Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Stop Payment

In 2005 (when my only drug of choice was Jameson, I had only been arrested twice, and I and all my friends thought we were better at poker than we actually were), I had a hard time finding someone to be my roommate. I had a three bedroom house that I didn’t want, buried in a north Austin suburb that I couldn’t stand. I had bills looming over my head, and I no longer had a cushy overpaid job at Apple to solve my money issues. Then it hit me: what if I just stop paying all of it?

At my weekly poker game (I remember reality, I probably lost), I brought up that idea.
Me: So...what if you just don’t pay your mortgage?
Them: You’ll lose your house.
Me: Is that all? I don’t want it.
Them: You can’t not pay them. It’ll ruin your credit.
Me: What do I need credit for? I have a car. Bartenders take cash.
Them: But…
Me: Credit rating is a prison.
Them: You have to pay bills.
Me: Eh.

More research needed to be done. But I said “fuck that” and did what I wanted to do. I declared my cat. I said, “Kitty, we’re bankrupt.” She didn’t seem worried, so neither was I. I stopped paying everybody, and I squatted in my house for a couple of months. Once I started receiving really angry mail, I moved into a central Austin apartment and changed my phone number. I refrained from filling out that “change of address” form at the post office. The rest is very fuzzy and mostly nonexistent history.

I bring this up because I’ve recently done some research on those companies I stiffed. Here is the list:

Washington Mutual - I always wondered why it was so easy to refinance my $125,000 house twice in 2 years. After watching “The Big Short”, I said, “Oh.” I stuck these assholes with a termite-infested money pit filled with discarded furniture, belongings and broken dreams. They called themselves the “Wal-Mart of Banking,” owning the largest savings and loan association in the country...until it all went down in 2008.

Bank One - I inherited a credit card of theirs in my divorce, and maxed it out after funding a kick-ass weekend in New Orleans. I owed them about $12,000 according to the last invoice I read. A year earlier, Bank One was involved in a the actual company I screwed over was JPMorgan the same year they paid a $2.2 billion settlement to Enron investors and a $2 billion settlement for their part in the WorldCom accounting fraud. You should check out JPMorgan Chase on Wikipedia. The “Controversies” section is divided into 17 parts.

Wells Fargo - Hey, anyone read the news recently? They created 1.5 million checking/savings accounts and 500,000 credit cards that were never authorized by their customers. I opened a $6000 credit line with them in order to be able to pay Bank One and Washington Mutual. I have no idea what the interest was...I just knew there was zero interest on MY end, amiright? Huh? Ah, me.

Also, $350 to Time Warner Cable. Fuck Time Warner Cable.

I am not writing this in order to justify being a drunken deadbeat or to encourage similar behavior. I am not implying that I sabotaged my credit rating to subconsciously become a Wall Street freedom fighter (although that delusion sounds pretty rad). I am communicating all of this simply to say…

You’re welcome, America.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Chess With a Non-Friend

Last year, I was using the "Chess With Friends" app, and a random user named "YoungMoneyRepublican" challenged me to a game. After a long gut laugh at the username and a profile pic of a very large head wearing a SF Giants cap slightly tilted, I went ahead and started playing him.

We traded a few standard opening moves. But then, he moved his knight to an unexpected spot, and then followed that with another move that completed a brilliant trap on one of my pieces. It was good...but I felt it was too good. Now, I'm decent at chess, and I recognize when excellent players kick my ass. But this didn't feel right. It was his username, really. Somehow, I didn't think anyone with a stupid name like that could play chess that well. It's assumptive and judgmental, sure. But I was bored, so...I started investigating.

His stats on Chess With Friends were phenomenal. 75 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss, in just 4 months. Average game was 24 moves (he would win moving all of 12 times). Well, that's kind of a red flag. This guy is a prodigy...or he's a cheat. Side Note: if you use the same username on multiple websites, it is unbelievably easy to stalk you. I won't share his name, but I found his Facebook page. All of his status updates, set to Public, were bits of wisdom that I suppose he wanted to put out there to inspire and motivate his friends. The thing is, while he posted everything like he was writing them, they were all lifted quotes from other people or shitty memes. "Nothing irritates me more than someone who constantly complains about a situation they’re in but does absolutely nothing to change it" - this pulls up several memes on Pinterest. Or, "I love Huey Lewis, but not the News, because the News is too depressing" - which is a joke by author Jarod Kintz...and probably about 14 comedians in 1989. What kind of a person passes along "quotable quotes" as his own? The same kind of person that cheats at chess online (and probably every online game).

I searched online and found a couple of free chess engines, which are programs that generate optimal moves for any match. I replayed our game from beginning to present, and he was indeed using the GNU 6 Chess Engine for every move. He was also playing 10 people at the same time on Chess With Friends, probably challenging random players to beef up his stats.

I was going to message him to tell him off and let him know that I knew...but then...I had a better idea. I found a stronger chess engine (Stockfish 5), so I started playing his computer with another computer. Worst case, it would end in a draw. Also, since he was so keen on beefing his stats quickly, I waited 4 or 5 days to move every turn. I figured I could make the game last at least 6 months...or I'd make him resign the game in anger. Because...fuck him.

Anyway, I'm posting about this because tonight, 8 months and 108 moves later, he finally had enough and resigned the game. Had we played it out until the end, it might have lasted a year.

If you play Chess With Friends, and YoungMoneyGOP (his current name) challenges you, either decline the game or play him with Stockfish. I uninstalled it. I'll play you in person, though.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Your Calling is Being True to Yourself

This is a response to the piece Resist that calling. It’s probably not your purpose in life posted on Medium by Fred Swaniker. In it, Swaniker states that we are “defined by our ‘Moments of obligation’” and that we should ignore 99% of these moments. The reason being that we each are on this planet for a purpose, and if we pursue ventures that are not this purpose, then we are delaying our calling from coming to fruition. He suggests applying three questions as a screening process for potential moments of obligation when they present themselves. These questions are:

- Is it big enough?
- Am I uniquely positioned, more than almost anyone else in the world, to make this happen?
- Am I truly passionate?

Three yes’s and you should pursue that calling. If your moment of obligation does not produce three “yes” answers, Swaniker recommends that you ignore this potential venture, “no matter how guilty it makes you feel.” Keep on your current path and your purpose in life will be revealed in time as part of a greater plan.

I must admit up front that I did not read this piece objectively as I do not ascribe to the concepts of fate and destiny. My answer to the question “What is my purpose in life?” has been and will continue to be, “Experiencing life is your purpose for existing.” From the position that we do not have a higher calling from a deity or the universe, I think we use our intuition or gut feeling in a similar way as these three questions to determine if we should follow new opportunities that present themselves. It appears to me that the difference between following your gut and Swaniker’s questions is that he is suggesting decision-making removed from empathy or guilt…to look at your moment of obligation coldly and logically along with personal desire or goals. This is what had me opposed to this from the beginning (by beginning, I mean from the title).

While I personally object to the concepts of fate and destiny, let’s say we all have a greater purpose in life, and we are each here for a reason. If that’s the case, then why have a filtering system for your life choices at all? Instead of being true to yourself and seeing where life takes you, are you attempting to help out fate? Swaniker states that being distracted by moments of obligation that are not your true calling only delays you from reaching your destiny. Okay, but we still reach it eventually? He didn’t say we could sway from our true path and then never find our way back. If you die while off your path, weren’t you actually on the real path? Isn’t your “true path” just based on perception?

I am not a fan of a simplified formula presented for mass consumption as a universal mantra because it ignores the numerous complexities of life’s experiences and the individual. We are all on our own trajectory with different backgrounds and unique thought/emotion structures, and the concept of everyone applying the same 3-question quiz to every major life decision or fork in the road is absurd to me. It is even more unsettling when you analyze the questions themselves. Let me address them in reverse order.

“Are you truly passionate?” I agree with this one. Too often we pursue an avenue because we believe it to be a great opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. We eventually find ourselves regretting this decision as our heart was never behind it in the first place. The great opportunity transforms into a cause of stress and unhappiness because we never really wanted to do it. I’m all for pursuing a calling that fuels passion and drive.

“Am I uniquely positioned, more than almost anyone else in the world, to make this happen?” This one is perplexing considering there are 7.4 billion people on earth. No matter what your moment of obligation might be, there is a decent chance there are numerous individuals who are also in a position to make it happen.

But will they? This question assumes that if the issue you are contemplating is common enough, pass it up because somebody else will take care of it. Human nature, however, has shown that if an issue does not directly affect an individual and requires effort for that individual to take action, then the individual does not address it. A good example of this is trash on the side of the road. Anyone with at least one arm (i.e. mostly everyone) is positioned to clean it up. Most people choose to walk on by with the assumption someone else will take care of it (if they give litter any thought at all).

This question could be used to reinforce the decision to follow a calling if you were on the fence about it. Being in a unique position to help would probably tip you over to the side of yes. Using this question to completely rule out pursuing a venture doesn’t make sense to me.

“Is it big enough?” I find it presumptuous to determine that a good deed is greater than another based on a vague internal criteria. How do you quantify “big”? Do you refuse to initiate or participate in an idea that can benefit three or four people because anything less than half a dozen people is a waste of your time? Swaniker is suggesting making your decisions with a view of the big picture instead of what you feel is right. He says, “You should be solving the biggest problems for the world, not small ones.” This is infuriating to me, because as I mentioned earlier, people tend to ignore small problems, and small problems left untreated usually become bigger problems. Also, why is that a choice, big vs small? Shouldn’t it be, can I do something about this issue without it being detrimental to me financially, emotionally or physically?

This question’s main function seems to be for guilt alleviation, not for guidance to your perceived true purpose. Guilt, of course, can be very unhealthy, and it is not a person’s job to save the world. And actually, I don’t like the phrase “moment of obligation” because it implies that we owe the world something based on our position in life. I don’t feel I’m “obligated” to do anything. That being said, to completely ignore guilt as Swaniker suggests is to become an unfeeling machine that reads all the 1s and 0s and calculates all the factors to determine if the solution is equal to or greater than “big”.

The three questions almost sounds like an abbreviated strategy for business and professional success. To apply business principles to acts of goodwill feels dirty. From a purely selfish point of view, the reason to help other people is because it ultimately is supposed to make you feel good. That should be your true purpose: help people and feel good. This isn’t a matter of quantifying the number of people or the number of good deeds. That’s along the same lines as being a good person, not because it’s right, but because you’re trying to get into heaven. If you want to improve society and the world, you have to use empathy. Emotions need to be involved. Is it big enough? How about, is it the right thing to do?

The idea that I’m here for some higher purpose is an ego trip mired in delusion. Not everybody gets to have a calling that society will deem “great”. It doesn’t matter what society thinks of you, your profession, or your actions. What matters is how you feel. If you are doing for others based on what you feel is the right thing to do…If you are being true to yourself using both thought and emotion…then you should feel good about the path you’re taking. That is your calling: being authentically you.