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 28, 2009

Looking A Gift Horse in The Mouth

Beware of people offering you favors. Not everyone who says they are doing you a favor is in fact doing a good thing for you. Even if the concept is good the final result may not be so great.

Case in point:

Recently my wife's company started a policy where you could work from home 2 days a week. They said it was to help people off set the costs of commuting to work. Initially that sounds like a great idea! Sounds like a good way to save some money in these tough times.

Well, not really. At least not for us.

When you add it up, having my wife work from home 2 days a week doesn't save us anything.

First, her commuter train ticket into New York City is a monthly pass. To pay by the week, by the 10-trip, or even by the day would cost at least $100 more a month. In other words, there is no cheaper train service to her job. So she is stuck buying the monthly ticket even though she would only be using it three days a week.

Commuter parking at the train station is also monthly so there is no savings there either.

The train station is only a few blocks from our home so any savings for gas to drive to/from the station is literally pocket change at best.

And we will still have to take our children to day care even when she is home because you can't conduct phone calls and get much done with a bunch of crying kids around (in spite of what you see on TV commercials about the person who left the big office and work from home – it just doesn't work that way).

So at the end of it all the "favor" of letter her work from home 2 days a week is an empty gesture at best for us. I'm sure that others in the company will find this a great benefit. But you can't prove it by us.

September 24, 2009

Facing Mortality: We All End Up That Way In The End

One of the many aspects of the human personality, at least the Western/American personality, I just don't understand is the lack of acceptance of our own mortality. No one will live forever (not even sure I would want to if possible anyway). Sooner or later we all will die. Hopefully much much later than sooner. But, as the ling-run economists say, in the end we're all food for worms.

I can understand that realizing your inevitable death isn't a pleasant thought for many. And when you're young that day seems sooooooooooo far way (though an accident can befall anyone at any time and bring that day to now). So the very young I will give a temporary pass to on the subject.

But for the rest – Wake up!

I just don't understand how grown people - supposedly adults – married, often with children, a house or other significant property/assets, just refuses to deal with the reality of their eventual demise.

Even if you don't care about yourself what of the rest of your family? Your spouse? Your kids?
But no. Won't lift a finger to have a will made even by one of those cheapo online services much less go to an experienced estate planner or lawyer.

I had a conversation with a woman who was recently divorced after 20 years of marriage. She had custody of her 3 early-teen children, one of whom had a physical disability. I mentioned to her the idea of needing a will now that she was the sole legal caretaker for her children. She said she didn’t' see the need. I mentioned that at least with a good will she could protect the money she received from the divorce and ensure her wishes as far as final arrangements were planned out. She said she didn’t want a big funeral but instead a simply service and cremation. When I pointed out that even a basic service at a chapel and cremation could still cost thousands of dollars she gave the typical deer-in-the-headlight stare. I then added who did she expect to pay for all that – her teenage kids? To which she responded by shrugging her shoulders and saying "Eh." I didn't bother going on from there.

In her case I try to cut some slack figuring she's going through a very stressful period and may be overwhelmed at the moment. But the fact remains she is the sole provider now for her kids (child support from her ex-hubby not withstanding) so I would hope she'd have a better answer that just "Eh"! Not holding my breath that she will change her attitude later.

But she is far from alone in this I-don't-care attitude. Perhaps it's just part of the apparent evolution of our culture in that fewer and fewer people care to bother taking responsibility for themselves and their lives; That more and more people have the attitude that "someone" (probably government) will take care of them. There are more important things to concern yourself with like having a good time playing Xbox and going to the beach.

The end is coming for all of us eventually. Choose to meet it like the adult you're supposed to be!

September 21, 2009

Death of a Ferrari Salesman

Do you know anyone who owns a Ferrari? Or a Porsche? Or any other high end car?

I don't.

But so what?

Some people do and that's none of anyone else's business.

In the America of Obama "the rich" are the enemies of the nation. "The rich" are more a threat than any terrorist or foreign power. What with their fancy-shmancy high priced cars and toys.

So they should be taxed out the butt for daring to have sooooo much money.

This appeals to a great many people. Manipulating class envy is a skill well honed by liberals.

But before you say this doesn't affect you stop and really think about.

Someone has to be the salesman who sells "the rich" the car.
Someone has to be the owner of the dealership that offers these kinds of cars.
Someone has to be the mechanic that services these cars.
Someone has to be the seller (and possibly manufacturer) of the parts that are used to repair the car.
Someone has to be the insurance agent that sells the policy to the own of the car.
And yes, someone has to be the seller of the evil gasoline the car uses as fuel.

That is also not to mention the government gets a boat load of tax revenue at each of these transactions in the form of sales tax, import tax, registration tax, excise tax, etc.

So when "the rich" buy a Ferrari or other high end car a lot of people have jobs selling and servicing that car.

Now tax away the extra money "the rich" might use to buy such a car and a lot of people loose work. A lot of non-rich people.

The point being that when "the rich" buy the products and services they can afford that makes jobs and incomes for many others too. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Perhaps not the people that some would like to see have jobs, and perhaps not paid what some think they should be paid (though what person is every totally satisfied with what they are paid?!) but that is an economy.

A lot of people's jobs, income and very livelihoods depend on "the rich" spending their excess money on things not immediately essential but are extra to life. More over, no economy in history has ever grown and no nation has ever been financial strong by just supplying the mere basics of daily life.

Look around your own neighborhoods. I guarantee that at least 75% of the shops and stores and services sold in your area are extra to life, not basic fundamental necessities. Even the food you buy can be cut down to one or two basic supply stores. Not the wide range of specialized (e.g. Italian, Chinese, BBQ, deli, pizza, etc) that is common even in the smallest towns.

No person ever got their own lives better by taking away freedom of choice from someone else (unless they are a dictator).

If you know someone who has let me know.

September 17, 2009

MasterPo Reviews "The Colony"

Normally I would not think of doing an article about reviewing a TV show. MasterPo is NOT a television show critic. Look on other blogs for that. But in this case I feel it is worthy of an exception.

If you haven't seen "The Colony" and intend to be forewarned there are spoilers in here.

You've been warned…

"The Colony" is a quasi-reality/docu-simulation/study/experiment TV show on the Discovery channel.

The basic plot is simple and timely:

A virus plague has struck and wiped out more than 90% of the world's population. What kind of virus, where it came from, was it natural or a WMD attack is not stated. I suppose that's part of the point, to keep it general as all these could be scenarios. Now, a small group of uninfected people have found each other, been able to acquire a few basic materials by scavenging an already looted department store, and have found what appears to be a recently abandoned factory facility to call home.

Along with the group of people there is a catastrophe historian/survival expert and a psychologist from the Discovery channel that make periodic commentary about the events simulated on the show.

The story takes place in Los Angeles but could easily be any other city in the country (if not the world). The building itself is real. The property is owned by the Department of Homeland Security and is used to train for urban disasters.

Supposedly the people are real everyday Joe's and Jane's, not actors (although I suspect at least one is acting a role). Though each one very conveniently has specific hands-on technical skills and knowledge that would be crucial to survival in such a situation (more on that shortly). Also very conveniently the abandoned factory has just enough working hand tools, supplies, components, even a bit of food that can be used by the group to start building at least some basic structures and devices such as water filtration and some electricity.

Throughout this series spanning several weeks the group is challenged with a number of tasks and obstacles that it is believed would be real problems in the event of such a catastrophe. Problems like making drinkable water, personal hygiene and sanitary needs (i.e. the bathroom), good, generating electricity, and securing their sanctuary from raiders (portrayed by other people I believe are actors but the participants may or may not know that).

As of writing this review only the first episode has aired and I like it. Sure it's TV and as such there will be holes in the events as well as some very contrived situations.

For example, I already mentioned that everyone in the group has some specific skill or ability that is a crucial contribution to the overall group survival. There is a mechanic, an electrical engineer, a construction contractors, a handyman, even a doctor and an ER nurse. In reality there is no way to cherry pick people with such great skills. In reality there would be someone who works at Wendy's or The Gap; There would be a lawyer or a CPA; There would be an art teacher; There would be a mailman, etc. None of which have professional skills or knowledge (perhaps personal/hobby but not professional) that I can see in any way contributes to the groups survival, other than being a physical body that can be instructed to perform a task or labor.

There too the plot falls short. There are no babies or children. Surely some would have survived and they don't have any skills to contribute nor can do any real labor to help the group. Obviously the show can't put babies and children at risk but it is a hole in the reality concept. Same with someone who is handicapped or injured and unable to work productively in the group. Such a person may have knowledge or skills crucial to the groups' survival and therefore makes them of value to the group. But they might not.

And there are no panic stricken, hysterical people either. Perhaps the intent of the show is to take place several days or weeks after the totality of the disaster such that anyone panicking or hysterical has gotten over it or simple fallen victim to their own breakdown. But in a real disaster people who are in an uncontrollable hysteria are a real likelihood and danger to your own survival. Also, people who have not been able to accept and adapt to the reality of the situation but instead have gone literally insane from the reality will also be a real danger.

It's likely the producers just didn't want to tackle these issues on the show: What do you do in a survival situations where food, water, medicine, even secure shelter is so scares yet you have people who can not provide any productive contribution to the groups' survival? Do you still keep them in the group, consuming valuable food/water etc while not contributing anything helpful in return? Or do you turn them away from the group? It's a deep moral question but when day by day life hangs in the balance of one more or less mouth to feed it becomes a razor sharp issue.
I do find the show thus far creative and, with the items above taken into consideration, a real attempt at some thing like a true simulation of a major collapse of modern civilization. It certainly does not (yet) appear to have been designed for drama and personal conflict the way other reality TV shows are, such as "Survivor".

However, there remains one point that I do feel needs special addressing:


It seems throughout the show the survivors' refuge will be periodically assaulted by others outside their group. In this pilot episode along the compound was first visited by a lone stranger during the night who was looking for a way in but was unsuccessful and appears to have left discouraged. Then two large men on motorcycles buzzed around the back door of the factory during the night. Is suspect they are really scouts for a much larger raider force yet to be seen. And the original group as joined by an additional smaller group of survivors but some don't trust the new arrivals. One of the new arrivals admits to having served time in prison for drug smuggling (whether this is true or he is just playing a role is unclear at this time).

This part is probably the most realistic aspect of the show. And the most frightening to me.

Raiders (aka looters, bandits, thugs etc) will be a fact of life in any disaster survival situation. Remember the images of the locals in New Orleans after Katrina? And that was just a big rain storm! Police, National Guard and Federal forces responded very soon after the event (I'm not going to debate the government's response to Katrina in this article so don't email me about it, the fact is Federal and State forces were there quickly).

But what if the disaster had been much more wide spread and total?
What if the government itself, at least in part, was gone?
What if the emergency relief and security forces counted on just aren't there anymore?
And, no insult intended, what if some of the very people you count on to help you (police and soldiers) themselves have gone "rogue"? (i.e. have taken matters into their own hands for their own survival).

I regret that in this day and age raiders will be as great a threat as starvation, cold, and disease – maybe even more!

Along similar lines, so far the raiders have not been shown as being armed. Again it could be Discovery Channel just doesn't want to deal with the issue of guns. It's their show and they can set the limitations they want. But that isn't reality.

I fear in a real disaster where there is a partial or total government collapse heavily armed raiders will be everywhere. Some may even steal the uniforms of police, security and soldiers to try to pass themselves as such in order to gain confidence before attacking.

I don't know if future episodes of "The Colony" will address these concerns. Probably not. They probably don't want to be that controversial and in the day and age I can't blame them too much.
But I do believe these are very real concerns that anyone watching "The Colony" should keep in mind since they may not be addressed on the show.

Two-thumbs up from MasterPo!

September 14, 2009

Missed Opportunities (or, A Dream or A Right?)

On another site the question was recently put to me:

What about a person who didn't buy a house 30-40 years ago when prices were cheaper and not has to pay nearly a mortgage payment itself to rent a small apartment or just a room in someone else's house? How can they even think about retiring or just slowing down work in their senior years?

My answer was simple: It was a missed opportunity they now have to live with.

Presuming the person did in fact have the means to buy a house 30-40 years ago (sure prices were lower back then but so were salaries) and didn't pull the trigger for whatever reason, it's a lost opportunity.

Life is full of these.

I should have bought stock at $14/share and Wal-Mart stock at $19/share but didn't (my wife still reminds me of that!).

I should have gone on to post-graduate school for a PhD but really didn't interest me much at the time.

I should have take a certain job opportunity some years ago but didn't and that decision lead to 4 years of pure Hell!

The wreckage of decisions and choice litter the sides of the road of life. Nothing we can do about it living a linear existence. And even if we could go back and make different decisions, sure it would have changed our lives and possible solved certain problems, but a whole new set of never-imagine problems may have arisen to take the place of the old problems.

With regard to the hypothetical person in the question above, at the risk of sounding cold, I don't see anything that can be done for them. Nor should it. They made their decision long ago for whatever reason. Holding out hope that somehow, someway in their later years a miracle will happen and they can now afford to buy (and operate!) a house is unrealistic, unless they win the lottery.

Home ownership may be the American dream but it isn't a given right that everyone will own a house. It's the attempt to have made the dream a right that lead straight to the real estate bubble and crash and the resulting historic record number of foreclosures we are still seeing today (as of writing this anyway).

Whether you accept Chaos Theory or The Butterfly Effect or some other life guidance philosophy, the decisions you make or not make today can have major repercussions on your life in years to come.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step.

Tread gently for it is my dreams you are walking on.

September 3, 2009

Another Year Past, But Far From Forgotten! (September 11th Tribute)

September 11, 2009 marks 8 years since the murderous terrorist attacks on America that claimed nearly 3,000 civilian lives in a matter of minutes. My memory of that day will forever be etched into my mind. I was there in downtown New York City, working just off Wall Street. Just a scant few blocks from the South WTC tower. The while thing unfolded in front of me like a surreal movie.

But this article is not about me.

It's about them: The men and women who were murdered in cold blood on 9/11.

  • It is about remembering their lives and the cruel circumstances of their deaths.

  • It is about remembering the brave heroes of Flight 93 who stood up for themselves and showed what a true free American is.

  • It is about the men and women of the American military (all branches) that have fought and died since then to stop any further attacks from happening.

  • And it is about the men and woman who have done countless missions and activities layered in classification and secrecy we will never know about but have also stopped major death and destruction from being wrought on America and Americans.

In 2009, September 11 falls on a Friday.

As you go about your weekend activities having fun and being with your friends & family, please take a moment and remember the 3,000 American civilians who did not go home on 9/11/01 to their families and friends. Remember those men and women whose lives were stolen from them by Islamic religious zealots (yes I said it! If you don't like that, screw off!) who took pleasure and delight in casually putting out the lives of unarmed, undefended civilians.

And remember the heroic men and women of the American military who have volunteered their lives to protect you and me and out families, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. No comic book character could ever be more "super" than the American soldier.

Do not let the images and video of that day fade into just a few pages in some history books!

God Bless America!