How to invest without a financial adviser

I’m not a big fan of financial advisers. Their job is to sell you financial products, not to look out for your own best interests. I learned that the hard way, after sending most of what I made in my early 20s to one. He doubled my money in a year or two, but erased the gain and then some just as quickly. So I had motivation to learn how to invest without a financial adviser.

There’s a pretty easy formula you can use to outperform 90-95% of financial advisers.
Read more

How to retire a millionaire without doing much of anything

I just finished reading The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach. It’s a good book. It promises to turn just about anyone into a millionaire in one easy step–if you do it right, you can make one phone call, do nothing else, and retire a millionaire.

I recommend the book.He’s saying essentially the same thing a lot of popular financial advisors right now are saying, but the spin is a bit different. You have to market something.

Essentially, what he says to do is to open up some kind of an IRA, be it a 401(K), 403(B), or Roth, and set up automatic deductions every month that happen before you get a chance to spend any of your paycheck.

If you were to start doing such a thing at age 16, it’s entirely possible to pile up more than $13 million by retirement age. Of course the later you start, the less you’ll pile up, but $1 million is within reach for most Americans.

It’s a boring way to make money but it works.

Of course he also advocates paying off all debts early, which makes it possible to save even more.

I believe that over the next decade, the rich are going to get richer and the poor are going to get poorer, maybe much poorer. People will blame the politicians, but I don’t know that politicans have much control over this situation. Here’s what I expect will happen.

A lot of people are getting non-traditional mortgages without necessarily understanding all of the terms. In many instances, at the end of five years, they will owe the entire cost of the house. Large numbers of people aren’t going to be able to afford to do this, and they aren’t going to be able to afford to refinance because they won’t be able to afford the higher monthly payments.

The homeowners will be forced to sell. And since so many of these mortgages are being handed out now, at some point there will be more sellers than buyers. That will be the end of today’s real estate boom. Thosee who have cash will buy these houses at depressed prices and rent them out to former homeowners who can no longer afford to buy a home.

When the real estate market recovers, which it will, the people who bought lots of real estate at bargain basement prices will be extraordinarily wealthy–both from the rising value of the property they bought, and the money they made by renting it out.

I know what I need to be doing. I’m ahead of the game on paying off my mortgage. I need to get better about dumping money into a Roth IRA. And right about the time I make the last payment on the house, I expect I’ll get my yearly bill from the county, and for the first time ever, the number on it will be lower than it was the year before. That’ll be when I know it’s time to go for a walk and look for For Sale signs.

This is a good time to be buying financial books, using their advice to get your finances in order, and wait for up-and-coming troubled times. Because for the people who get out of debt now, the next depression (let’s not mince words here–when the economy is in the toilet, it’s called a depression) will be an opportunity.

It\’s that time of month again, time to Slashdot the Wikipedia

Slashdot published an interview today with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. I found it entertaining reading. Even though I’m a semi-regular contributor over at Wikipedia, I’ve never encountered its founder, possibly because I do my best these days to stay under the radar over there.The discussion on Slashdot was interesting. As always, someone questioned Wikipedia’s accuracy, wondering how anything but chaos can come from something that anyone can edit at any time. A few people read two articles and came back with the usual “99.9% of Wikipedia articles cite no sources and have inaccuracies in them.” Someone else came back and said he’d made a change to the M1A1 Abrams article and was corrected by an Army mechanic. I always like comments like that. It shows who actually has experience and who’s talking out his butt.

Wales was incredibly idealistic, with a vision of free textbooks educating the world and ridding the world of places where people have no sanitation. Free access to the sum of all human knowledge will solve all the world’s problems.

I wish I could be so idealistic.

Oh well, shoot for the stars and maybe you have a chance of hitting the moon, right?

I found the discussion on credibility more interesting. Someone asked how an encyclopedia produced by anarchy could have more credibility than the mighty Encyclopedia Britannica or even World Book. Linux Kernel hacker Alan Cox weighed in, pointing out that there’s plenty of bias in academia too, that academia is a tyranny of the day’s popular ideas and that generally ideas change by one generation dying out and a new generation with different ideas taking over. At least with Wikipedia, the divergent ideas get a chance to be heard. He had a point.

I disagree with Wales that his project will drive Britannica out of business, but I agree with Cox about credibility. I had an argument with a college professor over using the Internet as a primary source of information. This was in 1995 or 1996. I wrote a short paper on the Irish Republican Army, and I wanted to find out what people sympathetic to the IRA were saying. So I went to Alta Vista, did some searching, and cited what I found. I wanted to know what the people who made the bombs were thinking, and figured the people who made the bombs were more likely to have Web pages than they were to write books that would be in the University of Missouri library. But my professor wanted me to look for books. I decided he was a pompous, arrogant ass and maybe I didn’t want to minor in political science after all, especially if that meant I’d have to deal with him again.

I forgot what my point was. Oh yes. In journalism we have a sort of unwritten rule. You can cite as many sources as you want. In fact, the more sources the better. If a story doesn’t have three sources, it really ought not to be printed. That rule gets selectively enforced at times, but it’s there. Your sources can spout off all they want. That’s opinion. When three sources’ stories match independently, then it’s fact.

So what if Wikipedia is never the Britannica or even the World Book? It’s a source. It’s much more in touch with popular culture than either of those institutions ever will be. Most people will think you’re a bit odd if you sit down with a volume or two of the Britannica or World Book and read it like you would a novel. I know people who claim to have done it, but that doesn’t make the behavior unusual. Hitting random pages of Wikipedia can be entertaining reading, however. As long as you don’t get stuck in a rut of geography articles. But that’s become less and less likely.

So I don’t think it matters if the Wikipedia ever attains the status of the paper encyclopedias. You’ve got what the academics are saying. Wikipedia gives you the word on the street or in the coffee shop. Neither is necessarily a substitute for the other.

I’ve appealed to this before, but I’ll do it again. Visit Wikipedia. See what it has to say about your areas of interest. If it doesn’t say enough, take a few minutes to add to it. Resist the temptation to go to the articles on controversial people like Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler. It’s a good way to get into an edit war and get frustrated. Find something obscure. I mostly write about old computers, old baseball players and old trains. Not too many Wikipedians are interested in those things. Especially the trains, so that’s what I write about most. (Other people seem to be; when I troll the ‘net for more information on those old companies, I frequently find copies of what I’ve already written and put in Wikipedia. It’s flattering.)

I look at it as a way of giving back. It’s relaxing to me. But there’s a community who’s written a ton of software, including an operating system, a web server, and a blogging system, and they’ve given it to me and never asked for a dime in return. I can’t program so I can’t give anything back in that way. But I have interests and I have knowledge in my head that doesn’t seem to be out there on the ‘net, and I have the ability to communicate it. So I give back that way.

It won’t change the world. Maybe all it’ll accomplish is me seeing fewer “Mar” trains on eBay and more Marx trains. But isn’t that something?

02/16/2001

As promised, the mail and my responses to it. We’ll start off with the dissenting points. My points are interspersed in the first message, then afterward with the rest, since those messages tend to be shorter.

Interestingly enough, neither of the dissenting views came from the States. One was from Britain, the other from Canada.

Chris Miller first:

Hi Dave

First of all I think you ABSOLUTELY should not have mentioned the IRA in this debate. There are few things that irritate British people more than Americans thinking they know about the Irish situation. And your analogy is flawed, anyway. The IRA and the UVF and the IFF and all the other republican and unionist terrorist organisations of which I’m sure you haven’t heard are political bodies. They have a political grievance and a political purpose. These aren’t people who walk into Starbucks and start shooting randomly. And most of their atrocities, whether in Ulster or on the British mainland, are not committed with guns.

Like I said, they don’t need guns. We have violent political movements in the United States as well. Eliminating guns won’t eliminate violence, whether the motive behind the violence is political or social. (And though I’m no expert on Ireland, I did take more classes on British and Irish history in college than I did US history–I’m more comfortable with that subject than I am with, say, the C or Pascal programming languages.)

I’m not talking about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals – they will obviously have them anyway. I’m talking about the various crazies and malcontents who have access to guns whenever they’re feeling particularly twitchy. Your man in McDonald’s wouldn’t be a threat at all in London or Marseille or Barcelona – he would just be shouting and moaning harmlessly, a threat to nothing but the atmosphere. And do you really believe that, even if he was armed, it would be best if everyone else was as well? So instead of one source of mortal danger, there was potential death flying every which way in the room? I have to say I wouldn’t feel a great deal safer faced with 20 gunmen, rather than one. I would suggest you don’t hear of these situations very often because they rarely happen.

Right. The crazies will resort to building bombs rather than using guns. But right now it’s easier to get a gun. If guns weren’t an option, some of the bombs will be duds, but frankly, I like my chances better against a crazy gunman than against a working bomb.

And you’re forgetting, that if I’m in McDonald’s with bullets flying, I’m not facing multiple gunmen. I’m facing one. The attacker is facing several. The other gunmen are aiming at the attacker, not at me, and they’re not spraying bullets around like you see in the movies. And if the attacker’s smart, his attention is now focused on the other guys with guns. If it isn’t, he’ll be face down in a pool of blood quickly.

More likely, he’s making his way for the door, because if there’s one thing a criminal hates, it’s a confrontation.

I agree that a blanket ban on handguns wouldn’t work in the US, but that’s only because Charlton Heston and all your other trigger-happy citizens wouldn’t stand for it. Also, the NRA isn’t the most powerful lobby group in the country just because people like rifle ranges. There is a serious amount of money in the arms business, and anyone who thinks Chuck and co. are simply defending a necessary constitutional right is just being naive.

You can make that argument for a good number of political causes, on the right or the left.

Your family and discipline tirade is interesting. So it’s wrong to deny people their religious beliefs, but yours are the right ones? That smacks more than a little of intolerance and hypocrisy. And call me an old Commie, but I believe there are certainly more important things than personal property. I suppose I’ll never convince an American of that though: it’s all about the Benjamins.

Except Christianity stole those moral standards from Judaism (as did Islam). Hinduism came up with it independently; Buddhism stole those standards from Hinduism. So we’ve just covered all the major world religions, so it’s hard to call that intolerant. The older religions that don’t tie religion to ethics aren’t affected one way or the other.

And as for my personal property examples, crimes fall into two categories: killing or injuring someone, and taking that person’s stuff.

I agree that the world would be a better place if people were nice to each other – I’m not an anarchist – but it’s impossible to think in moral absolutes. Your arguments are shot through with presuppositions, chief among which is that you are right and everybody else’s views are fatally flawed. You’re applying your own principles to everyone else. What’s right for one ain’t necessarily so for the other. You give yourself away by describing exactly what you were like at school. Well, there are many like you, and many more who were and are totally different. Someone isn’t inconsequential just because they aren’t like you. Their choices are valid. Hey, school sucks – just be thankful you got out of it what you did.

My reason for telling that story was to demonstrate that the difference between a law-abiding person and the perpetrator of a massacre can be subtle. I think I demonstrated that I have a few things in common with the people from Columbine. And one major difference.

But don’t stereotype me or jump to conclusions just because I was a bit of a loner. Some loners are that way because they don’t understand people and don’t like people who are different. I used to know a few people like that. I was a loner because I was shy, not because I thought I was right and everyone else was wrong.

And come on, Dave. If you ignore what you see as left-wing propaganda, why should I pay any more attention to this sort of conservative rhetoric?….

I didn’t say I ignore the media, nor did I call it left-wing propaganda. I just said it was incomplete. Tell the whole story and I’m happier. As it is, I have to read both sides of the supposed mainstream press: leftist rags like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and rightist rags like The Washington Times (which is much more conservative than I am), and then hopefully I’ll have some chance of seeing what’s going on. But neither side has much use for any story that doesn’t further their political agenda, so maybe in that regard they are propaganda-like.

Fortunately a dwindling number of people pay attention to it. And I never thought I’d hear myself say that, having been a journalism major.

I do ignore television news, but the superficiality and sensationalism and condescending nature of it offends me much more than the leftist agenda. (Plus the reception is lousy in this neighborhood and I don’t want to pay for cable.) But what else can you do with 22 minutes of camera time? But in these days of hundreds of channels, fewer and fewer are paying attention to that as well.

Some days I just don’t have the energy to sort it all out. So I go to the Kansas City Star, click on Sports, then go read about baseball. Scary. There was a time when baseball was the thing that set me off.

I hope you picked up the Maniacs references – I was actually listening to the “MTV Unplugged” album when I read your page. Spooky, eh?

Chris

Maybe a little. But they fit the mindset of the subject matter as well as any band I can think of. The subconscious mind at work…

From: Gary Mugford ( mugford@nospam.aztec-net.com )

David,

   I have a refeverence for others’ beliefs. You and I are on the opposite side of the theological fence, which means not a thing when it comes to talking about computers and baseball. When you write about subjects that don’t interest me, I still read it, because good writing is always worth reading. It’s not unknown to read an arguement I haven’t considered before and revise my opinion. But it’s rare.

   Like Chris, I come down on the anti-gun side. In the same way that bombing somebody is a detached way of killing, so it has become so for guns. The gang problem around the world (not just in the U.S.) took off when the over-supply of guns to an unfettered buying population in the U.S. started making gang warfare a gun battle rather than an in-your-face mano-a-mano fight. It takes a whole lot less courage to shoot somebody in a drive-by then to tangle with brass knuckles from two feet away.

   The historical need for guns in the U.S. is undeniable. But like buggy-whips and home butter-churns, they ceased long ago to be a need, but an homage to a bunch of far-sighted men who gathered together to form a new nation a couple hundred years (and change) ago. The problem with honouring their memory is the deification of these men as all-knowing, all-omniscient. There is a religious fervosity about these men that defies logic to we non-Americans.

   The right to bear arms is usually equivocated with the right to free speech and the freedom of religion as the pillars of the American way. But that vague description of the right to bear arms has been interpreted and re-interpreted down through the years by those that want it to mean what “THEY” want it to mean. By one definition, the right was to bear all the defensive weapons one could hold in their hands at one time. Another definition would include one’s right to own a tank and a nucleur arsenal. The true intent probably lies somewhere inbetween. But given the lack of farseer capabilities amongst these fine men, I suspect the intent was closer to the former than the then science fictional latter (science fiction still to be invented itself, some years into the future).

   You can argue the need of every citizen to bear arms. There are non-persuasive arguements for both sides. But the one arguement that should not be made is the constant harkening back to these men and their intentions and solomonic wisdom. They proved human by writing a constitution that required amendments to move closer to perfection. They acknowledged the righteousness of owning slaves and of treating women as property. They were flawed, but they knew it. So they attempted to create a changing constitution that would keep with the times and new provenances created there in. And they would be amused and horrified if they found out that hundreds of years later, their will and intent was being mis-used. If the law becomes outdated, change it. They took the English legal canon and did it. They expected their descendents to do the same.

   Which brings me around to the points of fact that you use to defend the status quo. The same reports that  gun crime in conceal-‘n-carry states has gone down, fails to quantify gun accidents, which I understand have risen proportinately. I won’t exchange one life for another.

   You also cite the impossibility of getting rid of the guns held by the criminals and that getting rid of guns will not get rid of all of the violence. So?  I’m reminded of the currently-running commercial featuring an old hero of mine, Bob Lanier. It’s the starfish story where a youngster hoisting stranded starfish back into the water is asked why he’s even bothering, when there’s thousands of them on the beach and he can’t help them all. “Helped that one,” comes the answer. As trite as it sounds, every journey DOES start with but a single step. To not try because of the enormity of the task, is ,,, well, un-American!

   Actually, I offer you the false logic website: http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/index.htm . I’m betting that several of your arguements fall into the trap of Fallacy of Distraction.  Nobody ever promised that getting rid of guns would get rid of all of the violence.  Gun control has very little to do with bomb-making loonies. Given the opportunity, they’d do both (and do). Massacres don’t occur every day, but accidental shootings do (last I read. I cannot cite source). Just what is the acceptable massacre rate? Harsh, but we are talking about guns.  Criminals, are not governed by laws, so no law written to limit their access is going to have massive effect. But it WILL CUT DOWN ON SUPPLY. And that supply will erode each time a gun-toting fiend gets caught. Innocent or not by law, the gun goes bye-bye. This is good.  And I continue to harp on accidental shootings. It’s a lot easier to recover from a bat to the backside then a gun shot in the gut. What was before, that is now outdated, archaraic and not needed, shuoldn’t continue to be the rule. We are EVOLVING!!!

   I also failed to see Chris’ letter as an attack on your religious beliefs.  Chris believes (I think) that art must show the innards and the borders of society. In showing the limits of behaviour, it helps define those limits. Great art can also show the depth of society (or the lack of it).

   Are we living in a world where ‘anything’ goes? Yeah, increasingly. Do I decry it and try to guide my little Paige through some of the muck I never had to encounter at her age, but she will have to? Sure, that’s what being an adult is. Do I live by a central set of morals largely identical to your own? Yes. I believe behaviourly-speaking much as you do. Do I subscribe to the precise set of religious rituals and trappings that you do? No. I believe that nobody past, present or future is perfect and all-knowing. That includes the framers of the Constitution and all that try to read their minds through the veil of the ages.

   I think Chris’ statements about John Ashcroft, which you have more knowledge of and a differing point of view, might have been what set you off. You have a favourable opinion. Chris reads statements and actions by Ashcroft and finds them differing to his point of view.  Without reviewing the complete canon of Ashcroft rulings, that have earned him a large following in Missouri, Chris has read about the selected instances where the new AG ruled or said things that Chris (and I) disagree with. Should we reserve opinion? Probably. Will we? Probably not. We are human. And if somebody says something we find disagreeable or hypocritical, we tend to focus in on that one single statement to the exclusion of other competing evidence. But I will grant you the humility of acknowledging that I might be wrong about the man.

   Ultimately, I think the sky is azure blue. You might think it’s cerulean blue. We’ll never prove the other right or wrong as to the shade. But we CAN agree that the sky is SOME shade of blue. So we try to live life right. And that’s a good thing.

   Regards, GM
Actually, in Missouri at this time of year, the sky’s usually gray. Especially this week.

I fail to see the point of banning weapons if it’s not to decrease violence, and my point wasn’t to distract, but to try to illustrate that even a law-abiding citizen can have the tendencies that cause one to, as we say in the States, go postal. You can teach me ethics, put a gun in my hand, and I’ll abide by the law. You can teach me ethics, ensure that I’ll never see a gun in my life, and I’ll abide by the law. But don’t teach me ethics, and I’m likely to do what I please with whatever I can get my hands on. Banning guns is a superficial argument at best, and it requires a great deal of effort. Better to focus that effort on fixing the real problem–otherwise, it’s like spending $300 to shoehorn old memory and an obsolescent CPU into a six-year-old Pentium, to use an example from earlier this week. It might make some people feel good, like they’ve done something, but it doesn’t address the true problem and it won’t work as a long-term solution because the fundamental problem is still there.

Gun accidents do happen, but they can be minimized through training. And we hear of far more fatalities due to car crashes than due to gun accidents. The solution to both problems is the same: better enforcement of existing laws, better training, and maybe tightening up restrictions a bit on who can get their mitts on one.

As for our reluctance to make major changes, it’s probably because though times change, the underlying principles don’t. A lot has changed since the days of Hammurabi, but our code of laws is more similar to his than it is different. Our Founding Fathers had roughly 5,750 years of history to look at. Are we so arrogant as to say that with a mere 250 more years’ perspective, we should change everything?

I don’t see the rest of the world doing that, or when they are, they’re copying another country whose success they envy.

Hmm. I guess we’re doing something right. That’s good to see. We’re not willing to throw away our history over one or two problems. There’s hope for us yet.

From: Michael Baker ( MBaker@nospam.BioLabinc.com )

Hello Dave,

Your post today (Feb 14th) really struck a nerve w/ me.  I pretty much feel the same way, and your response to Mr. Miller was articulate and well thought out.  I enjoyed reading it.  I have a few random thoughts of my own:

Blaming our society’s ills on guns or TV violence or other such pop-psychiatric poop is really just an excuse for people who don’t want to deal w/ their own problems.  Ultimately, the fault lies with ourselves.  However, I believe the media is responsible for the acceleration of the decay.  The media more than just left-leaning, it has completely fallen over.  We are bombarded w/ TV and paper news that is all essentially the same.  Many purport to a be a balanced source, but it’s not, and many people don’t see that.  Here in Atlanta, we have one paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Years ago they were separate organizations.  The Journal was the more liberal, while the Constitution was the conservative.  They merged, and for a while they kept their same “flavor”.  Now, the only difference is that one is delivered in the morning, and the other in the afternoon.  They both run the same stories and use the same writers.  I consider it to be a leftist newspaper.  This is rapidly turning into a rant.  I’ll move on to another topic.

“…That’s OK, they’re fun too when they’re winning trophies and doing good. Just don’t get in my way. Here’s the remote. Here’s a video game. Have fun. Don’t bother me. And the kids grow up with parents (or a parent) respecting no one but themselves, and they learn that behavior.”

My parents have a friend who is an elementary school (2nd grade, I believe) teacher.  My Mom and I had dinner w/ her recently.  She talked about how much more needy the kids are nowadays.  They don’t get any attention at home.  It makes teaching more difficult, because the teachers have to spend more time dealing w/ the childrens’ behavioral problems than teaching.  She’s not quite to retirement yet, but I think she’s ready for it.

“…Actually, he got it half right. The best thing a guy can be in this world is a beautiful little fool, or better yet, a big hulking fool. People like dumb, beautiful people, because they’re good to look at and they’re non-threatening.”

Lol!  That is just classic.  It’s so true.  I’m neither good looking or dumb, but I’m only slightly threatening. 🙂

So, coming back around again… It starts at home… How very true.

Again, thanks for the fine post.

Thank you. My mom was a teacher. She got tired of trying to tame students (and this was teaching at a Christian school, so you’d think their parents would be more likely to instill those ethics, but who knows?) so she got out of the classroom. She has fewer headaches and better pay at her new job.

I’m unwilling to blame the media for destroying our society, but it’s not helping. Unfortunately, getting a conservative to go to journalism school is nearly impossible. Getting the conservative through journalism school without changing majors, getting them to look for a job in journalism (it’s hard to find one), then getting them to take a job in journalism, getting them to keep a good post, and getting them to stay in the profession are harder and harder still. It’s frustrating because they pay’s terrible, the frustration super-high, and most conservatives aren’t very idealistic so they tend not to feel like they’re making a difference. If you’re not going to make a difference, might as well get a job that pays well. Or go to work for a conservative publication that leans just as hard to the right and is ultimately just as unreasonable. (The Washington Times infuriates me nearly as much as the ultraliberal St. Louis Post-Dispatch.) The result: a poorly balanced media.

From: Tom Gatermann ( tardis69@nospam.swbell.net )

Hey you know one thing about guns and those kids at Columbine is, that gun laws don’t work.  Those kids weren’t supposed to be able to get guns at all at their age. I don’t support gun laws myself as you know.  I wouldn’t own a gun personally at this juncture in my life, but I wouldn’t tell another law abiding citizen he/she couldn’t.
 
I also would have to say that your editor’s opinion of a Constitutional amendment being bull—- is way out there in Communist world!  Since when did constitutional amendments become a joke?  Especially one of main ones on the Bill of Rights!!!!  Isn’t that the kind of talk that the Amendments are supposed to protect us from?  Heck, we might as well start taxing tea again.

That’s precisely why a Constitutional amendment can only be overturned by a later amendment, or by changing judicial interpretation of it. The latter is more likely, but fortunately that’s a fairly slow process too and the political pendulum swings enough that the courts don’t swing too terribly badly.

I wouldn’t call that idea Communist, but it’s far too authoritarian for my comfort level. The Constitution protects that kind of talk, but gridlock protects us against it by making it difficult to make it anything more than talk (that’s what’s dangerous after all).

I don’t think new gun laws will make much difference because we don’t even enforce the ones we have. The evil John Ashcroft has said as much; he’s said he’ll enforce the ones on the books, which hasn’t happened for years. So maybe now we have a fighting chance of finding out whether gun laws work. It’s a good strategy I think.

 

From: J H Ricketson ( culam@nospam.sonic.net )

Dave –

Superb. You may have missed your calling. You perhaps should be a politician – except that is precluded because you are honest.

Or a pastor.

Even a practicing agnostic such as I find much of value in what you have to say. Please – post more of such thoughts as often as you feel called to do so. They are that precious thing: something that causes me to think, and review my thoughts. Very welcome in my world. There is more to our world than mere high tech. I think most, if not all, Daynoters, distinguish ourselves by this realization (as opposed to pure Tech such a Tom’s  MoBo, Ars Technica, etc.) Makes for interesting reading and a unique collective POV, IMO

Regards,

JHR

Politician? Except I can’t stand most politicians. John Ashcroft’s fine. Mel Hancock (former Missouri representative and gubernatorial candidate) is great, and actually fun to talk to. Jim Talent (another former Missouri representative and gubernatorial candidate, also mentioned for a possible cabinet position) is pretty personable and friendly, but not as much fun as Hancock. Todd Akin (who took Talent’s seat in the House) is great. Not as funny as Hancock, but that may be because he’s so much younger. Kit Bond (Missouri senator) is fine as long as you’re on his side. You don’t want to cross him. Kenny Hulshof (Missouri representative) is a pretty nice guy. But of the couple dozen politicians I’ve met, I think those six are the only ones I’d be willing to sit down and talk with at any length.

And as for being a pastor, the only thing worse than state politics is church politics. I haven’t written off that possibility (indeed, I’m honing my skills in case I need them), but I won’t act on it until I’m married and older. I’ve seen what happens to people my age who go into full-time ministry.

In the meantime, this stuff causes spikes in traffic, but the computer talk is what keeps people coming back so I’ll maintain my focus there.

Thanks for your thoughts, of course.

From: Bruce Edwards ( bruce@nospam.bruceedwards.com )

Hi Dave:

All I can see regarding your long piece referenced in the subject line is –

BRAVO

An excellent job – you hit the nail on the head.  Keep up the good work,

Sincerely,

Bruce
www.BruceEdwards.com

Thanks.

From: Sharon A. Black ( blacksa@nospam.missouri.edu )

I agree with so much of what you said in your post earlier in the week.  If kids grow up knowing that they’re not going to get away with unacceptable behavior at home, and that carries over into their schooling when they’re very young, it makes sense that it should carry over into their behavior as adults as well.  As I’ve always said, when it comes to correcting a child’s behavior, consistency is THE most important.  As you pointed out, making the correction on a timely basis is also important.   Maybe this whole line of thinking is a little simplistic, but  it does make an awful lot of sense. And I think that it’s pretty easy to look at young adults who are produtive and law-abiding, and see a common thread in the way they were raised. Problem is that today too many parents don’t want to be bothered disciplining–wait, I think “guiding” or “teaching” or “directing” would be better words for it–their children and they become irrate when anyone else tries.  (Why THAT happens is a whole other story.)  Then they make excuses for their child’s behavior then it becomes someone else’s fault and then the child’s misbehavior is justified.  So the next and the next and the next incidents are justified.  And children’s behavior keeps getting worse and worse.  Then we end up spending huge amounts of money to incarcerate them. When they do get out, in most cases, values and morals are no different (or at least not different in a positive way) and we start all over again.

Depressing, isn’t it?

Yes it is, Mom.

It’s a simplified view yes, but when you don’t get the little things right, they tend to explode in your face. And we see it over and over again. You saw it firsthand in the classroom.

Incarceration serves to protect citizens momentarily against criminals but doesn’t do a good job of rehabilitation, as a look at the criminal history of most of the felons on any given court docket show. When I was writing crime stories, the problem usually wasn’t finding a crook to write about–it was deciding who the crook with the longest and most horrifying track record might be so that story would get a better position in the paper. That’s the unfortunate result. Incarceration doesn’t work. Making it harder for them to get guns and drugs doesn’t work. Prevention used to work–when the prevention came from the home, and not from Washington, D.C.

And it’s far, far too late, so I’m calling it a night.

02/14/2001

More from across the Big Pond. I got this from Chris Miller, one of my editors at Computer Shopper UK, yesterday. Always good to hear from him because he makes me think, even though we rarely agree about anything but magazine design.

Hi Dave

I’ve been looking at the web page and I’m glad you like the ‘Window cleaner’ illustration from the new issue – much better than the blue blobs. Also glad you are holding up Shopper UK as a paragon of design. Thanks.

I shall avoid the subject of John Ashcroft, whom you appear to revere for all the wrong reasons. What I really want to say is that I think you need to prioritise your outrage. A ‘sick, sick society’ is not one where a high school can produce a play about rape, but one where children are shot and killed in schoolyards every day. The purpose of art is sometimes to shock – insecurity and violence are perfectly valid themes to explore. And why tell a story about secure, confident people who know exactly what they are doing? Where’s the drama in that? If that were all that was allowed, there would be no “Romeo and Juliet”, no “Jane Eyre”, no “Jude the Obscure”, no “Psycho” – cultural landmarks all.

Guns, however, are a serious social problem in your country which no-one seems to want to do anything about because of some semi-mythological “constitutional right” – which is, if I may speak frankly, bulls–t. I’m tired of the excuses everybody uses – guns mean massive profits and no-one, except maybe a few Ivy League intellectuals and northern-California hippies, is really serious about banning them. This despite Columbine, the disgruntled postal workers, the dot com rage and countless other pointless and avoidable deaths.

High school plays are not the scourge of American society.

Cheers now
Chris

I think you take me for having oversimplified far more than I have. Inappropriate high school plays are mostly a symptom of the problem–I won’t say they don’t cause problems, but no, we won’t solve all our social ills by toning down our school plays or our television. But it wouldn’t hurt anything either.

Likewise, getting rid of all our guns won’t eliminate all our violence. Guns are outlawed in Britain, but does anyone really believe the IRA doesn’t have guns? But there are other, more creative and more effective ways to kill people and blow things up than to use guns, and you can do it with regular, perfectly legal household items, as the IRA has so effectively demonstrated over the years.

It’s not like massacres happen every day in the United States. Once or twice a year, someone’s caught planning one, like earlier this week, and on the occasional God-forsaken day, an event like Columbine happens.

But banning handguns is a very superficial solution to a bigger problem–no less superficial than banning school plays or a particular television show. Banning guns won’t keep them out of the hands of criminals. Even if it would, desperate or very angry people would commit their crimes with knives or other weapons, just as they did before guns were reliable. The irrefutable fact is that in the handful of states that have gone the opposite extreme and enacted concealed weapons laws, crime has gone down. Social engineers HATE to talk about that because it goes beyond all the hip, chic theories of the day. So a guy walks into McDonald’s and starts shooting. He’s in control. But then some gun-totin’ cowboy (to use the popular image of Americans) whips out his gun and from behind the cover of a table, starts shooting back. The odds are suddenly changed. Can the citizen with the gun prevent anyone from getting hurt? No. But he greatly increases the probability of the one person in the building who deserves to die in such situations (the armed gunman) of sustaining bodily harm of some sort, and greatly decreases the number of potential casualties. And what if there are two or three snipers? The out-of-control situation gets back under control real quick, with minimal harm.

You don’t hear of these situations often because 1) they don’t happen very often and 2) the hard left-leaning press hates these stories.

But remember, this works in the United States but sounds like insanity in Europe because of the differences in our culture. In Europe, private ownership of weapons was a threat to the government, so it generally didn’t happen. In the Americas, weapons were absolutely vital to protect yourself on the frontier–there were hostile animals out there, and yes, hostile people. As the frontier pushed west, weapons were less essential, but they didn’t become unnecessary. Then we gained independence, and the government favored private ownership of guns early on, partly because a citizens’ militia meant there was little need for a standing army, which saved tax dollars, which kept the citizens happy because they hated taxes. That didn’t last, but guns remained a necessity in the west for about a century. To a degree, they still are a necessity in some segments of our society–there are still predators out there that threaten your livestock. Guns are part of our culture, and you won’t transplant overnight the disarmed European culture that formed over a timeframe of centuries to the United States. But the Wild West approach still works here.

But this, too, is a symptom. The greater problem is that we’ve lost our moral compass. OK, so you don’t like my religion. Demonstrate to me that a society that says it’s OK to kill, OK to cheat on your spouse, OK to steal, OK to disrespect your parents, and OK to lie can thrive. Find me one. You won’t.

Whether you like the religion or not, you can’t deny that its set of morals just plain works. But so few teach right and wrong anymore–now you just do what feels good. It feels good to cheat on your wife, so you should do it. You’re liberated. OK. So how is that different from me deciding it feels good to kill my former neighbor who caused me so much grief? Or what about my current neighbor’s nice black BMW? Wouldn’t that be a much nicer ride than my Dodge Neon? Why not steal that? If it feels good, I should do it, right?

Personally, I fail to see the difference.

So what’s the matter here? We’ve got a very self-centered society, interested in very little other than individual pleasure. So go screw around, it’s fun. The eventual result of that is kids. That’s OK, they’re fun too when they’re winning trophies and doing good. Just don’t get in my way. Here’s the remote. Here’s a video game. Have fun. Don’t bother me. And the kids grow up with parents (or a parent) respecting no one but themselves, and they learn that behavior.

So the kids grow up. Their most basic needs of food and clothing and shelter are being met. Usually. But their emotional needs aren’t. Their parents aren’t really there for them. So they don’t mature properly. They don’t exactly learn right and wrong. Their parents don’t model it for them, and they sure aren’t being taught it in school. Growing up is tough. I remember. I was a smart kid, too smart for my own good maybe, and yeah, it made me unpopular. A lot of people didn’t like it. Plus I wasn’t a big guy. I’m 5’9″, 140 pounds now. (Below average height and below average weight, for the benefit of those on the metric system.) At 14, I was 5’4″, not even 100 pounds. I was an easy target. I got in my share of fights, and I usually didn’t win. For one, the bully was almost always bigger than me. For another, I was always outnumbered anyway. Growing up too smart can be as bad as growing up the wrong race. F. Scott Fitzgerald got it right in The Great Gatsby, when his character Daisy said, after her daughter was born, “All right, I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

Actually, he got it half right. The best thing a guy can be in this world is a beautiful little fool, or better yet, a big hulking fool. People like dumb, beautiful people, because they’re good to look at and they’re non-threatening.

I’ll be brutally blunt: I grew up with a lot of jackasses, and frankly, there were times that I thought the world would have been a much better place if someone brought a gun to school and pumped some lead into their ugly faces. There. I said it.

When I read about the Columbine killers, it resonated with me. I understood those guys completely. One of them was the brains of the outfit. The other was a follower, pure and simple. But I understood how they felt, I understood (and even dug) the music they listened to, and for a time I even dressed like those two did. One of my former classmates even told me after the event, “Those two guys remind me of you.” After all, I used to run around in a black trenchcoat, black t-shirt and black jeans and combat boots, looking gloomy and listening to Joy Division and The Sisters of Mercy.

And don’t get me wrong. My dad had guns. My dad had a lot of guns. He kept the really big stuff locked up, but he had handguns stashed. There was a Derringer he kept in his sock drawer. He had another gun he kept stashed inside the couch in the basement. For all I know he had others. He taught me how to shoot the Derringer. He also taught me how to shoot a .22-calibre rifle. I wasn’t very good, but at close range you don’t have to be.

So why didn’t I turn into one of those guys? My dad taught me to respect human life. Dad was a doctor. Dad even treated a couple of guys on death row. There was a guy who used to hire drifters to steal cattle, then sell them quickly. Then he’d kill them to eliminate the evidence (and cheat them out of their share of the money). I don’t remember how many times he did this. My dad had a brief encounter with him while he was getting an x-ray. They exchanged words, and it wasn’t exactly nice. “Meanest sonofabitch I ever met,” he recalled. I asked him why he treated him, especially seeing as they were going to kill him anyway. Know what he said? He said it wasn’t his job to kill him. It was his job to make sure he had the same quality of life (or as close to it) as anyone else. Killing the man was the state’s job, if it ever got around to it.

So if my dad could respect the life of this man, who by the account of everyone who ever met him wasn’t worth the oxygen he breathed over the course of a day, then shouldn’t I respect the lives of the people at school?

Dad (and Mom too) taught me right and wrong. And they didn’t ignore me, they disciplined me when I stepped out of line. The worst happened when I was 2 or 3. I was being the epitome of brat, and making matters worse, we were guests at a family friend’s house. My mom took me out to the garage, partly to figure out what to do with me. Well, it was March or so, so it wasn’t too cold in there, and it wasn’t too hot, and there was absolutely nothing to do in there either, so she found a lawn chair and told me I had to sit there until I decided to act civilized. Then she went back in the house. Our host asked, “Where’s David?” and my mom told her. After about fifteen minutes, she came back out and asked if I could act civil. I said yes.

That was the most trouble I was ever in. Yes, I got spanked a few times (but it was a very few), and I got yelled at a few times. But with my parents, discipline was consistent, and it was swift. And because it was those things, it was rare–I didn’t step out of line much.

I don’t think the idea that if I were to commit a crime, I might be able to beat the system ever occurred to me until I was 18 or 19. If I didn’t beat the system at home or at school, why should I expect to be able to beat the government?

So no, I never thought of killing my antagonizers. And that’s fine. They got theirs. My biggest antagonizer never finished school. At 17, his parents kicked him out of the house. He drifted around a couple of years, living out of a van and the occasional cheap motel, then finally settled down. At age 21, he was working in a restaurant, doing the same job as a lot of 17-year-olds. He’d be 27 now, and if there’s anything more pathetic than a 14-year-old loser, it’s a 27-year-old loser, and anyone who knew us both would see it now.

Meanwhile, I kept working, doing my best at what I was good at, doing my best to ignore the taunts, and a funny thing happened. At age 17, the taunts stopped. People didn’t mess with the seniors–we were the oldest people in the school besides the teachers. We’d paid our dues. We earned our respect. And the seniors didn’t mess with each other. Being smart became almost… admirable. In college, that was even more so. And get out into the professional world, and it’s even more so. The things that people made fun of you for in school raise eyebrows now. I’m not at the pinnacle of success, but I have everything I want or I can get it.

So, coming back around again… It starts at home. It starts with the family paying attention to its members, and doing its duty. Morals may not be any fun, but an immoral society is even less fun. Certain things like life, dignity, and personal property have to be honored absolutely. Do these things, and you won’t come out all bad. The occasional bad apple will still slip through, but it’ll be an oddity, and a whole lot easier to deal with.

Do these things, one family at a time, and I don’t care what culture you’re in, you won’t go wrong. The whole culture will benefit, with or without guns, with or without questionable forms of entertainment.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux