Archive for December, 2009

Jon Stewart dropped the ball in this interview with Hugh Grant, sheepishly admitting this was his last show before the holidays so he was slacking off. I’m not a huge Hugh fan (and I’m not saying that five times fast), but I think he handled Jon’s unpreparedness rather gracefully. Hugh go, girl!

Let me preface this post by saying I don’t regularly visit antiwar.com, but I found this article on reddit, which so eloquently put into words my frustration with the state of our country right now.

This year, countless friends have heard me complain that people my age would rather update Facebook and Twitter with the monotony of their lives (John ate Lucky Charms this morning! Jane likes to drink coffee! Fan-fucking-tastic.) than attempt to gain even a top-level understanding of our economy, health care system, and general current events.

I’m no expert, but we’re going through some tough times and they’re not going to magically disappear tomorrow. Instead of being encouraged to prepare for them, we have people like the man in this video telling us we should be perfectly content now simply because our toys are better. This made me a little nervous. If these are true reasons to be happy, why do we need outside sources like this video to confirm it? If we should be happy like the video tells us to be (with supporting evidence even!), why aren’t we?

Personally, I love technology and what it does for me. Research and innovation in the tech sector put food in my mouth, a roof over my head, and extra cash in my pocket for the last decade. Not to mention I am more comfortable, I am better informed, and I can maintain stronger long-distance friendships, all thanks to my three lappys and nearly obsolete Sidebrick.

However, the items themselves are not keys to happiness, nor would the astounding achievements in gaming if I cared to take advantage of them. No, these recent additional must-haves don’t make our lives better unless we’re already doing things to make our lives better. That kind of personal responsibility has been put on the back-burner lately. I wouldn’t say that technology is solely to blame, but I don’t think its proliferation and the our rising destitution are mutually exclusive.

To put it bluntly, we have a lot of cool shit to keep ourselves occupied while we let other people make decisions for us. Unemployment is higher than 10 percent, we’re fighting a ridiculous war that has drained our resources, riding a plane now comes with a possible anal-probing… but we have iPhones now, so it’s all good?

I fear that my generation has become one of accepted self-absorption. It seems like most people are cool with working 40 hours a week, collecting their paycheck (which consistently decreases in value as the dollar weakens), and spending the rest of their time amusing themselves to emptiness and regurgitating to their friends, “I’m lucky to have a job!”

No one is lucky to have a job. Your employer hired you because your skills were a better fit for the position than the rest of the candidate pool (or you have incriminating photographs of him boinking his mistress). If you’re self-employed and make a living wage, it’s because you’re good at what you do and people want to pay you for it.

When people say they’re lucky to have a job, I am reminded of the careless efforts of Phil Palios to fight the company-wide contractor pay cut at Microsoft. (I should mention this happened a couple of months after I finished my own contract at Microsoft.) When he realized he was in over his head, he concluded that he was lucky to have a job, making him the #1 contestant on “Missing the Point Completely.”

If he felt he was being wronged, he could have made a production of quitting, and an even bigger production of getting a better (or at least another) job, showing employees that instead of taking a pay cut, they should use the free market to their advantage. But he’s 23, so he did what was easy and rolled over like a good dog, stating exactly these words: “I’m lucky to have a job.” In his defense, so did people much older than him, but at least they weren’t haphazardly grabbing the attention of the masses. I can’t say for sure what I would have done, but I’d certainly weigh the costs and benefits of whichever course of action I chose, which doesn’t have to involve fighting OR taking the situation lying down.

When you resign yourself to believing you are lucky to be working and that you are lucky to have better gadgets than they did 40 years ago, you are setting yourself up to be taken advantage of. I don’t suggest going through life feeling demoralized and upset, but I would like to see people pay attention to what’s happening in the world so we can blow the whistle on greedy corporations and public officials.

You can be informed and still be happy. It seems to me like few people try it because they don’t see the information’s direct effect on their lives. Maybe this has always been a struggle among certain 20- and 30-somethings and my rants are nothing new. Fine. Let’s try caring about something that isn’t going to lead to cheap validation or entertainment. We can still be self-centered, but instead of focusing on acquiring more junk for our day-to-day amusement, we learn to improve our overall quality of life and actually BE happy (no video required).

Here’s to you, Mr. Cafe Open-Mic Night Monopolizer.

After arriving extra early to make sure you get the perfect time slot, you snag that high table right in front of the stage. No matter who’s performing, you’re going to be seen! In fact, you’re not just going to be seen, you’ve got an acoustic guitar slung over your shoulder at all times so when the opportunity presents itself, you’ll be heard too.

If you’re not wandering around trying to hit on girls by showing off your guitar, which you’ve been playing practically since birth, you’re strumming along trying to keep up with the person on stage.

Whether an older gentleman is playing Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” or a younger guy is singing his heart out like John Mayer, you’re playing backup whether they ask for it or not. You might even sing while you play, because hey, every performer likes to hear a guy in the audience making music while they’re onstage making music.

When you’ve sat through almost as much amateur talent as you can stand, your name is called and it’s your time to shine. Finally, a real musician can take the stage!

First, it’s essential that you spend half of your allotted time tuning your guitar. (It was okay for it to be out of tune when you were providing backup for all the performers before you.) Then, dive right into a meandering one-man jam session with no real hooks or passion. Just keep pulling chords out of your ass until eventually the emcee has to cut you off because he’s reminded everyone several times that he’s working from a full list and the cafe is only open until 10.

While the emcee is humbly apologizing to you for having to interrupt, stay right where you are and keep talking over him into the microphone. You’re totally cool with not getting to play your 45 minute solo and want to make that as clear as possible!

Once you’re finally off the stage, you pack up your stuff and clear out like the place was on fire. You promised your deaf neighbors and two aging dogs a late-night performance, and you know they’re waiting. Plus, you need to save your energy for the next Jimmy Page and Robert Plant reunion tour. They may not know it yet, but they’re gonna need your help!

See also: Real American Heroes, 2005 Edition

Finding Your Religion: When the Faith You Grew Up With Has Lost Its Meaning Finding Your Religion: When the Faith You Grew Up With Has Lost Its Meaning by Scotty McLennan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just grabbed it off the bookshelf. It was a regular literary roulette!

A few days later, Dominic saw this book on the table with my stuff and asked, “Are you reading this?”

“Yep! What did you think of it?” I replied.

“I had to get it for a class. I didn’t read it because I dropped the class.”

“…”

The author is a chaplain at Tufts University, which explains its (most likely primarily) academic usage and somewhat academic style of writing. It wasn’t too much of a drag to read like one would expect from the ivory tower publishing gamut, but it’s not something I’d seek out unless I were really at a loss as to where I stand on the religion playing field.

That is not to say I have everything figured out by any means, but as a recovering Catholic, I understand that even though the strict Judeo-Christian traditions aren’t right for me, it is beneficial to pursue some route of spirituality. To that end, I’ve explored a random sampling of Buddhist varietals in effort to gain some peace of mind and a better relationship with the world around me.

The main message of this book is “the mountain is best climbed along marked trails,” meaning it is important to have some semblance of accountability to foster your own religious growth. When discussing religion, it is too easy for people to say, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” From what I’ve seen, that really means, “I don’t like waking up early on Sundays, and now that I finally moved out of my mom’s basement, no one can make me!” Comedian Daniel Tosh still has the best answer to this canned slackers’ response with “Well I’m not honest, but you’re interesting.”

The author discusses the six stages of spiritual development, and I will briefly outline them here, although if you’re interested in a more accurate definition of each, I recommend reading the book.

1. Magic: A child-like understanding of God as puppet-master.
2. Reality: Trying to make sense of what is literal and what isn’t.
3. Dependence: Someone in your life plays a big role in your faith.
4. Independence: You detach and want to demystify religion.
5. Interdependence: Part of a community but also spiritually unique.
6. Unity: Sense of community with people of any and all traditions.

Because this book is geared toward college-age people, readers at the Independence stage will probably benefit most from this book. Those who are questioning which religion best suits their needs are generally past the point of relying on other people to shape their faith and need outside guidance (like this book) to help them along. The author is careful not to sway readers toward any particular faith, but instead he provides a number of anecdotes to explain different transitions from one faith to another.

Beyond the exploration phase, the author urges readers to engage in the practice of the religions that interest you and seek out a community that complements your lifestyle. When he was around my age, he took a trip around the world, sampling new religions in environments that tested his comfort zone. Once I got over the fact that his journey overseas was a million times more productive than mine (in a spiritual sense), I started thinking it might not be a bad idea to try again in a few years. Knowing what I know now about foreign travel, I stand to fair greater from the experience with less baggage than before.

The author also touches on some key issues surrounding having found your religion, namely, the discussion of your conversion with your parents. I actually would have liked to see a bit more on this topic, since it tends to be a sensitive issue for parents. Despite their best efforts, part of becoming an adult is making your own decisions about what you value and what makes you happy. It’s important to explain to your parents that your religious choices aren’t a sleight against them or how they raised you, but broaching the subject can be tedious and reluctantly procrastinated for many years.

Beyond figuring out what religion is best for you, joining a community with similar interests, and growing within your chosen faith, the author emphasizes the need to rejoice. Instead of calling to mind infinite rows of pews filled with bored people reciting songs and creeds from memory, religion can and should be a celebration of your faith and community. You shouldn’t have to wait until a major holiday to get excited about your religion. I think if more people (particularly Westerners) framed religion as something you want to participate in instead of something you have to participate in, we wouldn’t find so many people today trying to explain away their religious ambiguity as “spiritual”.

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But what IS it?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrly-mqEOss]

Reddit users say it’s an energy drink. They also say he filmed this commercial during his reign as California Governator. Apparently you’re not allowed to do other jobs while holding public office, so he’s said to have put his entire payment for the performance into state coffers. If that’s true, good on him!

I know that having spent some time in Sacramento, he and I should have rubbed elbows by now and become best friends. Unfortunately, I am not on his good list at the moment for mistaking his lovely wife for famous He-Man antagonist Skeletor. In my defense, it was around the time of Halloween, but he still won’t return my calls or be my friend on facebook.

Perhaps if I can raise the 68,525,982,305-dollar difference of California’s 2009 debt, all will be right with the world.

Paris Tweets Outrage Over Break-In at Sister’s House

Maybe if you weren’t tweeting your whereabouts to a million followers every 5 seconds, people wouldn’t know the best time to go and rob your goddamn house!

My boss just asked me to be friends on Facebook. What should I say?

There’s nothing wrong with using different social networks to correspond with different types of contacts, and in light of some recent slip-ups (i.e. an employee who told her boss she was sick accidentally posted a status update from a football game), it may be a good idea.

How do you “accidentally” stop what you’re doing and pull out your phone to write a quick announcement to all your friends so you can brag about it?

40 Friends, 400 Advertisements

Twitter released its geolocation API, opening the door to recommendations from locals, targeted marketing and promotional sales, and (real-time) search in your neighborhood. With Twitter data now being used by the three major search engines (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo), this promises a very valuable slice of a fast-growing market –look at Foursquare as an example to follow. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said it all: “When we look at where we can grow we look to the more than 4 billion active mobile phone accounts in the world, opposed to the 1.65 million active web accounts.”

Cool privacy invasion, brah.

It’s time to come back.

“Independent” is one of the best SBemails in awhile, and the last couple are worth watching, too. This era of the big-budget “indie” film isn’t going away anytime soon, but that’s no excuse not to make fun of it right now. I’ll give any film a chance, but like Strongbad says, they’re using a 30-million-dollar budget to make it look like they only spent a few hundred thousand. I guess they only do that so the hipsters in their faded, ripped, ill-fitting $200 jeans can relate to it. For those of you who missed “FOX” in the opening credits of Juno, there’s an Easter egg in the OOOoooooooo at the end of the SBemail. Enjoy!

And while I have your attention, be the first to check out this winner of several prestigious film awards that mean nothing to the common person:

Maybe I DO like to pick on things smaller than me.

From an article about preparing for the Copenhagen climate summit:

And this being Scandinavia, even the prostitutes are doing their bit for the planet. Outraged by a council postcard urging delegates to “be sustainable, don’t buy sex,” the local sex workers’ union – they have unions here – has announced that all its 1,400 members will give free intercourse to anyone with a climate conference delegate’s pass. The term “carbon dating” just took on an entirely new meaning.

I encourage our world leaders to consider the amount of energy required to burn off genital warts and wear condoms while they enjoy their free sex. Consider it a trade-off.

Rich Dad's Conspiracy of the Rich: The 8 New Rules of Money Rich Dad’s Conspiracy of the Rich: The 8 New Rules of Money by Robert T. Kiyosaki

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Now that I’ve caught up on my pop-culture reading from circa 2006, I thought I’d treat myself to something current and exponentially more useful. Robert Kiyosaki’s latest book in the Rich Dad series was written “entirely online” earlier this year and published just a few months ago. Since the US is in the midst of the largest fiscal storm the world has ever seen, it’s no surprise this book is written like Farenheit 9/11 for money.

I read Kiyosaki’s first book in the series, Rich Dad, Poor Dad back in 1998. The title comes from lessons he learned from his biological (poor) dad versus those from a friend’s (rich) dad. I appreciated the matter-of-fact tone and digestibility of the material. I was in high school then, so I would probably benefit from a rereading since its lessons will be more valuable to me now. I recommend that book over this one. And if you want to save some money, browse the online lectures and discussions that he used to write the book.

Because of the non-traditional process by which this book was written and published, the author tends to repeat himself to a heinous fault. When I began reading, I was ready to give this book four stars, but as I continued, my feelings went south. I don’t regret buying the book, since it organizes the information more nicely than the site I refer to in the previous paragraph. The site contains a lot of material, but it also serves as an informative, continuously updated supplement to the lessons laid out neatly in the book.

The book is divided in two parts. The first part provides a concise history lesson explaining how we got into this mess and gives readers a reason to stick around for Part 2. The second part attempts to provide some solutions that us regular folks can implement to safeguard our finances from tough times ahead.

Lessons from Part 1

-Obama is not going to save you, nor is the government. Although Obama billed himself as a president for change, he’s still giving bailouts to big business and taxpayers will continue to fund them. He might be capable of doing great things, but his power is greatly overshadowed by the wealthy few who own the Federal Reserve, which is not a bank, is not American, and has no money.

-Most of us are at a disadvantage because we were not educated to manage money and increase our wealth. We were taught academic skills so we could get jobs, buy homes, and pay taxes like good little employees.

-We may be in for another depression. The author discusses the one in the 1930s and how today’s will be different. Instead of acting as a “reset button” for our economy, it could sink us entirely and wipe out the middle class. Two key reasons are the fact that our money is no longer backed by gold, and the US exports more debt than anything else.

Lessons from Part 2

-Throw everything you thought you knew about money out the window. The biggest shocker for most people is that your home isn’t an asset. It’s a liability that can go down in value and cost you money.

-Look for cash flow opportunities instead of capital gains. That way, you don’t have to depend on the stock market and economy (things we have no control over) to make money. Mutual funds and savings accounts may earn you a pittance, but they come with some of the highest taxes.

-Kiyosaki created a board game called Cashflow that will help you practice the fundamentals taught in the book. He mentions this at least once per section, thus my two-star rating. The game seems like a great concept, but I don’t appreciate being beaten over the head with marketing wharrrgarrbl when I’m trying to read about personal finance.

I like that he brought up the Jim Cramer vs. Jon Stewart conversation on The Daily Show back in March. I remember watching it with my dad in his home office shortly after the episode aired and having a good discussion about it afterward. Financial news media doesn’t differentiate between long-term and fast-paced markets, and the latter, as Stewart describes, “is ethically dubious and hurts the long-term market.” And we pay the price. Although Stewart probably incited his audience to stand alongside him calling bullshit, I highly doubt anyone gave our predicament much thought several hours, let alone days later.

Our lack of education will be what destroys us, Kiyosaki warns. He frequently reiterates the problems with our current mindsets. The stock market is a crap shoot, my income from mutual funds will be taxed to holy hell, and by saving money I inadvertently cause inflation to rise, thus devaluing my money further.

Let’s say I have just enough money in the aforementioned areas (stocks, funds, and savings) to make a difference (tens of thousands), but not enough to buy a rental property or invest in a business. What then? Furthermore, what should I do with my paper assets while I increase my financial IQ as the author repeatedly suggests? He said there’s a lot to learn and I believe him. What do I do in the meantime?

Instead of peddling his board game, Kiyosaki should have spent more time discussing the “How” portion of his lessons. For instance, he said he brought his $400K debt to zero. HOW did he do that exactly? He said he invests in a successful oil drilling operation. HOW did he come to find the key people in setting up such an investment?

I appreciate his encouragement to become a good salesman (even if you’re not in sales), educate yourself, and think like a rich person. Don’t say, “I’ll never afford it,” but instead, “What do I need to do to afford it?” He puts the reader on a good track, but he needs to provide more concrete examples of what his readers should do when they’re ready to change their ways.

This book’s glaring deficiency may be the result of one of two things:

1) He is a poor writer, although he admits that he isn’t trying to be a best writer, he wants to write a best seller, and he has. (That book again is Rich Dad, Poor Dad.)

2) He wants you to buy that damn board game. He makes a good case for why playing the game is better than reading the same information. As education theory suggests, we learn best by doing. But since he mentions the board game Cashflow ten times as often as he discusses the concept, he ought to give a price break to those of us who actually purchased his online book. What do you say, Robert?

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