Warren Buffett’s Investing Secrets, F-Troop, and Amazing Bigfoot Investments

“Well if there were no Gods then anyone can do anything and nothing will matter.  You could do as you like and nothing would be real.  Nothing would have meaning, or value.  So even if the Gods don’t exist, it still necessary to have them.” – Vikings

DSC03968

Even Bigfoot appreciates the climate in Margaritaville.

It was reported (quite a while ago) that Jimmy Buffett of “Margaritaville” fame and Warren Buffett of “Having All the Money” fame were related.  However in 2007 they spit into a tube (well, separate tubes, one tube would be gross) and had their DNA tested.  The results showed that if they were related, it was more than 10,000 years in the past, as Warren Buffett was related to Scandinavians and either Iberians or Estonians.  Jimmy Buffett was related to the Dutch, sunscreen, tequila and salt.

I’ve always regretted that they weren’t related, since my ideal restaurant would be the Buffett Buffet™.  All you can eat cheeseburgers (from Jimmy) and Coca-Cola® from Warren (who owns a large chunk of the company Coca-Cola™).  The television screens would alternate between surfing, bartending shows, and a stock ticker.

But this post is all about Warren, and only slightly about Cheeseburgers in Paradise©.

Warren Buffett is smart.  You don’t start with (relatively) small amounts of money and end up with billions by luck, unless you’re Mark Cuban, who is the only person on planet Earth who sold a company with 330 employees for enough stock to make him a billionaire.  Thankfully he has a billion dollars, so he can hire people smarter than him.   (Yes, he has more money than me, but, really – aside from being so lucky?  He’d be a wonderful bartender.)

One data point in my favor in stating that Warren is smart would be that he graduated from the University of Nebraska at the age of 19, and then went off to Columbia (the college, not the country).  Why Columbia (the college, not the country)?  He knew that Benjamin Graham taught there.  Ben Graham is known as the “Father of Value Investing,” and Buffett wanted to learn from him, and took his class.  After finishing at Columbia, he wanted to go to work for Graham, but Graham said no.  Buffett went back to Nebraska to be a stockbroker.

One day, Graham called and said that Buffett could come to work for him – he was being called up to the big leagues.  The next day Buffett killed all of his customers (no witnesses that way) and went to New York to work for Graham.  Okay, Buffet didn’t kill anyone.  That we know of – this isn’t Game of Thrones.

So, when Buffett got the job with Graham, he learned a lot.  Eventually Graham had enough money and wanted to spend the rest of his life on, well, whatever he wanted to spend it on (PEZ®, pantyhose and elephant rides?), so he shut the company down.  Buffett was, by most standards, pretty well off, and decided he wanted to move back to Omaha and open his own value investing shop because he missed all of the corn and the corn smells.  Buffett’s various ventures were pretty small – in 1990, his company (Berkshire Hathaway) was worth $7175.  Per share.  Recently that same share would cost over $260,000, and Berkshire Hathaway’s total value is over $440 billion dollars.

Warren Buffett has done okay.

He’s also known for being pretty frugal.  I know you’re happy I added frugal to that last sentence, because otherwise you’d just think that I thought that Warren Buffet was pretty.

DSC01920

I personally think that this picture is pretty, even if Game of Thrones® has made dragons the good guys.

Warren has lived in the same house since the 1950’s, (it is a nice house, but not that nice), drives a car for years at a time (rumor is he bought a hail damaged one because it was cheaper), and recycles Pringles© canisters into air conditioning ductwork for his house and saves the trays for TV dinners to use to microwave Oscar Meyer® hot dogs.

Me?  If I had as much money as he does, I’d probably buy a new car every time mine ran out of gas (I kid, I drive my cars forever (LINK)).

I was watching a video while exercising (I work out for only for you and I study for only for you, Internet!) and heard Warren state “ . . . if I could invest as a small investor today I think I could . . . I know I could make a 50% return.”

That was a pretty powerful statement, since I certainly count as a small investor by Mr. Buffett’s standards.

Why can’t he do that?  He’s got billions of dollars he has to invest, so he has to do big deals.  There are a lot of good deals you could do with a few million dollars, but very few good deals in the billion plus region.  Turning the company’s $440 billion into $660 billion in a year is hard.  He could turn $10 million in to $15 million in a heartbeat.  Small deals are easier since there are so many of them.

Warren’s advice to investors is simple:  buy a low overhead (low fees) index fund (an index fund is a fund that is created to match an index, like the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500).  If you can’t do what he does and value invest, this is the best way to get a good return.  And that’s good advice (in my opinion) for any small investor that doesn’t have the time to do the required research.

Let’s repeat that:  Warren Buffett says you should buy an index fund.

But me?  I know Warren didn’t get all of those Pringles® cans by investing in an index fund.  What did Warren Buffett do to get really rich?

What research did Graham and Buffett (reminder:  not Jimmy Buffett, but Warren Buffett) do prior to investing?

  1. Good Leadership, Good Business – Graham and Buffett were looking for leaders that had experience, capability, and great integrity. Warren can call CEOs and talk to them and give them the sniff test.  You can’t, so this is harder for you.  The business also has to be a good one. (More on this later.)
  2. Low Price to Earnings Ratio – The price to earnings ratio (P/E ratio) is how much you have to spend to get a dollar of the company’s earnings.

Before the 1980’s, the rule was a company that had a price to earnings ratio of over 20 was ALWAYS overpriced.  But the rule back then was to take the P/E and subtract the current prime interest rate.  Today the prime interest rate is ~1%, so using that old rule, a P/E of 19 would be acceptable.  Right now it’s difficult to make a return on capital because so much money is flooding everywhere . . .

Why was the rule like that?  It was assumed that you could either get returns from saving your money or from investing it.  Currently there is no benefit from saving it with historically low rates, so the P/E has continually wandered higher.

Alone, however, P/E tells you nothing.

  1. Low Price to Book Value – The book value of a company is how much all of its “stuff” is worth. In theory, if a company has a price to book value of less than one, you could buy the company (price), sell all of its stuff (book value), and come out ahead.  In theory.  If you have ever driven past a boarded up factory (and you have) you know that the book value just might be overstated.

Again, like P/E, Price to Book tells you nothing.

One video I watched while climbing on an infinite staircase to nowhere showed a screening method for value stocks that was alleged to have come from Warren Buffett:

  • Pick the Price to Earnings ratio,
  • multiply it by the price to book value, and
  • if the number was less than or equal to about 30,
  • the stock was a candidate.

Simple, right?

It is (and it’s overly simple).  Because what stocks have low P/Es and low Price to Book?

  1. Great, Undervalued Companies in Great Markets and
  2. Failing Businesses in Crappy Markets.

How do you tell the difference?  Sometimes you don’t.  Buffett will go on at length, if you let him, about all of the failures he’s had in picking companies.  But he had a consistent strategy that he followed for years that obviously resulted outstanding returns.  And he didn’t pick only small companies – Coca-Cola® was one of the companies he picked that produced amazing gains for Berkshire Hathaway.

So, how does a company like Berkshire Hathaway measure up on the value score?

  • It has a P/E of 20, and a Price to Book of 1.5. This would result in a score of about 30, so it would be within Warren’s window.  According to Warren, Warren is a value!  Also, Berkshire Hathaway has a credit rating better than (really) most countries.

What about . . . Tesla?

  • Tesla has never made any money, so its P/E is infinite. Its price to book is 12, so, 12 times infinity is  . . . still infinity.  Probably not a Buffett candidate?

And Honda?

  • Honda, maker of the best-selling electric car has a P/E or 8.6. It has a price to book of 0.77.  That means it scores an amazing 6 or so on Warren’s scale.  Wow!

So, let’s also look at a company that no one understands, Amazon:

  • It has a P/E of 120.  A price to book of 20.  That’s an astonishing 2400.  Again, probably not a “buy” rating from Buffett.

But is Honda a good buy right now?  Or not?

The only way to tell is to go back to Buffett’s first point.  But you and I can’t call up the CEO of Honda and expect to get real answers.  Warren probably could.

But we have help fortunately:  Joseph Piotroski, an accounting professor at the University of Chicago came out with a list of criteria that are objective and that anyone can find in the annual report of any publically traded company and named it the F-Score, which I really hope was based on the 1960’s show “F-Troop.”  I’d go through the list, but it’s much easier to pop up a link.  So here’s the (LINK) to Piotroski’s criteria.

ftroop

I think that Agarn was a horrible value investor . . . did you see the episode where he traded the blankets for a handful of small marbles that were supposed to bring Custer back from the dead?

Source- mycomicshop.com

Profitability

  1. Return on Assets (1 point if it is positive in the current year, 0 otherwise);
  2. Operating Cash Flow (1 point if it is positive in the current year, 0 otherwise);
  3. Change in Return of Assets (ROA) (1 point if ROA is higher in the current year compared to the previous one, 0 otherwise);
  4. Accruals (1 point if Operating Cash Flow/Total Assets is higher than ROA in the current year, 0 otherwise);

Leverage, Liquidity and Source of Funds

  1. Change in Leverage (long-term) ratio (1 point if the ratio is lower this year compared to the previous one, 0 otherwise);
  2. Change in Current ratio (1 point if it is higher in the current year compared to the previous one, 0 otherwise);
  3. Change in the number of shares (1 point if no new shares were issued during the last year);

Operating Efficiency

  1. Change in Gross Margin (1 point if it is higher in the current year compared to the previous one, 0 otherwise);
  2. Change in Asset Turnover ratio (1 point if it is higher in the current year compared to the previous one, 0 otherwise);

The lower the F-Score, the crappier the company.

And it, when combined with the screen above the Piotroski F-Score produced a return 7.5% higher than any other Value Investing test.  So, does Honda suck or not?

I don’t know.  But I’m going to check with the help of Dr. Piotroski.

But the biggest failure in Value Investing is to allow your emotions to rule.  Markets are driven by emotion:  Elon Musk is awesome, so I’ll buy Tesla!!!!!

Tesla might be awesome, but there are way too many Tesla fans for the price to be rational.  Part of finding value in the market is understanding that you want to buy at the lowest prices.  When are the lowest prices?  “When blood is running in the streets.”  When people have given up.  When people are running scared.  At that point, amazing companies can be picked up at incredible values.

In April of 2000 I was thinking of buying Microsoft®.  I had generally been a pessimist, but, at a certain point, I was finally ready to give up being a pessimist.  I was talking to a broker and then . . . the Dotcom Bubble burst.  If I had bought Microsoft© back then?  It would have taken thirteen years to be at breakeven.  And that’s not including inflation, which ate away at the buying power of the dollar.

But can I still get a Cheeseburger in Paradise?  Sure!  Jimmy Buffett will even have a Margarita with you if you have the proper parrot apparel.  But don’t expect Warren Buffett to pay for it.  But he will take your discount coupons so he can use them to get some suits he bought in 1983 altered.

 John Wilder has no positions in any stock mentioned, and won’t take any for the next week or so, until he can calculate the F-Score of Honda.  Especially Tesla – he’s not buying that though he loves Elon.  John Wilder is NOT a financial advisor.  And he’s had wine tonight.  Don’t trust him.

Eclipse, Game of Thrones, Chili’s Restaurant

“Or we could stare at an eclipse while screaming at it!” – Upright Citizens Brigade

DSCF6127

This picture of the Sun’s corona is courtesy of The Boy, the number 8, and the letter W.

Like millions of other Americans within a short drive, The Boy, Pugsley and I piled into the Wildermobile and headed for destiny.  (For the record, millions of Americans didn’t pile into my car.  They got into their own cars.)

Actually, it was a Marriott© instead of destiny, but I hear those things can be related.  This was no ordinary Marriott®, rather it was one strategically placed within 90 minutes or so of the Path of the Great American Eclipse, which would snatch from us, momentarily, the Suns Life Giving Yet Deadly rays.

We had packed our Solar Viewing Glasses, which we had gotten for free a week earlier at our local library.  “We” is really The Boy, who I had to threaten with the immediate torture of being pulled from the Matrix through restriction of his use of any device invented since 1907 should he not comply.  “Later” seemed to be built into his answer.  Take away his Tweeter® or his BookFace©?  Yeah, that would be like amputating a limb.

A week out at the library?  Plenty of eclipse glasses were freely available.  Three days out?  None.  Again, people do NOT plan.  It seems like that when it’s bright and sunny out, even when they know that winter’s coming, they don’t put up extra food or even minor emergency preparations.  After you’re observed people long enough, you learn that most of them . . . don’t learn.  (But not you, dear reader, who likely have an IQ high enough to give a normal person a nosebleed due to altitude sickness.)

The Mrs. was skeptical when I tried to get hotel reservations a scant week before, but Marriott gleefully set up the reservation.  Originally, she was going to accompany us, but the day before we were to leave for the hotel, we took a nap, and she slept through the time when she was supposed to take the dogs to the kennel for boarding.  The Mrs. sighed . . . happily.  I’m not sure she was at all excited about an eight hour trip into the deepest uninhabited part of Upper-Lower Midwestia just to not see the Sun.

The Boy, Pugsley and I planned (prior to leaving) on when and how we were going to leave on our great adventure.

My plan was that I wanted to get there so I had about 90 minutes to eat dinner prior to Game of Thrones (spoiler – Ned gets decapitated at the end of season one).  Pugsley, however, had configured some sort of alternate reality that involved us getting there at 3pm.  The Boy bought into this alternate reality and stubbornly wore his backpack starting two hours before I started packing.

Keep in mind, The Boy is nearly 17.

I think both The Boy and Pugsley were excited.  The Boy was even more excited when I tossed him the keys.  He drove us from Stately Wilder Manor to dinner, and then to our hotel.  My daughter, Alia S. Featherbottom (nee Wilder) was going to meet us, but forgot we were coming as she fell into a pit of Dungeons and Dragons®.

Now, as a general note, we don’t let Pugsley (12) watch Game of Thrones.  The reason for this should be obvious to anyone who has watched the show.  Tonight?  Single hotel room?  He sat and watched Galaxy Quest with headphones on.  Although The Mrs. and I normally sit and watch the show together, in this case she and I texted back and forth during the episodes.  Here is an example exchange:

The Mrs.:  “There’s more walking in this episode than in The Lord of the Rings.”

Me:  “At least they’re not singing.”

After that I poured my heart and soul into (yet another) post about how stupid NASA is (LINK), but even I am beginning to feel a bit guilty – picking on NASA is a lot like hitting a kitten.  The Boy helped by doing my thermodynamics calculations.

I had carefully selected our site.  It was about fifteen miles from the nearest town, and it was on a nice corner where the line of totality exactly passed over.  It was perfect.  The only problem?

Clouds.  They were everywhere.  I pulled out my cellphone and had the path of the totality map up.  On another cellphone I had the cloud cover map.  I reviewed first one phone and then the other, cross referencing one map to the other, sort of like Columbus if he was having trouble getting 3G on the Santa Maria like I was out in the cornfields.  At least he had WIFI when the Pinta hit Hispaniola, right?

Plotting one map against the other while The Boy drove, I made a decision.  The GPS said to turn right.  I told The Boy, “Turn left.”

With that, we moved off plan.  We had gone rogue, chasing bits of blue sky.

We navigated farther west, and soon, bluer patches of clear sky were NOT obscuring the Sun.  We were getting closer . . . finally we stopped in a small town park.

20170821_123644

We pulled into position about 40 minutes before the eclipse.

The park was filled with nice, friendly people.  Which makes sense.  These are the type of people who are intellectually curious, and were patient enough to drive hours to a small town for a two minute eclipse.  These weren’t troublemakers.

The eclipse itself was sublime.  The Sun was a fat crescent, a slim crescent, and then it was gone.  There were some light clouds, but they weren’t a major eclipse of the eclipse.  We had chosen our site very well.

My biggest personal surprise about the eclipse was that it didn’t go completely dark – I guess I had expected that.  Venus was very visible in the sky, but the clouds surrounding us (35 miles away) were still lit by the Sun, and that lighting left me feeling like I was under the world’s largest sunshade, which I guess that I was.

20170821_130229

My picture of the Sun’s Corona.  I prefer Negra Modelo myself.

It had been an oppressively hot and humid day.  The temperature dropped a bit during the eclipse, and that brought out thick clouds as the water vapor in the air condensed out.  We got in The Wildermobile and The Boy started driving us towards home.  The worst traffic jam we saw took place at a T intersection about 30 miles south of totality, and it was about a mile of politely and patiently driven cars that took us about ten extra minutes to get through.  The traffic apocalypse foretold by Nostradamus did not emerge.

20170821_142546

The above fiberglass squirrels were all over this town, and every squirrel I saw was painted differently, but all of them had eclipse glasses on.  Who says Midwesterners don’t know how to party?

The Boy drove us back down to a Chili’s® restaurant 90 miles south of totality.  It looked like it was closed, with zero cars in the parking lot.  I jumped out to check the door, it was open, and they were open.  We ordered food, and the waitress said that there had only been one table that had been there for lunch.  Apparently, your willingness to eat at Chili’s™ is some sort of predictor for you to go to see an eclipse.

The Boy drove home, and I slept most of the way.

Most of the way.

On the way back I mused on the events of the day – we had seen a solar eclipse – our first total solar eclipse, and I was reminded of something I heard Tony Robbins say:  “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy experience.”

I guess my takeaway is:  “Being nice doesn’t get you Eclipse Viewing Glasses, but angry threats do.”

Life on Earth, Supervolcanos, NASA, and Tom Petty

“I must have started drinking again, because the woman who tried to activate a supervolcano with a giant fork is standing here, and you’re all acting like it’s a potluck.” – Warehouse 13

DSC04285A picture of Abraham Lincoln as he was fighting against both the Confederacy and German engineers.

“The world was a web.”

This wasn’t the quote from a Tom Petty song.  These were words that would echo through my head for two decades.

I started to write a novel back a long time ago.  It started with those words.

I still have it somewhere, buried in a backlog of data on one of my computers, right next to a resume that I first entered into a computer on . . . WordPerfect© (yes, that was a word processor before Corel® ate it).  I’m sure they still sell dozens of copies of it a year.

And the novel itself?  Oh my.  I’m sure that if it ever saw the light of day someone would name an award in its honor for the worst novel of the year.

But . . . “The world was a web.”

There are words that haunt you through your life, and this sentence haunts mine, just like wondering how it felt while the Roman Empire was ending (LINK).  I have been, since as long as I can remember, really fascinated by the unravelling of society.  Once I went to the Wikipedia entry for “Apocalyptic Novels” and just nodded.  I’d read nearly all of them.  (I just revisited the page, and it’s all filled with editorial stuff, so, much less useful.  I won’t link it.)

But the late author James P. Hogan (I read most of his stuff) wrote a novel called “Voyage to Yesteryear.”  It’s a good one, though out of print, but to me, it had a fairly stunning philosophical analogy.

We as humans think a lot (and live with) more or less reversible processes.  I put ice in the freezer, it freezes.  And then it melts.  Though once upon a time, I don’t think that there was anything at all in physics that would have predicted that the ice would have floated on the water (most frozen liquids sink – if you freeze gasoline, the frozen stuff drops to the bottom), but it turns out it’s pretty important, especially if you’re a fish.  You can stay in the nice liquid water while the ice freezes above you, which, I imagine is important to a fish.

But the second discussion from the novel is that some changes are irreversible – if you burn your laptop in your charcoal grill, there is simply no thawing it out afterwards to get your keyboard to not look like a bunch of charred Doritos®, or get back all of those downloaded pictures of Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones® or all of your Tom Petty MP3s.  Those are gone, dude.

The fire (presumably from a dragon?) goes beyond the phase change represented by freezing and thawing.  The physical structure has been changed to the point that it’s not remotely recognizable.  And you can’t go back.  There’s no way to find all the carbon atoms that baked off your display and combined with oxygen and put them back in the screen, let alone the same place in the screen that previously held them.

It’s gone, dude.  And even the Roman Stoics (LINK) knew this prior to Rudolf Clausius coining the term “entropy,” which led indirectly to the U.S. Civil War through a series of humorous translation errors that made Abraham Lincoln think that Clausius was making fun of his big hat.

But let’s go back four score years (that’s 80 years, for those who are used to the metric system) from that hatastrophe.  What happened then?  Besides Ben Franklin being in the prime of chasing every young lady who could spell “yes” there seemed to be this revolutionary event.  Pardon.  Revolutionary event.  Like the American Revolution.

If a president being elected every four years is a phase change from ice to water and back again, the American Revolution was burning King George’s laptop and then going after the glowing hard drive with a sledgehammer.  In a real and literal fashion there was no way to go back.  Instead of a political phase change, you had political chemical reaction – there was simply no way to go back from what the Founding Fathers had done.  They changed the way the entire world viewed government with the result that today almost every nation in the world where you can order a Big Mac® has emulated to the greatest extent possible the precepts of the American Revolution.  McDonalds® and Thomas Jefferson© changed it all.

And you just can’t go back.  You can morph into something different, but you can’t go back.  There are some ideas that are so radical, so amazingly simple that once they pop out – they hold the attention of almost everyone who hears them.  The American Revolution was one such thing – you could never turn back after that.

Unless you hit reset.  I was leafing through the Internet as The Boy piloted our car up the road for a short road trip – I alternated between reading and a light nap.  The light naps were ended with (small) bursts of adrenaline when our cars trajectory was different than my half-snoozing mind expected.  It’s like Dad radar.  Even asleep I was looking for that change we could never recover from.

On article popped up during the ride about the Yellowstone Volcano, and how NASA was developing a plan to stop it.

Reread the sentence above.  I’ll wait.

NASA has become convinced that a massive volcano is of greater threat to humanity than asteroids.  I mean, both would ruin your day, but Yellowstone seems to pop off a continent cleansing burst every 600,000 years or so (last one 630,000 years ago) and some folks with a LOT of time on their hands at NASA are convinced that they should be the ones that handle it.

bond volcano

What NASA thinks might be in the volcano.

They’ve even advanced plans on how to stop it.  And, I’ll admit that saving the lives of upwards of two billion people might even be considered a laudable goal in some circles.  But not me.

It’s not the saving all of those people that I object to.  I’m probably neutral on that, unless one of them is me.  Then I become a raving supporter.

I don’t give NASA any slack.  If it doesn’t involve activities that directly get humanity to Mars, I’m thinking that they should just close up shop and give the money to Elon Musk (LINK), who actually seems to be interested in space exploration.

But even worse, it appears that NASA is letting people write stuff that have NO understanding of math:  the NASA plan involves pumping water (which is not exactly in huge supply in the Rocky Mountains) into the magma chamber and to extract the heat.  Which has how much to do with NASA’s mission?  Zero.  Maybe less.

Here’s the latest mission I could find:

To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

So, if this involves trying to cool hot coffee so you can drink it faster by adding an ice cube or two, I’m on board. Takes a few minutes, doesn’t distract NASA from their actual day job.

But in this case the coffee is 11,500 cubic miles of coffee.  At 1300˚F to 2400˚F.  And NASA wants to cool that.  With water.

Okay, I’m pretty sure that drug testing isn’t required to work at NASA.  But the amount of heat we’re talking about is simply staggering.  At a depth of five miles (that’s 8km to the “people who use money that looks like Christmas paper, and also happen to use metric”) to the top of it, keep in mind that this magma pocket sends pockets of superheated boiling water five miles through rock.  The amount of energy is stunning – almost as much energy as a D.C. NASA bureaucrat with a liberal arts degree uses to avoid doing work on a typical Tuesday.

First, the good news!

I won’t bore you with all the mathy stuff, since The Boy and I figured it out.  It’s not hard, it’s just thermodynamics done in hotel room on three sheets of hotel room note paper.

Let’s say you had to cool the Yellowstone magma chamber.  Latest number that I had on how big it was?  11,500 cubic miles.

Cubic miles.  Drive from Seattle to Los Angeles.  That’s 1137 miles.  Do it 10 times. Next to a mile high wall of magma.  Or just once.  Next to a ten mile high wall of magma.  That’s a mile thick.

Hmmm.

But, let’s pretend we can cool that 52,800 foot high wall with water.  Where do we get it?

Well, the Colorado River is a big one.  Let’s pump all of that to Yellowstone to cool it down.  I’m not going to bore you with even more thermodynamics, but you have to heat the water, and then add even more heat so it boils.  (I actually saw one billion dollar business venture implode because they didn’t know you had to add the extra heat to make it boil).

At the current flowrate of the Colorado River, it would take 435,843 years to cool the lava.

I know that NASA seems to not math very well anymore, but, given past rates, Yellowstone would have exploded at least one more time, if not two.  And the people in Los Angeles would have to go nearly a half of a million years between bottled-water drinks.

And that’s the good news – that only half a million years of concerted effort beyond anything the world has ever seen will maybe stop one human extinction.

But some scientists worry that the addition of the cooling water might turn the magma chamber brittle – increasing the likelihood that Yellowstone would explode in a big catastrophe.  And that’s the good news!

Second – the bad news.

But that’s really not the point.  There are a whole host of things that are much more likely (given the last 100 years or so) than a 600,000 year periodicity (like Yellowstone has) volcano to mess with our world.

But most folks look at this risk incorrectly – there’s a probability of occurrence, but also a severity related to the risk.  Low probability events occur everyday, but they have low severity.  I might lose yet another hair on my head, never to return.  But the impact?  Not very big.

An asteroid the size of Dallas heading towards, well, anywhere at 50 miles per second?  Bad day.  For everyone.  Yet heart disease is more likely to kill me than the kinetic impact of an asteroid.

As catastrophes go, that’s pretty bad.  But research (dating back 15 years or so) on genetics of humanity indicate that it’s likely that 70,000 years ago after the supervolcano Toba lit off, only 2,000 humans remained.  Not on Toba.  Anywhere.

We were that close to the lights going out on us forever.

These big, nonlinear events are very low probability, but they have a huge impact, and may impact the ability of the human race to appreciate Tom Petty.

Think aliens like Tom Petty?  They should.  But who can account for taste?

 

Elon Musk: The Man Who Sold Mars

“Actually, they theoretically can separate the hydrogen from the oxygen and process that into providing fuel for man’s space flights. Ostensibly, turning Mars into a giant gas station. So it’s a . . . yeah. We live in an amazing time.” – Breaking Bad

 DSC03599-001

The featured picture above the title is of the Saturn V.  It’s longer than a Harry Potter novel.  This picture shows the engines from the main stage of the Saturn V.  About 275,000 horsepower for all five engines, you can totally tell by the lens flare!  But it got over two miles per gallon of kerosene used (TRUE)!

This is the third and final part of Elon Musk Week® (sort of like Shark Week©, but with 100% less Discovery™ channel).  An annual feature?  Maybe!

Part 1 is here (LINK) where we take apart Tesla®, and Part 2 is here (LINK) where we understand Elon’s Matrix® plan.

I first read about Elon in (probably) 1977 or 1978.  Oh, sure, you’re saying, that would have made him six or seven years old, and at least a continent and two hemispheres away from me.  My only response is, “so what?”

When I was a kid, I lived fifteen miles from the town I went to school in.  My house was the farthest away on the school bus line, so I was the first to get on in the morning (7:15, every morning) and the last to get off (4:30, so I missed F-Troop).  I could stare out the big picture window and see the bus a mile away – Ma Wilder taught me it would be rude to keep the bus driver waiting – and out I would go to be there waiting when the big yellow bus pulled into my driveway.

For about two hours a day as the bus stopped to pick up and then let off children, I could either stare out at the mountain scenery, or I could drop with Johnny Rico and The Roughnecks into Klendathu.  Or I could visit Trantor, first with Hari Seldon, and then later with The Mule.  Or ride Sandworms on Arrakis with Paul Atreides.  Or be shocked at the mysteries when we Rendezvoused with Rama.  Or finish all the science fiction anthologies at the middle school library by the middle of my seventh grade year.

And reading wasn’t confined to just bus time.  There were only three channels of television available (no one ever counted PBS, unless Monty Python was on) an half the time nothing interesting was on.  So, if I had built all the model kits around (the usual condition – they didn’t last long) and it was too cold to go hiking or fishing, I always had a book ready to read.   And Ma Wilder said I had to go to bed, but she never said I had to go to sleep . . . my parents bought me a reading lamp that clipped on my headboard for my tenth birthday.

But I remember reading the Hugo®-winning “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” by Robert A. Heinlein fairly clearly – it wasn’t on a bus, but on the couch by a crackling fire on a cold (-20˚F) winter’s day.  And that’s when I met Elon Musk.

The_Man_Who_Sold_the_Moon_Shasta_Ed

(source, Wikimedia)

Delos David Harriman (better known as D.D. Harriman) is the billionaire who decides to go to the Moon.  Why?

He envisions a new economy – an opening of the Moon is the first step to opening the Solar System to humanity.  Rather than living in a world which with a fixed horizon, D.D. realizes that getting off this rock is the only possible positive future of humanity.  But getting there is possible, and only takes will.

To quote Harriman:

“In fact, the real engineering problems of space travel have been solved since World War II.  Conquering space has long been a matter of money and politics.”

Contrast with Musk:

“Boeing just took $20 billion and 10 years to improve the efficiency of their planes by 10 percent. That’s pretty lame.”

And how was Harriman going to do it?

“I’ll hire the proper brain boys, give them everything they want, see to it they have all the money they can use.”

Contrast this with Musk:

“The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.”

And I could go on and on about the similarities but the one thing I know is this:

Musk read the same stuff I did when he grew up.

Musk knows D.D. Harriman.  Just like I did, Musk admired D.D. Harriman.  However, Musk has become D.D. Harriman.

And for that, my hat is off to him.  D.D. Harriman is much more important than Tony Stark®.

And Harriman was willing to do absolutely anything to open space to humanity, convinced it was too important to leave to governments and bureaucrats.  Harriman manipulated stock, forged fake space-diamonds, and extorted advertising dollars from soda companies.

Musk feels the same way.  Musk formed SpaceX™.  Musk got involved in Tesla®.  One is his passion, one (even though he believes in the mission) is there to fund his passion.  Make no mistake:  Musk has created more applied rocket engineering faster than any person in history except maybe Von Braun (though Bezos is giving him a run for his money and has super-cool biceps for an old man).

Why not NASA?  Isn’t it their job?

During the 1960’s, NASA had a mission.  It was going to get three guys to the Moon, by the end of the decade.  Lots of engineers worked lots of long hours and made it happen.  In July of 1969, NASA dropped the mic after “One Small Step” and walked off the stage.  Mission done!

Well, almost fifty years on from that date, and six of the twelve men who walked on the Moon are now dead.  During the middle?  NASA developed one (anemic) space launch system – The Space Shuttle, whose sole purpose appeared to be to construct the International Space Station.  Why construct it?  So the Shuttle had a place to go, silly.

And now we have no space launch systems available to us except through the Soviets, er, Russians, and . . . Elon’s SpaceX™, which currently plans to have a manned launch of its Dragon/Falcon taking place in early 2018.  The first manned Orion flight?  Maybe 2023.  Maybe.

Why is NASA so sick?

The original group they hired were engineers.  Their job?  Get into space, get onto the moon.  Then they fired most of them, but kept enough to send out a fairly constant stream of unmanned probes as well as lame manned space missions.  But during the 1970’s they also hired a lot of administrators.  And people who had no connection in any respect to a spacecraft, or science, or aeronautics.

Except for brief bursts of public interest when something worked really well (Viking and Voyager) or when something worked really poorly (Challenger and Columbia), NASA has reached an irrelevance in national policy.   NASA appears to only be important when it comes to funding large amounts of money to projects that take place in certain Congressional Districts in certain strategically important states.  In Houston they love NASA, or at least NASA dollars.  Efficiency?  Progress?  Why would you need those things?  Heck, we can have astronauts but not have spaceships!

These are the depths that NASA has fallen to showcase its technical bankruptcy:  it has a division called the “Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute.”  This division produced 5,000 braille books about the eclipse for the blind.

DSC03617

These are the official shot glasses of the Manned Spaceflight Center.  At least it’s one way to blast off?

I am not opposed to a company doing this – I’m not even opposed to a government agency producing books in braille, especially those that aren’t available on audio.  But I am opposed to NASA doing it.  Why?

NASA’s mission is:

To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

Nothing at all in there about getting blind people books about an eclipse.  Nothing close, so this is a symptom of a system that has gone beyond dysfunctional to trivial.  A dysfunctional system (or in this case, organization) just can’t get anything done.  A trivial organization works on everything.  It invents steps where none need be, make-work (like the books), bureaucracy (credentials for everyone!), and hurdles (did you file the right form?) until Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy is achieved:

From Jerry Pournelle himself:

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers’ union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

I think that in NASA they actively look for jobs that they can do that are:

NASA could spend time and effort designing a new hypervelocity spaceplane, but that’s hard!  And someone could get hurt, and that would be bad publicity.  And we know that we as a society will only allow people to be put upon the equivalent of 2,000 tons of TNT (Saturn V) if it’s totally safe!  Otherwise, it’s an outrage!

So, faced between making a new launch system that might help get people into space OR putting together a braille book?  Let’s go with the book.  It’s A. Easy and B. Safe.

DSC03616

These are the official flip flops of the Manned Spaceflight Center.  They look Safe, unless you blow out your flip flop and step on a pop top and cut your heel and have to cruise back home.  It’s okay, because there’s booze in the blender and you have the Official Manned Spaceflight Center shot glasses.

The only way to avoid the Iron Law and the A. Easy and B. Safe people is to have a personality that keeps focus on the goal.

And since NASA administrators don’t go in and fire everyone in NASA not involved in the mission, you can be certain that they’re fine with . . . whatever the heck it is that NASA is doing.

How is SpaceX® Different?

Elon Musk is a laser of focus on getting spacecraft into the air.  People at SpaceX® want to work long hours, and if you look at jobs on their website, it notes that long hours, working evenings and weekends are probably going to be a thing for you.  And, want to get fired?  Talk about part of your “mission” at SpaceX® being producing coloring books on planetary nebulae.

Sounds like old Harriman himself, “. . . sweet talk them into long hours – then stand back and watch them produce.”

Some Libertarians HATE Musk because of the government subsidies that have driven money to Tesla® and even SpaceX©.  I can understand that, especially if their goal is less government.  Heck, I’d like less government.  But even though Musk has to go through roundabout ways to get only a portion of NASA’s funding, he’s running circles around them on talent recruitment, technology development, and actual results.  We have a choice if want to really get into space.  Elon appears to be the only winning answer (unless Bezos is holding back on a few aces).

Musk could fly people in space tomorrow, if they’d let him.  NASA is six years out.  Six years out.

What does Musk plan to do in the next three?  Send a capsule (unmanned) to Mars.

I’d be surprised if Orion ever actually flies people.  NASA seems incapable of spaceflight, and, really incapable of anything more complicated than Twitter.  But if Orion ever flies, I imagine that in orbit the Orion astronauts will get to see Elon’s butt pressed firmly against the window of his Mars Transfer Ship (Red Dragon 11) as he gives them a full moon (pardon) as a parting gift as he heads to Mars.

It’s a long trip to Mars.  I imagine that Elon might take a book or two along with him for the trip.  Probably not “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”  But maybe Dune, or Starship Troopers.

What would D.D. Harriman read?

I’d like to think he’d bring my blog . . .

Hey, everyone (including you, Elon) you can subscribe, and it gets sent out directly when I hit the publish button.

Will you buy a Tesla™ 3?  You already have.

“You guys taking it all in?  Because this is what it looks like when Google acquires your company for over $200 million.  Look Dustin Moskovitz.  Elon Musk.  Eric Schmidt. . . .  I mean, Kid Rock is the poorest person here. Apart from you guys.” – Silicon Valley

DSC03631

The earliest prototypes for the Tesla® cars were actually called Newton™, and depended only on gravity!

Elon Musk has a plan.  Honestly, I think it might work, and I heartily endorse it.  But you will have to wait until Monday and I’ll share what Elon’s plan really is.  But the good news?  This post and the next two will be ELON MUSK week.  It’s like Shark Week® on Discovery™, but for real nerds.  This is part one.  Part two is here (LINK) and part three is here (LINK).

You might have heard that that Musk made international headlines for . . . delivering thirty cars.  That’s amazing!  He brings out $1.5 million worth of merch, and the world collapses toward him like puppies on a dead wildebeest.  I assume puppies eat wildebeest.   Anyway . . .

In my hometown, they probably sold that many vehicles last week.  You can’t keep a car salesman in cologne with much less than that.  But did the tech journalists hover around Big Mack while he sold Farmer Brown a ¾ Ton Chevy®?  Nope.

Elon Musk has a vision, and a talent for sharing it.  He was the kid in class that could convince the teacher that, sure, it was an awesome fall day out in Pretoria, so they should hold class outsides.

Great idea, Elon!  (In actuality, it sounds like his childhood was much more like a version of Terminator® when it came to the other kids, but I can totally identify with that, too.  Maybe another post.  Nah.)

But Elon moved ahead.  Eventually, after making several hundred million dollars before he was old enough to grow a decent beard, Elon got involved with Tesla®.  (This is after he got involved with SpaceX, which will be important Monday.)  At the end of 2016, Tesla had sold 182,115 cars.

This is the total.  For all time.

Musk indicates that he will ramp Model 3 production up to 500,000  . . . a year.  Let’s say that he can ramp it up (normally he does meet goals, sometimes late) and produce that for 10 years.  That’s five million cars.

Impressive!

Currently, Tesla® is worth $53.7 billion.  Dollars.  That total comes from the total number of shares of Tesla™ divided by the current share price.  So, just for grins, let’s divide that $53.7billion by the five million cars he plans to produce.

That’s $10,740 per car.  In the next ten years.  Certainly he could produce more, but he’s not even produced his stated goal of 500,000 per year yet.

Ford® made 6.6 million cars.  Last year.  Assume ten years of steady production? 66 million cars.  Ford™ is worth $44.3 billion dollars (and actually makes a profit).  Divide $44.3 billion dollars by 66 million cars?  That $671 per car.

Okayyyyy . . . is Tesla worth fifteen times what Ford® is worth?

What about Daimler A.G.?  They make Mercedes-Benz©, which are awesome cars.  Things the Germans build well?  Tanks and cars.  Thankfully they’re building cars now.  Daimler makes only about 3 million cars a year.  (But, they’re AWESOME cars.)  So, 30 million cars in ten years.  They are worth about $74.5 billion dollars, or $2500 in stock per car.  But, Daimler pays a dividend of 5% per year, too.  And it makes a profit.

But the post is titled, “Will you buy a Tesla™ 3?  You already have.” not, “Is Tesla® stock stupidly overpriced?”

Cars (for me) are (mostly) a utility.  If I can get from one place to another reliably and cheaply, that’s really all I want out of a car.  I think that carpet in any pickup is a travesty.  And air conditioning?  That’s not for closers.  And I have skin in the game (I’m talking to you, Taleb (LINK )) as this is the way I live my life.  Old car.  New car.  Clown car.  Really doesn’t much matter to me (LINK).

But a Tesla 3© is not low cost.

Musk claims that about half the country could afford one, and I’d argue that he’s very pretty far off the mark on this one.  I still suggest that spending you shouldn’t buy a car that costs more than 15% of your gross income.  If you follow this rule, you can afford a Tesla 3®, if your income is $230,000 a year.  Or more.  If we relax that to 20%?  You can get one if you make $175,000 a year (or more).

So, there is some subset of people who can afford a Tesla 3©.  Just not all that many, since the average family income in the US is about $52,000.  (And, remember, cash only!)

Furthermore, the average age of people in the US is 37.8 years.  The average net worth of the average forty-year-old is $52,000.  There is no planet (except Mars?) on which I’d suggest you sink 70%+ of your net worth into a car.

But, let’s say you could afford a Tesla 3®.  Should you get one?  Maybe???

The Tesla 3™ is a sedan.  The Toyota Camry© is a sedan.

The Tesla 3™ costs $35,000.  The Toyota Camry© costs $23,000.  (Both are base models.)

At $0.14/kW, a Tesla 3® costs (in energy) $0.034 per mile.

At $2.50/gallon gasoline, a 30MPG Camry© costs $0.083 per mile.

So, a nickel a mile is what you save by driving a Tesla 3©.

Good deal.  The average driver drives 12,000 miles per year.  So, the $12,000 difference in cost between the Tesla and the Toyota?  Yeah, you’ll earn that back in 20 years after driving 240,000 miles.  If you still have the Tesla after 20 years.  Everyone keeps a car 20 years, right?

That’s a lame payout, $600 per year on $12,000.  But on that 21st year?  That $600 is all yours, baby!

What about $4.00 gas?  Pays out in about 10 years.  $7.00 gas?  Five years.  Now we’re talking!  Gas has been at that price . . . never.

But Elon isn’t stupid.

And you’ve already bought one of his cars.

I know, you’re saying, “John Wilder, I’m not an Internet billionaire!  How can I afford one?”

You paid taxes.

And if you buy a Tesla 3®?  You get a $7,500 tax incentive.  From the federal government – that, after a fashion, everyone else pays for.  So if you didn’t buy one?  You still kick in for everyone else’s car.

State level incentives exist as well, from $0 (sane states), up to a whopping $9,500 income tax credit in Louisiana.

If you live in the right state, a Tesla 3® actually costs less than a Camry™, thanks to everyone else kicking in for your car.

But not really.  In theory, Musk actually has to produce your car.  And if you’re over a pre-determined maximum number of cars (200,000), the credit drops, then, eventually disappears.  But I’m betting that Musk has another plan altogether, and, in some fashion, he’ll continue shifting the cost of the Tesla 3® to other people, so it might be a good deal for the purchasers.

But, like I said, you already bought one.

It’s just that someone else is owns it.

Like I said – Musk has a plan.  Come back on Monday and I’ll clue you in as to what it is.

PLEASE do NOT take this blog as tax advice.  I am not a registered phlebotomist, or whatever the person is who does taxes.  Entering this record into court might be amusing, but it certainly won’t help you, unless you want to go to prison for tax evasion.

Also, I do NOT have positions in any of the stocks mentioned, nor do I intend to take any, because the market can stay stupid longer than I can stay solvent.  I am not a financial planner.  But I am a dancer!

Maslow’s Hierarchy, Fear, and Highlander

“Honor? I’ve got seven kingdoms to rule! One king, seven kingdoms! Do you think honor keeps them in line? Do you think it’s honor that’s keeping the peace? It’s fear! Fear and blood!” – Game of Thrones

20150318_112257

I don’t ask for much.  I just want to die as I came into this world – screaming and covered in someone else’s blood.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow had one of the two ideas that cemented him in the public consciousness, sort of like a Johnny Depp of years’ past, but with more showers than Johnny usually takes.

This idea (the other idea was, “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”) became known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  For obvious reasons it isn’t known as Wilder’s Hierarchy, though . . . that’s coming soon, I hear, maybe even by the end of the post! (Foreshadowing!)

Maslow’s Hierarchy is often shown as a pyramid, because Maslow only intended for his psychological work to be used for ancient Egyptians, since that greatly reduced his malpractice insurance.  Also, his patients could not sue, being dead and all.  Upon further reflection and remembering that mummies could come back from the dead if they were played onscreen by really hot people, Maslow changed his mind (and his insurance carrier) and decided that Maslow’s Hierarchy was universally applicable, even onto inanimate objects, like bankers and rocks.

I kid.  Everyone knows that rocks have feelings.

Anyhow, Maslow’s Hierarchy was really his way to describe how and why people act the way they do, and asking them is just too darn hard.  Maslow’s Hierarchy became really popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s and was used to explain absolutely everything in public education from why kids hate split pea soup to why they are attempting to knife the teacher.   But what is the pyramid?

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeedsBy FireflySixtySeven – Own work using Inkscape, based on Maslow’s paper, A Theory of Human Motivation., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36551248

At the base of the pyramid are the physiological needs – things like breathing, food, water, shelter from the cold, cold winter of your parent’s disappointment.  These were the needs that Maslow felt you couldn’t get past unless they were met.  You’re not exactly thinking about writing poetry when you’re drowning, so Maslow said you were stuck down here.  Interestingly, Maslow felt that sex belonged here, too, despite all of the bad poetry written by involuntarily celibate 15 year olds . . .

Moving right along, Maslow said if you were fed, warm, and could breathe after sex, you could worry about security needs.  Me?  I worry about staying awake.  Maslow might be the only person who locked the door to his bedroom after sex.  For the record – Maslow brought up sex first.

But, these security needs weren’t just having a loaded carbine when your Zombie Grandma (LINK) shows up at your bedside.  These security needs also include (according to Wikipedia®):

  • financial security,
  • health, and,
  • “safety net” against health problems.

If these sound familiar, this appears (to me) to be the level where almost every political argument is waged.  You don’t hear any politicians saying that they’ll get you all the air you can breathe, but they do sure fight for the “government will take care of me” vote.

weirdal

I imagine Al is normally pretty well adjusted.  But TSA?  Yeah.  They take it out of everyone.

The next step up is social belonging.  For those of you born after 1995, this is like being on Facebook®, but with actual people.  It includes the usual suspects from your Facebook™ feed – family, friends, co-workers, people you go to church with, except rarely will anyone quote Firefly© and William Shatner won’t show up on your “Doorstep” feed (LINK).  One reason I think people feel a bit more hollow today than twenty years ago is that so many depend upon Facebook© for their social relationships – it’s like a friendship if you stripped out all of the parts that make a friendship real – the person you can share with, the person that you can call in the middle of the night for help when you need it the most.

Since when do I worry more about my 401k than my family?  Since Maslow said so?  Hmmmmm.  We might be seeing some cracks in this philosophy.

Next on the list is esteem. This means people accept you and value you.  You provide worth to those around you.  You’re a ninja in a room full of evil kittens (unweaned, eyes closed, but still REALLY EVIL).  And you have those throwing star things.  And two samurai swords.

See what happens when someone harshes your esteem:

Esteem is awesome.  It’s excellent!  I love it when people worship the stuff I do.  I also love it when people hold me accountable for the things I don’t do.  It means that what I do matters.  And if it doesn’t matter?  You don’t get real esteem.

I think this is where the current world begins to diverge farther and farther from the social reality.  I love soldiers.  95% of them are awesome!  But not every single one is a hero.  Many are awful people.  Again, I generally see the uniform, and I sense pride.  But to claim that all are heroes means that none are heroes.  All have the same esteem, so they all have none.

Another interesting note (well, it was interesting to me) is that one of the leading causes of depression among men over 40 is . . . loss of esteem, usually job-related.  When I say depression, I mean (shhh) suicide.  Which if you believed Maslow, this would just send you to your friends, and not all the way to square zero.

At the top of the pyramid?  Self-actualization.  It’s like if Wolverine® could do math.  Oh, wait, that’s Tony Stark.  Self-actualization was Maslow’s fantasy of how it felt to be Albert Einstein walking around everyday, but without the autism.  This means you’re living your full potential without restraint.  It must be how Jeff Bezos feels everyday now that he’s all pumped up on testosterone and has those big guns (arms) and big guns (actual rocket ships).  Heck, it’s likely he even has large artillery somewhere.

The rich aren’t like you and me – they have cannon.  (With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Later in life, apparently after watching the TV show Kung-Fu or maybe seeing Led Zeppelin on stage, Maslow added a capstone:

highlander

SELF-TRANSCENDENCE.  Remember how Connor McCloud of the Clan McCloud could do and be everything after he chopped all the heads off of all of those people in Highlander? (SPOILER ALERT FROM 1985)  Yeah.  Apparently this was what Maslow envisioned when he added this to his pyramid.

grigoryhighlander

I’ve been snarking at poor old Maslow this whole time, primarily because he looks like a well-meaning hippy from today’s standards.  And I’m not sure he deserves it, but, really, it sure is fun.  Ironically, my comments are tame compared to the criticisms of his fellow academicians:

  • Ethnocentric – individualistic versus communal.   Soviet Union fell, dude.
  • Peacetime Vs. Wartime – war combines the two bottom parts of the pyramid so that security takes on the same level of importance as eating. Which, except for a few hundred years in a few small places on Earth?
  • I Could Have Done It Better – Well, sure! What part of the pyramid are you on?  Sissy.

Okay, can I criticize it better than those idiots?

Absolutely.

Maslow entirely neglected the concept of time.  If hunger has been gnawing at me for weeks, it’s a very different story than if I’m worried about being hungry tomorrow.  Hunger forever gnaws at the soul.  (Not the sole – who eats feet?)

Likewise, a brave man will jump on that grenade for you in combat, whereas one who has been sitting at the bottom of a trench for a week might just want to see you gone because you snore or eat your own toenails.

The concept of time is crucial.

And, on further reflection?  Most of our motivation comes not from a clear and shining purpose – it comes from fear.  And fear is time-dependent.  The longer it goes, the more it nips at your soul.  And those we rightly call heroes are those that overcome that fear, both in the short-term and during the long game.  We used to call that character.

So, I make the following Modest Proposal:

Let’s call this . . . the Wilder Hierarchy of Fear™ – (represented by a blob, not a pyramid) starting with –

  • First Fear:   Fear of not having Pez®.  And not breathing.  And not having food.  And freezing to death.  This fear will make you do stupid things, especially in the short term.  Longer term (a week or so) it might even grow into a debilitating fear.
  • Second Fear: Family Survival.  Fear of losing your family.  Many times it will overcome the First Fear, unless you really, really like Pez® more than one of your children.
  • Third Fear: Bloodline Survival.  You like your kids.  You want them to have more kids.  Why?  It’s good.  Especially if you read this blog, because your IQ is totes above 125.  And we need more of you!  Fears of financial failure fall in here.
  • Fourth Fear: Fear of Shame.  You have people you work with.  People who look up to you.  People who admire you.  You don’t want to appear weak or incompetent or dishonorable to them – in many ways, that’s worse than death, because it puts a blight on the family name.
  • Fifth Fear: Fear of Lack of Achievement.  Me?  I have to wonder how much more I could have done if it weren’t for the Pez®.  Stupid Pez™.
  • Sixth Fear: Fear You Aren’t a Marvel® Superhero.  Name says it all.  WHY DON’T I HAVE ADAMANTIUM CLAWS???

Noting that the First through Fourth Fears are driven by a desire to save your family and your community is pretty easy.  And maybe, maybe, I should change it to a pyramid.  Why?

The Bangles!

Meditation Pros and Cons – Might be Great for You, Might Kill You

“Sitting here attempting to meditate, I have counted the number of ways I know of killing someone, using just a finger, a hand, a foot. I had reached 94 when you entered.” – Star Trek: Voyager

DSC03159

So, when I meditate?  Gotta have a tiger.  Nothing makes me calmer than sitting with an apex carnivore, because it allows me to forget materiality. 

So, I’ve always thought that meditation must be cool.  After all, David Carradine did it as Kwai Chang Caine all through the 1970’s as Kung Fu.  And he could give any group of bullies very peaceful and regretful butt-kicking they deserved.  And, really, throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s on television, meditation was seen as sort of a way to create super powers from within.  The (often Asian, or certainly taught-by-Asians) character would sit down, legs crossed, and would meditate until he got super-strength, super quickness, super pain tolerance, super control of his nervous system, or . . . super control of his ability to quickly grow fingernails at twice the speed of a normal human.

It was everywhere.  Meditation was the cure to all of life’s problems.  Transcendental Meditation™ would help with:

  1. Lower Stress – People who meditate appear to have lower stress and lower concentrations of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress). Me?  Sometimes when I try to meditate it stresses me out because I’m unsure if I’m doing it right, so I focus on that instead of meditating and pretty soon I’m wondering if I’ll have enough money when I’m 80 to parachute into the Super Bowl® and . . .
  2. More Work Output – Some study said that employees that meditate get more work done. I’m pretty sure that if my boss walks by my desk and sees me staring into a blank computer monitor and repeatedly saying “ohmmmmmmmm” he will either assume I’m measuring electronic resistance in my mind, or, more likely, he’ll think I’m off my rocker and rush to fire me before I can charge the company insurance a lot of money for treatment of whatever makes me stare at my monitor and say “ohmmmmmmm” again and again.
  3. Lower Blood Pressure – I thought I needed blood pressure? Oh, not the kind that causes blood to ooze out of my pores like sweat?  Got it.  I think this is probably compatible with the whole Lower Stress thing.
  4. Lower Risk of Heart Disease – If true, probably tied back to 1. and 3., above. Since heart disease sounds pretty bad, I’d probably like to avoid that.
  5. ADHD Treatment – Is ADHD made up? I don’t seem to recall this even existing when I was a kid – it was called, “being a kid.”  And you didn’t get classified narcotics for it.  You got a pile of wood to move and split and haul.  That typically un-deficited my attention and took all the energy I had stored up for hyperactivity away.  Move four tons of wood with a wheelbarrow?  Yeah, you’re not going to bug Mom to the point she wants to give you psychoactive drugs.  But apparently meditation works to help, too.
  6. Better Home Life – Yes, if you’re not a raging jerk from stress from work, that might help your home life. Or not.  Raging jerks seem to do okay, so don’t sell that short.
  7. Increased Intelligence – Unlikely. If you’re reading this blog, you’re already growing your IQ by 3 to 6 points . . . per hour.  If meditation increases your IQ?  Your head will explode.
  8. Ability to Smoke Weed Like the Beatles – Minus the money and the freedom from repercussions. Oh, wait, I’m describing most everyone.  No meditation required.
  9. Finding Chicks Like Yoko – How is this an advantage?
  10. Weight Loss – Yeah, most everyone wants to be skinnier. Except Gary Busey, who just wants to be a fried chicken.  Not eat it, be it.
  11. Growing Younger – Apparently (he said skeptically), a 55 year old that meditates regularly has the body of a 43 year old. Probably buried in his crawl space, right?  But here I think that there might be a correlation with the type of personality that has sufficient discipline to meditate regularly and not get side-tracked, rather than the meditation itself?
  12. Shinier Teeth – I made that one up. But, why not?

That sounds pretty good.  So why don’t people meditate more?

Well, there are some potential risks to meditation, namely a risk to your ego.  I’m not making this up.  Think about the process of meditation – it ends up bringing clarity and reflection on the way the world is, and, potentially, can strip away many of the constructs that we create in our day to day life.

And that is dangerous.

I had a boss that went to a leadership seminar – but this was an intensive leadership seminar, 12-14 hours a day, meant to rip the illusions about your life right up and out of your nostrils.  The theory was that this will allow you to take the risks and live your life unafraid.  Turns out that many people have built their entire life on illusions – and ripping those illusions out through your nostrils is painful.  Especially if you have to confront that you might be the cause of every problem you have, every repressed emotion, and that is dangerous.  According to my boss, one of these Fortune® 500 executives who had paid $25,000 for this course tried to kill himself due to guilt he felt after his illusions were pulled away.  (This is also why you DON’T TAKE my blog as ADVICE!)

Psychology Today (also a dubious publication) indicated that meditation can also lead to depersonalization, psychosis, anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and dating Yoko Ono.  They also indicated that those who had previous trauma could also be . . . dare I say . . . triggered by meditation.

Buddhist meditation was designed not to make us happier, but to radically change our sense of self and perception of the world. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that some will experience negative effects such as dissociation, anxiety and depression.

–  Psychologists Miguel Farias and Catherine Wilkolm

I have been attempting to meditate, in my own fashion.  My best success has been while I’m off, alone, floating in the Wilder Family hot tub (LINK).  I’ll sit there, alone, focusing on breathing, and then . . . wake up half an hour later.  I know that the instruction manual says never fall asleep in a hot tub, but I’m generally refreshed and have a pretty positive outlook when I wake up.  And Yoko Ono is safely far away in New York, living on John Lennon’s massive pile of money.

Also, I’ve learned to think, when I meditate, that I might be good at Kung Fu.  And levitating.  And . . . being able to grow my fingernails . . . really fast!