Rules To Live & Die By: Life, Money & Otherwise.

Aside

I appreciate rules.

Rules derived from the heart and mind have saved me.

Rules, forged from experience, can safeguard precious resources – financial and otherwise.

They will protect you from losing your pants.

just got naked

Naked rules are best.

Pure, simple, raw.

Here are mine.

What are yours?

 

Random Thoughts:

Part I: Life Rules.

my life my rules

 

If a woman can’t listen to the Eagles’song Lyin’ Eyes without wincing, or quickly changes the station, run.

Beware of people who carry a stash of ’emergency’ condoms (indeed run, but feel free to have sex first).

You can’t wipe your ass enough (especially men – we’re the worst). When you believe it’s all clear in the deep, take another swipe. Just to be safe.

Never trust a person who rarely uses turn signals.

Be cautious of those who judge based on past mistakes when they’ve made the same ones or worse.

Don’t step back without looking (there’s a dog there, especially in the kitchen).

Never let open wine go to waste. Never. (Did I say never?).

Distrustful people are black pitch through the soul. Avoid them.

Be wary of those who can’t maintain close long-term relationships of any kind.

When I ignore rules I create, bad things happen.

Misjudgments remain with me. I see injury in the mirror every day. I lose a spark that will most likely, never return. Perhaps it’s part of a natural process, like aging.

Living without a personal guide book can hurt you.

Along with Clarity’s Chief Market Strategist Lance Roberts, we’ve created rules to help you protect and understand the key drivers of your wealth.

Remember – For every beginning there is an end. Investments have a shelf life. Eventually you’ll need to liquidate them to fulfill a financial goal, create a paycheck in retirement, gift to loved ones. Whatever. Money is to be spent, enjoyed.

Not hoarded.

And yes, you can indeed sell investments to protect capital.

Huh? What?

Sell: The scariest 4-letter word on Wall Street.  Just the mention of it and you’re branded a loon. Leprotic, running amok and licking the neighborhood children.

Part II: Investment Rules:

Cut losers short. Let winners run. Underperforming positions are reduced or removed from portfolios on rallies.

Set financial life benchmarks and take action. Every position purchased has a sell target. Investments without goals are arbitrary, which increases portfolio risk.

Emotional biases are not part of the investment management process.

Follow the trend. 80% of portfolio performance is determined by the underlying trend.

And the current trend is south. 

SP500-MarketUpdate-011516-2.png

When markets break their long-term bullish trend supports combined with important long-term sell signals and a sharp decline in momentum, it has historically denoted the start of a “bear market trend.” The red highlight denotes the start of the bear market. The yellow highlight shows the ensuing bear market completion.

Never let a profit turn into a “loss.”

Investment discipline is successful if consistently followed.

Losses are part of the investment process. Losing positions are regularly culled to reduce portfolio risk and free up capital for better investment selections. However, you can’t completely avoid losses. Sorry. If that’s the case you’re better off in certificates of deposit. You can minimize but not eliminate. You play, you pay.

Math-Of-Loss-122115.png

As fiduciaries of OTHER PEOPLE’S money, the biggest concern is not how much money we make during market advances, but rather how much we keep from losing during market declines.

While this seems counter-intuitive, in reality it is where long-term gains are generated. As William Lippman, CEO of Investment Management at Franklin Templeton quipped:

“Better to preserve capital on the downside rather than outperform on the upside”

A strict discipline of portfolio risk management will NOT eliminate all losses in portfolios. However, it will minimize the capital destruction to a level that can be dealt with logically, rather than emotionally.

This isn’t market timing, people. That doesn’t work. ‘All-or-none’ is a losing strategy. Never go all cash. From a management standpoint, this is a bad idea. Trying to “time the market” is impossible over the long-term and leads to very poor emotionally based decision making.

The objective is to reduce portfolio risk to manageable levels to preserve capital over time. We can do that by increasing and reducing our exposure to equity-related risk by paying attention to the price trends of the market.Odds of success greatly improve when the fundamentals are confirmed by the technical indicators (see? Another rule).

Don’t add to a losing position. This is called “averaging down” and rarely is it effective. How many investors are caught in the energy sector value trap? Or treated master limited partnerships ‘safe’ as fixed instruments?

The slide has been ugly and getting uglier.

XLE-011516

Don’t be a hero. Buying energy or “averaging down” at this juncture will most likely be hazardous to your wealth.

Markets are “bullish” or “bearish.” Remain neutral or long in bull markets. In bear markets be neutral and increase cash.

When markets or portfolio positions are trading at extreme deviations from long term trends, do the opposite of “the herd.”

If you haven’t trimmed positions yet –Wait for an opportune time. Most likely, a  market bounce is coming. Trim your weakest holdings into strength especially if your gut is in turmoil or you’re 5 years or closer to retirement.

A goal of portfolio management is to achieve a 70% success rate. No process is perfect. Consistency wins the long game.

Manage risk and volatility, not returns. Also, manage emotions. Humans are not wired to invest. Knee-jerk reactions, overconfidence, seeing trends that don’t exist will only destroy portfolio returns.

Never discount the importance of financial planning. The investment process is an element of a financial plan. An important one. However, it’s not the full story. It’s the sexiest chapter, I know.

There’s more to consider.

So we created.

Part III: Clarity’s Financial Planning Rules.

Take a holistic approach. Proper planning integrates all assets, liabilities and sources of income for a complete perspective.

Money is fungible. For planning to be effective, remove the mental boundaries around the dollars you earn and save so they may be allocated to their highest and best use.

Don’t discount Social Security strategies. Take steps to maximize earned benefits. Coordinate Social Security withdrawals with those of other accounts to minimize the impact of taxes.

Healthcare costs including Medicare, and senior housing options must be included in the planning process.

Successful plans are grounded in financial self-awareness which includes prioritizing needs and wants.

Conversations with loved ones and friends about aspects of your financial plan are important. Make sure your estate, gifting and future housing intentions are clearly communicated.

Don’t Get Fooled By Averages. The financial markets do not return 8% a year. A realistic financial plan includes variability in returns, including losses, over time.

Accountability Matters. A financial plan not followed is not a financial plan at all. Long term financial goals need to be broken down into monthly objectives and you and your adviser are accountable in meeting those objectives. (It is easier to consider a savings goal of $500/month versus $6000/yr.) Mental trickery works. Milestones broken down to millstones will convince your brain to take action. Move forward.

Rules.

Boundaries.

They work.

Follow them.

Survive.

With less wear on your face.

Less dark circles under the eyes.

You’ll preserve joy in your heart.

Stamina.

Will be yours.

And you’ll live to play another day.

For a glossy (fancy) copy of our investment and planning rules email me at RichardRosso@myclarityfinancial.com.

Charts by Lance Roberts. Sign up for his weekly market/economic newsletter at http://www.realinvestmentadvice.com.

10 Shots At A Life Worth Living From The Rifleman.

“Guns don’t make you strong, they make you hesitate and respect the value of human life.”

Lucas McCain

With a foundation in New York, now a life (or mid-life), in Texas, I’m sensitive to the frenzied disparate bombardment of opinions.

About everything.

On social media it’s North meets South, again.

Gun control, border walls, homegrown terrorists. Workplace violence.

Kim Kardashian.

Donald Trump.

Rhetoric, vitriol.

Electronic bullets.

People blown to bits in 140 characters or less.

Makes me realize.

People are shooting off their mouths indiscriminately.

The world needs The Rifleman more than ever.

Let’s return to September 1958, shall we?

Turn the clunky black dial flush to a rich, mahogany console. Fire up the RCA Victor, boys and girls.

TV tubes resonate a low hum. They sound like the wings of a thousand agitated bees until a black & white moving picture emerges. Out of nowhere from behind thick glass.

 

RCA 1958

No matter how clear the picture, a perpetual cinematic room for a clearer clear exists. You toil endlessly with dual rabbit-ear antenna rods.

Feverishly you orchestrate two straw-thin antennas, stare at the screen. Stop. Work again. An awkward tango with thin aluminum arms. You’re expecting magic. Only you know when it’s found.

Battling rabbit ears is lost to the annals of American household pop culture. The endless search for medieval high-def is history. Dead.

Warmth seeps in on air waves. Vacuum tubes that resemble bulbous laboratory vials glow yellow. Heat rises. Conjures a musty, heady aroma from a warm brown felt grid stapled to the back of the set.

Cozy up to a screen of the thick glass. Watch your arm hair come alive, tingle to attention from static electricity.

You feel good all over.

And then.

Mom bellows from the kitchen because of course, she knows everything.

“Don’t sit too close, you’ll ruin your eyes!”

The Rifleman, a half-hour western drama, ran for five seasons: 1958-1963. Prime time on ABC.

Chuck Connors portrayed chisel-jawed Civil War veteran Lucas McCain. A widower raising a young son Mark McCain, alone. Building a life, a ranch, in the fictional town of North Fork.

I feel the ladies fading fast.

“I don’t like westerns.”

OK, The Rifleman is officially a western. You got me. However, life lessons roll larger than thunder arteries blistering the clouds in Oklahoma skies. The  guns, bullets, dust, horses, and saloon brawls are set dressings for stories of challenge and perseverance. True grit.

Now, let’s get those ladies corralled into readin’.

A 6’6″ Lucas McCain holds a rigid stance against the searing heat of nature. Overworked boots. Heels in dry dirt. His broad shoulders glisten wet under the blistering New Mexico summer. The straight-line high blue gushes the same color as his eyes. Jaw clenched in determination, he removes his hat, the felt brim dark with sweat.

The salty sting in his eyes feels good. He’s alive. One with the land. His land.

Cotton is wet-heavy. A blast furnace against his skin.

Soaked with the fire of his toil.

He pauses to toss his shirt. Abruptly, it lands with a thick thud and soaks the parched earth underneath. A seldom breeze lands cool on his back. At 37, Lucas is fit, perhaps more so than a decade earlier.

His bare torso is lean. Working the earth, relishing the ‘sodbuster’ way of life has made him hard in body, sharper in mind. His farming a cleansing of where he came from, buried under black-pitch soil mixture of the present. Hopeful yet guarded for the future.

For him.

For Mark McCain. His boy.

Lucas reaches for a nearby bucket. Drinks deep from it. The sweet liquid from the ladle is lukewarm but invigorating. He carefully pours the precious liquid over his upper body. Drops embrace and crawl down his tired muscles.

The anterior of his right shoulder is tight but pliable. It had to do. Only a short time for a breather. There are more chores before sunset.

Lucas returns to his regimen. The thick spade handle grips small in large, callused hands. It comes alive. Ironically, his hands could kill yet it was easier to save a life. Grow it, too.

rifleman one

Whew, the ladies have returned.

Lucas McCain. A man of determination and wisdom formed by serving as Union lieutenant in the Civil War. Behind steeled eyes that witnessed the worst of the human condition, Lucas McCain became a master of placing himself in another’s veins. He knew when to strike and when, as a man of wisdom, back down.

Yea, there’s much one can learn from watching, no observing, The Rifleman.

rifleman three

Random Thoughts:

Shot #1: How much pain will it take to release the truth inside? 

The emergence of your internal compass, a definition of truth as it breaks away from the fence lines of long roads traveled. How does this happen?

An uncompromising life philosophy.

What I call “Rifleman’s Awareness” is not born of happy or pretty.

It’s not of sunshine.

The source is internalized writhing maggots. Thick layers of spilled blood that attach to every cell. A tight-wedged coagulation of unhealed festering wounds that slither from unresolved torment under relentless pressure. A billion lifetimes in the making.  The rot of past trials go back that far.

Sharp enemies of the past, the ones that carry and cut with rusted blades, never die. They continue to pierce until an injured limb goes numb and severed. At that point, you’ve won against fear and pain.

The opportunity has arrived for you to crush hideous demons into beautiful diamonds.

Nothing can hurt you. The higher plain is no longer fallowed grounds but an endless bounty.

You must learn to train these devils to do your bidding or allow their disease to stick to you. Consume who you are. Who you can be. Until you’re dead.

The Rifleman corralled and controlled internal torment. He could aim and fire the perfect dose of justice every time. His skills with a rifle were legendary. Known for miles. His words were delivered with similar velocity as bullets.

It’s safe to assume from binge watching  what moves Lucas forward is life earned (and learned) –  a bloody war, the loss of a spouse, a vigilance over his only child.

It can take years, decades (perhaps never) to develop a personal truth, an internal guide that motivates daily actions. The release of wisdom from a greater guide than self is an exhausting, ongoing process.

Beliefs that seed in the soul can break away to help you conquer the renegades in black hats. The gatekeepers. The enemies. When forced to protect everything you hold dear, those seeds will grow to mighty oaks.

Your personal rule book will be lived only after you’ve tamed the beast of fear. That mastery comes from confronting and melting the freeze that is born of it.

But first, you’re going to need to understand who makes the rules and why.

If you feel sick going into work every day, ostracized for disagreeing with your boss, shunned by co-workers, well then you sort of know already.

You’re walking the path of The Rifleman.

Recently, my friend and greatest teacher James Altucher wrote about personal rules on Facebook.

You see, he appears to be a nerd. However, he’s a self-aware rifleman (armed with pen and a waiter’s pad):

ARE YOU FOLLOWING THE RULES?

The government has rules.
Schools have rules.
Society has rules.
Parents and then family have rules.
Relationships have rules.

I tried to follow all the rules. I was a good boy.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep track. The rule book is too big.

And then I got the phone calls. Why didn’t you follow that rule?

I don’t know. It didn’t make me feel good.

Well, if the only thing that is important to you is feeling good you would just kill and steal and lie to people all the time.

Why would any of that make me feel good?

Well, what does make you feel good?

Talking to you on the phone makes me feel good.

Aside from that.

Walking outside and looking at people. Feeling the last remnants of sun on my cheek before the winter comes.

Being kind to someone when they least expect it. Surprise makes me feel good.

Knowing that every now and then I can still make my teenage children laugh.

I gave a talk a few months ago and I heard my youngest laugh. That is the best feeling I’ve ever had. She laughed right after I said something that felt like it was breaking the rules (I forget the statement: I was describing either lying or stealing or saying something about my mom).

Seeing the smile of a woman up close after a first kiss. That makes me feel good.

Being with friends who love me and I love. Anybody else…and I don’t feel so good. I feel sick.

Feeling like I’m improving at something I love. Because that grounds me and let’s me enjoy the company of others with the same passions.

Feeling like I need less than I thought I needed. Because needing less allows me to float into the sky without feeling scared, without feeling burdened to the ground.

Feeling always like I’m exploring.

Writing something really really awful. Because who gives a fuck.

Like this.

—-

So many times I hear from people who say: I have to follow the career (or marry the person), my parents want.

Or someone says: I have to go to college or nobody will give me a job.

Or someone tells me: you should be around these people. They can help you succeed. (But I don’t like them so what should I do?).

Or someone says: I want to have ten million dollars to relax. And own a big home so I can feel roots.

Or someone says: You have to vote in order to have your voice heard in society.

Or someone says: I feel stuck because I can’t quit my job because I have all of my family responsibilities.

I built a prison for myself also. It had triple locks. It had lots of guards. It had solitary confinement when I was bad. I didn’t much like my fellow prisoners but they were in here with me so I figured I would be with them.

I felt ashamed when I broke the rules of the prison. When I went broke. When I didn’t take the career I was supposed to.

When I didn’t return the calls or network with the right people or when I quit without warning the job I didn’t like or lost the homes I could no longer pay for.

Or when I was thrown out of school or when I didn’t pay the IRS or when I didn’t love enough the people I was supposed to love. Or the things I have done when I was so scared about money I thought I would go broke and die.

Or when I tried to live in a homeless shelter just to meet women or when I demanded love back from the women who didn’t love me or when I cried because I was scared that my life would disappear and nothing would be left behind.

This was solitary confinement. And it was lonely and I was afraid.

And one day I walked out.

And nobody ever saw me again.

That is some Lucas McCain kind of shit.

Lucas McCain Shooting

Lucas’ motives are consistently noble. No. Perfectly noble. Even when he’s left little choice but to use his modified Winchester Model 1892 to take out villains, he is delivering  justice. His guide is a higher calling. A shiny key to living a life in the rough.

When you do a Lucas on who or what threatens you (and you will; rifle not required), be noble in your intentions. Standing for something you believe in is important to not only you, but to others.

Half-assed nobility is better than none.

I worked for (was enslaved by) Charles Schwab. Plainly speaking, my perception, my code, defines them as bad guys in white hats. Difficult to detect a rotted underbelly unless you’re homesteading within their bowels for a spell (cowboy lingo).

They hide behind edicts created by terrifying gatekeepers and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on vigilante attorneys to intimidate and in many cases, destroy others. They’ll lie in cold-blood to slaughter the warm blooded.

They live to frame you for horse stealing or cattle rustlin’ and immediately call for your neck in a noose and a swing until you’re dead.

Underneath their so-called ‘code’ rolls an insidious dark residue of unethical dissonance. I know their employees work in fear. At least 100 of them have contacted me. They reach out from the shadows. Punch smartphone keys from hidden places. They ask me questions about how to break free. I’m happy to provide information.

It’s part of who I am. Help others. Don’t ask or seek anything in return.

I cut the wire fence. I spoke out. I did a Lucas McCain.They tried for years to wipe me out. High-noon style. I was willing to go broke exposing them. Ultimately, they were exposed for who they truly are. I’m still damaged. It’s fine. I learned. I won.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Every noble effort requires spilled blood. Your own or others. Not literally, silly. Well, perhaps, but let’s not go there. Could be money, an internal organ, a relationship.

Be prepared to lose something close or dear to you.

However I now live according to my own definitions. Rifleman-style.

Most likely, aggressively staking out villains is not for you. I don’t recommend it. Like The Rifleman, know when to take pressure off the trigger.

Those with personal codes think clear. Even under tremendous stress. They’re in control. Admittedly, I’ve made mistakes. Lucas rarely outed the rogues or took violent action unless those he loved or he, was in danger.

Recall what James wrote: Walk. Never be seen again. Fleeing from a cancerous environment can prevent well, cancer. Or worse. A long meaningless life within an unhealthy, suffocating environment.

“There’s dark corners in everybody’s lives. Sometimes it’s doesn’t pay to poke around in them.”

Lucas McCain

Like Lucas McCain did on several occasions, retreat from the gatekeepers. But walk with your front to them. Don’t take your steeled glance off them.

Don’t blink.

Never trust the fuckers.

Heed The Rifleman: Sometimes it pays to stay out of dark corners.

Be at peace. Take your ego out of it and understand you cannot change those who harm others even if they do it unintentionally. However, you have a choice. They can’t fathom a choice. In their minds, their worlds, there are no other roads.

Hey, you can move to another town (North Fork is coming along).

Perhaps you require more time, life experience, sorrow, regret, before you act. That’s OK, too.

Your time will come. No need to exhaust all your ammo right now. I’m not saying you won’t need to fire multiple shots. I’m saying it’s not required for every situation.

You’ll choose what’s right. Live to die. Or die to live. Codes don’t need to be complicated. Simple and powerful will get the chores done every time.

Go ahead: Get ready to fire your first shot. Tap into the diamond of your greatest powers. What are your personal beliefs? The ones the gatekeepers seduce you to believe cause grief for them and great obstacles for you.

The ones that scare the rule makers out of town.

“The rules tell me I can shoot. My own rules tell me that I hate gunfightin’ and will avoid it until I can’t.”

Lucas McCain.

Shot #2: Be Lucas McCain for only an hour a day. What you tell your brain, it will believe. It’s that simple. For an hour a day be – The Rifleman. Embrace his spirit of uncomfortable wisdom. Navigate a tough, admirable road you’ve been afraid to travel.

Like my friend Tanya. She’s battling a bully. She’s relentless to seek justice against a predator and helping other victims to speak up. The episode has affected her health. However, she’s steadfast and has a deep passion for justice.

The Rifleman lives in Tanya.

Like her, take one uncomfortable action that will draw you closer to understanding why you were put on the planet. One heroic act before you go.

Never be afraid to question your personal code. Lucas did. He was willing to listen when people he trusted advised him of a misconception. He kept an open mind. He was seasoned enough to adjust his thinking. Humble enough to apologize (and mean it).

 

badlands one

People tell me The Rifleman isn’t real.

I call those renegades out at high-noon to face their bullshit.

Perhaps I’m immersed. Too deep in writing for television. Regardless, fiction and fact are cut from two sides of a blade. One man’s reality is another man’s fiction. Fiction and fact co-exist and shoot from the same barrel.

One hour a day to heed a higher calling, an enriched life.

Not much to ask.

See those eyes? Lucas McCain is watching (I advise against resistance).

rifleman steel eye

Shot #3: Don’t let bad guys off the hook until (unless) they have proven change. Lucas’ history collided with his present, often.  He knew he couldn’t escape (for long) the bad inflicted on people or the horrific marks others have left.

In many episodes, the karma coach rolls into town. Like a wagon wheel across the mid-section. Straight out of the Oklahoma territory.

Lucas’ dark place.

Ironically, the beasts entered North Fork frequently (drama folks, is good television). At times, he overreacted to their presence. He relived what they did to him. Like it was yesterday, he recalled their evil behavior.

Those who had proven redemption were forgiven. The others? Well, a dead-eye trigger finger took care of them. Lucas believed everyone could change, even the vilest of characters. If not, western justice was served.

You’ve lived long enough to be fooled by the bad guys. I bet they outnumber your good souls 2 to 1. Most of them can’t change. Too far gone. You can’t shoot them. I wouldn’t advise it.

Unless ‘The Purge’ becomes a thing, then go for it. I keep my ‘purge’ list fresh.

Hey, you never know.

The purge two

Nah, you don’t need to resort to anything ugly. As a matter of fact, even under the intensity blasts of an August New Mexico sun, beauty will eventually appear out of the dirt for a patient sodbuster.

The strength in beauty bursts from heat. Cold is death.

Heat is life.

So don’t forgive the bad ones. Whatever you do. Don’t let them off the hook. Forgiveness just for the sake of it, for nothing, is death by ice. A soul in deep freeze. It signals you’ve given the bad ones a free pass. It’s you crawling belly down through the tundra, all the way cutting your gut open, dragging entrails.

Forgiving those who never seek redemption is a crime against your own heart.

Forgiveness foolishly exposes your hand, weakness. The seasoned poker players of North Fork would shoot you dead before you back away from the table. Embrace the anger. Let it take you. Allow it to scorch a personal path to victory.

The anger furnace will fuse your internal organs into barbed wire. Every cell grows sharp and deadly. You’ll become a master at detecting the presence of those who put your mental health at risk and seek to drain precious internal resources.

Because if you don’t learn, it’ll keep happening. Until the darkness saddles up alongside you and sticks to you forever like the spiny wings of Canadian thistle.

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

One early Saturday morning, Marshal Micah Torrance found out some disturbing news.

Micah

A woeful cloud recently rolled into town.

And he needed to think fast.

Or a friend’s life held in the balance.

Behind heavy-iron lattice of a lawman’s office office, Micah appears to require Lucas’ assistance with reinforcing a shelf to the deep interior of the middle jail cell.

For 62, the silver-haired lawman is surprisingly swift in gait. With Lucas holding the shelf against the wall, ready for the marshal to secure it, Micah makes his move.

Backwards exit.

On quiet footfalls. Steady. Micah clears the heavy cell door, shuts it quickly with a loud clank. Lucas at first believes his old friend is reciprocating a prank that embarrassed Micah the night before.

Far from it.

Micah was protecting Lucas from himself.

Reef Johnson was back.

Reef Johnson.

Once Lucas’ best friend.

Until.

He shot him in the back.

Until.

He left him to die.

Until.

He attempted to steal Lucas’ wife.

Ten years had gone by. For Lucas, it was a minute.

It was said that Lucas and Reef could pass for brothers back then.

A decade later, Lucas cared only about one thing.

To find this man. Track him. Destroy him.

No pass go. No collect $200. Just a death wish fulfilled.

Locked behind the cell door, the rage in Lucas’ eyes turned bars into molten steel.

“Micah, let me out of here. NOW!”

Tough lives roll the travails of revenge road.

Both parties lose a piece of themselves in the gravel. Their souls forever connected in a demon’s gambol. They spin and grind worn under the passage of time, or death.

Or confrontation.

From behind stark-black lines of shadows. Into dust-frizzed daylight that slivers through wooden slats of an old barn wall, a man emerges from a distant corner.

Tired of running.

As the enemy moves into half/dark half/light, Lucas full of anger, gun sharp and raised. He is a thick step closer to get a better look at the fire, his invidious focus.

As slit light slashes across Reef’s face you can’t stare. You can’t look away.

His hair matted, disheveled.

Deep lines across his cheeks, facial skin as sallow as worn leather.

“I’m here, Lucas. I can’t run any longer. Kill me! Get it over with!”

This man. What’s left of this man. A man who once resembled Lucas McCain, smooth of youth, clear of eye was nothing but a shell. He looked 77, not 37.

Lucas lowered his rifle. Revenge no longer held captive the ready grip on the trigger.

“Lucas! You can’t leave me like this! Please!”

As The Rifleman created distance between himself and that barn. That place where his anger ceased. The place he left in silence, yet heard the screams for miles…

He realized.

What he felt was pity.

The heave in Lucas’ chest was sorrow.

This wasn’t forgiveness. Release wasn’t forgiveness.

Never forgive those who shoot you in the back and leave you to die.

Time and the universe will take care of those villains in the proper manner.

In due time.

Sit back. Tend to your fields. Nurture the ground.

Be patient.

rifleman four

Shot #4: Forge strong financial boundaries around you and yours.

The financial landscape post-Great Recession is enemy territory.

Oklahoma badlands.

Your money isn’t safe.

There’s not enough barbed wire to protect the homestead.

And the soil. Underneath the dirt, a bounty in stocks for 6 years or so, is over. Frankly, many retail investors didn’t participate in the 159% total return of the S&P 500 off the March 2009 bottom, anyway. They’re still trying to recover from the 2000 tech wreck and a flat-lined market from 2000-2013.

It’s still a whirlwind ribbon of dust.

Lance Roberts, Clarity Financial’s Chief Investment Strategist revealed his truth, discovered his rifleman years ago through his thorough, no-spin analysis of the stock market and the economy.

Refreshing. Rare.

The accounting magic used to prop up earnings, the foolish optimism of estimated earnings, profit-margin reversion.  It’s all here, folks.  You want fiery shots of wisdom in your gut? Read it.

And people call The Rifleman fiction and the stock market reality.

It’s silly, isn’t it?

pensive

Lucas is not amused by this information.

You shouldn’t be either.

Shot #5:  Always teach and always expect nothing in return.

One of the greatest rewards in life is teaching others and expecting zero.  It’s a positive rate of return to the world, the universe. It makes the stars shine brighter above a blue-black New Mexico sky.

The Rifleman shares memorable words, bits of shotgun-wisdom with his son Mark. He never holds back. Even when Mark doesn’t quite get it.

Doesn’t matter.  Eventually Lucas’ invaluable guidance kicks in. On occasion, it saves Lucas’ hide.

 

“How can a man be so good with animals and so mean to people?

Lucas McCain: That’s a sign you’re growing up.

Mark McCain: What do you mean, Pa?

Lucas McCain: The older you get, the more questions there are without answers. ”

lucas and mark

Today, I teach young investors how to not get killed by the buy-and-hold investment mantra and how true diversification includes investment in personal education and health.

I guide gifted financial services pros away from big box financial retailers and direct them to havens that have fiduciary intent. It’s a part of what I do. They’re my Mark McCains. My kids. I set them forth with noble intentions and a different world view.

How will you teach today? Who will you inspire?

Will you seek nothing in return except the stare at the stars in the sky?

Shot #6: now the difference between dumb fear and smart fear. Those who are reckless with your heart, your money, your emotions. Predators who dig beneath your vulnerability and then rip you apart from the inside, should be feared and avoided.

Individuals who have a track record of apathetic and non-empathetic behavior should never be allowed on the ranch.  You’ll know them. You’ll be sickened by what you’re feeling. You’ll ignore what your intuition is telling you.

That’s plain dumb fear. And that will eventually leave you out in the desert with no water.

Vultures circling. Dead meat. You’ll crawl to safety but some part of you will be gone forever.

However, smart fear will keep you alive.

How do you develop smart fear?

Unfortunately, smart fear only comes with experience and knowledge.

You’ll require a construct. Questions are a solid foundation for said construct.

Create a simple framework to identify, fortify your defenses against enemies.

Start small. Big results.

All you need are three questions to get to the heart of anything.

My humble opinion.

Here’s a trio I use for dating (based on personal experience – yours will indeed, differ).

Let your inquiry flow naturally. You’ll become The Rifleman at separating friend from foe, now from forever, life from death.

How would you describe your long-term relationships with friends and family?

Big one. If she doesn’t have any close ties, or they’re full of weird sexual or resentful experiences I’m dodging a bullet.

Have you ever broken off an engagement? 

Sure, nobody’s perfect: I’m just looking for an inability to commit, serial monogamy. Murder. “He fell from the upper deck on a Carnival cruise.”

How many times have you accused others of something you’re guilty of yourself?

Somewhat inflammatory. Granted. On purpose. We’re all guilty. I’m seeking to get a handle on frequency, accusations, assumptions. “Never” is not a good answer either.

Three questions.

For everything.

To create a personal SFDS – Smart Fear Detection System.

“It’s the price you pay on staying alive and in your right senses, it’s manhood. And I can promise that when you come to the far end of it, you’ll raise your old hands to bless this wonderful life you’ve been given, taken all together with the roast beef, and the moon rises, and a boy and his father riding out in the morning, after you’re grown up to be a father yourself.”

 

Remember – SMART FEAR SAVES A LIFE. YOURS.

Shot #7: Get in or cause trouble for the right reasons.

My favorite bullet. Hits me in the heart every time.

There’s a point in your life where you don’t give a shit any longer about what others think. You’ve been living your code. Those who fit in stay. Those who don’t, go. Life gets simpler. You begin to figure shit out, you begin to help others figure shit out.

The ranch is humming along, the crops are bountiful, the soil is the right composite, the enemies are at bay.

Then there are times when the trouble in your life resembles weather systems. When the turbulence begins, you also know it will pass. Makes it easier to deal with the aftermath, the cleanup. Healing.

And you can create your own weather. Spark your own thunder as the needs arise. For the right reasons.

Shot #8: Don’t be afraid to confront a person with their truth.

Lucas will place himself in precarious situations. Smack in the middle of the rough.Tip toe on the blade.

He’ll go out of his way to wake people up. Help them understand their truth. Most of us live in a state of denial. We hurt others, we lie, we make promises, we kill, we have little empathy and yet we want to be perceived as ‘good’ people.

Frankly, most people are assholes. They use you for what you can provide and then move on. That’s fine.

But make sure to tell them they’re assholes and deal with the consequences.

Perhaps you’ll enlighten. Regardless, you gave them some shit to chew on whether they like it or not.

Shoot the asshole a verbal bullet. Then walk.

You know how to eat shit, right?

Best not to nibble.

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Because if you deliver, you’ll eat it, too.

Comes with the territory.

Shot #9: Learn when somebody confronts you with yours.

If you dare to shoot, you must be willing to be shot. You can’t protect yourself from a gunfight. The key is for bullets to graze, but not kill.

You must respect your opponent, however. That’s the key.

Hey, if you’re going to learn a tough lesson best to get it from a person you respect for whatever reason. Doesn’t need to be a grandiose reason. There’s just something about this individual you admire.

When Lucas shoots his mouth off and Micah gives it to him straight, Lucas doesn’t like it but he listens because he respects the marshal.

“Lucas, I think you’re wrong about this one.”

If someone provides constructive criticism, it’s acceptable, normal, to hate it at first. It’s fine to feel the sting of the words like bullets, and bleed out.

Right there on Main Street, North Fork.

Just as long as you step back, dig out the fragment. Feel the pain. Examine it. Ponder why you were shot. Was it one of the best shots of your life?

Learn from the bullets that hit and take you off balance.

Just as long as you respect the shooter.

Otherwise it’s an enemy and you need to return the blast.

Rifleman-style.

Shot #10: Stick your neck out for those you love. Place your neck in the noose if it means someone you love remains happy, moves on, sticks around.

What else you got?

Sacrificing a part of yourself for someone you cherish isn’t a bad thing. It’s walking like McCain.

I did it for clients and a fiduciary right to care for them.

You’ve done it for children. Parents. Friends. Animals.

Recognize, remember, reward yourself for sticking your neck out for those you love.

Heck, you’ll be called horrible things. I know.

You think everybody loved Lucas?

Why do you really think he needed that rifle?

lucas rifle

The thing in this life is to stay alive. Ride easy.

Like in the old west.

Lucas McCain never spoke the words at the start of this blog post.

As I write dialogue for television I place words in mouths of fictional characters. The commentary would have been delivered perfectly however. I can hear the deep-baritone voice of The Rifleman resonating right now.

You don’t get endless shots at this stuff because eventually you’re in adult diapers and drooling into a liquefied breakfast.

Give yourself a number. I chose four.

Four bullets in my rifle.

I believe Lucas suffered from overwhelming, lasting grief that he channeled into something bigger than himself.

Last, I learned from Lucas that death isn’t frightening.

Bad memories?

Ghosts from the past?

Now they’re frightening.

They haunt, relentlessly.

Yet there’s something good that arises.

When the demons dance.

They create.

Riflemen.

Dedicated to radio host,  veteran broadcaster, all-around good guy and most important: Hard-core “The Rifleman” fan – Gary McNamara. 

Special mention to dear friend Tanya Bilisoly, Austin realtor extraordinaire who is taking on a bully, living her “Rifleman moment,” right now.

 

 

The RoboWars Begin – Nash vs. Bettinger: The Winner? You.

Featured

Once upon a time, (allegedly), there was a dude named Moses who delivered chosen people from a horrific situation. Important man. Very Popular. Scruffy. Like Rick Grimes (Google if you must).

Beards are in, people.

rick grimes beard

Then there was God, a prolific writer with his finger (imagine) who decides (who’s gonna argue?) that Moses was to be the recipient of two stone tablets which pretty much outlined the Big Guy’s marching orders for humanity. I’m talking serious stuff.

I wonder what happened to those historic slabs.

I imagine them as Carl Icahn’s cocktail coasters or used to gain traction in snow wedged underneath the rear wheels of Mark Cuban’s Land Rover. Many heroic things die cowardly deaths. Keeps me grounded to think that way. I know. Sad.

Anyway.

The words, the commandments, ten of them, were as heavy as the rock parchment they were carved into.

Three out of the Ten Commandments focus on “coveting.” Wives, animals, houses, servants. Coveting is definitely a big no-no.What’s coveting?

According to Merriam-Webster it’s a verb. It means:

To want (something that you do not have) very much.

Oh you were able to take a decent stab at the definition. You did good.

You’ll see where I’m going here, be patient. Jesus, our attention spans are down to the time of the sex life of a tsetse fly (they mate once and then I think they die). Thanks internet!

What I’ve learned after 27 years serving clients, 14 of them at the “client-first” (more on that later,) branded financial-services behemoth Charles Schwab & Co,  is that this marketing and legal locomotive that blows money like engine steam, aggressively seeks to barrel over everything it touches. Once they’re done, you may as well be as flat as a nickel on heated rails.

Actually, covet is too polite. Way too generous.

To be clear: Once the Schwab Kraken is released on anything or anyone, the beast attacks, grabs and seeks to destroy its prey. You are property, lock stock and barrel of the Schwab brand. Your former identity is a cold shadow of the past. Whatever was once noble, honorable, fiduciary, ostensibly is digested by the venerable appetite of frenzied shareholders. 

Whatever remains of the target is regurgitated; never to resemble its original form.

For example, who’s the brilliant guy who ran Windhaven, a separately managed account, after Schwab purchased the company he founded? I can’t even find him in cyberspace.

According to a WSJ article:

“Mr. Cucchiaro left Windhaven “for personal reasons,” according to a news release issued Friday by Schwab. A spokesman for Schwab said there was “no relationship” between Windhaven’s recent performance and Mr. Cucchiaro’s departure.”

Hey I know. He changed his identity and is now living on a remote island replete with pina coladas and coconuts; or perhaps he was cast away and a soccer ball named Chuck is his cherubic best friend.

All I’m saying is once you’re swallowed and spit out by the Schwab soul sucker, you’re sort of different. Perhaps you’re missing a part of yourself. Oh hell, maybe you’re just missing (literally).

God speed, Mr. Windhaven.

Heck even the dead aren’t safe from the clutches of the corporate creature.

From what I learned firsthand (no kidding), as a client you’re worth more dead than alive. Your mortal coil may have shuffled, but at Schwab, that coil remains as warm as a newborn baby’s head during a ten-hour breech birth.

Your beloved assets shall be entombed in an eight-digit account number fortress. Money interred. Not only that, surprisingly, your heirs will deposit even more of your money at Schwab, after the last of the flowers wither on your grave and dead leaves wind blow into a pile at the foot of dear Aunt Millie’s gravestone.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me fuzzy all over. Such a caring organization. Can you feel Uncle Chuck’s death grip embrace your eternal liquid net worth?  My cockles are warm. Cockles.

Are yours?

frozen dead

So, why should you care? Why does it matter that two financial services companies are having a very public fight over a product and sort of punching below the belt?

For me it sort of feels like the first time I watched “Godzilla vs. Mothra.” I mean I love this stuff. Pass the popcorn.

godzilla vs mothra

If you use financial services of any kind, there are very important messages for you here. Pay attention because as an investor you’re a winner; you’ll be a winner. Competition will benefit you.

And Adam Nash, CEO of WealthFront like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, is willing to fight.

First, Mr Nash, this isn’t Charles Schwab. It’s Charles Schwab & Co. They are not the same. I’m sorry. I learned the hard way. I paid with a kidney and half a million bucks. Throw in a family, too while you’re at it.

It’s shareholders and a CEO (Walt Bettinger) who is turning (turned) a brand into something so far from Chuck’s values and visions, that when I asked various management types in 2012, what exactly is the company’s values and visions? I could not get an answer. Zero.

schwab values

You see, that above (good book from Mr. John Kador), is fantasy land now. That was 2005. Might as well be 1805.

Ancient history.

It’s Strawberry Shortcake starring in Fast & The Furious 8. Not going to happen. And you see that customer first verbiage? It’s shareholder first. Regional management told me that. Shareholders first, THEN customers. I was told.

To my face.

So you know what Mr. Nash, you win. And so do Schwab clients and other retail investors who read your words. I could feel your disheartened spirit, your awakening, your suspicion. Although I could argue specifics about fundamental indexes, in all fairness to the Schwab Robo, I find benefits to the strategy over WealthFront’s.

BUT THAT DOESN’T MATTER. 

What matters is you have a vision I wasn’t aware of. I was wrong about WealthFront’s motives. What matters is you ripped a hole to expose the hypocrisy (client first on the surface, a bitch to margins, underneath), that has permeated and changed permanently the Schwab culture. And now people will know. And that’s worth something in a world post-financial crisis, which seems to be owned more than ever by financial services and central banks. Broken values and bottom lines sum up the financial sector since 2010, in my opinion.

You have a passionate mission. Unfortunately, you’ll sell out. We all do. But we can come back. We all get a chance to come back. I did. Perhaps Mr N you will have a chance, too.

Mr. Nash? I have confidence in you.

I have more confidence that you would come back because the Kraken can’t. You can’t turn the heart of the beast into Hello Kitty no matter how idealistic you seem to be in your writing.

Oh, and I really like the beard. Did you shave it? Grow it back. Because like Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead, you are now at war.

And a beard works on you.

nash

I hope you win. I did.

Here’s Mr. Nash’s first attack.

Copy and paste (darn you, WordPress).

View story at Medium.com

Bottom Line: The brokerage gods gave Chuck (Moses) the insights on how to treat clients and employees – the 10 commandments (which he wrote,) and then Moses shattered them and decided that coveting was OK, especially if it benefits your stock price. 

                               greediness

Random Thoughts (for investors):

I’m not sure of this whole roboadvisor thing. It was created out of the failure of all of us in the business to do what we said we would do: Tax harvest, rebalance portfolios, be objective, provide low-cost options, and to examine a client’s financial picture. holistically before making recommendations.

I got in trouble for that at Schwab. I was there to SELL product, not help clients reach dreams. I was a Certified Financial Planner who worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Which fee-based car can I get you in? Then wave goodbye.

Frankly, fuck Walt Bettinger’s dreams, I could care less. I hope he gets cast off to an island like Mr. Windhaven. Chuck needs to take his company back (again) and align with clients and employees. Only he can kill the Kraken. Wasn’t that Liam Neeson in Clash Of The Titans?

Ohhhh, that’s what this is between Robos – Clash of the titans.

liam neeson kraken

I also do not believe in efficient markets which is how all robos operate. In other words, there’s no such things as asset bubbles in this arena. Well, let’s consult an expert, professor Bob Shiller from his latest edition of Irrational Exuberance.

“The point I made in 1981 was that stock prices appear to be too volatile to be considered in accord with efficient markets. Assuming that stock prices are supposed to be an optimal predictor of the dividend present value, then they should not jump around erratically if the true fundamental value is growing along a smooth trend.”

More.

“Fluctuations in stock prices, if they are interpretable in terms of the efficient markets theory, must instead be due to new information about the longer-run outlook for real dividends. Yet in the entire history of the U.S. stock market, we have never seen such longer-run fluctuations, since dividends have closely followed a steady growth path.”

Still more.

“There is a troublesome split between efficient markets enthusiasts (who believe that market prices accurately incorporate all public information, and so doubt that bubbles even exist) and those who believe in behavioral finance (who tend to believe that bubbles and other such contradictions to efficient markets can be understood only with reference to other social sciences, such as psychology).”

And investors were sold the story, are buying in strong to the story again, that stocks always outperform other investments.

More again from the professor (last one I promise, I’m a big fan):

“The public is said to have learned that stocks must always outperform other investments, such as bonds, over the long run, and so long-run investors will always do better in stocks. We have seen evidence that people do largely think this. But again they have gotten their facts wrong. Stocks have not always outperformed other investments over decades-longs intervals, and there is certainly no reason to think they must in the future.”

You gettin’ it, yet?

You’ve been sold a bill of goods to set a portfolio, always remain invested and don’t worry about the real earnings or valuation of the markets at the time you commit capital.

You see it’s easier for the financial services industry, whether it’s through the front door like WealthFront or backdoor like Schwab, when it comes to a robo, if you buy into it, to capture your assets during a bull market. And low cost is BIG volume.

And of course, it’s all long term. Long-term is a fuzzy blanket compliance departments love.

Sell is a dirty, four-letter word. Sell my stocks? Protect my capital? We can’t do that.

Did you forget about asset bubbles? Your portfolio hasn’t. I bet it hasn’t recovered from the 2000 Tech bubble, yet let alone the devastation from the financial crisis. And as an ultimate kick in the groin, your house went down the toilet, too.

haans moleman football

Nope. I’m not buy and hold for me or clients. I never will be. I have sell rules because the math of loss is more devastating than the wealth from gains. But I tell you this, if I did invest that way, I’d give my money to Adam Nash because his heart is in the right place.

Yea so, I like some of the research that went into the Schwab product but you seem less like cattle with WealthFront and more the butcher. And you never want to be the cattle.

At Schwab, whether you’re an employee or client, you are expendable and a number. OK, I’m not saying WealthFront is altruistic (although after examining their numbers I still don’t get how they make money for themselves) but at least there’s a vision for Christ’s sake.

At Schwab, you’re cattle to milk the bottom line. Even after you’re dead. I’m certain of it.

butcher of the cattle

Whether you invest with one or not, find a fiduciary to consult at least on an hourly basis. A fiduciary is there to help you make big, holistic life and money decisions and assist with your portfolio allocation in an objective manner. The financial services industry doesn’t want employees to be fiduciaries, to place client interests first.

It’s fine we make “suitable” recommendations, but to me that means what makes the most for the firm and ourselves. Suitability is there to protect the firm. Not you, the client. It’s to make sure that company asses are covered and boxes checked in case you get ticked off and seek to take civil action. Tax bracket, got it. I’m covered. Sell you a product, move on.

I had to pay half a million bucks to be told by a Schwab-hired attorney that “Richard Rosso, you are not a fiduciary.” No shit.

Now I am. I acted as such then and would do it again.

I’m interested to see how this battle turns out.

I’m on the side of investors, and now, Adam Nash.

I hope he prevails.

Maybe I just have a bone to pick with a large company that sought to destroy my life.

Could be.

I can’t rule it out.

All I know is we need more thought leaders like Adam to provide candid, heartfelt communication.

It’s long overdue.

And it makes me happy.

You should be too.

 

 

Cool Perspective in a Warm Breeze: 5 Ways to Work Through Turbulent Times.

Just when you think you’re going under.

Just when you believe your life hits a point beyond anything bad you’ve felt before.

Just at the time you feel you’re going to break, even though you’ve been strong your entire life.

Just when you question everything and can’t come up with positive, reassuring answers.

There’s a shift in perspective.

The wind changes.

whirlwind

Perhaps it’s self-preservation. Cowardice. Not sure.

There was a point a few months back when I questioned the unquestionable:

Is it worth being here? Where was my value?

Did I ever provide value to begin with?

Was it all an illusion?

Was I my career, my job, my writing, my knowledge?

What the fuck happened over the last nine months, can anyone tell me? 

I examined it from various levels – 40,000 feet, mostly. Then a nosedive to ground zero.

I  was working to convince myself: Perhaps my time in this life had run out. I wanted the control. I wanted to release the coil. To discover where the energy goes. I mean everything runs its course, right?

I asked myself the following:

Would I have better hair? Straighter please. Like David Cassidy.

Would I have private parts that more resembled my father’s as opposed to my mother’s? (Self-deprecating humor is healthy, people).

Would I be famous, more accomplished, a better writer, a more empathetic person, richer, would I have a better nose?

Would I make wiser decisions for clients, friends, loved ones?

Would I be fooled again to trust, to love, to cherish?

Would I still be lactose intolerant?

I couldn’t answer any of these questions. Because you can’t lay out a path for the unknown and your past tricks you to answer negatively. 

I realized how important it was, is, to focus on the present.

The breeze taught me so.

At a Valero station. As I pumped gas. I closed my eyes. Focused on where I was, what I was doing. The beauty of the moment. I was grounded. I was still here after all the mental anguish.

Then from nowhere, a breeze came. Warm. It hit my skin and burst around me. The wind (ok, a breeze squared), rare in Texas, felt like nothing I ever experienced.

Why?

Because it’s 100,000 degrees in Texas and just plain felt good? Maybe.

hot in texas

Or was I in the present? Aware of the now, which accentuated the sensation. All these years I’ve spent building toward the future, I never fully appreciated where I was today. What a waste.

What a waste to treat the now like it’s merely a weigh station between what was and what was to be. Especially when you realize, life, who you are is right now. Today.

Maybe that’s why I love financial planning so much as I’m always trying to paint the picture of a financial future, when I should be increasingly focused on where people are financially right now.

I’ll never forget that breeze of enlightenment.

Random Thoughts:

1). Realize your ego is the greatest enemy. Your ego thrives on tricking, misleading you. It’s like those hot kids in high school who incessantly reminded you how unworthy you were to hang with them. You weren’t perfect – too short, your face was ugly, too fat, too skinny. My ego constantly reminds me of how I’m not successful enough and if I hit a certain level of success (my ego has not defined) I will be happy. The ego is flowing with conditions and impossible goals that can’t be reached. And if you do reach them, your ego says “listen asshole, you’re just keeping up here. Move to the next level and then I’ll deem you worthy of existence.”

I have learned that the more I focus on what’s underneath me and not what’s in back or in front of me, I can shut that ego down. Focusing on today distracts the ego from its goal – to destroy your self esteem. Limit your potential. It wants you to fail so it can tease, bully.

2). Learn from the past. But don’t let it weigh down your present. I have learned some valuable lessons from people in my past. For a time, those people made me angry. Not any longer. The lessons I’ve learned from the past, help me appreciate the present even more. Some experiences have made me who I am today, added to the texture who is me. Appreciate your layers, who you are, faults and all. The faults, the dents, are great arsenals to appreciate the present.

3). Breathe more. Sounds stupid, I know. During the day, I use deep breathing to gear me to focus on the present. Breathe in deep – hold for 6 seconds. Release. Three times. I then close my eyes and open wide. It’s like I stopped a film, mid scene. Then I ask: What am I grateful for RIGHT NOW AT THIS MOMENT? I can’t tell you how this has stopped Mr. Ego in his wicked tracks.

4). Don’t take out fear and greed on your portfolio. Fear, greed, are ultimate destroyers to portfolio returns. The S&P 500 is off roughly 6.5% from its high point in May, and we’ve seen incredible overreaction by bond and stock investors to sell. If you have specific, written rules for rebalancing your portfolio (buying and selling based on specific guidelines), then you can take advantage of swoons (buy low) and manage euphoria (sell high).

5). Appreciate your humanity. Nobody is perfect. Perfection is an illusion of the ego. I’ve learned “perfection within imperfection” where imperfections allow for differences, discussions and if you’re open-minded: Learning.

The wind was warm today but it was there. From nowhere.

I’ll believe it came just for me. To add perspective.

Appreciation.

Where will your breeze come from?

What will it be?

Today.

Now.

A Sign of the Times: Ten Reasons to Envy the Undead.

Zombies are overwhelming your metropolis. No, no, not politicians and bankers.

Real live (dead) zombies!

Zombie one

Ok, not as spooky as politicians or bankers (especially the central banking types), but you get the picture.

Someone I admire, he’s like a Socrates for our times,suggests that zombies represent a world of pervasive loneliness. I love this man to death but I sat there puzzled, thinking:  I still don’t comprehend the zombie loneliness theory as they do tend to stagger together in groups. In the blockbuster TV show “The Walking Dead,” the living “living” coins this behavior as “herding.” The living dead herd. Who knew. That’s a form of bonding, no?

Good enough reasons to keep your doors locked, people!

Not that locked doors work for long. After all, a mere few zombies can turn over cars; bolted doors and flimsy plywood nailed over windows buys you just enough time to say goodbye to loved ones. Let’s face it: Sooner or later you’re a food source. I was told that by a senior-level executive at one of those big box home improvement stores that most plywood is now exported from China. Chinese plywood = balsa wood? I don’t trust it.

zombies and windows

Zombies are so white hot-popular right now; these decaying, staggering masses or the dead­est of “us,” easily steal attention away from the likes of a Kim Kardashian or the pinkish-hue of a Lindsay Lohan. I could be a bit off base about Lindsay. Her antics can easily draw attention away from zombies depending on the severity of the wardrobe misfire or an occasional sexy bikini wedgie (thank you, TMZ).

The living dead have risen in prominence. And this time the uprising could be permanent.  For decades their popularity has ebbed and flowed yet their presence has never truly decayed. Now they’re everywhere you turn. It’s the zombie time to shine!

I’ll occasionally catch myself darting an eye over my left shoulder when in a public place because I’ve grown downright zombie paranoid. In this economy, I should be more concerned about the living seeking to steal my wallet but since I believe a zombie apocalypse is now imminent, I continue to be increasingly living-dead aware.

I’ll list the rationale behind my deep-seated zombie fever and why I so envy them:

Random Thoughts:

1). They don’t fret over making ends meet.  As a matter of fact, their ends are sort of decomposing, falling apart. Zombies don’t fret to pay the cable bills, meet mortgage payments or deal with brain-rotting college tuition costs. The days of anguish over the daily money monkeyshines of the living are gone! Surviving takes on a totally different perspective. How I relish those with reckless abandon who can just chase and bite, stagger and gnash like rabid animals.

The Federal Government has even been known to send dead people unemployment and social security checks but they have no need to cash them. I’m jealous. The very mortal coils of everyday fiscal obligations are broken. We are envious of the financial freedom. Who wouldn’t be?

2). There’s a thrilling bon vivant nature about the undead I admire. Zombies are brazenly wasteful and they just don’t care!  Again, I’m envious.  If the living dead are so hungry why do they take no more than two bites of prey and move on? It’s not like there’s endless supply of warm bodies to nosh on. Humans don’t grow on trees.  Has anyone seen what’s happening to global demographics? We’re all aging. It’s only a matter of time before there are more living dead than living.

The undead must do better with food handling. What about all the starving zombies in China? Even when they decide to dig hard and tear deep through a victim, zombies don’t appear to be eating. Looks like they’re playing with their food (in this case elbow-deep in intestines, organs and other nondescript red slimy entrails). If I played with my food with such passion as a kid, I would have been in enormous trouble.

Again I reference the best cable show out there – In the AMC hit television series “The Walking Dead,” a believable explanation for the genesis of said program title emerges. At least it allays some of my frustrations over the deliberate waste of the fresh, walking food supply.

In the Season One finale “TS-19,” the sole remaining doctor at the Center for Disease Control (gingerly insane yet very sage from a lethal combination of: Isolation under­ground for an extended period, shooting his wife, test-subject 19, in the head once-her usefulness as an infected under observation concludes, and conceding to the awful truth that there is no cure for the afflicted,) outlines findings I find plausible.

Doc Jenner explains:

The disease invades the brain like meningitis (OK – I heard that’s bad).

The brain stem is restarted. Gets them up and moving (makes sense to me).

Most of the brain is dark: Dark, lifeless, dead. The frontal lobe, the “you,” the human part is gone (it does appear that way).  

TWD writers are so damn smart.

I have concluded (I think), animated dead folk are indeed ravenous. They just don’t possess the human or humanity (what’s left is a tiny spark of light at the base of the brain) to make the most of preserving the food source.

I’m cutting the dead some slack. Although I’m sure if they cornered me I wouldn’t be shown mercy. My physical trainer says I’m very “fatty,” so my succulence would be too much for all those walking brain stems.

Zombie two

Dr. Steven Schlozman, a psychiatrist, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and author of the book “The Zombie Autopsies,” would agree with Dr. Jenner’s conclusions and sizes up zombie appetites in a further professional manner perhaps because he never lost a loved one to a zombie nibble:

“The ventromedial hypothalamus (in the brain), which tells humans whether they’ve had enough to eat, is likely to be on the fritz in zombies, who have an insatiable appetite.” 

It’s clear to me now.

3). Zombies don’t require exercise and it’s inevitable they’re going to lose weight without much effort. I so hate them for this. As a matter of fact, even though Hollywood never seems to get it, if survivors can survive long enough, hunker down, the dead are literally going to rot. It’s not like they’re embalmed. Well I guess some are – I’m sure, even preserved, staggering corpses ostensibly succumb to harsh weather elements.

I sort of admire how “walkers” (what zombies are called in “The Walking Dead,”) can be wasteful (and eat whomever they want) without any repercussions. Damn them. Damn them all even more than they’re already damned.

Give it time: The weight loss will be deadly. Zombies should be dragging around close to the ground like clumps of fermenting flesh if you’re patient and resourceful enough to stay alive. Then go ahead. Leave your hiding place, brazenly walk up and do a step and squash on what’s left of a head. Simple. My boots are ready! Although stomping on zombie cranium “feels” too much like exercise to me.

And what about those quick sort of disturbing athletic zombies in movie director Zack Snyder’s respectable remake of “Dawn of The Dead?”  I stubbornly refuse to relent to running zombies. These primal hollows of our living selves just cannot (should not) sprint.

From Doc Schlozman’s book “The Zombie Autopsies,” the wisdom flows freely like blood from a gaping bite wound:

“Slower degenerative processes in the cerebellum explain the initially intact gait of the infected, even though they all become increasingly unbalanced with time. That’s why they hold their arms out in front of their bodies: for balance and increased coordination. They just want to remain upright, on their feet. But the process continues, the cerebellum degrades, liquefies. Virtually all late-stage ANSD humanoids ambulate via crawling.” 

AH-HA! See? Running zombies are an abomination! Listen up movie-makers!

I prefer my zombies slow, staggering and overwhelmingly off kilter. Like me on a Friday night. Hey, call me a purist. AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” gets it right. Again!!

FYI – ANSD stands for: Ataxie Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome. The internationally accepted diagnostic term for zombiism. Thanks again Dr. S. Feel free to steal this for your next cocktail party. 

running zombies

4). Zombies don’t seek to bathe. And the living don’t seem to care! C’mon – Zombies should stink to high heaven. So, why don’t victims smell them coming from at least half a mile away? I once went an entire week without bathing in 1989. That’s after parent-basement sex with two women, eating several boxes of Entenmann’s orange-swirled icing and chocolate Hal­loween cupcakes, ten Big Macs and washing it all down with large cups of coffee overwhelmed with  heavy cream. I recall plenty of female grimaces followed by waves of disgust. Good thing I barely left the house back then.

You rarely see disgusted looks on the faces of the living who meet up with the rotting side of us.

How many times have you heard the following lines in zombie flicks?

“I can’t handle the smell of these walking maggot bags.”

“My eyes are watering from the stench of these fuckers.”

“I’m going to vomit from the ungodly odors these dead things throw off.”

Not many.

Well, to give further credit (yet again) to the writers of “The Walking Dead,” there have been various references to puke, puking and zombie dead-body odor peppered throughout episodes. They’re passionate about authenticity unlike most who cater to us zombie zealots. I salute them.

5). Zombies don’t discriminate. They’re equal opportunity biters, infiltrate all races and cut a bloody swath across political lines. They gain greater attention when economic conditions deteriorate or improvement is anemic. Sure, they seem to pop up during times of social unrest. Since the last recession, the most severe in decades, zombies have been in a downright frenzy to take over the world.

6). The undead have been around longer than you have. I envy the staying power. Although, I don’t recall them as relevant and so overwhelmingly popular. And I’ve been keep­ing track of their ebb and flow since I first bug-eyed watched the groundbreaking black and white cult classic “Night of the Living Dead,” by zombie Master Movie Maker George A. Romero, on a yellow plastic thirteen inch black & white TV in 1973.

In 1968, the year “Night” was released, the Vietnam War was raging, civil rights protests were grabbing headlines and Martin Lu­ther King, Jr. was assassinated. It cost a grandiose $114,000 to make which even then for a movie was a pittance of a budget. It had grossed over $30 million worldwide.

Romero created a controversial stir by featuring a black man, unknown stage actor Duane Jones, as the brave and re­sourceful hero while most of the men in the cast were blowhard, wishy-washy or backwoods white folk.

Romero also played up the contemporary theme of government distrust as dead body brains are “activated” (allegedly) by radiation expelled from the explosion of a space satellite, the “Venus Probe.” Throughout the film, there are shots of military/government officials (actors) fleeing from television news cameras all the while denying the connection between the radiation and the returning dead who make a meal out of the living. For gosh sake I thought I saw Eric Holder running from a reporter.

The bitter irony of the movie is how Ben (Duane Jones) solely survives the night of ghoul attacks by locking himself in the basement of an abandoned farm house only to be shot in the head the next morning by a white member of a sheriff’s posse as he’s mistaken for one of the remaining zombies roaming the countryside.

I remember watching: Scared to death, frozen. Shocked. I recall muttering the words: “This really sucks.” I hated the ending but I understood the point Romero was trying to make. Well, I think I do. Back then I interpreted the messages through a warped mental pre-teen siphon. Actually, I still believe my interpretations hold up.

I wondered:

First, why even bother to survive a zombie hoard if you’re going to be shot in the head by your own people (the living kind) anyway? What a waste.

Second, make more noise and scream actual words like the living (not guttural grunts like the dead) if you see a posse out a window! Ben, Ben, Ben. You were too quiet. I understand you just went through hell and you’re bit dazed but if it’s me I’m screaming like a sissy living, defecating human who just soiled his Fruit of the Looms!

Third, based on the social turmoil of the 60’s, I think Romero sought to use the film to convey messages about the futility of the Vietnam War (conflict) and the tragic assassination of MLK, Jr.

In other words: Go ahead fight the good fight, be honorable, stick to your convictions, but understand there is still a great risk. The hero can indeed fail or die.

I hated how Romero sacrificed Ben at the end (I know I mentioned that, already).

Fourth, an interracial couple holed up in a farm house (even when the female is young, blonde and completely unresponsive) doesn’t mean sex is definitely gonna happen. Huh? Not when Ben is around!

I was wondering when he was going to rip off Barbara’s (played by a very blonde actress named Judith O’Dea), clothes but all he did was com­fort and protect her. Well, he did knock her out with a hit in the face but it was perfectly understandable. She was unhinged after watching her brother become zombie brunch.

Even after she clawed at her scarf  – “it’s hot in here, hot.” NOTHING. Ben, you helped me understand what being a gentleman really means. Can you imagine if Romero had Ben have his way with Bar­bara? Talk about controversy in 1968! Today, Ben would be in hot water for placing a slipper on a white woman. DID YOU SEE WHAT HE DID? A MINORITY WITH A FOOT FETISH LIVES AMONG US. 

Ben and barbara Night

You sure do get to see the best (and worst) in people during times of disaster. THAT was the true message in Romero’s classic to me.

I still vividly remember the first time I watched “Night” on the ABC Satur­day evening late show. The idea of zombies was sort of goofy to me before then. I believe I watched Scooby Doo trip one up on morning television. To me they were clunky comedy relief. In black and white, late at night and thirsty for blood, zombies gained more of my respect. Scooby Doo was either brave or just a big dumb dog.

It was that dead woman at the top of the stairs. It was that devoured face. It was the eyeball staring, piercing me through an old rabbit-eared RCA television screen. My perception of zombies had changed. Forever. They haunted me from that moment. If I would have known how popular they were to become I would have given up on this money management business a long time ago. There was a fortune still yet to be made exploiting the undead.

night woman top of stairs

OK, enough of that. Next. 

7). These ghouls laugh at our complacency with money. Actually I believe it’s a gaping, black-mouthed sort of bloody drool they mock us with.  If they could, walkers would indeed chuckle at the jaw-dropping (and on occasion zombies are missing a jaw) willingness for many investors to remain with financial firms that don’t treat them as they deserve to be treated. Not enough communication, too much conflict of interest, high fees which eat up returns. I hear the complaints consistently and then inquire about or suggest a course of action.

All I receive is a zombie-like glazed over milky-white pupil stare. Fight the zombie of complacency!! Seek an objective, fee-based registered investment adviser. Check out the following blog entry from Clarityfinancial, LLC on the right questions to ask your current or prospective financial adviser.

How to Grill a Current or Prospective Financial Partner

Read more. Perfect segue to push my book, but I don’t want to appear self serving.  It’s too ghoulish. However, order Reformed Broker Josh Brown’s tome “Backstage Wall Street.” There’s lots of meat in this (for the living). Josh’s has a gift to communicate. His writing so sharp, the information delivered so lethal, it’ll slay the evilest of complacency corpses. Want the true story about what motivates your broker? Then..

Order Josh’s Book!

8). Zombies seem to get along just fine without technology.  It’s like when they die, then eventually rise again, they have a keen sense of where the next two-legged meal happens to be hiding. No GPS required. No Google Maps. I also like how the living dead don’t feel the pressure to create some retweetable bon mot along with clever hashtags for it – #holdinginmyliver #thatguytastedlikechicken #wheredidIleavemyseveredhand #birdnestineyesocket.

9).The ultimate revenge: Zombies may eventually be hired by large corporations.  The time is almost near. Employees of large publicly-traded organizations are burning out, dealing with lowest wage increases (if any) in decades in the face of some of the fattest profit margins in years. It’s all about the shareholders now. As a money manager I love it. As an employee I abhorred it.  So it’s only a matter of time before you as an employee are replaced by the living dead. Makes perfect sense. They won’t need to be paid,  just fed entrails.

No benefits, no vacations, no sick days. No more being pissed off over hiring workers in emerging and frontier markets as they no way could compete with a zombie workforce. Hey, you no longer need an HR department either (hell I don’t even know why they exist as they appear to be human and resourceful exclusively to the executive level).

In Romero’s classic “Dawn of The Dead,” the zany scientist was making progress  teaching “Bub” the zombie how to perform simple tasks. And that was over thirty years ago. Imagine the progress we would make with today’s technology. Stick ’em in a cubicle. When they desiccate, just scoop what’s left, discard. Replace. And no 401(k) rollovers to worry about either. Or pensions. Oh wait, what’s a “pension?” I’m thinking corporate R&D spending will be focused toward “Bub Projects.” Don’t laugh. You’re a bub away from replacement.

It’s all about the profits and share prices. You’re an expense to corporate America. Don’t think so? Read on:

Shareholder value is ruining America

10). Zombies compel me to examine the fate of the human condition. Why do they fascinate some of us? Do they represent how primal we can become?  Why did the first nude zombie turn me on? I’m just not intellectually gifted enough to interpret all this. Truth is I just want to enjoy being afraid.

nude butt night

Leave it to George Romero to feature living dead butt. In 1968. Not bad, right? Admit it.

Perhaps my smart friend was right. Maybe zombies do represent loneliness, our lost ability to communicate, the hunger for human warmth, the need to fortify when conditions feel out of control.

Or perhaps, we just plain like to be scared.

Don’t overthink.

Just go with it.

The Colors, The Times, of Your Life – Will You Remember?

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We were free. Moving quick in a white hot breeze. 1977. When the world flew by in lime green.

Slit through a black bowel of public housing. Deep in the middle of the aged carnival colors of blueviolet, aquamarine and bisque. Coney Island. A narrow way forged between the metropolis, slick brown with rot. The summer New York heat penetrated, bounced from dead, white alley cats forming a yellow haze floating neon pungent sluggish slow in still heat. Bright orange, with a burst of unhealthy steel-gray around the edges, like a healthy pink hue that hesitantly abandoned its soul, was there too. Cats and garbage rotted just that way in July. In 1977. In Coney Island. I remember.

The odor scorched the outer part of our pink nostrils until they flared red. But we didn’t care because this moment was designed to be fleeting. The clear blue of escape from a place we should not have been, was near. And as long as that moped motored us out  in one piece, alive, all the Sunday ritual – staring at the newly-painted off white walls behind the rich, marbled altar of St. Simon & Jude’s Church would have been worth it.

Until.

black out NY

Boom! Black.

The lights went out. A deepest black seeped in from the edges. Beige smoke rose above. From everywhere. It suffocated us like a color. Purple maybe. Stopped us dead. Frozen.

Then.

Restless white noise. Muffled sounds of agitated souls. Blood-red anger.

Frenzied, white round bursts of bright. Scattered. Flash lights cutting through, getting closer, like silver shards.

In the dim gray mist of yesteryear, when lapels were wider than a McDonald’s Happy Meal and Mayor McCheese still held power over us.

“We need to get out of here. In there,” I pointed. And kept pointing and she knew what I was pointing to. What I meant. Like she could see through midnight blue.

“Fuck no,” she said. A spanish, italian, puerto-rican fire mix of black-coal eyes, deep brown bouncy curls in red spandex and cherry-red heels.

“If you don’t get in the dumpster you’re getting raped and I’m getting robbed,” I said. Heels off. She moved. The color of imminent danger was crimson with dark-red daggers.

We dove boldly into the acrid stench of the mix. Eggplant in color, wet, with sticky blotches of yellow green. The lime-green Puch Moped that was to take us into the wild blue now secured behind the jungle-green metal coffin for the discarded muck public housing didn’t  want. Too much green. We puked. The gagging color of cloying hot crimson arose in our noses and throats.

A city summer. In the blackest of blackouts. 1977. I remember the gray shades of memories. The colors brought me back. To an alley. When looters almost discovered a boy, a moped and a girl’s saturated skin with Love’s Baby Soft (always smelled cotton-candy pink to me). All this clear vision from a lone lime-green bicycle I barely noticed. In a driveway. Yesterday. In Houston, Texas. A million miles away – faded into a lemon chiffon of time.

love's baby soft

Oh the colors, the colors. Perfect.

Colors have the astounding ability to anchor you back to a time and place for as long as you live. No matter how far to the past you venture. Colors are seeds that blossom the past to the present, immediately. Sort of like songs. Sort of like a person you love, or cherish. If you remember the colors, you’ll know what you feel about a moment is true. And real. Even when others doubt you. Even when you doubt you. The colors make it true. And true is slate blue.

Random Thoughts:

1). How will colors conjure up the past? Today I re-lived the memory of a first dinner. I smelled the thick tapestries of dark & tomato reds. The rich browns of hair and delicate tan of lines, of form, of grace. I’ll never forget the fire-brick colors of what ignited in mind and heart. The reams of gold in the conversation. I re-live those pigments every day.

2). Red & green are the colors of money. When stock markets are green, as they have been since the fiscal cliff (version 1) concluded, I use green to trim growth and profit. When there is red again, a trickle of crimson in the streets, I’m motivated to buy. Use the reds & greens to make smart financial decisions.

3). How will today’s colors form your future? Be careful with the colors you use today to form the thoughts that move you forward. Today I’m staring at coral, firebrick, and forest green from my windows. All soothing, positive colors to me. I’ll make it my business to avoid true dark shades today.

4). What colors will propel you to thank someone today, love someone, be grateful for a communication, a note, one positive word. Close your eyes. Think of those colors. Shamelessly relive the good memories tomorrow of how you changed someone’s attitude. For the better.

Like it’s 1977.

Because times were good.

Because we lived to escape.

The blazing yellow sun eventually showed us the way.

To the blue.

Back on course and lime-green.

Once again.

Like you.

And your memory.

Lime Green Puch Moped

Black Monday Memories & More.

 

Markets will fall again. Live with it.

Black Monday 1987 should remind investors that markets are people, people are irrational and “crashes” are part of the territory, unless you listen to Modern Portfolio Theory loons who believe market derails can only occur every 4,000 years.

Thanks Tom Zizka for the Fox interview.

 

One of the best interviews regarding the conditions high-frequency traders create:

http://www.moneyscience.com/pg/newsfeeds/Admin/item/380964/mark-cuban-highfrequency-traders-are-the-ultimate-hackers

Random Thought:

Happy Saturday!