Saturday, April 21, 2018

Short Changed!

People will short-change store clerks and bar tenders - but bar tenders and store clerks may attempt to short-change you as well!

We were out bicycling yesterday and we stopped at the convenience store for a treat.  Ordinarily, I would have used a credit card, but I thought, "why not pay cash for a small purchase like this?" and it was an interesting experience.   The total came to $8.28 (!!!) and I handed her a ten.   The cash register had one of those machines that dispenses coin change, and she said, gesturing to the coin tray as money rolled out, "there's your change!"

I just stared at her.  I was due $1.72 in change, and the coinage came to only 72 cents, of course.

She glanced at me and said, "Oh, I guess I owe you a dollar as well!" and she opened the register and handed me a dollar bill.

It was an interesting exchange.  The place was noisy and crowded (a busload of children had just unloaded out front - what was I thinking?).   And she could claim she made an "innocent mistake" if called out on it.   But if I failed to notice, and just took the loose change, well, she could pocket a buck.   And if she could do that a few times an hour, she could effectively double her hourly wage, and of course, all of that "bonus" is tax-free, of course.

It is not the first time someone has attempted to short-change me - or actually short-changed me.  And I am sure there were other times when I was short-changed and failed to notice it.   Probably many times, in fact.   Bars are prime places for this sort of thing, as patrons are drunk and don't count their change or remember what they spent.   You wake up the next morning with a hangover and an empty wallet and wonder where it all went.   I stopped doing that nonsense fairly quickly.  Others never learn.

One of the most common scenarios I've seen is a simple one.  You hand someone a $20 and they give you change for a $10.   You point out that you handed them a $20, and they go, "oh, my bad!" and make the correct change.   Obviously this is a better deal than some petty dollar scam, as they net $10 on the transaction.

Mark taught me, and I always follow this when paying by cash, to announce in a clear voice what bill you are presenting.   "That will be $5.75!" the clerk announces, and I reply, "Out of a $20" as I hand her the bill, face up, in full view of the security camera.  It makes it harder for them to argue that you handed them a ten later on.

And fortunately, most stores have security cameras - focused on the cashier, not you.   Because while robberies and the like are not uncommon, it is far more common for the person behind the counter to be the one stealing.   Either they are not recording cash transactions, or are short-changing the customers.

Of course, one way to avoid this problem is to use a credit or debit card - there is no change involved.  But even then, I have seen servers play games with numbers.   Often they will present a bill that is not itemized, but merely the total on the charge receipt.   This makes it hard to figure out what it is they are charging you for.  But I am not sure whether they can personally profit from this, as charged bills don't generate cash they can take out of the till.

But speaking of which, I never did get a receipt from that store clerk, and in retrospect, I am not sure how the total came to $8.28 even at inflated tourist prices here.   Next time, I will be more careful - but of course, stopping at the convenience store isn't something I do very often.

It is funny, but I just don't use cash very much anymore.   Some folks go to an ATM every day, it seems, taking out small amounts of cash for spending.   I go maybe once every few months (one bank we do business with will lock out  your ATM card if it is not used every three months - a pain in the ass, as you have to reset the card at the bank and have a new PIN issued!) to get some spending cash.

And when that lady handed me that change, I realized what a PITA it is to have coinage clinking around in your pocket.  Coins I will have to take home, sort, and roll up and eventually take to the bank to deposit - because I am never going to remember to take the coins with me to spend, as I don't use cash anymore.

The video above illustrates how grifters can short-change store clerks and bar tenders with clever manipulation.  If you get a job that involves handling money with the public, just watch out for these folks who want to do deals like this "I want to get rid of some dollar bills" or some such nonsense.   It usually is just a means of confusing the cashier and setting up one of these short-change deals.   As the guy illustrates in the video, do each transaction separately, and avoid handing money back and forth.   Mark reports that someone tried this on him once at the store, and he was able to shut it down by keeping each transaction separate - and refusing to make change for the customer ("we're not a bank!" he told him).

I suppose it is a small-time con, short-changing people.  But oddly enough, people often get more pissed off about small things like this, than they do in losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in con-job investments or raw deals on leased cars.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Does College Really Matter?

Once you graduate from college, it becomes less and less relevant as you age, particularly in today's society.

I was at the local bar happy hour by the beach.  The locals go there because the drinks and appetizers are cheap, and it is a fun way to catch up with what is going on and what your friends are doing.  I was wearing an old "Syracuse" zip-up hoodie, and I guess it was during March Madness or something, and someone gave me a hard time about it - as if I was a Syracuse fan, and not someone who bought a sweatshirt 20 years ago when visiting there.

I ran into some others who were also alumni - from decades earlier than me (my college career spanned 1978 to 1992 - 14 years) and they wanted to know if I knew so-and-so on a college campus of 26,000 undergraduate students, from a decade before I was born.   No, I didn't know old Fred.  Sorry.

What was interesting to me, though, was how the person I talked to really identified themselves by the college they went to 60 years ago.   It seemed odd to me, as college for me was an experience that spanned more than a decade, but I don't think it defined my life.  I literally can't remember the names of anyone I went to school with, other than one or two people, perhaps.   I was too busy studying to get too involved in socializing.

Others here on the island fly their college flag in front of their house, and have a college sticker on their car.  They have made an identity for themselves based on what school they went to.  And I guess some folks need that - some pigeon-hole to put themselves into, as left to their own devices, they cannot figure out their own identity.  So they latch onto college as a means of drowning out the deafening silence in their lives.

College - that was 30 years ago.   So why would it be important to me now?  More of my existence on this planet has been post-college than pre-college.  I have learned so much more since then - my neural network has been programmed again and again by experiences that dwarf what I learned in school.  And what I learned in school wasn't facts and figures, but ways of thinking - and maybe that has stuck with me more than anything.

But the funny thing is, once you leave college, it becomes less and less important in your life.   In your career, you job experiences trump college experiences, which is why recent college grads with no work experience have a hard time finding that first job.  Once you have that first job, that job is the key to your resume, and college is a distant second.   Ten years go by, and you find that your "Education" part of your resume is more and more abbreviated.   You list only the school you went to, year you graduated, and what degree you got.   No one cares if you were in honor society or on the dean's list when you are 40 or 50 years old.   They care about how much money you can make for their company, and why you left your last job.   Yea, you should have the credentials and all, but beyond that, who cares?   Performance trumps Alma Mater every time.

Sure, when you are young, and your resume is pretty thin in the work department, your college education is all you have to tout on your resume.   So all that shit about honors and whatnot makes sense - you have to show you were able to buckle down and work.   But a few years out, putting that stuff on your resume is about as embarrassing as saying you were an Eagle Scout.

Which brings us to High School.   When you are young, you are told that high school is important, and that any transgressions will go on your "permanent record".   That is, of course, bullshit.   Good SAT scores and reasonable grades will get you into most colleges (which are more worried about your ability to pay than anything else).   You might list your high school degree and honors and whatnot on your resume when you are in your teens, and maybe even when you graduate from college.  But beyond that, it is just embarrassing.  Yea, you went to high school.  We get that - the fact you have a college degree sort of gives that away.   No, we don't give a rat's ass about your 10th grade science project getting "honorable mention" at the State Fair or whatever.   It just is irrelevant.

And so is college, once you are 10-20 years out.   No one really gives a rat's ass, and the college you went to back then is totally different than the college that exists today - all the professors who taught you are retired or dead.   It is a different place - something you realize when you go back 20 years later and come away with nothing more than a sweatshirt hoodie.

It is funny, but the folks at Syracuse used to call me and ask for money.   And they still send me an alumni magazine now and then.   I glance at it and toss it away.  It really isn't relevant to my life now.  It was just a place I once was, getting a credential I needed - and paid dearly for.  I had some fun, made some friends, but we've all moved on with life, and today, we are different people with little in common, other than a shared experience from decades past.

Others try to find meaning in all of that.  Not me.   My Dad, when my Mother died, went out of his way to look up all his "college buddies" from 1946 at MIT (he transferred to the management school when he flunked thermodynamics.  I simply took it three times until I passed it with an "A").   He traveled cross-country, sleeping on the couches in the houses of his old college "buddies" - their wives no doubt whispering in the next room, "Who is he, again?  And when is he going to leave?"

I think his experience was like the college visit scene from About Schmidt - where Schmidt goes back to the University of Nebraska, and bores some young college kids at his frat about his work as an Insurance actuary.   It is really irrelevant to them, and college at this point was irrelevant to him.   It's like the scene where he goes back to his childhood home and finds a tire store.

And yes, we've gone back to our childhood homes before and laughed about that scene - expecting to find a tire store, but instead finding only a house without a lot of emotional impact or in fact, any sort of closure or whatever.  There is little profit in the past, other than to learn from it.

And the same is true of college.  Get your degree and get out.  Just as High School is not an end in and of itself, but a means to an end - something those stupid kids who shot up Columbine High School simply didn't get.   Don't like High School?  Most people don't.   Graduate and leave.   Most people do!

And while college is generally a better experience than High School, obsessing about it decades later is, to me, kind of sad.

Should You Join a Fraternity? (Revisited)

Fraternities are a lot like Twitter - you never hear anything good come of them.

A recent article in the news about one of my alma maters, Syracuse University, discusses an incident at Theta Tau, the "Engineering" fraternity, where members were caught on tape pledging to hate blacks, Jews, and other minorities.  This struck me as odd for an Engineering fraternity, as in the Engineering business, you are going to run into a lot of people who hail from China, India, the Middle-East, Indonesia, and so forth.   It is a very international community.   Hating minorities will surely narrow your job prospects.

Most of the "high tech" companies these days are located in places like San Francisco and the bay area, or Austin or Boulder - all hotbeds of enlightenment, and not room for white supremacists.   I suspect the folks at "Theta Tau" might find that their Engineering careers are over before they even started.  Who in their right mind is going to hire them now?

Granted, the Engineering field has been largely dominated by men, and blacks are still very under-represented,  But it is hardly an all-white male bastion anymore.  Being racist is, well, just stupid.

So what was the point of joining this fraternity?   The members are now utterly fucked.  This story will stick around on the Internet forever, and when they apply for jobs in their chosen field of study, they will find the story will follow them.  Even if an employer fails to figure it out, some fellow employee will no doubt connect the dots.   And once you are known as the "white supremacist" Engineer, well, people will distance themselves from you.  No one likes creepy.

The problem isn't just this fraternity, but all fraternities.  And I think the problem is systemic, institutional, and impossible to fix.  The very nature of fraternities (and sororities) engenders these kinds of incidents (and far worse).  No one comes out ahead by joining a frat.

You never hear about good things fraternities are doing, because by and large, they don't do many.  Oh, sure, some frats will have a fundraiser here and there for some cause.  But for the most part, it is a bunch of 20-something dudes who swill lite beer and drive fart-muffler cars.   Joining a frat becomes all about partying and selfishness (and not the good kind!) in short order.

I discussed fraternities before, and came to the conclusion they were over-rated if not in fact dangerous to the individual.  Young men, left to their own devices, in a group, can get into a lot of trouble.  Get a group of young guys together, and they get nervous and egg each other on into doing odious things.   It is odd, too, in this day and age, that people willingly segregate themselves into single-gender housing.   You finally have a chance to leave home and move in with your girlfriend, but decide instead to hang out with 20 other drunken young men.   Sounds awfully gay to me.

And in fact, fraternities were dying on the vine in the mid-1970's.   After the "peace and love" era of the 1960's, it was seen as more "adult" to get an apartment, move in with your girlfriend than to join a frat.   Fraternities were seen as old-fashioned and stupid - representing the sort of white privilege of the past - sort of like the stuck-up "Omega Theta Pi" fraternity mocked in Animal House.

The sort of mumbo-jumbo nonsense that was mocked in the movie "Animal House"

The problem with that movie was that it re-ignited the fraternity movement.  Even as the movie parodied the "normal" fraternities, it also presented an image of a frat as a drunken party-house where everyone had a good time.   Fraternities might have died out by 1985 if not for that movie.  By the early 1980's, fraternities were back - and this time less of a bastion of white male privilege, but as a place to hang out and get utterly drunk out of your mind.   Bad things happened fairly quickly.

We read about it in the paper.  Pledges dying in fraternity initiation rites - which were less about homoerotic paddling ceremonies than they were about binge-drinking or even forced consumption of alcohol.  Young coeds being drugged and raped - sometimes gang-raped.   Racist incidents during parties or pledging, all captured on the ubiquitous smart phone, for the world to see.

And it doesn't matter if you were not involved.  When your chapter makes national headlines and the University shuts down your "house," you are tainted as much as the actual perpetrators.   Suddenly, having a fraternity ring doesn't seem like an "in" to business connections (if it ever was one) than a mark of shame.

Sure, maybe these sort of things happened in the "good old days" as well.  A pledge dies after drinking too much and his parents are told he "fell in the shower."   University Deans are more than happy to help sweep it all under the rug, of course.  And rape?   Back in the 1950's, it just wasn't reported, and even if it was, rarely prosecuted.   And again, Universities back then were more than willing to cover things up to preserve the "good name" of the school.

But today, we have the smartphone recording every incident in life, and the permanent archive of the Internet to preserve these things for all eternity.   Did we do stupid, regrettable things while in college?   Sure we did.   But back then, there were no cell phones, and no one carried around a Betamax tape recorder because it weighed over 50 pounds.   And there was no internet to upload things to, and no "viral" videos, or archives of data that could be retrieved with the click of a mouse.

It is true, kids have it harder today.  You make one mistake, and it could ruin you for life.   Well, maybe not for life, but it can derail your career for a few years, at the very least.   So joining a frat has a huge downside, if someone at the frat is caught doing very bad things.  Guilt by association will follow you around for the rest of your days.

But surely, there has to be an upside, right?   Joining a frat marks you as one of the elite - the cream of the crop, the sort of person from the "right" family.   And it provides you with connections later in life.  Give your new boss the secret fraternity handshake or casually show him your frat ring, and for sure you will be promoted, right?   Because in today's business world, connections mean more than absolute talent, right?

I am not so sure.  The environment today is just the opposite.  In the hard-nosed business world we live in, performance means more than who you know.   Social connections might help you get your foot in the door, but if you are not up to snuff, you'll be shown that door before long.  And the idea of privilege has fallen from favor in many sectors of the economy.   In fact, asserting such privilege may be a turn-off to prospective employers.

And then there is the distraction.   A college education is very expensive today.  And your grades and performance are looked at more closely than ever.   Do you really want to screw up a $100,000 investment by drowning yourself in beer parties?   That is exactly what happened to a friend of mine, who, upon leaving home for Engineering school, joined a frat and discovered his new friend, alcohol.  He dropped out in his second semester.

The drinking age - another aspect of the problem.   Fraternities are not known for teaching their members responsible social drinking. They don't sit around having cocktails and having sophisticated discussions, but rather swill kegs of lite beer and shout "Whazzzup!" at each other.   Since the drinking age was raised to 21, many are entering college with no drinking experience.  Worse yet, since most undergraduates cannot legally drink, the fraternity has become the speakeasy of the new age.   Fraternities are finding they are quite popular with the students, whenever they throw a kegger during pledge week.   And this has lead to a lot of the troubles.

From a personal standpoint, you have to ask yourself whether this is something that is going to profit you personally.   Are you going to get better grades and have an "in" with your first job interview as a result of joining a frat?   I suspect the answer is "No" to both questions.   Is there a significant risk you may be caught up in some scandal as a result of being affiliated with the frat?   I think yes.   And is there a significant risk you may end up spending too much time on socializing and too little on studying and hurt your college career as a result?  I think the answer is a resounding "Yes" to that.

So from a cost-benefit analysis, I think it fails the test.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Obsessing About Religion

People have been willing to kill one another in the name of peace for millennia.  When will it ever end?  Only when people wise up - which is to say, never.

A reader writes, in response to my last posting, that it is acceptable to wish ill-health and death on Barbara Bush, because of all the people in Iraq who died as a result of the Bush-lead invasion.   It is an interesting argument, but ironically, proves my point.

While the Iraq invasion was a strategic mistake and we did kill thousands of people there during the war, far more were killed and continue to be killed, all across the Arab world.... by other Arabs.   Yes, they may burn our flag and call us the "great satan" (or at least Iran does) but in fact, they spend less time fighting the US of A than they do each other.   We are just an annoyance that gets in the way of their cross-religious slaughter.  The image above is of a car-bombing in Iraq - not aimed at US forces, but aimed at Sunnis by Shiites.

Yes, the old Sunni-Shia rift has been a meat grinder for generations.   And it has been an effective tool for various governments (including our own) to manipulate people to do things against their own self-interest, such as strapping on a suicide vest.   It is all-too-easy to recruit young people online and convince them they will be "martyrs" for their branch of Islam if they will only just kill themselves - and maybe a few other people in the process.  This does little to advance the cause of the individual, or indeed the people or the religion he (or she) is nominally dying for.  It does, however, help the causes of governments and other people in power.

Islam isn't alone in this - although in recent times, they have been the most effective.   The Catholic v. Protestant divide in Christianity has been exploited by political powers for hundreds of years - and thousands have been slaughtered as a result.   It is only in recent decades that the "troubles" in Northern Ireland - the last gasp of this religious warfare - has tamped down.   But even then, it threatens to explode any minute now, as each side starts posturing again.

Our reader argues that a widow in Iraq whose husband was killed during the Iraq war, would want to kill either of the Bush Presidents or Barbara Bush, and that this would be "understandable" given the circumstances.   But oddly enough, if you look at history, the opposite is often true.  We dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan, and they are one of our strongest allies.  We flattened Berlin, and yet Germany stands by our side.  We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than in all of World War II, and yet Americans are welcome there and we have good relations with that country.  Of course, those wars weren't about religion - but the religion of nationalism.

Again, we get back to do-or-die politics.   Nazism brainwashed an entire generation of Germans to fight to the death for a "cause".   When they lost that war, some die-hard Nazis still held out and murdered those who cooperated with the occupying forces - at least for a time.   But I suspect that a lot more Germans felt betrayed by the false God of Nazism than they did by U.S. forces.   They realized that their real enemy was from within - which is why today, it is verboten to display Nazi symbols or give speeches promoting fascist values in Germany (but ironically, legal in the US).

The bloodletting that is going on today across the Arab world is not in response to any US-lead invasion, but is part of a power struggle between various countries and power centers.  The Iranians want to take control, and will use their version of Islam to convince people that they should die for a cause that is not their own - by fighting and killing their fellow Arabs.   Meanwhile, our Saudi friends want a different outcome - and use a different brand of Islam to program people to kill their own kind.

Maybe the Iraq invasion was the trigger for all of this - although from the quick rate of surrender of the Iraqi forces, it doesn't seem many in Iraq had an ideological allegiance to Saddam Hussein.  They weren't willing to die for his cause, it seems.  But once the dust settled, most people wanted to get back to life as normal.  And we naively thought they would embrace democracy.   But given a chance, such as in Egypt, people in that part of the world often vote for dictatorship.   And then outside forces, such as Iran, started to try to manipulate things.   We were in over our heads, in a situation that was not so simple or black-and-white.   We assumed that people in Iraq would act in their own best interests, and embrace a new government free of the tyranny and secret police of the old government (a government that we also installed).

But we were wrong.   Too many people are easily persuaded, particularly these days, to give up their own lives for a "cause" while neglecting what is in their own best interests.  And no, it isn't because many of these folks have "nothing left to lose"- many suicide bombers and ISIS fighters come from fairly wealthy (by world standards) backgrounds, and have many opportunities available to them.  The Boston Marathon bombers were hardly starving, but rather had a fairly well-off middle-class existence in the wealthiest country in the world.  They were convinced otherwise - by online websites.

Which brings us full circle back to the original point - it profits you not to become obsessed about politics.  It makes you a toxic person to be around, it turns away friends and business contacts who may have been helpful to you later on.  It turns away potential spouses - because no one likes creepy.

"But Bob!" you say, "What about causes worth fighting and dying for?  What about the American Revolution?   The Civil War?  World War II?   Aren't those instances where it would be better to sacrifice your life for the greater good?"

Perhaps.   But all I can say is, you had better vet these causes carefully before you forfeit your life, either literally, or by wasting it away by obsessing about politics.

As for the revolutionary war, I guess you'd have a point.   If we had not fought the British in 1776, we would have ended up like.... Canada.   Um, I guess that isn't a good point.   Alternative history is hard to parse, but if Canada is any example, I guess we would have ended up as a quasi-independent country eventually.  Or did the American revolution force Britain to give Canada more sovereignty?  Would we have expanded Westward with the Louisiana purchase if still under British rule?  It is hard to say.

The Brits outlawed slavery years before we did - and even enforced a blockade along the African coast to tamp down the slave trade.   It is possible the entire Civil War may have been avoided if we had remained a member of the British Commonwealth.   Possible!   Or maybe that is why the Southern States were eager to join the "revolution" -  to preserve their "peculiar institution."  Who knows?

What historians can agree on, though, is that the American revolution was fought to preserve economic interests - often that of the landed gentry and the upper classes.   If they could get some farmers to join in on the grounds of "patriotism" so much the better.   And the same is true of the Civil War - they dragooned thousands of dirt-poor white-trash Southern farmers to fight for a cause - slavery - that was not their cause, as most never owned slaves.   Oh, and the Civil War was all about slavery - so let's not even go down that road.  Nice try, though.

Of course, we honor and cherish our heroes - brave souls who gave their all for their country.   But you talk to a lot of returning veterans - from World War II onward, and you find they have no such romantic views about war or sacrifice.  Maybe they have seen the horrors firsthand, and seen friends die in order to obtain an objective that, the next day, was irrelevant.   Or maybe they are just tired of the idea of going to war and dying simply because a bunch of other people have gotten it into their head that killing people is the only way to resolve a dispute.  It is hard to say.

All I can say is, I am not sure I would be willing to sacrifice my life for the current crop of politics.  I am not willing to go to war or die for the likes of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or indeed, Barack Obama.  Nor am I willing to obsess about any of them - to the detriment of my own mental, physical, and fiscal health.

Maybe - and this is a crazy idea, I know - if fewer people obsessed about politics and religion and didn't make it a life-or-death matter, than maybe we'd have less wars in the world.  Every time someone straps on a suicide vest - literally or metaphorically - the world is a slightly darker place.

As as for Barbara Bush, may she rest in peace.   No doubt she and I would not have gotten along.   But I could at least be civil to her!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Obsessing About Politics

People take politics too seriously.  When you wish ill-will on a sick old woman, it is time to step back and take stock of where you are going.

In two recent items in the news, news celebrities were taken to task for insulting comments they made about a young man from Parkland High School who is advocating for gun control.  These celebrity newscasters, among others, have gone beyond really debating the pros and cons of gun control, but have made it their job to personally attack this young man and say horrible and sometimes vicious things about him - suggesting violence or even death.

Sadly, this is the level of discourse in our country today with regard to politics.  People on both sides of the political spectrum take politics far too seriously.  And oddly enough, their political viewpoints are rather shallow - the "hooray for our side, too bad for the other guy!" kind of mentality that is only ankle-deep in thought.

It was reported in the news that Barbara Bush is seriously ill and is refusing further treatment.  It is likely that she will pass away soon.  A friend of mine who is on the far left said, when she heard this news, "Good!  She deserves to die!"  I was a bit taken aback by this as it seems rather harsh. Whatever the faults of her husband or her son as Presidents were,  I'm not sure that they are transferable to the elder Mrs. Bush.

Indeed, I don't think it would be proper to be wishing ill-health or death upon even either of the Bush Presidents.  Regardless of how you feel about their political views in their actions in office, I don't think wishing death upon them is appropriate.

But it is not a Left or Right thing.  Ted Nugent made headlines (and got a visit from the Secret Service) after he went on a rant and threatened to machine-gun President Obama and Hillary Clinton to death.   This is not deep political thought - just partisan nonsense.  Dangerous partisan nonsense.

Today, however, it seems this is the new norm.  Politics has become a contact sport.  And in contact sports it is an all-out effort to win at all cost, regardless of the damage to your opponents.

There was a time in this country when people had political opinions but didn't take them so seriously.  People would talk about politics and they would vote and there was about the extent of it.  They wouldn't hate their neighbor for having different political views, much less wanting to cause them harm or taking joy in their misfortunes.

Somewhere along the line - by design - we have been coached into this mentality where we not only disagree with our fellow citizens, but wish them ill will if they disagree with our political opinions. It's not enough that we want them to lose elections, but we want them to crawl into the grave and die.

And sadly, a few deranged minds act upon this mentality and take potshots at elected officials, sometimes scoring direct hits.  When we create an environment where politics are so highly charged and we view our opponents not as human beings but as mere objects, this is the inevitable outcome.

I'm quite certain that if I were to sit down with Barbara Bush, I would have a nice conversation with her, provided we didn't talk too much about politics.  But even then, I think we could have a civil discussion and I could respect her viewpoints and she likely would respect mine.  I may disagree with her, but I don't hate her for being who she is or having the experiences that she's had in her life that lead her to have the opinions that she does have.

Because that's all political opinions are - a result of our experiences and values that we develop as human beings.  And often these are based on our upbringing, our education, where we live, and who we interact with.  We may think our political opinions are deeply held personal values, but it is quite startling how people can change their mind about politics - often 180 degree turns, and often on more than one occasion.

The hippie that wants to burn down the system in 1968 and says "stick it to the man!" ends up becoming a yuppie in 1980 and votes for Ronald Reagan.  It is the same person with two diametrically opposed views.  And neither their views nor the person are abhorrent but rather quite normal.  Does the hippie of 1968 really want to murder the yuppie he becomes in 1980 or vice-versa?  I think not.  Yet today, people think nothing of wishing death on those who disagree with them - even if they may have disagreed with the themselves of a few short years ago.

We should debate the views, but not the person.  We need to stop turning politics into a series of personal attacks.  Because personal attacks don't address the underlying issues. And if the issues stand on their own, they don't need to rely on personal attacks.  One sure way to tell if someone is wrong in a political debate is if they resort to personal attacks.  Because that means they have nothing really to say to defend their viewpoint.

From a personal perspective, taking such extreme political views and obsessing about politics in general does absolutely nothing for your own personal bottom line.  It does not make you wealthier, or happier, or more productive.   On the contrary, it distracts you (again, by design) from your own life and your own business.  It alienates you from co-workers, friends, spouses, and potential clients and employers.  And such simmering anger can make you unhappy, mentally imbalanced, and even affect your physical health.

It's just bad for you, so don't do it.  All you are doing is giving up your own life to be a pawn in someone else's game.

* * *

HINT:  If you are talking with someone who has rabid political views diametrically opposed to your own, don't try to argue with them - it simply won't work, and you will just make an enemy out of a friend.   What I try to do is say, "Well, you might be right about that!" and change the subject.  They think you are agreeing with them, when in fact, you aren't.  Trying to "convert" people to your political point-of-view, I have learned, the hard way, is pointless.

The only thing more pointless, is getting into a political discussion with someone who agrees with you.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Devil Came Down To Georgia



The devil came down to Georgia in the form of ICE raids.

We drove into town today to get a massage.  As I noted in an earlier posting a massage can be very good for your health and helping straighten out your joints and bones and relaxing your muscles.

Afterwards we thought we drop by our favorite Mexican restaurant, La Salsa, to have some tacos al pastore and maybe a couple of cold Dos Equis beers.  But when we got there, the parking lot was empty.  I went to the restaurant and pulled on the door handle and founded firmly locked.  I went next door to the Tienda - the small Mexican market that does wire transfers and sells various sundries - but that was also locked.  What was really strange was that the park benches normally up in front of both businesses were placed inside, on their sides.  Apparently they were going to be closed for some time but also apparently closed in a real hurry.

I asked the neighboring businesspeople what happened to the restaurant, but they had no idea what was going on.  I had a sneaking suspicion - and an increasing dread - as to what was happening.  If I want to find out anything that's going on in the Mexican community in our town, I knew who to call - Pope Juan.

Our friend Juan works for the local Catholic Diocese.  He has his hand on the pulse of everything that's going on in the Latino community in Southeast Georgia.  We texted him and he responded that there's been a major ICE raid on our town and that things are "pretty bad."

I got to thinking about our favorite waiter at the restaurant.  We called him Clark Kent because he wore thick glasses like Superman's alter ego.  He was a handsome young lad who came here as a child - one of those "dreamers" that you hear about.  He hardly spoke any Spanish as he was raised in America.  And in fact our attempts at Spanglish fell on deaf ears as he was more proficient in English.

I worried about him and the other employees of the restaurant.  Would they be sent back to their own country?  Where was that Home Country exactly?  If they were sent back to El Salvador or some other crime-ridden country, it could be a death sentence.  Not only that, with all of their contacts and family in the United States, what would they do in a country that was foreign to them?  Our friend Clark barely spoke Spanish - how would he survive in a country where he had no family, no contacts, and could barely speak the lingo?

The irony, to me, was that we have a training center here in Brunswick call the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which  people refer to as "Flea-tech" or "Fletsie."  And every day, during the lunch hour, the FLETC trainees would come to this Mexican restaurant for lunch - many of them wearing ICE uniforms.  I wonder how many of the same people were involved in this roundup were arresting the very same people who are serving them tacos the day before.

Now granted, some of the folks they're rounding up came to United States illegally.  They did not have their proper citizenship papers or residency permits.  And under the law, they have no recourse other than to be sent back to their home country.  But it seems like there's something wrong when somebody is here for 10, 15, or 20 years only to be sent back at that later date.  Why, suddenly, do we feel these folks are a threat and need to be deported?

Under the law (actually, equity), we have concepts known as laches and estoppel as well as in real estate law something called "squatter's rights."   Basically, if you have legal rights to something and you "sit on your hands" for a decade or more, you are deemed to have voided your rights.

For example, if you get into a contract dispute with someone and you write them a letter telling them they are in violation of the contract and they need to cease and desist at once, and then you fail to follow up on that for a decade or more, your rights to sue might be voided.  The opponent could argue that your silence was an asset to their breach of the contract and your failure to take action over a long period of time voided their right to sue later on.  People have a right to rely on things being settled.

Similarly, if you occupy a dwelling or property openly and notoriously for a decade or more, in many states you may end up owning that propertyI wrote a blog entry on this before and noted that it's very hard to do.  If you occupy a house, pay the property taxes, and put your name on the mailbox make everybody aware that you live there, after 20 years the homeowner can't come back and say, "Hey, you have to leave! I own this place!"   He had 20 years to throw you out and he can't claim ignorance of the matter if your occupancy was open and notorious.

It seems to me that these legal concepts are analogous to the immigration situation.  We have allowed people to cross the border with a wink and a nod and have hired them in our economy to do essential jobs that no one else will take.  We haven't deported these people or in fact made any effort to track them down until now.  They have lived here openly and notoriously, often paying taxes at the jobs they work at.  And they have acted in reliance on the silence of the government as an asset to their living here.

Now, decades later, we say, "Gee, you're breaking the law!  You have to leave!" even though we've known about this for years and years and taken no action - and in fact benefited from their hard work in our society.

There's something else that disturbs me about this, at an emotional level as well. The idea of policemen rounding up people and hauling them off to detention camps - for-profit prisons run by friends of the President in fact - and holding them there for months at a time before shipping them off to these foreign countries seems somewhat Orwellian. Or perhaps even Naziesque.

When we have raids like this where the police swoop down and start hauling people away en mass, it makes me wonder how long it will be before they start hauling me away as well.

The devil has come down to Georgia.  And he walks the Earth in an ICE uniform.

I wonder if the folks from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center will have the balls to show up at this restaurant ever again.

What Is Attorney-Client Privilege? Not What You Think!

Many people misunderstand Attorney-Client privilege - even attorneys - and Presidents!

What is Attorney-Client privilege?  Simply stated, it is a right that may be asserted by a client to exclude evidence at trial, on the grounds that the evidence comprises confidential information communicated between a client and his attorney.  It is not the ability to keep things "secret" but rather to have them held inadmissible in court as evidence.  It cannot be used to further a criminal enterprise, nor can it be asserted by an attorney to shield himself from criminal liability.

Thus, for example, the FBI can raid the offices of your lawyer, if they suspect he is a corrupt lawyer or doing something illegal.  If attorney-client privilege prevented this, being a lawyer would be a license to unlimited criminality - or at least more than it is already.   You can't break the law and hide behind "privilege".   Oh, yea, I know, they do this all the time on television.   That's television, not reality.  Stop watching television!  It is rotting your mind!

Now, in some matters, it may be possible to keep documents "secret" up to a point, by claiming attorney-client privilege.   For example, in a civil suit, maybe there are some documents that include letters or memos to and from your attorney, that you claim privilege to.  During the "discovery" phase, your opponent makes a document request for a certain document.  You demur, claiming attorney-client privilege.  Your opponent challenges this in a hearing in court.  The judge may ask to see the document and review it in camera to determine whether it truly is privileged or not.   If he does not believe so, then the document may be provided to your opponent and perhaps admitted as evidence.

For example, during a patent case I was working on, we found a memo from the opponent's attorney saying that the Patent may be invalid because they filed it too late.  A disgruntled former employee of the company had a carbon copy of the memo.   For some reason, it was not on the opponent's privilege list - they claimed not to have a copy in their files!   We were aware of the document and it could have torpedoed their case as it was an admission that the patent was filed too late.   But, the opponent claimed the memo was protected by attorney-client privilege, and thus was inadmissible as evidence.  We had a hearing, and the judge reviewed the memo and agreed with our opponent.  If we were to prove the patent was invalid, we would have to do so through other means.  This did not mean the memo was kept secret form us or that we instantly forgot that it existed.  Of course, we could not disclose the contents to others.

The idea that you can keep things "secret" using privilege is thus flawed.   At the very least, a judge can review these documents, and your grounds for claiming privilege have to be pretty strong.   It is not a blanket proscription - you can't just take all the corporate records of your criminal enterprise, ship them to your attorney's office and claim "privilege."

My criminal law professor, Professor Starrs, used to tell us this, with regard to privilege.  "I tell my client, 'before you say anything, that if you tell me you are guilty, I will then fight to get you the most lenient sentence.  But if you don't tell me one way or another, then I will fight to make the prosecution prove its case.   Now, is there anything you want to tell me?'"   And usually, his clients would shut up at that point, rather than confess to him their crime.  As a lawyer, he could not argue his client was "innocent" when he knew him to be guilty.   But if he didn't know.... such is the fine line of legal ethics - at least for some lawyers.  Others simply don't care.

In other words, he can't be an accomplice to the crime, if he knows that a crime  has been committed or an ongoing criminal enterprise is functioning.   Obviously, other lawyers have different ethical standards than Professor Starrs.

But the idea that you can use a lawyer as a means of shielding your activities from public view or from the view of the police or the courts, is flawed.   You cannot avoid prosecution from crimes simply by claiming attorney-client privilege, if you and your attorney are in fact, partners in crime.

But again, a lot of people misunderstand this.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Pollen and Dust (and Home Pollen Filters)

It's that time of year again - pollen season!

Pollen season is just starting to wind down here in Georgia.  This year was really bad.  First the pine trees, which wasn't so bad, but then the oak trees, which laid me out for several days.   After a while, I was so angry about it, I wanted to murder an oak tree - take a chainsaw to the neighbor's oak and chop it into itty, bitty pieces.   But that would be illegal on our island, so I have to grin and bear it.

Pollen is an interesting beast.  It is basically the trees performing Bukakke on you (if you don't know what that means, Google it.  On second thought, better not!).  It is breeding season for the trees (and other plants) and they need to spread some DNA - all over you and your car.  Speaking of which, I use my car as a pollen level detector.  Since the truck has been outside during the garage makeover, it gets covered with yellow pollen.  Every day, I blast it with the hose, to clean it off.  The next day, I can see how much pollen fell in 24 hours.  Some days, it's like snow!

Pollen is basically tree sperm.  Your body reacts to it, thinking it is being invaded by foreign DNA (which, in a way, it is) and your immune system goes berserk, and you end up with a runny nose, clogged nasal passages, clogged ears, and post-nasal drip, and a nasty cough.  Throw in watery eyes and a feeling like you've been hit by a truck - what's not to like?

Some are more susceptible than others.  I never had a problem until I move to Washington - it is worse in the South.  And your reaction can change when you get older.  The use of antibiotics, some say, can make you more sensitive to allergens.

Of course, maybe I was sensitive to it before, but just didn't realize it.  Many people get a "spring cold" and a "fall cold" and think it is a virus - when it could be pollen or other allergens clogging you up. I take an antihistamine to tamp down the allergic reaction, and if I get clogged up, a decongestant.  It can be serious stuff.  When I moved to Virginia, I got a series of nasal infections and ear infections (the latter of which damaged my hearing).  You let that fester long enough, and it could kill you.

Every year, too late into the game, we realize we should be running our HEPA filters.  We have three of them, and they do really help get rid of dust in the air.   If you have a forced-air furnace or A/C, then you have such a filter built-in to your house.  Instead of those lame fiberglass filters, you can install a HEPA type filter in your furnace and it will take out an amazing amount of particulates from the air.  Just set the unit to "Fan: ON" so the fan runs all the time, until pollen season is over.  You should change the filter at least monthly, if you are using the fan a lot.

It reduces dust and pollen throughout the house.  And that's why I get a laugh when the shills on the "Hydronic Heating is a Gift from God" discussion group, gripe about forced air systems.  "It blows around all that dust!" they say.   But it does just the opposite - it sucks it all up.   I never had such a dusty house as we did when we had a hydronic heating system - there was no air movement, so dust just accumulated - and accumulated.

Most dust is you.  Literally, you are living in your own filth.  As you walk and talk and eat and sleep, you eject millions - maybe billions - of dead skin cells like a porcupine ejecting quills.   All over the house.  Little microscopic mites eat them.  Ugh.  If you use a HEPA filter, you will find grey dust in it (the same dust as in your vacuum cleaner bag).  That's you.  That's your dead skin.   Disgusting, but there you have it.  Quentin Crisp once remarked that after four years the amount of dirt in his apartment would just even out.  He later admitted he was wrong.  And who wants to live like that?

One of the filters we have is a fancy Bionaire model BAP-1175.  It works OK - Mark bought it at Linen's N Things about 20 years ago.   Lately, they have been getting very bad reviews - arriving broken.  The real problem is, it takes special cartridges which cost almost as much as the machine. And you can't wash them - or at least they say not to.  I do anyway.   It is quiet, though.  We have two "Quietflow" models from Hunter, model 30215, which isn't as fancy, but seems to work as well.  The nice thing is, it takes a standard 16x14x1 furnace filter, which I can buy online for cheap - and then throw them away on a monthly basis.  Maybe they aren't the recommended filter and maybe they aren't as effective, but they seem to catch a lot of particulate!

Do they make a difference?  Between the three filters and the furnace filter (with the furnace fan running all the time) the dust level in the house is cut down dramatically.  We also sleep better and feel better, during pollen season - until we go outside, that is.

I think also, after a few days or weeks, your body does adjust to the environment.  Your immune system figures out that the pollen isn't a threat and basically gives up or at least calms down a bit.

Pollen - what's not to like?

Cheat on Your Taxes?


Cheat on your taxes, don't be a fool - What's that you said about a golden rule?

A reader asks whether people cheat on their taxes a lot, and if so, how - and what are "audit bait" types of things that the IRS looks for.   I am not sure what the reader is asking for - a roadmap to tax evasion?   If so, look elsewhere!

But it is a valid question.  One reason people hate our existing tax system is that it can be complicated and leave you with a FOMO situation - where you think other people are cheating and maybe you should be, too.  Or that you are trying to be as honest as possible, but will be caught by the IRS for making some stupid math error, and then crucified in the public square as an example to others.

The reality is, of course, that for most of us, cheating on taxes, in any big way, is nearly impossible to do.   And under the new tax law, there is even less incentive to do so.

But in order to understand this, you have to understand how it is possible (and nearly impossible) to cheat on your taxes.   There are basically two ways - under-report income, or over-report deductions (or tax credits, or dependents).  In both cases, the IRS can easily check this, so it makes no sense to attempt it.

For us salary-slaves in the middle-class, our income is reported to the IRS on a form W-2.   Income from investments and the like is reported on a form 1099.   Even for self-employed people, income gets reported by the people who pay you, on a form 1099-MISC.   So, for example, in my law practice, about 3/4ths of my income gets reported by my clients to the IRS by 1099-MISC forms they file.  And they file these forms, as they want to claim my fees as a business expense, and they can't do that unless they report these on a 1099!  So it is a closed ecosystem - not much income doesn't get reported.

But what about that other 1/4 of my income?   Well, I get paid by check or direct deposit or credit card - all of which leave a paper trail.   And since I want to track my clients' invoices and make sure I am getting paid, I have my own records of these payments on Quickbooks.   So even though this isn't reported to the IRS, there are records which can be easily obtained by the IRS during an audit.   So there is little point in trying to "hide" this income - you are just setting yourself up for a fall.

You see, there are two levels of penalty for cheating the government.  If you make a mistake on your taxes and forget to carry the three or slip a decimal point, they can assess a penalty for late payment of your taxes - plus interest.  That hurts, but it's just money.   But if you intentionally try to cheat the government, then you may face criminal charges and go off to jail, like Leona Helmsley did.   So it makes no sense to intentionally try to cheat the government - although a lot of people try, every year, and fail.

People with cash businesses - like small corner convenience stores - often keep cash from transactions and fail to report it.  These are the folks whose homes get broken into and are held hostage until they open the home safe and give the thieves tens of thousands of dollars.  Sort of a Karma thing there - ain't it?   But it goes beyond that.  Even if you could hoard this money and not report it to the IRS, it would be hard to spend.   Any transaction over $10,000 has to be reported to the IRS - and trying to avoid this rule by making deposits for $9,999 is called "structuring" and is also illegal.  You can't win at cheating, so why bother?

This is why I say, even if you "found" a million dollars in a sack by the side of the road, it would be damn hard to spend any of it - without declaring it as income and paying the IRS first.  And organized crime does this - using retail businesses as money-laundering venues, passing cash into the business and then declaring it as legitimate income.  Casinos work the same way - you take cash in, buy some chips, then cash out.  They give you a check, and you declare it as "gambling winnings" and pay taxes on it.   These are the "whales" the Casinos talk about - not real winners, but likely money launderers.   But the government is cracking down on even that.

So not declaring income is really problematic.  And in terms of audit-bait, the number one sure way to be audited is to file a return that does not declare income that the IRS has already received a 1099 on.  The computer will simply spit it out.   If it is a small amount (like $150 you got in interest payments and forgot to claim) they may simply amend your return for you and adjust your refund - as happened to me once.   Again, they IRS understands the difference between "honest mistake" and "outright fraud" - but the fear of the IRS is something that is useful to them, so they don't go out of their way to tamp down stories about the big, mean, IRS taking away people's money.

And by the way, most of the stories you read along those lines are about people who intentionally tried to hide income or take bogus deductions and really had it coming to them.  When you cheat on your taxes, big time, for ten years in a row, well, why should we feel sorry for you?

But getting back to cheating - deductions are the far more common way of "cheating" and a little harder for the IRS to detect.  But the new tax law, which doubles the standard deduction, may make this a moot point.  What's the point of claiming bogus charity deductions if your standard deduction is so much higher?

Again, there are "red flags" that can trigger an audit if you make too many of the wrong kind of deductions.   For example, if you make donations to charity under a certain limit (I believe $500 - check with your accountant, as tax law is fluid) you are not required to show a receipt to prove this.  So a lot of people who itemize will put down $450 in clothing donations or whatnot.   And I suspect the IRS knows this is bogus but doesn't care.  Because in the greater scheme of things, it means an adjustment to your taxes of maybe a couple hundred bucks, tops.   And if you can make the person filing taxes feel nervous that somehow they cheated - even a little bit that helps keep them in line.

But even a lot of deductions are reported to the IRS or are part of your bank records.  Your mortgage interest, for example, is reported on a form.   Your Obamacare subsidies and payments are reported on a form.   So the big deductions are hard to fake.   And even smaller ones - you should be able to produce a cancelled check, bank record, or receipt, should you be audited.

Of course, there are really stupid ways of cheating, such as trying to claim your dog as a dependent.  This sort of nonsense will land you in a world of woe, as if you are ever audited, it is a pretty simple matter to prove you cheated and moreover did it intentionally.  Again, intent is the key.  The tax code isn't simple.   I've taken several semesters of Calculus and even Number Theory, and still the numbers seem to float off the page if I tried to do taxes myself.  In previous years, I used TurboTax.  This year, I hired my late Dad's accountant, as she handled the taxes on my Mother's small trust.  Her fees were not much more than TurboTax charged - and a lot less hassle.  And I felt better having a "second set of eyes" on my taxes.

For people who are self-employed or run small businesses, there are more temptations.   Leona Helmsley went to jail in part because she did stupid things like try to claim her girdle as a "uniform" expense.   And she said out loud, in front of her maid, that she knew this was wrong.  Again, making an honest mistake might result in a penalty and interest, intentionally defrauding the IRS can result in jail time.

I've always been pretty conservative in taking deductions for business expenses.  Others are not.  My accountant always nags me to find more deductions.   The IRS uses certain ratios of expenses to deductions to flag returns for audit (in addition to random returns that are flagged).   So if you claim a huge amount of deductions relative to income, you may be audited.

A friend of mine who was a real estate agent was also an auditor for the IRS.  And the deductions he took, scared me to death.  But he wasn't worried - not because he had an "in" with the agency (indeed, I suspect they are hardest on their own) but because he knew the rules and the trip-wires that would trigger an audit.

So, for example, he leased a brand-new Range Rover and deducted the entire cost as an expense of his Real Estate business - he needed the car to show prospective clients around.  And this is a legitimate expense, too.   But it does illustrate the fallacy of chasing deductions in the tax code.  He still had to pay for that overwrought POS British-made car (whose air suspension never worked right - the car would go down the road tilted sideways).   The tax code is not an investment guide and you can't deduct your way to wealth.   I suspect he would have been better off buying a more plebian car and putting the difference into an IRA or 401(k) - both of which, by the way, are deductions also.

But it is expected that if you have your own business, you may deduct telephone and internet expenses - which may be personal expenses otherwise.  And a home office is no longer "audit bait" in this modern era of people who work from home.   Unless, of course, you are not self-employed.  If you have a W-2 and a home office deduction, you may be in trouble - consult your accountant!

Similarly, setting up a "hobby business" for the purposes of deducting your life expenses is sure audit-bait, no matter what some click-bait sites claim.  My Mother fell into this trap with her bookstore, which lost money nearly every year.  After five years or so, the IRS audited her (again, another tripwire - a business that loses money for several years and never shows a profit).   She was incensed when the auditor mentioned "hobby business".   Mother thought this was a personal attack on her store, not a term of art used in the tax business.   Lesson learned - show a profit every few years and avoid an audit.  And you can do this by not claiming some deductions you are entitled to.

But even that will not protect you from audit if you have a real "hobby business" - that is to say, taking a personal hobby and trying to use it for the purposes of deductions.  For example, Clem likes old cars. He has '57 Chevy in the garage.  He claims to have a "business" in old cars, and claims deductions for travel expenses to car shows and auctions, as well the cost of gas, insurance, and parts for his car (which he depreciates as an asset).  This offsets his income as a Dentist, so it reduces his taxes.   But unless he actually sells something and makes money at this, it really is just a "hobby business" for tax purposes - taking a personal hobby and trying to claim it as a deduction.  This is illegal and I would not suggest it!

On the other hand, if he makes replica trim pieces for '57 Chevies and sells them at car shows and online, and occasionally makes a profit at this, he may be able to legitimately claim this as a business.  Again, consult your tax adviser - there is a fine line here you can cross between legitimate and hobby business.

Now that I am retired, I don't have to worry much about taxes.  With no mortgage interest to pay and a huge standard deduction (Thank you President Trump?) I no longer have to itemize my taxes.  And indeed, since I am living largely on after-tax income, I have little income on which to pay taxes.  The net result is, there is little incentive for me to "hide" income - and indeed, I cannot realistically hide it, as every investment firm I am with reports everything on 1099 forms.   And since I take the standard deduction, I have no incentive to be "creative" in taking deductions.

And maybe that was the point of the new tax law - to make taxes simpler for the masses, and also so they didn't feel they were "cheating" with deductions or that they were "missing out" by not taking some sketchy deduction.  If so, it was a clever law.   You no longer have to feel guilty about something when you file your tax return!

California Cancer Warning and The Boy Who Cried Wolf

When absolutely everything is labeled a carcinogen, then nothing is a carcinogen.

I ordered a new hall-tree and hat rack for the garage makeover.  It gives us a place to sit down and put on our shoes, and a place to store hats and jackets.   It's OK, I guess - sort of an IKEA-style particle-board POS that you assemble with barrel nuts.   It's fine for the garage, but I would not put it in the house, of course.  By the way, Wayfair seems to change prices in real-time.   The listed price for this item is nearly $100 more than I paid for it!

It came with about six "California Proposition 65" cancer warnings, which we all end up seeing these days, as if you want to sell product in California, you have to put these stupid labels on everything - and they are seen by people who don't even live in California.  And indeed, they are on everythingThe latest victim is coffee. A "non-profit" citizens advocate group (did the citizens vote for them?) sued the coffee roasters and won a "settlement" (I wonder who gets the money?).  So now coffee is labeled a carcinogen.

The problem with this well-intentioned law, is that it has backfired.   It is a classic example of the boy who cried wolf - so many things are now labeled as carcinogens, that no one will take the warnings seriously.  And there are a lot of things that can cause cancer.  The sun.  The air (when polluted).  The water (ditto).  And of course, the biggies - smoking, asbestos, and toxic chemicals - in large concentrations.   But coffee?   Furniture?   It is hard to parse.

The problem with this law is multifold.  First of all, it was a voter-initiative proposition, which are damn hard to get rid of, once they are enacted.  California's experiment with direct democracy has resulted in insanity, in some instances.  Cut our taxes!  Make corporations pay!  Mark everything as cancerous!  It gives liberalism a bad name.  Come election time - in the rest of the country - the Republicans need only point to California and say, "Is this really how you want to live?  Paying $1.5 Million to live in a ghetto and pay 70% of your income in taxes?  Really?"

And it doesn't matter if it is true or not - if the President tweets it, his followers believe it.   And they've seen enough of these bogus "cancer warning" stickers to validate the issue.

The second thing is, it negates real science and gives people the impression that real cancer warnings are bogus.   "Smoking is bad for you?  HA!  They said the same thing about coffee!  You can't trust those scientists - they don't know what they are talking about!"

The idea behind the law was valid - give people the opportunity to look at a product and determine whether it has carcinogens in it or not - and then make a judgement as to whether to buy and consume that product.   In theory, it would result in a more well-informed consumer and a better marketplace. Vendors would seek to eliminate carcinogens in their products, as it would help sales.   But the reality is, of course, it is nearly impossible to eliminate every single carcinogen from every product. Because every single thing in the world has the potential to cause cancer.

And when every single thing is marked as cancerous, then the law no longer has any valid effect. The consumer cannot make an "informed choice" other than to simply not consume at all, starve to death, and crawl into the grave - the exact outcome the law was designed to avoid.  So the marketplace is not better informed by these warnings, it simply creates a useless regulation that is complied with by slapping stickers on everything.  In fact, as a manufacturer or vendor, it is simply safer to put these stickers on, rather than try to determine whether the chemicals in your products actually do cause cancer - and to try to eliminate them.  No one cares anyway, and since everything has such a label, no one is the wiser.

Cancer is not some abnormality or "disease" that you catch like a cold.  It is the background noise of life.  Your DNA comes unraveled over time, and occasionally some cell will go berserk and take over your body - killing it in the process.  This is why God (or Darwin, or both) decided that it would be a better idea if each generation produced new, fresh offspring, untainted by cosmic rays, excessive sunshine, and exposure to an environment that is constantly trying to kill them (and eventually succeeding, in all cases).  The model of making people live forever, just doesn't jive with survival of the fittest.

So, if you live long enough, you get cancer.  Period.  For men, this means prostate cancer - we all get it, eventually.  But something else kills us long before it does.  And by the time "something else" kills us, we've all had a chance to sneak one by the goalie and produce a little carbon-copy (so we believe) of ourselves.  The replicator lives!

The problem is, it is getting harder and harder to take California seriously.  And sadly, this nonsense isn't dampening down, but accelerating.  As the far-right moves further right, the far-left moves even further to wackier left.  Guaranteed Annual Income!  Tax the 1%'ers!  Outlaw firearms!  The message on both sides resonates with fewer and fewer people.  And the last time the world was this polarized - in the 1930's - bad, bad, bad things happened.

The entire Magic Kingdom is apparently a big toxic waste dump.  Or is it?