Washington: Musk, Patton, and Jack Daniels all Rolled into . . . the ONE

“I, George Washington, born in 1492, freer of the slaves, and the first president of this, our country, though savagely impeached for the shooting of Abe Lincoln, I will lead us into the demise of all humans!” – Home Movies

Washington

General George Washington, 1776, when he was about 44 years old.  44 years old, a billionaire, a war hero from the French and Indian War, and now commanding a rebel group fighting the largest superpower in the world.  Hmmm.  Maybe that’s why all that stuff is named for him?

There is a time for fighting valiantly and dieting.  Then there exists the Thanksgiving/Christmas nexus.  I’ve been generally trying to minimize the carb content of what I eat, but Thanksgiving?  Yeah, I’m having pumpkin pie.  And stuffing.  And mashed potatoes.  And might drink a bit of gravy.  Just a quart or two.  Not from the gravy boat – I have standards.  I have standards . . . and a mug.  A great gravy mug.

Yes, I have willpower, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are more difficult times to stick to diets.  So, I don’t.  And I don’t spend a lot of time feeling guilty about it, but it’s also a good time to reflect that eating different things changes my mood.

If I’ve had enough potatoes to feed the Soviet Army, I know that I’ll feel differently both physically and mentally.  Sugar is similar. Ditto with bread.

So, how do I feel different physically?  For me, when I eat carbs I tend to retain a LOT more water.  It’s my theory that it’s used to think out my blood so it flows better than maple syrup.  When I jump back into the low carb regimen, I know that for the first few days I will dump water faster than the democrats dumped Al Franken.

I’m pretty sure that the extra water does NOT do anything really good for me.

How do I feel different mentally?  Again, for me the low carb (very low, like none) zaps me into a state of clarity and stability.  Stuff just doesn’t bother me as much.  And I seem to get better sleep.

But one thing that’s wonderful about the Holidays is . . . George Washington.

George was really tall for his time and place, and strong enough that he could crush walnuts in his bare hand.  British walnuts.  And he was known to party (from teachingamericanhistory.org):

First Troop Philadelphia City
Cavalry Archives, 1774
City Tavern
George Washington
Entertainment of
15 Sept., 1787

Light Troop of Horse, September the 14th 1787

To Edwd Moyston .. Dr.
To 55 Gentlemans Dinners & Fruit
Rellishes, Olives etc………………………………………..  20  12   6
54 Bottles of Madera……………………………………….  20   5
60 of Claret ditto……………………………………………  21
8 ditto of Old Stock…………………………………………   3   6   8
22 Bottles of Porter ditto………………………………….   2  15
8 of Cyder ditto……………………………………………..  16
12 ditto Beer…………………………………………………  12
7 Large Bowels of Punch………………………………….   4   4
Segars Spermacity candles etc………………………….   2   5
To Decantors Wine Glass [e]s & Tumblers Broken etc..   1   2   6
To 16 Servants and Musicians Dinners……………………   2
16 Bottles of Claret…………………………………………   5  12
5 ditto Madera……………………………………………….   1  17   6
7 Bouls of Punch…………………………………………….   2  16   
£89   4   2

 

If you study the above, you’ll see that George Washington and 54 of his best buddies had 114 bottles of wine, plus cider, beer, and 8 bottles of hard alcohol.  I’m thinking our Founding Fathers were knee-walking drunk at this point – you can see that they got well into the “smashing the bottles and glasses” part of the party.  And it was the equivalent of something between $15,000 and $20,000 that he spent on the party.

George liked to party.

And he liked to party at Christmas, which brings us to eggnog.

Now, I must tell you that I really, really hate eggnog.  Hate it with a passion.

Or I did, until I had George’s eggnog.  And it just so happens I’ll share his recipe with you (this will be the 306,001st place on the Internet that you can get it):

“One quart ye cream, one quart of ye milk, one dozen tablespoons of ye sugar, one pint of ye brandy, ½ pint of ye rye whiskey, ½ pint of ye Jamaica rum, ¼ pint of ye sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”

And it’s amazing.  It tastes just like Christmas.  And George was right – making this stuff and drinking it on day one is NOT advised.  It tastes . . . strong.  But after three days in the fridge?  Amazingly smooth.

So, not only was George a billionaire president general that defeated the world’s largest and best trained armed forces?  He knew how to party.

Here’s to you, George!

Your Passion is Stupid

“No, not unpopular, they just have a more selective appeal.” – This is Spinal Tap

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Okay, there’s a time when your passion of throwing big rocks in the river should be followed.  That’s whenever you’re at the river.

Pop Wilder was a banker.  Oh, I know what you’re thinking, John Wilder is the banker’s son, summers in Maine, winters in Switzerland.  No.  Summers in the forest cutting firewood in Colorado, winters in Colorado on snowmobiles fifty miles into the back country.  Okay, winters were better than Switzerland, at least since the CIA stole the secret of the Swiss “hot chocolate” technology and weaponized it in Swiss Miss® cocoa packets.

On occasion, especially after a few bourbon and waters, Pop Wilder would get a bit melancholy.  “John Wilder, you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up, but don’t be a banker.”  Although by any measure, Pop was successful.  And he was passionate about his work.  He left every morning before the Sun came up to open the bank.  He got home two hours after the bank had closed.  He unlocked the place and locked it back up.  He never took more than 10 vacation days in any year, and I never saw the man take one day off due to being sick.  (An aside:  I’m stunned that’s the first time I came to that realization – I haven’t taken a sick day off since 2000.  Wonder where that stubbornness comes from?)

Pop Wilder, you see, wasn’t the “snort cocaine off a stripper’s butt” type banker, but rather the “small town banker that drives a car to work that’s eight years old.”  I think he might have not abused his power enough . . . I’m not sure.  What’s the use of having power, if you don’t abuse it?

What always bothered Pop Wilder the most was when he had to explain to a person who wanted to borrow money that he wouldn’t lend it to them – he didn’t think the loan was based on sound collateral, or the borrower’s income wasn’t enough to cover their living expenses plus their debt.  He was proud at the end of his career that he’d never had to foreclose on a single home.  To him, the act of lending money was a moral event – you didn’t burden a borrower with more debt than they could pay.

That didn’t make the borrowers who he turned down happy.  They were (understandably) upset that Pop had crushed their dreams, but in the process, he’d done them the biggest favor of their lives.  In a weird way, his “no” had saved their financial future from the siren song (read The Odyssey or watch Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou (LINK) if you missed that reference) of their dreams and passions . . .

One of my favorite things to see is the garden variety successful person who’s being interviewed.  Let’s pretend it’s me, since I’m rich and semi-famous:

Oprah:  “What’s your secret, John Wilder?  How did you get to the pinnacle of success and yet maintain those superb washboard abs?”  (Oprah bites her lip.  Perhaps I should have not worn such a tight shirt.)

John Wilder:  “I followed my passion, Oprah.  My passion is all consuming.”

Fade to Clip of Me Synchronized Snowboarding Off the Top of Mount Everest Accompanied by an Actual Yeti.

You’ve heard that, too:  successful people telling you to follow your passion.  I probably heard that two dozen times between high school and college.  Follow your passion.  Invariably it was by short salesmen who were in suits while I was wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt.  And I was (really) thinking about going skiing or checking out the girl of the week.  My passion did not and does not involve being an old man in a suit.

Hopefully you haven’t done followed your passion, because your passion is stupid, unless you are the ghost of Steve Jobs.  Steve, you can follow your passion.  Only you.  Namaste.

I’m sorry to tell everyone else a simple fact: your passion is stupid.  And my passion?  My passion is stupid, too.  Maybe even really stupid.

The Mrs. and I have been married roughly since the invention of dirt.  We’ve thought about opening our own businesses several times, and even produced a business plan or two.  All of them have been based on things we like, things we are passionate about.  We’d discuss, fine tune, get the spreadsheets ready, and then decide if we were passionate about it.  As you’ve hopefully read in the fine pages of this blog before – the best deals are the ones you don’t do.  We’ve passed on most of the deals.

But one in particular we got all of our ducks in a huddle, got a small business loan application together, and went off to the local bank to ask for a small business loan with our spreadsheets and our plan and our proposals and estimates and projections.  I didn’t go to the meeting – I was at work.  But The Mrs. walked in, and the banker didn’t blink an eye before he got to his response.  “No.  Not now.  Not ever.  Please pretend we’ve never met.”

The Mrs. was upset when she got home.  I shrugged, and we decided to carry on without opening that business.  About a month or two later we read in the local newspaper about how someone had opened a business that was nearly exactly what we’d planned to open up.  They did a detailed story on the place, nearly a full page, with color pictures.  Amazing amounts of free advertising.

That business closed up before six months had passed.  The banker who said “No” had saved us $55,000 of loaned money.

Oh.  I get what Pop was doing.  Rather than helping people live their passion, he was saving them from their passions.

The people who say that you should follow your passion are generally not passionate about the thing that they’ve done, whether it be roasting coffee beans or creating BookFace®.  No.  They’re passionate about success.  They’re passionate about their business because it brought them success.  It’s like pretending you like Tootsie Rolls Lollipops® for the outer candy shell.  You don’t.  You like the center.

And that’s the secret of success.

I am passionate about playing the guitar.  I love to do it.  Unfortunately, my guitar is as good as Johnny Depp’s personal hygiene or money management skills.  So, of course, I devoted my entire career to playing bad guitar?  NO.  I suck at guitar.  I will never be good at it.  But . . . I do math and science-y things really well.  I have the intuition on that stuff that Eddie Van Halen has for meth guitar.  Maybe not that good, but I found that the combination of the math stuff and the science stuff and the planning stuff and the intuitive grasp of physical systems and processes (with a dash of normal human empathy) pops me into the top 0.1% (hint, that’s the only place the money is).  That combination allows me to win where other people would lose (in certain situations).  And in one instance the application of those skills allowed an IPO to go through that netted a company a billion or so dollars.  Yay me!

And winning in situations like that makes me passionate about combining those skills.  So, am I following my passion?  Well, I’m following my success, which is a lot like following passion.  Except following my passion would make me bankrupt because my guitar is only slightly better than my singing.

So it comes down to . . . what are you good at?  I mean, really good at?  Not what you’re passionate about.  Let’s face it:  you can be passionate about drinking bourbon, WWE, MMA or anthropology, but none of those things are helpful unless you’re part of the 0.1% AND you can figure out how to win/make money with that skill combination.

Can you make money with it?  Most things you’re good at don’t pay any (really any) money at all.  You’re in the top 0.001% of the world at trimming nosehair?  No.  Next.  Your skill should translate into actual income.  What does the best person in the world at what you’re good at make?  Can you live on 1/10 of that?

Okay.  You’re good at it.  It’s a rare skill.  You can make money at it.  Good money.  Now your challenge?  Get better at it.

Most people take a decade or more of really hard work, over 10,000 hours, to become world class at a skill.  Generally, the longer they execute the skill and the more they work at it, the better they become, peaking in their forties or fifties.  These aren’t physical skills – those peak about 24, and take a big nosedive once you pass 30 or so, and if your skill is there, strike quickly – age will pull you away faster than you anticipate.  What I’m talking about are mental skills that are honed by experience.

Passion?  No banker will lend on that.  They’ll lend on experience, skill, and excellence.  Be passionate about those and the world will allow you to snowmobile in Colorado in winter . . .

People will call you lucky.  Just smile and ignore the sweat.

Medieval French, Medieval Warm Period, Medieval Volcano, Medieval Weight Loss Pill

“This is Jenny.  She and her family are having a picnic at the foot of a volcano.  Oh no!  The volcano has erupted!  What do you do now Jenny?  That’s right.  Duck and cover.  What do you do Jimmy? Duck and cover.  Duck and cover!” – South Park

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Thankfully the volcano killed off the giant ice crabs.

On July 17, 1315, Roul returned to his home from a hard day’s farming.  He was very tired.  He was dirty.  He didn’t rank highly on the social scale – he was a serf, and could be bought and sold with the land he lived on.  They didn’t call Roul a serf – his social class was called “villeins” in the local language of northern France.

I was very cold – especially strange since it was July.  The sunsets, when Roul saw them, were more colorful than any he remembered in his life – he was 28 – but the weather was cold, and wet.  At the best of times his wheat harvest might produce seven seeds for each one planted.  Subtract saving one seed for next year’s planting, 10% of them for the Church, and 50% of them for the Lord whose land he farmed and taxes and out of each 14 seeds in a good year Roul could keep, at most, five for eating and trading.  In 2015 the same field, plowed using modern machinery, planted with hybrid seeds, and with fertilizer levels closely monitored would bring over 30 seeds for each one planted.

But Roul could see none of that.  His life was smaller.  Not only was a tractor unimaginable, but the amount of real wealth it represented would be greater than the wealth of an entire province in 1300’s France.  His income was small.  But combined with the barter they got for his wife’s sewing, it was a good, but very tough life.

This year?  This was the worst year he had ever seen.  And the old graybeards in town said that they had never seen a year like this – ever.

And they hadn’t.  The Medieval Warm Period ended around 1300A.D., with temperatures greater than today’s during much of that time, quite optimum for growing plants during the long growing seasons and the population of Europe had expanded.  But the Warm Period ended.

But 1315 was even more special:  Mount Tarawera erupted.  Although Tarawera was almost exactly on the other side of the world from Roul in what would be named New Zealand by Dutch navigator Abel Tasman 320 some years later, its impact on his life was profound.  The volcanic dust and ash filled the atmosphere and cooled the Earth for more than two years.  The Great Famine followed.  Over the next seven years at least 5% (and perhaps as many as 12%) of all northern Europeans died.  The world for them contracted and became hungry, mean, and criminal.  The Black Plague found easy purchase in the wasted land.  The combined impacts of famine and disease caused Europe to experience a significant depopulation during the 1300s, which led to labor being more valuable, which led directly to the values that formed the Renaissance.  The birth of modern culture was forged in famine and pestilence.

But we were talking about Roul.

In the bitter cold of winter of 1315 and 1316, Roul and his wife, Cateline resembled hibernating bears more than a farmer and wife in the prime of life.  During the intense cold of the winters, they spent most of their time huddled under blankets on their straw bedding trying to do as little as possible to conserve every bit of energy – the harvest had been poor and food was in very short supply.  Most days they got up to do the minimum of chores required, and ate very sparingly.

Roul and Cateline didn’t starve.  It was a near thing.  But the society they saw a decade later scarcely resembled the one that they had left behind in the spring of 1315.

So, how far have we come as a civilization?  Right now hunger is still a world problem, but hunger is less prevalent now than at any time in recorded history.  Ever.  Obesity, however, is as bad as it has ever been, and been getting worse.  Stupid Skittles®.

I’ll admit, some dead Roman was right when he said that a pleasure repeated too often becomes a punishment.  But being fat is still way better than starving to death.  Like a joke The Mrs. loves:

A guy was talking to his dog.  “No more food for you, or you’ll get fat.”

The dog responds, “Fat?  What’s that?”

The guy:  “It’s when you eat and drink too much and sit on the couch and don’t exercise and gain a lot of weight.”

The dog:  “Ohhhh, that sounds good.  Let’s get fat.”

What people really want is to sit on their couch, eat chips, drink beer, play video games, and look like The Rock after a particularly challenging workout.  And there are billions of dollars available to anyone who can make that happen.  And people are working on it right now:  The Exercise Pill.

They even found one that was awesome:  GW501516.  Sexy name.  All the cool kids call it 516 (really).  In the subjects that the scientists gave 516 to, they found that nearly immediately exercise endurance went up by double digit percentages.  They lost weight without working out any more than usual.

A perfect pill!  With 516 you could have it all.  Endurance, an athletic bod, and lower weight.  516 even released the hormones and all the good stuff associated with strenuous exercise.

So, where can you get some?

Well, your doctor won’t prescribe it for you because all the test subjects came down with megasupereverything cancer.  Whatever 516 did, it really did a number on the test subjects, giving them every cancer one can imagine.

Thankfully they were mice.

But people are taking 516 right now, body builders and dudes looking to lose weight while getting strong.  Seems like you can buy the stuff, it’s just not approved, and it has been banned by multiple sports (I think there’s a Lance Armstrong joke in there, but I’ll skip it).  So you can get it, but you’re not supposed to take it, just like animal antibiotics, which people do take, since they can skip going to a doctor and just get the stuff online.

Work hasn’t stopped on bringing 516 (and some other exercise pills) to market, but they’re hoping with 100% less cancer, and the New Yorker (LINK) has a pretty good article on it.  I won’t spoil the ending.  Okay, I will.  We don’t have an exercise pill.

But . . . should we?  I guess that, from a perspective of having people live healthier lives, I’ve got to say, yeah, we should.  But the very discipline required to keep and maintain a weight, the hard work, the sacrifice, isn’t that part of what makes us stronger, so when life is tough, we know we have the internal strength to stand up to challenges?

Nah.

All that sounds like work.

They’ll have a pill for willpower and inner strength, won’t they?

Creative Destruction and the Fight For Your Eyes

“You know what it is?  You’re always attracted to someone who doesn’t want you, right?  Well, here you have somebody who not only doesn’t want you, doesn’t even acknowledge your right to exist, wants your destruction! That’s a turn-on.” – Curb Your Enthusiasm

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Behold, the chainsaw of Creative Destruction. This one will take care of those pesky optometrists!

There were vast periods of human history where . . . absolutely nothing happened.  If they had a newspaper, it would be blank for decades at a time.  Our Neanderthal (many of us) and other cave-dwelling hominids (all of us) ancestors lived for tens of thousands of years with little or no innovation, and that innovation that did show up was not all that exciting.  My bet is that most of them were fairly stupid, and it took generations of stupid people not having kids until humans were smart enough (and eloquent enough) to make an attempt at civilization.

Even with that first civilization, things changed only very slowly.  A thousand years of Egyptian dynasties (the pharaohs ruled Egypt for three thousand years) could pass and no one invented Cool Whip®.  You an Egyptian forward in time a thousand years and the only thing that had changed was that the music the kids listened to these days was too loud and just plain awful.  To put how very stagnant these civilizations were in perspective:  Jesus is closer in time to the people living today than He was to the time of the construction of the pyramids.  This statement will be true for another FIVE HUNDRED YEARS.

The Egyptian empire lasted a really long time, and since nothing changed, like a televised baseball game, it seemed even longer.  But then?  The Romans began to change the world, with a much shorter period of dominance.  And things keep changing faster, and faster.  More perspective:  an 85 year old has lived through 37% of the history of the United States.  An Egyptian 85 year old would have lived through less than 3% of the total length of the 3000+ year span of the pharaohs.

But scientific progress undid the pharaohs in what economist Joseph Schumpeter would call “Creative Destruction.”  Schumpeter originally derived Creative Destruction from his readings of Marx (Karl, not Groucho).  Creative Destruction is predicated on technological innovation coupled with entrepreneurial spirit in an effort to make money by disrupting previous economic structures and replacing them with new, more efficient structures.  An example:  Live performers were replaced by records.  That were (briefly) replaced by 8-Tracks.  That were replaced by cassettes.  That were replaced by compact discs.  That were replaced by .mp3 files.  That were replaced by . . . streaming music.  Each innovation replaced and (mostly) eradicated the previous iteration, making music more easily and reliably available.  Unless you have our mobile phone service:  streaming doesn’t work so well, since our wireless phone provider uses a series of wire coat hangers where we live to broadcast signal.

On Friday (LINK) I wrote about the coming Optopocalypse™.  This is another example of Creative Destruction in action.  Records destroyed local bands – you could hear better at home anytime than the local talent.  mp3’s destroyed record companies.  And 75%+ of optometrists will be looking for work soon enough because technology will have made most of what they do irrelevant.  And, outside of their families, the “Destruction” part of Creative Destruction results in greater value to all of society – more people will be able to see, since there’s hardly anyone that won’t be able to afford the low cost of the EyeQue®.

Another example is Zenni Optical (LINK).  I got great glasses from them (via my new prescription from EyeQue™).  I was testing out that prescription, and wanted to get some glasses.  I put my order in, and was even allowed to pay via Amazon, so they didn’t get credit card information.  I ordered my glasses on a Thursday, and got them the following Saturday (nine days later).  They were perfect in every way!  I then put in a new order for three more pairs.  Total cost, including express shipping?  About $200 for the three pairs, with the best lenses they offered, plus extra slip on sunglass attachments (and bifocals).

I ordered them on Saturday, and tracked progress.  By Sunday they were complete.

Here’s the shipping:

Origin Scan
CN
10/25/2017 9:49 P.M.
Order Processed: Ready for UPS

Shanghai, CN
10/25/2017 11:16 P.M.
Departure Scan
Arrival Scan

Anchorage, AK, US
10/25/2017 3:26 P.M.
Brokerage released the package. It will be processed through a clearing agency before final release to UPS.

Anchorage, AK, US
10/25/2017 4:46 P.M.

Departure Scan
10/26/2017 2:54 A.M.

Arrival Scan
Louisville, KY, US
10/26/2017 5:32 A.M.
Departure Scan

10/26/2017 5:51 A.M.

The glasses hit my hands about 2pm that day.  And, just like the first order, they were perfect.

If you look, it appears the package goes back in time a bit, but remember about the whole date-line thing.  Regardless, I’ll go with the story that my glasses came from the future.

Well, they did come from China.  Express, for $18.

This is certainly a great way to add value, and it (by definition) changes the price that many people will pay for glasses.  It’s Creative Destruction on a grand scale – Zenni will make billions.  But it cuts off another revenue stream that will add to the Optopocalypse™.  If you look online, optometrists are out in droves complaining about both EyeQue™ and Zenni®, some of which take the form of reviews that I think are less than honest.

And the optometrists are also fighting by trying to make innovation illegal – at least innovation that hurts their profit margin and their monopoly over information about your eyes.  They typically will call the bill a “patient protection act” or something similar, so it makes it sound like it’s really for the benefit of the patient.  I’m picking on optometry not because they’re unusual – they’re much the same as everyone else who is facing having their entire life and livelihood replaced by a disruptive app or Silicon Valley startup.

These regulations and laws actually end up hurting the economy – they make it more likely that companies like Zenni manufacture outside of the United States and not subject to US or state law rather than creating an eyeglass factory in . . . Kentucky, or Illinois.  I’m not unsympathetic to the 55 year old optometrist – and I don’t have a good answer for what he should do.  Becoming a roustabout in North Dakota in the oilfield is probably not a reasonable answer.  In times past, however, people displaced by technology and Creative Destruction have found new things to do.

Maybe they could ascend to that highest throne of prestige and power.

Blogging, anyone?

Loneliness vs. Being Happy. A choice?

“When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him.  His whole heart once throbbed only to the ship’s engines.” – Star Trek

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The Boy at six.  How much fun is Christmas?

This week the Internet has been aTwitter® about loneliness.  It’s part of the cycle – it’s Fall, so it’s time for peak talk about being lonely.  Weight loss stories go year ‘round, but they peak after Christmas.  And the stories have a kicker.  “Loneliness is worse than ______ (obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, or, heck choose your own favorite disease to fill in the blank).”  The most recent article that I read seemed to focus on middle aged men, but I think it goes much deeper than just loneliness.  I think the roots are back to Hope.

When was the last time you were so excited that you could hardly sleep because of the day ahead?  That’s Hope.

I’m old enough I enjoy giving stuff more than getting it, but I’ve observed that kind of Hope, that level of anticipation most recently in The Boy and Pugsley.  The Boy is seventeen, and really surprising and delighting him at Christmas is difficult, now.  But Pugsley is twelve and would have the Christmas tree up in early September if we’d let him.  Pugsley dearly loves Christmas, and that spirit is alive in his heart, even when The Mrs. and I play Scrooge and Grinch®.  The Christmas Spirit (which is really just super-concentrated Hope) is naturally strong in the young.

I’ve recently discussed Scott Adams’ Formula for Happiness (LINK),

Happiness = Health + Money + Social + Meaning.

How does it apply to the young?

Health is (generally) a given.  When a child is sick enough that he leans over the side of his bed and throws up in his brother’s pants (which just happened to be on the floor there because they shared a room), he tends to remember that.  (My brother, John Q. Wilder, was not happy.)  Youth and vitality go together, since they haven’t had time to wreck their health yet.

Money is a hit or miss.  But (generally, again) money issues don’t weigh heavily on the mind of a kid.  They know that times might be tight, but they have no perspective to keep them up at night worrying about money.

Social?  In all but the extreme cases, kids have plenty of chances to interact with other kids and make friendships that last a lifetime.  Even shy kids.  They might not be friends with the popular kids, but they can have friends.

Meaning?  Yes, but like kids, it’s pretty shallow.  Being good is near enough what constitutes meaning for the younger set.  Meaning often comes from adequate performance and parental praise.

But as people get older (past their thirties), the equation changes.

Health:  Yearly you are reminded of increasing limitations, stronger eyeglass prescriptions, and less hair (except on the back, where it grows thicker than an Amazon rain forest).  Ow.  My hip hurts.

Money:  Generally people are better off financially as they get older, with the caveat that their peak earning potential may be in the past.

Social:  Friendships may have worn away through long hours and distance – most social contacts might even be at work.

Meaning:  Meaning likely comes from work, spouse, or volunteer organizations, or, in some cases, just making it to another birthday.

What role does hope play?  Hope is looking forward to time with friends and family, having goals big enough to be worthy of chasing, having plans of things you want to do and experience.  These things lead to enthusiasm and excitement in life.

What does the opposite side of the Adams Equation look like?

Despair=Poor Health(No Hope)+No Money(No Hope)+Alone Socially(No Hope)+Meaningless Existence(No Hope)

Despair leads to all the bad issues:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Disappointment
  • Sadness
  • Pain (real, not like needing a safe space in college because spaghetti is cultural appropriation)

It’s a lot like being a fan of a California NFL© team.

A sudden cratering of any one of the factors in the Equation of Despair can bring about a vicious cycle, leading to spiraling sadness.  This despair is dangerous – fatal if long enough and deep enough.  How many widows die within a month of their husband?  How many men die a month after retirement?

Whereas Hope can put you in a bad place and make you stay for too long (bad job/bad marriage/Raiders® fan), Hope is of then the only thing that will keep you alive when things go horribly wrong, as they absolutely will from time to time.

I think the key might be in being able to look at the world, not through the jaded eyes of experience, but by being able to maintain that sure Hope of a six year old on the night before Christmas . . .

Tom Petty, AM Radio, Heavy Metal, and Motivation

“If you ask me, you are both off the mark.  Last night was about two people ruled by very powerful superegos, tortured by them, who found a chance, however misguided, to break through and rediscover their ids together.  Call me an old softy, but that’s how I see it.” – Frasier

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The Boy and Pugsley dancing in the rain, which makes my id sing.

I’m not sure exactly when I first heard a Tom Petty song.  Where I grew up was media vacuum.  On TV, we had three channels, plus PBS® (Who watched PBS©?  Nobody.).  Unless it was nighttime, we only got two radio stations, and both of them were AM stations.  One played country music, so, for me it might as well not have exisited.  The other played a complicated mix of top 40 from four years previously, news, and an hour of mariachi music at lunchtime.  It signed off (shut down) at 11PM.

But at night . . . at night the mighty KOMA blasted out 50,000 watts of rock and roll at 1520 on the AM dial, the ionosphere conducted the signal hundreds of miles and back toward earth and over the mountains to my house.  It’s probable that I first heard Tom Petty on some cool summer night (down to 50 ˚F most summer nights).  Maybe it was “Don’t Do Me Like That.”

But Tom was always a bit older than I was, both in age and in the issues he raised in his musical themes.  Me?  I gravitated toward metal, mainly hairy metal, Ozzy™.  Mötley Crüe®.  The Scorpions©.  Despite the previous list, what I liked wasn’t all hair metal.  I liked “normal” music, too.

I ended up on a strange quest:  I’d heard a song, once, and I’d try to tell people what it sounded like, and say intelligent things like “it goes Da Da Dadum dadum de-da dum Ohh-Aiii-Uh . . . Uh.”  The record store clerk would nod knowingly, and point to a cassette or album.  It would turn out to be Judas Priest™.  Which I really, really liked.  Or Molly Hatchet©, which was kinda okay.   I would dutifully buy the tape or album, zip home (first on my ten speed, later in my pickup) and then listen to the album.  Normally, in the first song I would know if it was the same singer.  Always the answer was it wasn’t.  But these mistakes were beautiful – I can still remember sitting on the couch on a dim, overcast day, the clouds pregnant with snow that had yet to fall, blasting “The Hellion” and thinking . . . “okay, life is really cool.”

Imagine that this song played every time you entered a room.  I imagine Google® is working on that.

Again, none of them were the band I was looking for.  I think I spent $300 or so on every single album that featured leather, scantily clad females, and Spandex® that I could find.  For reference, I had all of these as either cassettes or albums.  Album cover copyrights belong to their respective corporate overlords.

iron_maiden_killers_frontal

Funky font?   Check.  Picture that looks like something the disturbed kid drew in art class?  Check.

dio

Satan?  Check.  Priest in glasses being thrown into a pit of fire?  Check.

twisted-sister-under-the-blade-1

Hmmm.  I don’t know about you, but something screams, John Wilder, BUY THIS ALBUM NOW!

raven

Spandex®?  Check.  Leather?  Check.  Canadian?  Check.  But . . . they’re dudes.  I bought this on cassette, so, thankfully, the picture was tiny.

heavy-metal-soundtrack-album

Swords?  Check.  Giant flying leathery chicken?  Check?  Leather . . . on a girl this time?  Check.

AliceCooper

Wow.  Just . . . wow.

heavy pettin 2

I never could figure out what sort of naughty thing they were supposed to be doing.  In the day.  At a drive in.  With both feet out the window.  Probably ripping the labels off of pillows?

Until . . . like Columbus I discovered what was already there (and broken up by the time I found them): Led Zeppelin.  True Fact:  Christopher Columbus first discovered Robert Plant picking onions in a Nevada prison camp, and introduced him to Jimmy Page at a ballet class, but would take no credit because he wanted Led Zeppelin to do disco music.

So, I listened again to Zeppelin. “Yeah, it might be that guy singing?”

It was.  It was this song:

This was the song.  Yay! 

But I’d have to special order the album, since they didn’t have Led Zeppelin III in stock.

Nope.  Too much commitment.

As you might have been able to tell by the artists and album covers above, my musical tastes were driven by my id.

If you don’t remember your Freud, he broke the brain into three bits:

  1. The Super Ego, which, like your dad, is for criticism and moralizing.
  2. The Ego, which is the organized human who lives on the main floor and deals with society in a realistic manner, and
  3. The Id, where all base instincts (Sex, PEZ® and Rock and Roll) live in the basement of your brain.

I listened to a lot of rock that was id driven.  And why not, I was working on a multi-decade winning streak.  Sad songs were for people who occasionally lost stuff.  But Tom Petty’s music was deeper.  It spoke to the conflict between the Super Ego and Ego, an intellectual and emotional conflict I really didn’t have.  I was riding high on year after year of success, slaying dragons and charging the castle.  Why would I question anything?  Party on, dudes!!

It wasn’t that Tom and I didn’t get along – he was no Bruce Springsteen or Johnny Depp, who are both dead to me.  They know why.

Really, it took life kicking me in the teeth more than once to move me from the normal reckless abandon that I attacked life with to a person who asks the kinds of questions that Tom Petty discusses in his songs.  I still recall having a conversation with The Mrs. when I began to realize that I liked Tom Petty:

Me:  “You know, the older I get, the more I understand Tom Petty.”

The Mrs., shaking her head, raising her voice a little:  “Can’t hear you . . . blow dryer on.”

But now Mr. Petty is speaking to me again – he died.

It’s not unusual for rock stars to die young – it’s like we pick an unstable, talented personality and then shove massive amounts of cash at them.  I’m just surprised that 90% of them aren’t dead by 30.  Just my luck that after the apocalypse the Twinkie®, the cockroach, and Johnny Depp will still be around.

But Tom Petty won’t be around, even though The Postman (movie) promised me that he would be.  His death hit me (oddly) harder than I’d anticipated.  He hadn’t been my life’s soundtrack, though I’d clearly been listening to him more recently.

He made it to 66.  According to the CDC, 83% of white non-Hispanics will make it to 67.  Only 1% of 66 year olds die.  If you make it to 66, your mean life expectancy is to make it to 86.  So, from this data, he died early.  But he didn’t look out of shape.  Far from it – he’d just finished a part of a concert tour comprised of 50 dates in five months, which can take a toll on 26 year olds, though I presume at 26 it’s the Jack Daniels® and late nights and not the (presumed) warm tea, oatmeal cookies and obligatory cellophane wrapped butterscotch hard candies that old people like that filled the Heartbreaker’s dressing room.

Though Mr. Petty was quite a bit older than me, I guess his death hit me like it did, because even at 66 it seemed he should be too young to die, just as his voice entered my soundtrack with a greater frequency and volume.  It makes me feel that much more mortal, and therefore more committed to getting into the best shape possible now so I can be in the 50% that make it to 82 years.

Tom Petty inspired millions in many ways – through emotional ups and downs.  He inspired artists everywhere that they could pick up a guitar and play and that their music would, like his, give them a slice of immortality.  And guys like me who want to keep runnin’ down our dreams.  I think this is the part where I get the dragon, right?

Thanks, Tom.

Income, Happiness, and Bad AC/DC

“See, this is what we call an all you can eat buffet.  Here you can eat all you want for just $6.99.  That why everyone comes here on Tuesday nights, except for Kenny’s family because for them, $6.99 is two years’ income.” – South Park

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The purpose of having money is so you can afford to buy things like this. 

I remember having a negative net worth and still enjoying most parts of life.  I had my health, my youth, good friends, PEZ® and meaningful work.  I also remember sleepless nights worried about how I was going to pay this bill or that bill.  I clipped . . . coupons.  And used them.  I’m so ashamed.

Let me back up.

I was married before The Mrs., as I’ve mentioned before.  That relationship ended (which made both of us happy) but my previous spouse had been in charge of paying the bills.  On her last day in the house she handed me a bulging plastic grocery sack filled with bills.  She then handed me a checkbook in a blue plastic cover, the sides of the cover starting to crack at the point where the cover bended to open and close the checkbook.

“I have no idea how much money is in the account,” she said.

The answer was, “not much.”  The first bill I pulled off the top of the stack was a credit card that hadn’t been paid in several months.

Wow.

I got out a spreadsheet and started to add up bills.  I made a list of minimum payments.  I made a pretty ruthless budget ($4 a day for food for three?) and . . . went to work.  I took a loan against my 401K and paid all the back payments due on the accounts.  Lots of Hamburger Helper®.

But was I happy?  Well, yes.  My friends said that I hadn’t looked happier in years.  And I felt happy.

Now there has been no time in my life where I couldn’t afford to feed my family.  Were there times when I was a week of payments away from being at zero cash?  Certainly.  Did I have an emergency fund?  Not really.  I could have played the alternate-bill game, slowing payments for the electricity so I could pay the gas.  I could have maxed out my credit cards, sold family heirlooms, sold plasma, sold a kidney.  I could have averted bankruptcy for a few months.  Emergency fund?  No, a catastrophe spending plan.

Thankfully, it never came to that.  So, a negative net worth and a happy life?  Sure.  I was young:  the future was wide open.

But you don’t have to trust me.  Actual Nobel® Prize-winning economists (Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahnemann) did a study where they tried to measure the impact of income on happiness.  And, they found (in 2010 dollars, which were less plump and firm compared to today’s inflated dollars) that happiness was maximized at a household income of about $75,000 (that would be $85,000 in today’s dollars).  People’s perception of life increased with more money (they thought they were doing better) but they weren’t any happier.

I then began to wonder what factors might influence whether or not $85,000 is enough?

  • If you’re paying a huge proportion of your income on debt, it will prevent you from spending on other things.  In my personal example, I had debt, but I also had a plan:  work like the devil to pay it off.  Each retired credit card or past due bill was a little victory.  There are some forms of debt, though, that are worse than others.  The king of bad?  Student Loan debt.  While education is valuable, the only way to default on a student loan is to die, and I think that’s pretty extreme to get out of a bill.
  • Location, location, location. New Yorkians and San Franciscainites would scoff at $85,000 per year.  Their homeless rat-catchers make more than $85,000 on a bad year.  I tried to come up with a city that might be near the national average for cost of living:  I ended up with Reno, Nevada.  To replicate $85,000 in Reno would require $184,000 in Manhattan, and $143,000 in San Francisco.  I’m not sure that this really covers it, because the average house in San Francisco per this survey was $1,000,000, and the last time I looked, $1,000,000 buys you a house with 830 square feet in San Fran.  750 square feet in Manhattan.  My college apartment was larger.  No free range children there – you probably have to stack cages to keep more than one.
  • What does your future look like? This is going to impact your overall contentment.  Feel like it’s all over and the dark of winter of your life is at hand?  Or is it just dawn, and you’re looking at a warm spring day with a lifetime ahead?  Your perceptions of yourself, your potential, and your future influence your contentment.  Grumpy old men?  Yeah, they think that they’re at their winter and are angry that you’re limber enough to touch your toes.
  • Number of Kids/Parents to Support. Have you ever spent money to buy food for a seventeen year old defensive tackle/noseguard?  I have seen The Boy get up from a Sunday dinner and go directly to the fridge to see if there’s anything to eat.  How many ribeye steaks can you eat?  I’ve seen him eat three.  After three or four bratwurst.  These are not exaggerations.  I went shopping one Sunday with The Mrs.  We had a shopping cart filled with food.  She looks at me.  “This is just for The Boy’s lunch.  One week of his lunch.”  He has a little brother, Pugsley, who will soon enter Junior High and the high calorie consumption of testosterone and a teenager.  Then there’s college.  There are cars.  Spending money.  Have a dozen kids?  Yeah, $85,000 for the household seems a bit sparse – you might need to sell some for medical experimentation.
  • Medical Expenses. The Mrs. listens not to my entreaties that her insulin costs nearly as much as gold per shot.  She’s all, “Well, if I don’t take it I’ll die.”  The Mrs. has a really crappy pancreas.  But if you have medical expenses that are very high?  Forget insurance – it’s been awful for years – it’s like paint made for the government:  it’s expensive and covers nothing.  Have enough of these issues?  Jimmy Kimmel will cry for you, and $85,000 might seem woefully small.  Note:  substituting “homemade” insulin is not recommended.  The Mrs. did NOT think that was amusing.
  • Hobbies.  Sure, they’re optional, but we’re talking about being happy.  I like collecting 17th century glassware.  And then using it for practicing skeet shooting.
  • Spending Habits. Being on a budget sucks – the discipline it takes to plan and scrimp and save is rough, but it’s better than homelessness . . . .  Sometimes you don’t get to pick the Sam Adams® and have to just pretend Natty Lite© is awesome.  My previous post on the money philosophy of Mr. Money Mustache, Financial Samurai, and Early Retirement Extreme still applies (LINK).  Read it.

The Kinks understand that nobody likes being a cut-priced person in a low budget land . . .

So the $85,000 is above the median (half of the households above, half below) household income of ~$60,000.  As near as I can figure, $85,000 puts a household in the top 35% of income in 2017.  Again all of this research doesn’t prove you’re happy or unhappy at any income.  It just shows the sweet spot where additional income seems to stop adding additional contentment for most people.

I would (personally) guess a big predictor of long term happiness would be the amount of wealth that you had managed to save.  It would certainly add peace of mind, knowing that you had some long term money, and that would remove a lot of the day to day stress from unexpected events – job loss, sickness, needing to buy Cher concert tickets.

But can you have too much money buried in Mason Jars® behind your house?  Sure.  If it removes your incentive to work, does that remove meaning from your life?  I’ve seen more than one person retire and die a month later.  And you don’t have to be old to lose your purpose and give up, as Buzz Aldrin proves (LINK).  Not everyone will lose their purpose, and I really do recommend working until you’re sick and tired of it – that’ll get you in the right mindset to retire.

But higher income come with issues as well that might detract from the overall contentment that income earners get – don’t think that the $150,000 crowd has it easy.  Long hours.  Deadlines.  Job insecurity (average VP only lasts six years before being canned).  Travel.  Time away from the family.  Awful bosses (CEOs rank high on the range of socio-psychopath).  So, at some point, it’s probably better to live cheap rather than live a stressed out life.

Because the future is wide open . . . .

Some bonus content, since we’re thinking about cheap:

The following is almost nine years old, back at my old blog, Wilder by Far.  Here’s a link to the original post (LINK).

For your pleasure, I have transcribed an AC/DC™ tune Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, as written by William F. Buckley. Enjoy.

If you’re experiencing difficulty with the school principal
He’s making you quite sad
You wish to complete education without resorting to implied sexual intercourse
Here is a course of action
Grab a telecommunication device, I never leave my domicile
Contact me whenever it’s convenient
E-mail – Bonn.Scott73@acdc.com
I conduct my life through extralegal means

Hey

Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively

You are experiencing difficulty with your life partner
You have serious emotional depression over the relationship
He’s conducting a clandestine illicit possibly romantic relationship with someone with whom you share extremely strong interpersonal ties
You may feel so emotionally distraught that you cry
Grab a telecommunication device, I am currently not in the vicinity of other humans
Or come visit informally with no set purpose or agenda
Enter and remove thoughts about him from your mind
We will cooperatively either stage a fancy dancing party or partake of our own illicit romance

Hey

Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively

You have a female domestic partner whom you wish to no longer have contact with
But you lack courage to take action
Your domestic partner is continually argumentative and critical
Sufficiently so to make you question your mental competence
Grab a telecommunication device, leave your domestic partner without other human companionship
The proximate moment for you to exhibit some sort of courage is now
With reasonable financial remuneration, I would be glad to
a)perform a silent act of assassination while you pursue your own alibi or,
b)have an illicit romantic encounter with your female domestic partner
(the Internet is unclear here, I prefer version a since I see no reason version b would in any way bring the situation described to a favorable conclusion, but there is some scholarly debate)

Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively, yeah
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively

Heavy quasi-stone masses intended to sink bodies when attached to the feet
Molecules containing triple-bonded carbon and nitrogen
Tri-nitro-toluene
Performed inexpensively

Ooo, common items used for the purpose of constricting the ability of a subject to breathe
Agreements to do wrong
Large differences in electrical potential
Performed inexpensively, eah

Nefarious acts, I will perform them without regard to what they are, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, nefarious acts, nefarious acts, performed inexpensively

Yaaargh