Muscle And A Shovel – Book Review

Review (and thoughts on) “Muscle and a Shovel – By Michael Shank” By Axel Hoogland.

I read the book Muscle and a Shovel on the urgings of a friend. I was asked to read the book for about 6 months (starting August 2013) before I finally bought it around February 2014. Then it took me until October 14th 2014 to start reading it. I was finished by October 25th. Not because it was a great book, but just because that’s the kind of person I am. I hope to finish books in a reasonable amount of time. This was while taking notes and looking up bible verses and doing a bit of reflection. I’m intending to do more reflection as I write this review.

I have decided that it’s beneficial to take notes before reading a book to see how your perceptions and prejudices change as you read. My notes before this book are below and thus begins my book review of Muscle and a Shovel.

“I am going into this book skeptical as it’s written to be promoting the Church of Christ, from what I understand but I am interested to read the story.”

Immediately the book begins with 2 quotes.

“The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.” – Morpheus, The Matrix

The 2nd was a quote I had never heard before and is a recurring theme in the book.

“It is easier to believe a lie one has heard a thousand times before than to believe a fact one has never heard before.”

I was definitely influenced by The Matrix quote as I grew up in the era where the Matrix was one of the movies for nerds. I am also Catholic. Some would argue it’s a system. I’m aware of my biases to thinking that that is the one true church of Christ. I tried to check my ego at the beginning of the book and read on.

The next page is basically a challenge to the reader and a warning that their views could be challenged or even changed by this book. I viewed this as basically a way to try to get readers to keep reading when they encounter something they disagree with. Sort of a “bet you can’t do this” challenge which some people fall for. I thought this was a bit childish. Then next page was the blue or red pill scenario from The Matrix again so I was once again content.

The book tells the story of Michael Shank (the author’s) conversion from lukewarm Baptist to baptized Church of Christ member. It starts with him about to be baptized (in March 1988) but then jumps back to tell the story of how he got there starting with him moving with his new wife to Nashville for his new job as an engineering technician for a printer company, starting in August 1987 so the book covers 8 months. He quickly meets the other main character in the book Randall, who works in the shipping department of the same company.

I was already much more interested in the book than when I started it since I could connect with Michael as we’re both engineers and he’s on a journey to find “The Truth”. The book is basically a cycle of questions by Randall, followed by searching for the answers by Michael. Michael usually thinks he finds the answer from some pastor and returns to be corrected later by Randall. The first question from Randall that stuck out to me was “Have you obeyed the gospel of our Lord?” The second was “How were you saved?” These were (and still are) questions that have been in my mind lately. The first has been more phrased as “Who goes to Heaven?”, which leads to “How do you get to Heaven?”, which in my mind leads to “Obey God” which leads to “What does it mean to obey God’s word?” I think this last one is the important one. It seems many people are able to ask the question, but not many are able to answer it. Despite how easy everyone seems to think it is to read the Bible and interpret, I challenge that it’s not inherently easy, partially because I think the Bible is a written in a way that can be difficult to interpret at times. It even mentions this in 2 Peter 3:16 about the writings of Paul

“He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

I believe this is because a lot of peoples judgements are clouded by their sin or by others.
The 2nd question “How were you saved?” is interesting because it is a question I hear a lot from those outside the Catholic church, but not often inside.

Chapter 3 is important as it starts discussion on baptism. This is a prevailing theme in the book as it starts with Mike and his wife about to be baptized and ends with their baptism.

The next interesting revelation came at the beginning of chapter 4 from Mike “My friends and I all wore the label of Christian, but there was little difference between my lifestyle and the world around me.” This is a thought that was interesting to me as it’s something that I was confronted with in 2012 by a new friend at the time. It definitely started me moving on a new path, but it has definitely been a bumpy road and I’m still on it.

A page later another revelation, “My ultimate goal was to become a software CEO in the Silicon Valley with a seven-figure salary and stock options.” This by Mike. It spoke to me again as i’m wrestling with my goals. By the end of the book Mike learns that money is not the ultimate satisfier.

Chapter 6 is titled “Am I going to hell?” in my version. From what I understand chapter titles have been removed in newer version of the book. I am very interested in the question above if you reference my thoughts earlier in this post. This is a question I ask often, although usually I ask “Who gets to go to heaven?” One thought a friend pointed out to me was that heaven and hell aren’t referenced often in the bible but the “Kingdom of God” is referenced very often. Interesting.

Next thought “All denominations teach conflicting doctrines”therefore, it isn’t possible that all of them are biblically correct.” is a statement not far into Chapter 6.

Again a profound statement that I’ve thought myself. This is one of the first parts I’d like to propose a question. Not all are biblically correct.This is a nice straightforward way to ask “Do you believe is Sola Scriptura?” At this point in my life, and acknowledging my Catholic upbringing, I have to say no. Referencing this page, #10 “When all is said and done, Protestants who accept sola scriptura as their rule of faith appeal to the Bible. If they are asked why one should believe in their particular denominational teaching rather than another, each will appeal to “the Bible’s clear teaching.” You can read up on Sola Scriptura yourselves and think on it. You know my stance that the Bible isn’t as clear as people act like it is, or we wouldn’t have 30,000 denominations arguing with each other.

Another thought I had on this point was the history of the Bible. It didn’t appear by itself. In fact, the church assembled the bible, picking from many books available and assembling them, guided by the Holy Spirit. Here is an article on the history of the Bible.

Probably the most directly confrontational quote in the book appears at the end of chapter 6. “If you’re a member of any denomination … that Jesus Christ did not establish and buy with His blood, there’s no question that you’re headed toward eternal damnation.” This was from Randall.

I will freely admit that I have not had a ton of conversation with other denomination pastors (although probably more than most people, which would only require one, and I’ve had more than that). In chapter Michael asks a Baptist Pastor who started the Baptist church. The pastor replies, John the Baptist. Michael starts to search for this in the bible but eventually can’t find it, much like the cycle of many things in the book. Now this point was pretty quickly dismissed by Randall as completely false and proven with a quick look through the bible and history to understand that the Baptist church was actually started in the Netherlands in the early 1600’s. So I’m not sure if this was really what some people thought in the 1980’s. Since they didn’t have the magic of the internet it is possible that the pastor was really taught incorrectly so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. With the internet, it should be easy to look up simple facts like this these days, I wish Michael Shank would have done that with some of his facts later in the book.

Skipping some more to chapter 13 “Cutting off the end of the ham” In this chapter Michael’s tells an old story of a wife making a ham who cuts the end of it off and throws it away. The husband asks why and she says because that’s how her mother did it. Eventually it gets around to that the grandmother had a pan that was too small to fit a full size ham. The point of the story is that traditions or “how we’ve always done it” definately need to be questioned at times. If your teacher’s can’t give you a straight answer, maybe it’s time to move on, or ask a more clear pointed question. This was something that I have grown better at by talking with those who have different beliefs than myself. Often if we get in the rut of believing only what were taught, we don’t actually understand why we believe it. Ask questions, it helps you grow.

Chapter 14 “Feelings…Nothing More Than Feelings” brings a few interesting thoughts. First is Michaels confession that he was sure he was saved when he was 8 because he felt a great peace when he said the Sinners Prayer. Randall points out that this could have been a placebo effect of a young boy being told he was saved by those in power or perceived to be in power. Of course you could say it was also the Spirit. Hard to argue things of feelings! The next thought comes shortly after when Michael mentions a personal relationship with Christ. This was another thing that I was not particularly exposed to until much later in life as that’s not something that is often said in the Catholic Church. This article I read while researching to write my post mentions a lot about knowing God but mentions that many people are surprised to hear that “personal relationship with Christ” is not actually found in the bible anywhere. What it does mention is knowing God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? (Gal. 4:8-9)

It goes on to discuss the signs that you know God, mentioned how you will act. Works? I will take this opportunity to share James 2:17 “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Repeated throughout the book is the quote “It is easier to believe a lie one has heard a thousand times before than to believe a fact one has never heard before.”

Moving to chapter 17 is the thought “If you know you’re going to be die and be judged, doesn’t it make sense to find out what you’ll be judged by?” Pretty sound advice.

The next important thought in chapter 17 is “There’s some truth in every denomination.”

Randall states that he’s not there to criticize others, but only to refute their false doctrines. This is where the most fatal flaw in the whole book comes in. He points to some of the “beliefs” of the Catholic church and he is very careless with definitions. He says that Catholics see the Pope as God on earth. This is the absolutely most incorrect thing I’ve ever read. It honestly made me question the whole rest of the book and Michael and Randall’s research skills. They undoubtedly had access to a Catholic priest. If they had taken a day to talk to a priest to understand what the Catholic Church teaches they could have had and accurate book instead of one that promotes lies. The Catholic Church does not teach that the Pope is God.

The second practice referred to by Randall is praying to Mary. Now this is something I’ve been investigating lately and here’s what I found. If you look at the definition of prayer it is 2 fold. One involves worship which is prayer to God. The other is a simple request, which is prayer to saints or Mary. The confusion in definitions is what leads to many disagreements between those who would otherwise be on the same side of a discussion. So synopsis. Catholics do pray to Mary and Saints. Catholics do not worship Mary or the Saints.

Which my confidence shattered I considered stopping here. But in keeping with my promise to my friend, in acknowledging that I had already gotten a lot of good out of this book (at least it got me to open my bible to check some verses) and in keeping with the thought that there’s some truth in every denomination, I read on.

A particularly confusing part came in came in chapter 18 when they began to talk about the word baptidzo and it’s translation to english. They contend that the history of baptidzo always means immersion. If you read here that obviously an oversimplification, referencing other parts of scripture. Again, I am becoming uneasy about Michael and Randall’s research abilities.

In chapter 20 Michael has made the decision to leave his current church. He states he is faced with either Catholicism or Protestantism. This is a pretty narrow minded statement.  I’m making an assumption here that when he said Catholic he was referring to the Roman Catholic church, which is the only Catholic church most people in the English speaking world know. He completely ignored the Orthodox Catholic church (more often called the Eastern Orthodox church) which had broken away from the Roman Catholic church earlier than the Protestants, based on Constantinople being the political power of the day and not generally for any reasons dealing with faith.Then he makes a broad statement that “Protestantism” is his other option. With many many different denominations, and more appearing every day based on new divisions, thats not really a bucket. Michael points to the hours he spent at the local library researching different denominations as proof that he was sure Catholicism was wrong. It’s too bad he didn’t save himself that time by talking to a priest for a total of 5 minutes. He could have been set straight on all the things he’s gotten wrong, some of which I pointed out earlier.

A few pages later he brings up a thought on original sin. This is one that makes me pause and think. He states “Children are, until they come to an age whereby they fully understand right from wrong (and are able to choose between the two), innocent and free from the spiritual consequences of sin.” I believe this one is pretty easily disproven by a little biblical research. Romans 5:18 “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” This seems to make it pretty clear that original sin as taught by the Catholic church is real. Read here for further thoughts on the topic.

A funny thing does happen later in chapter 20. Michael is “kicked out” of a bible study for referencing the bible.

I didn’t find much out of the normal discussion on topics until chapter 24 in which Michael asks himself “Why had I never questioned what I’d been taught in religion?”. This is a profound statement. It is one I’ve been embracing laterly. As Michael has found, sometimes you will find there are no answers or as I’ve found, there are answers.

I found another interesting fact in chapter 27. The Church of Christ does not use musical instruments.

Chapter 29 “Killing the One-Man Pastoral System”, is a chapter dedicated to proving that a church having one pastor can lead to rogue pastors. I can agree with him on this topic. There are many one-off churches that people are drawn into because of the charismatic nature of one pastor. When that pastor dies, moves or otherwise stops preaching, the church can wither. This is too bad. In contrast, we have the Catholic church which is fully in communion with the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Catholic church. If a priest were to go rogue, he’d be reigned in quickly.

Jumping to chapter 38 and near the end Michael makes the decision to turn away from sin. “The pleasures of sin must be sacrificed in order to follow Christ. My smoking, drinking , cursing, lewd jokes, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life – all of these things had to be turned away from in order to follow the One that offered eternal life.”

This is a point that Michael and I can again be reconciled on.
Then he and his wife are baptized, again since they had each been baptized in their youth. This is a point of contention I am still researching.

A final thought of the book was sharing the “secret” of Randall. How he was able to rattle off so many bible verses. He would memorize one verse a year. Write it on a note card and carry it with you and memorize it for a week. Then write another verse the next week. Review the cards periodically and you’ll be far ahead of most people. Practice makes perfect just like any other skill.

My final thoughts on the book are as follows. It was a good book overall in the fact that it challenged me to read my bible more and research more. I commend Michael in his efforts to seek the Truth. I’m not sure of his resolve though. He seems to have done a lot of half research and at some point just accepted what he found or was told. I sympathize with him as just taking the time to write this review was trying on my patience at times. I hope he comes upon this review and it challenges his thoughts. If you read this far in my review you probably understand that I take issue with a lot of what is taught in the book, as you should also based on the fact that there are some blatantly wrong “facts” stated. I hope this challenges you to read farther into your faith. Read this book if you desire. Let it challenge your beliefs. The time you take to research to prove or disprove your beliefs will be the best way to grow.

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Thank you Phil for the cover image.

Influence, The Truth And A New Direction

Months after I started MyWheelLife (May 2014) and years after I started really digging into my own beliefs on religion and other topics, I have finally decided to start writing about sharing these deeper thoughts. I am going to continue using My Wheel Life as the platform for this writing and will simply file articles into categories on the side bar, thus My Wheel Life will transform from Gearhead only to just about anything on my mind. .

My first article, below, will be about influence.
What is influence?
Why some people have it?
How do you gain it?
How do you lose it?
Why do you want it?
Why am I writing this?

I have made been slowly making a stand in my life in the last few years. I’m trying to stand for something, search for that something and profess that same something (which I don’t completely understand yet), all at the same time. That something is “The Truth” (Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything).

What is the truth? To some it’s relative based on how you feel about a certain situation. To me it’s generally absolute, at least in terms of right and wrong.

Let me give you an example:
It is absolutely wrong to sneak into someones house and murder them in cold blood.

It is relative what color will look best on your car, in your hair or on the shirt you want to choose today.

I intend to stick mostly to things that I believe are absolute in this project, but with all good projects, the scope might drift a little.

So why am I writing all this anyway? Influence. I have done a lot of thinking and reading about influence and the world. The world has a lot of good but it also has a lot of bad and a lot of disinformation. I’m hoping to fight the wrong. Correct the incorrect. How do you get people to listen to you? Influence. I’ve decided a few things give influence. Knowledge and money being two of most visible.

How do you influence people?

Usually you can only influence people, effectively, if you have something they want. That could be a lifestyle they want, money, skills, knowledge. One of the things that most people tell themselves they want is money. But if you dig a bit deeper, there are plenty of studies that show that money satisfies, only to a certain point in life.There are a lot of things that I’d like to buy. For one a house. Another is a Lamborghini. That being said, I have a lot of material things right now, 2 cars, a truck, 2 motorcycles and a dirtbike. I have already reached a point that while I think it’d be fun to continue amassing things, I think it’d be better to affect the world for good. As such I’ve decided to seek influence.  I think knowledge is much more important than money in terms of influence. One person I can think of specifically is my priest. He has a ton of influence, but not much personal wealth. Yet, I continue to seek his advice on many things, not just religions (also financial, personal relationships with others, etc). And the best thing about a priest is they just give that advice away for free! What could be better? Seriously, if you need advice go chat with a priest. But I digress.

Knowledge is power, as the old saying goes. That’s why education is such an important thing these days. See what Anant Agarwal has to say about this, and he’s not the only one. Formal education is not the only thing that I count as education. You can learn from people you meet everyday. It doesn’t have to be profound everytime you learn something. You can keep track of my everyday thoughts at “What I Learned Today” (which I intend to make a short running script of interesting things).

There are also many clubs or groups that will help you learn things for free! Two that I am involved in now are the Financial Literacy Club at UNI and the UNI Ballroom/Swing Dance Club. Both of these are free to be a part of. They are both clubs that help you learn something. Just because things like these seem free, doesn’t mean they are completely free, everything has a cost. Someone does have to pay for them. In the case of the UNI dancing team, they are funded by the University and also by private donors. From what I understand of the Financial Literacy club, it’s funded privately by the man who runs it. The point of these examples is that there is so much knowledge around that can be free to you, but once you get into a position to give back, certainly do. Learn something today!

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that it’s great to have a muse to help you while you understand and learn. A couple of my favorite muses are

  1. Church. I bring a notebook to Mass (and about everywhere else I go) and take notes. I think this is especially useful in church because it’s one time where you are supposed to just sit and think. You can’t respond right away. When you are in a conversation you always are thinking ahead of how to reply to the current thought and thus not actually thinking about it. If you are in a position where you have to just listen, it gives you time to think deeper.
  2. A good book. I have been gifted with pretty decent reading comprehension and speed and as such I like to read. If you’d like to learn what I’m reading (and save yourself all the time of reading a book or find a list of interesting books to read, take a look at my Book Reviews. I’d encourage you to read the books if you have the time.)
  3. Podcasts. I like to listen to Tim Ferriss interview some people who had done some pretty incredible things. I also count TED Talks as podcasts, even though they are videos. Also a note, watch TED talks on youtube. It saves your history so you can remember what you’ve watched and it’s much easier. I have just had dismal success watching TED talks on the TED website.
  4. Reading Blogs or the news. A few blogs I like are Matt Walsh, Mark Manson and Bob Sullivan (Restlessness project specifically). If you read people who don’t necessarily agree with you, that’s good for making you think.
  5. Talking with real people. Crazy thought. Talk to people in the real world. Better if they are people who don’t necessarily have the same views as you. One of my drives to start a site about big ideas is that I will be able to foster meaningful conversation with people I meet.

Back to influence. I am hoping with this blog to influence the world in a positive way. Please read along, share with friends and help me be a force for good in the world.

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Thanks to these guys for the cover image.

Local Treasures

People often think that things need to be far away from themselves to be interesting or cool. That’s just not the case. I have been looking for things around my (current) town of Cedar Falls, Iowa that can be counted as interesting or cool, in the gearhead sense. Here’s a short list of what I have found thus far.

MotoGents – A group of friends who like motorcycles, building them, and living the lifestyle. They had their first motorcycle show the other weekend in town and it was a lot of fun. I met a lot of new people who have a similar passion for bikes as myself. My bobber was welcomed and I saw a lot of other cool local bikes as well.

1st MotoGents bike show

1st MotoGents bike show

Team SpeedASalt – A local shop teacher who got the need for speed after visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats recently. He has since banded together a group of people who enjoy performance vehicles and he is building a land speed racer, locally!

Waterloo Technical Society – This is a group of people who are passionate about technology. They meet once a month to talk about their latest projects, meet like minded people and learn about something cool being done locally. I just found out about this after 2 years living here.

Cedar Falls Raceway – This is a local drag strip. It’s so great to be able to drive 5 miles to a drag strip, make 20 passes (for $25) and be home in 5 more minutes. You also meet lots of people who would love to give you advice. They’ve been there, done that and they want to help you avoid the same mistakes they made.

drag racing 2013

Iowa SCCA – If you’ve never been to a SCCA race but you love cars, you need to go. SCCA = Sports Car Club of America. They host race events in parking lots and race tracks. It’s another great place to meet people passionate about cars, like yourself. They have them all over the country. Find your nearest and run what you brung.


Iowa Enduro Riders Association – This is the local dirt bike racing community. They are sanctioned by the AMA (American Motorcycle Association). I have driven a hare scramble and they are one of the most fun ways to be a gearhead. You get so much seat time, 2 hours, vs. 1 minute for the SCCA or 10 seconds for drag racing. They have events all over the state so you can do them every weekend, or just when they are close, like I do.

Monster Jam! – There will be a Monster Jam event in my backyard soon. I’ve never been to one, but I have been wanting to for a few years only. Huge trucks, huge engines. These things are technical masterpieces. What isn’t to like for a gearhead?

Independence Motor Speedway – Dirt Track Circle Track racing has been in my family for many years. I have had a love/hate relationship with it in that time. It can get stressful in the pits! But I usually enjoy watching something live instead of watching it on tv. Check it out!

Iowa Speedway – This is a (relatively) local NASCAR track. It’s about 1.5 hours from my home, which is not that far to see something that is broadcast nationally. I had never been to a NASCAR race before this year and it was a great time.

Twisted Kreationz– A local painter. His work looks good. I haven’t talked with him personally, yet.

This Monte Carlo – This car built by Daniel Howe, Iowa local. It’s been featured in many magazines. I ran into Dan recently at a SCCA event (see above) and he was a great guy to talk to. He was so passionate about his car. It was double interesting to me as I also have a Monte Carlo and had recognized his car at a show a year earlier.


Car shows – There are plenty of local car shows. You just need to look for them!

One of my favorites is Vintage Torque Fest in Dubuque, IA. Check out some local cars here.

This Model T Ford is a mixture of Gasser and Rat Rod. It's mostly for fun, and not so much for actual performance. This engine has a straight pipe for each cylinder. They are actually about the best you can get for flow, unless you start dabbling in tuned length runners, etc. It's really an independent header for each cylinder.  I think it's awesome!

Car from Vintage Torque Fest

Antique Archeology – More commonly known as The American Pickers Guys. I haven’t been there yet, and they don’t only do cars, but they do find some occasionally.

JP Cycles National Motorcycle Museum  – This is a motorcycle museum that is full of motorcycles of all brands. You can get so close to the bikes and the variety is incredible.

This is just a short list of a few of the local things I have thought of. There are so many other people I have met and things I have watched and participated in. I hope this inspires you to look locally for cool things happening in your community.

Do you usually feel you need to travel far to see “cool” or “interesting” events and people or do you embrace the resources in your local community?
What is your favorite local gearhead happening?
What is your favorite local car builder?

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A Million Dollars

I have been contemplating what I’d do if I was to suddenly come into possession of $1 million. I’ve thought about that also, you might say. But have you really? Sure we often daydream of what we’d do if we won a large sum of money, but those are usually musings of buying X or Y expensive toy. There is no shortage of stories of people who come into that kind of money either from sports or who actually win the lottery and come out worse for the wear.

Here is my list of a few ways I could spend $1million (after taxes).

Supercar, Lamborghini Reventon

Supercar, Lamborghini Reventon

For my first attempt at being rich: first I’d buy a house probably in a nice warm state, lets say Georgia, since if you’ve read any of my articles yet you should understand my aversion to winter. Lets say that house cost me $350K. Then I’d buy a Lamborghini Aventador which would cost me another $450K. Now that I’ve only got $200K to spend on taxes for my house, electricity, insurance (for the car) etc, lets just say that I’ve already spend that last $200K. Well that was a fast way to spend that money. Not difficult to see why it’s easy to spend all that money really fast!

Lets try a little more “practical” way. Keep the house, in Georgia so still $350K. Of course it has a great garage for what comes next. A new Corvette is $60K so I’ll buy one of those. Of course I’d need at least one vintage muscle car. Why not a Dodge Charger, 1969 of course, we’ll just say $40K. With this I could do the Hot Rod Power Tour for about $3K, which I’d recommend anyone who can do the Tour at least once do! Probably buy a new Harley and do Sturgis ($19K (2012 Street Bob (candy red, pipes, seat, handlebars)+$2K (trip)) = $21K.

2014 Corvette

So far I’m up to $434K which is not to bad considering all the toys I’ve bought thus far. $434K. Feels good being so responsible. New Lamborghini’s are sure expensive (as evidenced by way’s to spend money $1). On that note, used Gallardos aren’t to expensive! So ad one of those to my list, $115K. At this point I need to start thinking of more exotic ways to spend money. Perhaps attend DirtFish racing school for a week to learn to drive rally cars. A 3 day class is only $3600. Cheap for what it is. I think the next thing I’d apply for is the Gumball 3000. If you’ve not heard of that no worries. It’s basically a Hot Rod Power Tour but for rich guys. At least they are trying to do something to give back these days.The cost of the Gumball 3000 for 2014? $64K for 2 people! After that big party finished maybe I’d try my new racing skills on the One Lap of America which would cost a cheap $3K! (Why haven’t I done this yet?) What is the One Lap? Basically one of the most extreme performance tests of a street car! It’s one week where you have to race at many different tracks, from full road courses to drag strips. Here’s their description

“The event, as it always has been, is foremost one of endurance and vehicle preparation. No support crews are allowed. The tires that are used on the street are the same ones that are raced on (one set per team). Although scoring is based on performance at the race tracks, the vehicles and their drivers must survive over 5000 miles of driving interspersed with the finest meals available at gas station convenience stores.” I’m honestly having a hard time coming up with more ways to spend this million as I sit here writing!

I’m up to $619,600. So lets just call that good!

Arguably this 2nd way would probably be quite a bit more fun than having 1 very very expensive Lamborghini and a nice house. But it’s still very me focused. I’m buying this car, I’m driving this race. I’m spending $64K on a 1 week party. (I think the One Lap of America looks like a better deal than the Gumball 3000, just to note).

What I wanted to propose was a few different ways to make a bigger difference in the world than to spend all that money on yourself though. Start by watching this TED talk on Effective Altruism. What is that you ask?

“Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement which applies evidence and reason to working out the most effective ways to improve the world. Effective altruists consider all causes and actions, and then act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact.” – Straight from Googling Effective Altruism

So to the numbers, because numbers never lie, if someone honest is presenting them. Lets say anyway I spend money I’m going to spend $200K on a house, because that is just smart to have a place to live (although to my next point that might even be a bit expensive). So with $800K what could I buy?

Well if you wanted to sponsor a child in a developing country it only costs $25/month. Take that by 18 years (because that’s when most kids can’t be sponsored anymore) equals $5400, and divide $800K by $5400 and you get 148.

Children International Site

So in summary, you could sponsor 148 kids in developing countries for 18 years on $800K. Think about the impact that would be. Your minimal sponsorship gets these kids access to schools (they have to stay in school to get the money). More consistant food, better living conditions, access to health care etc. While these may not be up to your standards it’d sure be a step forward for these kids.

If you wanted to make a larger impact, in terms of numbers, you could donate to End7. What is End7?  It is a site who’s goal is to vaccinate children to give them immunity to NTD’s. What are NTD’s? Neglected Tropical Diseases. Why are they bad? “Neglected tropical diseases kill an estimated 534,000 people worldwide every year” – CDC

“Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are the most common diseases of the world’s poor.Most people have never have heard of diseases like elephantiasis, river blindness, snail fever, trachoma, roundworm,whipworm or hookworm. But nearly one in six people globally, including more than half a billion children, have these diseases. Without treatment, NTDs can lead to lifelong disabilities and suffering.Just 50¢ can treat and protect a person against all seven of the most common NTDs for up to one year.” – Straight from the End7 website.

Did you reread that number? $0.50. Whats that? Lless than you might leave sitting on the ground if you walked by it. To the numbers, $800K/ $0.50/year x 18 years = 7407 kids you could save for 18 years from awful diseases that you’ve never been exposed to.

Now it might seem easy to say, but Axel, you’re just sensationalizing these things. I don’t think so. Think about why you were never exposed to these diseases or poverty. Likely because you were lucky to be born into a family/country where basic health care was to be expected. Going to the dentist, getting your shots, having food on the table. Maybe someone of you were less well off than others, but probably not many have had to sleep on a dirt floor and have it a common occurrence for family to die from a disease for which there is a cheap available cure somewhere else in the world.

You might also object, saying “If those people can’t pay for their own kids they don’t deserve my money.” Think of it this way, there is a correlation between increased education and reduced child birth rates. (I’ll not get into if I think that’s a good or bad thing.) But if we spend time saving these peoples lives they’ll likely have less kids than their parents, and if they are more educated they’ll be able to spend the $0.50 a year to save the kids they do have.

This might seem like I’m getting on quite the high horse and saying material thing are bad, and that’s just not the case. I freely admit that I have a lot of toys myself, motorcycles, cars, etc. But to be the change you want to see in the world, you have to start with yourself. That’s why I’m starting to inventory process. Reflecting on what I have, what I make, and what I can afford to share. I will not give my exact numbers for charitable donations at this time (I might go over that in a future post), but suffice to say it’s not insignificant, and it makes me feel good. A lot of people are struggling in this world, just read about The Restless Project. Why? A lot of it seems to be due to materialism. But what really makes us happy? Check out this psychology. Giving and helping others (with time also), makes us happy! Think about it.

So next time you are thinking about how you’d spend a million dollars, stop and think, “Do I really need a million dollars, or have I already won some lottery compared to a large percentage of people in the world?” And if you find yourself saying yes to that, consider how you can give back. It will make you happy and the world a better place.

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Bugatti Veyron, Elio And My Wheel Life

I read an interesting article today about the Bugatti Veyron, the most expensive production car, that had any significant volume. Don’t tell me about the $4 million Lambo they made 3 of, they’ve made hundreds of Veyrons. That a lot for a hypercar. It ended with this sentence. “The Bentley customer on average owns 8 cars. The average Bugatti customer has about 84 cars, 3 jets and one yacht.” Along with a book I’ve been reading, this sentence got me thinking.

Bugatti Veyron Thanks to Axion23 (Flickr Creative Commons)

Bugatti Veyron
Thanks to Axion23 (Flickr Creative Commons)

What is the purpose of a supercar (or 84). I’ve lusted after supercars, muscle cars, dirt bikes, Harley’s, rat rods and muscle cars since I was young. My father was a “car guy”, and really he was a race car driver, which is a special kind of car guy who loves to spend even more of his his money than the average car guy on his car and a car guy who actually drives his car hard 99% of the time (except when idling around the pits.)

Dad racing picture

Anyway, between that and the time I saw a guy who was about 5 years older than me driving his Firebird around with some attractive girls, I’ve always been attracted to cars (and girls).

I am pretty lucky and blessed as peoples lives go. I currently own a total of 5 licensed vehicles, including a Honda bobber I built mostly myself and a GSXR 600, a Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe, a Mustang a winter beater truck, and a dirt bike, just for fun, and even some projects sitting at my parents home to be completed…. sometime. I recently had a realization of sorts that it just might be financially feasible for me to purchase some of the vehicles I had lusted after as a child. 2012 Boss Mustang? Dodge Viper? Corvette? Ferrari?

I ran into a few problems once I started down this line of thinking. One problem was the insurance, registration and maintenance on the cars I had already was a pretty significant annual cost. Another was, as I’m a big fan of “giving back” I started to contemplate if it was reasonable for me to have so much while some has so little.

Which brings me back to the question, why do we keep building more and more vehicles for ourselves? Are we trying to buy happiness? This has lead me to ask myself “What will really make me happy?” A sentence from “Deep Economy” by Bill McKibben states “volunteer work of all kinds generated ‘high levels of joy, exceeded only by dancing’. Why? The most common answers included ‘I meet people and make friends through it.’”

So are we really getting all this satisfaction from more and more cars? My personal answer seems to be a no. Which is a difficult thing to say. I have loved cars since I can remember. I even went school to design them (I’m working on diesel engines, a bit of a compromise, but still designing and engines, I’ll count it as a win).

I’ve been attending a financial club which has been telling me some things that are not novel by any means but might sound that way just because of the stories we’re fed by the media. One is “Don’t buy a car with a loan, pay cash.” What a crazy idea? I’ve bought 3 vehicles with loans since I graduated college, granted they have each been under $10000 so total, they are about equal to one $20,000 car a “normal” person would have bought, but being a car guy, I have had the urge for quantity over quality at times.

Recently I reevaluated my finances. I determined my recurring monthly and told a friend about it. After she told me my monthly recurring expenses was greater than her salary, I thought I could make a change. I’ve been living in a single apartment for 2 years. I’m hoping to move in with a roommate and cut some that expense about in half (I have already talked to a few people and believe I have plans made, but it’s not been executed yet so I have to count it as in progress still). I have also had to re-evaluate my eating habits. No doubt, the normal person would take one look at my eating habits and say “WTF”. I often eat out for lunch 5x a week and usually 2+ times a  week for diner, and not counting weekends in that even, those are free right? Wrongo-Bongo. I’ve tried to be a bit more reasonable in that and purchase food at the beginning of the week and make a lunch. That cuts the expenses in half at least. Couple that with eating out less overall and I feel I’m on a good path.

I have had a hard time giving up the cars. I still have them all, although I have threatened to sell the Mustang (to myself) a few times. I just haven’t pulled the trigger yet. It sounds nice and makes me smile. I’m not advocating for complete immaterialism, although minimalism has made a lot of folks happy. I’ve been considering a quote from a priest friend “I live simply so others can simply live.” That really makes you stop and think.

So to bring it back to cars, what car is living simply? What is the complete opposite of a Bugatti Veryron? How about an Elio? This is a car that’s not designed to be a “look at me car”. It’s built on practicality. On preserving the earth. On getting 84 MPG instead of 2.3MPG for the Veyron (at 253 mph). To be fair, it likely won’t be driven that fast, or likely at all, considering the 84 other cars, and 3 jets and a yacht it’s average owner has to spend time driving. Lets be honest, if you make that much money, you likely don’t need to drive yourself around, and probably you don’t! Your body guards probably won’t let you. What if instead of measuring our success by the number of cars we have we measured it by the number of people we’ve helped? Or what if businesses didn’t measure success by how much money they made but by how much they let the people buying their products keep? Crazy?


Here’s my proposal (because I still like cars, a LOT!). Someone who’s rocking one of these 84 cars (Jay Leno maybe?), please let me borrow one, just for a year (and pay my insurance please 🙂  (or maybe about 8 months) and let me use it to find myself and influence people in a positive way. That’s My Wheel Life today. Hope you enjoyed it. And if you know someone who’s own 84 cars, please forward this to them.

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