Maybe You Should Choose The Opposite of Easy?

“Look, you two guys are just guys, okay? Mr. White, he’s the devil. You know, he is smarter than you, he is luckier than you. Whatever you think is supposed to happen, I’m telling you, the exact reverse opposite of that is gonna happen, okay?” – Breaking Bad

2015 261

Yup, that’s a real, live open Blockbuster©.  You thought that all the Blockbusters® moved to Paris to live with a Frenchman named “Louis” in a dingy apartment above a bread shop in a sort of shabby, Bohemian artsy life that involved a lot of angst and cigarettes, but here is one that’s still open.

Pop Wilder was at the peak age of life, 45 or 46, when the big bank in the Midwest called.  They’d met him at a conference, and they liked him.  A lot.  They’d like him to move from being President of his small farm bank into the big leagues.

Taking the job would mean moving away from the small (population at when he got the job offer was about 750 people) mountain farming town where he lived since his birth to a larger Midwestern town (population zillions).  He and Mom discussed it, and he decided he would take the job.  After all, they were shoving his face full of more money (salary comparison in 2017 dollars:  $310,000, and those are American dollars, not those cheap Canadian dollars) than he had ever expected.  And the future was wide open – this was a BIG bank.  He might even be called up to New York if he did well with the Midwest bank, where the money could be even more.

He went in to quit, and called the majority shareholder, Mr. Potter (we talked about him earlier, here (LINK)).  Potter told him to stop and think about this – he’d be leaving the town he was born in, the town where he’d grown up.  “Why, Pop Wilder, you know everyone.  In a big city, you wouldn’t know anyone!  And the risk, what if you didn’t do well?  Then you’d be fired in a big city!  To make it easier, why, I’ll match their offer.”

Pop Wilder stayed.  One night, 17 years later, he would bitterly remark that he’d had the last raise of his life 17 years earlier.  Mr. Potter had no viable replacement for Pop, and had been a shrewd and manipulative businessman – playing off of Pop’s fears.  But Pop (and Pop’s name) was what he wanted, but he wanted it only at the lowest possible price.

To give you an example of what kind of a gem Mr. Potter was:  Mr. Potter owned a gold mine, and fired his mining engineer every two years.  He didn’t want the mining engineer to know more than he did about the mine.

Great guy, huh?  I met him once.  I felt like I was in the presence of something H. P. Lovecraft wrote about – some evil eldritch abomination from beyond time.  Or just an evil old dude.

Fast forward a very long time . . .

I was living in Alaska with The Mrs.  We loved it.  We had given birth to Pugsley up there (well, to be honest, I was present, and wrote the checks, so I gave birth, too, right?).  Our house was the right size.  The lifestyle was amazing – guns, gasoline, and woodburning fireplaces.  Plus they even had Internet.

Then an old boss called.

He was looking for me to move down to the lower 48, specifically, Texas.  Honestly, we weren’t interested.  Fairbanks was wonderful.  And I had even said (once upon a time) that I’d never move to Houston.

I told him, “No.  Thanks for asking.  We like it here.”

His response:  “What would it take for you to move this way?”

Me:  “Okay, (NUMBER).”  I arrived at number by adding my salary, my wife’s salary, her bonus, my bonus, and then threw 20% on top.  I thought that my unreasonable request would at least gently shut him down so I could move on and ignore him.

Him:  “Okay, we could do that number, plus a guaranteed 20% bonus, minimum.  And a signing bonus.  And we can move all of your stuff.  But the boss says we can’t buy your house with the relocation package.”

I was stunned.  He called my bluff.  The Mrs. and I spent agonizing hours on this, but finally gave in and listened.  He flew the whole family down to Houston and we looked the place over.  Not to our liking, but the opportunity was so large . . . .

We got back to Fairbanks, and found a job offer on my email.

Me:  “I can do it, but only if you buy my House.”  I secretly hoped they’d stick to their guns and say no.

Him:  “Okay, we’ll buy your house.”

I told my Alaska boss, who was not at all Mr. Potter, that I was quitting.  The company I’d worked for in Alaska immediately raised my salary by 20%, and promised that there would be more to come.  But the opportunity there was working on something much smaller than the new job.

Part of the calculations involved in coming to our decision was Pop Wilder’s life:  he had become stuck in a situation when he didn’t take the chance for significant success, and always regretted it.  In my case, I was going to take the opportunity – it was 100 times bigger than anything I’d ever done.

So, we moved to Houston.  And it worked out okay, even though we still miss Fairbanks.

But it did start me thinking, about opposites.  Staying in Fairbanks would have been easier.  How often is doing the opposite thing from what’s easy the right thing?

I think the answer is:  most of the time.

  • Exercise vs. Couch – it’s obvious that sitting on the couch and eating Twinkies® is generally more pleasurable than exercising until your thighs are on fire and sweating buckets, but study after study (dating back 4,000 years to Egypt, where the first article appeared in Healthy Pharaoh Today) shows that, while more fun, couches kill.
  • Full vs. Hungry – Imagine the feeling after a Thanksgiving feast . . . and now imagine it killing you. Yes, nobody likes feeling like they’re really hungry, but recent studies have shown that food deprivation is awesome for you, both short term and long term.  I’m mean, not starving to death long term, but rather periodic fasting.
  • Party vs. Work – Hard work may pay off in the future, but partying always pays off now. That’s exactly the right answer if you’re running for congress.  Everyone else wants to see the work first.
  • Discipline vs. Freedom – It’s hard to make a plan and stick to it, day after day, for months, especially when it looks like it’s not succeeding. But how many times did that one extra attempt push a person from failure to success?  Stephen King would be a dead drycleaner except for trying one more time (LINK).
  • Thrift vs. Spend – Saving money is hard, when there are so many shiny things to buy, and so very much PEZ® to eat. So very hard.  But it will allow you to buy even more PEZ© when you are old, like me and your Doctor says you shouldn’t have it.
  • Kindness vs. Selfishness – Okay, there have been a few moments in my life when I’ve cut loose and allowed myself to be horribly selfish. Those days are generally weekdays.  Or weekends.  And often occur during the Summer, but also Winter.  And Fall.  And Spring.  At least I try.  On alternate leap years I really try. See also:  Courteous vs. Rude.
  • Honor and Loyalty vs. Cowardice – A coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man but one. But I also bet a live guy wrote that?  Anyway, it’s tough to show honor and loyalty in a world that values neither.  So much easier to give in.  My problem is I have to look myself in a mirror and see the guy on the other side.  So is it my cowardice of not being loyal and honorable that keeps me loyal and honorable?
  • Morality vs. Licentiousness – Apparently Hollywood hasn’t heard of “morality,” at least based on the most recent headlines. Maybe someday someone will make a movie about that?

The easy road is downhill.  Challenges are hard.  Letting go of the comfort of the warm bed on a cold morning is hard.  Growth and achievement require effort.

Do the opposite of comfortable – that’s where living a heroic life starts.  Or maybe heroism starts on Skyrim® or Assassins Creed™?  But heroism does start with taking a chance.  Being bold.

When was the last time you took a chance?

How Many Full Moons?

“Patients sometimes get better.  You have no idea why, but unless you give a reason, they won’t pay you.  Anybody notice if there’s a full Moon?” – House, M.D.

DSC00683

Proof time is fleeting.  This is now 205 pounds (that’s sixteen metric tons) and is going to college in less than twenty-two months.

If you live to be 80 – you will have lived through 1042 full Moons (maybe 1043, depends on when in the month you were born).  That seems like a lot of full Moons, but if you’re, say, 28, you’ve already burned that number down to 677.

How many of those full Moons will you see?  If you’re part of today’s smart phone obsessed majority, not many.  Here’s a pretty powerful quote from Paul Bowles’ book, Sheltering Sky:

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well.  And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really.  How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it?  Perhaps four, or five times more?  Perhaps not even that.  How many more times will you watch the full Moon rise?  Perhaps twenty.  And yet it all seems limitless…

In a point I’ve (tried) before to make:  You’re dead.  What, exactly, are you going to do about it?  How are you going to live . . . today . . . to justify all that you are?

Inside each of us is our vision of ourselves.  It’s not as the world sees us.  It’s as we see ourselves.  And our minds are powerful tricksters.  Jordan Peterson (I’ve written about him (LINK), (LINK), and (LINK)) spoke in one video I watched about treating a girl with anorexia.  She could easily distinguish, say, which book or piece of paper was larger, but she could see no difference between the size of her thigh and that of Dr. Peterson.  So Peterson had her trace her thigh’s width while sitting on a piece of paper.  Then he had her trace the width of his thigh.  She was shocked that his was so much larger than her emaciated thigh.

You know the type of person that you think you are – what kind of person does the outside world see?

I think that as we (as a society) become more enmeshed in the inner and virtual world, we become somewhat apathetical to what goes on in the actual, physical world.  I’ve talked with multiple parents of high school aged children and their parents are concerned:  the kids don’t seem to want to do anything.  They’re enjoying life, but the drive to perform and achieve seems to be missing.

“Where is he going to school?”

“We’re just trying to get him out of high school.”

And the Moon keeps circling the Earth.

How do you feel about yourself?

Does the world see you the way that you do?

What are you going to accomplish before the next full Moon?

There are no guarantees.

Get going.

The Link Between Sugar, Cancer, and the Kardashians

“What about the reality where Hitler cured cancer, Morty? The answer is don’t think about it.” – Rick and Morty

DSC00577

Artist representation of what a cell might look like.  Just kidding – fireworks at night in Fairbanks on July 4th.  Hint:  on July 4th there is no night in Fairbanks.

In new news this week:  cancer eats sugar.  But that really isn’t new news, since Dr. Otto Warburg won a Nobel® Prize in 1931 for showing that a cancer cells use ten times the amount of sugar as a normal, healthy cell.  Sugar consumption also leads to cancer’s biggest risk factor:  being fat (I could say overweight or obese, but let’s not chop the onion too finely – Arnold Schwarzenegger was overweight, but never fat.  I’m talking fat, here.)  Now that correlation is clear – fat people catch more lung cancer than smokers.  But is the cause right?  Is being fat the problem, or is it the things that you do to get fat that cause the cancer?

As we’ve discussed in the past, much of medical research has the same scientific rigor as astrology (Sagittarius, here!) or alchemy (I know where soooo much lead is) or even astronomy.  Ha!  The Earth revolves around the Sun!  What a hoot!  A recently released review indicates that as many as 30,000 (that’s not a typo) scientific (if you call biology “science”) papers were based on using the wrong type of cell.  In one case they were using liver cells instead of lung cells.  I personally taste my all my cell cultures before using them, and always check the expiration date.  Even a rookie can taste the difference between liver and lung!

See, I told you people don’t know how to Science anymore (LINK).

But a recent study that seems to have actual science behind it (and by authors whose first names are Johan, Wim, and Veerle) investigates the relationship between sugar and cancer.  It seems that cancer cells get energy through fermentation of sugar, and the more sugar a cancer cell has, the faster the cancer grows.  (Normal cells generally oxidize the sugar, so they use a different path.)  Again, in their study, increased sugar led to increased growth, which is what you want in a bank account, not a tumor.

But your body has to have sugar, right?

Well, no.  Generally the brain prefers glucose (the kind of sugar found in your bloodstream) but it can do just fine, thank you on ketones.  What are ketones?  A 1960’s Motown band?

No, ketones are what happens to fats (your fat, or butter, or cheese) when your liver rips ‘em apart and stuffs them back into the bloodstream where they eventually feed your brain (and every other organ, too), so you can save the sugar packets that you were going to send to Congress and the Kardashians (Say, would that be a great TV show or what?  Congress and the Kardashians . . . ).  But your body (the liver, again) can also turn protein into glucose.  So, is it necessary to have carbs or sugars in your diet?  No, not really.

So, curing cancer just means avoiding Twinkies® and chocolate-covered raisins?  No.  Or at least I don’t think it’s that simple.  If so, I’m free to give my Nobel™ acceptance speech any time after next Wednesday.  What my Internet sources indicate is that it’s not a bad idea to go low carbing if diagnosed with cancer, along with cutting back on the protein because it can become glucose.

One doctor in particular (LINK) recommends a diet of up to 70% of calories from fat in response to cancer.  Actually, he recommends this diet to all patients, regardless of cancer status.

So, is there a link to cancer growth and sugar?  Absolutely.  Is there a link to getting cancer in the first place and sugar?  Probably.

Should you trust what you read?  Hmmm.  Remember when carbs were good for you and eggs were bad for you?  I’m expecting smoking and scotch prescriptions before I die . . .

Am I a doctor and should you trust this without checking with somebody more than me?  No way.  Check all of this out for yourself.

Happiness, Dilbert, and Suffering

“There are two kinds of pain.  The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain.  The sort of pain that’s only suffering.  I have no patience for useless things.” – House of Cards

20160706_150654

Talk about suffering . . . these guys fight to the bitter finish!

Suffering and evil.

They exist.

But so does happiness.

Scott Adams (the Dilbert® author/artist) even has a formula for it.  His post about it is here (LINK).  The formula as presented by Mr. Adams is pretty simple:

Happiness = health + money + social life + meaning

That’s a pretty short list, and a pretty simple formula, and, unwittingly those are represent three of the four items that I chose to feature on this blog – Monday Meaning, Wednesday Wealth, and WilderHealth Friday (yeah, that rhyme sucks, let me know if you have a better one) that this blog is thematically intended to address.  I guess that great minds must think alike?

Health

I believe Mr. Adams intended the list to be (more or less) in order.  For instance, if you’re on your deathbed, having money and a party with tequila-shooting 23 year old actual girl bikini models (you have to specify the “actual” part after 2016, I guess) in your room plus the Pope and Dalai Lama asking you for advice with their religious problems . . . okay, I’ll admit that’s not a bad way to go.  But the whole “going to die” in 20 minutes still turns the whole party into kind of a bummer, what with the dead dying guy and the Pope.  This Pope is not a party animal, unlike the last one . . . .

pope beer

Can I get an amen? – source, Internet, Provenance Unknown

Money

Money is second on the list.  Is it?  I think so.

Money cannot by happiness, but it can buy experiences.  It can buy leisure time.  It can create situations where you have a social life.  And, it can create situations where you create meaningful experiences.  And I’ve been with very little money ($70 in the checking account and $150,000 in debt) and have been out of debt, and I very much recommend having money.  If you’re healthy, that’s a great start.  If you’re healthy and have money?  You can get to the next bits.

Social Life

So, you’ve got health, and money.  Without anyone who cares about you, it’ll seem pretty hollow, since we humans are (mostly) social creatures.  Oh, I’m sure that you’ll bring up Grizzly Adams® but even he had his bear, Ben.

James_Grizzly_Adams_-_Towne_&_Bacon,_1860

In truth, Adams was just a businessman and shoemaker who made and lost several fortunes and died of an aggravated grizzly bear bite after a monkey bit him in the same spot five years later.  Normal, boring suburban life.  Picture source, Wikimedia, public domain.

Meaning

So, finally we end up with First World Problems.  Health is a common problem in the world, as is money, although I think plenty of strong families do get by without money, and even find tons of meaning during a simple life.

Weird Al talking about First World Problems.  Perspective, right?

There’s probably a sweet spot for income, too.  There might be a classic “Three Bears” problem of too much, too little, just right, but I’ll imagine it skews more towards having too much money.  We’ll hit the topic of earning “too much money” (really, probably working so hard and so stressfully that you die sooner) some Wednesday.

Meaning is important, and I can recall some occasions in my life where I had all the money, social connections, and health anyone could really ask for, and then I’d start thinking about meaning.  It was during those situations that I realized that mankind wasn’t horribly predisposed to contentment.  If it isn’t health, material possessions or friends, we have to have something to search for, and it turns out meaning is an easy one.

And I think that the search for meaning often shows up when we do have most of our comforts met – I know that some periods of personal success have left me feeling hollower and brought me back to looking for that deeper side of life.

The Other Side of Happiness

Some churches and religious folks preach that money and the good life is a gift from God, and I’ll agree.  But we cannot forget the gift that suffering is.  I’m not sure that there are many people who have been made better by having all that money.  But when a person has to go through a tough time?  Suffering exists, and difficulty exists, and they exist so we can vanquish them and emerge from the other side, better and stronger.

Is there suffering?  Undoubtedly.

Is there evil?  Certainly.

These exist.  And, we can use them, or rather, in vanquishing them, if we do it right.  If we don’t give in to despair when suffering, if we don’t become evil in vanquishing evil, then we emerge on the other side better for our journey.  And stronger.

At least that’s what I told the Pope and the Dalai Lama, but I’m not sure they heard me over the music.  And the Pope can totally drink tequila.  He’s a party animal!

A Guide to Job-Getting, or, Interviewing for Fun and Profit

“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Merlin. You are about to embark on what is probably the most dangerous job interview in the world. One of you, and only one of you, will become the next Lancelot.” – Kingsmen:  The Secret Service

DSC02650

These women were interviewing for the baby-catching position we had.  Neither was hired – since it was clearly in the job description that you cannot be made of metal, wood or stone.  But they caught 8 of the 10 babies!

This post is the result of a discussion I had with a relative who is getting within six or so semesters of graduation.  Please, do pass this link around since many college kids have NO idea that HR is the enemy or even how the hiring process works at a major corporation.  Or how to use a dial phone.  But the whole phone thing is beyond the scope of this post . . .

Previous posts have discussed (honest) ways to make money other than being an employee – and being Johnny Depp doesn’t count.  Chief among them are being self-employed (which is like a job, but with none of the job security), owning a business, or being an investor.  But most people want to work for a company, especially new college graduates.  Something about having a steady paycheck seems to motivate them.

Starters:  The Résumé

I’ve had the good fortune to review thousands (not an exaggeration) of résumës.  I know that there’s no umlaut in the word résumés, but I never get to use umlauts.  Between me and you shouldn’t the word umlaut have an ümlaüt or two?

I digress.  I’ve seen zillions of résumés.  Most of them are booooring.  Really boring.  Member of this.  Member of that.  Yeah, and for five bucks I could be a member, too.  This isn’t to knock the kids coming out of school – but, really, no one cares if you were part of the intramural interior mural team.  It all just blends together on the page and looks?  Yes.  Boring.

My friend Eric had a cool résumé – in it he mentioned working on a Christmas tree farm.  After we hired him, he said that people always referred to him as “the Christmas tree guy,” so he kept it on his résumé. And, honestly, for mental manipulation in the interview process, that’s wizard-level technique.  Most people have fond memories of Christmas, and Christmas trees from being a kid, even if there was that year that Momma and Uncle Luther stopped talking to each other due (in part) to a Jim Beam® fueled argument over who Grandma liked best and who took better care of her because they were more selfless.  Only saw Uncle Luther one more time after that, but I did get a cool Transformer® that year.  It’s probably best to leave all that detail off a résumé – it falls under the category of way too much information.  But Christmas tree farm is awesome.  Ahh, the smell of home baked cookies, bourbon, and regret.

The idea is that your résumé should have something unique on it – something that raises a question in the mind of the reviewer, and ideally the item should be pleasant.  But even if you’ve got a great résumé?  Chances are good that (if it’s even printed nowadays) that it’ll be discarded after about thirty seconds of review.  Why?  There are lots of other candidates, and it’s a numbers game, and lunch starts at 11:30AM and I want to get there just after they bring the Nacho Bar out before fat Carol from accounting takes all the sour cream.  Mmmmm, nachos!  Swipe left on this dude.  Let’s go!

Have someone you trust review your résumé to make sure that it looks good.  Typographical errors in the land of spell checkers are a killer.  In the old days, having a typo meant you were, at best careless.  Having a typo on your résumé today?  You’re careless and actively stupid.  Also, when handing out paper copies of your résumé, make sure that yours aren’t covered in small blood spots and a thin film of mucous.  (Unless you’re attempting to be a forensic dude for a police department, where that’s probably okay, heck, maybe even required.)

The job hunting process is stacked against you.  You have to compete to get attention from someone who cares less about you than the Nacho Bar, which is why most jobs come from personal connections.  You’ve worked with someone, they talk you up to someone who’s hiring.  Now, instead of a picture of a résumé on screen, there’s a real personal contact – someone who now has a vested interest in getting you through the process.  You’re a real person again, and not just a blood and mucous covered résumé.

As a new college graduate, the person that you and your prospective employer both know is the college you went to.  Often, people who went to that college lead the recruiting effort there, so they can do service for both their new company and their alma mater.  So, as a recent graduate, you are in a unique position – your college and its reputation is your ticket in.  So, if your college has never sent anyone to work at your dream company?  It will remain just that – your dream company, since it doesn’t “know” your college at all.

Perhaps the best position to be in is if your father is or has been President of the United States (Chelsea, Donald Jr., George W., you all are in that category) which makes you improbably employable, since everyone knows you.  You could spend your time writing a children’s book about how the Armenian Genocide was a good idea and they’d put that sucker on the bestseller list.

But back to unpresidential you:  let’s pretend you’re the lucky one and your résumé has been pulled out of the giant HR hat where they keep résumés and pull them out on mimosa Friday (every HR department has this).  What next?

One time they let Tom Petty wear the HR hat in a video.  Exclusive footage!!!

Likely you’ll get an email attempting to set up a phone interview.  They’re most likely not sure enough about you that they want to spend a lot of time with you, but they know enough about you that they want to learn more about the Christmas tree farm.  Given that, they’ll give you a screening interview.

Screening Interview

The screening interview is generally a phone call (or an on-campus interview) that’s almost never longer than 30 minutes or so.  Some are as short as 15 minutes.  I would routinely end the screening interview early if the candidate was obviously not as advertised, high on PEZ©, or in some other way disqualified themselves.

How else could they disqualify themselves?  A variety of ways.  Not picking up the phone when I called at the scheduled time.  Excessive snorting.  No one likes a snorter.  Not knowing all the names of the Three Stooges© and the Marx Brothers™.  Really fundamental stuff.

As a candidate, know that the phone screen is just that – a screen.  Your interviewer just wants a reason screen you out so they can delete your résumé and have more room for Call of Duty™ on their HR computer and also narrow the pool of people that they’ll actually have to talk to in person, which will obviously take away from Call of Duty® time.  If the interviewer is someone from HR, they’ll likely go through a list of qualifications for the job and look to see if there’s some reason that they can ignore you for the rest of their lives, or maybe trade you to the HR guy over at the company down the street for a weapons upgrade.

One phone screen where I was the candidate, I set everything up so I’d have some peace and quiet in my bedroom when it was time for the phone call.  The phone rang, and I picked up and started talking to the interviewer.  About a minute later, my two-year-old daughter picked up the phone downstairs and started pressing buttons and babbling into it.

Me:  “Excuse me . . . just a second.”

I ran downstairs, vaulted over the baby gate, unplugged the phone from the wall, and took the phone with me out of the room, and then ran back upstairs.

Me, to interviewer:  “Back.  And I have one less daughter now.”

The interviewer chuckled and went on through her questions.  Apparently the interview went well, since I eventually got a job offer and worked at the company for some years, and the interviewer even baby sat that same daughter.

I didn’t feel at all bad after that phone screen.  My theory?  If they didn’t have a sense of humor, it probably wasn’t the best place for me to work, anyway.

If you haven’t done so, you really should practice interviewing on the phone with someone who has done some interviewing.  You may think you’re pretty darn special (and you might be) but you might come off looking as articulate as one of the contestants on Family Feud® during the lightning round.  And not one of the smart contestants.  Practice makes us all better.

On Site Interview

After you’ve not been killed in passed the screening interview, you’ll get the opportunity to go and visit the company at their site.  What will happen next  . . .  depends.

Probably the norm for small and medium size companies is that HR picks interviewers based on Astrological tables, and the interviewers have had exactly zero training on how to interview.  Not only that, the interviewers might not even know anything about the job you’re interviewing for.  You can generally tell if this is that kind of random-shotgun-amateur interview if:

  • HR doesn’t give you a clue as to what to wear.
  • People are late.
  • Interviewers keep you over the allotted time.
  • The interviewer doesn’t know exactly where you’re supposed to go next.
  • The interviewer asks if you’ve seen any positions they can apply for.
  • If the interviewers ask lots of yes or no questions or hypothetical questions.
  • HR says it might be weeks before you hear back from them.

Working at a company like this will be as random as the process – they don’t have sufficiently developed business processes to make an interview go smoothly, or even share an idea of the qualities the company considers important when it hires to the interviewers.

Contrast that with a mature process:

  • People are on time.
  • Everyone has copies of your schedule and résumé.
  • The interviewer (or most of them) are polished and smooth, and the only yes/no questions you get are whether or not you want coffee, water, or a bathroom break (and everyone asks).
  • Every interview/conversation has a theme, and you do most of the talking and tell a lot of stories about your past. Sometimes even more than you expected to share.
  • The final interview of the day is with a VP or higher, and they’re pretty impressive.
  • HR gives you a very tight timeline on when you might expect to hear back from them, and they hit the deadline.

I’ve interviewed in both systems, and as someone attempting to get a new employee out of the system, I greatly preferred the second system – it produced a consistent quality of candidates.

In a polished interview setting like that, everyone gives feedback, everyone.  I had our department’s administrative assistant escort the candidate to the next interview.  It was neat, because she was very nice and the candidate, if they were going to drop their shields and act really weird, well, that was often when they did exactly that.  Some were rude to her.  One guy asked the administrative assistant if I was married (I never did figure that one out, and, no, he didn’t get a job).

As a new interviewer, I was awful.  I was disjointed.  I asked weird questions.  I might have seemed a bit intimidating.  I was not at all smooth in managing the interview time.  But I kept at it, and eventually the company added interviewer training and a guide to the qualities that they were looking for in an employee and with practice I got better – I’ve interviewed hundreds of people during my career, if not well over a thousand by now.

I learned that the most effective interviewing technique was behavior-based interviewing, where you had the candidate tell stories from the past, outlining how their behavior had created outcomes.  And it was amazing the stories that I heard!  I had candidates, during interviews, admit to stealing from previous employers.  And being trained in interviewing with lots of practice is sort of like having a superpower – the night I met The Mrs. I ran her through the interview techniques during our first date.  She ended up talking a LOT and told me most everything I needed to know.

On one occasion I was requested to interview a candidate and go through all of the topics.  Normally that took hours – like five, and it was done by five people.  It’s a really smooth process – and most people will tell you their innermost secrets if you ask them just right.

John Wilder:  “You need me to do what?”

HR:  “We only have half an hour with this candidate, and we need to know if we want to hire her.  We need a pro, and you’re the only one who can do it, John Wilder.”

John Wilder:  “But think of the cost, man . . . this will be a thoroughly unpleasant half hour for her.  Even if we want her to work here, she might not want to after that.”

The interview was probably the most horrific thirty minutes of the candidate’s life up to that point, unless she was born in a war zone (she wasn’t – she was born in Michigan, oh . . . wait).

The answer was no.  Even during that thirty minute session I’d ripped enough stories out of her that I would have been uncomfortable with her managing filling jelly doughnuts instead of the multi-million dollar responsibilities she’d have (and be fired for messing up) working for us.  A definite no.

That had been one of the hardest things for me when I started interviewing.  “Yes” is easy to say.  And it’s easy to see.  “No” was harder, until my friend (the same one who phone screened me) told me this:  “Remember, John, giving someone a job who doesn’t fit here is much crueler than telling them no.  You’ll have taken away part of their life that they could have spent doing something that they were meant to do.”

And she was right.  “No” became much easier, even a moral choice.

Since then, I’ve added one other criteria:  there is no yes but a “hell, yes!”  You should be excited about new people that you’re bringing into the organization.  One of them might be your boss someday.  Or your friend for life, like Eric, the Christmas tree guy.  Or Johnny Depp.

I think I need to talk to HR . . .

More Budget Doom, The Rolling Stones, an End Date, and an Unlikely Version of Thunderstruck

“This is the federal government, huh?  Now I know why my old man got a hundred and eleven Medicare cards sent to him.  Not one of them had his name on it.”  – The Rockford Files

20170830_133525

I finally found Waldo!!!

Last week we talked through the specter of the budget deficit.  A link to that awesome post is here (LINK).  But I mentioned there was much more to the story.  I wasn’t trying to be a tease – I had originally intended that this next segment be attached to last week’s post.  But I failed.  When I did the word count on last week’s post?  It was already my second longest post ever, plus it was 2AM (really 2:30), so I punted until this week to cover the rest of it . . . even Iron John Wilder must sleep sometime, even though I consider “sleepy” the next cousin of “communist infiltrator.”

On Last Week’s Wilder Wealthy and Wise:

We have a budget that, mathematically, must rise exponentially and create deficits to keep us from permanent recession.  That’s a pretty ugly realization.  Recap over, though there’s more to it at the LINK.  I was discussing this post with a friend.  “John Wilder, what can we do to fix this?”

Me:  “Ummm, when you’ve been accelerating towards a brick wall and you’ve hit 70 miles an hour, and you yell stop 20 feet before the wall?  Nothing will help you.  Ask for your money back from ACME.”

Last week’s post describes a threat, but not the only threat – if it were, it might be manageable.  Even Wile E. Coyote has airbags nowadays.  But now?  There are components of the budget that are growing much faster than the rest, and will soon crowd out the rest of the spending.  I’ll start with the biggest of the big:  Medicare and Medicaid.

These programs started June 30, 1965, when President Johnson signed some stupid bill that he knew would get him votes but that he wouldn’t live long enough to see the consequences.

The Rolling Stones had the number two slot on the Top 20 the day he signed that stupid bill:

I just never want to see Mick Jagger eating an ice cream cone.  Especially not old, wrinkly Mick. (shudder)

800px-Medicare_and_Medicaid_GDP_Chart

(H/T Wikimedia Commons)

That’s a pretty cool graph.  Even cooler is that the Congressional Budget Office did it for me.  I like free things that I only pay taxes for.

But it’s not cool because it shows that by 2037 (the benchmark year we’ve been talking about) Medicare and Medicaid will grow like some science fiction monster to consume about 10% of the GDP.  Since Federal taxes seem to “break” the economy over about 19% of GDP, it appears we won’t be able to afford much of anything else, since right now Social Security consumes about 25% of federal spending.  But more on that later.

Let me explain the “excess growth” label:  it means that the program is projected to grow faster than the economy grows, and in this case, much faster.  But I’m still suspicious –federal government estimates are rarely conservative – program expenses always seem to grow faster, and the GDP always seems to grow more slowly.

But it gets worse:

Social Security has a “Trust Fund” that will run out in 18 years!  OMG!

Actually, the whole “Trust Fund” consists of the Social Security taxes you and your employer pay in every year.  For most of the history of Social Security, the taxes you and your pay have paid for the program, plus a lot more.

So, did the government invest that money in the stock market?  No.  Real estate?  No.  Well, surely they invested it?

Kinda.  They bought US Treasury Bonds.

And then immediately spent the money that they had just given themselves.  It is technically true that Social Security has a $2.8 Trillion trust fund that gets interest every year.  But it’s more like saying that you have $100 in your left pocket.  You transfer it to your right pocket, and put an IOU $100 LOL paper in your left pocket.  You then spend the entire $100 on PEZ®, pantyhose and elephant rides.

Congratulations!  You still have a $100 trust fund!

So, you can see that math is pretty stupid, but the government keeps doing it.  What’s more important is that we went from having extra money every month that we could blow on PEZ© to not.  Pretty quickly.  And it adds up:

ib3638_chart5_600SS

Source:  Heritage Foundation

I’m sad to tell you that last week’s budget projection doesn’t take into account the explosive growth in cost of Medicare and Medicaid, and the “not quite as scary” growth in Social Security.

Okay John Wilder, this is NOT GOOD.

Nope.  And we’ve only been talking about the federal government.  At the state level, pension funds are (according to Moody’s (LINK)) underfunded by $1.75 trillion.  Whew!  I thought we were talking big money!  But in 2015, these same pensions were underfunded by $1.25 trillion.  So, that’s only a loss of 40% in two years, when the stock market has been consistently rising.  Right now the stock market is near an all-time high.

It’s like the states have a dedicated team of sugar-addled toddlers to managing their pension money and replaced the water cooler with chocolate syrup.  NO ONE could lose money in this environment.  But let’s not forget to blame 43 of the state legislatures for assuming that their pension funds would grow at a constant 8%.  First, most people would love that rate with current interest rates.  Secondly, you’re never going to get that with the batch of sugar-addled toddlers that they currently employ – you might get your portfolio traded for a Cadbury’s® Cream Egg™, and there’s not a lot of return in that.

I’m expecting the state underfunding to double or triple in the next five years – Chicago can’t pay policemen retirement past 2020 or so.  There are actually more retired cops than active cops that they’re paying.  This stuff is all over the place.  Easy to solve in a growing economy without debt.  Here?  Just more chaos to add to the picture.  You how bad it is in your state, according to the Wall Street Journal (LINK).

There certainly is an end game, however.

As I’ve mentioned before, the high United States’ reliance on debt combined with the use of the dollar as the de facto world currency places it in a pretty perilous precarious position.  Here are some random bad things that could happen (up front, I’m thinking these things won’t happen for a few years, and it may not be these things – but something will happen):

  • Some country, like China, will dump all of their dollars to sink the dollar. Right now, China hasn’t done this because they’re not strong enough militarily or economically.  Eventually, their math might change.
  • Somebody will come up with something better than the dollar. This isn’t as likely, but is still a possibility.  When a currency isn’t backed by anything (like the dollar) it’s all a matter of perception.
  • Everyone stops buying Treasury Bonds (i.e., the money government is borrowing) and interest rates have to shoot up to convince people to buy United States debt.
  • We will have an internal crisis brought on by the cold equations that govern the debt. One projection shows that by 2031 (not that far off) that Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and interest on the debt will consume . . . all the projected tax money.  All of it.  And this might be optimistic, because this graph doesn’t show nearly as much Medicare and Medicaid spending as the CBO does.  I think this might be based on an older data set.  Too optimistic.

End Game

Source:  Heritage Foundation, http://budgetbook.heritage.org/

It’s really hard to post a graph like the one above and argue that it’s too optimistic, but I think it really is.  We’ll probably run into hard limits sooner, say 2025.  In no way can this continue beyond 2040 or so.

Well, John Wilder, you say, we’ve been through a depression before.  This should be a cakewalk!  We have Netflix®!

True!  And I will be chillin’ with Netflix© as the ship sinks with a Macanudo™ and some awesome Malbec as the deck tilts, but in the Great Depression our economy was fundamentally different – instead of 70%+ of our economy being driven by consumption, we were the net producer for the world.  Our big problem back then was that we had so much money from all of those other countries floating around, as we were the largest net creditor nation in the world.  Now we’re the largest net debtor.  Ever.

And your grandma and grandpa had a garden, didn’t they?  It was quaint, you thought.  Back during the depression 20% or so of folks lived on farms.  They didn’t starve because they had access to chickens, eggs, food.  They could turn corn stalks into shoes.  Or something.  The garden your grandma kept?  She kept it because she remembered the hungry days, the days when they saved everything because it might have a use.  My mother saved aluminum TV dinner trays (yes, this was a thing) for decades.  “Might have a use for them.”

So what happens after the currency gets wonky?  Hard to say.  This is the textbook definition of a singularity – all the parts go vertical or are divided by zero.  What happens when that happens?  Again, that’s a really hard set of questions, and this is not the only singularity we will be facing in the near term.

I’ll have a future set of posts on other singularities like this.  The next one should be Monday, and it’ll be a doozy.

Hope this conversation didn’t leave you Thunderstruck.  If so, here’s a cure:

Yes, you did just see that.

 

Sitting? Death. Get up. Neal Stephenson says so.

“I have broken a ten year old’s spirit.  Time to reward myself with a fruit on the bottom yogurt.  Plain, plain, plain, plain . . . ooh, fruit.” – The Simpsons

DSC02037

Not where Soviet goatherders live.

I remember watching a news program when I was quite young and staying over at my grandparents.  A reporter had been dispatched to some part of the Soviet Union to interview a lot of old people.  The story showed a bunch of goat herders who lived in stone and mud houses in some remote mountain valley.  Wonderful television, right?  Well, the kicker was all of these old people lived to their nineties, but still claimed that they could beat the Nigerian cross-country ski team in the Battle of the Network Stars®.  Or maybe it was the Gong Show™?

The reporter earnestly asked a bunch of questions through interpreters about Soviet lifestyles.  We were watching on 27” televisions that seemed normal in size then, but absurdly small today.  Thankfully, they weighed about 1000 pounds each (the television, not the Soviets).  Back then four or five of these televisions cost about as much as a brand new Camaro®, which is the same thing as a new television costing over $6,000 now.  Or a new Camaro© costing about $4,500.  Now.  Don’t know about you, but I’d love to trade five televisions for a brand new Camaro™.

Turned out that goat herders spend their days herding goats.  And walking up and down steep hills to carry water back up to their mud and stone huts.  And chasing goats.  And eating yogurt.  And doing whatever else it is that causes them to lose their teeth and look like shriveled raisin-people.  Heck, the Soviets never learned about sunscreen and I bet their version of dentistry involved a steam engine and a comical series of gears in some fashion – for all I know the raisin-people were twenty three years old.  And they had zero televisions or Camaros®.  Did I mention that they discussed eating only yogurt?

Soon after this story hit, yogurt became available in the local supermarket.  I don’t think this is a coincidence.  I’m guessing that the American consensus was that we could eat our way skinny using yogurt.  And the other bet was that you could live to be as old and leathery as those Soviets.

First Yogurt Purchase on Wilder Mountain by Ma Wilder:

Young John Wilder:  “Ummm, gross.  It looks like snot.”

Ma Wilder:  “It’s good for you.  It has bacteria.”

Young John Wilder:  “SUPER gross!  Bacteria?”

Ma Wilder, flustered:  “These are supposed to be good for you, young comrade!”

But now I’m pretty sure that what kept those goat herders living their long stone and mud hut lives wasn’t yogurt, but was:

  • No access to Ding Dongs®, Twinkies©, or Fruit Pies™, and
  • Having to walk up and down hundreds of feet on that steep, steep mountain every single day of their lives to chase their goats and get their water, and,
  • Great Soviet technology, which was far better than American technology – Americans have car/truck combination that is El Camino? Soviets have tank/car/jet combination called El Gorbacar!  Runs on kerosene and weighs 124,000 pounds.

Okay, my bet it was the low carbs and all the strenuous exercise and not so much on the El Gorbacar.  Same thing with the native Alaskan population – native Alaskans were lean, mean polar bear killing machines before Coca-Cola®, Ho-Hos™ and Doritos©.  After Ruffles®, Wonder Bread™ and mechanized transportation?  Skyrocketing heart disease.

I imagine those ex-Soviets all weigh 450 pounds now and sit around playing GoatHerder3™ on Playstation©.  But they have awesome non-leathery complexions from living in Mom’s basement.

And, all the latest data keeps proving my supposition:  moving around a lot keeps you alive longer.  This is pretty much the same story as 2016.  And 2015.  And every year since 1936, which was the last year that medical science was concerned that vigorous activity would disturb the bodily humours which could only be dispelled by large amounts of opium, radium, and linoleum.

The story is evolving.  Even if you’re fit in all other ways, for the last several years it’s been reported that the data now appears to say that if you sit for long periods of time?  You’re going to die.

Well, die sooner.  We’re all gonna die.  It’s all a matter of if you get to see “Game of Thrones” end, right?  Who needs to see 2019?

The markers appear to say that if you rest for longer than twelve and a half hours per day, and more than 10 minutes per session . . . you’re going to die sooner.

And the reasons?  All of the reasons:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Backaches

Okay, backaches are generally not fatal.  But the rest of them certainly can be.

And, like I mentioned before, absolutely zero of these stories are new – it seems to be a story that the media trots out every September and March.  It might have something to do with when new journalists emerge from their cocoons after their larval stage as sons and daughters of investment bankers who can afford surgery to make them attractive.  My prediction?  Pumpkin-spice latte stories in our near future as the journalists develop into their final glorious form:  commentators.  Ahh, the beauty of the circle of life, from weathergirl to Cokie Roberts.

But I digress.  Actually, the first time I recall reading about the dangers of sitting was around 2000.  Neal Stephenson, one of my favorite authors, wrote about it in an essay in 2012 called . . . “Arsebestos.”

Mr. Stephenson compares sitting to asbestos, since both lead to early death, hence . . . Arsebestos.  He made the point that future employees will be able to sue based on being required to sit all the time at work.  Basis of the case?

Butt brutality?  Heine horrors?

But one of the reasons I love Mr. Stephenson is that he’s got skin in the game.  He put his lifestyle where his mouth is:  he started working on a treadmill desk, which is a big deal, as a loveseat addicted author with a glass of pinot noir in his hand can attest.

Mr. Stephenson’s results are well documented here at this (LINK) of the 416 days he spent working on a treadmill desk at the time he wrote the article.  He did run into some problems with going too slow – the pace wasn’t natural and he lurched from side to side.  When he pushed his speed back up to 1.8 miles per hour, all of the physical problems associated with the treadmill dropped away.

So, the short message of this post?

Get up and move.  Now.  Dance like you’re a crazy fool!  It will save your life.

Unless you’re running a crane at a construction site.  And then?  For heaven’s sake sit down and do your job!  You could kill someone . . . .