Tag: Wealth

Day 994: The Game Of Milton Bradley’s Life

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I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.

As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.

The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.

Milton Bradley, 1860s

Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…

Day 782: The Mother Of Civil Rights

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History – even that special brand of history that today seems unflinchingly common-sense and righteous – is more deeply mired with confused and distorted perspective than a grease-trap full of one-eyed ants. We reflect on our civil rights champions with quiet applause and a brow-full of scorn for “those other assholes”: the white oppressors, the Nazi scum, the patriarchal dicks, the anti-lefty scissor-making industry, and so on.

But while Dr. King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks were at the forefront of a dramatic national movement, a moment should be spared for those who came earlier. Those who predated a movement or created one on their own.

When Mary Ellen Pleasant pushed for civil rights reforms – even before the country’s highest office had determined that black people amounted to more than a commodity – she was hailed as a hero. Then, naturally, she was skewered, squeezed and crucified. It ended well for Mary, but only if you consider ‘ending well’ to mean she was eventually honored for what she did, more than a century after her death.

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Mary Ellen Pleasant was born with a first name only, the illegitimate daughter of John H. Pleasants (the son of the Georgia governor) and a black voodoo priestess. Mary was known for dispersing a heap of contradictory information about her past, so it’s hard to say for certain if she worked as a child in a New Orleans convent or was freed from slavery by a sympathetic planter. We do know it was the early 1800’s and Mary had enough African-American blood in her veins to have knitted her a few rifts with the society around her. Read more…

Day 661: The Long Island Snake

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There comes a point in most people’s lives when they realize they will most likely never make a living as a professional athlete. That’s okay, we can still become owners, right? Well, for those of us awash in a life of government drone-dom, owning the team of our dreams is also a fantasy among the unattainable. But what if we could fake it?

ESPN is airing an interesting documentary tonight as part of its 30 For 30 program, documenting the wonky exploits of a man named John Spano, who sort of owned the NHL’s New York Islanders for a brief and weird period in 1997. In Canada we don’t get ESPN, and this program isn’t airing here until Saturday, November 2nd at 11:00am, when I’ll be busy in my Lamaze class (we’re not expecting a baby – I just like practicing my breathing). So instead of setting my PVR I’ll simply hop the boards and do my own research today.

Spano’s story would be deemed too unrealistic, too implausible for that of a fictitious villain. That’s what makes it so compelling. He had balls the size of hockey helmets and sufficient knowledge of how to manipulate the system to put together a pretty slick caper. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite have the knowledge to execute the caper successfully.

Therein lies my favorite ingredient of any story – the utter absurdity.

Islanders-Mid90s

Back in the mid-1990’s, when hockey games would periodically pause for the occasional acoustic jam by the players, the New York Islanders were a well-respected franchise. Only a few years removed from a near-miss at the Stanley Cup finals (and with the memories of four Cups in a row in the 80’s still strong), it didn’t really matter that they’d stunk up the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the past couple seasons. When owner John Pickett decided it was time to sell the club and spend the rest of his years under the Florida sun, he felt an $80 million price tag for his 90% share in the team was a fair price. Read more…

Day 649: Looking For That Lucky Number

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For the record, should anyone feel to compelled to keep such statements in some sort of record, I do not believe I will ever win the lottery. I say this with the utmost confidence and a wry awareness that the universe has gone out of its way to prove me wrong on an incalculable number of occasions in the past. Why not this one? Come on… daddy needs a new fur-lined stapler.

Playing the lotto takes a decidedly different mind-set than any other form of traditional gambling. You aren’t asserting your confidence in a sports franchise’s chances of success on Sunday, nor are you seeking a favorable roll of the dice or turn of a card. No, the odds of victory in this scenario are so astronomical, it’s laughable. To invest $1 or $10 or whatever in a lotto ticket is akin to deciding that you have that amount of money to throw away.

And yet we continue to play, millions of us every week. It’s that wispy dream of an endlessly overstuffed wallet; even those of us with enough sense to know that a few million in the bank will not absolve us of all future problems still want to experience that hypothesis first-hand. And so we crumple up a few bucks and turn to the magic numbers of the lottery.

GreatWallConstruction

There is evidence of keno (known today as the most boring game in Vegas) being played in China during the Han Dynasty, most likely as a way for the government to pay for that gigantic wall. Augustus Caesar gathered some trinkets that he deemed too valuable for a garage sale and gave them away as prizes in a Roman lottery that aimed to pay for repairs in the grand City of Rome. Read more…

Day 602: Veblens And Giffens And Rich People’s Phones

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I think it’s safe to say that I will probably never be fantastic with money. After five years of earning the mellifluous bounty of government dronesmanship, my savings account barely contains enough money to pay for the tumbleweeds that would best represent just how barren and empty it is. I took a microeconomics course in college, but all I remember from it is that I can’t stand microeconomics.

But I have accepted this tiny personal shortcoming. I’m aware that my eyes gloss over when I read about someone trying to forecast the Dow Jones or speculate on commodity futures outside of the safe, easily-explained parameters of the movie Trading Places.

And honestly, I still don't fully understand all that stock market shit at the end of the movie.

And honestly, I still don’t fully understand all that stock market shit at the end of the movie.

But that’s partly why I’m here, slapping a kilograph upon this vast public yonder every day – I’m trying to learn something. Sure, some days I stick to subjects I know, like mixtapes or fugitive glue, but it’s nice to get knuckles-deep in a hearty stew of new information and previously-unexplored concepts. And since the only way I know how to balance a checkbook is on the top of my head (and even then, it’s a longshot), maybe digging into some economic concepts would be good for me.

Maybe this will push me over the edge into the chasm of fiscal responsibility. Gone will be the days of splurging on autographed dental floss or souvenir merchandise from the 1995 movie Batman Forever. Now I’ll crack the code, re-work my investment stratagem and live my life in the black.

Not that I'll be giving up this snappy denim number anytime soon.

Not that I’ll be giving up this snappy denim number anytime soon.

It all begins with Veblen goods. Read more…

Day 554: The Fictional Elite

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Some lucky soul (or souls) claimed the Lotto Max on Friday night, the Canada-wide lottery that often stretches its jackpot to $50 million. This was one of those big-money draws, and I was denied the prize once again, for the silly inconsequential reason that I didn’t buy a ticket.

Who among us hasn’t imagined how our life would change with the sudden injection of eight pre-decimal figures in our bank account? Every year, Forbes magazine drops its list of the wealthiest humans on the globe, and because I know my name will never grace those pages, it’s with only the mildest of interest that I check to see if the big winner is Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or some Saudi Arabian prince, floating on a sea of oil.

I don’t wish any of these people ill-will, but they really don’t have a tremendous effect on my life so I just can’t get excited about their appearance on the list. But Forbes also prints another list. These wealthy money-hoarders may not be technically “real”, but some of them are a lot more interesting than the ones who top that other list. These are the Forbes Fictional 15.

RichieRich

As you may have guessed, the Forbes Fictional 15 is a list of the wealthiest fifteen fictional characters, as compiled from numerous sources, including books, movies, cartoons, comics, TV shows, and using the authors’ best guesses as to their respective fiscal value. Forbes started printing this list in 2002, and though they’ve skipped a few years along the way, the list has become a curious cultural touchstone. Folklore and mythological characters are exempt, as are real people that we simply wish were only fictional. Read more…

Day 502: Coco Chanel… The Nazi Spy?

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As a middle-class white North American shlub, blindly stumbling in the direction of forty, and choosing a day’s wardrobe based on wrinkle content, embedded bulldog hairs and whether or not I have to leave the house and (ugh) interact with people, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Coco Chanel.

I’m familiar with her brand, of course. I know all about the sharp, fashionable suits, the little black dress and the No. 5 perfume. I know about her humble beginnings in a convent to her yearning to be a nightclub performer. I like the lady, only because I watched her in that movie with Audrey Tautou, and Tautou could make anybody appear impishly cute and unquestionably huggable.

But Chanel had a dark side. A history streaked with a dark crimson stain of hate. A side that the people who continue to run her corporate empire don’t really want to talk about.

But soooooo huggable.

But soooooo huggable.

I don’t feel a lot of time needs to be spent on Coco Chanel’s love life. She never married, but instead had a number of lovers. Two things need to be kept in mind here: if Coco had been a guy, such an impressive slate of bed-sharers would be looked upon as a well-notched bedpost; with a woman there’s a tendency to call it a scandal. Also, most of Coco’s suitors were higher-ups, diners around the table of aristocracy. As such, her dalliances have become a thing of historical record.

Well screw that. Coco had herself some sex. I say we drop the outdated pretense of genderism and leave it in the historical record that she was a playa. And she wasn’t trying to skronk her way into someone else’s fortune; Coco was probably wealthier than a lot of the men she bedded. She simply had a type, that’s all. She dug guys who owned horses. And possibly counties in which horses would reside. Read more…

Day 432: Hitting The Jackpot (Before It Hits Back)

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After yesterday’s tragic tale of lotto-mania gone bad, I needed to cleanse my perceptual palette. Is there good news to be found among the scant few lottery winners with the infamy required to earn a Wikipedia page? Are the only stories worth reading about filled with tragedy, back-stabbery and lawsuits? What I found was a mix of the disheartening and the uplifting, a stew of consequence defined by circumstance and character.

Despite my wallet’s commitment to porousness, I still believe I’d be able to successfully navigate the minefield of sudden wealth. My family (apart from a few wayward flakes – you know who you are) is strong and secure. I’ve made enough atrocious financial decisions to know one when I see one. I recycle. Not sure if that last one will help me, but I’m plugging for karma to give me a shot at proving my ability to handle a big lottery win.

AbrahamShakespeare

I’d have to do better than Abraham Shakespeare. This guy’s story makes the Lavigueur family in yesterday’s article look like a happy ending. Abe was something of an underachiever, having done time for a few burglaries and hopping from labor job to labor job in Florida. When he struck the winning numbers in a $30 million Florida lottery in 2006, everything began to fall apart. Read more…