Friday, May 26, 2017

Whitewall Tires

One of the more interesting footnotes in Automotive History is the rise of the whitewall tire and its successor the raised white letter Tire.

Most people don't think about it, but tires don't necessarily have to be black.  In fact if you look at early photographs of automobiles you will see many with white or gray tires and quite a few with black tires.  Black was sort of settled upon as a color for tires probably due to the lowest possible cost of coloring the rubber with carbon black.

In recent years, manufacturers have experimented with different colored tires, but they have yet to catch on with the public, other than for bicycle tires.  One tire manufacturer proposed making tires in a variety of colors.  One ridiculous objection made to this concept was that "street gangs" would use colored tires to lay patch marks to "mark their territories."  This seems like a ridiculous reason not sell a product, but all the car mags dutifully reported it.  I think the real reason was that customer demand simply wasn't there.  Who wants red tires with a blue car or vice-versa?

Odd colored tires are making a comeback in the bicycle arena, with beach bikes and the like, and even with more serious bikes, with colors such as red, blue, yellow, tan and whatnot being offered. However car tires remain stubbornly black - at least for the time being.

Whitewall tires are a prime example of a status object attached to automobiles.  There really is no reason for a tire to have white walls other than for appearance purposes.  For my father's generation, whitewall tires were sign that you had made it.  Only poor people had blackwall tires.  Thus, my father always insisted on having whitewall tires on his car, even as they fell from favor in the mid-to-late 1970s.

But another trend started to arrive about the same time that whitewall tires fell from grace.  Raised white letter tires or "RWL" with the name of the tire company emblazoned on the side of the tire, became popular.  Why would this become a thing?  It started in racing, as so many automotive trends do, based on marketing, not performance.

Tire manufacturers wanted their names emblazoned on the side of race car tires so that when viewers watched the races they would see the manufacturer's name slowly spinning around as the race car approach or left pit row.  This raised the level of awareness of the brand names such as Firestone and in particular, Goodyear.

Young men across the country like to ape the characteristics of performance cars and race cars in their own more plebeian rides.  Thus, in a monkey see - monkey do fashion, they would see tires with raised white letters on race cars on television and then decide they would be a nice addition to Dad's old Oldsmobile they had inherited.

Thus, raised white letters became a thing.  They were seen as an indication that the buyer was sophisticated and performance-oriented and moreover, had spent the money on expensive performance tires as evidenced by the raised white letters.  Of course, raised white letters do nothing to enhance or detract from the performance of a tire.  They are merely add a moderate amount of increased cost to the tire, and have a free advertisement for the tire manufacturer on the sidewall.

(It should be noted that for a brief period in the late 1960's, "redline" tires were a thing - serious performance tires were marked with a thin red line on the sidewalls.  However, it never took off as a mainstream trend.  In recent years, some luxury car tires have been marketed with gold bands on them, but this seems to be limited to the urban markets).

The raised white letter tire lead to the outlined white letter or "OWL" tire which gave the tire company greater real estate to advertise their name and logo.   Since the lettering was larger, it was more prone to wearing off if you rubbed up against a curb, which often exposed an entire layer of white beneath the white lettering of a time.   In fact, one fellow on YouTube has shown how to "make" whitewall tires by scrubbing off the outer black layer from OWL or RWL tires, although it probably is not recommended by the tire companies.
Oddly enough, by the 1990s blackwall tires were making a comeback.  Many manufacturers, critically low cost Japanese manufacturers, were putting blackwall tires on their cars in a bid to save money and offer lower prices.  Also, and a nod again to racing heritage, blackwall tires were seen as more "serious" tires than raised white letter tires which were viewed as something more and more shod on such gaudy pretentious vehicles as a '79 Trans Am or the like.

Suddenly, just as whitewalls marked my Dad as an aging lamer, raised white letter tires marked you as a pretentious wannabe racer.   The new wave of German performance sedans from Mercedes and BMW came shod with oh-so-serious blackwalls.  Only idiots and lamers had whitewalls or RWL tires!

The common denominator, course is status and marketing.  Whitewall tires were sold during my Dad's heyday as a means of distinguishing one owner from another as being from different social classes or having different status levels.   If you had the money, you bought whitewalls or the "deluxe" model which came with them.  Poor folks had to make do with blackwalls.  The raised white letter and outlined white letter tires were designed to enhance the status of the owner by marking them appears to be serious performance drivers.  Coming full circle, the blackwall tire is now seen as the serious tire for performance or luxury car drivers, with whitewalls and RWL or OWL tires being seen as redneck accessories or limited for use on pickup trucks.

Of course, the problem with blackwall tires is no one can see the brand name of them, and moreover there is little difference in appearance between performance tires and basic economy tires for mom's old grocery-getter shitbox.  Tire manufacturers will have to come up with some new way of distinguishing their tires.

And in a way, they already have.   Many manufacturers are resorting to using various forms of rippling and patterning on the sidewalls of their tires to create visual effects distinguishing them from other tires and to make logos more visible.  Even as blackwalls predominate, the manufacturers come up with new ways to market status.

Perhaps down the road we will see this come full-circle, as tire manufacturers once again try to distinguish their brand from others and offer different levels of marketing to different consumers. Again, tires can be made in almost any color of the rainbow, so it doesn't seem that the tire manufacturers have fully exhausted their options yet.

Perhaps in the near future we will see the resurgence of interest in colored tires or at least tires with colored stripes or inserts.  Of course the problem with this approach is that one color of tire may clash with the color of the vehicle body and thus a manufacturer would have to offer an array of colors, which would create inventory problems.  And maybe right there is why the colored tire never took off.   Basic black does go with everything!

The point is, and I did have one, this is yet another prime example of how we are marketed to and asked to pay more for a product, merely for appearance's sake.   Most of us, other than antique car or hot-rod enthusiasts, never cared much about what color our sidewalls were or whether they said things on them.  And yet, the majority of us paid extra for whitewalls back in the day without really understanding why we were doing it.

We bought "whitewalls" in the 1940's through the 1960's because we were sold on the idea they were upscale.   We bought RWL or OWL tires for the same reason in the subsequent decades.   Blackwalls came back into fashion in recent years as "seriousness" and "quality" became selling points for cars.   In an era where gas was rationed and cars fell apart the day after warranty, people started to look at quality as an indicia of status.   You wanted to look smart by buying a Camry or Volvo - only a doofus would buy some lame American car with whitewalls or RWL tires.   Seriousness was the new status in a more serious world.

So maybe colored tires or whitewalls won't make a comeback - unless somehow they can be marketed as upscale, serious, sporty, intimidating, or imbued with some other status hook.

No One Is To Blame?

Is a blame-free society a good thing?

Ben Carson, who appears to be taking some sort of really relaxing drug most of the time, got into hot water the other day for mentioning in passing "the poverty mindset" which is a term that has been used by a lot of people in studying the causes of poverty.  Carson is no rocket scientist, to be sure, but the media's knee-jerk reaction to his comment is sort of sickening.   How dare he imply that the poor might be responsible in any way for their own plight?

This latter mantra seems to be a talisman of the far-Left - that poverty is like the weather, and is just something that "happens" to some folks for no reason at all - except the fault of big corporations, racism, or other outside actors.   People who have money obviously came into it through nefarious means or were just "lucky".   The only rational solution to this problem is to take money away from some people and give it to others.
While people are often victims of circumstance, often these circumstances are enhanced by their own folly.   You may be born into poverty, but you remain there because you take out payday loans or pay $25 to cash a check, or you rent $2000 rims for a $500 car or you rent a $200 television for $1000.   Making poor financial choices is often what keeps people in poverty.   Oddly enough, on many liberal media sites are articles defending these bad financial choices often for very specious reasons.   Using a payday loan is a "logical" choice, we are told, as the poor have no other means of juggling their finances.

On right-wing media sites, these institutions that exploit the poor are defended on other grounds - that they are "free enterprise" and the government should not interfere with private financial decisions, even if they are ruinous.   But of course, these are arguments made by the guy who owns the payday loan store, so you see where he is going with it.   And oddly enough, while he may vote Trump and decry "welfare", the right-winger secretly hopes that the government hands out more money to the poor, because this money will eventually end up in his hands.

Subsidies to the poor often end up as subsidies to the very rich.   Wal-Mart loves food stamps.  People buy things at their store with them, and their employees can be paid less because of them.   While the GOP talks a good game about ending government "handouts" I suspect that once these plans make their way through Congress, they will be diluted severely - not by Democrats, but by Republicans representing business interests.

But I digress.

The point is, we seem to be increasingly willing to let people skate on personal responsibility these days - or at least some people.    The poor are sainted and have special magickal powers (according to Hollywood) or at least are more "spiritual" than us middle-class people.   They are in no way responsible for their plight, and thus deserve our undivided sympathy.   To suggest anything else is to be a cruel, heartless, mean bastard.   After all, they are starving while we have plenty!

But of course, few are starving in this country other than children whose parents spend the WIC money on crack, and of course, supermodels.   We have the fattest poor people on the planet.   Oh, but right, the Left has an answer for that - they are "forced" to buy those high-carb foods at Wal-Mart because they don't know any better.   Well isn't not knowing any better at least partially their fault?

But it doesn't end with the poor.   Criminals - who by and large come from the impoverished class - are always worthy of our sympathy, no matter how many people they have robbed, maimed, raped, or killed.   Particularly if the crime happened "a long time ago" - like 10 years or so - we can forget about the victims and concentrate on how the criminal had a poor upbringing and thus his crimes were not his fault.

Even if the criminal had a privileged upbringing - and perhaps especially so - we can argue that his privilege skewed his mind so that his horrific crimes were not his fault.   This trend arguably started with the Leopold and Loeb trial, where Clarence Darrow made the then-novel argument that "society is to blame" and saved his clients from the electric chair.   Today, putting society on trail - along with the victim - is standard operating procedure for any defense attorney.   Being raised in poverty or by abusive parents excuses horrific behavior.

But of course, this raises the question:  What about people who are raised in poverty or to abusive parents who end up not being serial killers?    For some reason, we assume that every person who has a bad background will inevitably have a bad outcome.   But some folks - most in fact - rise above these misfortunes and become successful, normal people.   I mentioned before how friends of mine, raised in a West Virginia trailer park or the ghetto of South Philadelphia, rose above their backgrounds and became successful designers and lawyers.   We negate free will when we posit that how you are raised determines how you will live, period.

The blame-free mentality, however, goes far beyond discussions about criminals and the poor, but has crept up into the ranks of the middle-class.   And this is where this topic intersects with this blog.   As I have mentioned time and time again, the point of my blog was not to discuss poverty - because quite frankly, the chronically poor will always remain so (topic for my next posting) exactly because of this poverty mindset that Carson alluded to.   What is tragic is the middle-class is sliding down the economic ladder into poverty these days, and the poverty mindset, or more precisely, the blame-free society is, I think a major cause of this problem.

We are told by the media that the middle-class is shrinking and that this is the fault of the very rich.   The only solution is to redistribute the wealth.   An interesting argument, and one made decades ago when discussing the very poor.   Wealth distribution has gone upscale, with the middle-class signing on to this form of socialism - something they would have been horrified to do in the past.   And maybe this victim-mentality is why the middle-class is rapidly losing out.

Take the housing crises, for example.   If you read the papers, you'd think this was the fault of Wall Street, the big banks, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, developers, and whatnot.   If you are an alt.right nutjob, you go out on a limb and claim that Bill Clinton planned the whole thing more than a decade earlier, through something called the "Community Reinvestment Act".   But you'd be a right-wing nutjob to think that, let me be clear.  Save the e-mails, I won't be convinced otherwise.

Nowhere in this equation, whether it is approached from the Left or the Right is the startling idea that people who signed loan documents on houses they could not afford were to blame for this problem.   No one makes the argument that people drive home prices from the bottom-up, not builders or real-estate agents from the top-down.   And if you still have trouble getting your head around this, ask yourself why home prices collapsed in 2008.   It wasn't that builders decided to cut their prices by 2/3 or more, it was lack of demand from the marketplace.   I mean, after all, why would a builder, developer or seller voluntarily lower their prices if they truly controlled the market?

People - yes people - signed loan documents on something called a "liar's loan" and wondered why it went bust.   People - you and I - paid more for a house than it would ever be worth, paying 2-3 times the market rent in monthly payments.   People were lead to believe that you could buy a house and it was so fucking precious that it would be worth 20-30% more than they paid for it, in a year or less.

People caused the housing meltdown, not huge corporations or banks or whatever.   You could argue that the banks facilitated the mess by offering "liar's loans" with no documentation.  You could argue that the real estate industry hyped these properties.   All of that would be true.  But it was individual buyers who bought into the con, one at a time.   Who do you blame when the snake-oil salesman comes into town?  The salesman, or the rubes who buy his worthless tonic?   When someone buys a timeshare, is the timeshare company guilty of fraud, or the buyer guilty of stupidity?

And what about people like me who saw this whole thing playing out and sold out of the market?   Was I exploited by the big banks?  Or was I an exploiter because someone came to me unsolicited and offered me double my money for properties I owned?

Or what about people who bought houses they could afford on rational 30-year fixed notes that had reasonable monthly payments?   How come we clamor to "bail out" the homeowner who bought the luxury home he could not afford - using the tax dollars of the guy who bought the house he could afford?  Aren't we punishing rational behavior and rewarding irrational behavior if we do this?

You see where this is going.  Increasingly, the middle-class is being told that their spendthrift behavior and lack of discipline are not the cause of their difficulties.   The union guy who demands 2-3 times prevailing wages for substandard work and goes out on strike for six years isn't culpable when the factory closes.   People who fail to save for retirement or fail to buy health insurance because they'd rather have a new motorcycle are not to blame for their predicament.   The family that racks up credit-card debt and pays it off with a succession of home-equity loans isn't to blame when it all comes tumbling down in bankruptcy.

It all has to be someone else's fault? right?   This is just human nature at work.   You see a small child spill their milk and then cry "unfair!  unfair!" as if someone else spilt their milk for them.   Here's a clue kid:  It was probably those evil 1%'s - the Illuminati likes to do shit like that to little kids!   Get a protest sign!  Mom will surely pour you another glass as a result!

No one, myself included, likes to look inwardly and say, "Gee, suppose I did something different?  Maybe my outcome would have been different?"
And that right there is why the blame-free model is harmful to society.  When we take away incentives to succeed and punishments for failure, we sink to the lowest common denominator in a culture.   Why bother trying when you can sit back and take no risks at all and still win?   And if you do try, well, when you win there will be no rewards.

We have to move away from this blame-free model of society.    We have to hold people at least partially responsible for the negative actions that lead them to where they are - and reward them for positive actions when appropriate.   And we have to completely rid our society of this mindset that certain groups of people are always blame-free for their situations in life and that to even question this premise is not allowed.

Otherwise, nothing will get better, on a personal level, or a national one.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Political Stylings Revisited

How can you switch from Neo-Nazi to Muslim?   Only when you really don't believe in either, but are just posturing.  Few people really can "be themselves" these days, but instead choose caricatures instead.

I wrote before about political styling - people adopt political or even religious personas in order to find an identity for themselves, or be accepted by a group.  And often they have no clue what they are doing.

Today in the papers, a bizarre example.   A young man falls in with neo-Nazi roommates and gets involved in serious Nazi sites.  They have bomb-making and radioactive materials in the apartment and attend Nazi events.   Just as suddenly, he decides to become a devout Muslim, and murders his roommates, claiming that Americans are bombing "his country" - even though he is as white as Wonder Bread.  Scary thing is, he's in the military.

What is up with this bizarre situation?  Mental illness surely is a big part of it.   And mentally ill people will latch onto any cause to be part of it.   But I think the political styling aspect of it is important as well.   People today have no sense of history, so to them, Nazi is just another flavor of political thought, one that is convenient if you are young, white, and male, too.   And Muslim is another flavor-of-the-month, heavily advertised by the media.   Why not try that, even if you were raised Catholic and have no real interest in it?

I recall an incident with a young woman who knocked on the door of my apartment once.  She was friends with the neighbors upstairs and was waiting for them to come home.  She asked if she could use my restroom, and being a nice guy I said yes.  Some friends came over and maybe we got high, and I forgot she was in there until my friend's wife wanted to use the bathroom.  We realized she had been in there for an hour.  When we finally broke the door down, she was obsessively folding and re-folding her clothes into a suitcase - she was batshit crazy.  OCD.

My neighbors upstairs were Orthodox Jews.  They told me this lady had "latched on" to them and was harassing them.  She claimed she wanted to convert to Orthodox Judaism, and he explained to her that you really have to marry into that religion - and even then....  She had no real interest in being Jewish, she was just crazy.   And it seemed like being Jewish would provide some sort of identity to her.

I think a lot of young people today fall into this trap - as young people yesterday did as well.  As I nearly did.   Whether it was being a hippy, a disco dude, a yuppie, a skater boy, a rap star, or whatever, it is all too easy to adopt an "identity" that is not you, and get sucked into the rabbit-hole.  You immerse yourself in a stereotype of an identity rather than living your own life.  It is comforting - identities provide you with a road-map of behaviors.  You just follow the plan, even if it is self-destructive like "gang-banger" or "Emo-girl" or today the "Hipster" with Jihadi beard and Hitler haircut.

And maybe this is why some middle-class kid from Minnesota ends up fighting for ISIS or becoming a bride of ISIS.  It sounds like fun and all, online.   And maybe being "online" on "Social Media" is far more evil than we are willing to admit.   Well, I am willing to admit it - I think it is the worst thing to come out of the 21st Century.   No one was every saved from a burning building by a Facebook post.  No one ever was rescued by a Tweet.   But people have been bullied to death or indoctrinated into radical religious and political philosophies all the time.  And many a career has ended with one poorly-thought-out Tweet or Facebook posting.

Time was, you seriously thought about this shit before you pledged your life to it.   You didn't switch from Democrat to Republican or vice-versa overnight, in some road-to-Damascus transition.  It took time for P.J. O'Rourke to go from liberal Democrat to Republican asshole, or for "Senator" Al Franken to go from Homophobic jerk to poster-boy of the far-Left.

Today?  With a click of a mouse, you can adopt a new political or religious persona literally overnight.   From Nazi to Muslim - pretty much an ideological 180, if not at least a 90 (Yes, I am aware, that some Arabs were in the SS during World War II - and both groups hate Jews).

Maybe, just maybe, this will be a wake-up call that Social Media isn't the benign force that people believe it to be - a place to trade recipes and post cute cat videos.   Sadly, it is increasingly a place for radical thought and the pitchfork mentality.  Both are a threat to our society and civilization.

Signing Your Life Away

We used to have a saying "signing your life away" and today it is more real than ever.

When I was a kid, my parents used to say that the neighbor, who had a new Cadillac, got it by "signing his life away".   You could have anything in life you wanted, but you literally had to do a deal with the devil (the finance company) by signing your life away.

I don't hear this phrase bandied about so much anymore, which is a shame, as more and more people today are doing just that - signing loan documents that can last for decades or even a lifetime and in fact bankrupt them or keep them in penury for the rest of their lives.

And maybe that is why the phrase has fallen from fashion - it is too close to reality for many Americans.

The funny thing is, if you listen to the media, you might come away with the impression that the only way to go to college these day is to sign your life away.  The only way to buy a house is to sign your life away.  The only way to own a car, boat, or RV, is to sign your life away.  And many people do just that - signing odious loan documents than will haunt them for decades.

But is it really a mandate or just poor financial planning?   I know young people today who are in college who have modest amounts of student loan debt - or no debt at all.   Despite all the hoopla about being "helplessly buried in student loan debt" the average amount graduates have is about $25,000 to $35,000, depending on whether you count parental debt as well.   Clearly, some folks are attending college and not signing their lives away.

Similarly, many got caught up in the fever of home ownership back in 2006 and are still making payments on underwater mortgages.   Worse yet, people today are overpaying for homes, refusing to listen to the lessons of 1989 and 2009.   It is a really simple test:  If it costs substantially more to own a home than to rent it, then owning a home is probably a bad bet.   If you can rent for $1500 a month and own for $3000 a month, maybe homes are overpriced in your area.

So while you read sensationalist headlines about people struggling to own a simple home in San Francisco or Toronto, you don't hear about the people who decided to rent and live with that, or move to a cheaper place to live and live better.  Because frankly, that is not a "story" in the media sense of the word.

Similarly, you hear about people who bought "look at me!" houses and are now struggling financially.  But you don't hear about the guy who bought the modest house and is quite comfortable there because he can afford the payments.    There are indeed options other than signing your life away in order to have a place to live.   But of course, some folks refuse to consider them.

The same is true of cars, boats, and RVs.  I have related before how the RV dealers sell these beast motorhomes for hundreds of thousands of dollars on 20-year loans.  The owners end up upside-down or underwater for most of the term of the loan.  The boating indsutry is no better - selling boats at boat shows that end up rotting in a side yard, while the owner makes payments.  They have signed their life away for a material thing that provided transitory pleasure.

Yet I meet people with boats and RVs who bought them secondhand, or bought cheaper rigs they could actually afford and thus are not upside-down or paid cash for these really frivolous and unnecessary purchases.   They didn't have to sign their lives away to have a recreational toy.
Even cars are falling into this trap - as Bill Ford tried to warn us.   Sub-prime financing and longer terms (as much as 7 years!) mean that owners can be "upside-down" on a car loan for the length of the loan.  They trade-in and fold negative equity into a new loan, increasing the debt load over time.  After doing this two or three times, they have signed themselves up for more than a decade in debt.

And leasing is no better.  People fold in the hidden back-end charges into a new lease, and it can be a decade or more locked into lease after lease, before it all blows up in their face.

And again, though, there are others who buy secondhand cars, take care of them, and drive carefully so their insurance rates are low.  They keep track of their bills so their credit score is good and they can obtain decent financing.   They learn to live with less rather than sign their lives away so that they can impress the fellows at work with their manly truck.

The point is, these are all choices.   No one is born in debt.  Somewhere along the way, you have to make a bad decision to end up with staggering amounts of debts - or a series of bad decisions.  Somewhere, you had to pick up a pen, and sign a document promising to pay back huge sums of money, with interest.   Rather than sign your life away, might I suggest leaving your pen at home?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Yet Another Airline Outrage Story - Or Not

Not a day goes by when those bastard airlines do something horrible.  Quick!  Post on Facebook!  Start a Gofundme Page!   Hire a Lawyer!  Be outraged!   Or maybe not.

Yet another airline outrage story in the paper today.  A gay married couple was denied family boarding privileges on Southwest Airlines recently.   The gate attendant and her supervisor said that the two men, their three children, and grandmother didn't qualify as a "family" and made them wait for regular boarding.

So the couple did what any savvy airline traveler would do today.  They blocked the jetway with their strollers, laid down and started singing "we shall overcome!" and then had to be dragged away by TSA, with one hitting their head on the podium, causing a nasty gash that required stitches.   The flight was delayed for four hours.

Actually, that last part didn't happen.  They realized, that, right or wrong, the agent and their supervisor were in charge of boarding, and now was not the time to lodge a protest or organize one.   They got on the plane, got to sit with their kids, and made their flight on time.   If they want to protest to Southwest, they can do so now, post pictures on Facebook, or whatever to their heart's content.   And I am sure Southwest will give them a coupon good for a free bag of peanuts on their next flight.   Southwest didn't become profitable by giving things away.

Whether the gate agent was misinformed, was enforcing actual policy, or was advancing her own personal religious and political agenda (indistinguishable these days) we may never know.   But one thing is for sure, she was in charge, so there is little point in arguing with her more than they did. 

But also, there is one other thing - she probably was legally in the right.   According to Southwest, their "family boarding" policy applies only to parents, not to grandparents.  Southwest has a right to make their own policies in that regard - it is not a matter of Federal law what constitutes a "family" for family boarding purposes.  In fact, they don't have to offer "family boarding privileges" at all, and it is something they made-up.

And in some States - most in fact - Southwest could legally deny family boarding privileges based on the fact the parents were a same-sex couple, as discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation isn't protected by Federal law, and protected in only a few States (the flight was from Buffalo, so presumably New York is one of those States).

Regardless of who is "right" or "wrong" the main thing is, after lodging their objection, they obeyed the rules, got on the plane, and didn't make a freaking scene.   Because if they did, they never would have gotten to Florida, and quite frankly, few people would have felt sorry for them, including me.

It ain't your plane, it ain't your airport.   Yes, you have rights, but no, staging a protest or a sit-in because you don't get your way - even if you are in the right - is never the answer.  Being dragged off the plane because you disagree with a decision of the airline is never the right answer.   So kudos to this couple for following the rules.   Whether Southwest broke any, remains unclear.

You can bet they will update their boarding policy page on their website, though!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Ithaca Wedding Invite

Political Correctness doesn't really create real change, and just makes the Left look ridiculous.

The far-right likes to make fun of Ithaca, New York as a bastion of political correctness and left-wing thinking.  And to some extent, they are right.  Folks in Ithaca are well-meaning, but they tend to go to extremes when it comes to political thought.  And as I noted before, sometimes it results in ridiculous outcomes.

For example, I recalled how the local paper published an editorial arguing that wind farms were actually worse for the environment than coal as once the wind stopped blowing twice as much coal would have to be burned.  This was, of course, a nonsensical argument, and it would have helped if the editor had snipped the coal lobbying group logo from the accompanying graphs and illustrations before publishing his article.

One of the more humorous examples of the politically correct thought in Ithaca occurred when we received an invitation to a wedding reception for some friends of ours we knew from Washington.  I don't have a copy of the invitation anymore, so I will try to remember what it said from memory:

Come join us for a celebration of the life and love of Mary and Richard at Lakeside Park in Ithaca, New York!
Our reception will be a potluck supper.  You should bring at least an entree and your own beverages.   Bring your own libation, however please serve it in opaque containers as Steve is going through rehab and doesn't need to be tempted with alcohol.
The reception will, however, be 420-friendly.
Also please note that Nancy is Vegan, so any entree you bring should be vegan compatible.  Consult Nancy if in doubt.

Please bear in mind that Jim is allergic to peanuts and Susan is allergic to chocolate, so both of those are no-no's.
And please, no glutens!  We want this to be a gluten-free reception.
In addition, we want to have an environmentally-friendly, zero-carbon footprint, recyclable wedding reception.  So we ask that you do not bring disposable dinnerware, paper plates, napkins, or any other items they will add to our landfill crisis.  Reusable and washable plates, glasses, pots, and pans are a must, or if necessary they should at least be recyclable.  The Park is carry-in, carry-out, so please bring your own recycling containers!
 Dress is casual, however we request that you wear only natural fibers.  Please, no spandex, that is made by the Koch brothers!
 Henry has a list of foods that are currently subject to boycott.  Please do not embarrass the other guests by bringing anything on the boycott list.  Consult Henry for details.
We plan on having live music and will provide an interpreter for the hearing impaired, although I'm not certain we have any hearing impaired attendees on our invitation list.  If you know someone who is hearing impaired, please invite them - we want to be inclusive and diverse!  Speaking of which, if you know any people of color, please invite them as well, as we need to balance out the guest list.
We hope you appreciate these guidelines in the spirit and which they are given. We want everyone to have a relaxing and enjoyable time without any incidences of microaggression or oppression.

Hope to see you there! RSVP regrets only.
* * * 

Needless to say, we didn't attend the wedding reception.  The list of requirements was so daunting that we nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to conjure up what we could bring with us that would not offend one or more people in attendance.  When we realized that nothing more than a head of lettuce would be acceptable, served on it handmade clay platter we decided to tell them we were out of town that weekend.

Alas, even the head of lettuce was on the boycott list.

It is commendable that people want to be friendly and engaging and accommodating of other people's needs.  However, it can be taken to extremes.  If you are person who has special dietary requirements or allergies or other special needs, you can't expect the entire planet to accommodate your every whim desire or requirement.  To some extent we all have to accommodate to the needs of the majority, rather than expect them to accommodate to us as individuals.

Sadly, this wedding invitation, which I swear to God is largely verbatim (perhaps with one or two embellishments) is typical of the sort of nonsense we saw in Ithaca.  And unfortunately this tends to discredit the Left and provide much ammunition and fodder for the far right to mock and ridicule liberal thinking.

When a simple wedding invitation contains pages of do's and don'ts and approbations as to what a horrible peanut-eating gluten-consuming non-vegan person you are, it has simply gotten out of hand.   We didn't want to go to this reception because we knew that no matter how scrupulously we followed these instructions to the letter, someone would call us out and chastise us for some perceived error, even if it was unintentional.   Who is guilty of micro-aggression then?

It struck us that all of these requirements by a few people in the crowd were, in fact, the real aggression, not that of the remainder who were merely behaving to society's norms.   It's OK to be different and you should be who you want to be.   However, to expect others to alter their behaviors to accommodate you is, past a certain point, ridiculous.

Yes, we shouldn't discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or gender.   No, the rest of us don't have to stop eating peanuts in public because your kid has an allergy.   Nor should we feel guilty of having a hamburger just because you choose to be Vegan.    And if we throw out a paper plate, it is not an assault on your cultural values.   In fact, it likely is less of an impact on the environment than the hot water and soap used in washing your eco-dishes.

But of course, all of that would be lost on the PC crowd in Ithaca.    So the only real choice we had was to not go to the reception, which of course meant that the people who did go were all of the same mind and mindset, and never met, talked to, or had an earnest discussion with anyone whose world-view was different than theirs.

Call me old-fashioned, or merely polite, but when I was raised, if you went to someone's home or party and they served food you didn't like, you merely politely refused to eat it, rather than demand they serve something to your liking.   If you wanted to be Vegetarian or Vegan, this meant you had to make sacrifices in life - and not expect others to make them for you.   If you want to make political statements, you have to make them yourself, and not dragoon your friends into making them for you.

And of course, if you are going to invite people to a wedding reception, usually it is a good idea to have it catered, than to expect your guests to bring their own food.   It is a funny thing, too, as the couple in question certainly had enough money to pay for a reception, even if it was a modest one.

It was the most left-handed invite (in every sense of the word) I have ever received.   You know, I really don't miss Ithaca all that much!

Holocaust Clown Movies

Can you make a movie about clowns and the Holocaust?  How about three of them?

One of the oddest aspects of the 20th century was the production of Holocaust Clown Movies.  They are at least three that I know of, one that went on to become a box office success.  The third was pulled from release and every copy destroyed as it was an embarrassment to its writer, actor, and director, Jerry Lewis.

At first, the Holocaust would seem like an odd topic for a clown movie. But not only has such a movie been made, but has become an actual genre.

Most people will remember the movie Life is Beautiful, which was written by, directed by, and starred Italian comedian Roberto Benigni.  In that movie, Benigni acted the clown in order to alleviate the fears of his young son as the Nazis systematically exterminated Jews in Italy.  To try to protect his son, he tried to convince him that it was all some sort of joke or act going on.

Sounds like an appalling theme for a movie, but it was handled deftly and tastefully and became a major box-office and critical success, as well as winning a number of awards.

Hollywood has a long history of copying films and genres. One studio comes out with a movie called Tornado and another will copy it with a movie called Twister - or maybe the other way around.    So shortly after Life is Beautiful won several Academy Awards, Robin Williams was drafted into a very similar Hollywood production called Jakob the Liar.  Not only did this film attempt to ride the coattails of Life is Beautiful, but itself was a remake of an earlier film (bringing the number of Holocaust Clown movies to at least four - five if you count Adam Resurrected starring Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe).

Again, we have a clown-like character who lies to deceive other people to assuage their fears about the coming Holocaust.  Although set in Poland and not Italy, the plots are very similar in nature.  This movie was not as successful, even though it was very similar to the earlier Life is Beautiful.   Maybe imitation isn't the sincerest form of flattery.

The original Holocaust Clown movie, was even more poorly received.  Jerry Lewis decided to star, direct, and ultimately produce a movie known as The Day the Clown Cried, which has taken on legendary status. Lewis has tried to bury the movie, although some outtakes are available on the internet. The few people who have seen the movie have decried it not only as horribly done but wildly insensitive to Holocaust victims.

While Life is Beautiful and Jakob the Liar have clown-like characters, they are not actual clowns in clown makeup.  And maybe that's where Jerry Lewis went too far, juxtaposing an actual clown into the Holocaust, which provided a jarring disconnect.

Perhaps we'll never know exactly how bad The Day the Clown Cried was, as it seems that Lewis has successfully been able to suppress it.  Apparently it wasn't even well-received in France, where Lewis is revered.

Although Life is Beautiful saw box office success and was critically well received, I doubt there will be many more movies in the Holocaust Clown genre.  As Jerry Lewis' experience has shown, it's a difficult fine line to walk when addressing such serious subject matter with humor.

That hasn't stopped Hollywood from trying, though.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Quality of Mercy is Strange

Should the punishment meted out for a crime be determined by the criminal's ability to rehabilitate?

We often criticize our judiciary for producing uneven sentencing outcomes for similar crimes.  For example, a young black man gets drunk and gets behind the wheel of a car and kills a pedestrian.  He is sentenced to decades in prison.  Meanwhile, a young affluent white suburban teenager gets drunk behind the wheel of a pickup truck and kills several people, but is given probation because of "affluenza."  People are naturally outraged.

Similar crimes, disparate outcomes.  People rightly cry "foul" when such things happen - and they happen with depressing regularity.

But what if  two people commit the exact same crime together?  If they are equally culpable shouldn't they receive the exact same sentence?  Of course, we live in the real world, and in the real world things are not always even-Steven of course.  Often prosecutors will cut a deal with one defendant if he will testify against the other.  Thus, the criminal who rats out his compatriot often ends up with a lighter sentence.

But should the sentence that a criminal receive be based on their ability to rehabilitate themselves? And if so, how would we determine that?

As you have no doubt heard, in a recent case in Colorado, two young men were sentenced to 98 years in jail for a series of armed robberies and kidnappings.   Seems like a long sentence, until you realize that they literally were putting a gun to people's heads and then robbing their stores.   Also, with good behavior and parole, they might be out in far less than 98 years.

In fact, a lot less than 98 years, in one case.   Due to a clerical error, one of them was let out in eight years.   He quietly walked away and started a new life, getting a job and raising a family.   Years pass - well six years, anyway.  His cohort still in prison is now up for parole and the government discovers the clerical error that let the other man out decades early.

What to do?   Under the law, the first man has to go back to jail and serve the rest of his 98-year sentence, which may be the rest of his life, since he took a six-year break.   But many people feel sorry for him as he "rehabilitated" himself and now is an upstanding member of the community.  For six whole years.  So a judge commutes his sentence and lets him go free.

But it gets stranger.  Since he was a Cuban refugee at age 2, he is at risk for deportation, even though he had permanent residence status.  In fact, once he committed armed robbery,  his permanent residency was revoked.   Upon conviction, a final deportation order was entered, and technically, once he was released from prison, he was supposed to go back to Cuba.  (Why he never applied for Citizenship is not stated in the stories). 

Again, people are outraged.   They feel sorry for him because he "turned his life around" and it doesn't seem "fair" to toss him back in jail or send him back to a country he doesn't even remember, just because he robbed some Blockbuster stores at gun point.

It is a fascinating scenario.  The Governor of Colorado has now issued a full pardon to the man, hoping to negate the deportation order.  The new unsympathetic Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency isn't buying it - a final deportation order is a final deportation order.  We'll see how this plays out in the next few weeks or months.

Do I feel sorry for the guy?   Not so much, as he did commit a crime.   The guy I feel sorry for is the guy who had a gun shoved in his face and was told to "open the safe or I blow your fucking brains out, asshole!"    That guy is likely still affected by the event.  

The other person who is getting a raw deal - in comparison - is his cohort in crime who is still in jail and serving his 98-year sentence.   I mean, you have to wonder what he is thinking.   He sits there and rots in jail for nearly two decades for the exact same crime while his friend is out having a good time, getting laid and raising a family.   It doesn't even appear he bothered to visit his co-defendant on visitor's day! 

Two criminals.  The same crime.   One gets all our sympathy, from legislators on both sides of the aisle, the governor, the press, a judge, and the general public.  The other can rot in jail for all we care.   And the difference is...... what?    Would the other guy currently rotting in jail have rehabilitated himself and thus be worthy of our sympathy?   How exactly does this public sympathy thing work, anyway?

I mentioned before that feeling sorry for people is often a dead-end game.   But folks do it all the time, usually in response to carefully orchestrated PR plans to get folks to feel sorry for a certain person, group, or even an entire country or race.   Once a person is anointed with this mantle of "feel sorry for me" they can get a free ticket to ride - and skate away from a host of responsibilities.

What irks me about the "feel sorry" movement is that it produces even more wildly disparate results that our justice system does.   If you have that certain emotional "hook" that the press latches onto and Facebook Freaks will "like" - then you are in.   Of course, you have to be careful, as the same mob that elevates you to victim status can turn on you just as quickly.   If there are any discrepancies in your background story - watch out!  The mob does not like to be deceived or believe they are deceived.

And as you might expect, in the United States of Feel Sorry, more than one person has tried to build a victimhood scenario out of whole cloth.   There are documented instances of people spray-painting racist or homophobic graffiti on their own houses or apartments and then claiming to be victims of bigotry - and starting a gofundme page.    Like I said, the mob does not like to be deceived, and some of these folks went from hero to villain overnight.

I guess the other problem I have with the feel sorry movement is that I know that if I was placed into similar circumstances as this guy in Colorado, no one would feel sorry for me.   I don't know what it is, but some folks have that "feel sorry for me" vibe and others do not.   Maybe if I had a small body and a big head with huge eyes, like Japanese anime characters, I could generate this sympathy - it is an instinctive thing.    All I know is, this "feel sorry for me" system would not work out in my favor.

And that is the problem right there - it is an uneven system, haphazardly applied.   Some benefit, some do not.  It all depends on how sympathetic you appear and how good your PR is.   I can imagine this same story in Colorado being reduced to two paragraphs in News of the Weird, with everyone laughing at this guy as he goes back to prison.    Other prisoners have been released by mistake before - most of them go back to jail without fanfare.   This guy has a better press agent - or at least friends in the media.

So what is the solution?  Well, as in anything, mob rule is probably the worst possible idea.   And just as a mob of people with pitchforks and torches (or in America, a lynching mob) is never a good thing, I am not sure that a mob of people trying to elevate one of our own as a "victim" who should get special treatment is ever a good idea, either.

While it is nice that this fellow appears to have rehabilitated himself and "turned his life around" when given a break, he still is on the hook for his original criminal sentencing - or at least was until the Governor pardoned him.   And if we use this determanitive outcome model of jurisprudence, then what happens if we let this guy go, and down the road he commits another crime or runs over a kid while drunk-driving?   What if it turns out that his squeaky-clean post-prison life was anything but?   Suppose you find out later he was a wife-beater?

All tough questions.   Do you then lose sympathy for him?   Does he get a greater sentence for his newer crimes (no, not after he has been pardoned for the earlier ones).   A lot of people jumping on the "feel sorry for this guy" bandwagon will feel pretty foolish later on if that happens - and elected officials should take note.  These politicians are placing their careers in the hands of a convicted felon, and are dependent on his continued good behavior to stay in office.  Remember Willy Horton.

Sadly, this sort of thing does happen routinely.    And by that I mean both things.   First, we grant leniency for people who "turn their life around" often after living years on the lam after having escaped from prison or having avoided capture in the first place - Roman Polanski notwithstanding.   Second, it has happened before that people elevate on a pedestal some criminal who was "rehabilitated" but later on turned out to be, well, less than rehabbed.   Everyone thought O.J. was innocent, and then he pretty much showed the world his true self.

If by some chance, this guy is let go and his deportation order rescinded (in Trump's America?  Don't count on it!) we have to hope that his six years of rehabilitated life is the model for the rest of his life.   But we'll all feel pretty foolish for jumping on the bandwagon if it turns out he is just a jerk.

And meanwhile, in a prison somewhere in Colorado, his co-defendant is sitting in a cell, grinding his teeth, and wondering why he doesn't generate an ounce of sympathy from anyone.

And frankly, I have the same question.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Indian Troll Farms?

I do get e-mails from readers.  Sadly, I cannot answer them all, as it is physically impossible for me to do so - sorry!

I get a lot of e-mails from readers.  Thanks for reading.  Before, I didn't care, but now that I get paid to bloviate, I appreciate the clicks.  And let me be honest about this - I am just bloviating, and never claimed to do otherwise.  So being "outraged" about what I say is pointless - I never claimed to be an expert, and your outrage put another ten cents into my bank account (no, really, it does).  And if you forward your "outrage" to some discussion group and they all click on my site in outrage, it puts about $10 in my bank account.

What can I say that will outrage you today?  I am glad to be of service - and now you know how "fake news" actually works.   Free education for you, and I get paid to educate you on how the internets really works..

But getting back to topic.  I've received a number of e-mails from countries other than the US of A.  This is interesting to me as I expect that a few idiots from America (and we have a lot - including me!) will read my drivel.   Canadians?  OK, they have half a clue.  Australians?   Kind of a Canadian vibe, but not sure why they hate the gays so much (a little overcompensating for the sheep thing, methinks).  But the subcontinent?  Hard to parse.

By the way, my grandfather, who died before I was born and was apparently a chronic alcoholic, was stationed there during World War II.  A "retread" (from World War I) he was involved somehow in managing the transport of materials from ships docking in Bombay (as we called it then) to be flown "over the hump" or so the family folklore claims.   Most families have such folklore, such as Elizabeth Warren's family claiming they were descendant from Indians.  My family had a similar lore, claiming descent from John Smith and Pocahontas - and I am sure that is not true at all.  But a lot of WASP families do this - claiming Scottish heritage when it is convenient, and Irish on St. Patrick's day.

And the irony is of course, that we are talking about India, the country, and we call our "native Americans" (which is ironic, as I am native to America) "Indians" because Columbus had his head up his ass and committed genocide as well.  It's a fucked-up world.  So now we have two sets of Indians in the world, and we in the West tend to take a piss on both of them, or at least did at one time or another.

Even more fucked-up is that our friends the British, who are oh-so-politically-correct these days, were once the rulers of the world, and their brutal form of government and homophobia made quite an impression on China, India, and most of Africa, as well as the Middle-East, who today are imprisoning and murdering gay men and women as a result of Britian's messed-up political and religious views from the 1800's.  Good old Queen Victoria.  She really needed a good topping is what.   Withholding sex has been the number one way of controlling people since time began.

But I digress.

Anyway, I have gotten some e-mails from anonymous sources in India.   I have little time to respond to people who use their real names much less people who use fake ones.  So sorry if I don't respond, but I literally cannot respond to all e-mails (I would have to stop blogging if I did!) and I don't see the need to respond to someone who hides behind a fake identity.  I mean, you know where I fucking live, right?  I don't even know your name!  Who's the real coward here?

What I find odd, is that someone from such a beautiful and yet messed-up country as India would take me to task about the United States of America.   We all love India here in America, although our government, apparently, is pissed off than India made the pragmatic decision to make nice with their nearby neighbors - namely Russia.  Maybe also after years of British rule, India didn't feel that America - sort of Britain, part deux, was really going to be their friend.  It probably doesn't help that we inexplicable prop up the military of their arch-enemy Pakistan, who at the same time harbors Al Qaeda and ISIS.  Would you trust us under similar circumstances?

So, I get that.  India has to go its own way.   Part of that is providing a service industry to the United States of America, online, in the form of call centers and computer support, as well as fraudulent call centers that steal millions from Americans in phony IRS scams, Microsoft scams, and whatnot.   This latter sort of leaves a bad taste in most American's mouths, as we tend to view "In-Ja" as a source of scam and frauds.

It doesn't help that the news is rife with stories about how India is home to gang-rapes, honor killings (take that, Pakistan!) and spousal abuse.   Hard to get a warm feeling about a country which has so little regard for human life.  The carnage on India's railroads alone makes our roadways look relatively safe.

Yet, Americans still love India and Indian people.  Why?  Well their charming accents are a good start. The fact that Indian men are by and large very handsome and Indian women are very, very beautiful doesn't hurt.   What seals the deal is the cuisine - all of it from every region, and there is so much.  Americans, like their British counterparts, have a romantic view of the subcontinent, a view that is probably at odds with reality.

My advice to India:  Milk this.   Movies like "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and "The Darjeeling Limited" are the best propaganda you have.  We'd all like to visit India, ride (inside) the trains, have the wonderful exotic food, ride a tuk-tuk, and have a spiritual moment.  And maybe a little hashish in Goa, if you know what I mean.   Like I said, it is a fantasy.   Friends of mine who have gone have said it is magical, but have other stories to tell as well.   I hope to go someday before I die.  Everyone should.

But it irks me that someone from India with an anonymous e-mail address feels he has the right to lecture me on the merits of socialism over capitalism.   I mean, when it comes to fucked-up democracies, even with President Trump, we are still a notch or two above India.  While we-all would like to visit India, not many of us want to live there.  Meanwhile a host of very talented and skilled Indian Engineers (and they are some of the best!) are living here on H-8 visas.   More people want to go to America than leave.  Can you say the same for India?

I get it that someone from Sweden could lecture me on the merits of a socialist economy, or that someone from Great Britain (or whatever they are calling themselves these days) can lecture me on the merits of single-payer socialized medicine.   But India?  I mean, no offense, get your shit together before you have the balls to criticize the largest economy for its flaws.

Yes, we have the world's largest military - larger than the next eight combined.   How do you think this happened?  By being socialist?  Hell, no, we make a lot of money, because we have an economy that is unfettered by socialism.   And as a result, we can spend about 3.3% of our GDP and it dwarfs that of China and Russia and six other countries combined because we have a fucking huge GDP.

Yea, sorry about that - being successful and all.   And that is exactly why the rest of the world wants to tear us down.   It is not like the USA wants to be "world police" but it is a job we were dragooned into after two world wars and the collapse of the British Empire.   We became world leader by default - sorry again about that.  And frankly, it is a job that most Americans wished we didn't have to do.  The penchant for isolationism in this country is very strong and long-felt.  We had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into World War I and World War II, and not many people in America today feel really keen about our decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And yet, if we turned isolationist - as many on the Left and Right both want to do - the rest of the world would then pile on about how we are not living up to our responsibilities as a "world power".   You can see that being #1 is a lose-lose situation.   Sometimes, I think a lot of people in the United States would love it if China, or Russia, or even India, became the next dominate superpower, so we could sit on the sidelines and make snide comments and take pot-shots.   Because, let's face it, that's a whole lot more fun to do!

But if China, Russia, or India are to become the predominate world superpowers, they are not going to achieve this with their current forms of government or current economic models.  What drives America to be predominate over the rest of the world is the freedom we have here to become fabulously wealthy, as unfair as it is.  This in turn drives our industry and business.  And it creates a population who, by and large, is committed to the system we have.   And that right there is why Russian Troll Farms - and now Indian Troll Farms want to tear us down by promoting socialistic and communist ideals such as doubling the minimum wage, forgiving student loan debt, guaranteed minimum income, and socialized medicine. 

They have largely succeeded in Europe already, which has turned many European countries inward-looking.   No longer the home of big ideas and big goals, it seems that to many in Europe, the main issue these days is how to best treat their bums - and by that, I don't mean their derriere's.    When government devolves into how to best slice up the pie, government fails, as the pie will get smaller and smaller when people merely wait for their piece of it, rather than make their own.

India is a powerhouse economy waiting to be unleashed.  I have said this all along - that the US auto industry has had a respite from its troubles, but as soon as Chinese and Indian-made cars arrive on our soil, we will be right back where we started, with major US car companies going bankrupt - first Fiat-Chrysler, perhaps next Ford.   And already Chinese and Indian-made cars are being imported by the big-3, just as the big-3 first imported Japanese and later Korean cars and re-badged them.

But long-term, creating a robust economy requires that a system be in place that not only allows people the opportunity to succeed, but punishes those who fail or who choose not to make the effort.   The carrot of wealth is only half of the motivation, the stick of poverty is the other half.

As harsh as that sounds, though, people still flock to this country to find work or to settle down and raise a family.   As "unfair" as Capitalism is, it still remains better than other systems tried in other countries.  And the evidence is in the huge number of people immigrating to this country, and the very few migrating away.

So, no sale.  Socialism and Communism sucks.  And if anything is keeping India back, it is the idea that these tired old policies are workable solutions.   Even China seems to have figured that out!

Another Day, Another Airline Outrage Story!

What has the world come to when a man can't get drunk, open an emergency exit at the airport, get on an airplane, mumble incoherently and then try to charge the flight deck?  Airlines are assholes, man!

Another day, another airline outrage story.   People have chastised me for not "seeing the light" and feeling sorry for some guy who refused to get off a plane when asked to and was dragged off and injured himself and made a big issue of it - and of course sued the airline and got a ton of money.   And he was a stand-up guy, too, apparently a "doctor" who was only slightly disbarred for trading sex for prescription drugs in motel rooms.  I mean, come on, we've all done that at one time in our lives, right?

This latest outrage involves a man from Turkey, who apparently was pretty wasted when he opened an emergency exit at the airport in LA that lead out to the tarmac.   He got away with that, perhaps because TSA is now sensitive to accusations of abuse and profiling.  Hey a Muslim guy from Turkey, trying to get out onto the tarmac?  Let's not profile here, right?

So they let him on the plane, and he goes back to the lav and leaves a laptop on someone else's seat.   Now, if you even glanced at the papers these days, you know that laptops are now paranoia level seven with the TSA.  But no worries, they give it back to him as he goes up to first class and tries to cadge a seat there - near the cockpit - before he is escorted back to row 35.

Did I mention he looks as disheveled as Steve Bannon (now there's a guy who should be on the no-fly list!)?

So anyway, during the flight, he tries to rush the cockpit, and a nervous stewardess - excuse me, flight attendant blocks the aisle with a drink cart and passengers subdue him and duct tape him to the seat!

The outrage!  Treating someone like that!   How cruel and unusual!  All he did was disregard the instructions of cabin attendants, and as we all know after the United incident, we don't have to pay attention to those sky-waitresses anymore.  Fuck 'em!  I paid for a ticket, I can do what I want!

What is odd is the lack of outrage over this latest incident.   People are all up in arms about one scenario but not another.   But I fail to see the difference between the two.  Both people were acting irrationally and oddly, who refused to obey the orders of the cabin crew.   Both deserve what they got.

But the general public are idiots.  They see "outrage" on Facebook and rush to judgement, without considering the consequences of taking sides until both sides are known.  And in both cases, we have people who were behaving oddly and should have been removed from the flights just on that basis.   But instead, we project all of our frustration and pain in dealing with airlines onto a situation and give the guy a pass - at least in the first scenario.

In the second scenario, the cabin crew are heroes, because we are all paranoid about terrorism and Muslims - even so-called liberals who secretly harbor fears of Islam.   And you know what?  The cabin crews in both scenarios had difficult jobs to do, and it doesn't help when people behave badly on airplanes.

I have no truck with the airlines.  I have a BIG problem with the traveling public, who act as if their $99 ticket entitles them to own the airplane, or at least the luggage space over my head.   Flying today isn't fun, to be sure, but the general public makes it less fun.  And by taking sides in these silly incidents, we aren't helping matters any.  We are encouraging and promoting bad behavior.   Hey, start an incident on an airplane and you might win litigation lottery!

We already have seen this - a guy who is a "YouTube Prankster" starts shouting in Arabic on a plane and then makes a big fuss when he is thrown off the plane.   No one felt sorry for him - although he clearly tried to make this into a "religious discrimination" incident.

What is the solution to all of this?   Here is my proposal.   From now on, the FAA should mandate that at least one random passenger is thrown off the plane before each flight.   No reason need be given, other than you don't own the plane and get the fuck off.   Every airline should do this, so people can't use the lame argument, "I'll show you, I'll fly the other airline" (because there are basically only two now anyway).

This policy will drive home the fact that it ain't your fucking plane, and your "rights" end the minute you walk down the jetway.   Yes, your rights - all of them.  Free speech, right to bear arms, search and seizure, etc.  You get on someone else's plane, you are fucking cargo and should be treated as such.   Shut the fuck up, sit the fuck down, eat your fucking peanuts, and God willing, we'll get you to Tulsa in about 2 hours.  And if not, too fucking bad.  Read the contract of carriage - it is a "best efforts" contract.

No more of this shit about dead rabbits or whatever.  Here's a fucking clue: pets die on airplanes all the time.   When you ship your pet by air, you take a risk the cargo compartment may depressurize, be unheated, or whatever.   Pets die all the time, but we get all weepy about one rabbit because it happens right after an event popularized on Facebook.

Fuck Facebook and fuck people on Facebook.  These are the same morons who gave us President Trump and now want to protest President Trump.  They get all up in arms over incidents without bothering even a moment to reflect, and they forward crap and start the pitchfork and torch parade without even thinking where it is going.   Facebook people are the scared ninnies that gave us fake news.   These are the people bringing down civilization.

In the meantime, I am starting a "go fund me" page for this Turkish dude so he can sue the airlines, as he rightly should.  After all, we know that everyone from Turkey is peaceful and loving, from the President, right on down to his security detail!  How dare they profile!

Low Risk, Low Return is Sometimes a Good Thing!

Investing in high-yield investments is fine and all, so long as they generate high yields and not high losses.

A reader writes that I am too conservative in my investments.   This statement is right and wrong.  I try to diversify my investments so that any one thing won't bankrupt me.   So about one third of my portfolio is in real estate, maybe one third in stocks and mutual funds, and one third in life insurance, government and corporate bonds, CDs, money market accounts and even cash (in the bank).

As I get older, I transfer more and more into safer harbors.  Less stocks and speculative investment which can have high yields, and more into low-yield safer investments.

Why is this?  There are two reasons.  First, making 10% a year and beating the market is fine and all, and if you can do this for a number of years on end, you can make a lot of money.   But at my age, where I am already spending the money in my retirement, there is little "gain" to be had, as the number of years I have left to invest decreases every year.

Second - and this is the more important part - is that I cannot afford to lose a lot and start over at this point.  If I invested in some risky venture at age 30, and lost $100,000, I could recover from this over time by cutting expenses, working harder, and making more money and hoping other investments will make up the difference over time.

But at age 60, your time horizon is a lot shorter, so you can't afford that risk.

It is odd, but a lot of people fail to see this.  They look at a set of investments and say, "Well, why not take the one that has the best rate of return?   This stock or bond has a higher rate or return!  Why would anyone take the lower rate of return investment?  That's just dumb!"

And I have to stop myself from thinking that way sometimes myself.  It is all too easy to get greedy and think, "Gee, this bond has a 240% rate of return, what could possibly go wrong?"

Then you pull back and think about it and realize that the huge rate of return is due to the fact that other people who are likely smarter than you and me looked at this and said, "this looks to be a sure loser!"

And in some cases they are wrong, but in most cases they are right.   High-risk investments can have high yields, but they also can wipe out your entire investment.   A CD might not pay much interest, but at least you know you'll have your investment back at the end of the deal, rather than nothing at all.

It is tempting to invest in "junk bonds" and things of that nature - as people did in the 1980's when interest rates were high.  Many people ended up getting wiped out as a result, when the junk bond market tanked.   For some reason, the term "junk bond" was not enough to deter them from buying these things.   I mean, how far do you have to go to point out the folly in this?  Call them "give me all your money you ain't getting it back" bonds?

The amount of risk you are willing to take depends on your life station and situation.   Professional investors take huge risks - with other people's money.  And today, we are seeing the downside to this model, as one hedge fund after another closes - unable to even beat a simple index fund.

For the small investor,  the equation is much simpler - we don't have much to lose, but we can't afford to lose much.  The bitter angry people in America are often the same folks who thought they would make it big in real estate, gold, or IPO stocks.   They took huge foolish risks and now want a government bailout. 

It likely won't happen. 

Diversify, diversify, diversify!