Tom Trimbath Real Estate Broker – Year One

“Has it really been that long?” I heard that from several people today. November 9, 2018, my one year anniversary as a real estate broker on Whidbey Island. Welcome to yet another new view of the world we live in – a world that is changing, an interesting time to be involved in real estate, housing, and affordability.

It’s November, which means it’s no surprise that it’s raining as I sit in my office (Coldwell Banker Tara Properties in Bayview) waiting for someone who may come to the island to shop for a home for their healing space. Special needs need special places, and one way to make that happen is to start with ground and build a custom space. At least the ferries are on schedule, unless they have to slow to let orcas pass by. So goes life on the island.

How I got to real estate from aerospace engineering was something I described in last year’s post when I passed my test. Years of playing with data, years of writing and researching real estate, the industry and architecture, and years of living on the island added to a shift from designing airplanes and rockets to helping people design their lives. As I said before, learning that one of my core passions is helping people and their ideas is something that’s been common throughout. From the outside, it may look like a radical shift. From the inside, the change isn’t as dramatic – at least conceptually.

Change happens. No more shorts. Rats. No more commuting by bicycle. Alas. Maybe I’ll  be able to replace my truck with something that can actually turn around at the end of some of Whidbey’s dead-end drives. Eventually, no more flip phone as MicroVision-enabled projector smartphones are now available – for a price I’ll pay after another transaction or two. Say good bye to regular paychecks, but say hello to potentially being able to stay on the island. I retired here, but it was a semi-retirement that became an unretirement (details in My Triple Whammy), that may become a re-retirement with some luck and effort. Also, say hello for a great opportunity to talk to lots of people, hear about great needs and dreams, and helping people move on to the next stage in their lives. Now, if only I could do that without all of this pesky paperwork.

We’re seeing the planet, the country, and the world in general changing. Even an island in Puget Sound is affected by off-island forces like the Gig Economy, shifts in the military, trade disputes, and technological advances. Seattle’s growth pressures may be delayed but not negated by the moat that is the island’s surrounding waters.

Real estate is driven by people selling and buying houses. The market is shaped by economics: local, regional, national, and global. Whether a particular house will be sold or bought is determined by individuals, and individuals can’t be predicted. Few people buy or sell to outguess market forces. Most people buy or sell because they want to or have to. Being a broker means respecting privacy, so I won’t tell those stories here (unless a client doesn’t mind.) The data, however, help describe the environment, and is easier to talk and write about. Tune into my Facebook page, or Twitter or LinkedIn pages to track the trends I’m noticing. These aren’t dull times.

PUbW-S2A

The trends are fascinating enough that I’ll be giving a talk about them at Langley Library on December 6th at 6:30pm. Decades ago, Seattle had a tough time getting people to move here. It was an issue HR described when I hired into Boeing in 1980. Whidbey Island was much quieter than, but so was the entire Puget Sound region. Since then, Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco, Amazon, et al have changed the area from an overlooked corner of the country into the center of a spotlight. What’s next? Stop by the for the talk and …

45810-WhidbeyChanging-LNG-POSTER

Pardon the interruption. A client called. Stay tuned.

Hey! That was fun, walking vacant land, checking out the view, considering the possibilities, and being visited by a flock of sheep.

And, getting an intriguing phone call from another broker who is interested in helping distribute the graphs I produce and share on social media.

And, before I set to typing again, another idea for creating a job opportunity. Got to make sure I talk to J and A about that. (Hey, life’s hectic and sometimes the best place to write a note is in the middle of something completely different.)

Welcome to the disjointed, always on, happy to help nature of real estate. Boredom rarely happens. Insights and perspectives from people who need whatever house they can find and afford to people who can add a vacation house so they get a chance to recuperate from a hectic lifestyle elsewhere. And, keep it all inside to respect privacy.

Real estate also represents a departure from my participation in the Gig Economy. I continue to consult with creatives to help complete their projects; and I continue to write, and take photographs for sale (Twelve Months at Maxwelton Beach is next); but most of my time is working with buyers, sellers, land, houses, and introducing them to each other.

This has not been an easy or obvious journey. Thanks to sharing in a half dozen deals, I’m still living on the island. Thanks to the costs of doing business, I have paid my bills, but not my taxes, yet. A few things have been fixed. Some new shirts have been added to my wardrobe. (Thanks, Lands End.) But, new (used) car money, major home repairs, and taking good care of my self are things to look forward to, not to spend money on – yet.

‘Yet’ is a frequently used word, but yet is closer now. Instead of relying on lottery tickets, I can look forward to being compensated for helping people. At last count, I’m working with over a dozen sets of clients, who represent a wide variety of interests, needs, and resources; and whose situations can change every day. This isn’t like engineering where a job assignment leads to a check. It’s more like a diversified portfolio of individual stocks, lots of potential which benefits from diligence and patience.

Few people except brokers want to talk about real estate every day, which is why I only mention it here, occasionally. Few people want to read about Whidbey Island every day, which is why I started a blog specifically for Whidbey, AboutWhidbey.com, Island living from a islander’s perspective. If you want to hear about both, drop by Langley Library for the talk I mentioned above. If you can’t attend, give me a call and tell me your story. Speaking of which, there’s a voice mail message I should respond to before the end of the work day (which can go until 9PM when things get busy.)

Here’s to the start of year number 2, and maybe even some stories that I can share.

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Ten Years Of Dream Invest Live

It started the day after the election. Barack Obama had been elected. A dramatic change was taking place from the Bush/Cheney era. The world sighed in relief. America wasn’t as crazy as it looked. The ‘it’ in this case is this blog, the blog based on my book, Dream. Invest. Live., which I should’ve subtitled – “personal finance for frugal folk.” It is hard to imagine such dramatic changes could take place, and a reminder that ten years from now we may look back and be similarly surprised.

Dream Invest Live cover

My book was published as the market crashed. Even before Obama became President, the economy was already inexorably falling into the Great Recession. My investing philosophy of long term buy and hold (LTBH) of stock in positively disruptive companies helped me retire at 38, and looked like it would weather the market’s upset. That history and my evidently reasonable way to describe finance inspired friends to inspire me to write the book. Rather than draw a crowd as people sought solutions, the book languished (as most books do regardless of topic) partly because people avoided the suddenly painful topic.

About four years later, two or three stars in my diversified portfolio were beginning to shine. That’s when My Triple Whammy hit. Regardless of the economy:

  • AMSC had its renewable energy intellectual property stolen and its market gutted by a Chinese customer turned competitor,
  • Dendreon achieved FDA approval for a cancer vaccine which was than assaulted by apparently felonious actors who bankrupted the company and impacted the lives of patients,
  • MicroVision had a key supplier back out just before a significant product launch as the supplier decided to work on smartphone glass instead of green lasers.

My portfolio dropped 80%, and then dropped more as I tried to keep my house and pay my bills. The housing market meant no buyers for my house. The job market meant no jobs for me. Evidently, I didn’t win the lottery jackpot. My Backup Plans weren’t backing me up. I dove into the gig economy to swim through, somehow. Last year, I was finally convinced to become a real estate broker because I couldn’t be considered to be over-qualified, and the hurdles of age, gender, and address (really) wouldn’t be an issue. Now, those years of effort are switching from potential to reality – possibly.

This blog has chronicled that path and is acting as notes for a possible sequel; From Middle Class to Millionaire to Muddling By – A rollercoaster ride through America’s wealth classes. Stay tuned. I’m not sure how it ends.

Along the way, readers implicitly voted for their favorite topics. Writers take note. We may think one set of topics should be most important; but readers decide for themselves.

Here are the top ten posts from the last eight years. (Apple dropped support for the first few years, so the only data available are for the years that WordPress has hosted the blog.)

  1. One Confused ObamaCare Applicant
  2. A Bow To Drewslist
  3. Micro Vision
  4. Apple Pixar Dendreon
  5. Will Zillow Make Me Move
  6. Weed Changes Whidbey
  7. My Spreadsheet For Tracking My Stocks
  8. PicoAir Meets ShowWX
  9. MicroVision Begins 2018
  10. MicroVision And CES2017

I thought I was writing about personal finance for frugal folk, and what readers wanted to read was about: how to sign up for healthcare, a community-based version of craigslist, the little company that may someday succeed called MicroVision, Dendreon, marijuana, and a spreadsheet. I also wrote about writing, Whidbey Island, housing, consulting, and a wide array of future scenarios – but they didn’t rank, yet. Old posts can gain new readers.

Just as this blog inspired the possibility of a sequel, it has also inspired two more focused blogs:

Some may notice that, instead of posting twice per week to this blog, I’m posting once here and posting others over there as appropriate.

A lot has happened in the last decade. A lot will happen in the next decade. Someone today is guessing right, but we won’t know who that is for ten years.

That first post included this;

“The universe tends to disorder, chaos. So goes entropy. Order, construction, takes far more energy than destruction.”

So, here’s to the next ten years, a ride through ever-shifting scenarios and schemes, a journey that can benefit from some simple ideas that won’t change:

Spend less than you make.

Invest the rest.

Live according to your values.


Oh yes, and VOTE! It does make a difference.

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Goodbye Netflix

Go to Netflix.com. Wait for the computer to load the page. Watch the page grab so much of the computer’s power that even opening a text file means having enough time to pour a cup of tea. So, why am I canceling my Netflix subscription after over a decade of use? Like many companies, they’ve improved it so much that it’s now useless – at least to me. But, there are simple success stories.

11:02
Ah, the site has loaded. Let’s see how long it takes to cancel the subscription.

Account
Cancel Membership
Cancellation will be effective at the end of your current billing period on Nov 13, 2018.
Restart your membership anytime. Your viewing preferences and account details will be saved for 10 months.
Finish Cancellation
Why
OtherMany years ago I signed up for Netflix for movies. Now, the emphasis seems to be Netflix content, fancier site dynamics that overwhelm my computer, annoying instant play, overly large graphics, and generally fewer of the movies I want to see. It looks like it’s working well for you. Congratulations. But not for me.
11:08

Well, that was painless. That part of the site is a great example of how it could operate simply and efficiently.

Diworsification is such a common corporate development that there’s even a word for it, at least in the investment community. Take something that succeeds. Celebrate that. Then grow and change as power accumulates. Add more, and more, and more. There’s a problem with more. Just go watch Key Largo, an old black and white Bogart/Bacall movie. Edward G. Robinson’s character, the gangster Johnny Rocco, wants more;

“Frank McCloud: He knows what he wants. Don’t you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Sure.
James Temple: What’s that?
Frank McCloud: Tell him, Rocco.
Johnny Rocco: Well, I want uh …
Frank McCloud: He wants more, don’t you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Yeah. That’s it. More. That’s right! I want more!
James Temple: Will you ever get enough?
Frank McCloud: Will you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Well, I never have. No, I guess I won’t.”

– IMDB Key Largo

He’s never realized that more is never enough.

Companies fall into the same trap. Growth is more important than sustainability. New is mistaken for improved. Any company that is continuing to try to grow regardless of supply and demand is ultimately doomed. Doom can take a while to arrive, but it does arrive. Sure, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Netflix are highly successful companies; but I’m finding myself drawn to simpler solutions like Google, Chromebooks, and longing for the days of ad-free, ready-when-I-am, DVDs. Similar things are happening with WordPress, that continually changes its interface (which is making maintaining this blog more difficult). Even though I liked Apple products for years, they’ve turned me off with file architecture changes, a monopolistic approach to the user experience, and a sales attitude that is more elitist than egalitarian. Google has even retracted “Do no evil”, a simple philosophy that seemingly got in the way of growth. Facebook has improved itself into something far less useful. I only use it now when I have a faster computer and internet connection, even though all I want to be able to do is post text, maybe a link, maybe a photo (#SeePoliticsPostArt), and maybe Like someone’s posts. Now, Facebook has so enough options to fill a laptop screen, and takes so long to load that I can watch each element make the computer pause before displaying it. I’m using Twitter and LinkedIn more, even though fewer friends are over there.

It doesn’t have to be that way. New features aren’t required for growth. A wise steady strategy can prevail. Look outside the corporate world. Craigslist and Wikipedia are great examples of simple ideas, concisely provided, that are just as essential, and more reliable.

One way to keep costs down in a business is to use standardized processes, and only change when a benefit has been identified. Every imposed change costs people and businesses money as we have to take time away from work to figure out how to get the work done, possibly reworking web sites and applications, and cleaning up any mistakes that happened in the process. I haven’t had that issue with Craigslist or Wikipedia, but corporations seem to be chasing the phantom that is more.

Such a tendency is one reason I like to sell small companies when they become large. Sure, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Netflix are doing fine; but go back thirty years and look at the apparent solidity of Sears, Buick, and even GE.

At least for movies, I’m on a hunt. I’m trying Hulu, but only because they have Stargate SG-1 and Firefly. Their movie list looks slightly better, but not so appealing that I’m sucked in. The mute button is necessary for the anxiety-driven medical ads, and the fact that there are ads even though I’m paying for the service.

I wonder if this is all just another example of the bifurcation happening within our society. Those with the means can update hardware and software frequently, keeping up with the new features, and sending perfectly good equipment to the landfill. Someday I’ll get a smartphone. It almost happened this month until a business delay delayed my income. Don’t spend it if you don’t have it.

As technology incrementally leaves me behind, at least temporarily, I’m finding myself spending more time reading, writing, and walking. Two scenarios come to mind: 1) What would I be doing if I was a multi-millionaire again? and 2) What would I be doing if I was a mountain man in a cabin a hundred years ago? There’s a lot of overlap. Frugality by choice instead of necessity is appealing and liberating. Chasing my passions is better than chasing after someone else’s imposed improvements. Netflix and other companies, you’d be better able to keep my business if you provided the option of stability. If I like MS Word 2008, great; instead of dropping its support, provide it as a paid feature. If I like the old version of OS X, let me keep using it instead of forcing its obsolescence. If all I need is a list of movies, don’t force me to scroll past your animated ads for your TV shows of which you are so proud.

Enough is enough. More isn’t always better. Living simply is something society won’t encourage. Its best source is within. No company can improve on a person’s awareness of their values.

Now, let’s see how long it takes to drill down to my favorite WordPress editor.

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A Rakkasan Twitter Mystery

The mysterious box is opened. The kettle is warming up, heading to “A full rolling boil”. A friendly tea provider has been consulted. A typo has been found. Just another episode in my not-so-boring life. Thanks, Twitter, I guess. And thanks, Rakkasan Tea Company for a pleasant and probably aromatic surprise.

Ah, I hear the water boiling.

Put my nose in the rising mist as I pour the hot water onto the leaves and into a tea pot for steeping. So, there’s the aroma. It wasn’t as pronounced when I opened the tin.

Tea poured, most of which goes into a thermos for tomorrow because it is too late in the day to drink too much tea – if I want to sleep.

And, before I take a sip, notice an email from a client in Japan. (Real estate, it’s not constrained by time, time zones, or continents. So glad to be able to work electronically; but I digress.)

At least this means the tea isn’t scalding when I finally take a sip. Ah. Nice. Definitely a good mid-morning to mid-afternoon tea.

How did this all happen? I don’t know, but I can guess.

When I got home from work I was surprised to find a cardboard cube of a box in the mailbox. It barely fit, just right. I hadn’t ordered anything, but my neighbors do. Just last week, one of their packages ended up in my box. No problem. Check the label and hand the package to them. But, just like the surprise gift from Lands End, there was my name, correctly spelled to the correct address on the label. A very nice departure from bills and election rhetoric. Check the return address. Rakkasan Tea Company. Never heard of them. While most folks would Google it, (there’s that noun becoming a verb) I have better sources. Five, yes, at least five of my friends have owned tea shops or sell high-end tea. Maybe one of them know about the company and can tell me what’s happening.

Brian and Kachi are dear friends who own and run Dandelion Botanical Company “a Natural Apothecary since 1996“. Go check out their site, or even better, visit the store that has now become a bit of a tourist attraction for its selection, ambiance, expertise, and personalities. OK, folks. Ever heard of Rakkasan Tea Company? Nope. And yet, it’s just the sort of tea that Dandelion would sell. Rakkasan is a young company (2017) that will “import solely from carefully selected estates in post-conflict countries as a way to promote peace and economic growth“. Sounds good. I might have to share a bit with Brian and Kachi, as well as some of my more local tea aficionados. (Though, it may be cheaper to ship them some. The gas mileage of my pickup is not exactly eco-friendly.)

The gift, which I’m assuming is a gift because there was no receipt or note, is nicely packaged: a good tight tin that holds about two ounces of tea and could probably hold more. Black Jasmine, which as they point out “is traditionally made with green tea” is therefore distinctive.

The greater distinction is the company, the possible reason I received the tea, and the fascinating collision of coincidences this day has produced.

Skip past organic. This tea is: harvested by a single family, from 300-400 year old wild trees, is ethically and sustainably produced, and sold by U.S. Army veterans who want to promote peace in post-conflict countries. That’s a lot to keep track of.

By the way, this tea is so drinkable that I’m halfway through the cup that I said I wouldn’t finish this late in the day I guess I’ll be up late watching a movie or something.

Here’s how the business world works now. U.S. Army vets, selling Vietnamese tea, under a Japanese name, with a Japanese Torii gate for an icon (and trust me I noticed the Japanese theme today, particularly getting to work with my real estate clients), all from a company that’s based in Texas. Blended teas are common, but this is a cultural blend, too.

Here’s how the electronic world works now. I use social media. I’ve been using Facebook for almost a decade. (I’d check but Facebook is so slow now that I only visit occasionally, or from a faster computer.) I spend more time on Twitter (@tetrimbath), with some time on LinkedIn (Thomas Trimbath), and Tumblr. (Bye bye, Google+.) In the midst of my posts about personal finance, real estate, community, and news that has me “Pretending Not To Panic”, I also post the same sort of innocuous comments that more real people do.

Just for fun, I started posting about the teas I was drinking. A tough morning? Something stout to power through, like one of the breakfast teas that mix Assam and Keemun. A tough afternoon? Probably something herbal, maybe with chamomile if I’ve been wound up too long. Green fits nicely into an afternoon, though I wouldn’t want a thermos of it. And then there are those herbal infusions (but we call them teas, anyways) that were inspired by Brian and Kachi’s blends. My typical blend is nettles (provided a friend whose property has more than enough), lemon balm (from my front yard), lavender (from my yard), mint (from my yard and some from Dandelion Botanical), and honeybush (from Dandelion). Thanks to too much time working in the steel mill to get through college I don’t have the refined taste buds of other friends who operate tea businesses, like Dori Hallberg; but I enjoy a variety. So, I share little notes about my cups of tea often enough that someone suggested a hashtag, #TomTea.

I don’t know, but I realize it is possible, that Rakkasan stumbled across my tea posts, and decided to subtly introduce themselves to me through tea. That’s my story, for now.

The world no longer works from conventional business models or communication channels. Klout.com, which just went out of business, tried disrupting Google the way Google disrupted Yahoo the way Yahoo disrupted newspaper ads. Ads are pushed and broadcast and spread across populations, hoping to find enough sales. Yahoo collected the market niches into categories that made it easier to target. Google found a way to target people who searched for a term rather than joined a group. Klout tried what’s called the Reputation Economy, where it’s cheaper to contact certain individuals hoping to encourage them to spread the word. Rakkasan sent me a tin of tea. Tea = $17.99. Shipping probably < $10. Labor cost for noticing the tweet and deciding to send me something = I don’t know. But, I do know that $100 doesn’t buy much of an ad in the paper; and that only runs once. Advertising is always a risk, and depending on how many and which people they contact, the reward could be far greater.

Look back a few weeks to the package I received from Lands End. Since then, I blogged about it, tweeted about it, told dozens of my friends the story, and equally importantly I’ve returned to their site to line up my next purchase. (For every successful real estate transaction I tend to buy one or two more pieces for my aging and fading wardrobe. A necessary and welcome treat.) I’ll tell this story, too. And I won’t be surprised to find that I got it wrong, which will prolong our conversation. Maybe that’s why they didn’t send me a note: suspense.

Rather than caffeinate myself into insomnia, I’m nibbling on another appropriate synchronicity. These zucchini slices may not be cucumber slices, a traditional tea accompaniment, but they’ll suffice to make me grin with the way so many things came together, today.

Thanks to Rakkasan Tea Company, I’ll try to tag them on Twitter and Linkedin. (They’re welcome to tag me or Trimbath Creative Enterprises.) Thanks for the story. Now, I just have to figure out the best way to point out a typo on their tin. See, that’s what happens when a writer gets involved.

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Economics Recessions Elections And Prognostications

So, what do you think will happen next? There’s only one word in that question with more than one syllable. Such simple words are signs of ancient origins. We’ve probably always asked that question. The world is weirder and changing faster than ever. Just because it is difficult to find an answer doesn’t mean we quit asking the question. The political debates come down to one person and one ballot on one day multiplied by the number of people who care enough to vote. (And, if you don’t vote, don’t complain.) The money side of things is much more personal, affects us every day, and affects our personal finance plans. What you think will happen next isn’t as important as what you’ll do next. Welcome to my exploration.

Economics
Science is measured by whether it can make predictions. By that measure, economics is a terrible science, or at least an immature one. Now that data are more available and the consequences of actions can be seen on a global and systemic scale, old assumptions in the new science of economics are being challenged. Read, watch, or listen to some of the stories in Freakonomics and watch stereotypes fly apart. Drug dealers may only make minimum wage, but it’s sometimes their best choice. Violence and crime correlate with a decrease of lead in the environment and an increase in the availability of abortions. There may be a Nobel Prize in Economics, but young students witnessing the world are revolting against conventional wisdom, and even the doctrine taught to them in college.

Economics lag. Causes and effects are frequently separated by years or generations. A current economic boom is probably produced by policies instituted years earlier, and acted upon by people’s spending and savings habits that are influenced by previous booms and busts.

Economics are chaotic. The chaos isn’t random, but it is the mathematical definition of chaos where chaos means the system is so complex that it may be impossible to accurately predict what will happen next. Based on that success rate, economics wouldn’t be in demand; but people need plans so people will study and listen to economics news for any help they can get.

Economics may be unpredictable, but personal actions can be more certain. Spend less than you make. Invest the rest. Repeat. It isn’t a panacea. Income and expenses are not always in our control. Income can be ruled by a boss or a clientele, or a hurricane blowing through your house. Expenses can be ruled by accidents and medical bills. Income can also be ruled by the lottery and expenses can be forgiven (both with similar odds.)

Recessions
Recession to recovery to recession to recovery to repetition. Recessions and recoveries are bounces around a norm that the US economy rarely settles down to. We’ve become accustomed to booms and busts, some shallow, some extreme, some regional, some national. The norm is to never sit on the norm. We’re experiencing one of the longest recoveries in US history. Guess what will happen next. Its inevitability isn’t in question, just the specific timing and magnitude. Some system studies conclude that the system is unstable, not under some overt or covert control, and will continue to experience wider swings. Higher highs and lower lows are the norm. As wild as the US economy has been, it is relatively stable compared to Venezuela’s million percent inflation, currency devaluations in Turkey, and sixty percent interest rates in Argentina.

Each recession gets pinned to a scapegoat. The housing bubble, the Internet stock bubble, the silver bubble, … Assets chase assets. People who are saving more are sensitive to where putting their money may mean saving less. So, if commodities were a bubble that burst, put the money in stocks – until they burst then put the money in housing – until it burst then put the money in commodities – and then oil drops and threatens nations so put the money in private equity or Bitcoin or some computer managed combination of the lot.

But, for people with a long enough view and enough patience and resources to let the money sit, there can be impressive gains thanks to time. Apple stock was great, then it sank, now it’s phenomenal – as long as you waited twenty or thirty years. (And I, in youthful rebellion, sold when they kicked out Steve Jobs, and never bought back in. Sigh.) Simple houses in Seattle, or where I live (and now am a real estate broker) on Whidbey Island never seemed like much until the region is ‘discovered’ and prices soar. They’ve soared to levels that are still cheap compared to the rest of the major cities on the Pacific Rim.

Recessions are temporary. So are recoveries. Lives last longer. Set a simple course to make it through each, and repeat.

Elections
Politics. Sigh. I so long for the simpler times of Watergate. Elections mattered then, too; but now they’re existential. They’re also more about wining the game than about managing the nation. And yet, whoever wins will take credit and shift blame for whatever happens the day after the election. Someone won and the market went up? They may take the credit, but the previous politician had more influence. The market went down? Blaming the previous people happens even faster.

Elections do matter. They always have. Because of elections, enough people were elected to institute policies that helped me renegotiate rather than lose my mortgage and my house. Tying today’s politics to today’s economy, however, gives too much credit to the economy’s agility. It’s isn’t that smart, maneuverable, or controllable.

And yet, the economy is due for a shift, which will probably result in a recession, which will affect the next election.

And yet, and yet, I was glad to see that my Voter’s Pamphlet arrived today. I like being able to vote (and then complain.) I almost was in this one, but work and inconvenience helped me miss a deadline. Maybe next time. Just as in economics, a big messy situation can be reduced to simple personal actions. Spend less than you make. Invest the rest. And vote.

Prognostications
I can feel comfortable prognosticating because I am told very few readers have the attention span to read this many words. Congratulations if you got this far.

Our economy, politics, environment, and society are all mathematically chaotic systems. Technology is changing concurrently and is faster than the rest. Making A prognostication is a silly game. Whatever happens will not happen to everyone. The news will hit the highlights and make them sound universal, but the recent news coverage of the Florida hurricane proved my point. The camera swept past piles of rubble twenty feet high. The properly ruffled newscaster described the terrible scene, and was right. But, right behind the rubble was an apartment complex that didn’t seem damaged. Houses were swept away, which is why we should respond because they are proxies for the people involved. But other houses weren’t. They’re less likely to be mentioned, except by prudent reporters and planners. But the stories of the houses and lives that weren’t damaged aren’t dramatic, so they can’t fit into a three minute news segment.

There will be chaos under heaven, and for some, the situation will be – at least acceptable, and not worth noticing, but worth living. Frugal, prudent, and prepared may be boring, but they’re also more likely to avoid the dramas that disrupt lives.

My prognostication: Live simply. It isn’t a panacea, either, but it is one of the best plans a person can personally act upon.

As for my forty year mortgage. Really? I don’t even know if we’ll have the same country in a year. Sure. I’ll take that lower rate, thank you very much.

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Learning From Science Fiction

I like sci-fi, but not just any science fiction. I like hard sci-fi, the kind of science fiction that makes me think about our society, our world, and our reality. This is not about Star Trek versus Star Wars, which some call science fantasy because the science isn’t always very scientific. This is about perspectives as diverse as utopian to dystopian to otherwise unimaginable – some of which is happening in our politics, technology, society, and environment. I may be Pretending Not To Panic like many people, but decades of reading sci-fi means I’m surprised as I am disappointed. I’m also inspired enough to begin writing some, too.

Star Trek and Star Wars get most of the attention. Blockbusters make that happen in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look beyond warp drive versus hyperdrive and check out their perspectives.

Star Trek envisions a utopia that we reach by passing through catharsis. Society has abandoned capitalism, eliminated poverty, embraced egalitarianism, and left internal wars behind. All of the nasty bits are left to aliens to introduce for drama. Want to see how we get past dystopia to utopia? Watch the Deep Space Nine episode called Past Tense. Things had to get very bad before they got good.

Star Wars relies on internal conflict with the Rebellion, the Republic, the First Order and a variety of agendas. The Jedi may represent utopia, but they’re eliminated, sort of, maybe – wait for the ninth movie. Some people are driven by ideology, others by power, others by money, and their driving motivations can shift. Nothing is stable. Everything is dramatic. It makes for a good series of stories.

Today’s world, however, is something I see reflected in the stories that best reveal themselves in books. William Gibson and Philip K. Dick describe a near-future on Earth with environmental catastrophe, massive income and wealth inequality, and a power shift from governments to corporations. Some of their books became movies: Johnny Mnemonic and Blade Runner, movies set in a dark tone where people grind through dysfunctional societies trying to carve a niche and secure it against injustice. Like I said, Dark.

The movies are engaging, but the books are useful. When I read the news today, I see echoes of sci-fi stories that explored the various themes that many thought would never arise in American and modern society. Surely we’d never…whatever. A two hour movie can flash the concept onto a screen, but the books behind them delve into motivations and implications. The unexpected consequences that can’t make it to the screen are fascinating and too familiar. George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm are good starts to understanding the ease with which authoritarians can rise and rule. My favorites, however, are the authors who take an idea, play what-if, write the book, listen to their personal insights, listen to the readers’ insights, and explore further in the next, and the next, and the next, and maybe invite other authors to play within that realm.

My long time favorite is Larry Niven. He started simply, as most authors do (except for J. K. Rowling) and built on readers’ reactions and his own curiosity. His Known World series is more realistic than movies because his explorations are more complex. Advances in medicine influence finance which influence colonization which influence societal bifurcation which… And then throw in some aliens that are truly alien with alien agendas and perspectives and the stories don’t get old. One story line even spawned a series of PhDs. He wrote about a world that’s a massive ring around a star; Ringworld. It is one of his best sellers because it is a good story, and thought provoking. It provoked so many thoughts that science and engineering students analyzed it, wrote theses about it, and got their degrees because of it. He listened and extended the series with Ringworld Engineers where he gave more life to their insights, and created stories that explored the implications there and all the way back to Earth.

I watch the news now as if each item is a three minute movie that I know has bookcases of complexity behind each report. Lately, I’m seeing more similarities with sci-fi. The technologies are following the courses set out decades ago, but it is the societal implications that resonate disturbingly closely to those dystopian worlds.

A more recent favorite is Dan Simmons. He has fewer books than Larry Niven, but he nicely dives into the blending of the advancement of technology by different factions familiar within our current society. Summarizing a series of books into a movie is tough. Doing so in these few sentences has to fall far shorter, but I can pass along one possibility that dramatically changes society’s path. As technology becomes easier to implement and as governments become less associated with their citizenry, people become more trusting of technology than of their governments. Smart assistants like Alexa are remarkably like the Big Brother devices from 1984. People were startled to learn that they were going to receive a Presidential Alert on their mobile phones, but pay for the privilege of having a computer track their location, activities, health condition, shopping habits, and maybe even help pick a mate. Do we turn over our wars to robots? Do we trust personal defences more than municipal police forces?

Some of my friends are surprised that I’m not more surprised with what’s happening. Thanks to lots of reading, I’ve unfortunately seen most of it before, even the manipulation of the masses through computerized manipulation of their information. Dive into Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series for the work of the fictional character Hari Seldon.

Reading prepares me to act, not just react, and not just watch others take actions that affect me. Reading books help me manage my money and my life choices by witnessing stories before they happen.

I have ideas, too. In addition to my regular gigs and jobs, I’ve been writing a science fiction novel that helps me explore concepts of consciousness, technological backlash against technological omnipresence, and a diaspora. What started as a simple idea is growing. Whether it will grow as well as it has for other authors isn’t as important as the personal exploration that helps me understand the world.

And then, there are those unintended consequences.

Last night a friend and fellow writer (Don Scoby aka @WIBakingCo) and I gave a presentation at one of the local libraries about self-publishing. I’ve given the presentation several times solo, so I gave the general view of the industry and trends while he gave the most current perspective. He is getting ready to publish his first book, a cookbook which is a challenge, within the next week or so. While preparing our presentation we talked about our other books that are in progress. He, too, is working on a sci-fi novel and possible series that has some of the same explorations as mine, but from a different perspective. Taking inspiration from Larry Niven and others, it’s possible to have more than one writer write within the same realm, just like Star Wars and Star Trek.

As a society, we have entered an unexpected world. Authoritarianism is rising. Environmental upsets are happening faster than most expected. Financial systems are potentially destabilizing with inequalties and cryptocurrencies. The pundits and the politicians may not be the ones to listen to for ways to affect change and adapt. It may be the novelists, the dreamers, and the ideological explorers who don’t constrain their message to a three minute news clip, a two hour movie, or even a tweet. This may be the time to read about the future and its possibilities to decide what to do on a personal and sometimes financial level.

 

PS If you’re interested in our presentation, we’re happy to give it again. In the meantime, here’s a video of the first hour. We livestreamed it to YouTube, a combination of technologies that would’ve seemed magical thirty years ago.

Now, it’s time for me to get back to binge-watching Stargate SG-1. I’ve almost memorized Firefly, and look forward to binge-watching Babylon 5, someday. It’s all good.

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Too Weird Not To Share

This has been a day that’s been happening faster than tweets, and I know that because I couldn’t even finish the first one before things started to happen.

Friday. Nothing on the schedule. It’s been a busy week and a while since I had a day with nothing to do, but there was a lull between events that require responses on Saturday, possibly Sunday, Monday, and definitely Tuesday. The rains are back. I settled in with a cup from a pot of a home-mixed herbal infusion (what some folks would call tea) of nettles, mint, lemon balm, chamomile, and honeybush. That’s a tea that likes to steep for an hour, but I usually stop it early to keep it warm in a thermos. Laptop open. Tea beside me. Emails checked. Begin a tweet, which I can’t complete.

 

I hear slow footsteps on the deck. The door bell rings. Instead of a ding-dong, mine usually goes one bing, one bing only. This time it goes dingngngngngngngn. My neighbor accidentally jammed my door bell, but was so upset about locking themself out of their house that they didn’t notice the constant tone. Free the buzzer and go help a friend. Pardon the discretion, but all I can say is that it was more than opening a door. This time it was easy. Their door was actually open, but they were trying to unlock an unlocked door with their car’s key fob. At least it was easy to get them out of the rain. Various elderly people live in my neighborhood; so, a local senior protective services organization appreciates hearing about repeated memory lapses, so I make a few phone calls. (The story is more involved, but discretion is involved.)

Settle in to complete the tweet, and find an email that may massively disrupt a contract between two people I am working with. Emails and phone calls begin flying out into a rapidly expanding network. While finally on the phone resolving a key and fortunately enabling possibility, the UPS truck drives up. I didn’t order anything. I rarely order anything. Just check back to one of my prior posts (Frugality Computers Twitter). No time to investigate. Accept the package and continue the call.

Get done with that call, and a subsequent few others, and get interrupted by a call from the office of my friendly naturopath. They’ve instituted an innovative health care model that I was happy to be one of the first subscribers to, but evidently I forgot to click a button on the online form, or something. I’ll blog about that later, but first…

Remember to deal with the emergency services person who called about the elderly person who got locked out of their house. Evidently, I should expect a clarification call from a social worker or a deputy sheriff or both.

Meanwhile, I’m fielding emails and private messages about Tuesday’s talk at the Langley Library. A friend and I are giving a talk on self-publishing, and there are logistics and details to work out.

Self publishing 2018

Finally, weary from a complete change from my original plan of quietly sitting for the morning, I decide to counter my naturopath’s advice by having pizza (gluten-free) and beer (Guinness is good for you, they say) for lunch. Pre-heat the oven and find a knife to open the very large box that has the right address, name, and nothing to tell me why it arrived.

DSCN1513

I can tell it’s from Lands End, so that’s good. Did I accidentally order something? Click a button without realizing or remembering it? Inside the brown box was a cheerful Christmas-themed, gift-wrapped surprise. My previous fascinating failed shopping experience that was resolved by Lands End resulted in a few tweets and that blog post I mentioned. Along the way I mentioned that the purchase was for new clothes for my new career as a real estate broker. You’re welcome to speculate on Lands End’s motivations, but I was surprised, pleased, and definitely in need of such a gift. They sent me a new briefcase and polo shirt, and a sweet card. You know how uncommon that is, especially from someone who will probably never meet me. Thank you, you sweet people that make up a company that listens, and responds.

 

Lunch is over. The emails and phone calls have quieted. My neighbor should be warm and dry. The large disagreement has greatly benefited from the wisdom of experienced advisors, and a two or three day delay. There are details to resolve with my health care system, as well as those logistics for Tuesday’s talk. My beer mug is almost empty (I don’t gulp) and I’ll soon switch back to that nettle tea. Maybe I can find some of that quiet time this afternoon.

Life laughs at plans. A few hours of turmoil are followed by several hours of peace. Along the way there are unexpected gifts, whether they come in boxes, or advice, or in helping someone get something done. My plans didn’t include any of that. For now, I plan to publish this post, click on a few social media notifications, try on a new shirt, and wonder what’s next. Oh yeah, and have a cup of tea. (By the way, thanks for the suggestion that I somehow brand, trademark, or copyright #TomTea, but I think I’ll let the hashtag suffice, for now. And, I’ll definitely continue to tweet about things that happen in real life. Really.)

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Wither Geron

I’m glad I waited, well, procrastinated before writing this post. One of my long-term investments finally had significant news. Oops. But is it oops forever, or just for a while? Forever is an interesting concept for a company that has, or had, the grand goal of dramatically increasing human lifespans. Where will it (the technology, the company, and the stock) go next?

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Take a look at today’s chart. Up over 9%? That’s great! That’s better than most markets average in a year. So why am I not doing the happy dance? Look back a week.

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Last week the stock dropped over 60% in one day, and continued to fall. If only I’d get past my distrust of stop loss orders that arose while invested in a different biotech, Dendreon (DNDN). Oh well, there sits a bit of my IRA, down to under $2 a share. Biotechs need partners. They need friends, too, but the best they usually get are partners. Geron had one partner that was helping with the less technological aspects of a new treatment for blood disorders. If the clinical trials were successful, they’d provide a treatment for an unmet need, as well as prove a technology that could also fight cancer. A true cancer vaccine could be incredibly valuable.

Unfortunately, Geron’s partner decided to back out. Down goes the stock. At one point in that dreadful day, I saw the ticker show a more than 80% drop. So much for sleeping in that day. A personal oops. Researching corporations can be difficult. Researching high technology is also difficult. Make that a bio-tech company and don’t be surprised that the news releases are exceedingly poor at releasing useful news. Regardless, someone was able to wade through the combination of corporate-speak, tech-jargon, and medical-cautions to read it as bad news.

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In March of 2018, the stock spiked over 60% in under 90 minutes. Biotechs languish for a long time, then spike or crash within minutes before establishing a trend. That spike retreated, but the stock trended up rising from a low of $1.50 to almost $7 within a year. A very nice return. And, a reference point that puts the current price in perspective. After last week’s drop and today’s rise, the stock sits at $1.71, a more than 10% raise in less than a year.

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Look back a little further. Over the last five years, GERN has gone through several spikes and drops. None were as severe as the recent action, but they’re all reminiscent of their previous events. Biotechs bounce. Until they finally begin making money and reporting it, they are great unknowns swung by hopes and fears more than by financial reports.

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Go back further to when I bought the stock in 1999. As I wrote after March’s pop (GERN Spikes I Buy AST);

“That was in 1999. Within three months the stock went from $14 to over $71. I felt brilliant… “

I also noted;

“My wait has been long. GERN is the only stock I bought as a tip from a friend.”

I recall buying GERN back then, almost twenty years ago when I was just entering middle age, with the thought and intent that if they ever succeeded at dramatically increasing human lifespans, the treatment may be so valuable that the stock would be equally valuable, and that the only way to afford the treatment might be from wealth gained by owning the stock.

Today, my holdings aren’t enough to pay for a crown for a cracked tooth.

Technologies advance most from revolution instead of evolution. There are connections but the major advances are from big leaps like the switch from slide rules to mainframes to personal computers to smartphones; like the switch from casting out demons to casting out germs to only casting out the bad germs. Geron’s technology represents such a leap, but at this point it only represents it; it hasn’t implemented it.

I invest in such advances because I want civilization to advance, and because such investments were successful for me until my Triple Whammy. Whether they succeed again is only something to evaluate later, hopefully in my lifetime. Investing in such companies is possible because of the economic system in place in the US, because such companies are too risky for many investors which means they are more affordable for people like me, and because it is easier to find them now that we’ve created the revolutionary technology that is the Internet.

That does not mean such a strategy is guaranteed. It’s not guaranteed. There are no certainties in investing, regardless of what the brochures say. I’m a data geek. I’d welcome a meta-survey of the probability of success and expected range of ROIs (Return On Investment) of the various strategies. That’s something I’d like to fund if I won the MegaMillions lottery jackpot – but then, I wouldn’t need the results because I wouldn’t need to invest. Others would benefit, and my curiosity would be entertained.

I’ll continue to hold my remaining GERN shares. As I mentioned above, I bought some after being inspired by a friend, added to them as my portfolio grew, and then shaved off some as necessary after that Triple Whammy. I’m back to my original number of shares, and managed to actually make a profit. The power of those remaining shares has been diluted significantly, and so has their potential as Geron sold off most of their technologies.

While I could’ve played the game with stop loss orders and immediate responses, that would be counter to my philosophy of Long Term Buy and Hold. LTBH misses the swings but also minimizes the maintenance costs of investing in individual stocks. I want my money to make money for me, but I also don’t want to spend all of my time trying to make that happen. Time is more valuable than money, and I feel its loss just as much.

As for Geron’s other technologies, I’m lucky enough to have just as many shares in one of the recipient companies, Asterias (AST), which is making nice progress towards regrowing damaged nerves, another life-extending technology.

As for the MegaMillions lottery, today’s crazy financial world now puts that jackpot ($367M) above GERN’s market cap ($314M). Buy the treatment? Bah! Buy the company (but not really because the cash payout is “only” $214M.)

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Frugality Computers Twitter

Frustrated with tech? Wondering about how to save money? Frugality, computers, Twitter, and my wardrobe collided a few days ago. Fortunately, instead of surviving that and just getting a T-shirt, I expect to receive a polo shirt and a turtleneck. It all started with a hole.

Pardon me while I pause to let Twitter load.

Ah, there it is. It takes a while for Twitter to load. That’s not Twitter’s fault. One of the things I like about Twitter is that it is the simplest social media site I use. Any sluggishness probably comes from my frugality.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and definitely don’t throw it away. My MacBook is about ten years old – and still running. Sure, the hard drive’s been replaced. So has the battery during that old fiasco when Macs were catching fire. And, yeah, the DVD drive (yes, it still has one) sometimes has memory issues like not waking up to acknowledge its existence, but it still runs, eventually. Its speed hasn’t changed. Chips don’t slow down. Software, however, continues to bloat. Apple has upgraded operating systems beyond the capacity of my Mac, or at least what I am willing to risk subjecting it to. The browser is the bigger problem.

When this Mac was young, Amazon was still being laughed at for not making any money. Facebook? Facebook? What’s a Facebook? My computer ran well, was my main tool for writing several books, and has managed my life every day that I’ve been home, even the days without power thanks to the battery.

Now, we ask and expect much. Our expectations have raised and software developers have built the path and helped us move along. That also means bigger programs and more CPU cycles. That’s okay for most people who regularly upgrade their hardware, but I’m the frugal sort. Don’t spend it if you don’t need it.

My business disagreed. About five years ago I bought one of the new brand of computers, a Chromebook, a laptop that owes allegiance to the Internet. The basic design assumes everything is going to be uploads and downloads, probably with little or nothing actually being stored on the laptop. It was cheap, light, had a longer battery life, and was basically expendable – at least compared to typical laptops. Drop my Mac and lose major parts of my life. Drop my Chromebook, or have something break, and… About a year ago that happened and I was back and working in under 3 hours for less than $300.

Unfortunately, modern corporations don’t design for frugal people.

I’m wearing slightly nicer clothes now that I am a real estate broker. The shorts are in storage, unless I’m dancing. It’s a pair of jeans with polo shirts or turtlenecks depending on the weather. (Skip the suit. That’s for the mainland.) Everyday wear wore down clothes I owned for years, maybe decades. One of my co-listings sold, which meant I could replace some of the shirts with something without holes – except for the expected ones for my neck, arms, and torso. It’s time to shop!

Skip the mall. Thanks to the ferry, driving to the mall and back could cost more than the clothes. I tried shopping on the south part of the island, but couldn’t find a simple polo shirt and turtleneck. Surely, online stores would fill my simple needs. Comparison shopping is so easy. Log into EddieBauer.com, LandsEnd.com, and LLBean.com and search on each for two items: a short sleeve polo shirt without a pocket and a straightforward turtleneck, tall, large, and basic black for this trip. Lowest price wins. Except that all three failed. Whether it was my Mac, the operating system, the browser, or the full moon, I wasn’t able to find and add those two items to my shopping cart. Bizarre. Frugality was keeping me from saving money.

I vented. Venting to a friend relieves a lot of tension. Venting on Facebook can corral a chorus of support – with hecklers.Venting on Twitter is different. I’ve done it before, and it’s effective. I didn’t want to start three online chats, one for each company, but one tweet let me tell all three at least something about my experience.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I chose those three companies because I’ve liked their style and support over the decades. But, phone calls, emails, and online chats are sometimes replaced with “Search our Knowledge Base”, and most queries are easy to ignore because they are effectively private. Venting to a friend only helps emotionally, with a small chance they’ll find a solution. The same for Facebook, but the size of the audience means more possibilities. Describing my experience on Twitter has a different effect. It’s public. It may get ignored, but responsive companies know to manage their reputations they must manage such issues, and managing them successfully publicly is a bonus. A short while later I received a Notification. One of them responded.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

My task had shrunk from dealing with three companies to dealing with one. Buying clothes isn’t my top priority. There were consulting clients to consult with and real estate clients to help buy or sell houses. The next day, on a different computer, with a different operating system and browser I was successful. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the company that got the sale was the one that responded to my call. Nicely done, Lands End.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I’m lucky. My business doesn’t require high-end computing, at least relative to today’s standards. Any of my machines are magical compared to the punch cards I used in college. My old MacBook runs Adobe Photo Elements, not even Photoshop, and that’s okay. I hire out the tough stuff. Most business needs can be addressed online, except for one pesky corporate learning module that I had to access for seven weeks. Chromebooks are maturing thanks to the immature environment of elementary schools. The laptops are being designed to survive fifth-graders. I can be a klutz, but that’s a standard I can benefit from. I also recently received someone’s “old” PC that even runs Windows 10. Three kinds of computers means three opportunities to find a solution.

Frugality is respecting resources, whether that’s money, time, community, or the planet. It isn’t just being cheap. Respecting the different tools available helps. Acknowledging the benefits and limitations of social media expands the use of the tools. Appreciating a company that actually listens (and had some good sales) means getting more done. It is easy to laugh and smirk at things that cost little or nothing, or come with a few strings attached; but look at what they can do when they all work together. If nothing else, they might just update my wardrobe just a bit.

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US Constitution Day 2018

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Can you imagine such a document being written and ratified today? It was created 231 years ago and wasn’t ratified until several months later, June 21, 1788. I mention the US Constitution here, on a personal finance blog, because what happened back then affects where we are now and is a reminder of where we may be headed.

Today’s times are tough, existentially tough, but the times were tougher then. The creators of the Constitution couldn’t nuke humanity into extinction, but it was easy to imagine the country dissolving and disappearing. It was a grand experiment that was massively disruptive. Great Recession? Ha! Try tossing out a system based on royalty, a stable currency, and everyone’s livelihoods (something far more precious than careers, jobs, or gigs) and replacing it with a completely new system. It must have been like switching to Bitcoin while relying on some new dotcom and retraining major portions of the populace. And they did it. And it wasn’t easy.

One thing that made it easier was a common enemy, and even that wasn’t unanimous. There were factions for and against, each probably seeing the other as an internal threat. And yet, they fought to find common ground from which to fight a common enemy. That’s the same and different now.

A hundred years ago, there were the Central Powers in The War to End All Wars. After 1929, the common threat was poverty and hunger. The Axis (Nazi Germany and Japan) pulled the Allies together again in WWII. For much of the remainder of the century, the enemy was the only other country that could truly contest the country, the Soviet Union.

Then, the Berlin Wall fell. With the US left standing alone, it was if we lost our purpose. Partisan politics has always been the norm, but the data shows it accelerating. 9/11 rallied folks for a while, but an amorphous enemy is harder to target. Instead, a pervasive threat was met with pervasive, and frequently inappropriate, paranoia.

We’re not the only ones. Look around at a world of dysfunctional governments. It’s almost as if we’re searching for something but we don’t know what. Meanwhile, systemic threats like climate change and injustice continue.

The US Constitution was a compromise, and a wise one. The country’s motto is e plu·ri·bus u·num – out of many, one. The founding document acknowledged the many and the benefit to being one.

“the Constitution which we now present is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession, which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.”

That it will meet the full and entire approbation of every State is not, perhaps, to be expected; but each will, doubtless, consider, that had her interest alone been consulted, the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable or injurious to others; that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe”

They made sure it could be changed, because they knew it’s impossible to be perfect.

“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution”

A few things that seem to be neglected or changed elsewhere:

  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; (Two years? I can think of a few wars that we’ve continued far past that.)
  • No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts… (So much for gold and silver. Imagine how many investors were upset when their existing contracts were changed, or later when we abandoned the gold standard.)
  • And then there’s the famous takeback;
    • the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
    • The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed

Considering some of the debates that have lasted for decades, there’s probably opportunity for more changes. I can think of one that would benefit from a bit of clarification, editing, wordsmithing, and basically. Of course, if we did that social media traffic would crater.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

They probably thought it was perfectly clear at the time. At the time, and at the same time knew that something in the document would need correction.

And, let’s recall the bizarre concept that is the Electoral College.

By the way, impeachment is mentioned six times, as well as several phrases that resurface in the news;

“he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

Evidently, they expected someone to try to benefit from the office.

By the way, the US Constitution uses He so often that I wonder if it would have to be rewritten to apply to a She. Or do She(s) get a free pass?

Personal finance models are built on conventions. Plans assume the future will be like the past, maybe with some tweaks to interest and inflation rates. History is ready to remind us other pieces of conventional wisdom: the only constant is change; and if even if you think you see it coming, it will look different when it arrives.

Without a common enemy, divisiveness may continue to grow. Currently, that’s meaning greater income and wealth inequality, a similar bifurcation in housing and health, and ideological differences that are being amplified for the consolidation of power and profit, not for furthering the maturity of the country. If the US is no longer seen as an us but as a collection of thems it is no longer united.

I expect something will happen. Moderating forces are losing energy. Social, financial, environmental, and technical changes have unstoppable momentum. I continue to pay my mortgage, strive for a sustainable income, and try to prolong life by living healthily; but I’m also aware that complete systemic changes have happened before, and could happen again thanks to the speed of communication. If we all recognized a common enemy, that could help; but that seems like a reflexive response, not a mature one. Maybe we need a nice alien to show up, or a global awareness of how to make life sustainable here, or something else that I can’t imagine, yet. How about an awareness of common consciousness?

A few hundred years ago, a small portion of the world’s population saw a problem, took the risk, found a new way, and pursued it despite internal dissension and external reactions. They changed the world. We may be ready for a change again. And in that case, I suspect my 40 year mortgage may be more than a bit moot.

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