Paula Deen: ‘Murrica’s Latest Scapegoat

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Credit: whowhatwhy.com

I’ve been watching this Paula Deen thing with great interest.  (Here’s a link to the information that sparked this whole controversy to start with.  Scroll down for the deposition in which she admits to using the N-word and laughing at or making race-based jokes.)

This country is getting stupid.  Why do we allow such obvious double-standards to exist?  

Paula Deen is the newest whipping boy (girl. person?) for those who outraged (absolutely outraged) that anyone, ever, has used derogatory words, or laughed at off-color jokes.  I wish we could learn to take a step back and recognize the complete and total hypocrisy going on here.  The same people who are absolutely outraged that this woman (who grew up in the south, no less) could possibly use that language, could possibly sink to that level of depravity, readily pay their hard earned money to see live shows performed by the likes of Chris Rock, Ron White, Daniel Tosh, or any other comedian.  Good lord, has anyone seen Lisa Lampanelli’s comedy recently?  (Depending on your taste in comedy, of course), these people are successful and hilarious comedians — and every on of them has told off-color jokes, which nearly everyone in the room laughed out loud at.  

We have a long history of overreacting to stupid things (reference the post I wrote about those ADIDAS Shackle Shoes), but it doesn’t make it right.  We look at stupid, myopic crap like this Paul Deen “scandal” and completely ignore all of the theft and corruption which goes on in our government every single day.  OPEN YOUR EYES, PEOPLE!  We have an insolvent Social Security system, another set of wars we should not have gotten involved in to start with, and still no cure for cancer…yet we are worried about what some lady who puts on a cooking show might or might not have said at various points in her life.  Is there really nothing else productive left to do during our days but bag on somebody who may or may not be (even just a little) racist?  

To quote the great Jack Nicholson: “You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties,” the fact is that we’re all a little racist.  You are.  Yes, you too. We of civilized society all do our best to focus our energies on getting things done together and coexisting in a nice, tidy fashion, and sure, most of us are able to train ourselves to think of people in terms of merit instead of skin color.  But racism extends far deeper in our society than simply skin color.  Some stereotypes are mostly true (or were at one time), and if they weren’t true nobody would laugh at jokes about them.  It’s a simple fact that that human nature tells us to seek that which is familiar and comfortable to us — and living near, or interacting with, or doing business with those who are like you is a pleasurable thing for us.  There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just the way it is.  

We should learn to separate “racism” from “discrimination,” because I think right now those two words are interchangeable in our culture.  Nobody wants to be discriminated against, but everybody is a little racist.  It is quite a quandary, wouldn’t you say?  If we want to be civilized, we would do well to learn that words have actual meanings.  It seems to me like this is one double standard that affects us all, whether we want it to or not.

So instead of spending precious time and energy demonizing someone publicly for doing the same things we ourselves do in one form or another, I urge you to look inward, ignore the hype, and focus on achieving success in your own life.  At the very least, some people enter your life for no other reason than to serve as a cautionary tale.  Have a great week!

“You Just Gotta Get That Nugget…”

I have made a habit of asking my students, “What do you plan to do to become wealthy?”  

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The inner loop is the Rat Race; the outer border is where the rich people play.

I usually get blank stares, especially from the new ones.  They’re thinking, “Uhhh….I thought being an aircraft mechanic would do it, that’s why I’m here.”  I can see it on their faces, they’ve never been told anything else before.  I usually follow up by telling them that while they’ll make a decent living as an aircraft mechanic, no, they won’t become rich by doing it.  The main thrust is to jar their attention into what I tell them next, which is about Robert Kiyosaki’s book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.”  (Click the link to get to the book.)  They’re usually all ears at that point.

I read this book first about five years ago, and I about fell off the couch.  I was sitting around wondering what rich people do that I don’t (because it was obvious my career wasn’t paying me like I’d hoped), and this book gave me the answer:  I keep buying crap!

Enter Robert Kiyosaki’s brainchild, “Cashflow 101.”  Cashflow 101 is a board game, and it ain’t cheap.  I asked for it for Christmas, and my siblings chided me for being weird.  (I don’t suppose I blame them, given our backgrounds.)  What’s so great about a $100 board game, you might ask?  The answer is that it goes miles to teach you first-hand how rich people think of money, and it does this by literally forcing you manage a profit-and-loss statement as you play the game.  A prime example is your home:  You probably think that your home (if you own it) is an asset to you, right?  Well, according to rich people, your home is a liability because it costs you money each month.  The only point in time where you can view it as an asset is when it sells for more than you paid for it.  Which, as we’ve seen over the past five years in particular, is not always the case.  You notice this fact when, each month on your statement, you lose money by paying bills on the home.  

Additionally, instead of buying businesses, stocks, or real estate for investment purposes, we tend to spend our money on “Doodads,” or effectively, crap we don’t need.  Extra stuff.  A night at the movies.  A trip to Hawaii.  iPads, cell phones, and other electronics.  

The point of the game is to illustrate to us why we are so averse to doing things with our money that will compound our money for us, and instead stick to the safe act of buying Doodads (crap) each month.  The fact is, when I played this game for the first time, I happened to be alone (I was so excited to play it, I couldn’t wait for Alli to come home to Tucson from Chicago at the time).  It took me — no joke — three hours to “Get out of the rat race.”  And I had no opponent.  The reason is because I was always taught to “be safe” with my money, which basically means “Pay all your bills, blow a little of what’s left on extras.”  Guess what: Playing that way only left me in the Rat Race hour after hour, making no progress at all.  The key is to eventually learn that you need to do something different.

How like life, right?  That’s what we are faced with in this country, and it doesn’t have to be that way.  The way to get out of the Rat Race is to find a way to get that first little nugget of cash that you can invest in something bigger:  A duplex to rent out, a small business (like a carwash or self-storage unit) to manage, or figure out a way to get some cash from the stock market or a home sale.  Then, take that nugget, and scale it up.  Eventually, you’ll have more passive income (read: cash you didn’t lift a finger for) than bills.  Read that again:  Eventually you will have more money coming in than bills going out.  Pretty decent, right?

Trust me, I’ve had this game for a few years now, and it’s worth every penny.   And, if you can’t afford it just yet, you can either find someone who owns it, or find a Meetup Group in your area which plays it — they are all over the place, in nearly every city.  You need to find a way to play this game.  Multiple times.  It will turn every get-your-degree, climb-the-corporate-ladder idea we’ve ever been taught on its head…and that’s a good thing.

(By the way, I’m not a paid shill or anything for the book or the game; they have literally transformed the way I view my finances and my long-term plan, and I wanted you to know about it.)

Do you have this game?  Do you have thoughts on this book?  Let me know when you’ll be in the DC area, and you’re welcome by our place for a couple of bottles of wine, a cigar, and Cashflow 101.  (Click the link for an overview of the game.  You’ll be glad you did.)

Fans And Causes

I was talking recently with one of my best friends about the power of sports — how they draw people together, how great the inequities are that athletes are paid so much to do accomplish something of (in the grand scheme of things) so little meaning…Image

One thing that I mentioned while pontificating on what my Dad used to call “The opiate of the masses” was that I, too, get riled up when my team(s) win something great.  It’s silly and I know it, because whatever just happened on TV (or live, if I’m feeling flush with cash I don’t want) isn’t going to bring us peace, or fix the economy, or cure cancer.  I also realize that everyone needs a cause, because humanity is nothing without hope.  

There is a cause for everything with an -ism: feminism, racism, ageism…hell the word itself — activism — is an -ism.  There are fans for everything, too — sports fans, political fans, music fans, book fans, woodworking fans, car fans, plane fans, gardening fans, exercise fans…for every single thing that more than one person could do together (and many that they can’t), there are fans.  

Imagine for a second…what would the world be like if people would take other people and be fans of them?  You know — root for them, contribute time and money to them, push them to perform better and make better decisions?  Hold them accountable?  Think about what would happen if you were the biggest fan of every member in your family.  If their success was your cause.  If you knew more stats about them than about any sports game.  If you fought as hard in discussions and with your money for them as you do for any sports team or politician.

Can you imagine what a world like that would be like?

“Weddings Are Always More Fun…”

Who knows the last half of the headline’s sentence?

I suppose it would depend upon the demographics of my constituency to know the answer; for anyone who isn’t married already, the sentiment goes, “Weddings are always more fun…when they aren’t your own.”Image

It might sound crass, or dismissive of your spouse to say that — after all, who could talk down about the (supposed) happiest day of their lives??  

Of course, everyone’s wedding day experience is a little different, but Alli and I have just rounded 4 years together, and we just returned from a wonderful family wedding.  if you have executed a wedding celebration in America in the last two or three decades, you know a few things:  

1.)  Costs never seem to drop.  You need to secure a church (if you will use one), and you need to make sure that wherever you decide to have the reception is open that day, too.  You also need to book some kind of transportation (limos or party buses, usually), a photographer and/or videographer, a DJ, and to rent or buy tuxes and dresses for everyone in the wedding party.  (Clothing costs are often left to the wedding party participants, but still, their costs never seem to go down.)  My wife and I spent nearly $500 on wedding invitations alone.  

2.)  Seating courtesies at the reception go a long way.  It’s silly, really, but the fact is that you’ll have as many personalities attending your wedding as you will details to worry about when planning it.  College kids all want to be seated nearest the bar, while anyone who is an alcoholic should be nowhere within sight of it; the single people will enjoy being seated together, siblings who get along will enjoy the time together, siblings who don’t will enjoy the time apart, and we can’t sit Uncle Tommy anywhere near Aunt Gina, even though they’ve been divorced for 15 years.  It’s a big balancing act, and it is made all the more complicated because every single person in attendance is emotionally invested in either the bride or the groom.  

3.)  The organization factor.  There are a lot of moving parts, and every detail is important and must be attended to.  Everything from where the photographer will meet you for pictures near the lake at a specific time, to making sure someone is in charge of keeping the box with the envelopes from walking off.  Logistically, it’s perfectly doable, but not uncomplicated.  

4.)  One other (relatively minor) thing to consider is everyone’s food preference during dinner — or at the very least, considerations for food allergies or those who are vegetarian or vegan.

There are about a thousand decisions to be made — many of them jointly — and it really becomes a test of how well two (or more) people can work together to get the whole thing done.  There are horror stories abound of bridezillas, crazy mother in-laws, and consummate drama-creators during the planning and having of a wedding, and it is definitely a time when peoples’ true colors and opinions come out.

I feel very lucky to have had a pretty smooth experience with our wedding (zero drama to be had anywhere, and lots of love during the celebration), but it’s almost universal:  Every wedding you attend after your own — the ones where you have no obligation to take pictures, rent a tux, or do anything other than give a gift, enjoy everyone’s company, and dance — will make you look at your spouse and go, “Thank God we don’t have to worry about this anymore!” 

Annoyances

ImageI’m not really a fan of spewing hate and vitriol through blog posts, mostly because it’s out there, forever, long after I’ve gone through the 5 Stages Of Grief about whatever it is I’m angry about. 

But today, I wanted to express an annoyance that has been building over at least the last six or seven years.  If I knew how to write code, I’d write an app which uses one, single username and password for every blasted website I need to access.  Okay, maybe two.  Hell, you know what?  I’d be okay with as many as five different combos (accounting for sites that require a password rotation every 3 or 6 months or something).   

Instead, over the course of the last decade, I have enough username/password combos to fill no fewer than 30 lines in an Excel spreadsheet — and yes, that accounts for what was left after I went through and got rid of the combos to sites I don’t need or never use anymore. 

The best part is that, while you are trying to figure out one of the one hundred possible combinations of usernames and passwords from the common ones you use (and after typing in your full email address twenty timesbecause it blanks the screen each time you fail), before you finally do figure out the combo to the lock, some sites will lock you out of your own account.  Then, finally (later on, if I was out) I’ll get to my stupid Excel database of combos, punch the correct one in, and have to “call customer service” or wait a full day or two to get it to let me in. 

Seriously, why is there no better way to do this?  It’s 2013, for God’s sake!   

Anniversaries

ImageToday is the day that my wife and I have been married for four years (yes, in a row).  We’ve even been together for over seven (yes, in a row).  I couldn’t be happier that she and I ever met…we have learned that we’re so great for each other because we’re almost polar opposites.  I mean, polar.  Following are some examples:

–She doesn’t like lasagna.  I’m Italian.

–She sleeps in a hoodie and sweats, even in the summer.  You can guess how I sleep, especially in the summer.

–She is patient.  I can’t even pretend to be, particularly when I’m second in line, behind three lanes of people sitting stopped at a green light.

–She makes quiche on her mornings off.  I’m lucky if I get oatmeal in a bowl.

–During her free time, she watches TV.  A day off when I’m alone, the TV won’t even get turned on (no lie).  

And finally (and most substantially):

–It actually costs her energy to spend time with people.  I, on the other hand, am completely energized by a room full of people I don’t know.

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I Think She Likes The Dog More Than She Lets On…

For all of our differences, though, I’d be so much less fulfilled than I am today, and not even know it.  If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have tasted authentic Mexican food off a RoachCoach in Tucson (three pound burrito for four bucks…best GutBomb I ever had).  If it weren’t for her, I’d have probably only lived in two states (KS and IL), and likely would never have given a second thought to either Arizona or Virginia.  If it weren’t for her, I’d never have met a good chunk of my best friends:  I met a couple of them on my own in Tucson, but nearly everyone I am close friends with now has been a direct result of meeting people she works with!  I’d have never had this trip through the Arizona desert.  I know what it feels like to cram into the Metro after a Cubs/Nats game, holding her hand the entire way as we fight the crowds to get on.  There’s no one else I’d rather kill twenty minutes in a Metro station with while I wait for the next train.  

Our families both (most of them, anyway) live in Chicago, so we do a lot of driving home.  Our talks during those eleven or twelve hours together are epic.  Traveling in general is just more fun when she is by my side.  Also, she helps me get through the winter months, even when I find it hard to.    

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Why Does She Put Up With Me?

She believes in me when I don’t, and I return the favor by having enough hope for the both of us, when she runs out.  Reference the two years she waited to hear about the government job; we went out to celebrate the death of her shot at that job no fewer than three times, and each time we did, she’d hear that she’d advanced to the next stage.  Talk about an emotional roller coaster!

It’s sort of funny to imagine the immature young man I was at 24, when I met her; to contrast that guy with the man I am now would be enough to make anyone wonder how in the hell I got so lucky.  Sometimes, I still don’t know.  But I’m glad I plucked up the courage that day in a hot tub in Buena Vista, Colorado, with the Rockies in the background, and asked her to marry me (for real, this time)…because the truth is, my life up until now would have been so lacking of the most enriching experiences I’ve had so far without her.  It is my best hope that any of you who are reading this are as happily together with someone as I have had the privilege to be.  

Here’s to at least 50 more!

 

Homebuyer Blues: How To Avoid A Terrible Realtor Experience

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Credit: bigworldofbeauty.blogspot.com

About a month ago, my wife called me up while she was at work asking me for some business cards and contact info.  A coworker of hers, Jenny* (*all names are changed), wanted to pass my information along to another person in the office because she heard them mention that they would be looking into buying a home soon.  (In the Interest of full disclosure, Jenny and her husband Jim* have been friends of ours for a few years now.)  Geesh–it’s like the Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon over here!  “So, how’d you meet Jeff?”  “Well, it’s kind of a weird thing…”  Heh.

Flattered as I was, Jenny later told me when we next met that she and Jim had a really terrible experience with their Realtor, and since she couldn’t refer theirs, she wanted to refer me instead.  Always wanting to learn and grow in this business, I asked her why their realtor hadn’t been up to snuff.  These are hard-won lessons sometimes, and I wanted to make sure I was providing the level of service that was opposite of what their guy had been.

“Oh man,” she said, “he didn’t listen to us at all.  It was like we were taking up his time when we had questions, or any time we weren’t out looking at homes.”

Jim chimed in, “He kept taking us to places that were either out of our price range by sixty or eighty grand or dumps that were way under, the places we did like were already under contract when we got there, and it seemed like he could care less about us.  I almost punched him once, I was so angry at him.”

Woah.  At first I thought, “This guy really makes us look bad,” but that was quickly followed by, “This guy makes my job really easy!”  

As we’ve covered before, it’s generally in your best interest to hire a Realtor, but there is an easy way to avoid service like this.  Choosing a Realtor like me is not as roll-of-the-dice as you would expect, where you have to just hope you’ll “get a good one”…it really comes down to three simple things:

First, when you are getting into the process, I want you to treat your Realtor as someone whom you are hiring.  The truth is, you are hiring them as an independent contractor for their services.  Find someone who wants to earn your business, not the commission.  Interview at least three — preferably five — before making your final decision.

ImageSecond, make sure the Realtor you pick is either independently experienced, or backed by a mentor or support team if new.  That’s what I did.  I want to give every one of my clients the most stress-free experience possible.  Being new in the industry, I knew that couldn’t happen until I had a couple of transactions under my belt, but I wasn’t willing to let my first few clients be guinea pigs.  I hired a mentor to help me handle the things I didn’t know or wasn’t prepared for, and it has served me all the better for it.

And finally, pick someone you like.  Pick someone you get good vibes from during the consultation.  Everybody’s personality is different.  It is entirely possible, for example, that two Realtors are equally likable and equally qualified, but their personalities and approaches are different.  One agent might be trying to give you the speediest transaction for the least (or most, if he’s a listing agent) amount of money, and has a plan to do so.  The other agent might spend more time learning the story of how your oldest dog (three dogs ago) lost its hind legs, and that’s how you came to have Fluffy III.  If your personality lends itself to wanting a more intimate Realtor/client relationship, choose number two.  If you are someone who is more focused on wanting results, number one is your best bet.

As a short fourth point, I’ll mention that you can always choose to fire your Realtor if he or she is not performing.  I’ll cover the ins and outs of this in a later post, but just keep in mind that no part of your relationship with this person is forever, unless you want it to be.

I hope this helps ease your mind.  Have a great weekend, and Happy Home Hunting! 

 

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