Tuesday, October 16, 2018

2020 Election Results

The 2020 election results are in - Trump wins again.  Ugh.

I finally got those time machine parts on backorder from Amazon, and once I got it working, I decided to go to the future and see who won the Presidential election in 2020.  Stupidly, I forgot to get the winning numbers for tonight's power ball!  Oh, well, better luck next time.

I regret to say that Donald Trump won re-election, and the reason was not that he excelled in campaigning or was popular with the people, but that he read the electoral map (once again) and calculated where he could use his limited resources to the best effect.  And this time around, he had more resources to use as well.

But the real reason he won was the Democratic party - they put up a roster of loser candidates that Trump picked apart, piece by piece (and the Democrats obliged him - as they did in 2016 by picking each other apart as well).  And good old Bernie Sanders got onto the game again, campaigning as a candidate for the party he refuses to join.   He joins Ross Perot and Ralph Nader in the pantheon of great spoilers throughout history, as his eventual lukewarm endorsement of the winning nominee only served to insure that his supporters stayed home in droves.

So, how did the Democrats lose this time around?   Well, it was in large part due to who they put up as candidates - and how easily Trump and his minions picked them apart.

Joe Biden seemed like an early front-runner, and indeed, today, he holds that status before even declaring his candidacy or even before the campaign season begins.   Biden clearly worries Trump, as he has the mantle of Obama (which resonates with the core Democrats) and is also a member in good standing of the "old white men's club" which typically is the source of Presidential timber.

So already, even today, the attacks are starting.  "Crazy Uncle Joe" they call him on social media and Reddit.   You post a picture of a cute cat, and five comments later, someone says, "Gee, he looks like Joe Biden!" and after that, the thread devolves into "Crazy Uncle Joe" who has "busy hands" and five comments later that he is, in fact, a child-molesting pedophile who likes little girls.   All of this is taken as routine fact and never challenged.  And this drumbeat of hostility has been going on for some time now.

All Trump has to do at a rally during the campaign is say "Crazy Uncle Joe" and it is a dog-whistle to all the conspiracy theorists out there in his audience.   It also helps that the moniker also tags him as being old and out-of-touch.

But of course, Joe Biden isn't a pedophile.   But you tell that to the legions of people on Reddit who already believe this, without one scintilla of evidence.  Heck, they already believe that pizza shops are clandestine child molestation rings.   What is it about the far-right and their obsession with child molestation conspiracy theories?  Over-compensating a bit, perhaps?  Hey, this is politics - a counter-theory and smear are just as valid.

Of course, it didn't help that Joe Biden does have a "busy hands" problem in this day and age of "Me Too" - and that the other Democratic candidates took turns tearing him down for inappropriate behavior.   When he does a photo op, he often puts his arm around attractive women and sometimes says inappropriate things.  The Republicans only needed to photoshop half the pictures they spread on the Internet to make this point - the rest were bona fide real.

So Biden was knocked out early in the primary season, the victim of an effective smear campaign and rumor mill, as well as the "Democratic Firing Squad" who lines up in a circle and shoots themselves.

That left Elizabeth Warren as the new front-runner, and Trump and his minions have been sharpening their knives for her for some time now.   It may be that her candidacy was over before it started.  Once again, Trump maligns an opponent with a moniker - "Pocahontas" - and it seems to stick.  Warren was foolishly drawn into the game by having her DNA tested, which proved, well, nothing, other than she, like anyone else on the planet, is distantly related to other people, including native Americans.  The real issue is that she claimed Native American ancestry on an application form for Harvard and may or may not have gotten special advantage from this (no doubt Harvard used her check-box to show it was meeting racial quotas, but then again there are no racial quotas at Harvard, or maybe there are, as we'll find out in the upcoming trial).

Warren wasn't a bad candidate, but too far to the Left for most Americans.  Her heart is in the right place, but America isn't ready for far-left Socialism.

Of course, it didn't help matters any that the entire Democratic Primary system was distracted by bogus candidacies such as that of Michael Avenatti, whose only claim to fame (quite literally) was being Stormy Daniel's lawyer (and apparently not even very good at that, if today's decision throwing out her suit is any indication).   Apparently, in the post-Trump world, anyone can be President of the United States, regardless of experience or qualifications - the two things that sunk Hillary's campaign.  Being an "outsider" is seen by the ignorant masses as a sign of honor, not a sign of idiocy.

Eventually, Avenatti fell by the wayside during the primaries, when it became clear that he had no other platform other than to play a "villain" role in Trump's reality-television Presidency.  What puzzled so many of us is why the media even took his candidacy seriously for a moment.  Yet even today, the Post and the Times, report on Avenatti's moves to run for President as if he were a serious contender, instead of a punchline to a bad joke.

The rest of the pack wasn't much to write home about.  Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and a mid-level Obama official, didn't have much in the way of credentials to tout.   Being mayor of crime-ridden San Antonio is about as much a resume-booster as being mayor of Chicago (let's not even go there!).   Yes, like so many other people, I got my car broken into in San Antonio.  It is what you do there.  You go down to the riverwalk, see the sights, ride the tour boat, and then call the glass company to replace the window on your car.   People even told me in advance this is exactly what would happen.  And I was parked behind the courthouse - beneath a security camera (that of course, was broken, like the government in San Antonio).   Julian Castro?  Please!  Don't insult our intelligence.

Of course, the name of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was bandied about, but she is only 28 years old today, and would be five years shy of the minimum age needed to be President, according to the constitution.   Democrats were foaming at the mouth over her, convinced that "Democratic Socialists" would carry the day - which they might for the primaries, but the general election is won by the independent voters - middle-of-the-road middle-class people whose one major goal in life isn't radical change of the government, but don't rock the boat - not while they're paying down a mortgage and funding their 401(k).  Promises of a socialist utopia simply didn't resonate in suburbia.

And that, in short, is why Bernie Sanders fizzled out.  A man who won't commit to joining the party whose nomination he seeks, isn't fit for office.  His far-out socialist politics simply didn't carry the day.  Forced to choose between an unhinged Twitter addict whose policies are, for the most part, pretty standard Republican fare, and an uncertain future with draconian tax increases, big government, and socialize medicine, the independents either stayed home or held their nose and voted Republican.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker tried to recapture some of that Obama magic - and hoped he could get out the black vote.  But being senator from a failed part of a failed State is about as toxic as being mayor of Chicago.  Next!

One would think the "Me too" movement would favor women candidates, such as Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris.  But as the Hillary experience proved, a substantial number of women are not prepared to vote for another woman just because of their gender.  Political positions and views are more paramount.  Warren failed in her attempt to counteract the "Pocahontas" nonsense - playing right into Trump's hands with a DNA test.  Harris, on the other hand was just too inexperienced, having only been elected to office in 2017.   It was all-too-easy to play her off as untested and unready.

New York Mayor Micheal Bloomberg might seem like a good choice - a member in good standing of the "old white men's club" and a conservative Democrat - being elected mayor initially as a Republican.  His experience and more centrist views would have won the votes of the independent voters.   And unlike Trump, he is a real multi-billionaire, estimated to have over $50 Billion in wealth.  But this very fact made him fodder for attacks from the Sanders crowd, and he was shouted down before he could even speak, early on in the primaries.

I won't be a spoiler by telling you who actually won the Democratic nomination, but if I did, you'd gasp and say, "really?  that was the best they could do?" and you'd understand why Trump won yet again.


Life Coach Gets Schooled by Hoarder

You can't fix hoarding.  And the whole "life coach" concept is flawed.

I have noted time and again that I am not a big follower of religious leaders.  For some reason, we look up to religious leaders as having some sort of inside track to God, when their life experience is really not much more than our own.   The Pope has no more insight into what happens after you die than you or I do, yet we hang on his every word with reverence.   And the same is true for other religious leaders - all of whom cloak themselves in elaborate or archaic garments, as if to enshrine themselves and make them look noble and wise.   (I think if we saw them all naked, we might have a different view of their opinions!).

It is not that they have nothing to say, only that what they have to say is of no greater or lesser import than what the rest of us have to say.

In the USA in recent years, a new form of secular religious Imam has come to the forefront - the so-called "life coach".   Like other types of religious leaders, these folks have no real special credentials or training in what we call "life" - any more than the rest of us do.   What they are selling is pure pablum, plain and simple.   It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you to stop compulsive spending, gambling, drug use, or alcohol abuse.   It takes willpower and discipline - and you can't get that from a "coach", but that is perhaps, why people are attracted to charismatic leaders who promise to tell everyone what to do.   And that also is perhaps the attraction of religion - giving up your own impulses in favor of someone telling you what to do (and usually the first thing they tell you to do is give them a sizable portion of your wealth, if not all of it).

A reader writes to me that one of these "life coach" charlatans is about to be schooled by a hoarder.  It seems a local hoarder - replete with junked cars on his lawn and the de rigeur dead cat (what is up with the dead cats?  Usually in the freezer?  Is it some sort initiation rite into the hoarder club?) is about to be "fixed" by a life coach who is volunteering his time.

The scenario is pretty familiar - at least to me.   A house with broken appliances (stove used as furnace, other appliances "tweaked" and disassembled - check!).  The utilities turned off regularly (check!).  The house filled with garbage and junked cars on the lawn (check!).  The house in need of major structural repairs due to neglect of basic maintenance (e.g., letting the gutters fill with leaves until the roof rots through, then letting the water damage accumulate for years until the walls are full of mold and the foundation has shifted - that sort of thing).  Check, check, check!

But this "life coach" has jumped in with both feet, and boldly promises to do what no other person on planet Earth has managed to do to date - and that is to cure a hoarder.   Truly, this is a super-man!  But that is indeed the case - hoarding cannot be cured, at all, whatsoever.  There are no "former hoarders" out there - or damn few, if any.  Most die early and that in turn "cures" the hoarding, unless, of course, the heirs turn into hoarders themselves upon inheriting the hoarding house.  Yes, I have seen this happen - twice now.  Once with the hoarding house across the street from me, and another time with a friend of mine.  Either there is some sort of mold in the house that makes the new tenants into hoarders, or it is an inherited illness.  It is a sad situation to see hoarding passed down from generation to generation.

Our "life coach's" plan is simple: he will just take complete and utter control over the hoarder's life and re-arrange it so he no longer hoards.  And he plans on doing this for free and use donated materials and services to turn the hoarder's life around.

Neat plan.  It has a few flaws.

First of all, few of us want others to run our lives.  Yes, you could "intervene" in my life and argue that I should go back to work as a Patent Attorney - no more goofing off!   No more writing blog entries!  And you could argue that I should eat healthier foods, exercise more, and drink less.  No doubt I would be wealthier, healthier and live longer.   Problem is, I have other ideas on how to live my life - even if they are not optimal in your view.   We have this thing called "free choice" and most folks are reluctant to give up on it - without a fight.

Oh, sure, there are folks who will check themselves into "rehab" - but usually only when forced to do so because of legal troubles.  And in re-hab, someone takes control of your life, telling you what to eat and drink and do, and often you do get better.   But then they leave re-hab and go back to their old ways.   Change has to come from within, it can't be forced from outside.  Otherwise, it doesn't stick.  and change is a very rare thing.

Speaking of which, a few years back, I got angry e-mails from people saying that I was "telling them what to do" - as if I could reach through the computer screen and grab them by the neck and get them to stop taking out payday loans.    I am not telling anyone what to do - or even offering advice.  I merely make observations.   And as I have noted before, if you identify with the hypothetical, maybe that is telling you something.  Maybe.

But getting back to our narrative, the second problem with this battle-plan is how to implement it.  The hoarder in question has already stated that removing the junked cars is a non-starter.   Guess what happens when you start taking out the stacks of old newspapers and piles of broken lawnmowers?   A major battle is what.  The hoarder will argue that the "junk" you want to throw away is in fact, valuable antiquities.   After all, he's seen similar crap sell for millions on Antiques Roadshow or on Storage Wars.    Why make him part with his precious collectibles?

And again, these are not negotiable points.   And by the way, under the law, that "junk" you want to throw away is legally the property of the hoarder.   Start tossing his crap without permission, and you'll end up in the back of squad car.

Oh, and by the way, he will never give you permission to throw away any of his junk.

The third problem with this approach is why are you spending your own time and money to enrich someone else?  The "life coach" says his plan - which involves conning some "handyman" to live in the home and repair it - will "preserve the equity" that the hoarder has in the property.   In other words, after all of this time and effort, if you were successful, all you've done is made some other guy wealthier, at great cost to you and no cost to him.

If the hoarder has equity in the home, they have wealth.  And often hoarders do have some income, wealth, and equity - they just squander it by hoarding.  A friend of mine who inherited their parents' hoarding house also inherited several million dollars.  Mom and Dad were not destitute, they could have called someone and fixed the house in a matter of months - or simply bought a new house.  The hoarder across the street from me did just that - buying a new home once the old one was filled.  By the time he died, he owned at least four homes - all full of junk, with junked cars on the lawn.  He was not "poor" in any sense other than in his mind.  If hoarders really wanted to "change their lives" they could so do by selling off or throwing away their junk, repairing their homes or selling them, or doing other things to take charge of their own lives.

But the bottom line is, they don't want to, and you can't make them.   So don't bother.

Trying to "fix" other people is an enormous waste of time.  And oftentimes the people trying to "fix" other people's lives are in worse shape than the person they are trying to fix.  As I noted before, my late sister once tried to stage an "intervention" for my late Mother.   It was a nice gesture, but my sister had a boatload of issues of her own to deal with, and trying to "fix" Mother was, perhaps, a way of distracting herself from her own problems.

A massage therapist recently tried to convince me that I would live longer and be healthier if only I would convert to his vegan lifestyle.  I kept my own counsel, but I could not help but think that although he was a few years older than me, he was not in any position to retire anytime soon, and I strongly suspected that, like most people these days, he was hopelessly in debt and likely would never be able to afford to retire.  At that point, he might regret living such a healthy lifestyle - and living so long!   There are two sides to every coin.

It is all-too-easy (and kind of fun!) to pick apart other people's lives and think (or discuss) about how they are doing a shitty job of living, and "if only they would..." they could be happier or wealthier or healthier.   It is a game we all play.   But so long as it is limited to "dishing the dirt" about other people, you could argue it is a pretty harmless game to play - albeit one that leaves you with a bad feeling about yourself when all is said and done.  I am never happy after people start a "bitch session" about the one person not in attendance, even if I do join in the fun on occasion.  It leaves you with a hollow feeling inside.  And let's not even talk about how awkward it is the next time you see the person in question!

But bitching about someone's (perceived) poor life choices is nothing compared to trying to intervene in their lives.   In every situation I've seen this happen, it ends up badly for everyone involved.  The person intervened complains bitterly about the people who tried to "help" them, and the person who was trying to "help" ends up bitter than the person they wanted to rescue doesn't express their eternal gratitude.

This is why I say I am not an advice columnist.   People ask me for advice on "what to do" in their lives, or take what I write here as advice.  It is not!   The problem with the advice model, is that people love to take advice cafeteria style and then complain when it doesn't pan out.   If you want to become wealthy, for example, you have to save more and spend less.   If you do half of this - save more but still spend more - you will end up broke, as you cannot afford to "save" money unless you cut back on spending by at least the same amount.

And advice for one person might not work for another.   No advice is universal.

There is an upside to this whole sad story, though.   The "life coach" in question will eventually learn a valuable and humbling lesson in life - if he is receptive enough to learn from this.   From what I have read, though, I suspect he will just end up bitter and angry and convinced more than ever that he was "right" and that the hoarder was just not appreciative enough of his skills and efforts!

And who knows?   Maybe he will be the one in a millionth person to actually fix a hoarder.  But I am not holding my breath on that one.  I think I'll take the better odds on the powerball, quite frankly.

But the real lesson is this:  people are not like cars - you can't fix them.  I have never owned a car that said to me, "I prefer to be broken!  Leave me alone!" - although a Fiat I once had came awfully close.  It is tempting to want to be "helpful" and want to make the world a better place.  No one wants to see others suffer, even if they are suffering from their own malfeasance.  But the end result of intervening in others' lives is often there ends up two victims - the intervenor and the intervenee.  Both end up bitter, angry, and mad at each other.  Much time and money is wasted and nothing of substance is accomplished.


* * * 

By the way, this urge to "fix" things or people may appear often in your life.   I have been sucked into more than one crappy deal in life by wanting to "fix things".   Rednecks often sell broken cars, campers, boats, or whatever, with the premise that "you can fix that" - as in, "Well the motor done broke the crankshaft, but you can fix that!" - often in a Craigslist advert (which is one reason not to buy cars on Craigslist.  The other is, often the cars are not really for sale, but advertised by hoarders and other lonely people who want validation that their piece of junk is a priceless collectible).

It is if by saying "you can fix that" it is, in fact, already fixed.   As a car nut (or former one) I would often see such abused vehicles and want to adopt them, much as people adopt stray cats - to give them a good home.   But the bottom line is, of course, that the "fixer upper" car or house or whatever, is often a nightmare money pit.  You are almost better off starting over - buying a better car or tearing down the mold-infested house.

Don't fall into the trap of "you can fix that" - with houses, cars, or even people.   It is a dead-end!

Words Matter - But So Do Actions



When you talk about journalists as "enemy of the people" should you be surprised later on when one of them is murdered?

In recent years, we have seen a host of targeted assassinations by world powers.  Korea kills off a potential successor to the "supreme leader" by using a nerve agent.   Russia similarly poisons a former KGB officer in Great Britain.   Saudi Arabia murders a journalist critical of the royal family by luring him into a consulate - never to be seen again.

You can almost visualize the reaction in the royal palace in Riyadh to the world outcry over the last item.   "But Trump said they were the enemy of the people!  Why are they so upset when we take it to the next level?"

But that is exactly what is going on, sadly.  It is not much different from the rhetoric used in fascist regimes against minority groups.  You demonize and marginalize some scapegoat group and pretty soon, you've convinced a lot of people that the group in question is barely human - and thus worthy of only death.  Oftentimes, you don't have to do the deed yourself, you just energize others to do it for you.  It is not unlike the fatwas made by Islamic leaders - which also result in targeted assassinations as well.

But of course, there are other things going on here.   When it comes to targeted assassinations, well, the US has a pretty good track record of its own.  And of course, today, we use more sophisticated techniques than poisons (traditionally viewed as the passive weapon of choice of women - take that, Putin!), we have drones.    And of course, the people we are killing with drones, are, most of the time, enemy combatants or leaders of terrorist groups.   So it's OK for us to blow someone up in someone else's country, if they are a "bad guy."

The problem is, one person's bad guy is another person's good guy, or at least an innocent in their view.   We may view a traitor to the KGB as a "good guy" or at least someone who hasn't done anything wrong meriting death.  Vlad Putin may have other ideas.   Ditto for Kim Jung-un or the Crown Prince.  Their view of  good versus evil is not aligned with ours.

And this sort of thing is not new. During the Cold War, assassination of defectors was, if not commonplace, at least happened on occasion.  And while we may have raised concerns and made diplomatic noises, in the end, not much got done and the culprits ended up getting away.

So what's the point of this?  Perhaps nothing.   But I won't be surprised when nothing comes of this latest assassination, once the noise dies down and a few news cycles bury the story.  We are not about to give up lucrative arms sales to Saudi Arabia over some "journalist" are we?  And we certainly don't want to cut off the oil pipeline, just as oil is headed to $100 a barrel, now that sanctions are being imposed again on Iran, while the Venezuela oil industry self-destructs.

No, likely we'll make noises of outrage and then continue on, business as usual.  But I suspect as a result, you will see more incidents like this in the future - both here at home and abroad, by State actors and unhinged individuals.   We have given people license to kill, and be killed, through rhetoric and deeds.

Monday, October 15, 2018

And So It Begins - Not With a Bang, But a Whimper

Sears just quietly declared bankruptcy the other day - and no one seemed to notice.

Like so many other people who follow the market, I have been on Sears death watch for years now.  At one time - decades ago - I owned Sears stock, which I bought through the Money Paper one share at a time.  I made a little money and got out.   And it was a good thing.  How they stayed in business for as long as they did is an interesting question - it takes a long time to topple big companies.  You can survive a long time simply by cutting off your limbs and eating them.

The financial press has been predicting a recession for some time now - and that is not a prediction that is hard to get right.  Our economy is defined by successive booms and busts, since the dawn of time.  And with each boom, there is a bust, and in retrospect, we all look back and wonder why it took so long.

And maybe, well maybe, the time for a market correction has finally come.   I am sure that those in power today hoped it would be in 2020 or beyond, so they could blame it all on the Democrats.   President Trump (throw up in mouth a little) already is posturing that if the Democrats gain a few seats in the House next election, they will be responsible for the coming recession.   Pretty neat game plan - blaming in advance for the fiasco that will inevitably come.

Sears' problems are well documented, and go far beyond the "everyone is shopping online on Amazon" excuse.  Sears made many mistakes - well documented - from trying to promote it's "softer side" to axing the catalog just prior to the age of online shopping.   One could even argue that their mishandling of their online service Prodigy was partly to blame - in a pre-AOL era, Sears pretty much owned online access, and could have piggybacked this with online ordering via its catalog, and pre-empted eBay, Amazon, and a host of other online commerce sites.

But absent a working time machine, "coulda woulda" is a stupid game to play.  And in an era where Walmart and Target and a host of other "brick and mortar" retailers are still coining money, these Amazonian excuses are a little thin.   Sears was mismanaged to the point where it was so cheap to buy that a bankrupt Kmart ended up owning it - with a major shareholder and CEO who felt the real estate was worth more than the underlying business.  And who knows?  He may end up holding all the real estate - as well as other properties, real and intellectual - when the dust settles.

But one thing is for sure, a lot of retirees counting on their pension from Sears are going to have a rude surprise pretty soon - including some people I know personally.

Of course, the Sears bankruptcy will spook markets, and people will be less willing to lend to sketchy old-school brick-and-mortar stores.  J.C. Penny will be next in line - also having to service a huge debt load, while at the same time seeing its customer base age out.

Who's next after that?   Heavily leveraged companies, particularly money-losing tech companies, will find the well has dried up.  Even if they can get financing to stay in business, they will have to pay higher interest rates on that debt, due to rising rates at the Fed.   Why risk losing everything when the government is offering guaranteed bonds for not a lot less?   So Elon Musk has a very good reason to get high as a kite all the time.  Just pretend it isn't happening, Elon - it seems to work for Trump.

But rising interest rates will have other side-effects as well.  As mortgages push 5% these days (which they are) the cost of owning a home will increase - or the cost of homes will decrease.  As I keep harping on in this blog, the price of a home is based on the monthly carrying cost, as most plebes have "jobs" and thus can only afford to pay a certain percentage of their take-home pay to service a mortgage.  Raise the interest rates, insurance rates, or property tax rates, and the prices go down - just like a see-saw.  And no, this is not up for debate.  Homeowners simply can't just come up with the extra dough to pay skyrocketing interest payments, taxes, or insurance.  At some point, people stop buying - and prices go down.

Price go down, and the guy who bought a house last week shits his pants.  His house is now worth less than what he owes on the mortgage.   If this goes on long enough and severely enough, people end up walking away from houses and mortgages.  Why do I say this?   Well, I've lived through this twice in my lifetime already, in 1989 and 2009.   These things are happening more often and with more pronounced effect, as time goes on.

Jobs are no longer scarce, and in fact, everyone is hiring.  But despite Amazon raising wages to $15 an hour, wages have not really gone up in real terms, at least according to the labor department.  With wages stagnant for a decade or more, people don't have a lot of money to spend these days.  A few shocks - psychological or real - could cause people to spend less.   When you see your disposable income drop, due to increases in rate in your ARM mortgage, you spend less.  When you see your neighbor lose his home to foreclosure, you tend to spend less as well.   The thing feeds upon itself.

A pensioner in upstate New York, who sees their modest pension from Sears drop from $250 a month to $75 a month, will start spending less.   Thank God her husband still has his pension from J.C. Penny, right?   These are real people and real situations.   When the shit hits the fan, they will start spending less.  Now multiply this by 330 million people.   You see how it plays out.

Hey, throw in $100-a-barrel oil, just for funsies.  Oh, boy, will this be a bad one!

Does this mean the end times are coming?  Of course not.   It means a lot of us will lose a little money.  A few will lose houses and jobs.   Eventually we all go back to work, for a lot less that what we were making before.  Hopefully, when that happens, we will be able to spend our meager paychecks on cheap crap made in China.

Oh, wait.  Tariffs.

President Hoover, what have you wrought?

The Bag Tax - Does it Really Alter Behavior?


Will charging five or ten cents for plastic bags save the whales?  Perhaps not.

In British Columbia, we were charged five cents a bag for plastic grocery bags.  The idea behind this law is that it will encourage people to use "reusable" bags (or carry their groceries in their arms) and thus save the oceans from yet more plastic.   California has an even more severe law - ten cents a bag, and the bags must be "reusable" at least ten times.   The net result seems to be that we finally get decent heavy-duty plastic bags for a change, instead of these flimsy thin plastic deals.   But in both cases, however, I didn't see my personal behavior changing one iota.

Simply stated, when buying $150 of groceries - which isn't hard to do these days - spending an additional fifty cents on bags doesn't seem like that big a deal.  It is like deposit laws.  When we travel from State to State, we don't really take notice of the cost of deposit on cans or whatever, and carefully catalog the containers and return them to the store for a refund.   Even when we lived in New York, we found it to be a useless waste of time - you keep stinky, smelly used beer cans in your garage for a month or two, and then cash them in for a whopping $5.50 later on.  That was worth it, wasn't it?

Or was it just a big hassle over nothing?

The idea behind the "bag ban" is that plastics are filling the oceans - causing a "garbage patch" and getting ground up and into the food chain.  Chunks of plastic are in the flesh of fish!  And maybe in our own flesh as well!  This may be the case, but I am not sure how the grocery bag enters into this more than any other source of plastic.  I throw my bags in the trash, where they end up in a landfill.  I am not sure how so many bags end up in the ocean this way.

But of course, they do.  We are camping on a cliff in Malibu, enjoying the dry Santa Ana winds and hoping the whole place doesn't go up in flames.   You can see the ocean below and feel the crashing of the surf right through the ground under your feet.   And on occasion, I have seen a plastic grocery bag, looking like a giant jellyfish, slowly make its way out to sea, after getting away from some beach-goer or camper.  But again, this is in a State where we have a "bag tax" and such things are not supposed to happen!   Yet, happen they do.  Short of an outright ban on bags, (please, no!) I am not sure charging five or ten cents for bag - or for deposit bottles - is going to make much of a difference.

And a lot of ink has been spilled about soda straws.   And again, here in politically correct California, I was somewhat surprised to go to a restaurant and be offered plastic soda straws with our waters - without being asked (even though a sign on the wait station clearly says "soda straws only on request!).   And yes, I picked up a plastic soda straw at our campsite - discarded by another camper.  I never understood America's fascination with straws - they sort of suck the fun out (pardon the pun) of drinking just about anything, other than things you probably shouldn't drink anyway, like big gulps and frozen slurpees.

But as it turns out, plastic garbage bags and soda straws are not the largest source of marine plastic trash - or at least not as much as postulated by the anti-bag folks.   And there are anti-bag folks out there, too - they have detested disposable plastic bags for years, and these "bag bans" and bag taxes have been on their agenda for a long time.   It turns out that a lot of the plastic trash in the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" isn't from you tossing grocery bags in the ocean (which you do, a lot, right?) but from discarded fishing gear - nets and things that end up in the water when they are caught on underwater obstructions or whatever.   Unlike old-fashioned nets made from hemp rope, the new modern plastic netting never disintegrates - or takes a long time to do so - and when it does, it makes small chunks of plastic, rather than decomposing into nothing.

So these "bag taxes" - which is really all they are - will not change the composition of the garbage patch in the ocean very much.  In fact, they likely won't change much, in terms of behaviors of consumers, other than to perhaps nudge a few people already inclined to use re-usable bags, to remember to bring them next time.   But I suspect a vast majority will simply pay for the bags and move on with life - at least based on what I am seeing in the grocery stores.

But what about the landfills?  Our precious natural resources?  Surely the thin plastic grocery bags are destroying the environment and over-filling our nation's landfills, right?   We went through this decades ago, when alarmists posited that disposable diapers (another target of the far-Left) were "overflowing landfills" - with alarmist statistics being batted about to support this argument.   But then some folks pointed out that the Bureau of Specious Statistics was at it again - that in order for these numbers to work, every American would have to be disposing of 100 diapers a day.

I think a similar thing is going on here with the plastic bags.   Sure, throwing anything away has some social and environmental cost.  But why plastic bags are singled out, and not the plastic containers and other packaging that is used for various products, is beyond me.   One plastic bottle has enough plastic to make dozens of plastic bags.  And yes, even with deposit laws and "recycling" a vast majority of this type of packaging ends up in landfills - or by the side of the road, or in the ocean.

I am not sure what the answer is.  Maybe technology can fix the problems technology created.  There are already biodegradable plastic bags out there, as well as bags made with corn starch or some such stuff.  And of course, there is the good old reliable brown paper sack, which was in use since before I was born - but costs more and weighs more than the thin plastic kind.   No doubt retailers will not be happy with bags that biodegrade while in storage, or that dump customer's groceries in the parking lot halfway to the car.

Whatever the solution is, however, I doubt a "bag tax" will really do the trick.  Because everywhere we have shopped so far on this trip, we've merely paid the fee and ended up using the plastic bags, just as before (they make great garbage bags in the camper).   It hasn't changed my behavior one iota, and from what I see at the grocery store, I don't think it is changing others' as well.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Carnival Cruise Lines - How IPOs Were Supposed to Work


What were IPOs originally designed to do?

As I noted in an earlier posting, the modern IPO is nothing more than a vehicle for company founders to "cash out" by creating a marketable equity in their company.   They create hype, sell 5% or so of the company to chumps like you and me at the IPO (which doubles in price, enriching their friends who assisted with all the hype) and then later on, they can sell their own shares to more suckers and make a fortune.

'Twas not always the case!

Once upon a time, companies did IPOs to raise cash to build a factory, expand operations, or other legitimate business goals.  And the Carnival IPO of the 1980's is a case in point.   Back in 1987, before the market crashed, the founder of Carnival Cruise lines sold of a whopping 20% of the company in an IPO, and raised an awful lot of cash.   When the stock market receded in the late 1980's, he was the only guy in town with cash on hand, and he went on a buying spree, snapping up other, struggling cruise lines, to become the world's largest cruise company with nearly 50% of the market.

That's how the game is supposed to be played.   And yea, he made a lot of money doing it - for himself, but also for the other shareholders.  The IPO raised real capital which was invested by buying other companies, creating economies of scale and increasing profitability and also the worth of the company.

Contrast this to the modern-day IPO, which is often for some money-losing "dot com" company which is little more than a website, an app, and an idea of how to sell people some sort of service or product like a meal kit, or whatever.   These types of IPOs don't raise a lot of capital - and indeed, most of these companies don't really need the capital.  What they need is a profitable business model, more customers, less customer churn, a lower "burn rate" and a real plan to make profits.

But that isn't the point.  The point is to sell-out and cash-in.   And such was always the case.  I noted before a fellow Patent Attorney friend of mine set up a "dot com" company back in the early 2000's, with an atrocious "burn rate".  He hoped to sell out the company early on and make a tidy profit.  But unfortunately for him, he was still standing up when the music stopped, and he lost it all.

Will we ever see a return to the old days of the legitimate IPO?   I wonder, sometimes.  It seems today that whenever someone does have a legitimate product or idea, they resort to sketchy things like "crowd funding" instead of more traditional investment.   And it seems more and more than private equity is sucking all the air out of the room, leaving the stock market as the last resort investment for "retail" investors (chumps like you and me) who have the choice of either investing in old-line companies who have yet to go private (through private equity buyouts, where the company is sold off in chunks and pieces to chump investors in - you guessed it - new IPOs) or investing in these scam-job IPOs for "new technology" companies, whose "technology" consists of little more than selling shit on the Internet.

I think the old-school IPO will come back - someday.  But in the meantime, a reckoning will be on the horizon, as a lot of what is propping up the current market is merely euphoria.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Smarmy

Do you have to be smarmy and cut corners to succeed?   No, in fact smarmyness often leads to failure.

On the way back from our cruise, we took a taxi back from the cruise terminal to the RV park (which stored the RV for us while we were gone).  The taxi driver was smarmy.   And by that, I don't mean swarthy, which he was also, but just greasy in an ethical sense.   Immediately, he asks if we want to pay cash and whether we want a receipt.  What he wants to do is have us pay him cash directly, so he can not only cheat his employer, the cab company, but also cheat the government by getting paid under the table.   This was a not a good way to start off the relationship.  As I noted before, any business relationship entered into, predicated on a lie, no matter how trivial a lie, will go downhill from there.

And it did.   It was an uncomfortable ride with a man of questionable integrity.  Maybe another trick up his sleeve was robbing his fares?  Or dropping us in a bad part of town where cohorts would clock us on the head and take our wallets?   That sort of thing is common in Mexico City.   I doubt it would happen in Vancouver, but nevertheless, riding with a cab driver of compromised ethics is not a relaxing experience.  He was also a shitty driver - slamming on the brakes of the Prius only when he got to the crosswalk, when he could clearly see the red light from a block away.

Instead of driving us directly to the RV park, he took a circuitious route through Vancouver's Chinatown, which is to say, Vancouver, as all of the city is now Chinatown, with bilingual signs everywhere.  And by that, I don't mean English/French as in Ontario (or just French as in Quebec).  In fact, many signs are just in Chinese, particularly adverts for real estate agents.  The message is none-too-subtle - we don't want your business, round-eye!  You have no money, anyway!

But I digress.   Vancouver, being on the Pacific Rim, has to look toward the West (or is it the far-East?) and China is a far more important trading partner than even the nearby US, to some extent.  Besides, all this influx of cash is propping up the Real Estate market, and no one wants the party to stop just yet, even if ordinary folks are finding it harder and harder to afford a place to live.

But getting back to our story, the smarmy cab driver gets us to our destination, eventually.  He turns off the GPS early into the trip, as he doesn't want us to see that he is deviating from the direct route.  We arrive and the fare is $52, which is odd because the far to the cruise terminal a week earlier, was only $38.   I guess they had a rate increase while we were gone.

I pay the bill and don't make a fuss about it.  It isn't worth it, for about $14, which is like eight dollars American.  But it makes me sad that this guy thinks the way to "get ahead" in life is to cut corners here and there.   And clearly it must be working for him, as he is still driving a cab.

I get a lot of inquiries regarding this blog, and many young people - and young men in particular - and in particular, young men from foreign countries - argue with me that saving money and spending less is only something a stupid chump would do.   To succeed, you have to act successful and spend a lot!  You need a scheme and a plan!  You have to cut corners, do scams and cons, and cheat the tax man and your customers!  In other words, you have to engage in what we used to call "sharp practice" to get ahead.

But for some odd reason, the people who do this never really seem to succeed in life, even as the theory takes hold more and more in America.  Today we have our Smarmy-In-Chief running the country - a guy who made his career by cutting corners and browbeating people into "deals" that often ended up with him in bankruptcy court.   By some accounts, Donald Trump would easily be two to five times as wealthy as he currently is, if he only took the money left to him by his Dad and simply invested it in Index funds.  Instead, he tried the "art of the deal" and most of these deals - the casinos, the housing projects, the airline, etc. - all blew up in his face.

On the flip side, you have people like Warren Buffet, who invests old-school dividend-paying companies and ends up one of the world's richest men.  Or the people who follow the "Boglehead" theory of investing, by putting their money into investment funds and simply leaving it alone.  They are not trying to skim a few dollars here and there to "get ahead" or cutting corners or cheating the IRS.   And the advantage to this philosophy is not only that you will make more money in the long run, but that you don't have to constantly be looking over your shoulder and wondering when the police, or the IRS, or a disgruntled customer are going to show up and exact their vengeance.   Ask any of the former associates of Donald Trump who are now facing jail time whether the "smarmy" model worked for them.   Trump himself is clearly nervous that the other shoe will drop at any given moment.   That is no way to live.

But that is the way the media portrays the rich - living in gated enclaves and engaging in nefarious schemes to get rich.   And maybe a few such people exist.  But you'd be surprised how many people get fabulously rich simply by running a company that makes a good product at a reasonable price and sells for a hefty profit.   It's been known to work on occasion.

But like with get-rich-quick schemes, the poor often believe that there are shortcuts to wealth, and that nicking a little bit here and there is the only way to succeed.   This is not to say that if you run a business you shouldn't cut expenses and cut overhead as much as possible - small savings here and there add up to the difference between a profit and a loss.  But that is far different than, say, trying to get ahead by systematically short-changing customers, or by cutting the quality of your products to the point where they are junk.   Both tactics usually end up with the company going bust - eventually, over time.

Smarmyness simply doesn't work.   And yet smarmyness is on the rise worldwide.   The cabdriver in question was from overseas - from an area of the world where sharp practice and shady dealing are a way of life.   And one reason he left there, no doubt, was that the smarmy economy of his home country is in perpetual depression (Gee, I wonder why?).   No doubt, he was of the opinion, being raised in that environment, that smarmy was the way to success - and how people in America (and Canada) became successful as well.  But such is not the case.  Smarmyness is not a cultural value in the West (for the most part) and engaging in smarmyness is a sure way to alienate yourself from western society, regardless of whether you are born into it or immigrate to it.

When I was a pizza delivery driver, I had co-workers who tried to cut corners.  Or, at the very least, they would complain bitterly if every delivery they made wasn't a huge profit for them with a big tip.   For example, one company I worked for would not pay us a percentage of delivery for salads - for whatever reason.   So a delivery to far-away South Campus, with only two salads (and no tip!) was a money-loser for the driver.   Some drivers would complain loud and long about this, or if they had such a delivery, put it off and deliver more high-margin pizza pies to the frat houses (with drunken tips!) first and end up delivering wilted, warm salads, late, thus insuring no tip (and creating a self-fulfilling prophesy).

Myself, I took the opposite approach.  Regardless of tip or profit, I delivered the product the same way - the way I was hired to do.   I figured that it would even out over time, and you can't make a killing on every delivery (like a 30-pie delivery to a convention at a hotel) nor should you expect to.  You can waste a lot of time and energy trying to optimize outcomes in what is, in effect, a small potatoes game.

Similarly, I am sure that my cab driver friend, no matter how much he tries to cheat in the margins, isn't going to get ahead any more than the other cab drivers who play by the rules.   Passengers will be turned off by his smarmyness and probably be inclined to tip less.  The cab company will eventually catch on to his cheating them of fare money and fire him - and he will suffer the ignominy of being fired from a job that, well, is pretty damn hard to get fired from.   And where do you go from there?

Yet the papers are full of articles about people who do similar things.  Folks with cushy jobs and government pensions, who feel they need to cheat on their expense reports or steal office supplies, to "get ahead" of their fellow cubicle dwellers.   After all, this is how it is done, right?  The President of GM didn't get to where she is today by not stealing paper clips from the office supply cabinet, right?   Wrong.

Cheaters may win in the short run, and indeed, a few even win in the long run.  But the large majority, even if they are not caught, never really end up getting very far ahead of those who don't cheat.  And by focusing their energies on cheating, they often forgo other opportunities offered to them, such as funding their 401(k) - because in their minds, that sort of thing is for chumps, right?

Wrong.

Don't be smarmy!  It just isn't worth it.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Dispensary

No, I haven't turned into a chronic stoner.  And no, I'm not quite dead yet.

A reader asks if I am still alive, as I have not posted in a while.  After over 4,000 postings, I am kind of losing interest and running out of things to say.  I am already realizing that as I get older, I am less and less certain of things.  When I was Brett Kavanaugh's age, I was pretty much certain about everything in life.   But as I start pushing 60, I find I am far less so.  I wrote this blog to organize my own thoughts, and get my own financial house in order.   A decade later (!) I have pretty much accomplished my goals - getting completely out of debt, and out of the debt mindset, and planning for and executing my retirement.

I have also been a cruise in Alaska for the last week, and we got sick on the last day with a bad cold.  So I have been out of circulation.  Yea, I know, I am not a big fan of cruises.   But the only way to visit a major part of Alaska - along the inside passage - is by boat.   Yes, the very capital of Alaska - Juneau - cannot be reached by car, but requires a boat or airplane ride.  Alaska has something called the "marine highway system" which is a euphemism for a series of government-run ferries, with all that entails.   Service can be spotty, reservations are needed a year in advance, and the cost is staggering - in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, if you want to take an RV on the ferries.  We did take one from Haines to Skagway, for about $300 - for an hour's ferry ride.   So you get the idea.

By the way, Tanzanite, anyone?  What's up with that?   Skagway has dozens of Tanzanite jewelry stores.  Fortuately, it has a nice distillery on 9th and Alaska, where they can make you a nice drink and you can meet some local trash, far away from the noise of the cruise ships - which can dump 10,000 people into a city of 600, in a matter of minutes.  Ouch.

So, a cruise ship seemed like a cheaper alternative to the ferry, believe it or not.   And since it was the end of the season, we got a good price and then were offered upgrades from our windowless cabin on deck 2, to a balcony cabin on deck 5, and finally to a suite on deck 8.   It still cost a couple of grand or more, but it was on par with the Alaska ferry, and much more comfortable.

Another reader chastises me for visiting a marijuana dispensary in Alaska.   I have been taking CBD oil, which is derived from hemp.  Since I am allergic to aspirin and ibuprofen, I don't have many other options.  It seems to help with the tendinitis and whatnot.  Even though it has no THC in it, Mark wasn't comfortable crossing the border with it - in either direction.  So we bought more in Alaska and again in Washington State.   I had been mail-ordering it from a lady in Maine, so this was the first time I went to a "store" to buy it.  The dispensaries are interesting.  Some have the vibe of one of those X-rated lingerie shops that sell "adult toys" and "marital aids" and whatnot.  Others are more like fireworks stores - with extensive colorful displays.  Some are small shacks with just a counter, a few products and a very, very stoned guy behind the counter.

And when you go into such a place, you do get a little high - the smell alone is literally intoxicating.

There are a lot of them - in Alaska, Washington State, and Oregon, where we are now.  There are even some in Canada already open, on Vancouver Island, where the locals don't pay to much attention to laws coming from Ottawa.   And speaking of dispensaries,  little coffee shacks are rampant in Canada and Alaska - small sheds you drive up to for coffee.   But Washington State has them all beat - they have "Foxy Coffee" shacks, which are drive-up coffee bars with naked barista's.   So you get your cup of Joe along with some titties flashed in your face.  I guess, given how cloudy and rainy it is up there, they need this just to start their hearts in the morning.

Speaking of cloudy, we lucked out with that.  I made reservations for two kayak excursions on the cruise, back in July, when it seemed that Alaska might have nice weather - not thinking that in September, it might be a different story.   Well, an historic high pressure system came to the rescue, and we had unseasonably warm, sunny weather the whole time.   God looks after fools and children.

Well, that is, until we returned to Vancouver with our colds and it was pouring rain the whole time.

But getting back to marijuana use, as I noted before in earlier postings, I am not "against" it, as a reader opines.  And the reason for this is, as a former "chronic" myself, I know that you cannot convince people that marijuana is harming them, no more than you can convince an alcoholic that drinking is ruining their lives.   They have to figure it out for themselves.  Interventions are for idiots who have too much time on their hands and want to meddle in other people's lives.

If you want to smoke pot, go for it.  But please don't do that and apply for government assistance or tell me how awful your life is and how you are living "paycheck to paycheck".   As I noted in an earlier posting, my brilliant idea was to legalize pot, but only for people over 65.  It makes sense - at that point in your life, you have no responsibilities and have already made your fortune (such as it is) and it would help with the aches and pains of getting old.  Plus it would make grandma very popular with the grandkids.  "You want to visit grandma again?  That's the third time this month!  I'm so glad you are close to her!"

And the seniors could sell the excess pot to pay for living expenses - negating the need for social security.  Sort of like how we throw the Indians a bone with this casino thing.   But alas, like all my brilliant ideas, it never saw the light of day, and instead they are using this half-assed patchwork legalization which is making life difficult for everyone.  After the mid-terms, Jeff Sessions will surely sic the DEA on these poor folks who set up dispensaries.

By the way, one dispensary I visited actually accepted credit cards.   Don't ask me how.  They swiped the payment to one company that in turn, made a "donation" to the dispensary.   It shows the hoops they have to jump through - and the ridiculousness of the current legal situation.

So if you want to smoke pot, go for it.  But if you have responsibilities, like a job, a house, kids, a career, you might want to think it over and wonder whether pot is distracting you from more important things in life (just as beer can distract a potential Supreme Court nominee).   Those prime earning years, from age 20 to 50, are when you are going to make the majority of your wealth in life.  If you are in your prime earning years and it isn't happening, well, there isn't going a do-over in the future.

It is why I am very saddened when I see young people who are begging on the streets as a lifestyle choice (and it is a choice).   These are often well-dressed and healthy-looking young kids in the prime of life who have just given up at the get-go and gone into homeless mode.   If this is how it is playing out at age 27, what will 57 be like?   Pretty fucking sad is what.   And in an economy in both Canada and the US where unemployment is at an all-time low, there is really no excuse for begging with a cardboard sign, when jobs are plentiful.

Maybe not high-paying, but plentiful.   You'll know what I mean if you stay in a campground across the street from an Amazon "fulfillment center" near Seattle, and realize that the majority of "campers" with you are working across the street.

But speaking of the economy, exchange rates, and tariffs, we put down a deposit on a new Canadian-made camper - an Escape 21.   The Casita is now nearly 20 years old and while it has held up admirably over the 15 years we have owned it, I have not held up nearly as well.  It is harder for me to bend and twist in such a small space.  The Escape is built along the same lines as the Casita - solid fiberglass, not sticks and staples and laminated walls - but is just a little larger and wider.  With the current exchange rate between the Canadian dollar and the US dollar, it is also attractively priced.  I just have to hope the exchange rate holds, or that Trump doesn't slap a tariff on "Canadian made trailers" of 25% or more.

So we will be returning to Vancouver next year to pick it up.  Maybe then, we can stop by and get some of that titty-coffee when we cross the border.



Look around me
I can see my life before me
Running rings around the way it used to be

I am older now
I have more than what I wanted
But I wish that I had started long before I did

And there's so much time to make up everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away

Oh, when you were young
Did you question all the answers
Did you envy all the dancers who had all the nerve

Look around you now
You must go for what you wanted
Look at all my friends who did and got what they deserved

So much time to make up everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away

So much love to make up everywhere you turn
Love we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away
Let the water come and carry us away

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Power, Status, and Homelessness

You would think a crazy homeless person was powerless, but you'd be wrong.

Two incidents recently put into focus how being crazy is, in fact, a form of power.  I wrote before about the Culture of Belligerence and how powerless people - or people who perceive themselves to be powerless, use belligerence as a tool to assert power in their lives over others:
And part of this mystique is to have a bad-ass hog.  Motorcyles, once confined to enthusiasts, are owned by nearly every working Joe, who fits them with ear-splitting pipes.  And at a traffic light, they will be sure to gun the engine right next to you, just to annoy you - to make a point.  Whaddya gonna do about it, pussy-boy?  I'm a bad-ass!  Fuck you!
And no doubt, you've been exposed to this.  Someone makes a noise that causes you to experience literal pain - and even possible hearing damage - and there is nothing you can do about it.  You could call the cops, but they'd laugh at you.   Shoot the guy in the head - which he richly deserves - and suddenly you're the bad guy.  So you suck it up and move on with life.  They have the power and you, the law-abiding citizen are powerless.

Not long ago, such was not the case.  You drove around with straight pipes on your "hog" and you got a sheaf of noise violation tickets - not to mention speeding tickets, DUI, and drug offenses.  Loud pipes, like idiotic "clear taillights" on a rice racer, were "probable cause" to pull you over and bust you for a number of things.  Today, the police are too busy investigating machete slayings to worry about loud bikers - and in fact, chances are, the cop has a set of straight pipes on his off-duty Harley as well.

So you, Joe Citizen, have to suck it up when someone is belligerent.   Our society has decided that this is permissible, and we congratulate ourselves for a shrinking crime rate, simply because we are no longer classifying a lot of things as crimes.

Homeless people are often - and usually - mentally ill. They also have drug or alcohol problems.  They are parasites on society and we feel sorry for them and allow them to camp under the freeway and shit on our sidewalks.   And we also give them a pass when they set up a begging site near the subway and scream obsenities and make lewd remarks at passers-by.   If someone was running for political office, such comments would make them unworthy of election.  But we let a bum get away with it because "they can't help it."

While traveling through Watson Lake (advice: keep driving) we were accosted by two homeless "first nations" peoples (who in the States we call Indians) who were drunk or on drugs or crazy or all three.   They shouted obscenities and said rude things to us, which made us feel uncomfortable.  Under the law, this is called "assault" actually, and it is illegal.   But you can't do anything about it.  I asked a local about the homeless Indians congregating around dumpsters doing drugs and getting shitfaced drunk, and they admitted it was a problem but "there is nothing we can do about it" because homeless people are the victims here, and as homeless Indians, are double-victims.   So you have to just suck it up when they piss on your car, and it's your fault for parking too close to the dumpster.

On the Vancouver "Skytrain" we were treated to another example of how the inmates are running the asylum these days in Western countries.   Public transit is not popular in the United States for the simple reason that public transit vehicles quickly turn into human garbage trucks - hauling the dregs of society.  These are not people who are using it for the convenience factor, but because they can't afford a car because their personal lives are a wreck.   I've saw this on the Washington Metro buses when I first moved to DC.  A mid-level government clerk was sitting on the bus, and young black boys were harassing him - calling him names and knocking his hat off.  He tried to complain to the bus driver, but the driver "didn't want to get involved."  If the guy got off the bus, the young black youths might have followed him.  So he endured harassment until he reached his stop.

I saw this and thought about intervening.  But like everyone else on the bus, was afraid to get involved and end up the subject of harassment myself.  The bus driver basically gave these kids carte blanch to do whatever the fuck they wanted to, so they ran wild on the bus.  Myself, I decided to drive to work from then on, even if a parking space cost me a whopping $60 a month (which was less than the bus/train fare, and of course, took half as long).  Buses are garbage trucks.

The Vancouver "Skytrain" is largely a nice transit system, although the names of the train lines are a bit pretentious, if not dated ("millenial line" and "expo line" - I mean, really?).  And for the most part, the riders are well-behaved and mostly young middle-class types.   But tonight, we got on the train behind five young girls in their teens - apparently lesbians all.  I didn't pay attention at first, but Mark filled me in later on.

A crazy lady - dirty, unkept, and smelly - was talking to these nice young girls and apparently saying nasty, homophobic things to them.  One of the girls was so upset she walked away.   I wasn't paying attention to what was being said, but saw it happen.  When the girls all got off at the next stop, crazy lady decided to turn her attention to me and Mark.  And this time, I couldn't ignore it.  She stood up and started walking toward us.  So we move away and she shouted, "I'm following you!"and all sorts of crazy bullshit talk.  Again, it was uncomfortable and since the trains are not even manned, you have little recourse but to move to another car - but of course she followed.

I was a little concerned as to what to do.  If she got violent, should I punch her in the face or what?  But of course, I am in a foreign country - one where homeless crazy people are even more beatified than in the United States - so of course, I would be cast as a the "bad guy" beating up a defenseless homeless lady.  But as I found myself retreating further and further from this crazy bitch, I asked myself, why did I have to retreat?   Why did she have the right to harass me, and I had no recourse?

And no recourse is exactly what I had - and crazy lady knew this.  Since we "feel sorry" for homeless bums these days, they can get away with screaming at you on the sidewalk and at the very least, making you feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, or at worst, end up physically assaulted.   And that is where this ends up many times.   Homeless "advocates" claim that homeless people are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators - but what they fail to explain is that their perpetrators are often other homeless people.

As recent events illustrate, crazy people, when armed with guns, knives, or even baseball bats, can wreak havoc in short order.  Even without a weapon, they can push you in front of a subway train (this happens often enough to generate pages of Google hits).  And when a homeless person assaults you verbally, you have no idea as to whether they are holding a knife in their pocket or not - and whether their crazy delusions have decided that you are Satan himself and need to be shanked.

Oh, but that is politically incorrect, of course.  But I digress.

What struck me was that the homeless crazy people in both scenarios I encountered were people who perceived themselves to be powerless in most aspects of their lives.   But they could bully people to their heart's content with no consequences whatsoever, so they do it.   And bully is the operative word here.  Making "normal" people feel uncomfortable or threatened is just a power game they play, to "get even" with society, I guess.  It is no different than the Harley guy with the loud pipes.  He has no real power in the world, other than the power to annoy.

And like bullies everywhere, once they figure out they can get away with bullying, they continue to do so.  So long as no one says, "Sorry, you can't do that" or "You're under arrest" they will continue to engage in more and more outlandish behavior until they are caught - which likely will be never.  (But of course, being crazy, even the threat of being caught is often not enough to stop them from bullying behavior.)

While this might not be a conscious mental calculation for the obnoxious Harley guy or the homeless crazy bitch, it nevertheless is a calculation made somewhere in their brain.  "Let's go harass some citizens!  It's fun and we can get away with it!"  So they do.

They are bullies, plain and simple.  And yet, our society says we should "feel sorry" for people like that - who bully us on a regular basis, refuse to work, badger people for money, and sit around and do drugs all day long, shit on the sidewalk, and steal your stuff.   The "homeless advocates" argue that all homeless people are saints - often quite literally.   One advocate (who later hanged himself) used to put up a "homeless manger scene" in Washington DC, trying to make the analogy that Mary and Joseph were the original homeless couple, and not just a couple of people on their way to pay their taxes, who forgot to make a hotel reservation in advance.   The metaphor is not subtle - homeless people are all Jesus. And some folks even argue that "If Jesus returned to day, he'd be a homeless guy!"

I certainly hope not.  Otherwise all of Christianity is based on the insane mutterings of a bum.   But I don't think that was the case, 2018 years ago, or even today.

So what's the point of this?  Probably nothing.  Just my frustration at being attacked verbally (and fortunately not physically - yet) and not being able to do anything about it.   But worse yet, the idea that somehow the people bullying me are, by virtue of being crazy, are better than me and should be admired, worshiped, and adored, or at the very least, their every whim accommodated. When exactly did the world turn upside-down?

Nothing will likely change in my lifetime.  But there was a time in this country when if you could not run your own life, and were a burden to the State, the State took control of your life.  You weren't allowed to run wild and do whatever the heck you wanted - with everyone else paying for the consequences.  We had institutions, and maybe they were imperfect, but they did serve a function.  And rather than improving or reforming these institutions, we simply abolished them and let all the crazy people out onto the streets, where they became the "homeless" instead of mental patients.   And the narrative from the Left, of course, is that this is all because of capitalism and high rents and evil Republicans, and has nothing to do with the fact these "homeless" people are all bat-shit crazy and on drugs.

So, like I said, nothing will change.   At least not in my lifetime.   But I won't be switching to public transit anytime soon, thank you.