MasterPo says: This blog is about topics and issues that are of importance to me. I am not one of the countless blogging lemmings that are tripping over each other scurrying down the hill and off the cliff of blogging oblivion trying to write the greatest blog on the latest topic de'jour. Your comments are welcome.

September 30, 2008

The Paranormal Happens! (Occasionally)

Paranormal activity is uncommon. Severe paranormal activity is rare. And demonic activity is rarer than hen's teeth.

Though you wouldn't know this from all the TV shows and day time talk show interviews. This is not to bash or criticize any particular show. More over, in this column I hope to further share my great wisdom and enlighten my readers as to the true meaning of what is being shown on TV – to wit: Not a lot!

Consider for example the Ghost Hunters series. In it's 5th season it is still the #1 rated show on the SciFi Channel (Battlestar Galactica is #2). In the 5 years of the show – I have been watching it since day-1 – the show and approach have clearly changed. But that's the nature of TV. It's not National Geographic or Discovery channel. But I'm not going into all that. It's been beaten to death on many forums and sites.

The point to make about GH is that in all that time when you look at the body of collected evidence, it's rather anemic. We have to exclude persona experiences (things the team members claim they saw, heard or felt) because personal experiences are just that – personal. They weren't objectively documented (no video, audio or photos) so the same thing can't be experienced by someone else and draw their own conclusion.

There were a few possible shadow-like somethings recorded on the DVR but that's it. Much of the "solid" evidence has come under significant scrutiny from all sides and I think is definitely possible to have been at best misunderstand, at worst faked, but more likely someone playing a joke or hoax on them. Things like the shadow person on the first investigation of Eastern State Penitentiary, the apparently figure walking across the far end of the hallway as seen on the thermal imaging camera during a Waverly Hills episode as well as several other apparent human figures seen the thermal imager.

But no "Oh my G-d! What an incredible thing!" video or photographs. In fact the majority of the more solid evidence over the last 5 years, and in more recent episodes, have been EVPs.

So, still using GH as an example (but not singling them out for any specific criticism), it begs the question: With all the investigations they have done, with all the hours spent on site, with all the hours of audio/video collected, that's the best they can do?

There are only two possible explanations:

1) For whatever reason the production company edited out some pieces of evidence in favor of showing something else. This is possible as the production company is doing this for ratings and not for evidence presentation. In fact, Grant once told me on their first investigation of the Stanley Hotel they did get something on the thermal imager and chased it down two hallways before it disappeared. But the production company cut the whole thing out and didn't air it. He had no idea why.

2) Real, solid, Oh-My-Gd! Paranormal activity is rare to encounter and even rarer to have the right devices to document.

Again, this is not to be critical of GH or TAPS or any other show. This is directed at other paranormal investigation groups and the general public who also has an interest in the paranormal. When these TV people who have access to places and equipment (and the time to go there and use it) that you and I and other paranormal investigators don't and they don't get much, we need to be more critical of alleged paranormal activity. Too often people – both paranormal fans and supposedly seasoned paranormal investigators – so badly want to find evidence of the paranormal or experience the paranormal themselves they make the leap too soon and call something very normal paranormal.

The paranormal is out there. But definitely not everywhere.

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September 26, 2008

A Job Is Not A Job (or Not All Jobs Are Created Equal)

Global Warmers and greenies talk about how all the high costs (read "taxes") will be off set by the tens of thousands or more new jobs that will be created by the "green" industry. Frankly, I don't understand why progress has to cost soooooo much more. Didn't the industrial revolution make products cheaper? But I digress…

Other economic events too have claimed to be offset by new job creation. It doesn't really matter the cause of the economic situation. Even now news reports have X or Y thousands of new jobs added every month or year.

Taking the big leap that numbers provided are accurate, that X-thousands of new jobs were created, is for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. Why? Because one job is far from being easily replaced by another.

For example, if someone spent 20 years working as a fabricator in a metal shop gets laid off, sure they might be able to get a job at Wendy's down the road. But I'd hardly call that an even swap!
You can't take someone who has worked 15 or 20+ years in an industry and say "For the greater good your job is being forever eliminated. Here's a job at Wal-Mart. Now shut up and be happy!"

First, there's the personal factor. Someone who has spent 15-20 or more years or more working in a given field is an expert at that field (at least I hope so). They are probably middle-aged, say late 30's to early 40's. It's a hell of a thing to tell someone at that stage in life to forget everything they knew and start relearning all over again.

Second, there's the economic reality of the situation. Someone 15-20 years into a profession is probably near the upper end of their job's pay scale. They are in their peak earning years. And peak spending years. They may have a house to pay for, new car(s), kid's college to fund, and many of the niceties of life like vacations, a big TV, a pool, maybe a boat or motorcycle etc etc. Why not? They earned the money! But now you knock them back down to entry level they will get entry level pay. How well do you think someone like that is going to be able to afford a mortgage? Pay for kid's college? Just pay the bills associated with a house and kids? And what about saving for retirement (or the future in general)? How much do you think someone at tossed back down the pay scale will be able to put into a 401k?

Under-employment (not being able to work to your fullest potential) is just as bad.

Like it or not – and I suspect many don't like it – a healthy and growing economy relies on people with abundant extra cash to spend. People who can barely scrape together getting by that week don't make an economy strong and growing.

On more thing: Taxes. Whether you choose to believe the truth or not (and many have their heads in the sand – or up their ass! – about it) the more people make the more they pay in taxes. So when you take several thousands of people, maybe millions, and drop them back down the economic ladder just for the sake of "saving the world" how much tax do you think they will be able to pay? You can't squeeze blood from a stone.

Having a job is better than not having a job. But a job is not a job. And not a future for America.

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September 22, 2008

Your Debit is Bush's Fault???

Another popular sport the last couple of years (and probably for years to come) is Bush bashing. That is, blame all the ills and problems of life on President George Bush.

While I agree to an extent that who ever occupies the office of President in good times gets the credit (deservedly or not) and who sits there in bad times gets the blame too, some of this blame is ridiculous. Namely your debt!

More and more I'm hearing and reading that people's mortgage and credit card debts are George Bush's fault.

Please! Someone explain how??

Did George Bush force you to sign that mortgage agreement?
Did George Bush tell you to put that $4,000 plasma TV on your credit card?


What did you think would happen?

When someone who works at Wendy's for $9/hr or on a loading dock somewhere for $11/hr goes to borrow $200,000 or $300,000 for a mortgage someone explain to me how that person thought in their wildest dreams they could afford it?

Oh sure, people will blame the greedy banks for making the loans, and blame Bush for his policies that made the banks greedy (someone point out just one of those policies please!). But at the end of the day it was YOU in front of the mortgage application with pen in hand signing away payments for the next 20-30 years. So unless George Bush was standing next to you with a baseball bat in hand ready to swing at your head if you didn't sign it, as Pink sang – it's just you and your hand!

Grow up!!

If you can't pay your mortgage or credit card bills it's your fault. Not the President's.

Consider it a hard lesson in life. Next time think, as tough as it may be.

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September 18, 2008

Suing: The New Great American Sport!

Everybody loves to sue anyone these days! Law suits have probably surpassed baseball as the #1 great American past time.

I'm not joking (much).

It seems everyone sues or at least threatens to sue as casually as flipping a light switch. I'm not just referring to the ridiculous cases that are in the news (like hot coffee or cats in the microwave). But it seems everything and anything is fair game. There use to be a time when you handled your disputes yourself. Maybe yelled, maybe threatened but you did it yourself. Now you sic your lawyer on someone.

Some examples:

There is a certain local self-proclaimed 'leader' of the paranormal community. He is very well known for threatening law suits on other paranormal investigators and groups if you disagree with the "evidence" he puts forth. If you tell him the picture is a camera flare or dust orb he immediately says you're bashing him. If you say that someone who purports to an experienced investigator with 10+ years experience under his belt should know the difference between a dust orb and a possible ghost he threatens to sue you for slandering him (by the way, the word is "liable" when it's written, "slander" is when it's spoken). I don't know of anyone he has actually sued but just making the constant threat is telling.

In another situation, earlier this year (end of February to be exact) on a message board about jobs and employment a person posted they had not yet received their 2007 W-2 from their employer. This person wanted to know if they can sue the employer. What the hell for?! Fortunately many members of the forum jumped in and said the same thing – why do you need to sue?! Just tell your employer you didn't get your W-2 and they'll print you a new one. But no, he wanted to sue! Not sure what kind of damages he could claim since it was still a month and a half before taxes were due. But still, just the concept that he didn't get an important document and, rather than call his HR department, he'd rather call a lawyer!

Recently on my e-commerce website a person placed an order for a product that was out of stock. I sent them an email stating the item was out of stock but was on order from my supplier (which was true) and expected it in soon. That was on a Thursday. The following Tuesday – a mere 3 business days later – I get an irate phone call from the customer yelling "Where is my order?!". The customer denied every getting the email, which to be reasonable I suppose is possible in that if may have gone to his junk/spam folder. Nevertheless, he's calling irate after only 3 business days? Even if the item was in stock and it was shipped the same day he ordered it, Tuesday would have been the earliest he could have received it anyway. First this guy demanded I forward him the email that was previously sent as proof we did try to contact him. Then – here's the really good part! – he said he was going to sue me for fraud! Why? Because my website didn't say it was out of stock at the time he ordered it. That he claims is fraud. I asked him what kind of damages did he incur, given that his credit card had not been charged for anything. He said it didn't matter that he hadn't been charged but that the website should say the item is out of stock (for those not in the technical know-how, it is extremely difficult, technical and EXPENSIVE to link a website to a real-time inventory tracking system and is beyond the means of most small businesses and even some larger ones). I told him he's free to do what he wants. Naturally he cancelled his order. Still waiting to hear from his lawyer. I'm not holding my breath on that.

More interesting to me is: Where on Earth do these people find lawyers to take these kinds of cases?

I have had a couple of occasions in my life that I felt I did have grounds for a good suit. When I consulted a lawyer I was advised that while I could press a suit the time and cost was probably not worth whatever damages I could expect to get. In other words, legal advise was to just forget it and move on.

I don't get it. Probably never will.

Can I get a varsity letter in law suit?

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September 13, 2008

A Eulogy For Personal Responsibility

Dear friends,

Today we gather to remember a great institution and honor its passing.

Personal Responsibility lived a very long and, until the end, very productive life. People used Personal Responsibility everyday of their lives for generations.

Personal Responsibility was a great teacher. It guided people to make thoughtful decisions and learn hard lessons from their own mistakes.

Personal Responsibility was also an inspiration to millions when it made them think of the consequences of their actions. Or for the consequences of their lack of actions, such as not having planned for certain inventible (or just possible) events in life.

Some people tried to ignore Personal Responsibility but eventually they recognized it and embraced it at some point in their lives. Universally they felt better about themselves and their lives for having accepted Personal Responsibility.

But, alas, as with many great traditions of human history, in the latter half of the 20th century into the 21st century people began to feel it was too difficult to come to know Personal Responsibility. W
hen they failed to befriend Personal Responsibility and bad things happened to them they simply cried "It's not fair!". Personal Responsibility wanted to help but instead others pressured government to step in instead.

Personal Responsibility was shoved aside more and more in place of government clean up after the fact. As this happened, the fall of Personal Responsibility snowballed. More and more people found being the friend of Personal Responsibility too much a burden when government would just step in and clean up the mess.

The final gasp to this great institution came when government turned to those people who had embraced Personal Responsibility and followed what it taught as being the ones accountable for fixing he problems of those who had not participated in Personal Responsibility. Suddenly, those who had worked hard, thought and planned carefully, were made to bear the cost and effort to clean up the mess from those who hadn't.

Thus, there was no more to be said. Personal Responsibility was not only gone but now a liability for those who still believed in it. "Why bother being Personally Responsible if I have to pay for your irresponsibility?" and comments like that became common place. People just stopped trying to find and befriend Personal Responsibility.

No one is absolutely sure the exact time of death for Personal Responsibility but it's generally believed it went into a coma one July 30, 2008 when the mortgage relief bill (HR 3221) was signed into law by President Bush. Many hoped for a miracle resurrection but the plug was finally pulled sometime on September 8, 2008 when the government took over the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage corporations essentially ending foreclosure on federally issued mortgages to people who had no prayer of being able to pay them back.

My friends and fellow mourners, those of us who remember Personal Responsibility feel we are indeed better off for having it in our lives. It is greatly unfortunate many others today and in future generations will not have the maturity to have known it as well.

May Personal Responsibility rest in peace and forgive us for having ignored it.


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September 6, 2008

Never Forget 9/11!

What more can be said about the bravery, heroism and strength of the American people on that day?

What more can be said to honor the men and women of our military who now fight to keep us safe and free?

Others will say much about 9/11 on this, the 7 year anniversary of that day. I will leave it up to them.

Instead, plese review these videos. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Tribute to Flight 93:

Kirsty Jackson video:

9/11 Tribute video (from 2006 but still honorable):

There are so many great tribute videos. Too many to list here.

Please search YouTube for others as well as 911 emergency calls recordings from people trapped in the Towers and who didn't make it out.

God Bless America!

September 4, 2008

The Value of a College Degree!

Over the years I have read (and participated) in many debates, nay arguments, over the value of a 4-year college degree. Even the value of a Masters level degree. Usually the crux of the argument comes from people with at best a 2-year Associates degree. Or simply no college at all. I think much of their basis is purely sour grapes.

We all know people who have become very successful in work/business and finances without a formal education pat High School. My first job out of school was at a company that had been founded by a man without even a High School diploma. He was doing very well for himself in that business as well as other ventures he had going (a real gonif!). And the story of how Bill Gates left Harvard to start Microsoft is legendary.

Stories like theses are the main ammunition for the nay sayers of the value of a college degree. But I wouldn't take bets on it. People like above are what statisticians call "out layer". They fall out of the normal curve of things.

When you examine all of human history those with an education are clearly better off then those without. They are the leaders, the heads of business and enterprise, the top rankings of government, the ones the rest of the population admired and looked up to (and even hated for being more successful than they – as happens today too, some things never change).

More specifically, if you correlate the relationship of education to earnings over the last 100 years there is a clear and an unquestionable positive relationship: The more education a person has more they are likely to earn over their life time.

Obviously that's not a blanket statement. I'm sure you also know people with MBA's who are working in Best Buy or Wendy's. The individual person has to still try to become successful and gainfully employed. No one is going to give you a great job for just having a piece of paper in your hand (not even a Harvard MBA these days). But clearly having a 4-year degree and even a Masters degree does make a significant improvement in your chances.

I have friend who didn't go to college. Went right to trade work after High School. He was making very good money for a young guy with only a High School diploma. Union jobs help in that regard and he was in a very generous union. But he eventually reached a plateau. Although he made more starting out that I did years later I more than double what he is making.

A clear factor here is what you choose to study. If you spend 4 or 5 years to get a Bachelors degree in Medieval Art History with a minor in Neoclassic Folklore what the hell do you expect to do with that?? How do you think you're going to sell that to an employer?!

Some people have told me "I can just learn whatever I need to for the job." Maybe so. But prove it! Prove it to the employer. Sure you may be able to answer some questions but having a degree in the subject or at least had course work in the subject that is documented in your degree program is much more solid evidence of skill and knowledge. And, quite simply, some subjects you just can't read a book on and learn it sufficiently in a week or two. For example, you can read a book on Financial Accounting. But unless you have an instructor showing it to you and requiring you to do the problems and make the financial statements it won't do you any good.

Further, like it or not (and I suspect many don't like it) a 4-year degree, and in many cases a Masters degree, is a defacto requirement for jobs these days. In fact, a few very high end companies will only accept PhD's as employment candidates! Don't get too full of yourself either. Having a degree may not guarantee you the job. But not having the degree will definitely shut the door to your chances! At a former employer I was able to apply for a number of posted positions because I have a Masters degree. None of my co-workers did (few even had a Bachelors degree). Having that Masters didn't give me so much any better knowledge for the job but it did give me the chance to apply that my other shlep co-workers couldn't - and it pissed them off to no end! (which I thoroughly enjoyed!)

If you pick your classes well you will have a good basis for just about anything you want to do or need to do. For example, in undergraduate school I was required to take 6 credits Accounting (two 3 credit courses). I tried to get out of it but couldn't. It was a requirement. I took it over summer session. My professor for the first class was a true masochist! People were dropping the class left and right. He had students crying. But you know what? Those of us who made it through learned! Many years later I am sooooooo glad I took accounting. That subject has probably helped me more professionally and personally than anything else. Yet I wouldn't have taken it were it not for a requirement in college.

A college degree, be it a Bachelors or a Masters, isn't the kind of thing you can get in a few weeks. It's preparation for your future. That is a final point often made for the value of an education. It shows employers that you know what you have to do to get in and you have commitment to start and finish the years it takes to get a degree.

It is sometimes said that an education is a gift that can never be repaid. Don't look your gift horse in the mouth.

Go to school and finish!

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September 1, 2008

Paying Your Debts is NOT an Investment!

There is a common misunderstanding that has been propagated around the personal finance world for years: Paying off a high interest debt is like getting a great return on your money.

This is not true!

I'm all for paying off debts, high or low interest, as quickly as you can is always a good idea. Obviously go for the highest interest debt first. If you can service both that's even better. The more you can pay quickly the less interest you will have to pay which is what saves you hundreds or even thousands (or more!) over the life time of the debt.

If you're lucky enough to have a 0% interest installment payment that's a different animal. Since you're not paying any interest there's no rush to pay it off quick so you may as well pay according to whatever schedule you were given. For example, last year I bought a new furnace and water heater for my house. I was ready to pay it all on the spot but the company offered me 0% financing if I paid just half. Works good for me as I can now stretch out the payments and thereby pay out of current income rather than having to take cash out of the bank. At 0% there's no extra cost for payments (I can also pay it off at anytime too if I wanted).

But the myth still exists that paying off debt is the same as getting a return. For example, the myth goes: if you have a credit card at 18% then paying an extra $1.00 to that card I like getting an 18% return on your money.


In a true return you have both the dollar and whatever amount you made (the return). To use a risk-free example: If you put $1.00 into the bank at the end of the day you will have the interest on that dollar (the return) plus the $1.00. Tomorrow you can withdraw that dollar plus the interest. Even in a stock it's similar. If you put a $1.00 into a stock or mutual fund at the end of the day you have the shares of stock/mutual fund plus the return. Tomorrow you can sell that stock or mutual fund and get back your dollar plus the return (yes, even if the stock went down you would still get something back, presuming it doesn't go all the way to zero).

By comparison, when you send that $1.00 to your debt (like a credit card) – it's gone! You can't get that $1.00 back without incurring even more debt!

While you may have reduced the future interest you are paying by making that extra $1.00 payment there is no "return" on that dollar. Saving future costs is not the same as return. It is a reduction in anticipated future spending but not a return. An economist would also tell you that inflation further erodes the value of future anticipated savings thus making the value of the extra $1.00 even less (though I do not use that as a reason not pay down your debt as soon as possible!).

So go ahead and repay your debts, highest interest first. That is a smart move. But don't fall for the line that you are putting money somewhere you will be getting a return. Savings and investing are not the same thing.

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