You Know, Because It’s All About Me

A friend from high school recently posted a quote attributed to Richard Bach from Jonathon Livingston Seagull fame.

Richard Bach quote from FB

What an appealing yet completely dichotomous notion.  If our sole goal is to make ourselves happy, we acknowledge that we are the center of the universe.  In the long run, the universe – and all that is in it – exists to make us happy.  Period.

Babies act as if they are the center.  Cry – get milk, affection, clean diapers.  Men act sweet & caring to get attention, affirmation, and yes, sex.  So in effect, in our pursuit of self happiness, we will act in ways which try to manipulate the world so that we curry favor, respect, and love for our own benefit – to make us happy.  For example, we volunteer to “give something back” yet often advertise our activities so we achieve fame which makes us happy.  We care about impressing others only to make us happy, and this volunteering thing is self-promotion.  Sounds good, but ….

We don’t always act that way.  To continue the volunteer theme, I’ll agree that we do so to make us happy but also for other reasons.  The more altruistic may do it so that they feel good about themselves, justify their own station in life (mitigate their guilty feelings),  or even believe that it is necessary to earn or contribute to their salvation or sanctification. We are still doing it in some way that makes us happy but suddenly we aren’t quite the center of the universe anymore.

“Whoa. What’s with the salvation stuff you snuck in there?  And you first said we think we are the center of the universe.”  Yep.  You see, somewhere in our fallen nature, we still really do know that we aren’t the center of the universe.  Why?  Because we do care about something outside of us.  We do feel guilt, shame, frustration, etc., which we ought not feel if we truly believed we were the center of the universe (and could create our own reality and all that new age stuff).  We strive to achieve something – wealth, stuff, self-actualization, health, yoga, power, stuff – to make us feel better about ourselves.  And unless we are psychopaths, we are conflicted by our desire to the center of the universe – you know, “be like God” (Gen 3:5) and feeling like we ought to live by some moral code written on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15).   Hence the dichotomy and the frustration and the never ending search for something.

So, how do we solve the dichotomy?  Come to grips that we aren’t the center of the universe.  God is.  And we aren’t God.  And realize that we exist not to make ourselves happy, that is to glorify oneself.

The first question in the Westminster Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

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Remember the Powell Doctrine? The Weinberger Doctrine?

Something to consider.

Powell Doctrine

  1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
  2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
  3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
  5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
  7. Is the action supported by the American people?
  8. Do we have genuine broad international support

Weinberger Doctrine

  1. The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.
  2. U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning. Otherwise, troops should not be committed.
  3. U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.
  4. The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
  5. U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a “reasonable assurance” of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress.
  6. The commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort.

Thoughts on the Syrian Mess

I happen to have a little bit of experience with the intersection of national security and foreign affairs (masters from the Naval War College, worked on the Joint Staff J5 (Politico-Military Affairs) in ’92-93).  One thing I learned was there is no simple answer on anything.  Pres. Clinton discovered this when he took office with his think-tank driven multilateral engagement policies.  Somalia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, North Korea, etc.  [Note: of those listed, only Yugoslavia turned out relatively well.]

What do we see today? There are no longer two generally rational superpowers maneuvering chess pieces & fighting proxy wars for strategic gain. Russia is now focused and quite a bit more belligerent.  China is stronger and playing for the long game.  We have Islamic aggression that we refuse to acknowledge much less confront.  Iran is strengthening and will soon have nuclear weapons.

The U.S.?  Gazing at our navel because we have no clue and no strategy and no plan.

We have a mess. We haven’t learned from Iraq & Afghanistan (which by the way I supported).  We support the toppling of dictators in the name of freedom yet we “hope” that the radicals won’t take over.  Doves are now hawks to save political face, not because they have any convictions.  Hawks are now doves because either they (1) hate the administration or, in my opinion,  (2) see we haven’t a clue about what we are trying to accomplish.  That would require a strategy.

Hope isn’t a strategy.

Taking on Youth Unemployment

One area the US is failing in is training our youth for manufacturing jobs – jobs which are becoming more scarce as manufacturing has moved overseas.  Cheap labor is one reason.  Lack of flexibility -partially tied to union intransigence is another.  The perceived lower status of blue collar workers is another.  Let’s face it, to most coastal liberals, working with your hands and sweating is acceptable only if you are an artist or doing Pilates/yoga.  A degree in sociology or gender studies somehow is more valuable than becoming a tradesman.

While not an big NPR fan, this article on Germany’s apprentice program is something to consider.  Our schools have cut back of our traditional programs to focus only on those who are college bound.  That isn’t to say that a strong basic education isn’t important.  The article points out that thousands of apprentice slots go unfilled because students (many immigrants) aren’t learning the basics needed for manufacturing that is becoming increasingly more technical.

So.  How to end the cycle of dying cities where young men see no future?  Not sure.  Funneling billions to politically connected energy startups  isn’t the way.  Why not prepare some – those who honestly want to work – for jobs in a factory.  Train them from the ground up.  That means sweeping floors. Cleaning machines.  Watching the operation.  Start slow.  Pay them a small salary – not union scale – minimum wage.  Don’t even let them join a union.

It works for the military.

 

“Safe, Rare & Legal”

Here’s a snippet from the grand jury report from the Gosnell case: ” … His 17-year-old mother was almost 30 weeks pregnant – seven and a half months – when labor was induced.  An employee estimated his birth weight as approaching six pounds.  He was breathing and moving when Dr. Gosnell severed his spine and put the body in a plastic shoebox for disposal.  The doctor joked that this baby was so big he  could ‘walk me to the bus stop.’ ”

Gosnell’s defense attorney, Jack McMahon, says that the prosecution is racially motivated. “This is a targeted, elitist and racist prosecution of a doctor who’s done nothing but give (back) to the poor and the people of West Philadelphia…It’s a prosecutorial lynching of Dr. Kermit Gosnell.”

Read more about the case at The Susan B. Anthony blog.  Read the grand jury report here.  Be warned, you will be saddened and angry.

My daughter only weighed 5.5 lbs at 32 weeks and spent 10 days in the NICU.

Pot – Kettle Meet John Kerry

From the Weekly Standard:  “John Kerry, the richest U.S. senator, railed against the “corrupting” power of money in politics in his farewell address today on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Hmm.  One might offer the following comment from Hamlet:

   “The {senator} doth protest* too much, methinks.”

*(Yes.  I know that “protest” had a different meaning to Shakespeare – “solemnly declare” or “vow” – it fits today’s usage.  Lighten up Francis. – from the movie Stripes.)

College: Learning or Playground?

Maggie’s Farm had a link to an article on the Inside Higher Ed site in on how/why colleges are going for amenities rather than improving academic quality.

“One important implication of our analysis is that for many institutions, demand-side market pressure may not compel investment in academic quality, but rather in consumption amenities,” write the authors, three University of Michigan scholars.

lazy river

As one having to pay for college in the very near future, I’d have to agree.  There are varying degrees of luxury.  For example, the local state university has a lazy river pool.  I guess that works due to our climate.  Plus, it seems fairly modest in design.  Certainly it’s not Disney but it is better than the frigid waters of Lake Michigan offered to me where I went to college.

metro_energy_podHowever, Saint Leo University near Tampa has a new $22 million dormitory which has to be in competition for greatest student appeal.  Why? Well  amongst its arcade, gaming room, and expanse of televisions, it features a nap room.  But not a dark windows-less room with couches smelling of dirty socks and beer used for making out when your roommate is around.  (Did I say that out loud?)

Clearly, This is not your father’s nap room.  The room contains four Metro Nap Energy pods boasting of “ergonomic perfection” and soothing sounds, all designed to “boost their professional and personal productivity while helping them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  It truly looks like something from Star Trek (or Wood Allen’s Sleeper).

As a parent, what do I want?  Challenging professors, meaningful courses designed to be the building blocks for a career as well as encourage thinking, minimal political indoctrination, cutting edge research, and a safe, yet non-sterile environment.  I’m not paying for a 4-5 year recess period or hedonistic retreat to find one’s purpose in life.

What I’d Love to Say on an Online Forum but Won’t

After yesterday’s post on the Boglehead forum, I ran across a post from a 27-year old entrepreneur who hopes to retire at 40 or so with a $3-4 million portfolio.  There are various tools online that will test proposed asset allocations and provide a success rate.  Several folks offered their opinions and gave him some things to think about such as spending rate, asset preservation, pre-nup, and an emotionally compatible spouse.

A month after the original post, he bumped it to see if anyone else had something to offer. This is what I’d love to say:

_________________________________

Okay – I’ll bite but just accept that I’m going to play devil’s advocate here.

First & most important thing, are you still on track to make the $3-5 million in 10 years that you believe the models say you need?   (that’s also 40-50 years without a black swan or two to wreck havoc on your portfolio).  If not, your question is moot.

Don’t plan on living at or below your current level when you retire – especially at 40.  I wouldn’t expect a young retiree to stop doing the things that he likes to do, particularly if he (or his spouse) enjoys the finer things in life.  A person on track (perhaps) to make that kind of money in 10 years probably isn’t living on beans and rice.  You probably are a tech guy with latest & greatest toys.  Trust me, you won’t give that up.  I also expect you enjoy a more urban, hip lifestyle. That doesn’t come cheap and you won’t find it living in the suburbs.

You mentioned you want kids.  That means saving for college since your taxable holdings will put you way above any chance for financial aid.  Back to lifestyle – hip urban + kids would most likely mean private schools.

Ngreen-acresow some folks decide to do the Green Acres thing.  They make their millions by 48 or 50 and then decide to become social, environmentally conscience.    Think Beetlejuice but without the ghosts.  You know, decide to make artisan goat cheese, grow heirloom apples & the like, or buy a vineyard.  The Boston Globe & NYTs routine run articles about folks that do this. It isn’t cheap & you probably won’t make money but you’ll get great tax breaks.  BTW, there was one couple who did this 5 miles up the road when we lived in a tiny Mass town.  But I digress.

To cut to the chase – you aren’t asking the right questions.  Your original post never mentioned anything other than “to be set for the rest of my life ….. never to be an employee again.”  That’s a declaration of comfort, not a declaration of purpose or destination.

So, the question remains for you and all of us: Where is your destination?  It does matter.

Ever heard of a Boglehead?

A “Boglehead” is a term used to describe folks who generally follow the basic investing strategy of John Bogle, form CEO of Vanguard, the world’s largest mutual fund company.  In a nutshell, Bogleheads use low cost index funds to build simple portfolios taking particular care to use an asset allocation that is appropriate for the risk you are willing to or need to take.  “Simplicity is better” – and “Stay the course” are often heard on the Boglehead forum.

The forum and wiki offer a wealth (groan) of information, insight, and personalized advice.  The wiki’s list of recommended books on Boglehead style investing is the key to understanding why this style of investing is appealing, works, and lets you take control.  You can find many of these in your library.  I bought one of the books written by four long-time adherents, The Boglehead’s Guide to Investment Planning, and have benefited from its advice.

After years of letting a firm which targeted the military “advise me” (& make money off of me), I decided to take charge.  I learned about asset allocation (a concept never discussed by our former financial planners), efficient market theory, and tax efficient investing.  Next I asked questions & got advice from some smart folks. Next I dumped those expensive funds & the advisor and never looked back.

I’ve been a Boglehead for nearly 5 years. So, read a few books.  Visit the forum.  There’s no secret methodology or technical trend analysis.  Just common sense investing.  Perhaps one day you’ll become a Boglehead too.

I’d Be Ashamed to be a Methodist

As a former Methodist, the continued self destruction of the UMC is like watching Wipeout. You can see it coming and you know it’s gonna hurt.  Today, this one sentence in a statement released by two United Methodist agencies** on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade caught my eye:

“In the wilderness of political posturing and divisive blaming and shaming, we seek to be a voice crying out to prepare the way for the Lord to bring about a new era of reproductive justice for our families and communities.”

These women use the biblical imagery of John the Baptist’s call to repentance to suggest that the UMC is doing Jesus’ will in promoting abortion.  Seriously?

As they say, silence implies agreement.

Read the entire statement and commentary at Juicy Ecumenism.
** This was in a official release signed by Julie Taylor (Office of Children, Youth and Family Advocacy United Methodist Women) and Amee Paparella (Director & Organizer for Women’s Advocacy General Board of Church and Society).