How to safely make a billion dollars, maybe

I am not an economist, but I still like to dream big in money once in a while. I recently learned a very safe way to make a billion dollars, let’s say over 10 years. I won’t even try to convince you to send me a subscription fee of $100 for the secret formula. You don’t need divine help from above either, so void that donation check for $10,000 you just wrote to my mega-church. If you want good karma, make it payable to the recent storm victims.

Here it is, all for free. You pick a economically poor location in America where unemployment is high and land cost is low. You build a huge store there selling groceries, clothes, children’s toys, furniture, you name it. There are 3 major factors that are key to this money-making formula: (1) economy of scale — that’s fancy language for big so that you can make a lot of stuff cheap and sell it at a small profit margin, (2) the building cost or rent has to be lower than that of surrounding areas, and finally (3) the work force there is willing to work at the minimum wage.

The federal minimum wage that was set in 2009, and is still in effect today, is $7.25 an hour. Some states and cities have higher billion dollars1minimums. So you as the ambitious entrepreneur have to do some research. San Francisco may be a “bad” choice if all you care is how little you want to pay your workers. The city’s minimum wage is $14.00.

Let’s say you did your homework thoroughly and found a perfect location in Detroit, Michigan. You can build a big store there because land or rent there is cheap, and the minimum wage is only $8.50. You may even pick up an old Sears store for practically nothing if you are lucky. Make sure you keep your costs down. If most items in your store are made in China or some other cheap labor country, you should be fine. Since a lot of Detroit residents are looking for work, any work, you will have no problem finding people to work at only $8.50 an hour. At this writing, Detroit’s unemployment rate is just a tad shy of 10%.

Like most investment pundits would say, and I’m giving you the same: I can’t guarantee that you’ll make a billion dollars in 10 years, but the prospect looks really good, doesn’t it?

This all sounds wonderful for the potential investor/employer. But is it really as great as the hollow interjection of “Hey, people are working again!”?

The cynical answer is an old cliché: it’s yes and no. Yes, it’s good that people are working. At least they have something to do during the day, especially for the young and single. It’s not that great if you have to feed a spouse and 2 kids. It’s simple math. $8.50 an hour translates into $1,530 a month if you work full-time. ($8.5 x 8 hrs. x 22.5 days.) Without going into details, I think you know it’s barely enough for a single person living at home with his or her parents. If you are a parent, you need extra help, such as food stamps and other government subsidies. The end result is that, whatever the employer isn’t paying the worker to live on, the government fills the need. If for whatever reason, you don’t qualify for the latter, tough. And who pays the government to do that? Taxpayers like you and me. (To be fair, most rich people pay some taxes too.)

The theory is a proven success. Who’s doing it, you may ask? The answer is seen everywhere: Walmart – and they have been doing it forever. They are the biggest employer in America in terms of employee number, in the tune of 1.4 million people in the US, and a total of 2.3 million world-wide. They pay the majority of their employees the minimum wage. It’s believed that about 20% of them receive food stamps and other kinds of public assistance, which they use to buy food and necessities at Walmart!billion dollars2A

When you are the biggest tree, you catch the most winds, so the Chinese saying goes樹大招風. There must be thousands, if not tens of thousands of employers in this country who love the minimum wage that the law allows them to pay their lowest ranking workers. Since Walmart hires the most employees, I pick on them to give them my gas.

A personal disclosure is in order here. When I was young, I had worked at the then minimum pay of $2 an hour. I also relied on food stamps to feed myself for a few months. That’s why I sound a little biased for the low earning workers. If you feel 10% of what I feel about making less than $10 an hour, which honestly is not enough to live on in America, vote “yes” in the next increase for them and their children please.

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一 治水
四極廢 萬物滅
闢龍門 鑿呂梁
終獲大成 受尊大禹


二 九州禹跡
夏國號 都阳城
制夏曆 興農耕
甸 侯 绥 要 荒


三 塗山之會
著法服 執玄圭


四 造九鼎
冀 兗 青 徐 揚 荊 豫 梁 雍

















Wake up, honey, time to go to school!

The average time for K-12 classes in America starts at a few minutes after 8 am. Is this early hour good for the student’s grade and health? Most parents don’t think about it because one, you really don’t have a choice unless you transfer your child to another school, and two, we are used to it – it’s been like that for a long time.

Wakeup“Not so fast (or should I say ‘early’),” according to some researchers at the Rand Corporation. Their study into the relationship between start time and the student’s well-being shows that we — students, parents, society at large — are all better off if our school starts later, say at 8:30 am. Students are more awake and learn more efficiently. Parents will be happier because their kids are doing well. The high school kids who drive to school, they don’t get into as many accidents because they are more awake and alert. How does society as a whole benefit? Here’s the big kicker, according to Rand: Society collectively will save 9 billion dollars a year!

It’s hard to verify how much money the country can really save because of the later start time. My take is that as long as we don’t spend extra money on it, and the kids will feel and do better, I’m all for it.

If you would like to read up on the details of the study, click:


I have 2 children. They are grown-ups now. But I still fondly remember the mornings I had to wake them up, feed them something, and off we went jumping into the car so that we’d get to school before the bell rang. It was always a love and hate ritual. I loved it because I liked driving to school with my kids – that seemed to be the only time and place they would talk to me. I hated it because it was too early for all of us, parent and students. And maybe it was too early for some of the faculty too.

Anyway, I think most people would agree that it was not natural to go to school at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning. Our body, especially a kid’s body, is not wired to get up an hour or more before those first periods. Now the Rand experts proved it. It’s too late for me now – there are no more kids in my house. For those of you who have school children to take care of, or grandkids who are ready to start school soon, perhaps it’s worthwhile to think about this issue and pick a school that has a later schedule. After all, you and the kids may be all happier.

I actually would like to find out how many schools, in the US and other countries, start at 8:30 am or later. Let’s share what you know.

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Word of the week

Word of the weekJust this week I learned a fun word: acrostic. According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a composition … in which sets of letters (as the initial … letters of the lines) taken in order form a word….” I looked it up because of two events that happened within days. First, all 16 members of the Committee on Arts and Humanities quit. They all had enough of the racist and divisive behaviors of the so-called president. The acrostic of their resignation letter read “R-E-S-I-S-T.” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/arts-and-humanities-committee-members-resign-in-protest-of-trump/
Then, science convoy Daniel Kammen, fed up with the stink from the same source, followed suit, and his departing letter acronymically said “I-M-P-E-A-C-H.”

Eager to please the boss, so-called advisors Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka rushed to defend Trump’s idiotic and inflaming comments after the deadly Charlottesville riot. In spite of their fawning talents, they were both gone from their jobs within days. Apparently, they didn’t do enough. Loyalty to Trump is like toilet paper; it gets used once and is flushed down the commode.

Reminder to everybody: If you work for a psycho like Trump, get out fast. You are going to get muck all over your nose no matter how many rolls of paper you have ready. I once worked for someone like that. He was a low-ranking bureaucrat but his ego was as high as the yellow bird nest in the big white cage. I lasted about a year and a half before I quit. That was one of the more mature decisions I ever made in my life. I know, I should have left in 2 weeks. But I was in my twenties then. I didn’t know any better.

Kidding aside, we as citizens really should stand up and voice our opinions. Democracy is not a top down concept – dictatorship is. Yes, we as a group hired Trump because we feared the other applicant was even worse. I think we as a group now know that we made a bad choice. Resist, impeach, let’s get rid of that _ _ _ _!

On a separate note, can you take a moment and think about the thousands of victims of the Houston floods? Say a prayer for them if you believe in God. If you are not religious, just think about them with empathy if you don’t mind. Go on-line and see if you can make a small donation to help. I know a kid who just asked his mom to wash clean all his old stuffed animals to donate to the traumatized children there. Please help! 

Word of the week2

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Prayer for an Angel and Her Family

“I am very sad, but I don’t hate anybody. Doing the latter would destroy Heather’s conviction and kindness when she was alive”.(see Footnote 1).

Prayer for an Angel1Those were paraphrased words of Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017. She was 32 years old. Miss Heyer was a counter-protestor in a white supremacists march. The latter were protesting against the take-down of a Robert Lee statue. (Lee was a historical “hero” for slave-owners during the Civil War.) The authorities are still investigating, but from the videos taking by various people at the scene, it is believed she was killed when 20-year old neo-Nazi James Fields allegedly drove his car into the crowd of counter protestors. We have to keep in mind that Fields is not guilty until proven. But we do know that an innocent and brave life was violently taken away from her, from her loved ones, from us.

An Eulogy for Heather Heyer

The alt-rites are all wrong
Karl’s kwazy kwiminals are indeed crazy
The neo-nazis are … non-sense
This land is not your land alone
It belongs to you, to us, and a whole bunch of others too, all along

Heather Heyer, you were right
You believed in equality
You believed in fairness
Heather Heyer was white

The so-called president is all wrong
Robert Lee fought for slave ownership
Dunno, you dunno your history
In your rush for fringe votes, you joined the crew on John Newton’s slave ship…SAD

Heather Heyer, you were right
You believed in human rights
You believed in skin transparency
Heather Heyer was white

Heather Heyer, you were right
You fought for the rest of us without a weapon in hand
But you are the shield for us all, behind which we firmly stand
Heather, you were white, and black, and brown — you were us
Now you are at the side of God in Heaven
Will you be our Guardian Angel, thus
We, and our children, know love is worth living for
It’s worth fighting for!

Prayer for an Angel2At Miss Heyer’s funeral, her mother Susan Bro said, “We don’t all have to die. We don’t all have to sacrifice our lives. They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Guess what, you just magnified her.” Thank you, Ms. Bro and Heather’s father, Mr. Mark Heyer, for raising an angel disguised as a common American girl. We can’t bring back Heather. But please be assured that millions of people, all over the world, have each and every one of you in our hearts.

1. I recorded these words from memory after I heard them on one of the TV interviews. They may not be 100% verbatim of what she said, for which I apologize. If you could find her exact words, please let me know and I’ll reprint them in respect to Heather and her mother Susan.

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Reader Response to Meaning of Life

Last week I wrote something about the meaning of life, or my non-understanding of it. Two readers wanted to help me out real fast. They wrote back almost right away.

Response to Meaning of LifeReader Y said to me:


A protracted “why” won’t do you much good.Do something. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not, but God (deity) already laid out a lot of opportunities for us. We should stop missing these crossroads . Take advantage of every one of them to help other people now. I believe Christy is one of them…. God bless you!

Reader Y, 谢谢你, 我也祝福你! Thank you, may God bless you too!

Reader C wrote:

You should hold a conference talking about life and its meanings and purposes according to your personal experiences and I will definitely be the one to sign up : )

Reader C, you humble me. Yes, I had the dubious experience of 2 death practices. But that does not make me an expert on life or death, or on anything for that matter. The funny part is that I don’t remember any of those “trips.” What I tell everybody is what my parents and doctors told me after the fact. For my aneurysm 2 years ago, I have the long scar on my chest to evidence it, but I absolutely have no memory of it — zero. May as well. Can you imagine how painful it must have been to have your front sawed open?

Religions, and the miracles that come with them, share one common denominator. If you believe in God, you will believe in the wonderful things God does, and vise versa. You can’t explain the occurrences scientifically. Human wisdom — at least mine — is not there yet. I personally was on the receiving end of these great gifts that I can’t explain. So thank you, whoever or whatever you are!

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Meaning of Life

The title for this week’s muttering in my draft ended with a question mark. I erased it afterward as I am hopeful that some of you already know the answer, and will be kind enough to share. I do know that, however, life is worth living. I enjoy it every day. I just haven’t found out if there is an endgame to it.

Meaning of Life

A wise woman with the name of Christy Beam and her family seem to have the answer. She told us all about it, in riveting details, in her book titled Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of Healing.

The book is a memoir of how her daughter Annabel, then 10 years of age, recovered from a rare intestinal disease called pseudo-obstruction motility disorder. For a layman like me, it means the disability to digest food. After many months of medical treatment, and continual pain and suffering on that little body, she was basically sent home to die. While playing in her backyard with her older sister, they climbed up a huge but dead cottonwood tree that measured almost 3 stories high. She fell head-down into the hollow of the trunk. It took rescuers 3 hours before they could hoist her out of that narrow pit and flew her to a nearby hospital. She woke up shortly with no serious injuries: no broken bones, no neurological damage, none whatsoever.

After she was discharged from the hospital for the fall, her perpetually bloated stomach began to shrink to normal in a few days, and she was in no pain of any kind either. She could eat food; her intestines could digest it. The doctors could not explain how or what happened. They called it a “spontaneous remission.” Annabel’s parents would call it a complete cure and a miracle from Heavens.

Annabel and her family deserved that miracle; they were kind people and devout Christians. Some people would doubt it and say it is another inexplicable coincidence.

I don’t know where I am on this issue. I had a few wonderful things or miracles happen to me in my life. One when I was a baby, I got really sick and was unconscious for many weeks, only to wake up to relearn basic skills like walking and talking. The second time was quite recent. I also lost conscious for a few weeks. But this time I woke up goofier and happier – because I know I should have been gone for good. In between these near-deaths, my old friend for decades hepatitis (type B or C, or both, I can’t remember exactly) disappeared. My doctors just couldn’t find the infection of hepatitis in my blood tests anymore. Neither could they find an explanation. Medically and metaphorically I am on “spontaneous remission” from all these things.

So, what is the meaning of life? Is it random, or pre-designed? To me, it is to carry on, not to take things too seriously, be nice to yourself, and other people. If something really meaningful and enjoyable comes along, I’ll volunteer for it. Until then, I’ll just live as if it is a vacation with an open-dated return ticket. I hope you do too, happily.

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We the People Spoke

At the end of the Civil War, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the famous Gettysburg address. Part of it said:

People Spoke1…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, <underline added> shall not perish from the earth.

Last week something quite unusual happened in American politics. It’s noteworthy even among the daily insanity coming out of the White House: The US Senate voted “no” to repeal Obamacare: 51 nos to 49 yeses. All the Democrats cast a “no” vote. Three Republicans joined them. Now we know at least three Republicans voted what they believed in, despite possible and likely repercussions from a vindictive so-called president.

It’s easy to praise the 3 Republicans who listened to their conscience and broke rank with their party, namely Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John McCain of Arizona, and Susan Collins of Maine. They do deserve mentioning of their courage.

People Spoke2

But let’s not forget the common citizens, in hundreds and thousands, who put up civil protests, risked being roughed up by police and arrested — many of them were — all over the country.

Our forefathers who wrote the Constitution should be proud. In the Preamble, they said:
We the People <underline added> of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I am not a beneficiary under Obamacare. Not directly anyway. But I enjoy the fact that my adopted country, and we the people, collectively and individually, take care of our neighbors who are sick and poor. If we claim to be one of the strongest and richest countries in the world while pushing 17 to 25 million of its own citizens out of basic health coverage, what kind of Neanderthal Republic are we?

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Reader Response to Where Music Takes Them

A couple of weeks ago I finished the story “Where Music Takes Them.” Reader A, who is equally fluent in English and Chinese, gave me the following feedback, partly to tell me her feelings, and partly to test my Chinese skill.

“看完你的短篇故事,覺得故事有點太簡單牽強,對於雙方背景一點都沒提到,內心的感覺也都沒觸及,我本人覺得這種愛將會是來得快去Responses Music Takes2得快,因為根基不穩如同建立在沙堆上。”

My translation: The story is a bit thin and stretched. No background of either character was described. Neither were the inside feelings of the parties involved. This type of romance will come and go fast – like something built on sand dunes.

I agree, Reader A. And I thank you for writing me.

When I wrote the story, I wanted it to be semi-reality and semi-fantasy, although it was VERY loosely based on a true relationship.

Reader S, in his 50s, I believe, opined:
“….That’s real sweet. Where do I find a girl like that?….”

Responses Music Takes1

To Reader S, I say: If you are single, go to every party you are invited, no matter how uninteresting it may sound on the outset. Do some volunteer work, take a class in arts and crafts, sewing, music, auto repairs, or whatever hits your fancy. I sound like Dear Abbey now, don’t I? My point is that new friendships are not junk mail and they don’t get delivered to your front door; you have to go looking for them. Sitting at home feeling miserable surely doesn’t help. So get up from that perpetual couch, leave the never-ending TV, go out and meet someone. Today!

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