Year of the Monkey

Happy New Year!

Few Chinese Horoscope books contain overall prognostications for the year. In my large collection of these books, one of the few that does is the first edition of Theodora Lau’s The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, published in 1979. Unfortunately, in the later editions of this book, her overall predictions for each year have been removed.

To provide my friends with this interesting information, here is Ms. Lau’s overall forecast for the Year of the Monkey plus her predictions for how individuals will fare this year, given the animal that represents their birth year. (To determine what animal you are, see my table of animals for birth dates.)

Year of Monkey

The Year of the Monkey 
February 8, 2016 – January 27, 2017

Everything will be workable this year. At least the agile Monkey will not give up before trying every angle. There will be success even in impossible ventures, there will be inventions and improvisations galore. Politics, diplomacy, high finance and business will be engaged in one big poker game with everyone trying to outbluff each other. A rather amusing and exciting time in which everyone will be given the opportunity to try his hand at the game. No direct confrontation here, as the Monkey is one who can laugh off his mistakes and improve his bargaining prowess in the next round.

This is a year that will find us all trying to get a better deal by outsmarting the other man. It is hard to keep track of who is winning, as the right hand has no idea of what the left hand is up to. One thing is for sure, this will be an extremely progressive time. We will all steam ahead, and even if we do not apply ourselves to the utmost, we will be carried forward by the surging tide of the Monkey’s natural talent for learning and advancement.

The lucky imp of a Monkey who rules this year will urge us to gamble, speculate and exploit risky but ingenious options. If you are quick on the draw, this year will yield huge dividends. It is definitely not a year for the faint-hearted or slow-witted. The Monkey gives no concessions and asks none in return. If there is a recession, the year of the Monkey will quickly put an end to it. Business will skyrocket under his optimistic and shrewd influence. The Monkey’s resourcefulness will amaze and confound everyone.

It is very interesting to note that America was born in the year of the Fire Monkey, 1776. Perhaps this explains her phenomenal growth and fantastic achievements within such a short span of time.

It is said that the Monkey’s year will bring many new and unconventional ways of doing things. The motto of this year should be: “Don’t take No for an answer!”

How you will fare in the Year of the Monkey

Rat     The Rat will enjoy a fruitful year as no serious troubles are predicted on the home or business front. He will receive more good news than bad. However, he should avoid breaking friendships or partnerships at this time to avoid future repercussions.

Ox     A lucky and prosperous year for the Ox. He will be feted or sought after by important people. Good tidings in his family or a new job or promotion could await him. New ventures or partnerships can be foreseen.

Tiger     A trying year for the Tiger. Irritations and setbacks test his patience and powers of endurance. He should not voice his objections too loudly and avoid confrontations which could lead to lawsuits. He will entertain or travel more than usual and be forced to compromise.

Rabbit     A fair year for the Rabbit provided he is not too optimistic. Financial deals or contracts may meet with unexpected snags or fail to materialize due to the betrayal of a trusted ally. His family life remains calm but he could experience several minor illnesses that impede his progress.

Dragon     A mixed year for the Dragon. Progress can be foreseen in his career and financial undertakings but he must not be deceived by favorable preliminary results or else he could get caught in legal tangles. Broken friendships or romantic quarrels can result if he, is too determined to have everything done his way. A time for compromises and heeding the advice of others.

Snake     A good year as the Snake will find help when he needs it most. He may still be involuntarily drawn into disputes but things will burn themselves out if he does not add fuel to the fire. Still, these adverse conditions may cause undue anxiety. A year to remain conservative or neutral.

Horse     A lucky year for the Horse, as sudden gains or unlikely benefits are foreseen. He will be able to find whatever he is searching for, but he must also be careful about freak accidents that are likely to occur. There may be sad news in the family, but the troubles of others will not affect him personally.

Sheep     A good year for the Sheep. Recognition or promotion at work gives him a sense of fulfillment and he will enjoy a busy but rewarding year. Opposition is negligible and health problems minor.

Monkey     An excellent time for the Monkey native. He can start his own business as achievements, happiness and recognition are indicated. He will make fantastic progress. Headaches will come mainly from subordinates, debtors or people who finance his bold undertakings. Health problems stem from overexertion.

Rooster     A mixed year. The Rooster is faced with financial problems, failure in business or career, or personal suffering at home. He is prone to make errors in judgment, so he must not rely on outside information but investigate everything thoroughly on his own. Things may look better than they actually are.

Dog     A fair year. It will be hectic and not as fruitful as the Dog expects, but there will be good news or celebrations at home. Extra expenses, more traveling than usual or a change in residence are also foreseen. New friends and important people will fete him.

Boar     A moderately satisfying time for the Boar. He will suffer from a lack of money or support and various domestic and personal problems will occupy his mind. Results are not entirely favorable but he will be able to borrow money or join forces with other people and solve his difficulties.


I found a website that offers a summary of “YOUR FORTUNE IN FIRE MONKEY YEAR”. Check out how you’ll fare in this prediction compared to Ms. Lau’s.


Year of the Sheep

Happy New Year!

Few Chinese Horoscope books contain overall prognostications for the year. In my large collection of these books, one of the few that does is the first edition of Theodora Lau’s The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, published in 1979. Unfortunately, in the later editions of this book, her overall predictions for each year have been removed.

To provide my friends with this interesting information, here is Ms. Lau’s overall forecast for the Year of the Sheep (also known as the Year of the Goat or Year of the Ram – they’re all the same character in Chinese), plus her predictions for how individuals will fare this year, given the animal that represents their birth year. (To determine what animal you are, see my table of animals for birth dates.)


The Year of the Sheep
February 19, 2015 – February 8, 2016

This is a smooth year following that of the energetic Horse. A year to relax and make peace with oneself as well as with others. Things progress slowly and we find ourselves more sentimental and emotion­al. The Sheep’s influence will draw us closer to home and our families. We find ourselves caring more about those close to us and being more liberal with our time and money.

Patron of the arts, the Sheep will bring out all the creativeness in our natures. We will be productive and imaginative in artistic and aesthetic ventures. The pessimistic vibrations cast by him will also make us oversensitive and fretful of little problems. In our undertak­ings, we may become easily discouraged or hypercritical when things are not to our liking.

On the world scene, things will be tranquil and subdued. Take time off to cater to your whims and fancies. Make new friends and travel; invest in art and antiques. But keep a tight hand on your purse string, too, as there could be repercussions caused by overspending.

Hopefully, the Sheep’s love of harmony and keen sense for coexist­ing with his enemies will preserve this year from many upheavals. The moderates and doves will be heard and heeded. Wars, internation­al conflicts and mutual animosities usually end in the year of the Sheep.

The serenity of the Sheep’s peaceful ways will slow things down a bit for the more intensely active signs, but after all, this is not a year for whirlwind activities – it is one for introspection.

How you will fare in the Year of the Sheep

Rat            The Rat’s finances make a recovery this year and there are some achieve­ments career‑wise. However, his plans cannot all be realized without encountering changes or some small upheaval. He will be able to discover and take advantage of previously unseen opportunities.

Ox          Not much progress can be expected this year although the Ox receives good news to boost his confidence. No illness or serious quarrels and his home life will be relatively peaceful. However, he should not be overoptimistic as he could lose some money he thought he has gained or lose something he cannot even talk about.

Tiger      A good year although the problems the Tiger encounters take up a lot of his time. Negotiations, bickering at home and tension at work keep him from relaxing, and he should take a vacation even if he cannot afford it. He could also lose some personal belongings but should otherwise count himself lucky, as there will be no serious disasters.

Rabbit    An excellent year for the Rabbit. Many wonderful achievements can be accomplished and his plans progress smoothly. A prosperous year for him but he must pay strict attention to details or he may have trouble later on about a settlement. No large problems at home or work.

Dragon    The Dragon can only expect moderate performance during the Sheep’s year for his financial ventures and career advancement. Some health problems, but his family life is quiet. No upheavals or unwelcome changes in his environment.

Snake     A protected year for the Snake. No great gains but neither are there any sizable losses to be expected. Life could be calm and leisurely if he takes advantage of this time to cultivate influential friends who will benefit him greatly later on. Some sad news or minor inconveniences at home.

Horse     A moderate year for the Horse. Changes in residence or a long trip are indicated. The good balances out the bad this year and no serious problems or worries affect him.

Sheep     A not‑so‑favorable year for the Sheep native. The year may start out bright and he could make a lot of plans or receive many invitations. Then problems and complications will pop up and his gains may be greatly diminished. A time in which he must trim his expectations and be practical.

Monkey  An involved and busy year. The Monkey finds it easy to make money but his profits will be reduced by unexpected expenses. He meets new and beneficial associates and will have to entertain or travel more than usual. Some minor health upset or unhappiness at home is indicated. A year to be secretive, as others may try to obtain classified information from him.

Rooster  A good, protected year for the Rooster. No upheavals indicated as he enjoys glad tidings, regains lost ground and sees some advancement in his career. Troubles may still abound but he is not directly affected. Life is quieter and more settled. He is able to relax or take a good vacation.

Dog        A moderate year for the Dog. Anxiety and worries beset him. He can prevent losses and resolve differences if he holds his tongue and refuses to lose his temper. A year for him to be patient and conservative.

Boar       A fair year for the Boar, as his financial position is at a standstill or loss. He will have no serious health problems or big upheavals. His gains will be in the form of knowledge, more professional training or career development. A time to plan for the future and seek out new opportunities to explore.

WiFi Thermostat: Nest vs. Honeywell Lyric vs. lower-end Honeywell

I just installed a wifi thermostat for my home. Easy to do and now I can monitor and reset the heating/cooling from my computer or iPhone. And I did it rather inexpensively.

This summer, while traveling, I thought about how nice it would be to reset my thermostat to cool down my house before I got home. I normally set the temperature to 85º when I am away in the summer to keep my air-conditioning bills down. It normally takes a few hours for my house to cool down after I get home and restart the thermostat’s regular schedule, and that can be a problem if I arrive home late in the evening, since I’d like to get to sleep.

Nest thermostat Asking around, friends recommended the Nest thermostat. I had seen it in the Apple Store and online and was ready to buy one. It had all the bling of Apple coolness as a product. But then I looked into it more. Did I really need a thermostat that learned what temperature I wanted it set at by monitoring my adjusting the temperature throughout the day? Reading more, I found that it could also learn when I left the house and reset the thermostat as well.

Lyric thermostatI was happy with my current Honeywell thermostat. It came with my new furnace that I had installed last year – a basic seven day model, much like my old one, but with a touch screen. So I checked online to see what Honeywell had to offer and found that they had just introduced a new model called Lyric to keep with the Nest. It was available only through furnace installers, but would be available in August in Lowes. Both the Nest and Lyric models are priced around $250. Many of the reviews I read online focused on ease of installation.

Honeywell WiFi thermostatChecking further, I found that Honeywell had a model similar to the one I was currently using, but with Wi-Fi capabilities, enabling users to monitor and set the thermostat remotely. Its controls were the same as the model I was currently using, so ease of use wasn’t a concern for me. It was priced at about $100. Again, complaints centered on the need to have a C wire to the thermostat – something that older installations don’t have. I popped open my current thermostat and found that it had the needed C wire, so installation would not be an issue.

Honeywell offered a range of models that included additional features such as voice activation, color screen, learning how long it took for the house to come to new temperatures, automatically switching between heating and cooling, etc. These features added cost and filled in the price spectrum between the basic wifi model I was considering and the Nest/Lyric.

I finally decided to go with Honeywell’s basic wifi model instead of Nest or Lyric, because I’m competent enough to set my own temperatures and schedules and don’t need it to “learn” from my re-setting the temperature or monitoring my location (through my iPhone) – spooky! Shopping around, I found a new one (in an open package) offered at about $70 on eBay. Of course, given the newness of the Nest and Lyric, I couldn’t find any with much of a discount from their $250 list prices. So that amounted to a savings of about $180!

I received the unit today, read over the instructions, and watched the videos on Honeywell’s installation assistance website. I got my tools together – a cordless screwdriver, drill and drill bits, a small electronics screwdriver, and small needle-nose pliers – and got to work. I turned off the circuit breakers for my furnace and air conditioner, removed the old thermostat front, and detached and labeled the wires from the old thermostat mounting plate. I found that my furnace installer had screwed the old mounting plate directly into the wallboard without anchors, so I drilled holes and installed the anchors provided with the new thermostat. I mounted the new plate, attached the wires, clicked on the new thermostat cover, and turned my circuit breakers back on. I continued, as instructed, setting the time and day of the new unit, establishing a wifi connection with my router via my laptop, and setting up an online account that lets me monitor and control the unit via the Internet or iPhone app. I had tried to get the air conditioning running again by manually setting the temperature setting lower, but it was only after I had set up the online connection that my HVAC system started running again.

Online thermostat windowI started setting up the thermostat schedule on the unit as I had with my old unit, but found I had to do it one day at a time. So I checked out the online interface and I was pleased to see that I could set my temperature schedule much more easily, able to set blocks of days and not have to set all four modes (wake, leave, return, sleep) when not needed. The thermostat appears to get the outside temperature and humidity readings through the Internet.

The whole process, from opening the box to system running, took about 1 hour. The unit appears to be working properly; my house is pleasantly cool and the fan cycles on and off as before.

I am happy with the experience, and look forward to monitoring and resetting my thermostat temperature while away from home as well as from within my house, wherever I have a computer or iPhone. One hour and $70 was very little to be able to come home finding it at the right temperature after being away. I don’t have the bling factor of the neat new Nest or Lyric thermostats sitting on my wall, but frankly I don’t need anyone admiring such devices when they come visit me, and I get all the functionality I really need.

Year of the Horse

Happy New Year!

Few Chinese Horoscope books contain overall prognostications for the year. In my large collection of these books, one of the few that does is the first edition of Theodora Lau’s The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, published in 1979. Unfortunately, in the later editions of this book, her overall predictions for each year have been removed.

To provide my friends with this interesting information, here is Ms. Lau’s overall forecast for the Year of the Horse, plus her predictions for how individuals will fare this year, given the animal that represents their birth year. (To determine what animal you are, see my table of animals for birth dates.)

The Year of the Horse

January 31, 2014 – February 18, 2015

A lively and high‑spirited year for all. Life will be hectic and punctuated with adventures. People will find themselves reckless, romantic and carefree. A definite time for advancement. We will find it quite agreeable to keep in step with the delightful Horse.

This will be a time when decisions and projects will be incorporated at high speed and with efficiency. Action will be the key word. Everything is on the go and we should take care not to drive ourselves too hard. It will be a rewarding but exhausting year.

Exhilarating yet frustrating at times, this year’s pace will tax our reserve energies and leave us feeling depleted. It is a good time for letting off steam and doing all the whimsical things you ever dreamed about. Listen to your senses. The wind may be changing constantly, but once you have picked up the scent, follow your intuitions.

Planning and procrastinating will be shoved aside. The impulsive influence of the Horse, coupled with his self‑confidence, will dictate our actions and emotions. Industry, production and the world’s economy will be on an upswing. Tempers, too, may be a bit frayed in areas of diplomacy and politics. But good humor will prevail.

Brace yourselves, the volatile Horse will quicken our pulses and bring tension and stress into our everyday lives. The Horse’s tempo is fast, his disposition sanguine but erratic. But in spite of everything, we will retain his common sense approach toward money matters. An excellent time to strike out on your own. There will be freedom of movement this year. Be brave, bold and shocking.

How you will fare in the Year of the Horse

Rat  A difficult time is in store for the Rat. He has to be very conservative in assessments or business commitments as the year of the Horse forces him to entertain, waste money or become engaged in lawsuits. He may run into debt or be unable to get back money due him. Love affairs may not turn out well at this time.

Ox  An unsettled year for the Ox. Unhappy love or financial affairs beset him and he could have financial setbacks or be involved in accidents. Illness can also cause unexpected delays and make him unable to honor his commitments. Darkest clouds should pass by autumn. A time for him to consolidate or make conservative estimates.

Tiger  A very good and happy year ‑ Things will go smoothly for the Tiger. Promotions and recognition are in store. It will be an easy time to make money, and the Tiger will even be able to save money or receive additional income. There will be celebrations as good news is received at home.

Rabbit  A good year in store for the Rabbit, as his luck will come from meeting helpful people who will be happy to use their influence for his benefit. The Rabbit will not experience any big upheaval or illness this year and thus be able to recoup previous losses. He may have much traveling or entertaining to do.

Dragon  A year mixed with uncertainty and unpleasant surprises for the Dragon. Some news could upset or change his life temporarily, although problems in general tend to work themselves out if he is not too headstrong or aggressive. He will find this year an uneasy time as real and imaginary worries beset him.

Snake  An energetic time for the Snake native. He must refrain from being emotional and hasty if he wants all his hopes to be fulfilled. Unsettled problems and worries affect his health. All in all, he will succeed admirably this year. His troubles are temporary.

Horse  A good and prosperous year for the Horse. Recognition or promotion brings him satisfaction and happiness. Plans are realized without much effort and he will be lucky playing his hunches. A year in which the Horse is also susceptible to contagious disease, so he must not visit sick people or expose himself unnecessarily. He must not break friendships or partnerships this year.

Sheep  Smooth and tranquil year. The Sheep faces no large problems at home or work. He can get control behind the scenes and overcome obstacles in his path. A slight illness or infection indicated, but in general he will prosper this year. Some problem that has troubled him in the past will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Monkey  A fair year for the Monkey although he is still faced with worries and frustrations. His difficulties will be able to work themselves out if he does not rock the boat and agrees to lower his expectations a bit. A year to join the opposition when it becomes clear he cannot beat them. He must be conservative and observant to succeed.

Rooster  A trying time. The Rooster must not expect too much too soon as he will meet many obstacles in his path this year. He will pun through if he is not misguided by favorable preliminary results that could turn sour later on. A time to play politics or employ diplomacy, as he will have to make unwilling compromises with his enemies. His work scene is likely to be quarrelsome or unhappy. Some good news indicated in his family.

Dog  A year of expansion and progress for the Dog. Promotions and real financial gains are indicated and he will be at the peak of his power and luck. Some unhappy news at home or loss of a small belonging is indicated. He will entertain or travel a lot this year. This is a time in which the Dog will have to use his mind a lot.

Boar  A good year for the Boar if he avoids speculation or entrusting his money to newfound friends. Benefits formerly withheld from him will now come from all directions and past problems turn into blessings in disguise. Fortunate and prosperous year for his family and career.

Urbana University: 2013 Fall Commencement Address

Urbana University

Fall 2013 Commencement Address

“Lessons of a Lifetime”

Roderick G. W. Chu

December 14, 2013


President Peterson, Chair Polsley, Rev, Coffman, Provost Hasan, Mr. Workman and your fellow members of the Urbana University fall graduating class of 2013, Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, family and friends …

On this very special day for our graduates, their families, faculty, and the many others who have been so instrumental in helping them reach this achievement; on a weekend we will remember as challenging us with warnings of severe winter weather; in a week the world paused to remember the life and example of an extraordinary man dedicated to harmony, equal opportunity, democracy, and learning: I am honored to receive this degree and to join the ranks of you graduating today as an Urbana alumnus.

Lessons of a Lifetime

Honorary degrees are somewhat like a “Lifetime Achievement Award” issued by the Academy. Indeed, I guess I have achieved a lot during my life.

I am a child of immigrant parents who came from China to America as teenagers with very little. They worked hard and sacrificed to provide me the best education I could get.

I pursued my career, first in management consulting, rising ultimately to become a worldwide managing partner in Accenture, the world’s largest technology consulting firm, and making enough money to live comfortably for a lifetime. I accepted the opportunity serve as the Commissioner of the New York State Dept. of Taxation & Finance – second largest tax department in the nation – at the ripe old age of 34. I later moved to Ohio to oversee the policies and activities of its 140 public and private college and university campuses as the Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents. In the process, I became one of the highest-ranking Chinese-Americans in government and education at the time.

By any measure, I have led a successful life. I’ve lived the American Dream.

I’ve learned a lot in that journey – and I’m sure I have more lessons to come. As you leave Urbana today to set on your journey, I’d like to share a few of the key lessons I’ve learned so far.

To do that, I’ll need this banana.

Urbana University

Before I get to that, though, let me ask “Why should you bother listening to what I have to say?” – other than the fact that you are gracious, well-mannered, and polite, and I occupy this traditional segment of your commencement program and you don’t have much else to do – other than perhaps texting your friends.

You who are graduating here today and your family, friends, Urbana faculty and staff who have guided and supported you – this is YOUR day.

Recognizing that fact, I came to visit your campus 3 weeks ago to talk to some of your fellow students, faculty, staff, and trustees.

In that visit, I learned a bit about what makes Urbana such a special place – and thank you, Josh Brown, for showing me around campus!

Many of you chose Urbana because you could be student athletes – Blue Knights. You have developed something extra from your engagement in sports that you don’t typically get from sitting in classrooms: your character – determination, perseverance, experiencing the rewards that come from hard work and postponing gratification.

You’ve formed close bonds with your faculty, being comfortable texting them even in the wee hours of the morning – a practice many of you might continue long after you leave here.

You’ve grown through your liberal education, recognizing that everything is connected; learning not just how to tackle and solve problems, but to see things differently, to ask the relevant questions, to seek out and find the problems.

You’ve become part of this warm, caring place where people are committed enough to you and your future to keep challenging you, yet at the same time to stay focused on your individual needs – be it advice, coaching, a kind word, or just a piece of chocolate – to let you build the confidence you need to realize the potential you’ve always had.


With your Urbana education and experiences, you leave here, like Johnny Appleseed, with the challenge to better the world – or at least your part of it.

Yet, I must confess, for the last few decades, we who have graduated before you have left that world with much more to make better. We Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have been so focused on our own need for immediate gratification and amassing personal wealth that we’re leaving our succeeding generations with trillions of dollars of debt, immeasurable environmental damage, a crumbling infrastructure, and governments in which our elected officials feel they can’t even talk civilly with each other, let alone develop answers to our most pressing problems.

Your college degree today is not the guarantee of success that mine was over 4 decades ago. Your degree is only a ticket to enable you to compete.

On this, your graduation day, I don’t mean to deliver a downer of a message, for there is, indeed, great hope in what I have to say.

You are, after all, members of the best-educated generation America has ever seen. You have a passion and commitment to help others that reflect the values and ideals of a prior generation of Americans: the one Tom Brokaw labeled “The Greatest Generation.”

What will you do, though, with that education, that passion, that commitment, to address the challenges you are inheriting?

In the issue of The Lancer announcing my selection as your commencement speaker, your fellow graduating student Zach Iiames, stated his hope that I would “deliver a speech that is honest and real.” Well, Zach, be careful what you ask for, for you may get it.

Lessons & advice

If you are to fix the mess that prior generations are leaving behind, you are going to have to work hard – really hard.

The experience that most of you have had at Urbana, though, shows that you know how to work hard. I’m afraid that you’re just going to have to keep that up. These are not simple problems we are leaving you – after all, if they were simple, we would have solved them by now.

So in addition to working hard, you’re going to have to be smart.

Your professors and years at Urbana have taught you how to learn. But with knowledge doubling every 2-5 years in most fields, about half of what you’ve learned since starting at Urbana may already obsolete.

So you’ll need to keep learning. To do so, you’ll need to be thoughtful. You’ll need to keep an open mind. You’ll need to think critically. Don’t let yourself be lulled into thoughts and actions made on autopilot.

As I said, you’ll need to keep learning. I certainly have. Remember my banana? Of course, I’ve eaten bananas almost my entire life: A wonderful fruit, with delicious flesh that comes in its own handy, stay-fresh wrapper. Getting it out, though, is sometimes a challenge. The stem is quite hard when it’s not very ripe.

Well, just last year, I learned there’s another way to open a banana: Turn it around, pinch each side of the nipple end, and pull. Voila! It’s said that this method was discovered by observing monkeys eat bananas; monkeys don’t have energy to waste on inefficient methods.

Now if you already knew about bananas, come see me after the Commencement and ask me about the new way I just learned to eat an apple!

Keep an open mind and don’t be lulled into doing things the way you’ve always done them.

But the problems I spoke of are a lot bigger than opening bananas. Most recently, I’ve been studying research in human behavior, behavioral economics, learning theory, and spiritual growth. Look for the problems that need solving – for example, creating a new economy that unlike the one you’re inheriting, is efficient, fair, and sustainable for future generations.

To put a new spin on an old saying, you will need to work both harder and smarter.

You’ll also need to figure out what you’re working harder and smarter for. Is it to make a lot of money? That certainly was my answer when I left college. But here’s something I’ve learned in the 42 years since I left grad school: The root of success is not money.

Money doesn’t buy happiness.

I’ve read a lot of research in the past few years that concludes that chasing money to increase happiness is a losing game. Beyond a point of basic subsistence, when asked how much money do people think it would take to make them happy, there’s a surprisingly universal answer: Twice what I have now. Unfortunately, you never reach that point. For if you’re fortunate to get twice what you have now, that becomes another base point for needing twice as much. Seeking happiness through money becomes a never-ending rat race for twice as much.

Alas, this everlasting quest for ever more – consumerism – has become the lynchpin of our capitalist system. But the dirty little secret is that increased consumption doesn’t make us happier.

America is the wealthiest nation in the world, but studies on happiness find that we’re way down in the pack in terms of our individual and collective national happiness. We have the world’s biggest economy, based on the stuff we consume, but I’ve learned that the old maxim “he who dies with the most toys wins” just isn’t true. I have a beautiful house in New Albany, full of a lifetime’s collection of “stuff” that doesn’t make me inherently any happier than I was with my teeny apartment in NY with far less “stuff.”

My advice to you: Collect experiences, not things. Don’t get trapped in the money-grubbing rat race. Look for what makes you truly happy and gives meaning to your life.

Figuring out what you’re working harder and smarter for may change during your life. In fact, I hope it does, for that would indicate your are continuing to grow in your understanding of yourself and taking charge of creating your own life instead of letting your life be driven by “isms”– capitalism, consumerism, conservatism, liberalism, Liberatarianism, or the many other “isms” – that are set by others.

As you do figure these things out, you may eventually recognize that fulfillment comes from thinking of and serving others instead of just yourself.

We’ve heard it all our lives, especially at this time of the year: “Tis better to give than to receive.” But honestly, I went through a lot of my life thinking how foolish this aphorism was.

Yet the exhortation to be generous is as old as the Bible and as new as current research.

When you finally recognize that questing for “twice what I have now” is a losing proposition, you’ll find the joys of giving – of your money, your time, your passions – to someone or something other than yourself is fundamental to building deep personal happiness.

Alas, as we’ve all seen, from the financial antics of those on Wall Street to the buying of political influence in Washington for corporate gain, there are some who don’t recognize this reality.

But there are many others with whom we’ve been blessed with having in our own lives – our parents, our families, our teachers and professors, our neighbors, and friends – who through their generosity have found this answer and made themselves happier through their love, support, and caring for us and others.


I know that almost no one remembers what speakers said at their graduation – I certainly don’t – though some of you might remember the lesson of my banana. So if some day you wonder who spoke at your graduation and what was said, instead of trying to remember me, Google Ashton Kutcher – the celebrity who was the first with a million Twitter followers – and his acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards, and you’ll get a very tweetable Cliff Notes version of my lessons: Work hard. Be smart. Be thoughtful. Be generous.

As you leave Urbana, with testy memories of Rose in Brown Hall, but knowing you can now safely touch the Rock after dark, I offer you my congratulations and best wishes for finding happiness and living up to your potential of making your community, your state, your nation, and the world better places to be.

Thank you and Godspeed.

Looking Deeper: Who Will Profit from a U.S. Loan Default?

Washington StalemateIt’s been awhile since I’ve shared serious thoughts, but the absurdity of the current political stalemate in Washington that may lead to a loan default by the U.S. roused me to share these.

Since the sub-prime mortgage debacle, I’ve been awaiting the next scam that will enable Wall Street tycoons to get richer while making the rest of us poorer. I fear I’ve found it in the current stalemate in Washington and the impending crisis over a failure to raise our national debt ceiling. With all the expert concerns about not raising the debt ceiling (see, for example, Bruce Bartlett’s article in the NY Times), why are politicians playing with fire? Is it because some of them really want to destroy our government? Is it because John Boehner simply wants to keep his job as Speaker – or that others fear a crazier right-wing Republican may replace him? Is it because Democrats are merely petulant? On the surface, these explanations are attractive enough to garner a knee-jerk following, but there may be a deeper game afoot here.

It’s getting more and more difficult to make huge amounts of money in our free market system. After all, new laws and regulations stem old schemes, so new schemes must be invented in a more restricted market. But here’s a simple fact: Whenever there is a financial crisis, not everyone loses; some win – and sometimes win very big, especially when the crisis is enormous. Just look at all the new billionaires who came out of the multi-trillion dollar world mortgage debacle.

So how about disrupting the world’s economic system by having the U.S. default on its debts? That certainly sounds like it would be a big enough crisis to provide a new opportunity for some to make vast fortunes while the rest of the world loses. With unlimited political contributions – our country’s form of legalized bribery – market movers and shakers can buy politicians to do their bidding and cause such a crisis.

Is this a grand conspiracy theory? No, it doesn’t take a conspiracy for politicians to be complicit. Lobbyists and big contributors have access and deliver rational-sounding arguments to elected officials. And politicians and their staff don’t need – or care – to look deeper, beyond those arguments, as long as those contributions keep coming to meet their primary objective: staying in power. Indeed, given the extreme polarization of our political system, it appears each side hears only what they want to hear, listening solely to their own side’s news media.

Given the stakes at hand here – both for the potential big winners and many losers – I fear we’re all being fooled by increasingly strident statements that keep us from seeing what may be the more fundamental objective at play: providing a diversion for another massive theft of our money by a few at an enormous cost to the many. In football, we’d call it a “head fake.”

The ownership of the media by a few, focused interests helps ensure that probing reporters and analysts don’t investigate or discuss such possibilities.

So here we go again. Another bubble may be about to burst, and this time before we’ve had a chance to recover from the last one. I just wish I were knowledgeable enough to know how to take financial advantage of this one.

Year of the Snake

Snake drawingHappy New Year!

Few Chinese Horoscope books contain overall prognostications for the year. In my large collection of these books, one of the few that does is the first edition of Theodora Lau’s The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, published in 1979. Unfortunately, in the later editions of this book, her overall predictions for each year have been removed.

To provide my friends with this interesting information, here is Ms. Lau’s overall forecast for the Year of the Snake, plus her predictions for how individuals will fare this year, given the animal that represents their birth year. (To determine what animal you are, see my table of animals for birth dates.)

The Year of the Snake
February 10, 20013 – January 30, 2014

A year for reflection, planning and searching answers. A good time for shrewd dealings, political affairs and coups d’etat. People will be more likely to scheme and ponder over matters before acting on them. An auspicious year for commerce and industry. Solutions and compromises can be arrived at, but not without some mutual distrust at first. The Snake likes to resolve his differences one way or another. If he fails and things cannot be peacefully settled, then he will declare war.

Looking back into history, we find that the year of the Snake has never been tranquil. Perhaps this is because it is the strongest negative force in the cycle and it follows the Dragon year, which is the strongest positive one. Many disasters which had their beginning in the year of the Dragon tend to culminate in he year of the Snake. These two signs are very closely related and the calamities of the Snake years often resulted from excesses committed during the Dragon’s reign.

This will be a lively time for romance, courtship and scandals of all sorts. A good year to pursue he arts. Fashion will become more elegant and fluid; music and the theater will blossom; and people will strive for a more sophisticated life. Notable contributions will also be made by science and technology.

The venerable wisdom of the Snake will be evident in many facets of our life, particularly in those requiring decisions. Although everything may look refreshingly quiet on the surface, the year of the Snake is always unpredictable. The Snake’s cool and collected front hides the deep and mysterious ways of his nature, It should be noted that once the Snake uncoils to strike, he moves like lightning and nothing can stop him. Similarly, changes that occur during the Snake’s year can be as sudden and devastating.
Tread lightly and be more cautious this year. Gambling and speculation is strictly taboo. The consequences will be over-whelming The Snake is not merciful.

Whatever else happens, the Snake will give us faith in our convictions and coerce us to act and to act forcefully during his reign. This is not a year for fence-sitters.

How you will fare in the Year of the Snake

Rat A mixed year. The Rat has to be very careful in making investments or important decisions. A big illness or some loss of money will cast gloom over him. His luck will turn for the better toward the end of the year and he may be able to recoup some losses.

Ox Good times predicted for the Ox person. He will find it easy to make money. Things are all within his reach this year. On the darker side, he may suffer from a misunderstanding with some associate or find that some friend betrays his confidence. All his problems can be resolved if he is open to discussion.

Tiger A fair year for the Tiger. No large losses or gains foreseen and his life could be tranquil if he is cautious enough not to get caught up in the affairs of others. His progress will be steady and his illnesses minor. Most of his disappointments will cone from persons of the opposite sex.

Rabbit Not much tangible progress for the Rabbit during this year. He may have to travel or be faced with difficulties from several directions. A change of residence or career is also indicated as he tries to consolidate or better his current position. He could also find less time to spend with his family or be faced with many unplanned expenses.

Dragon A lucky year for the Dragon’s business endeavors. His plans still go smoothly although he meets minor opposition. He may have some personal or romantic problems as home life and love life are neglected by him.

Snake A fair year for the Snake although he may feel that his achievements are not up to expectations. It is a year for him to bide his time and not make sudden changes. Patience and a cool head are essential if he is to keep himself out of trouble. Business misunderstanding, romantic problems or a slight injury to the body are foreseen. His gains are modest but he is going to be more concerned with securing his position or retaining control.

Horse A busy, involved year that brings taxing demands on the Horse’s time and energy. Difficulties come from partners or friends and delays are caused by unseen obstacles. He will find support in his family but cannot expect a great deal of achievement in spite of all his efforts.

Sheep A good year as the Sheep regains power, position and popularity. New and influential people help him and he will travel or receive some additional income. Bad tidings may delay his progress temporarily but his goals will be accomplished in the end.

Monkey A moderately happy year as the Monkey receives assistance from friends or support from his superiors. Good times are in store although there are some disputes at home. A year in which he must hold his tongue and avoid confrontation at all costs.

Rooster Still a fortunate year for the Rooster, as some progress is indicated and he is lucky enough to retain his good position. No large monetary gains foreseen this year, although he will be able to curtail his losses to an admirable degree. Freak accidents or malicious rumors are also likely this year and he should not take long or unnecessary journeys.

Dog A very good year. The Dog will still have to work hard but he will receive due recognition of his efforts. He will be lucky to his business investments and will have the support of the right people. A year for him to take things easy and enjoy his family life more. He will also benefit a lot from good advice or tips given to him at this time.

Boar A hectic and uneasy time for the Boar, although moderate success can be expected. He will be occupied with travel, aggressive speculation and joint ventures. He will also receive some sad news and have problems with the opposite sex. Setbacks will result mainly from overspending or extravagance.

From: The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes by Theodora Lau, First Edition, 1979