.   That would be pretty sad.

Ms. Stark, believing that Mr. Hajj didn’t understand his accounts well enough to realize what had happened, went to the bank to try to figure out what had gone wrong. When that turned up no evidence of theft, she and the other sponsors wondered if there were other explanations for the unfamiliar pattern. Had Mr. Hajj sent the money to his father in Syria? Stashed it away in a drawer?
A few weeks later, Mr. Hajj asked the sponsors about going on welfare. He had heard about it from his classmates in English lessons. Some were enrolling, seeing it as a safer bet than insecure, low-wage jobs, they told him. One explained that he could work and still collect the government assistance, if he could persuade his boss to pay him under the table.

Oh, shit.   This is like what every Trump supporter has been saying.   "They come here to go on welfare and then wire money back to ISIS."   Maybe not literally true, but plausible.   Of course there are native-born Americans and Canadians who work under the table and collect welfare as well.  Everyone wants to scam the system!   Maybe this Syrian guy figuring this out is a sign he is ready for citizenship!   Welcome to the West!

Or maybe, if you "adopt" a redneck from Syria, you can't expect them to become middle-class citizens in America or Canada.  They will just be rednecks here.

Anyway, it is an interesting article, and considering the source, it is fascinating that it casts some doubts that all refugees will fit in to Western Society.

The Nature of Relationships

We need relationships in our lives to the point where we will put up with a lot to maintain them.

One of the best ways to save on money is to have a partner or spouse.   "Two can live as cheaply as one" the old song goes, and to some extent, that is true.   When Mark and I both moved to Alexandria, Virginia, we were both spending about $650 a month each on an apartment.   Moving in together saved us $325 each a month - a lot of money back then, and even today.   It cut our housing costs in half.   And as we saw from previous postings housing costs are the single highest expense for most folks, even exceeding food, cars, and health care.

There are other savings as well.  If each of you has talents and abilities that compliment and not compete with each other, you have someone who fills in the holes in your life.    Mark likes to cook, I like to fix things.   He's creative, I'm more logical.   He has ideas, I have ways of making them work.   We don't always agree, of course, but the combined power of two makes more than the sum.
And in the best scenario, a relationship should be like that, where 2+2=5 or maybe even 6, as your combined powers amplify each other.   You give each other confidence and build each other up.   Your ideas and dreams are expanded by a point of view you never thought of.

In other scenarios, 2+2=4 or worse, it equals 3.5 or 3.   In the worst cases, 2+2=1.5, which means that each partner is worse off for the relationship than without it.   And sadly, this is where a lot of people end up, in a relationship where they would be better off being alone.

For example, you are in a relationship with a drug addict, an abuser (physical, mental, sexual, financial, or whatever) or someone who is tragically mentally ill.   You end up giving and they end up taking, and your life is worse off for the bargain.   There should be some advantage to you in a relationship.

Of course, one sign you are in a bad relationship is where you start tallying up the advantages and disadvantages and "keep score" so to speak.   It is a sign that maybe you aren't happy with what is going on.

It is funny, but often you don't see your relationship the way others do.   A friend of ours has a precocious 8-year-old who once asked me, "Why do you let Mark boss you around like that?" which generated a "shush" from his Mother.   I never thought about it, but he does like to control things, as I guess we all do.   But to some extent, it is good to have direction now and then.   Out of the mouth of babes.

On the other side, Mark's brother once (cruelly) remarked, "You're lucky to have found Bob!" as I guess he thought Mark was a gold-digger or something.  And Mark rightfully replied, "No, we were lucky to find each other!" which is true, because without him, I would still be driving a Chevette, at least metaphorically.
People on the outside might not see the whole picture,

Nevertheless, some relationships are "race to the bottom" relationships, where each spouse tries to outspend the other in retaliatory purchases.  Or relationships where the whole family wants to ride Dad like a cheap mule, until they extract every penny from him.   Or relationships where the husband abuses the wife, cashes his paychecks in bars, hangs out with his drinking buddies from high school, while expecting the misses to have the trailer clean and dinner on the table when he gets home at 2 AM.

What got me thinking about this was a reader thanking me for one of my most popular postings, Husband sends money to Brother, which gets a surprising number of hits, telling me it isn't just me that is seeing this go on.   The reader is in a relationship, but not married, and her partner sends off hefty sums to relatives who are not really in need.   When someone owns a vacation home, they don't need your money.  Meanwhile, she struggles to make ends meet.

I somewhat flippantly said, "Well, maybe it is time to look elsewhere" which is sort of a cruel and stupid thing to say, not knowing the whole story.  But, on the other hand, they are not married or have kids, so maybe she is still young and has options.   And if he is sending money to relatives before marriage, do you think this will stop afterwords?

The problem is, of course, that finding your "soul mate" is damn difficult to do.  Statistically, you are going to marry or live with someone you work with, someone you know from childhood, a friend of a friend, or someone nearby where you live.   This is pretty obvious, if you think about it.   Sometimes lighting strikes.  A friend of mine came to Jekyll 30 years ago on vacation and met a local boy and fell in love.  30 years later, well they are married with two kids.   It happens.

Others use dating services or computer matching setups.   I am skeptical of these as they try to match interest for interest instead of looking for complimentary matches.   If you are both marathon runners, you won't be supporting each other at the next marathon, but competing instead.   My personal opinion is that matching interests one-to-one is not a good idea, as you will not be exposed to different experiences and different ideas, but rather be arguing all the time over who is right.  Then again, as I noted, marrying an alien isn't necessarily a good idea either - someone whose life experiences are completely alien to your own.

But it seems - at least to outsiders - that some folks "settle" for less than they should, or at least might be better off being single than ending up with the partners they do.   And I'll give you some real-world examples of folks who made odd choices in partners that keep their friends and family scratching their heads - and often end up in divorce court.

For example Joe and Mary are living in sin together.  I say "living in sin" as Joe is a devout Catholic and has a wife and two children.  He met Mary who was 20 years his junior and decided to move in with her and have a child (which came first, I do not know).   He refused to divorce his wife as he was a devout Catholic and that is a sin, but adultery I guess isn't.   People do like to compartmentalize their religious beliefs!

The problem for Mary is that she has nothing.  The house is in his name and his entire estate, including the house they are living in, will go to Joe's wife when he dies, leaving Mary with nothing, other than her own savings.   We are not talking a 50/50 split here, between the two spouses, or even 60/40 or 70/30.    The wife, who Joe has not lived with for over 25 years, gets it all and Mary will have to struggle to get by.

And since she is 20 years his junior, well, it was likely that she would outlive him by quite a spell.  Mary's sister shakes her head and wonders what Mary sees in Joe and why she went along with this scheme for so many years.  And Mary's sister worries that Mary will start asking her for money, once Joe passes away and leaves her destitute.   But the overriding thing is, Mary's sister feels bad for Mary that this is the "marriage" she had to settle for in life, a 2+2=3.5 at best.

Melissa and Daniel come from radically different backgrounds.  Melissa went to private boarding schools and graduated from Swathmore.  Daniel barely scraped though high school and works menial labor jobs.  Why Melissa married Daniel is anyone's guess.   She thought she was "in love" with him, but they were two different people whose interests did not compliment each other.  She was a left-wing liberal and agnostic who smoked pot, he was a right-wing conservative fundamentalist who liked to swill cheap beer.   He cashed his paychecks in bars and came home drunk on weeknights, and on more than one occasion, Melissa had to bail him out of jail for his DUI arrests.  She had to reply on her parents to send her money periodically, in order to make ends meet.

They ended up getting divorced after many years and after having two children, whose upbringing in a chaotic household was anything but normal.   Melissa's family also scratched heads wondering what Melissa was thinking marrying someone who was such a layabout and whose fundamental values were so different than her own.    You get one shot at this in life, maybe two.   Melissa had only one.

This wasn't a 2+2=4 relationship, but 2+2=1 or even zero.

Nancy and Shelia were lesbian lovers.   They shared a row house in Maryland and had been living together for over 20 years.   Every month, Nancy would tally up the bills and send Shelia an invoice for her half of the living expenses.  When I asked Nancy about this, she said "Shelia is a compulsive gambler, and if we had the same checking account, she would drain it dry to go the casino!"

At least Nancy had a realistic eyes-wide-open view of her relationship with Shelia.   But it is sad, to me, that Nancy (from experience) didn't trust her "life partner" and that Shelia wouldn't get help for her gambling addiction and was more than willing to steal from her lover to gamble.

This is a 2+2=4.0000 relationship, but only because Nancy keeps such meticulous books.   Sadly, when Nancy died, Shelia ended up tearing through the money Nancy left to her and ended up homeless within a year.

Bruce and Lillian have been married for years.   For the first part of their marriage, Bruce made most of the money, but didn't manage it very well.   They have enough to get by on, but Bruce keeps sending money every month to his sister, who he is convinced "needs their help" to pay off her credit card bills, even though she has a good job, a pension plan, and a paid-for Condo she is living in.  Lillian is livid that she has to "do without" while Bruce's sister spends their money.

When confronted, Bruce says, "It's my money so I can do whatever I want with it!" failing to realize that in a marriage, there is no "mine" and "yours".

A few years later, Lillian comes into a sizable inheritance.   And of course, you can guess what happens.  Bruce says, "Well, we can finally retire in style!" but Lillian replies, "Well, maybe I can, after all, this is my money!"

Poetic justice for Bruce, but it is hard to feel sorry for either of them.  They are both selfish people wanting to "win" all the time and use very ugly psychological games to control each other.   The last time I checked in with them, they were sleeping in separate bedrooms - in separate apartments!  It makes me very, very sad.

Here is a relationship that isn't even 2+2.   It is a pair of deuces wandering around the planet, never really intersecting with each other but upon occasion.  There is no savings here, not even on rent.  Their skills don't compliment each other.   One wonders why they stay together except out of habit.

* * *

The list goes on and on.  And it is why my posting on "Husband give money to Brother" is so popular.  People are stuck in relationships that are really of no benefit to them or worse yet, are a detriment to them.

Of course, we are looking from the outside-in.   Maybe they get something out of the deal we don't see - wild, kinky sex or something.   Or maybe it is just the needs of one partner to be abused due to low-self-esteem issues from their upbringing.   "This is all I deserve!" they say inwardly.   And often an abusive spouse will reinforce this message.

And of course, Love is a many-splendor'ed thing.   We do fall in love and love people even if the relationship is to our detriment.  You can't argue love logically, it is pure emotion.

But love is also a two-way street, and if someone loves you, they shouldn't abuse you, right?  Or at least not abuse you that much.

Now pardon me while I go hug my husband.   I like the way he bosses me around.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Trump Bubble?

When the market goes up, eventually there is a correction.   But over time, it goes up.  Timing the market is nearly impossible to do.  Click to enlarge.

Are we about to see the Trump Bubble collapse so early in his administration?   Like so many other things in his administration, the high-hopes of the market are turning into cold hard reality as profit reports from banks and car companies come in far below expectations.  And now with the abject failure of TrumpCare, the health insurance companies, whose stocks were climbing, are now bringing down the market.

The market was exuberant when Trump was elected.  We would be building roads and bridges and walls and prisons - a good time to invest in bulldozers and concrete!   The EPA would be muzzled and CAFE and emissions requirements would be slashed.   Eight-liter monster pickup trucks would be the new norm!  And gas would be cheaper than ever, as oil prices fall with new pipelines in place and peace in the Middle East!

Ahh.... December.  It was a sweet month!

But then reality kicks in.   Oil prices are up, so monster trucks are out.  California Air Resources Board may still be around even if the EPA is stifled - and many States have followed CARB with their own emissions requirements.   And a recession in the auto business may be coming, as everyone went on a car-buying binge in the last seven years and with seven-year auto loans, well, not many are in a position to buy a new one just yet.

What happened in December was a classic example of the market getting ahead of itself.   People were buying stocks in companies they thought would prosper in the future.   But now things are starting to look different.  The health care sector was improving, with my Blue Cross stock nearly worth what I paid for it.   In retrospect, I should have sold - but who could have predicted that TrumpCare would fail in an all-Republican Congress?

Well, I guess I should have seen it coming.  Obama had the same problem with a Democratic Congress.   Extremists on both sides of the party refused to go along with his plans in many cases.  It was amazing that Obamacare was passed at all.   And of course, many Congressmen will only pass a bill if there is some sort of kick-back in it for him - a new bridge in his district with his name on in, in big, big letters.

The infrastructure program looks likely to fail as well, as hard-line Republicans put balancing the budget ahead of spending on roads.   It only appears that defense spending is the one area that everyone (even Obama) agrees that more should be spent.   McCain wants to spend even more than Trump!

And tax reform?   Well TrumpCare left in place some tax hikes for several years, and now that it has failed, well, maybe no ObamaCare tax cuts are on the table.   Whether the tax cuts for the highest brackets will take place is anyone's guess.   If they do, it will be a debacle.   Why?  Same reason as before under Bush.  Cut taxes, cut revenue.   If the economy doesn't grow exponentially, revenue will not increase after a tax cut.   So less money coming in, more going out as Congress spends like drunken sailors and, well, the deficit clock starts to be a thing again.

Eventually that currency collapse the far-right keeps harping about will happen.  Eventually.

But when?   Timing is everything, and if I knew that, I would be a billionaire.   Some guys bet on the collapse of the housing market and won big - dumping those credit-default swaps just in the nick of time.   But they could have bet wrong - even by days, weeks, or months - and lost their shirt.   I thought the market would settle in 2002.  I thought it would collapse in 2005.  It went on nearly four more years before a real reckoning took place.

What is disturbing to me is the recent reports from Ford and GM than fourth quarter profits are down - by 50% in Ford's case.   That's a lot. If Trump follows through with his protectionist tax policies (which the GOP seems to think is a swell idea too) then the cost of importing parts could skyrocket.   Auto costs would increase, sales would drop, profit margins would slim, dividends would be slashed and share prices collapse.    That indeed is what happens when you start a trade war - and this is not some newfangled economic theory, either.

So, maybe we will see the Trump bubble collapse.   The question is when.   Next week or next month, or next year?  Or maybe years from now, as happened with Bush?

That is the tough question to answer!

A Victory for the Status Quo

What just happened and why?

The strangest thing happened this week and no one is talking about why.   Donald Trump gave a fake deadline of Friday to pass his poorly thought-out health care plan and then said, like a petulant suitor, "If you can't pass it, then forget I ever mentioned it!"

This is, of course, nonsense.  There is no real deadline to pass health care reform-reform.   Next week would work just as well as last.  In fact, the longer they take, maybe the better a bill could be crafted.  It seems both sides were hell-bent on rushing something through.  First, the poorly thought-out ObamaCare, and now the even more poorly thought-out TrumpCare.

Instead, we have this curious statement from Paul Ryan that Obamacare will be around "for the foreseeable future" - as if somehow the Republicans cannot craft a better alternative, or "repeal and replace" as they promised.

And even with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, President Trump blames the Democrats for the failure of his bill - which he has been running away from since it was proposed.

What the heck is going on here?    Well, a victory for the Status Quo is what.

I think Trump realized that any half-assed chang to Obamacare is going to be a loser from the get-go.   It will give the Democrats an edge in the mid-term elections as people lose their benefits - or even fear losing them.   It also won't sit well with die-hard Ayn Rand type Republicans who want to return to the age of bloodletting and leeches as a form of health care.   Just kidding, but some of the "Repeal and Replace" crowd are not so keen about "Replace" at all, just Repeal.

And it was a shitty bill.   At the last minute they added an amendment that chucked out the onerous cradle-to-grave requirements of the ACA, such as mental health care (which is ungodly expensive).  These requirements (including requiring certain deductibles, making my $10,000 deductible plan illegal to offer) meant that premium costs would not go down but instead would continue to rise, while the subsidies were slashed in half.  They didn't even have this provision in the original bill.  And the part about shopping across State lines?   We'll get to that later.

What this would have meant for many Americans is that their costs of insurance would skyrocket, as they lost their subsidies.  Poorer Americans would simply drop out of their plans, with no penalties, signing up only when they became sick.   It was not a well thought-out plan.  It was not "Obamacare Lite" but "Obamacare Half-Assed".

What was needed was a comprehensive overhaul, not tinkering with a sledgehammer.   Just repealing would have been better than this replacement, but not by much.   And the disruption in the marketplace of either option would be, well, catastrophic.

So Trump plays political theater, claiming (lying) that since a replacement could not be passed this week, it is somehow physically impossible to ever replace it ever!   That wily Obama, putting the clause into Obamacare that it cannot be repealed except in the first 60 days of a new administration!  Oh, wait, that is not the case.

Trump is just realizing that politically, it makes sense to leave Obamacare in place and say "we's the Democrat's fault"    It also is politically expedient to have the Obamacare whipping boy in place for a few more years, claiming time and time again that it has "failed" and that Democrats, who are now essentially powerless, are to blame for all the country's woes.

And the way things are going, we may be headed for woes.  Seen the fourth-quarter profit reports for GM and Ford?  Is this 2009 all over again?   Maybe Hillary lost on purpose knowing a correction was due?   Maybe the "Trump Bubble" has already peaked?   This is scary to think about.  Any maybe a topic for my next posting.

The problems with Obamacare are many as I have pointed out before.  The biggest is the crazy subsidy system that provides a full subsidy if you are above the poverty line but no subsidy if you are below it, forcing you to go on Medicaid, if your State allows it.  If you make a dollar more than four times the poverty limit, your subsidy is cut off.

But should we be getting subsidies?   I have analyzed in the past whether you could get food stamps as a millionaire or other benefits.   And in the past, it may have been theoretically possible to so do, although it seems today they have an "assets test" to get foodstamps, so maybe that door is closed.

As many articles noted, if TrumpCare passed (and we are sticking his name to this mess, whether he likes it or not) many early retirees would be socked with huge insurance bills or just drop coverage entirely.   One reason I was able to retire early was that Obamacare took care of a big chunk of my retirement expenses. Last year, I paid $1098 a month for health insurance.  This year I pay $18.

TrumpCare would have changed that.  Assuming I went to the cheapest plan available (Obamacare allowed me to upgrade to a better plan as well - I got the best plan I could for the subsidy available) and premiums did not go up, I would be looking at about $5000 to $7000 a year for health insurance, at least initially.

For me, this is not too big an issue.  Obviously, like anyone else, I would like free money from the government, even if it makes me uneasy as to who is paying for it.   And we should expect people to do just that.  Any idiot (and there were many) who paid the "fine" and refused to sign up for Obamacare (which cost less than the fine) as an act of "political protest" was just being an utter fool.   Republicans are not going to pat you on the back and say  "way to go!" but instead pat you on the head and say, "good little fool, keep doing as we say."

If you qualify for a government program, take it.  If you believe government programs should be changed, then vote.  But that is the problem, ain't it?  Once you get that Uncle Sugar money, you kind of sort of like suckling at the government teat, and as politicians find out, woe be to the guy who turns off the sugar tap!

That, in short is why TrumpCare was pulled - not defeated - pulled.

Now for me, who voluntarily retired early, you might not have so much sympathy.  But for others, well, it is a different story.   For people who lost their jobs and cannot find any other jobs, other than low-wage service jobs, Obamacare was a godsend.  The factory worker who was making nearly a hundred grand a year until the plant closed, now finds himself making $20,000 a year, if that, working at Wal-Mart.   His benefits went South when his company went bankrupt.   So he is stuck, years away from Medicare, with rising health care costs as he ages.   Obamacare saved him.

And that is the problem for the GOP right there.  Because he is likely their sort of voter - the guy who wants the immigrants out and the Muslims banned.  The very poor who think Trump will bring back their factory jobs (which he won't, and any new factory jobs are not likely going to a 55-year old laid-off worker anyway).   Rip his healthcare out from under him, and well, you've lost a solid Republican voter.

So, they play this game, saying they could not pass a replacement by an artificial deadline so let's just forget we ever said anything.   And in this post-fact fake-news era, you can say that, and people will believe it.   I am sure the die-hard Trump supporters thought that March 24th was some sort of line in the sand that could not be crossed.  Trump tried - those nasty Democrats foiled him again!  Curses!

Meanwhile, that same Trump supporter will quietly enjoy his Obamacare and not really understand exactly just what happened in Washington this week....

The Mobility of Labor

A resort trailer park on Lake Powell?  No, a labor camp for the Glen Canyon Dam.   Oddly enough, today, there is an RV resort nearby.

Mobility of labor - it is one of the hallmarks of both the Capitalist and Communist systems.   As I noted in an earlier posting, one of the few logical things Karl Marx said was about the mobility of labor.  He argued that the ownership of land tied labor to the land, and not to where they would be most needed or could prosper the most.

One thing that marks a person for poverty is the lack of mobility or the lack of desire for mobility.   The news media loves to do a weepy piece about Flint, Michigan, where they interview some person sitting on their porch, and they say, "Been livin' here my whole life, see no reason to leave!  Just hope the jobs come back someday!"

And I've lived in Flint, Michigan, from 1978 to 1980, and I can tell you it was a depressed place back then, before they closed the factories.   The best thing about Flint was seeing it in your rear-view mirror.  And no, those jobs ain't a-comin' back, either.   Because even if they open more plants in Flint, well, robots will take a lot of jobs, and you'll need skills to work in a robot plant, as opposed to the old air-wrench assembly line plant.

And yet we see this among a lot of people, from the poor to the middle-class - the inability or unwillingness to move away from expensive places to live (when you retire) or places where there are no jobs (when you are at working age).    I met a couple the other day, and they have a house in New Jersey where the property taxes alone are close to $20,000 a year.   She said she didn't want to move to a cheaper retirement location because she was active in the church choir.   Now, if they have tons of money, that's just fine.   But I have little sympathy if they start to bitch about what a raw deal they are getting in life - they have choices.

But people do that, saying "all my friends live here" or "I have family here" or some other reason why they cannot pick up and move to a better location for work or retirement.   And that's OK, again, if they are supporting themselves.   But in most cases, they say this in the same breath as, "And the government should therefore bail me out, give me a job, give me a tax break, or otherwise make it possible for me to stay where I want to!"

It don't work that way.   Or at least, it shouldn't.   Sadly, our country is increasingly asking the government to fix all sorts of things, even trivial bullshit, but asking other people to pay for things.   Need a sex change?  Obamacare will pay for it - funded by someone else's tax dollars.   I am not sure that is really a medical need so much as a want.  But I digress.

In the not-too-distant past, labor was mobile.   During World War II, the need for workers at defense plants caused housing shortages in many areas.  Trailer homes were built (of wood and canvas - non-essential war materials) for people to live in.   It made sense, to live as cheaply as possible and bank your paycheck for a job that was going to last only four years or so. 

Right here in Brunswick, was a huge shipyard that built Liberty Ships.  Overnight, the small, sleepy Southern town was flooded with workers, welding together ships which went down the ways every few weeks.   In four years, it was all shut down and the workers went away.   Anyone foolish enough to buy a house here during those war years was no doubt disappointed.

We are seeing the same thing happening in the fracking fields in North Dakota.   The media paints an "ain't it awful!" story about housing shortages and people "forced" to live in an RV in the Wal-Mart parking lot - of course the "workers" again being "exploited" by evil corporations. 

But the people living in the RV in Wal-Mart are the smart ones as the fracking jobs are transitory - they move from place to place as wells are dug and the industry moves on.   And eventually as in every oil boom in the history of mankind, people stop drilling and start pumping, and the drilling jobs go away.   And eventually the pumping jobs go away as a field is tapped out.   It is like the old mining towns.   Boom towns.   You don't put down roots or invest in a boom town.

When you are young and in your prime working years, that is about the worst time to be putting down roots or refusing to move.   Moving is much harder to do when you get older, so it makes sense to be flexible when younger, so you can go where the money is or where a job takes you.  And often, an employer will offer transfers to its better employees - including promotions and raises - if they are willing to move.   You work at Home Depot and they say, "Would you be willing to help open a new store in Bumfuck, South Dakota?" and that is an opportunity.   If you say, "No, my cats are too used to living here" you pass up an opportunity that likely will never be offered to you again.

For upper management, Engineers, and other professionals, moving is a way of life.   Engineers have to move to where the jobs are, particularly if they are defense jobs. A company gets a contract and they hire like mad. They lose the contract, they lay everyone off.  Such was the life at GE in the 1960's and 1970's.

My family moved all over the place.  My Father was in "management" for Booz-Allen, and moved to Egypt to work on the Aswan high dam, until the Egyptians threw us out and had the Russians finish the job.  He lived in New Jersey, Connecticut (twice), California, Illinois, and New York (twice), each time moving to a better-paying job (in most cases) and packing up the whole family in the process.

Myself, as an adult, I have lived in New York (twice), Connecticut, Michigan, Virginia, and now Georgia.   I moved to where better jobs were, or where it was cheaper to live, or where I could have a better way of life.   I realized when I returned to New York why I left in the first place - while the City is booming, the State is stagnating.   Low expectations, high taxes, and a "leave it to the government to figure out your life for you" attitude.  Just fill out this stack of forms and wait.

My siblings also left home to find work.   Back in the 1970's the "baby boomers" all moved to the "Sunbelt" which was a part of America where no one lived before air conditioning.   Austin was a tiny sleepy town, believe it or not.  Denver was hardly larger than Utica New York.   Even Phoenix was hardly settled, and Tuscon was no more than a village.   Today that has all changed, and the "New South" is now the industrial and technological hub of America, to some extent.   But maybe for the next generation, The North Shall Rise Again.   You never know where the next opportunity will come from.  Some are saying even in Detroit, if you can believe that!

When I was a kid, moving vans were new and shiny and a way of life.  Today, well, people don't move so much anymore, and companies rarely pay for the moves like back in the old days.  The lack of mobility of labor for our generation has created more poverty.  There are jobs today, going unfilled both for lack of skills and lack of people locally.

As I noted in an earlier posting, when we visited Ashboro, North Carolina to see the "pottery corridor" at the height of the recession, it was a bleak place, with the locals feeling sorry for themselves and claiming the "Mexicans took all our jobs!"   Meanwhile, not an hour away, Citibank has a billboard saying "NOW HIRING!" because they are short on people.

But again it is the same-old same-old, people valuing their ability to deer hunt or their bar buddies over the needs of their family.   They would rather go on welfare or unemployment than seek a better life.

And maybe that is because we make it easy to get government assistance.  To qualify for many of these benefits, you only need claim to be "looking for work" in your local area.   There is no requirement for you to seek a better place with more opportunity.

We are entering an era of very low unemployment, thanks to the previous administration's fiscal policies, and not Donald Trump's 60 days in office (Let's be real here, folks!).  More and more jobs will remain unfilled for lack of applicants - and still people won't move to where the work is.

Of course, employers know this, and one reason why there are so many car factories in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, is that there is a huge supply of low-wage unskilled labor in these areas that refuses to move anywhere to get a job.   It is a captive labor audience, and many of them, rather than moving to a job, will commute a hundred miles or more to work.   No unions, no benefits, part-time status, and long hours at relatively low pay (by national standards).  The rednecks eat this shit up.  The auto plants aren't so bad, the captive parts suppliers can be a little more third-world.  But then again, isn't Alabama?

So what's the point of this?   Well, it goes back to what I have been saying early on in this blog.  Opportunities abound in life, but many people fail to perceive them, or reject them for very silly reasons.  "I'd take that job in the other city," they say, "It pays more and has better chances for promotion.  But I just planted my vegetable garden this year, and still have six more weeks of unemployment benefits!"

People have weird priorities!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Where Is Your Career Taking You?

Where is your career taking you?  Or have you already reached the top?

I get e-mails from readers, and I cannot answer them all.  Thanks for the feedback, both good and bad.  Some I think are attempts to troll me.   Maybe not.   Hard to tell sometime if people are being sarcastic or trying to bait me.   Either way, they sometimes raise interesting questions and get me to thinking, which of course is always dangerous.

For example, a reader mis-applies what I said about seven steps to getting out of poverty.   He already has a job and a skill as an auto mechanic, so what does he do next?  Move somewhere else?  No, that was what I was saying is helpful if you don't already have a job.

If you already have a job and a career and skills, the thing to do is figure out where it is leading you, whether it has lead you as far as it can, and whether you are content with that - or want something more and are willing to make the effort to get it.

The term "auto mechanic" has a number of meanings and levels of skill and pay.   At the bottom of the ladder are the mechanics working at Wal-Mart mounting tires, changing oil, and installing batteries - or at any one of a number of the chain stores.   Don't get me wrong, they do good work, I use Wal-Mart all the time to mount and balance tires for me.   But of course, the pay isn't the greatest.  People do make a living there, though.

Up from the chain stores are maybe the private auto shops - particularly places that specialize in foreign or unusual cars, or high-performance cars.  These can be some of the highest paying jobs for skilled mechanics, particularly for upper-end performance cars, custom cars, and the like.

Dealerships are a mixed bag.  Many a mechanic has told me that working at a dealership can be demanding and the pay not great, depending on the dealer.  They often work based on shop manual hours.  If there is no work to be done, they starve.   If a job takes more time than the manual says it should, they starve.   If they hump, they can sometimes make money.   And the kind of car dealership makes a big deal as well.  Obviously, working at a KIA dealer might not pay as well as working at a Jaguar or Porsche dealer.

So, even with the job description of "Auto Mechanic" there are tiers of skill and pay, starting at the bottom at a chain store installing batteries, and maybe working up to the top levels at specialty car shops or dealers, particularly for those skilled in things like electronic repairs.   There are lots of "auto mechanics" out there, but many are scared to death of anything with wires on it - in my experience.   A guy who isn't afraid to learn how to diagnose problems with modern electronic controls would be in higher demand than someone who merely can do mechanical work.

There are so many different skills that fall under "Auto Mechanic" from grease monkey, to auto-body tech, to painter, to suspension specialist, to engine rebuilder, transmission specialist, machinist, auto upholstery, etc. etc. etc.   The term "mechanic" could encompass any of these, or like a GP doctor, be a generalist doing some of each.   It is a very broad field.   And it spills over into boats, ATVs, motorcycles, and even small engine repair.  And heavy truck repair, diesel mechanic, construction equipment repair, hydraulic specialist, agricultural equipment, and.... well you get the idea.

But of course, within these levels of skill and specialty, there are different levels of achievement.  You can start out mounting tires at Wal-Mart and eventually be promoted to supervisor.   Maybe it isn't the greatest paying job, but it is a promotion.   Similarly, you may start out as a mechanic at a dealer and end up running the service department or as a service writer, or run the parts department.  Heck, you might even make the jump to sales, although that is a different skill set.

But of course, for every dozen Indians there can only be one Chief - not all of us are slated to be at the top of the heap.   For example in my career, I was never a "head partner" at a big firm making big bucks.   At my peak I maybe made in the six figures.   Some of these top guys make in the seven figures, particularly litigators.   Why didn't I make that kind of dough?   I don't have the talent necessary, and not everyone is cut out to be in charge.

And it pays to know this about yourself, or as Clint Eastwood once said, "A man has got to know his limitations!"

I realized early on that I was not cut out to be a top litigator, but my skill level was in drafting Patent applications.   So I stuck with that.   No shame in saying you are not the best and brightest in the world.  In fact, it is better to figure this out than go through life resentful of people with better skills and more ambition.  I was content with the choice I made, and did well with it, not making as much as some, but more than most.

My boss who made all that money?  The most miserable person I ever met in life.   I am not jealous, seriously.  There is more to life than money - you can live better on less, which is the mantra of this blog.

But there are other places you can apply your skills.   For a skilled mechanic with some business smarts, opening your own shop is always an option - a risky, difficult, and expensive option, to be sure.   And not one I recommend, either!  After trying to run my own business, I realized that employing people takes a special talent and temperament, and again, it was not something in my toolbox.  So I let it go.

But I've known many mechanics who run their own shops, and probably make more money than a mechanic working for someone else.   Or not.  If you specialize in a particular marque, it helps.   Specialized tools and knowledge are key, of course, and many companies are making this harder and harder to come by.

So you can see, there are plenty of paths a career in something as simple as "auto mechanic" can take.  Or take "HVAC tech" - there are again tiers of employment, from working for a small independent shop doing service, to working for a big dealer doing installs, to commercial work (which could pay union wages) installing heavy machinery, to running your own HVAC repair business.   The latter could range from being a guy with a van and a set of manifold gauges, to a guy owing multiple dealerships and making millions of dollars.   I've known both.

The thing is, to figure out where you career path is likely to go among these various paths.  If you are an auto mechanic and doing tire installs, it may pay to go back to school and learn more esoteric repairs and get ASE certification for one or more specialties and maybe get a better paying job - if that is what you want out of life.   Again, you actually have to want that.  It ain't gonna happen on auto-pilot.

And it's OK if you don't.   You just can't complain about getting a raw deal in life and be jealous of those that do try to get ahead.  One has to be content with one's own level of effort.  I have no sympathy for slackers who complain about successful people "taking all their money" as you have to have money in order for someone to take it from you in the first place.

If you don't see your career going anywhere, you basically have two choices, either accept where it has gone and make the best of where you are, or change careers entirely.   The latter, of course, is very risky and can backfire in a big way.

For example, I was working as an HVAC tech for Carrier, on experimental air conditioning systems.   If I had stayed in that job and the plant had not closed (which it eventually did), I probably would have topped out as a "senior tech" and made a decent comfortable living, but not get very wealthy over time.   If I put money into my 401(k) plan, down the road I could have retired with some modest comfort.    I doubt I would have ended up as a supervisor, like my boss - or wanted to, as he had a tough job and he had the temperament for it - something I lack.   It's OK to acknowledge that, too!  In fact, it is very constructive.

But as a technician, that is about as far as I would get.   So I finished my Engineering degree.  Now Engineers can make a lot of money, compared to some professions.  The top EE's working on semiconductor designs or CE's working on software can command good salaries, but often have to live in expensive areas.  They do well over time, if they bank a good portion of their salary instead of blowing it on eye-candy.   And again, a very few may make the jump into Engineering Management and make real bucks running a company, with stock options and all.   Few Engineers make that jump, again because of the Indians/Chiefs ratio and the fact that nerdy Engineers have shitty social skills (consider the CEO of Uber, for example).

But of course, there are EE degrees and there are EE degrees.  And since I had spent nearly a decade in heavy industry (GM, Carrier) no semiconductor company was interested in hiring me.  I did get a lot of interest from HVAC companies who wanted someone to design control circuits.   I thought about this, and I realized that I would probably plateau as a medium-range salary circuit designer, without a lot of job security.

The offer from the Patent Office was an interesting one - and a chance to change careers.   So I took the leap.   Again, this could have backfired in a very big way.   The Patent business is all about pushing papers around - you leave your Engineering degree at the door.   And many folks make this leap and regret it - and find it hard to make their way back to circuit design, particularly if they stay more than a few years.

The rest, I have recounted above.  I moved up but eventually found my new plateau.   But it wasn't a bad plateau.   Did I make as much money as some of my friends working at the "big firms"?  Hell, no.  They make more in a few years than I made in a lifetime.   Funny thing, though, they call me and tell me how "lucky" I am not to be working 60-hour weeks for those big paychecks. 

Sometimes, being an underachiever works out.   If you can live within your paycheck, spend a penny less than you make, preferably a dollar, preferably more than just a dollar.   Invest some, work for a few decades, and you're pretty set for life, if you play your cards right.

What doesn't work out?   Constantly wanting more than you can afford, and borrowing money to do it.  Being unhappy with your situation but doing nothing to change it.   Either accept your station in life, or change it.   Either is a good option, and you often have to do both.   And really, there is no third choice.

There is no "trick" to wealth, no shortcut, no special insights or secrets.   You already have all you need to know inside - pretty much everything I have said here is what people call common sense and stuff you have already thought of before, either consciously or subconsciously.

But please don't take any of this as advice.    I am not freaking Dear Abby or her sister Ann Landers.   People have to make their own choices in life, and it never ceases to amaze me how people in this world will ask advice from others and rather than consider whether the advice was any good or appropriate to their situation instead blindly follow it - often with disastrous consequences.

What you choose to do is up to you.   You know your situation better than anyone else.  You know your career field better than I do.   You know your own self-limitations better than anyone as well.   Although, bear in mind, if you had asked me when I was a stoner technician at the labs at Carrier whether I would one day be an attorney, I would have said, "Sure buddy, and you're the Pope!"

So we do underestimate ourselves sometimes, particularly when on drugs or when hanging out with people on drugs (same thing, really).  And this is important.   Folks who smoke pot will run down your dreams as unrealistic and actually try to derail them, so they can feel better about themselves.  Success is often a solo journey.   One of the most important things I had to do, as painful as it was, was say goodbye to my drug-addled friends and move on with my life.   Self-preservation is more important that the brotherhood of the bong.

FWIW, your mileage may vary.  No warranty expressed or implied!

Living Out of A U-Haul Pickup Truck

Living out of a car is pretty sad.   Living out of a rented car, even worse.

We were in the Florida Panhandle at one of those "Spring Break" kind of destinations, at a campground in our RV.  It wasn't a very nice place.   As we checked in, a very young couple in their late 20's or early 30's checked in ahead of us.  They did not have an RV, but were staying in a tent.  They had all their worldly possessions with them, in the bed of a rented U-haul pickup truck like the one above.

It was pretty sad.  So young, in the prime of their lives, healthy and able, and yet living in such a marginal situation with no clue as to what to do.   The RV park was also a parts dealer and fishing store and had a "help wanted" sign on the door.   The lady said to her boyfriend, "Hey, maybe I can find a job here!"

The manager shook his head.   People living out of a car are not destined to be good employees

He knew that their situation wasn't due to "bad luck" or whatever, but likely due to drugs or other personal issues (criminality, etc.).

I am not sure where this couple was going, other than nowhere fast.   The cost of the truck rental, $19.95 per day, would eventually add up to a lot of money, and they would have to turn it in eventually and end up walking.   How could you be that age and still have nothing to show for your life?   Hell, I'd just bundle up my stuff and get on a bus if I was that poor.

But they were doing a poverty-trick that we see all-too-often, particularly in places like Florida.   The poor tend to do things like move to another State to "get a fresh start" without any real plans of where they will work, where they will live, or whatever.  They just pick up and move, likely ahead of a posse of creditors.

When I said in my previous posting that one of the seven steps to escape poverty is to move, I didn't mean this!   This is poverty-think.   Move once you have a job offer in a place where there are jobs.   Go there and find a place to live and then move your stuff to the new location and report to work at the new job.   That's how middle-class people do it - or used to.

Increasingly, today, we see people moving like the Joads from Grapes of Wrath, renting a U-haul or Ryder truck, towing a trailer with an utterly clapped out "hobby car" - usually a Camaro, but it could be an Mustang, 20+ years old and not worth moving an inch.   Following is Mom in a car with a laundry basket and crap stuffed in the back seat.    People just moving willy-nilly and paying money to move garbage much as the poor pays money to store garbage in storage lockers.

Again, the poor make poor choices in every sense of the word.    And while they might not be able to help it, you can, if you have half a brain.

Perhaps a change of scenery is helpful for some folks, even if they move in this Brownian motion fashion.   And old friend of mine contacted me after 40 years and said he was still living with his parents and was flat broke.  I suggested he move out of his impoverished home town, and last I heard he was in Texas and had a good job.   So maybe it can work.

But more often than not, if you don't have some sort of plan, just picking up and moving away isn't going to work out very well, other than to take all your problems and move them to a new location.

It is sad that people live this way, but no, I am not interested in saving them.   How they got into this situation is something I have an inkling about, as I used to hang out with people like that - folks who lived in the margins, often mired in drug and alcohol abuse.   Folks who might steal your crap or beat the snot out of you, if you are not careful.   Best to stay out of their business and out of their way - as far away as possible.

You can't save people from themselves, and I am sure if you asked this young couple, living out of a pickup truck, whether they had their shit together, they would say they have things under control.