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.

April 27, 2010

Debt From Tony Soprano?

Recently on a personal finance blog/article site the owner posted an article, like so many do these days, about personal debt and the impact on your life.

Big deal. Nothing new to see here – move along.

But the author went on to express the same concept about personal debt that you probably have heard about the national debt. That is, the person or entity who you owe money to controls your life.

Or at least can tell you what to do with your property and you have no control.

MasterPo disagrees strongly.

National debt aside, when it comes to personal debt – in the example discussed on that site, a mortgage – the lender really has very little day-to-day say in what you can or can not do with the property purchased by the loan.

If you borrowed money from someone like Tony Soprano, that would be a different matter.

But when it come to a loan from a bank or other financial entity the terms of what the bank requires you the borrower to do (or not do) is clearly spelled out in the terms of the loan. If you don't like the terms – walk away!

MasterPo grants the bank may (almost certainly will) require you as the borrower to maintain a certain level of insurance on the property during the period of the loan as well as a certain level of maintenance, legal use, etc. But that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone since the lender wants to ensure if the borrower defaults they (the lender) can recoup the balance of the loan (or as close thereof) from the value of the property.

By contrast, MasterPo has never heard of a bank demanding you repaint your house, you must get your car's oil changed, etc.

The author of the article on the other website stood strong to their point and offered as proof of their thesis the bank coming in and foreclosing on homes when the borrowers didn't pay.

This was MasterPo's response: Duh!

What in Heaven's name did the author think was going to happened if the borrower defaulted on the loan?!

If the author said banks were coming to people's homes out of the blue, people who were well paid to date on their mortgages, and tossing them out just because the bank wanted to now that would be another issue. But that wasn't what the author said. Apparently the author believes being required to live up to your commitment to repay a debt is being "owned" by the lender.

MasterPo believes this is yet another example of the "entitlement" thinking, that a loan or mortgage is just an expectation and the property purchased with the funds is somehow disconnected from the person or entity the funds were obtained from. In other words, spending someone else's money as if it was your own and not recognizing the difference.

The old joke "The bank owns the house, they just let me live here" does have a grain of truth. But a bank is a lending institution, not a gifting organization. However reviled you may think of banks they loan money you get isn't yours and someone is expected repayment, the lack of which has consequences.

Grow up.

April 23, 2010

Smart Work, Not Hard Work

"Hard work" and "work hard" are two grossly over used and over played phrases.

It is true the often the real meat & potatoes of work is boring, routine, and just plain laborious. But it still has to get done and someone has to do it. And the reality is that everyone must start somewhere in their career. Very very few (in spite of current popular myth) start at the top.

Toil without end is no great improvement. Year after year hanging your head against the wall (metaphorically of course) isn't improvement. And more over, even a mule will eventually learn it isn't getting you anywhere.

Hard work can not be avoided. But smart work is the ultimate goal.

"Work smarter, not harder" is another tired out and over used phrase. But it does still have merit.
The difficulty is knowing the difference between hard work and smart work, finding the smart work, and recognizing it when you do find it. The task isn't simple. As with any opportunity it rarely announces itself with trumpet fan fair. And there are many false leads that initially may look like "smart" work but turn out are not.

Similarly, it isn't only the work itself but the environment you work in that determines hard vs. smart. You must work in an industry and job environment that lends itself to recognizing hard work and rewarding it. You may be the best mailman in the entire Postal Service. But the USPS isn't well known for advancement and promotion, nor for rewarding creative thinking and embracing new ideas (what do you expect from a government agency?!).

As with work, finding the right environment for smart work isn't easy. You really don't know the mentality of the organization until you are in it. Even then in organizations purportedly open to new ideas and encouraging of individual growth, sooooooooooooo much also depends on the department you're in and even on your specific manager.

MasterPo has all too well seen good people held down and eventually lost because bad management just didn't want to recognize their hard work. Meanwhile different managers rewarded and promoted others just for doing little more than the jobs they are supposed to do! Regrettably there is little way to know for sure until you are in if it's a smart work or just hard work environment.

But there is one thing for sure: Although there is always a need for hard work, hard work by itself never gets you anywhere.

April 20, 2010

You Can't Handle the Truth!

For over a year now everybody who is anybody (or wanting to be somebody) have been tripping over themselves trying to find the villain of the country's current financial problems. The latest suspect is Alan Greenspan as he's been hauled in front of a Congressional committee to explain why he didn't see it coming in his days as the Fed chief.

On April 13, 2010 Yahoo Finance's Tech Ticker ran a story "The Most Ridiculous Excuse Ever: "No One Saw The Crisis Coming" talking about yet again why didn't anyone in authority see the crisis coming and sound the alarm.

Reality Check!

While MasterPo certainly isn't defending Greenspan et al let's be real.

First, remember waaaaay back on December 5, 1996 when Greenspan stated his now infamous "irrational exuberance" description of the stock market?
Remember how the market lurched down for days and he was forced to make a hasty public adjustment to his comments?
Remember how Greenspan was blamed for nearly causing a market crash?!

Well now consider what would have happened if Greenspan and others of similar authority and notoriety had come out publicly with a stern warning about the mortgages, the markets, low interest rates, borrowing, etc etc.

Just imagine the market turmoil and financial shake up such comments would have caused!
And once again he and others would be blamed but now for having caused a problem where one didn't (as yet) exist.

The phrase "Damned if you, damned if you don't" clearly applies here.

Or, to quote actor Jack Nicholson "You can't handle the truth!"

April 16, 2010

Fear of Revolution (or, It's 1789 All Over Again?)


Sometimes one has to wonder if the world stepped into a time machine and stepped out in the late 60's. Not hard to imagine with the current crew in D.C.

Over the last couple of months there has been a low and slowly building grumble by a few on the extremes about – MasterPo can hardly believe this is being said – a second American revolution!

For sure, there have always been extremists and radicals who want to overthrow the government. Just about every nation has these people. Nothing new. And at any point their propaganda states how the legitimate government has sold out the citizens, is evil and corrupt etc etc etc. and the people need to rise up and take the nation back. All the same drum beat. Still nothing new.

Bad economic times is the engine these people need to grow and advance their agenda. And with the current administration there is no lack of fuel for their engine.

In better economic times the vast majority of people would dismiss these revolutionaries as kooks and loonies. Rightfully so. But people who are fearful, even in a panic, will latch on to anyone with a firm message and a stated action plan no matter how extreme.

That is the danger we face now.

So much so that while many conservative commentators are foaming at the mouth with regards to the Obama administration's policies and actions they all are universally going out of their way to stress peaceful change via the voting booth and non-violent protest. So far the message is being heard and accepted, thankfully.

By now readers are probably wonder what 1789 has to do with revolution. The American revolution happened in 1776. But 1789 is when the French revolution began. And that is the frightening problem we face today.

On Yahoo Finance's Tech Ticker site a Yahoo user recently posted this comment in reply to an article:

Stella - Monday April 12, 2010 09:21AM EDT

The German people couldn't stop it, the Italians couldn't and the American people, who helped stopped Fascism 60 years ago are now under the spell of the same thugs and philosophy. The French had it right with the guillotine, the blood letting didn't stop until all of the heads rolled baby. Nothing has changed, the next crash of self masturbation by Wall Street will bring down the house of debt cards once and for all. Americans were warned by the history books, they choose to be wimps.

(Disclosure: This quote has been slightly edited to correct misspellings and punctuation.)

The American evolution was against the British king and government. The fighting was with the British military. Very very few British non-military citizens were specifically targeted for attack once open fighting began.

But not so with the French revolution. Once the French killed the King and Queen along with their court and administration, the attention of the mob turned to the non-government citizens who the great masses of the populous deemed to also be guilty of exploitation. This included affluent and successful businessmen and merchants (and often their families!), bankers and lenders, ship owners, factory owners…in short, pretty much everyone who was deemed what today we would refer to as "the rich".

That's frightening!

See the section of the above quote that is in bold. Add to that at every twist and turn the Obama administration along with Pelosi, Reid, Dodd, Frank et al (all themselves very wealthy and affluent by anyone's measure!) have demonized and vilified bankers, insurance people, investors and investment people, business owners etc as being the cause of America's ills.

Combine this with the polling that 75% of American believe it is possible the American economy could collapse (a recent Foxnews/Opinion Dynamics poll) and the concept of "blood letting" and "heads rolling" seems all to literal and real!

Another financial meltdown, mortgage crisis, some world event etc. and panic can easily ensue.
People who are panicked will do anything. They will direct their fears into anger and direct that anger at who they have always been told is the cause of their problems – "the rich".

MasterPo isn't just talking about smashing bank windows or ransacking offices. That happens anyway whenever there is a WTO meeting.

Imagine an American version of Kristallnacht (Germany, November 9-10, 1938) except this time directed at anyone perceived as being "the rich". Not hard to imagine, is it?

And, just as in 1938 when Jews were labeled as being the source of Germany's ills (social and economic), today "the rich" are equally being blamed for America's social and economic problems.

History repeats itself.

Pray this chapter of history doesn't.

April 13, 2010

Too Little Caring? Too Little Charity?

Recently on a popular personal finance and lifestyles blog the author posted a curious article.
In the article she discussed the "duty" we have of charity. Taking quotes from scripture (this isn't a religious blog by any means) she made the case for how "we all" have to help the less fortunate.

Conceptually MasterPo agrees.

But seriously: Does anyone really think the problems of our nation and society are because we don't do enough to help others? Does anyone really think that if we only did more, spent more, gave more even just half the national and social ills would be cured?

MasterPo doesn't.

From the federal government down to the local counties/towns/villages there literally thousands of programs, organizations and agencies for helping. All of which are funded by taxes on the rest of the population.

Have been in existence for decades. Anyone see marked improvements in society?
Then add in all the private, non-profit (yea right!) and religious groups and organizations that also provide help.

With all of this no one can seriously make the claim that we, as a nation and society, are not helping!

When is it enough?

And also of equal importance: When will the self-righteous stop trying to beat the rest of us into thinking the problem is not the people on the assistance but the rest of us for not giving even more?!

MasterPo is all for voluntary charity. MasterPo's faith holds as it's charitable principle that all are required to provide a bit of charity for no matter how bad off you think you are someone in the community is even worse off. However, there is also the requirement of the receiver of the assistance to do all they can to get off the assistance as soon as possible and avoid needing assistance again in the future. And there is no requirement to hurt yourself or your family in order to give assistance to someone else.

The fault lays not in our stars but in ourselves.

April 10, 2010

Career Goals

Recently MasterPo's employer implemented a TAP (not to be confused with TAPS) – Talent Assessment Process. This replaced the old APA – Annual Performance Appraisal. In short, it all boils down to another kind of annual performance review.

No biggie. Every company has something like it.

However, one questions/entry on the new TAP is a stickler for MasterPo: "Future Career or Educational Goals – Indicate career or educational goals for the next 3-5 years."

This one has MasterPo stumped.

The answer isn't so clear cut.

MasterPo would really like to say "Keep my job!" but that probably isn't what management is looking for.

Other answers like:

"Have my manager's job"
"Date the admin"
"Win the lottery"
"Quit my job to presume my dream of being a writer/photographer/artist but keep my healthcare via Obamacare"

These answers are probably not exactly what the company has in mind either.

The common wisdom in white collar professional work is that you're always supposed to be striving for higher goals and professional betterment through training and education. Certainly if there was a position MasterPo was longing for or a formal training or education course that really excited MasterPo that would be put down.

However, at this stage of MasterPo's life there really isn't any.

MasterPo does not want the manager's position (too much BS regardless of what ever he is being paid). And while getting another degree (MasterPo already has 2 college degrees) or certification (MasterPo has 2 active and 3 inactive financial certifications) would be awesome, family and personal commitments just don't provide the time MasterPo would need.

Such is the reality of the middle-aged, mid-level white collar professional.

So how to answer the question…

It has to be answered. The reality of business politics is such that it can't be left blank. Looks bad. Looks like you have no motivation or ambition or dedication.

20 years ago it would have been easy to answer that question, saying to achieve this-or-that level in project management or applications development. But over the passage of time MasterPo already achieved that – and more.

Over the years MasterPo has read in various career articles and websites the [supposed] dilemma of businesses of trying to keep good employees who don't really want any further advancement. In other words, dangling the carrot of promotion motivates some people but for those who like what they do (or at least prefer what they have now to the alternatives) promotion isn't a motivating factor anymore. Seems MasterPo is now in that same boat.

So what should MasterPo put down in that spot on the TAP form?

Still searching…

April 7, 2010


Faithful adherence to a sovereign, government, leader, cause, etc.”
(loyalty. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved April 01, 2010, from website:

It is one of the words that is waaaaaaaay too much tossed around in business and work today.

Loyalty to your manager.
Loyalty to your employer.
Loyalty to your industry.
Even loyalty to your desk!

Sounds almost like some kind of blood oath!

"Loyalty" as a word embodies grandeur something regal. Perhaps that is why it is used so much?
Or perhaps it is used to try to instill a sense of professionalism in people. Then again, if you have to demand "loyalty" to get people to be professional your recruiting practices are questionable at the very least!

But for whatever reason "loyalty" is far more overblown than is called for.

As an employee you show your "loyalty" every day you come to work when you're scheduled to come.
You show "loyalty" when you arrive at work on time.
You show your "loyalty" by trying your best to do your job.
You show your "loyalty" by not purposely (or casually either) saying or doing things that undermine the goals and reputation of your department/manager/employer/etc.

You don't have to sign your name in blood to show your "loyalty" to your work!

April 4, 2010

The Politics of Star Trek

It's no secret that MasterPo is an avid Trekker (that's the proper way to refer to Star Trek fans, not Trekkies). No, MasterPo doesn't have a gold uniform or a pair of rubber pointed ears (but does have a Tribble!). And in so being such a Trekker, it is true to some extent that many parallels to real-life can shown in the stories. Art imitates life. But there are also some very curious and unique concepts too, from a human relations point of view, that are worthy of discussion.

It occurs to MasterPo there is something else very interesting about the whole air of Starships and being a Starship Captain: A significant amount of autonomy.

From the original series (TOS) through The Next Generation (TNG), Deep Space Nine (DS9), Voyager (Voyager), and even the semi-prequel of Enterprise (Enterprise) as well as all the movies it is clear that Star Fleet Command, presumably with the blessing of the Federation, gives Starship captains a wide latitude of power and authority. With rare exception captains like Kirk and Piccard seek guidance from their senior commanders. Instead they seem to have the authority to make decisions that not only impact their own ship and crew but even set some level of policy and direction for Star Fleet and the Federation.

In a great many episodes we see Captain Kirk or Captain Piccard tell the leaders of other worlds that Star Fleet will do this or that for them, make commitments the Federation will carry out later, provide assistance and advise to other peoples, or negotiate agreements and deal in behalf of the Federation. And all (seemingly) without needing to consult or seek approval from senior Star Fleet officers. It is apparent that a Starship Captain is a very high ranking position in the galaxy!

At the same time, it appears Star Fleet almost always supports with little question the decisions that Starship Captains make. With rare exception we have seen senior Star Fleet officers berate Starship Captains for the decisions they made (one very notable exception was when Admiral Niche chewed out Capt. Piccard for letting the Borg Hue go free without giving him a computer virus that would have destroyed the Borg. She was right for doing that!). Although we do know Starship Captains have to make detailed reports of their actions (in the episode "A Piece of the Action" Spock questions Capt. Kirk for how he's going to convince Star Fleet that each year a Starship is to be sent to the planet to collect Star Fleet's part of the profit! – though it does seem to be said more tongue-in-cheek).

Clearly someone in such a high position as a Starship Captain could do some very serious damage if left unchecked by their seniors. Captain Garth is an example of one possible out come of a Starship Captain who goes "rouge".

Supposedly Star Fleet training is soooooooo strict and Starship Captains are sooooooo carefully screened that it could be argued they have such trust in the Captains not to set themselves up as pirates or tyrants. It is also clear that Starship crews are similarly very carefully trained and picked to be a check-and-balance against a Captain who goes rogue (like Capt. Garth's crew or the Enterprise crew when Dr. Janice Lester took over Capt. Kirk's body and wanted to execute Dr. McCoy and Scotty for mutiny).

Certainly part of the reason Starship Captains have so much autonomy is the shear distances Starships operate away from Earth. Even with subspace communication a Captain can't be calling Star Fleet on Earth all the time for instructions. The network of Star Bases seems to headed up by a senior Star Fleet officer of Commodore rank at least and they seem to be the "supervisors" of Starships out in the field. Even so, it seemed rare for such to advise Starship Captains on a daily basis.

It is very comforting to know the deep honor and commitment Starship Captains have live up to the expectations of Star Fleet and the Federation while operating largely independently most of the time.

Trust is the key.

Wish we could emulate such deep honor and trust in our leaders today.

Live long and prosper.