The One New Year's Resolution I Can't Keep

New Year's Resolution

I'm pretty good about keeping New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s writing a book or two, shaking up the exercise routine, doing things that make me a better husband or father, I can usually look back at the year and see that I’ve accomplished most of them.

There is one exception to this rule—one that I've tried for the last three years with varying degrees of success: no more soda pop. As hard of I've tried, I’ve never been able to go an entire year without it. The longest I’ve made it without any bubbly was three years ago when I went all the way to September.

Since I don’t drink a lot of soda anyway, you’d think this would be an easy one to keep. The only time I usually drink it when we go out to eat (an Apollo Burger isn’t an Apollo Burger without some carbonation) or the occasionally family party. And avoiding carbonation during those times wouldn’t be difficult since there are always plenty of non-carbonated options to choose from.

Part of problem is that nearly a decade ago when I started running every day is that if I met my running goals for the week, one of my rewards was a 32 oz. fountain drink from a nearby convenience store. Even though drinking soda was went somewhat against the grain of the weight I was trying to lose at the time, it was still my reminder that I wasn’t giving up soda—but only drinking it after I had accomplished other health related goals. Nearly a decade later, I still routinely meet my fitness goals. However, I still want a reward for doing it. Hence the draw of at least having something carbonated to drink once a week. I’ve tried non-carbonated substitutes but so far nothing seems to work well enough to keep me off carbonation for 365 days.

It’s also become more difficult now that our kids are older. When Marathon Girl and I were first married, we never bought it. Now we buy it occasionally for the kids—usually as a reward for good behavior. This, however, creates temptations when we have it occasionally with dinner even though there’s plenty of other stuff I could drink. In the end, however, I have no one but myself to blame.

There are always other options available—I just choose to have the occasional soda. So this year I’m going to give it one last try and see if I can have the self control to abstain for at least a year. Hopefully by this time next year I’ll have good news to report.

Who Are The Johnsons?

Return to Sender

When Marathon Girl and I moved into our home five years ago, we went through the inevitable process of receiving mail that hadn’t been forwarded to the previous owner. We had her new address and forwarded the mail on to her. After a few months, we stopped getting her mail.

Then Christmas came. Holiday cards arrived in our mail box not only to her but two cards address to the Johnson Family. We had no idea who the Johnson Family was but figured it was the owner before the woman who sold her house to us. We Return to Sender on the cards for the Johnsons saying they were no longer at this address.

We forgot all about the Johnson Family until the next Christmas. Once again two Christmas cards arrived for the Johnson Family. And though Marathon Girl and I weren’t 100% sure, we were fairly certain that they were the same two families that sent cards the year before. Once again we sent them back and went about with our lives.

We’ve now spent five Christmases in our home. And each year two cards arrive for the Johnson Family arrive from the same two families. The last two years we haven’t bothered returning them. Whoever sends these cards either don’t get the cards back in the mail or have lost touch with the Johnson Family to the point where five plus years have passed and they have no idea where the Johnson Family lives. If it’s the latter reason, I’m somewhat surprised. In an era of email and social networking, it’s not hard to keep in touch with people or, at the very least, notifying them that you’ve moved. Our lives take us in a hundred different directions making it impossible to keep in touch with everyone. But you’d think after (at least) five years, you’d either find a way to contact them or hear through the grapevine that they moved.

As a writer, a collector of stories, and one who is fascinated by human choices and behavior, I want to know who these families are and what their ties are to the Johnson Family. Were they neighbors? Childhood friends? Casual acquaintances? Ex-lovers? There's a story here and the storyteller in me wants to tell it. But the Johnson Family is just a name on an envelope. With no forwarding address, their story will never be told but maybe, just maybe, the seeds of a book have been planted.

Bernard Madoff: The Ultimate Con Artist

Bernard Madoff: The Ultimate Con Artist

There's a sucker born every minute. -- P.T. Barnum.

I’ve been reading with some interest the downfall of the aptly named con man Bernard Madoff (pronounced “made-off” as in he made off with your money) in part because some friends and acquaintances become unwittingly involved a less sophisticated, Utah County ponzi scheme. Of course Madoff’s con is more stunning because of the amount of money he took ($50 billion) and the length of time it went on (decades).

A Wall Street Journal editorial on Madoff seems shocked that such a renowned man could pull such a con on the super rich. Writes The Journal:

Capitalism runs on trust, so inevitably there will be men like Bernard Madoff who attempt to steal from the trusting. His alleged $50 billion ponzi scheme is exceptional mainly for its size, the length of time he was able to run his con, and the affluent and sophisticated circles in which he operated. There is something especially shocking when a man held in high esteem turns out to be a thief.

A con man held in high esteem? Either The Wall Street Journal editorial writers are extremely naive or have never been suckered by a con man. There is no way Bernard Madoff could have pulled off what appears to be the largest con in history without being held in high esteem.

Capitalism isn’t the only thing that runs on trust. So do con men (and women). Trust is the con man’s ultimate tool. It’s impossible to pull off a con – especially one like Bernard Madoff’s apparently did, without gaining the trust of your victims.

Madoff moved in affluent, “sophisticated” circles because that’s was the only place to find loaded victims. They wouldn’t pay attention to him if he was simply some rube off the street. He had to act like one of the rich elite in order to continue the scam.

And from what I’ve read, it appears Madoff didn’t have to do much conning after his ponzi scheme got started. He’d simply hobnob with the rich and famous in Florida and New York and have his investors tell their friends about the fabulous returns (about 1% a month or 12% a year) they were constantly earning and show off the fancy cars they were driving and more people would be brought on board.

To his credit, Madoff appears to have played his part to perfection by acting hesitant to take on new clients when a friend of a friend would approach him and ask if he or she could invest with him. Con men never act like it’s about the money. Instead they misdirect you into thinking they’re not interested or that they have your best interests at heart.

And just because you’re rich doesn’t mean you can’t be conned. The vaster your wealth, the bigger mark you are. One of the biggest cons of the 19th century involved Phillip Arnold and John Slack involved disguising a worthless piece of land as a diamond mind and, as a result ripping off U.S financier Asbury Harpending, Bank of California owner William Ralston and other “sophisticated” investors. (You can read a brief write up on their scam here. For a more in-depth look at the scam, see Law 21 in Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power)

Bernard Madoff proved that you’re never educated, sophisticated, or rich enough to avoid being conned. All he did was follow the age old tricks of playing to the victim’s fantasies and greed then gain their trust.

Bernard Madoff just did it better than most. The result was a scam that netted more money and lasted longer than other ponzi scheme and left a trail of lies, deceit, and broken dreams in its wake.