America’s Love Affair with Debt: Mortgages, Credit Cards, and Student Loans

Recently I spoke with a man whose salary had been drastically reduced due to a realignment of corporate priorities. He’d always made a good living and provided well for his family, but along the way had acquired quite a bit of debt on credit cards and had chosen to buy a bigger house while keeping his “starter home” as a rental. The credit cards instead of being paid off ended up being converted to home equity debt.

Now he’s faced with foreclosure on the bigger house because he’s upside down and can no longer afford the payments on his reduced salary.  He’s moved back into his “starter home” and is looking for debt relief with little to no savings or retirement put back.

Sadly this is not an uncommon predicament over the past 20 years. The availability of credit has fueled economic growth and ironically recession during this time period. Financial innovations like the debit card, credit cards, student loans, car loans, and mortgages create easy access to money and to debt. If there is a thing you want, then there is a way to finance it. And not only is this behavior generally accepted it is nearly universally encouraged by banks, Credit Card companies, CPAs, and by financial advisers.

The mortgage interest deduction is often cited as a reason to acquire a mortgage, but for someone with a $1200/month principal and interest payment on their $250,000 mortgage, they will pay nearly $10,000 in interest a year, which assuming a number of variables might lead to a tax savings of say around $1200, which could be easily realized by buying a smaller home, or renting.  Take it from the guy facing foreclosure, it is much easier to exit a lease than to sell a home for less than you owe.  For prospective homeowners, I often use a $5,000 annual figure for annual upkeep, occasional major repair, emergency, contingency and renovations.  And where does that money usually come from?  Not from savings.  Usually from a credit account of some sort.  If you are going from renting to buying, you want to go to a smaller monthly payment (including property taxes and insurance) to account for the things a landlord would normally foot the bill for.

I occasionally run across people who say they pay their credit cards in full every month, but these people are like unicorns, rarely seen and possessing magical powers.  Most Americans acquire debt because of their cash flows, unanticipated expenses, increased spending, and a lack of saving.  The biggest mistake consumers make is thinking that they should pay off debt before saving.  Saving must happen religiously despite debt level or it will never amount to anything, especially with the way Americans acquire debt.  The cash flows example is a good illustration. Many  corporate payrolls are on a 2-week payout, but most consumer bills are due on a monthly basis.  The companies trying to sell this pay schedule will say that you have 2 months out of the year where you get an extra paycheck, but the truth is that a 2 week rotation means that you can never adequately plan for income and expenses because of the timing of when monthly bills come due and when 2-week paychecks hit.  Managing these types of cash flows is a difficult task for the average consumer.  The only way my family manages it is through a complex borrowing and spending that is occasionally paid down by bonuses or savings.

But even people with a monthly or bi-monthly paycheck encounter expenses they cannot foresee.  Unanticipated expenses happen every day:  auto accident, medical emergency, death in the family, home repair, etc.   Even with savings, many still choose to put those expenses on credit cards for convenience, for points, or to preserve savings. Even anticipated expenses not properly prepared for can add to debt or wipe out savings: tuition, family trip, down payment, home renovation, etc.  The want that masquerades as a need is often the culprit of increasing debt.  Many people feel obligated to a certain standard of living and keeping up with the Joneses leads to unnecessary debt.

This generation of Americans, for good or ill, doesn’t keep a check register and the number of monthly transactions for an average household continues to increase.  This is in part due to the proliferation and ease of electronic payments.  Instead of managing off of cash on hand, consumers use a debit card, Paypal, or a credit card, and are encouraged to spend beyond their means by various overdraft programs or generous credit limits.  Some of this is the gradual evolution of our standard of living.  We thought we were saving money by cutting our cable package and land line years ago, only to find that expense replaced by our smart phone bill and streaming services.  If you can imagine though there are households that pay for a land line, have a bloated cable subscription and also have a smart phone bill as well as home internet.  The progress of increasing bills is gradual and if consumers don’t occasionally take stock small increases in monthly household bills can lead to crippling debt.  This is true not just of our luxuries, but of the essential bills as well.  Home gas costs fluctuate seasonally and year to year.  Home and Auto insurance premiums will tend to gradually rise year over year as well.  Unless you have ruined your credit, our economy makes it quite easy and attractive to spend beyond your means.

Nearly 20 years free of grad school, my wife still pays student loans, and again it is not worth the interest deduction on taxes, nor is it indicative of her current income.  It is difficult to make a direct connection from work to my college degree.  There are definitely aspects of my education that are priceless to me, but it is difficult to equate the cost of college with the monetary benefits of the salary I now enjoy.  How should that investment pay off and was it worth it?  I hope that question is more in the forefront of parents minds as they anticipate sending their kids off to spend 4+ years finding themselves.  Dear Mom & Dad, I’m still looking 20 years later.  Whether there is a direct correlation between education and success, most adults will acquire some form of debt from their education, whether that is in the form or credit cards, student loans or other lending avenues.  I applaud people who seek a graduate level or beyond education that has a clear path to employment or at least strong prospects, but would caution against financing too much of that education.  I also think it is reasonable to take on a relatively small amount of debt for specialized technical training or for a trade that again has good job prospects or should lead to a certain level of income.  However, a 4-year BA or BS should not accrue $100,000 in debt to go work an entry level job at a retail store or restaurant.

We are nearly ten years removed from the last Great Recession caused by a loosening of credit standards and acquisition of debt and seem to have learned little from our past mistakes.  Debts must be paid or calamity ensues.  Your mortgage company will not let you miss payments indefinitely before you lose your home.  We have just seen tax reform pass that will increase government debt.  It does so by promising lower taxes and greater economic growth, but it begs the question in 2017 “what is wrong with modest economic growth, low inflation, and low unemployment?”  The answer is that there is nothing wrong with the economy, but we continue to reward corporate excess by giving corporations more money.  And yes, my 401k is up now, but I still remember 2001-2003 and 2008-2011.

For my friend at the beginning of this piece, he could have avoided his difficulties entirely by staying in the more modest home, which would have allowed him to more effectively live within his means and not acquire as much credit card debt, and maybe along the way would have been able to put more back into some sort of savings.  Ultimately what I would like to see is a greater understanding of consumer power and choice.  I would like to see consumers consider savings not as a luxury, but as a necessity, and I would like to see more consumers choose to live more modestly and conservatively within their means.  It still really bothers me how easily people throw away the largest portion of their income on a roof supported by a few sticks.  I get indignant about it.  “That’s MY money!!!” I say.  And I wish more people saw it that way.

Wealth Footprint or The True Cost of Your Wealth

Although the phrase “Carbon Footprint” is not as en vogue as it once was it is still part of the vernacular of our age.  Reading this article this morning about how 82% of wealth created in 2017 was pocketed by 1% of the population led me to think about wealth entitlement in a new way as a “wealth footprint.”  For those unfamiliar with wealth entitlement, it is similar to the type of criticism people on welfare receive for taking advantage of available programs.  Entitlement the way we define it today means that someone feels they have an inherent right to a certain privilege or treatment.  I think of wealth entitlement as something most get born into, much like poverty, and because they have known no other life, the very wealthy feel entitled to their wealth.

I have covered before that there is an illusion that hard work creates wealth.  Certainly the opposite could be said that great wealth is often created passively through investment or ownership or by getting others to work for you at wages far below what you yourself would expect.  This is not to say that many of the wealthiest class have never worked hard, but that a state of hard work is not necessary to increase wealth.

But there is a class of people who feel entitled to their wealth and why shouldn’t they?Wealth wields a greater amount of power than the poor, and so our laws continue to create an environment for the extremely wealthy to become wealthier and increasingly for the less wealthy to be parted with their wealth.

Now a carbon footprint helps us trace the cost of being a consumer, how what we buy creates pollution, how we treat our trash, use our water and examines many aspects of our life to create a personal environmental impact statement.  This way of thinking has caused many people to change their habits and seek to reduce their carbon footprint.

We can treat wealth this way as well and paint not just the environmental impact of acquiring wealth, but rather the point I am more interested in this discussion is the human impact.  What is the necessary human component to create capital?  How does accepting a high level of wealth impact those that are responsible and responsive to your wealth?

Take a fast food restaurant for example.  In a reasonable size town, let’s say that it makes $1 Million in total revenues, and that after expenses, nets a respectable $200,000.  Wages for this particular restaurant are around $300,000 outside of the owner who will pull in that $200K and an additional officer compensation of $50K.  From the start, he makes almost as much as all of his employees combined.  Now there may be a couple managers here making $40-60K annually, but the rest are low wage workers making $8-10/hr.

With that illustration, the owner has accepted that from his highest paid worker, he’s going to make at least 4 times that.  And from his lowest paid employee at least 10 times what they make.  With this example, I’m modifying slightly from a real example, but this is not far off the mark.  Restaurants are difficult businesses to run, with crazy hours and require continuous injection for capital improvements, dealing with turnover, and is certainly not an example of extreme wealth.  And in this example, the owner works 40-60 hours a week in the restaurant, which is not always the case with restaurant owners.

The point I’m trying to make that regardless of the sacrifice and hours the owner puts in, he values his work far above what he values his workers.  The low wage and middle wage employees are necessary for him to make his income.  The case only becomes more extreme the more wealth is created.

A local regional CEO made $4 Million in total compensation and his entry level people come in making $12-15/hr.  That’s over 130 times what his lowest level employee makes.  Even his middle managers make less than 2% of what he does.  We can argue about merit, experience, hard work all we want, but in order to make that level of wealth the fundamental thing you must do is to accept that many other people’s contributions are worth less than your own.  Their hard work is worth less than your own, that you deserve to make 130 times more than your lowest wage employee.  Maybe that’s the ego required to have that kind of success, and I wouldn’t know.

Unless you mistake me, I do not advocate for a mandated egalitarian society.  I do not want a governed pure socialist state.  I merely point out the growing inequities between the lowest class and the highest.  So there is a solution to the so-called welfare state that the truly wealthy could amongst their echelon declare an end to.  Pay your employees a living wage.  What labor unions and the labor movement have advocated for before is for people to make a wage that gives them access to reasonable housing, benefits and a standard of living that allows for some upward mobility.

I think the problem that usually rears its head when discussing a living wage is most are enamored with the illusion that hard work produces wealth, and so we get this idea that the wealthy work harder than the poor.  Then we have wealth entitlement where, understandably, the very wealthy see no reason to part with any of their wealth because they are entitled to it.  It should be theirs for no other reason than they have it or could get it.

That Undercover Boss show I think did a good job helping CEOs learn about their employees, because it is easy to be removed and insulated when you have great wealth.  More revealing shows and news and HR reports can help with the human cost of wealth.  I hope that if I ever accumulate great wealth that I am able to pay it back down the line and create opportunities for others to share in that wealth.

Looking further down the line at your own wealth footprint I invite you to think first about your wages or pay however that is accumulated.  If you have an employer, coworkers, own a company, and have customers, they are all part of that footprint.  Consider the manufacturer of a product.  From the owners or shareholders, to the employees, to the suppliers and their employees, on down to the raw materials, all are part of that wealth footprint.  Look down that line and pay attention to what your own wealth costs in terms of the quality of life for others.

In seeing your own footprint and the human cost of it, there may not be anything you can do to make it equitable, but in becoming aware, the opportunity for action will follow.  Maybe next time a living wage standard is proposed it seems a little more reasonable.  Maybe when you see a Bangladeshi person seeking refugee status, the conditions they live and work in may change how you feel about immigration.

It is difficult to face the human cost of living our first world standard of living, but with it comes compassion and the opportunity for change.  Shared prosperity creates a better world for us all.

The Empire Snokes Back


I could go on and on and on and that’s because Star Wars means so much to me as a Gen-X adult, as a sci-fi fan, and as a writer and critical thinker.  I realize I am critical.  It is not bad to have high expectations.  Our entire country if not our world would benefit from having higher expectations. This installment feels like they are trying to do the unexpected, that they are trying really hard to surprise the audience above all else.  In doing so, they lose the opportunity to have some really satisfying resolutions with Leia and Luke, with Rey and Kylo, even with Poe and Finn.  There are some opportunities to mirror the originals without being too derivative that were missed. I don’t hate the movie, but like so many films these days I wanted it to be better than it was. And maybe it’s a lesson for filmmakers that maybe the best stories are new ones, where there are fewer expectations.

Let the past die!  Kill it!

I didn’t love Force Awakens with its ridiculous planet-sized Death Star because it is too similar to the originals.  Each archetype is set up that way.  The orphan on the desert planet.  The new Darth Vader.  The new Emperor.  The new Grand Moff Tarkin.  Kylo killing his Dad was the big departure and sets up a pattern that is not fulfilled in the second movie with Super Leia’s miraculous survival.  It is amazing that Hux makes it to the second movie. His character pales compared to the urbane and sinister Tarkin.  A New Hope and Empire were not afraid to kill off generals or remove them from the chain of command. Empire is where Swamp Yoda trains Luke.  In this movie we have a reluctant Luke who fails to train Rey.

It speaks to the great love I have for Star Wars that I can remember most everything from a single viewing.  I almost don’t need to watch it again to remember all the ways this movie missed the mark.

The entire movie is a slow car chase.

We begin with an escape from a planet and the slowest bomb run in the history of the rebellion. Poe Dameron does things with an X-Wing Luke only dreamed of, but despite his pod racing skills, the X-Wing is not deemed a robust enough ship for the task.  I mean, it was good enough for the Death Star’s ray-shielded port, but obviously not for the Dreadnought.  The bombing itself is pretty laughable and is supposed to be an emotionally charged moment for Rose’s sister. This set up is so we can later feel some sort of connection to Rose. It is also a setup for Poe to learn not to be such a hot-shot fly-boy (this comes up a few times lest we miss the message).

We never get a satisfactory explanation for why the First Order can track ships in light speed or at all for that matter. Vader once let a ship go to track it to the rebel base, but no rational explanation here.  I mean there is a moment where Finn and Rose have a techno-babble-jinx moment, but it is lost on the rest of us.  The long slow chase is the anchor the plot is dragging throughout the whole movie.  We almost expect some kind of mirroring of Empire and it felt like Crait was the mirror image of Hoth, but instead was at the end of the movie, and for me that’s where the film should have started.  The rebels are being hunted and make a last stand at Crait only to escape and spread hope across the galaxy.  Rey could have gone to train and find Luke.  Poe and Finn could have had a side adventure separate from the rest of the fleet, and they could have all ended up on Monaco, the casino planet, where Poe has an old buddy that will help them that turns out to be Finn’s father.  Poe gets frozen in carbonite, Finn loses a hand and Bob’s your uncle.  But instead…

Maz Kanata takes a pointless phone call

…during a fire fight to set up the most pointless part of the movie.  She tells them to go to a far-off casino-planet to find a hacker with a flower button. This is a stretch at best and instead of finding who they’re looking for, Rose and Finn end up in prison with a criminal who has just been conveniently biding his time until he felt like picking the lock. I don’t know who these Monaco rent-a-cops are but they do a lousy job keeping people imprisoned.  Pro tip:  it helps if you take their lock picks away.

In their escape they get to free the enslaved human-faced horses of Monaco and tear up the city. This leads to BB-8 and Benicio Del Toro rescuing Finn and Rose.  This entire vignette is pointless except to justify the CGI budget and maybe a level of the video game in development.  It is also supposed to develop the Rose character, but while I like Rose we’ve already got Finn, and he isn’t growing meaningfully as a character.  I like Rose as a person, but not as an integral character.  She was pushed into the story and there’s never any real emotional connection.  At 2 1/2 hours, there is still too much story trying to be told.  The pacing is what bothered me in the first movie where Poe and Finn quickly and frenetically bond in the tie fighter during their escape.  It is a similarly paced and forced bonding with Finn and Rose.

Remember A New Hope where Luke at first doesn’t like Han much because he’s so confident about his ship.  Han doesn’t give much credit to hokey religions and ancient weapons.  Han is reluctant to rescue the princess until Luke tells him about a reward.

Han’s better nature is slowly drawn out of him as the movie goes on. 

It is arguably the best character development of that first film.  A man with a price on his head, a smuggler who only looks out for himself, finds people that really need him where his life can actually make a difference and in the end he comes through for them and from this a great friendship is forged.  Leia doesn’t like Han much either or Chewie, but they are forced to confront some difficult situations together and quickly form a bond.  There are a number of other great moments that prove these characters’ love and loyalty for each other over and over and over again.

This to me is the greatest shortcoming of all of the films afterwards.  The writers are so busy trying to come up with unexpected twists and beautiful tableaux that they neglect the relationships of the characters to one another and the experiences that they share.

In the meantime, Kylo is zeroing in on the rebel command ship and Mommy Dearest but hesitates. Here is the first disagreeable and unexpected twist as a couple other tie-fighters breach the bridge and Leia gets sucked into the vacuum of space. Now, maybe Star Lord and Gamorra can survive this because of their superpowers and alien DNA, but…

Leia using the Force to fly thru space after being knocked unconscious by being sucked out into the vacuum of space is a HUGE stretch.

If she’s that powerful, she’s been seriously holding back.

We know that Carrie Fisher is gone and here at least is a fitting way for her character to move on. She dies, but not at the hands of her son.  Kylo’s hesitation leaves him a glimmer of humanity and makes his claims about destroying the past ring false. Leia dead but not at his hands leaves Kylo with doubt about his darker nature.  We know by the end of the movie that Kylo knows Leia is still alive.  He senses a presence he hasn’t felt since…she was blown up and should have died.  Now, I have no problem with Leia being powerful with the Force, but be powerful all along.  Don’t make it this big hidden thing.  This is his Mom, Luke’s sister.  They both would have to know she was that strong.  And if she is, then why send him to Luke in the first place?

Instead we are left with Leia in a coma whereupon command falls to LAURA Dern Dern Dern, LAURA Dern Dern Dern, LAURA Der-ern Dern Dern Dern-ee-Dern [to the tune of Jurassic Park].

Her hair is purple so you know that things are about to go from neutral to punk rock city!

This detour-in-command seems to only serve the purpose of frustrating Poe Dameron. Knocking Dameron down a peg seems to be a driving force in the movie and I’m still trying to figure out why. Poe seems like he has just about the same impetuousness as a young Luke Skywalker, and the same brash confidence of a young Han Solo. So maybe it’s okay that he learns a valuable lesson in leadership, but it takes away from the rest of the story and is one of too many subplots to track.

Meanwhile Finn and Rose miraculously get on board the bigger First Order ship but PLOT TWIST FACE PUNCH! their plan is dashed, they get captured and sold out by Benicio del Toro, whereupon–you guessed it–Captain Phasma appears out of nowhere!  WHAT?!?! Phasma is another useless subplot shoehorned in at the last minute. Why does she wear a silver suit? What is her interest in Finn? Why do we care to see her eye through the helmet before she dies? Oh and I’ll buy that Finn may have had battle training even though he was a janitor, but how is he better than Phasma who has earned enough distinction to get to wear a silver stormtrooper suit?  The fight and conflict is over quickly and I’m left wondering why this particular subplot was at all necessary.

All of this happens as Laura Dern despite discouraging Poe from grand gestures makes a grand gesture that stops the command ship, but doesn’t absolutely destroy it, because then how would our cast of characters survive to the next movie?  Also, how can we have this ship destroyed and still have the First Order attack Crait right after the rebels get there?  I will at least say that the First Order had plenty of time to plan on the 18-hour car chase to Crait, so maybe they’re able to salvage enough of their attack squad, including the giant jet intake that is supposed to batter the gates of this old base.

The car chase is almost completely implausible because I don’t buy that the ship can only go so fast without jumping to light speed and continue to outpace the big ship.  They have other resources and I’m sure they could have deployed additional ships out of light speed from other parts of the galaxy.  I also don’t buy them running out of fuel.

Never in all of the Star Wars movies has anyone run out of gas. 

Hyperdrive malfunction?  Sure. Car won’t start?  Every morning with the Millenium Falcon.  But running out of gas is so…so…anticlimactic.

Rey finds Luke but Luke don’t want to train her now. This is what we’ve been waiting two years for.  This is the scene we are waiting to finish after the first film, and it starts out well.  The twist works.  Luke wants to end the Jedi.  He doesn’t want to train anyone else.  When he finally does agree to train Rey, they find a tree with books in it and a hole in the island. When Rey goes down she gets to see herself in an endless mirror line. And if that’s symbolic of something it is far too deep for me.  Too deep?  Get it? Ha.

What would a modern-day Star Wars movie be without its own Jar Jar Binks?  In this installment the role is played partially by sea creature teat milk, the fish-headed maids of the island, and the Porgs. It infuriates me that Disney will sell the crap out of the Porgs, but they serve absolutely no purpose except to be cute and marketable.  Poor Chewie was denied a good Porg sandwich. It would have been at least humorous to have a subtitled Chewbacca extolling the virtues of Porg Cuisine:  “They’s all kind of ways to make Porg:  Barbecue Porg, pulled Porg, Porg Chops, Porg sautee, etc.”

We get The “he said/she said” routine from Luke and Ben on what went down when Kylo went bad. But regardless he went bad and instead of confronting him head on like Kenobi did to Vader, Luke projects his image across the galaxy.  I mean not only does he project, but he projects from deep in a cavern he’s never seen to sit with Leia and walk around before having a final battle with his nephew.  This is really NBD, and it is unclear to me if Luke chooses to die or if he’s just plum tuckered out.  So Luke commits suicide I guess. Pretty disappointed that he projects an image across space to decide to give it up at the end.  Here is another opportunity missed to parallel the originals and give closure to the Skywalker character by having him go out like Obi Wan.

Does it bother anyone else that all the evil main characters are on the same ship?  I mean at the end of Jedi we get the Emperor and Vader on the Death Star, but the Death Star was built up throughout the whole movie as being unstoppable.  What’s the saying, “Those who fail to learn their history are doomed to repeat it?”  So Kylo brings Rey to Snoke, but instead of trying to turn Rey, he basically toys with her and reveals that he’s been in control all along.  Snoke seems too woke to fall for the old saber in the side trick.  Again a missed opportunity to parallel the originals and a way to show Snoke’s power by subverting Kylo’s attempt at subterfuge.  This particular scene makes Snoke seem like a pretty cheap villain.  We never find out why he’s hideously disfigured.  We never find out why he likes sparkly yellow robes.  So many questions.  And then Kylo and Rey have to fight the Teenage Mutant Ninja Sith with their various laser weapons.  The thing I’m getting out of all these movies is that armor is more hindrance than help.

So after they win that fight, they struggle for Luke’s old light-saber breaking it in two.  Why are there no ploys here, Kylo?  No side sabers, no lasers controlled in mid air.  Also, in the memories Luke and Kylo have, Luke’s saber is green and this one is blue.  Pick a color already!

“Strike me down and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” 

I don’t know about Force ghosts, but if Yoda is out there, so is Anakin and Obi Wan, and if they can all call down lightning, I don’t know why there’s even a battle going on.  I get why Yoda finally passes on and why Obi Wan goes, but the death of Luke baffles me.  If he wasn’t going to actually be there fighting Kylo, killing him off doesn’t make any sense to me.

Rey’s parents.  So this is the question on so many minds after the Force Awakens, but in this episode it was-too put it lightly-a disappointing revelation.  It is a question with no significance.  And that is fine if she comes from nothing, much like Anakin, but why build it up and why answer it in such an unsatisfying manner?  Maybe again this is a misdirect and someone’s fan theory will prove true.  But if this is the truth, don’t build it up and pull the rug out from under us.  Have the truth be relevant and inform the growth of the character.

Who are your main good guy characters?  Rey, Finn, Poe.  Much like Leia, Luke, Han.  In Empire Leia and Han stuck together, but in Last Jedi the main characters all go their separate ways.  Finn is the character that despite all the on-screen time fails to develop in any meaningful way, and I think it is because he goes off on his own adventure.  The story in the originals was always strongest when the main 3 were together moving the story forward.  There was also that Leia/Han tension we got throughout A New Hope and Empire which carried beautifully through to Return of the Jedi.  Han despite his bravado proved to be a very dedicated and loyal friend going out after Luke in the freezing cold on Hoth, coming to his rescue in the Death Star trench, and offering to step aside in Return of the Jedi until he finds out he’s Leia’s brother.  The friendship of those three was so important in the originals and you just don’t feel the same bond in Force Awakens.  It’s obvious that Finn and Rey feel a bond, but it is left aside for the entire movie until the very end.  Poe, the character that was probably supposed to die in the first movie could have been a good addition to that close friendship, but he isn’t given enough time to develop a bond with Finn or Rey.  Finn and Poe had a good bit of buddy cop stuff in the first film, but get one scene where Finn leaks water to re-establish their friendship.

And this would have served the overarching message of the film that we need to save life instead of dying for glory.  But instead the three central characters are dragged to separate corners of the universe and get little screen time together.  This film was a missed opportunity to redeem the Force Awakens’ shortcomings, but instead leaves episode VII as the better story.

For everyone that liked it or loved it, I’m glad for you.  I will say that if Rian Johnson and all the folks involved in this had done a better job, you would have still loved it and I would have, too.  Nevertheless, I will still watch them, because a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away anything was and still is possible.

Proposed Tax Reform Bill Analysis

In banking I have spent the better part of the last 18 years analyzing business and personal tax returns, taking classes and obtaining certificates that qualify me to understand different business entities, tax structures, sources and uses of income and legal tax avoidance strategies.  I am not a CPA and not qualified to give tax advice, but I can recommend what kinds of things you might discuss with your qualified tax adviser.

The first and most exciting part of the Trump Tax Plan is a reduction in corporate tax rates from 35% to 20%, a permanent 15% reduction to your corporate tax rate.  That sounds awesome, right?  But who does this benefit?

According to the Brookings Institute “Of the 26 million businesses in 2014, 95 percent were pass-throughs, while only 5 percent were C-corporations.”  C-Corps are made up primarily of publicly traded companies with a board of directors and shareholders.  If they report more than $75,000 in net profit (after expenses and deductions), they are subject to some of the highest income tax rates out there around 35%.

However, 95% of US businesses are pass-through businesses and are not subject to the corporate rate and will not benefit from a corporate income tax reduction.  Pass-throughs are taxed on the portion of income they “pass through” to owners, partners, or shareholders personal income tax returns.

There is a proposal to cap the amount of tax allowed on pass through income at 25%.  Under the proposed plan the personal bracket above 25% would apply to individuals making more than $200,000 and married couples making more than $260,000.  So again capping pass through income taxes only benefits filers making more than $200,000 at the lowest end of those scenarios.  What makes this harder to get excited about is that certain types of businesses would not qualify for a reduction depending on the interpretation of “service business” (accountants, lawyers, doctors, consultants, etc.).

The second thing I was excited about was the increase in the standard deduction.  Currently married filing jointly is at $12,700, and single at $6350.  Under the proposal, those rates would go to $24,000 married filing jointly and $12,000 for single filers.  This is great news by itself, and something I was really looking forward to.

However, the exemption deduction is proposed to be erased.  Currently the personal exemption reduction is $4050 per exemption claimed.  You can claim yourself, a spouse if filing jointly and any dependent children.  For a family of four, that is $16,200 in deductions they can claim.  For single filers with no children who can now have a $12,000 deduction vs. $6350, they will stand to gain in this aspect.  For that family of four married filing jointly, their $24,000 standard deduction is less than the $28,900 ($12,700 + $16,200) they’d have with the exemption in place.

The idea to moderate this is an increase in the child tax credit.  In this proposal is to increase by $600 from $1,000 to $1600 per child.  This has no effect on the childless single filer, but for single parents could be a net gain.  For a married couple with two kids, this partially closes the gap by adding $1200, but again does not make up for the elimination of the personal exemption deduction.

The other big provision I see is the elimination of the estate tax.  The estate tax is designed to avoid inter-generational accumulation of wealth.  Currently you are only subject to an estate tax if the estate is estimated to be worth over $5.8 million.  There are many ways for the wealthy to avoid this provision through the use of insurance and trusts and careful planning.

Several other deduction eliminations worth covering are student loan interest and medical expenses.  The proposed bill eliminates student loan interest as a deduction.  This seems like a strange provision at a time when student loan debt is at an all-time high.  Perhaps this is meant as a disincentive to borrow for school, but will hit people with the highest levels of student debt the hardest.  The other deduction is the medical expense deduction.  This applies to people who can document they have spent more than 10% of their modified AGI on medical care.  As medical care costs continue to rise this will impact more and more Americans.  I’m trying to see this as an incentive not to use medical services, but someone with a major surgery, or chronic condition, cancer or any acute need will probably fall into this category, and will miss this deduction.

These are the high points that I can find in my research from the various sources linked here including the Brookings Institute, Business Insider, the Bradford Tax Institute, and a few others including news sources like Fox News, CNBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, and Forbes.  If you want to take a crack at analysis, here’s the full text of the bill in it’s latest proposed form.

What I see is a reduction in taxes for single filers, high income filers and large corporations.  It appears to penalize families with 2 or more children and people with high student debt or medical expenses that are in the middle class.

Blade Runner: 2049 — Life…Finds a Way…




In reference to the title of this post, every movie would be better for having at least a small role for Jeff Goldblum to play, but he has nothing to do with Blade Runner or this review ; )  Also, for a film based on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” there is a dearth of sheep (All I’m sayin’).

The ending.  I get what the writers are trying to do, but one of the reasons that the original Blade Runner remained so loved in scifi circles is because of its ambiguous ending.  Ridley Scott doesn’t spoon feed you the message or give away every motivation.  It’s the mystery and the questions that keep it interesting.  So yes, the end of Blade Runner 2049 neatly ties up the story of Deckard and the Replicants (which is a pretty cool sounding band name).  He finds his long lost daughter who has an illness and is essential to the success of the whole Wallace conglomeration.  K, or Joe, whatever we want to call him dies in a very human gesture having discovered that his “real” memory is not his own and the most “human” thing he can do is die in the pursuit of a just cause.

“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” –excerpted from Catcher in the Rye.  But from the first scene, you can tell this is a morality play of noble causes.

The writers were thinking this was the twist and hammered home the point that it is our actions and not a question of our birth that make us human.  Killing off K and giving the Deckard character a nice little gift-wrapped happy ending was too easy for me and an otherwise gorgeous and well thought-out mystery, left me unsatisfied, but not in a good way.  There were too many loose ends, no cliffhanger, almost if after 3 hours they had run out of time to tell the story and had to wrap things up.

The frayed loose ends:

Deckard asks Luv, “Where are we going?”  “Home,” she replies.  Where is home?  Obviously not to where Wallace holds court.  Breeding replicants, a factory, a secret underground of older replicants, a lab where they can extract Deckard’s older model secrets?  We never get to find out because K blasts them out of the air.

Wallace.  The fact that he has no eyes (or no sight) might reveal that he is a replicant himself.  Is he in control or is Luv?  We watch the obviously emotional scene as he clinically inspects and casually kills a new model replicant indicating that they lack what they need to be truly human.  Is his motivation megalomania or is it something deeper?  Is he motivated by the survival of humanity and creating a humanity that can survive?  His deeper motivations are left unexplored and in the end for me he merely functions as a Tyrell Corp surrogate.

K or Joe.  “Just call me Joe?  Like you were one of those stupid 22-year old girls with no last name.”–from You’ve Got Mail.  One’s a letter, the other’s a short name.  “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” –Shakespeare.  Here’s a missed opportunity if they wanted to call him anything other than K.  The “Joe” name should have been motivated by his wish for humanity, a book, a movie, or a real person he identifies with and wishes he were, but in this story it is a name plucked from thin air at random and carries no emotional weight to me.

Ana.  aka “the Unsatisfying story.”  Here was a missed opportunity to tell a better story.  The genetic records indicating that there were two children in my mind meant that K and Ana were twins, which to me better aligned with the death in childbirth mystery.   Replicant or not, a woman giving birth to twins has a greater chance of complication and is more consistent with an emergency C-section.  Now, I get hiding Ana in plain sight and making her think that she is genetically defective, but if that is the end of the story, then she is just a plot point and not a real character.  Especially considering if she were the person in those memories that K remembers, then she has already endured a great deal of hardship outside of her biodome.  I don’t get keeping her in a bubble if she had already survived to be a teenager.  I still contend they were twins and she has no genetic deficiency.  The other mystery here is if we assume that Ana implanted her own real memory into K, she would have done so directly and not as a random implant.  If she had either directly implanted her memory to K or that the memory was accessible to many replicants, then he was a great deal younger than her and not her twin.  I just don’t buy that this type of memory would be allowed to be implanted into replicants when the idea is to keep them compliant and provide them artificial memories that keep them settled.  And again, the lack of exploration of the Ana character leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

The Replicant Underground.  Isn’t it the Blade Runner’s job to retire these folks?  If so, they aren’t doing a very good job as evidenced by Freysa and her Replicant Army.

Enough grousing.  Let’s get on to the good:

A Beautiful World.  The haunting dystopia is amazingly well done visually speaking.  None of the special effects feel overdone to me.  It is enough for this movie to be a work of art if nothing else.  The crowded urban landscapes in the rain (always in the rain) with the incessant holograms advertising for primal needs and wants.  It paints a reality that can only satisfy the basest needs.  The eerie and desolate landscapes outside of the city, from the abandoned city, to the junkyard, to the biosphere farm where nothing grows.  It is a hard world to live in, and feels as if everyone from the government, to the companies, to the underground wants you to be stupid, ignorant and unhappy.

The well done mystery.  From the discovery of the coffin, 2049 is set up as a detective story and that is what engages me in the first part of the story.  The hard thing to do with a mystery is to solve it in a way that leaves the audience satisfied, that answers the questions.  The other way to do it is to seemingly solve the mystery, but leave some answers vaguely unsatisfying.  This is arguably what gave the original Blade Runner such a cult following.  Now, if Ridley Scott hadn’t gone one to direct some of the most popular scifi of the past 30-40 years,  or if Harrison Ford had not gone on to be such a superstar actor, we might never have seen this sequel.  For all my nitpicking complaints, I really enjoyed watching K follow each thread of the mystery.

Luv and Joi.  I will take Luv over Joi every day of the week.  I think there is some deeper meaning behind their names and some subtext we are meant to get out of comparing these two characters.  When Luv cries over the death of a Replicant, it is difficult now to determine whether she feels controlled by Wallace and laments the death of a Replicant, or she shares his grief and feeling that they still cannot find the secret that allows Replicants to procreate.  Would we then call them Procreants?  Joi we see as a special companion to K.  She provides him joy and maybe something akin to love, but nothing real or permanent.  When he sees her giant naked body as just another program, I think it hammers home for K, that she is just a program doing what a program does, and makes him wonder “am I doing the same thing?  Following my programming.”

What is humanity? The movie like its predecessor asks this question very well.  What is real vs. what is artificial?  What defines our humanity?  Is it procreation, our actions, is it love?  Exploring these questions across an incredible backdrop with a mystery in tow makes Blade Runner 2049 one of my favorite movies of the past few years.

The Illusion of Hard Work

“Hard work” is one of the most overused phrases in defining success.  The use of “hard work” to define career and life success shapes our perception about these concepts in politics, community, and friendships.

There are more apt descriptions of work that more accurately describe our relationship with career and achievement:  challenging work, working diligently, working long hours, negotiating, working in the sun lifting heavy things, precision work, writing a thesis.  These can all be examples of “hard work.”  All work can be challenging be it mowing the lawn, cleaning house, to filling out a complicated spreadsheet or reviewing lines of code.

We can all put in long hours, but in my opinion longer hours are fruitless without a purpose that justifies them.  Putting food on the table and a roof overhead are certainly good reasons to work hard, but the person working fast food 40 hours a week may put more time and effort than an office employee working on reports or sales and for a lot less money.

It is usually the argument that “I work hard, so I deserve more” I get that strikes a dissonant chord with me.  We all work hard at times.  We all have challenging aspects of our jobs, but the amount of money we make is not reliant on the amount of work, or the difficulty of the work at least not proportionately.  The amount of money we make is usually reliant on the amount of capital it generates.

Wages can also be reliant on being in a position of authority, but authority is not always derived through hard work or experience.   In fact, I would say that authority is usually derived through nepotism, favoritism, a healthy does of ambition, confidence or in other cases from already being in a position of authority.

“I went to school for six years” is another argument I hear conflating hard work with wage outcome, but the MIS or engineer will almost always make more than an MPA or MSW, often at the same price of education.  So it is not the amount of schooling or the quality of schooling that determines wage outcome.   As many of my peers have discovered a person with a trade or technical skill certification that is in demand can often out-earn a college graduate or master’s degree equivalent.

We justify our lot in life to ourselves in some way whether to justify making a lot of money or why we can never get ahead.  But usually on either side of the income spectrum, it is not the result of or lack of hard work, but a combination of work, motivation, socioeconomic background, education, gender, perception of our work, capital importance of work, contracted price of work, etc.

None of this is to demean those who put forth great effort in their work and who are rewarded for their efforts; rather it is to acknowledge that many do work long hours and work complicated jobs, but that their end results and wage will vary and not always based on their efforts or merit.

Interpreting “Nashville Obsolete” by Dave Rawlings Machine

It’s strange to think I owe a debt of gratitude to the Coen brothers for my musical tastes.  The soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” cemented my musical leanings and has influenced the shows I attend and the albums I buy.  Allison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Dan Tyminski, Emmylou Harris, among other great company were put on my radar.  There are a few others whose family trees (artists they’ve worked with or been in bands with) I follow like the Indigo Girls (their Atlanta influence), Nickel Creek (Chris Thile and the Watson Family) where no matter what iteration of band or related artist, it always promises to be a good show, and good music I like.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to Phil Norman a folk singer of some renown in the greater Blue Ridge/Roanoke Valley for pointing out my first Dave Rawlings show to me.  It was a little more country and folky than I was used to at the time, but the show left me in a state of incredible delight.  Dave in his shows delivers a few covers, collaborations and originals in a beautiful tenor and his signature picking style, with Gillian Welch providing flawless accompanying vocals and guitar; Willie Watson fiddles and guitars while finding room for 3-part harmony and Brittany Haas plays perfect accompanying and solo fiddle.  Paul Kowert of Punch Brothers also plays upright bass with them on occasion.

I’m just beginning to love the new Dave Rawlings’ “Poor David’s Almanack” but wanted to cover my deep love of “Nashville Obsolete” as a masterpiece album of great Southern Americana.  A bit of a mea culpa to start, I have not ever listened all the way thru the track called “The Trip.”  At almost 11 minutes, I have a feeling there is going to be a little too much guitar solo and just haven’t had the patience to let it percolate in my consciousness yet.  Call it the ADHD of the age.  Lyrically “The Trip” helps establish a theme of movement and travel, and lost wandering which permeate the entire album.

The album starts with “the Weekend,” which I think is a great place to start.  It’s ironic to me that someone whose work probably often revolves around the weekend and has a crazy schedule when touring, should sing about the universal longing and almost holy experience of the weekend.  Ever since “Sweet Tooth” I always suspect some sort of drug reference in Dave and Gillian’s songs and “the Weekend” could certainly be interpreted that way, but the great thing about their poetry is they don’t have to spell out the meaning and it is open to interpretation.  I think at its simplest this song is about the infusion of hope we put into a good weekend and how sad we are once it is gone.  This can be said sadly of some relationships as well.  “The good ones never last.”

“Short-Haired Woman Blues” is an aching song about unrequited love.  “Oh, it’s just a game she told me.  I said no, I am reborn.”  The male voice felt the experience more keenly and is heartbroken when the feeling is not returned or when the relationship ends.  He looks back with a tinge of bitterness which he channels into a life lesson about “chasing wild ponies.”  “Don’t go loving short-haired women.  They’re gonna leave you crying, after thinking it was all in fun.”

“Bodysnatchers” is a song about the railroad from the chorus “20 years of lining down the track.”  Dave and Gillian have a fascination with trains and their history; you can pick up references or themes alluding to the train in a lot of their music.  In this case, I believe bodysnatchers is a reference to the sometimes forced labor and indentured servitude that built the railroads, although it also alludes to the barges up the river and Mississippi river queens.  It’s definitely a song about loss, a life spent in labor, often without choice.  I picture a son returning home after a long life of labor and his mother being fiercely protective to make sure he never experiences that life again.

“The Last Pharaoh” proves that Dave & Gillian are students of American history with the reference to “that big Kate Adams” which was a steamer ship on the Mississipi at the turn of the 20th century.  Unlike “Bodysnatchers” we see a different side of the river legacy in a card game.  The narrator is looking for “the last Pharaoh” which may be an allusion to a game called Faro popular in the early 1900s.  Faro is referenced in a lot of popular literature and entertainment of the time.  Natchez is a town along the banks of the Mississippi and King’s Tavern was founded by Richard King in the 18th century, so “lady luck makes the kings, the Natchez kings” could be a direct reference to the King family which was a prominent family in that city and the history of the riverboats benefiting from that commerce and a culture of gambling.  Discounting the possible historical influence it’s a great song about a card game and the pursuit of winning and the gambler’s belief that he can win if he can find the “next high card.”

“Candy” is a good companion song to the popular “Sweet Tooth” from “A Friend of a Friend” and has a delightful simple and repetitive lyric.  Candy in “Sweet Tooth” is a way to talk about drugs and addiction, and I wonder if there is some of that here. “Mama’s got something in her hand,” and “Does someone want a little more” could be read that way, but if we follow the historical theme of the last few songs and the style evocative of earlier folk tunes, I think it may also be an homage to the rampant commercialization of the candy industry in the early 1900s.  Brach’s, Hershey, Reese’s, Mars, all trace their origins to this time period and their success largely has to do with the spread of radio where their jingles and ads proliferated.  Maybe that’s a stretch that a song called Candy could actually be about candy, but it seems that the style of the song and the repetitive lyric signify something more than a person, more than a drug, or a relationship.  It makes me think of old folk tunes playing on the radio in between ads for Hershey bars.

“Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home)” is a song about the traveling artist.  It speaks with a longing for home, knowing that the lure of the road will always pull the narrator on despite the struggles of what the open road brings.  “And pity those who never felt inspiration’s cold wet nose.  It wakes you up out in the ditch where you’re tumbling round where the four winds blow.”  There’s alcoholism, poverty, drug abuse, suicide, but “what those devils called your greatest sin, Gabriel and I called your great escape.”  At the end of the song there is a reference to St. James Infirmary which may allude to the Louis Armstrong “St. James Infirmary Blues” which would make sense because both songs deal with the nature of a traveling life, the temptations and the consequences, and Armstrong’s song is from the time period that Dave & Gillian seem to reference throughout.

The theme of movement is thick in this album, whether by train or riverboat.  Loss is felt keenly here, lost love, loss of home, loss of time, and there is a conscious or unconscious age to the material through the style of music, reference to times long gone, and the influence you hear in the music which is a legacy of the great musicians past.  And finally what’s in the album title?  Nashville Obsolete seems to be a challenge, a question, and maybe a self-afflicted label for Dave and company.

Dave and Gillian are masters of their craft and I think he sums it up best when asked how to interpret his work, “…I can talk about the language we work in with Gillian and our personal mythology, but it’s like asking James Joyce why he’s obsessed with certain themes in his books. I’m sure he can tell you why he’s interested in them, but at the deepest and truest level, none of us have any idea.” (excerpted from No Depression interview)

A Defenders Review:  Emotional Tension is Missing (Spoilers Galore)

The Hand as a criminal organization is pretty rad in Daredevil and Iron Fist, but in Defenders they suck pretty hard and are bad cannon fodder for the newly assembled team.

Sigourney Weaver – I’m not using her name in the show, because as we find out, she has many names.  Outside of a scene where she subdues Elektra, she is the least scary villain we’ve seen in the Hell’s Kitchen MCU.  It is a waste of her talent, because she could have been so much more ruthless and insidious.  There is no superpower or threat that backs up her authority.

The team-up — Okay, we get that Matt struggles with actually enjoying the DD life and wants nothing more than to cling to normalcy.  Jessica doesn’t really play well with others.  How they all end up at Midland Circle at the same time is not very well scripted except in how Jessica gets there.  Danny is a little too impulsive going on his own.  Murdock tailing Jessica I can kind of get behind, but Luke randomly showing up is the biggest stretch.  This needed more work because it is the crucial plot point in the story.

The fingers of the Hand-

these behind-the-scenes ruthless immortals are a joke in Defenders.  Bukido does not seem like he belongs in the same room.  He seems like he should be a lower tier bad guy, and it’s sad that it takes Misty, Colleen, and Claire to take him out, when it really should be a Colleen Wing badassery moment.  

Guy that speaks Japanese-I honestly don’t remember his name because he is so unmemorable except that he likes to speak a different language often and disembowel rare bears.  Nobu was ten times better than this guy.

Madame Gao- Is the best villain in this whole group and is wasted playing second fiddle to Ripley (Sigourney).  The unsanswerable seems to be how is Gao this powerful force-wielding old lady, but everyone else is just good at karate.  My hope is that she survives to play behind the scenes bad guy again.  Gao is the only one-even underutilized as she is-that seems like she should be leading the bad guys.

Remember the tension between her and Kingpin, the way she plays up her age and speaking a different language that she uses intermediaries and such.  Gao deserved to have better characterization more loyal to her DD and Iron Fist portrayals.

Misty Knight and the NYPD precinct – Anyone else feel like sidelining all of the super friends’ friends was just asking to put them in harm’s way?  Instead they were safe in the precinct.  No stealthy ninjas to capture them for the end game.  And Misty has a wasted role as well.  There is no detective work in her role, no revelations she stumbles across.  Her only function in the entire show is to ask questions and not get any answers.  

To be fair, the actress did the best with what she was given, but the Misty character serves no purpose other than to wander around and get threatened with her job repeatedly.  It would have been better if she could have taken a hard line with any of the superfriends, or been fired, or gone rogue.  She spent 8 episodes doing nothing.  That is a waste.

Karen Page-another wasted opportunity is Karen Page safe and sound as a reporter who can’t report and stowed away in the NYPD.  The writers missed a golden opportunity to pit Matt’s feelings for Karen against his feelings for Elektra.  She is never in danger and so there is no emotional tension for the Daredevil character.  Karen also doesn’t go rogue for the story of a lifetime.  She’s out on the shelf and it’s not a good place for her to be.

Trish Talk – Trish and Karen have a brief moment talking, but otherwise have their journalistic instincts thoroughly repressed and neither encounter any threat or danger.  There is none of that tenacity or search for truth they have in DD and Jessica Jones.  That role is given to Jessica herself who is the only curious person of the bunch.

Mister White Hat- This is the least memorable of the Hand.  There is virtually no tie to the Harlem vibe we felt in Luke Cage or his potential African influence, no sense of his power, and in that regard I felt like Defenders was nearly entirely whitewashed.  This is the guy that is in charge of Africa and is supposed to have some powers, but is pretty easily subdued (off camera I might add) and killed.  There is no character development.  At least with Gao and Bukido we have seen where they came from or at least what they do in other shows.  What’s sad to me is he is never given a chance to be anything but a token black villain with a very minor role.  And the white hat gimmick has no sense of mystery or threat.  He casts it aside at the earliest opportunity.

Other missed opportunities:

So we’re just going to let Claire ignore that Luke has basically hooked up with half the female cast.  He’s such a nice guy he’s given a pass.  There’s no tension there.  A perfect brief scene would be them getting it on and Luke being a little too rough and Claire getting a little banged up.  Then Luke could be like, “I really like Claire, but at least I don’t have to worry about hurting Jessica physically.” No?

No tension with Matt and Claire, no tension between Jessica and Claire, no jealousy between Elektra and Karen.  Colleen Wing is continually thrust into a supporting role instead of closer to the action.  Also last time I looked Claire was training with Wing and had some cool hooky claw things, but we see very little action from her. 

There was that scene where Jessica is talking to the architect’s wife and the grandparents are let in upstairs.  This seemed like a perfect opportunity for Sigourney or another of the Hand to pretend to pay their respects and for Jessica to get into a tense staring match.

Pep Talk #1: Procrastinate

I am a notorious procrastinator.  It is a sign of my intelligence, or at least that is what I’ve decided to believe.  I don’t even know if anyone knows I’m notorious, which I guess is the definition of notoriety.  Maybe I’m not well known for it.  But I do it.  You do, too.

So let’s get it out of the way, then, shall we?  Maybe a quick run-down of procrastination habits will help get it out of the way and we can return to being productive.  Of course, there is social media.  If I don’t like, share, and comment on at least a dozen posts several times a day, people will think I’m dead.  And then of course, I must overshare how my day is going, what my kid did, the picture of the food I created, maybe some pictures of my family at their absolute best.  I probably need to read a book, some articles, and watch some TV before I do any work.  I am so multi-talented, I should probably find time to practice guitar, and you know what, I have a regular job I should probably be getting to, so all that procrastination has led to zero productivity.

I have no time.  This is one of the biggest reasons we never get started on the dream project.  If you’re like me, you think of time in hour increments.  If I don’t have a spare hour, I don’t even think about getting to the gym, sitting down to write, or anything else on my coulda-shoulda-woulda list.  But I think if we can get comfortable with 5 minute increments, we can get in the habit of taking advantage of those discrete intervals and setting mini-goals that are attainable in that time frame.

A goal or purpose should consume you and fill your mind with a determination.   I think in many cases, this purpose must be manufactured and built slowly, like a setting a fire in a rain forest.  It can be done, but you have to be meticulous and intentional about building the right environment for success to thrive.

BHAG.  Our BNI area director, James Barber, talks about having a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG).  And I’m going to borrow that term and call it my Sasquatch (Scary Audacious Super Quest Universe at the Crap Handler…okay I’m still working on my acronym).  Maybe yeti would be shorter.  I’m trying to think of something big and hairy to tie to the BHAG.  But anyway, you have to come up with something larger than life, something that requires a naivete or foolishness, a confidence, to say that you’re going to do.  It’s not bragging, because you haven’t done it yet, but if you say it and you can continue to say it until it consumes your every thought and continues to daily motivate you to make progress toward that goal, then that is what matters.

It’s not enough to say what you want, you have to say what you are, what you will accomplish.  There can be no doubt in the statement.  You must say it loud and proud.

“I am going to be an international bestselling fantasy and scifi writer whose books change hearts and minds through the clever humor and mystery contained therein.”

There you go.  Let’s do this!

Or…maybe it can wait…

Remember This…If You Can.

I watched a Ted Talk on memory a few months back and it has embedded itself, working through my subconscious mind until now.  Joshua Foer is an independent journalist who became interested in writing about a group of people who participated in the US Memory Championships.  He became so infatuated with the topic that he trained himself in the techniques and won the Championship himself in 2006.

If you are a fan of the BBC production, Sherlock, then you may be familiar with the Mind Palace, a memorization technique.  The idea of the Mind Palace has been around since the early Greek philosophers as a concept called the Method of Loci (no, not the Norse trickster god).  It is essentially associating something you want to remember with a place or an image.  To remember multiple things you build a Memory Palace or a house with things in it that you then associate with what you want to remember.

Alex Mullen has recently surpassed Foer’s accomplishments to be the 2-time and current US Memory Champ.  He runs a non-profit that works to disseminate and encourage these types of techniques.  On his website, one of his intro videos shows you how to memorize a list of 20-words.  He does so by walking around his house and inside and associates each word with a different item, and gives a description of the image that he would picture.

I am just at the tip of the iceberg on memory training.  His initial video seemed unnecessarily complicated, but he’s the memory champ, not me.  I took the same list and told a story-kind of like my dreams go where I make a decision and am in a completely different environment, almost like a Rube Goldberg device where one seemingly unrelated thing leads to the next.  Telling the story of those words in a visual way, once I had composed the story (maybe 5 minutes), I was able to fully recall all 20 words.  Amazingly, an hour later, after unrelated work, starting the story, I was able to recall the 20 words again.

I have a lot to learn about memorization, but in a remarkably short time I was able to memorize something fairly random that I had no real reason to memorize other than for the novelty of it.