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.

November 27, 2008

Forgiveness? Only In Washington

Forgiveness is a wonderful concept.

Sooner or later everyone does something they would like to be forgiven (and forgotten) about.

But don’t let what happens in Washington (D.C.) taint your opinions of forgiveness. The politicians in Washington can get away with sooooooooo much more than you and I ever could and be forgiven (at least in the popular media).

It is often said the American people are a very understanding and forgiving group. Perhaps as a collective. But individually, where you and I have to live, forgiveness isn’t so easily obtained. In fact, holding a grudge is more the norm than forgiven. This is something rarely discussed in the media because, among other things, it flies squarely in the face of being an open minded and enlightened people. Holding a grudge is seen as lower status and barbaric.

But the reality is people hold grudges a lot more than they forgive and forget. Water under the bridge flows very very slowly.

The popular media does nothing to help this. They eagerly sweep the antics and transgressions of Washington politicians (and to a large extent state and local politicians too) under the rug, especially for certain classes of politicians. Things you and I would be tared and feathered for they can still walk down the street, head held high.

This article isn’t just a rant on the politicians. It’s also call to people to realize that while life sometimes imitates art, it rarely successfully imitates politics.

The water that flows under your bridge and mine trickles by.

MasterPo says: If you enjoyed this article make sure to subscribe in a reader (one of the last good free things in life!)

November 25, 2008

Truth is in The Eye of the Beholder

(also the title of a great "Twlight Zone" episode)

It has been said that preception is 9/10th's reality. In the movie "Star Wars:The Clone Wars" the younger Obe Wan Kenobi constantly tells his apprentice Atikin Skywalker "Focus! Your focus determines your reality".

Probably so.

But most regrettably, we cannot always control how others perceive our actions. So much is open to individual interpretation. I am often so amazed that anything gets accomplished the way it’s supposed to be because actions, words, tones (or the lack thereof) are so often misjudged and misguided.

Here are just a few of a great many examples:

Recently my wife and I were watching an episode of a cooking show were teams of bakers had to make a cake in a particular theme (can’t remember the name of the show). One team, the cake sculpture they were trying to make just wasn’t coming together as the lead baker wanted. He tried several innovations on the spot but it still wasn’t working. They were running short on time. He was very dejected. The head baker wanted to drop out saying he’d rather drop out of the competition than submit a poor quality result. However, the judges said (to the camera audience) if he drops out he will always be remembered for having quit. (By the way, the judges They convinced him to stay in and eventually his team did produce a cake for judging, albeit not the best. His team didn’t win.)

Different perceptions. Who was right?

At a place I once worked a project manager left. Not sure if he quit or was fired. One of the last things he did before he left was send an email to the biggest client he supported, someone who was always calling for support and hand-holding, saying that he was no longer with the company and until someone else is assigned his account the client should contact the PMO directly for support issues. In the PM’s mind he probably thought he was doing a good, professional thing notifying a major client where to go for support in the interim so the client doesn’t get left out in the cold before someone else could be assigned. However, the PMO went ballistic calling the PM all kinds of nasty names (he was gone by then). To the PMO this wasn’t the right thing to do.

Different perceptions. Who was right?

Recently at my job I attended a meeting who the business community to review two vendor software packages as replacements for an in-house developed system. From a technical IT perspective both were similar. No great objections or benefits either way. To me it came down to which met the specific details of the business employees who would be using the software. As such, that was my input to the project. I am not a business user who will be using the software so I didn’t feel I was in a position of expertise to be able to say for sure one over the other. But that wasn’t good enough for my manager who ripped into me for not being decisive in selecting one instead of the other. I related why I didn’t take a stand but he didn’t care.

Different perceptions. Who was right?

What you call persistance someone else calls nagging.
What you call tenancity someone else calls being a pain in the ass.
What you call being assertive someone else calls forceful.
What you call holding steady to youir beliefs and point of view someone else calls uncompromising.

We have no control over what people think of what we say or do. Even if we so carefully pick our words, inflections, and actions there is no telling for sure how someone else will interpret them.

I have no solution to this, except to say: Focus.

MasterPo says: If you enjoyed this article make sure to subscribe in a reader (one of the last good free things in life!)

November 21, 2008

The President Doesn't Control My Future!

This article was written in September well before the out come of this years' Presidential election. But the truth remains the same:

My life – and more importantly, my fortune in life - is not dependent upon whoever wins the White House and which ever party is in charge of the Executive Branch of the Federal government.

Government can never make a person rich or successful. And definitely not happy.

Government can make a person poor by implementing crushing taxes, can make a person unhappy by imposing intrusive rules and regulations, and can negatively impact your success by putting unnecessary barriers in your way. But no one ever went from rags to riches overnight because of who occupied the Oval Office.

The President can not make anyone job (unless it's a government project job). The President can not start a business, design a new product, provide a vital service. What the President can do is introduce and push through legislation to make an environment positive for individuals to accomplish these things.

If you are upset that your candidate didn't win and are going to mope around for the next 4 years you're wasting your life. Even if your candidate did win your life wouldn't have changed much. People who sit and hope that a President or Senator or Congressman or Governor or Mayor etc. will pass a law – that one special law – that will catapult them into the upper levels of high income and success are living a fantasy. No more than the people who spend hundreds or even thousands a year on the lottery, rarely win, but think putting that money into an index mutual fund is way too risky.

To day is the first day of the rest of your life. Live it!

Carpe Diem – Seize the Day!

MasterPo says: If you enjoyed this article make sure to subscribe in a reader (one of the last good free things in life!)

November 18, 2008

Winners and Losers

Sometimes it seems the thin line between reality and fantasy is getting thinner by the moment.

Few other examples come to mind as the ever present drive to be thought of as a "winner" and not a "loser".

The problem is one of a grossly distorted view of what a winner and loser is. I'm not trying to split hairs and my readers well know I am defiantly not a feel-good liberal. But I do think the image of what a real winner and a real loser that is constantly being bombard upon adults as well as children is sinking in for the worse.

NOBODY wins all the time!

Just doesn't happen.

So then why do some people seem to be that way?

The answers are simpler than you think.

For one thing no one advertises their failures. Most people try very hard to burry their faults and failures and only highlight the few successes. And since you can't be around them 24/7/365 you most likely aren't going to be there to witness their failure.

Next, related to the above, people always put their successes into the spot light. And the public loves to accept it at face value. That is, people accept the singular success but don't know about the 99 or more other times the person failed.

Then there is the cover up. Here is where the conspiracy theorists may have some validity. People around the "winner" help the person cover up their losses. For reasons and motivations that could be anything the friends and associates of the "winner" willfully comply in helping to hide the losses and lavish praise upon the winnings. More than just a mutual admiration society it is almost cult-like in the loyalty to the "winner". I think it goes beyond just wanting to be part of the limelight and feel a share of the glory. I think some people actually believe they will ride the coat tails of the "winner" for their own personal gains. It happens.

Finally, after awhile the legend of the "winner" grows beyond the reality to the point where no one will believe the truth of their failures. So when someone does speak of the winner's loss or failure it's just brushed off.

Unfortunately not only do so many people believe this, they drive themselves hard to achieve the unachievable rather than accept the reality:

If you don't win all the time you're not a loser.

If you don't loose all the time you’re a winner.

MasterPo says: If you enjoyed this article make sure to subscribe in a reader (one of the last good free things in life!)

November 15, 2008

The Reality of Retirement: Myth #2 – Your Taxes Will Be Lower

I wish I knew who started this one!

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Several reasons why.

First, if you've done your homework you have computed some approximation of how much you will need for a comfortable retirement. "Comfortable" meaning living as you do now when working (presumably full-time). Your calculation probably shows a pretty hefty amount needed! Even without crunching numbers you've probably heard estimates of 30% to 50% of your pre-retirement income (gross of course). So if you made $80,000/yr pre-retirement you would need upwards of $40,000/yr after you retire.

I happen to think (based on logic and personal experience) these kinds of rule-of-thumb estimates are grossly off base. But that's a topic for another article.

So now you get $40,000/yr post-retirement income from your retirement funds (401k, IRA, annuity etc). That's what many full-time working people make too. So how can your retirement taxes be lower than a non-retired working person's taxes?! When you think about it, that doesn't make sense. Granted, income tax on $40,000 will probably be lower than income tax on $80,000. But not so dramatically less.

Second, most of the retirement income sources drawn upon were funded pre-tax. Your 401k, your pension (if you have one), probably your IRA (presuming non-ROTH), etc. All funded pre-tax. That means when you take money out government at all levels will want their cut that they have been waiting for all these years.

From personal experience managing my mother's retirement finances I attest the bight it BIG! Even though she had 20% withheld from each distribution she still ended up paying more tax on April 15. And if we needed to make an additional withdrawal from her retirement accounts then she got socked even harder!

Third, who knows what new income tax brackets and tax rates Congress will pass during your retirement years! In the last 20 years alone income tax rates have gone up and down, new brackets have been defined, consolidated, defined again, removed again etc. There is no tell what the tax rates and levels will be when you retire. And that's just on the Federal level. States and cities also change their taxes too.

Also keep in mind that some cities and states will follow you for taxes if you move else where post-retirement. This is especially so if you held a government job. The concept is you earned the money in that city/state so you should pay taxes to that city/state even if you live else where. The result is you could end up paying state and/or city level income tax to more than one location! That takes a bight out of things too!

The bottom line is that expecting significantly lower taxes post-retirement is a falsehood that will come back and hurt you if you haven't prepared or at least are aware of it.

Uncle Sam gets you in the end – always.

MasterPo says: If you enjoyed this article make sure to subscribe in a reader (one of the last good free things in life!)

November 12, 2008

The Conspiracy of Conspiracy Theories

It seems today more than ever people are rushing head-long into believing every crazy conspiracy theory that is put forth. The more ridiculous the more it's believed. There are conspiracy theories about 9/11, oil/gas, the "new world order", shadow governments, the often mentioned who shot JFK, and as Hilary Clinton made popular the "vast right-wing" conspiracy just to name a few of the more common and popular ones. Never mind that "vast" or "world wide" and "conspiracy" are oxymoronic concepts.

So why?

Why do so many otherwise seemingly reasonably intelligent people prefer to believe tightly woven conspiracy theories rather than simple answers?

I believe it is because today, perhaps more than ever, people work so hard and get so little satisfaction they would rather believe in vast secret organizations that control everything than the simple reality that life and the world holds no promises and guarantees nothing. As alarmed as people say they are at the concept of a vast conspiracy I believe that at some level they do take comfort in thinking at least someone somewhere is in control. Maybe not controlling things for the better (as the mass of people view it) but still in control.

The alternative is purely random and unrelated events. Or that bad things happen to good people and not everyone is a nice person underneath. People can't handle the "it just is" aspect of life.
This is really no different than hundreds or thousands of years ago. When there was a flood or plague or a famine people searched for answers. They found it in religion believing these bad events were the result of an angry deity who saw all their deep dark sins and was now punishing them for it. They didn't see these things as natural events that were bound to happen sooner or later. This is no different than today when people lament why someone kills themselves and takes 100 or more people with them. The conspiracy side says it's the result of anger and frustration at the victims, and that government knew it would happen and did nothing about it. In fact, perhaps even encouraged it to advance their own agenda. This as oppose to recognizing that there are evil people in the world who just want to kill.

As Michael Caine's character of Alfred in "Dark Knight" said of the Joker, quote "Some men can't be reasoned with, can't be bought. They just want to watch the world burn."

Another example: The once-in-100-years storm come and devastates an area. Rather than say "We knew this would happen someday and simply chose to live here anyway" or "We knew this always a possibility but decided not to spend the money to protect against this rare event" it's easier to blame a secret government plot to purposely inflict casualties on a certain class of people.

In some ways too this is a vote of confidence in the system. That people actually believe that government, organizations, businesses etc. are that well controlled and disciplined to be able to exert such total control without anyone being aware. Again, I think this goes back to a human need to believe there is a structured reason for events and not just the out come of hundreds of random events.

"Vast conspiracies" require the suspension of logical belief to be effective. Remember Occam's Razor: The simplest answer is usually the correct one. Is it simpler to say that bad events happen sometimes in life? Is it easier to admit there are evil people in the world who just like to hurt others? Or is it easier to believe in vast networks of shadowy organizations that control everything and no one ever spills the beans about it.

Then again, perhaps the conspiracy is just that: making people think there are vast conspiracies out there! When people will suspend their logical thought and believe in anything that's when they are truly easily controlled.

Think about it.

MasterPo says: If you enjoyed this article make sure to subscribe in a reader (one of the last good free things in life!)

November 9, 2008

Why I Fish Alone...

"I drink alone, yeah,
with nobody else.
I drink alone, yeah,
with nobody else.
Yeah, you know when I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself."
- George Thorogood

On the whole, I usually fish alone. That is part of the lure (no pun intended) of the angling sport: Just you, the water and hopefully a fish. I've spent many days and even more nights alone on a beach in the middle of nowhere. If I even saw the neck light of another angler all night it was a crowd.

There is definately something soothing about being on the water by yourself. Communing with nature. It touches something in my soul. Maybe something genetic, as we all came from the oceans way back when.

There is also the thrill of being by yourself and catching a big fish. It's more your own. No one else advised you what to use, where to fish, how to fish etc. You did it all on your own.

But, more realistically, I tend to fish alone more and more these days for less soul-full reasons and more selfish ones.

First, I put in a LOT of time and effort to find the spots I fish. "Free time" is become a very rare and precious commodity to me more and more. I don't know where the time is going but I have less and less of it as life progresses. Wish I could have bottled it from back in my youth for use now. Oh well... But the point is I put in a lot of time to find the spots and learn when and how to fish them. Call me selfish but I don't freely share that any more these days. Every anglers has burned a spot. It's the nature of the sport. But if I show someone a spot I expect reciprocation. I expect them to show me a spot too. Yes, tit-for-tat. But that doesn't happen nearly as much as it should. I have a few friends who so rarely get out that if I do take them some place new (to them) it's more like charity so I don't mind. But there are others who claim to be such great fishermen yet give me nothing in return. That isn't right.

Second reason is schedules. It's tough to get people together what with family, work, personal stuff etc.

Third, there are places and types of fishing that I want to do that don't seem to interest others. That's OK by itself. But I'm not going to forgo my desires because no one else shares them.

Fourth, and this was a bitter pill to learn, some people who talk a good game are really blow hards in the end. When I was young I know many guys who would talk constantly of their great trips to Montauk, Florida, Mexico, the Bahamas or Caribean etc. They would talk of the lodges they go to, the people they knew who would get them free stays, free boats, inside local information and all that. I couldn't go. I had school and work and not a lot of money. When I finally got old enough and established enough to be able to have the time to take and finances to afford these trips - suddenly these "great" fisherman came up with all kinds of excuses why they couldn't go. It wasn't until years later I finally realized that I had called thier bluff.

So now I mostly fish a lone because it's on my schedule, my likes, and my pleasure.

MasterPo says: If you enjoyed this article make sure to subscribe in a reader (one of the last good free things in life!)

November 6, 2008

The Middle Class Myth

Politicians, pundits and activists love to use the example of a family of 4 making $50,000 (gross of course) as "typical" middle class Americans (this is up from $40,000 in the 90's which I suppose is an improvement).


Personally, I think it's grossly over simplified. I don't see how 4 people (2 adults, 2 kids) can live decently much less "middle class" in $50,000 in a place like New York City or Long Island. Even in other parts of the country (I have lived outside NY too) things food, medicine, clothing, energy really weren't all that cheaper than NY.

But going with this example, let's project into the future using the standard compound growth equation T = P(1+I)^T where P is the principle amount (the starting amount), I is the rate of growth (interest rate) and T is the time in years. This is a standard equation you will find in any High School math or accounting book.

At 3% inflation, in 20 years that same family of 4 making $50,000 today will need to make $90,305 to have the same purchasing power as they do today at $50k! And if we assume 4% inflation they will need $110,000 (rounded)!

Let's look at it from the other end – future back to now using the same equation to compute the present value.

Assuming 3% average annual inflation, in 20 years someone making today's "middle class" income of $50,000 will be like someone now making just $28,000 (rounded)! And assuming 4% inflation that $50,000 income in 20 years is only worth $23,000 (rounded)!

For those readers who may be old enough to remember the 70's (kids – ask your parents if you don't) you remember the high 7-8-9% inflation we had, even the 10%+ inflation for a brief time. All you need is a year or so of very high inflation to drop those purchasing power amounts even more!
And of course, this is well before the effect of taxes is added in, which at present all politicians seem to be gleefully promising to raise!

I don't want to quibble of numbers, how inflation is computed, tax policies etc. I agree there are several factors that could sway this analysis for the worse or the better (my bet is on the former).
The point of this analysis is to show two things:

1) The disconnect from reality that politicians and pundits et al. have when referring to this mythical 4 person family making $50,000.

2) To ponder: Will politicians, pundits and their kind continue to refer to $50,000 as middle class in 20 years? Will they ever say "The typical middle class family of 4 making $90,000…."??? They would need to if they really want to be honest. Or in 20 years will they still think $50,000 or so is middle class?

I also hope this will be received by my readers as a wake-up call to understand all the factors that affect you income and realize it isn't because of some vast conspiracy (now there's an oxymoronic term!) but natural forces.

MasterPo says: If you enjoyed this article make sure to subscribe in a reader (one of the last good free things in life!)

November 3, 2008

Paranormal Parlor Tricks?

In the past year several relatively new devices for detecting and communicating (as is the claims) with ghosts have been showcased on various paranormal TV shows. Devices like the K2 meter, Franks Box, and most recently as of writing this the Ovules have all become rage because of their featured use on a variety of noted TV paranormal/ghost shows.

Whether or not these devices actual deliver as billed – that is, they are steps forward in detecting and communicating with the paranormal – is a topic for another time.

But all these devices do have one thing in common – no one really knows how they work!

Their creators and promoters are purposely withholding details of the internals of these devices.

For example:

- The K2 meter is said to be tuned to specific EMF "paranormal frequencies". What frequencies would that be? How were those frequencies determined? Who determined them? How was it confirmed?

- Chris Moon controls the use of the Franks Box with an iron fist. Only 25 or so people in the entire world are allowed by Chris to possess a Franks Box (practically a paranormal God Father!). He and the anointed special people who are allowed to use a Franks Box have been very cagey as to the internals of the devices. It has been said the box is an AM radio receiver that rapidly scans the lower AM frequencies where entities communicate. How was that determined? When/how was it determined that entities "hang out" on certain AM frequencies like kids in a chat room or on a CB radio? I've seen the Franks Box in action first hand and was not impressed.

- One of the features of the Ovules (and it's brother The Puck) is the ability to correlate EMF measurements to a number that corresponds to a word. So when the EMF reading is X that correlates to number N which points to word SOMETHING in a list of words burned into a chip in the device. How was this correlation of EMF to numbers determined? How and who decided what readings translate to what words? What study or research was done to support this?

In engineering there is the concept of "the black box". The black box is a generic term to mean anything that takes in data, processes it, and returns an answer but the internal workings (the processing method or approach, the very "thing" inside the box) is completely unknown. You can feed the black box different data and perhaps by carefully studying the answers you get back make some guesses as to what is in side the box. But you still don't know for sure what is in it.

I get the feel these devices are the paranormal field's "black boxes".

The designers and promoters of these devices insist they can't say what's inside or how it works for fear someone will steal their ideas.

That's load of bull!

How can any thinking person trust the result of something they don't know how it works? That's not science or investigation, not even curiosity. That's faith. Or gullibility.

Without fully knowing how these devices work inside the answers are entertaining at best, misleading at worse. But few will care.

Real paranormal investigators will take a cautious interest in these devices but will want more information on their workings. The question is: Will the inventors and promoters support the core of paranormal investigators? Or go for the thrill seekers?

My guess is that latter – that's where the money is.

Always follow the money.

MasterPo says: If you enjoyed this article make sure to subscribe in a reader (one of the last good free things in life!)