Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Kaiser, Frazer, Tesla

You can be well funded, make an awful lot of cars, and still go out of business.

A lot of people are wondering whether Elon Musk is the Preston Tucker of the automobile world. That is an incorrect assumption. Elio Motors is the Preston Tucker of the automobile world, trying to sell stock and taking deposits on cars that were never made.

But the post War era was full of other oddball brands that never made it past the 1960s or in some cases, the 1980s. Hudson, Nash, Rambler, American Motors and of course Kaiser-Frazier.   All had their brief day in the sun and then faded away.

Kaiser-Frazier bears special mention, as the founder of the company, Henry J Kaiser, was a multi-millionaire if not billionaire, from all the profits he made from building Liberty ships during World War II. He owned Kaiser Aluminum and also started Kaiser Permanente as a healthcare plan for his workers. His name lives on today, there.

But even though he had lots of money and a reasonable car design, he couldn't keep up with the big three. Right after the war, he sold an awful lot of cars because there was an automobile shortage.  People didn't mind so much that they were buying an old flathead engine car from the 1930s that was woefully out of date.

But very quickly the other automakers upped their game. Overhead valve engines and small block V8s became the norm, along with automatic transmissions. Particularly the latter made it hard for smaller manufacturers to keep up. Automatic transmissions were very complicated devices for their era and only big companies like General Motors or Ford could develop and  manufacture them.

Hudson actually came up with its own unique automatic transmission known as the Ultramatic drive. And apparently it wasn't a bad automatic for its era. However, Hudson was still saddled with Flathead engines from the previous decade, and it only was toward the end of their lifespan that they developed an overhead valve V8 - but by then it was too late.

Meanwhile Henry J Kaiser's big idea was to develop a small car. It was a good idea in an era where Volkswagen Beetles were starting to take off along with weird French cars and British imports. However the so-called "Henry J" was a stripped down econo-box that punished its owners and for only $100 more you can buy a base model Chevrolet with an overhead valve in-line 6 and a real trunk lid that opened.

The writing was on the wall. Frazer left the company leaving Kaiser to himself. The only thing kept keeping Kaiser afloat was their purchase of Jeep. And that was bought out by American Motors in the 1960s. Kaiser got out of the automobile business for good.

What is interesting to look at in terms of the old brochures that are online is that Kaiser had very ambitious ideas for a post-war car. The Frazer brand would be there luxury upscale model with a conventional front mounted engine and rear wheel drive. But the Kaiser car would be a front wheel drive car with unibody construction.

However, even with all the money Kaiser had, he couldn't afford to pay for the development costs of such a unique design. So the Kaiser-Frazer cars entered the market being virtual clones of one another and virtual clones of 1930s technology.

Of course, today, transverse mounted front wheel drive cars are pretty much the norm. But back then it was considered radical technology, unproven and undeveloped.

It makes me wonder whether Elon Musk is the Henry J Kaiser of our era. It is true that he's been very successful with his automobiles so far - and in many ways, they include cutting-edge technology - or what was cutting-edge technology when they came out. I recently ran into a French Canadian who was towing a travel trailer with his Tesla Model X. He says he can go about 150 miles a day before having to recharge which is pretty impressive considering he's towing a 3,000 lb trailer.

But he paid over $100,000 Canadian for that SUV which is an awful lot of money. I only paid $40,000 for a pickup truck, and $60,000 buys an awful lot of gasoline over the years.  In fact, the price difference would buy enough gasoline, at $4 a gallon and 15 mpg, to go over 200,000 miles.  As I noted before, hybrid and electric cars might not make much economic sense for most people - for now, anyway.  The prices have to come way down in order to make them work.

Meanwhile, Ford, GM, Chrysler, Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota, Honda and everyone else in the world is starting to build Electric cars. I wonder if the Tesla will become an interesting oddity, much as an old Henry J Kaiser was by the 1960s. And by the 1970s, most of the Kaiser-Frazier cars were long in the junkyard.

My Canadian friend also has a deposit down for the "cybertruck" which seems to be as elusive as the Elio three-wheeled car.  With a production date of "next year" (always a convenient timeline, as you needn't update it on your website!) and oddball styling, one wonders whether Musk has grown bored of Tesla and finds manipulating stock prices a better deal.  And maybe he sees the writing on the wall as the market becomes flooded with better-made and lower-priced electric alternatives. While the "cybertruck" remains to be seen, Ford and GM already are selling their electric models.

We'll have to wait and see how this drama plays out.  Quite frankly, the thought of buying a new car scares me to death, as I hear these stories about how you have to pay a "subscription fee" with some brands (such as BMW) just to use your heated seats.   This strikes me as very wrong - and anyone who signs up for it, is a blithering idiot.

But then again, people today plead poverty while tapping at their new iPhone to have DoorDash deliver some cold french fries from McDonald's - for a $15 delivery fee.   People are idiots, it seems!

Monday, October 3, 2022

Decline and Fall of the British Empire

Put a fork in it, it's done!

I used to get a lot of crap from my British friends - as well as American friends who moved to the UK - about how great Britain (pardon the pun) was compared to the USA.  Free college!  Free healthcare!  Parliamentary democracy!  The EU!

But it seems that, one by one, these things are being dismantled - or perhaps were not what they were cracked up to be in the first place.

This year, they had a major change in government.  Boris Yeltzin Johnson stepped down, finishing his career as PM on a high note - Brexit was a smashing success and inflation was at all-time lows and the Pound at all-time highs.

And unlike American Democracy, where an "electoral college" chooses the President, in the UK they use the much more democratic method of letting about 160,000 people (out of 67 million) freely elect the new Conservative Prime Minister - or about 0.2% of the population.   Gee, that makes our pathetic voter turnout and the machinations of the electoral college look downright democratic!

The "other" leader, who is supposedly only ceremonial, was the new King - elected by...  nobody.  Well, he was elected by birth, a process that is decidedly un-democratic and archaic in this modern age. Sadly, today, many wordwide want to go back to the era of kings and appointed dictators - failing to remember how awful things were back in those days - and why we fought a revolution to displace a King and a World War to squash dictators.  Gosh, maybe we were wrong all those years?

Maybe not.  And maybe what the UK is going through isn't any different that what people are going through in many Western countries - the US, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, and even the Nordic countries.  There is this perpetual dichotomy between conservative thought and liberal thought.  And as populations age out, the conservative think-tanks realize that the younger generation will trend liberal and conservatives will lose power.

They need a "hook" to stay in power - even as their support base races towards the grave and the majority of the population despises their values.  So how do you do it?

Well, in the US, the electoral college certainly helped Trump - and controlling the State houses allows them to gerrymander districts to skew representation in the House.  Since every State has two Senators, States like Montana, which has a population less than that of Brooklyn (about a third, in fact) gets the same representation as, say, the State of California, which has a population 40 times as large.

With these factors in play, it makes it appear that the two sides are nearly evenly balanced, when in fact, the GOP is a distinctly minority party.  But even that isn't enough - with enough people voting, the Democrats can overwhelm even gerrymandering and the electoral college - as the 2020 elections illustrated, just barely.

So you have to get younger voters.  But how?  Well, you don't run on your actual platform of cutting social programs (including college assistance) and cutting taxes on the very rich.   The young don't benefit from that platform - neither do the middle-aged or the very old for that matter (who are living on Social Security).   So you push "social issues" like this whole transgender thing which is being fanned not by transgender people themselves (other than some useful idiots) but by the far-right commentators.

Xenophobia and racism are also hot-buttons.  Immigrants are ruining "our way of life" (funny thing, the Native Americans made the same complaint, 500 years ago).  And the blacks!  Nothing but trouble!  Always whining that "their lives matter" when we know from "science" that they don't really feel pain.

Right?

Sad as it sounds, those are arguments making the rounds on the Internet these days.  Marshal McLuhan once said that television would make the world a "global village" but the Internet was what really did it.  Ideas pass from country to country in a nanosecond, and you can influence opinion on the opposite side of the globe with the click of a mouse.

So the rise of nationalism, petty dictators, xenophobia, and other trappings of the far-right, are appearing all over the world at the same time.  And young people - not a lot of them, but some - are falling for this nonsense.  The right targets the disaffected, the loners, the people who don't fit in.  They go after (and created the whole concept of) "incels" - telling unattractive, self-centered young men who are overweight and have hygiene issues that liberal thinking and feminism are the only reasons why Stephanie the lead cheerleader doesn't want to date a 75-lb overweight teenager with greasy stringy hair, who smells bad and rants about politics all the time.   If only the USA was like Iran or the Taliban, where you could just buy your brides outright!

Similarly, in the UK, you tell some lazy slob that the reason he lost his job wasn't the fact he showed up late (if at all) and drunk or on drugs, but because of "Brexit" and minorities and immigrants.  Even today, as their economy craters (faster than other Western countries) they play this blame game.  The damage done by "Brexit" wasn't the fault of conservatives, but rather petty retribution by those snooty EU technocrats!   Why can't we "fast lane" the visa queue when visiting Malta?  I mean, just because we don't let them into our country!

But of course, the problems the UK date back to the second World War.  The British Empire peaked about 1922 and then went downhill from there.  Colonialism was already dying by the time of the first World War, by the end of the second, it was largely dead.  The UK, broke and broken, retreated inwardly into itself.  Workers decided that after the travails of war, they deserved a break.  And labor strife slowly destroyed the coal industry (which was a good thing) and the British auto industry (no great loss!).  Brexit may be the final nail the coffin for remaining industry as well as the financial sector.

What's the point of all this?  Not to beat up on the UK - it is a fine country, once they work out all the bugs and maybe abolish the monarchy*.   Rather the point is, no country is perfect, and we are all subject to the same worldwide trends in politics and human nature.  Donald Trump was not some sort of American anomaly, but a symptom of a communal desire for a strong-man - a desire that seems to overwhelm humanity every 50 years or so.  Even today, people are praising "Dark Brandon" because Joe Biden appears to be taking the gloves off and "getting shit done!"

But one thing is for certain.  The next time my Euro friends crow about the advantages of a multi-party system and parliamentary democracy, I will cry "BULLSHIT!" as loudly as possible.  Because while our system is imperfect, experience has shown that other systems aren't much better - and in fact, some are far worse.

* Why not replace the royal family with historical re-enactors?  It works for us!  After all, it is what the tourists want to see - the pomp and circumstance.  And a bunch of actors would be a lot cheaper and easier to manage than the real royals.  To prevent them from being beatified, they should be swapped out every year, perhaps in some sort of Eurovision song-contest kind of competition.  Say, since Brexit, is the UK allowed to compete in Eurovision?  Just asking.  I mean, they aren't part of Europe anymore, right?

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Generators

Do you really need or want a generator?

We took our generator with us this summer on a 3-month trip through the Midwest up to Minnesota and back. I'm not sure why we brought it, because we only used it once and that was to cool down the camper while we were shopping in Walmart.

We bought the generator years ago when we had Ginger, our Greyhound dog. We were concerned we would be in a situation where we had to leave her in the camper for an hour or more in the heat, and the generator would power the air conditioner to keep her cool. And we did use it for that purpose. But overall we maybe put a few dozen hours on the generator before Ginger passed on.

Since then, we've hardly used the generator.  And every time there's a hurricane or major storm, you hear terrible stories about people who buy generators and then run them in their garage or other part of their house and end up killing their whole family with carbon monoxide. It is very sad.

And what do they need the generator for? In most cases, the generator won't run the air conditioning or other major systems of the house. Rather, they're trying to keep some lights on or maybe the television or possibly the refrigerator to preserve less than $100 worth of food.  Here's a hint:  If you don't open the refrigerator door, it may keep food cold for hours - until the power comes back on.

Some folks go all out and buy a whole house generator. These can cause cost thousands of dollars and generally rest upon a pedestal and are connected into the main electrical system of the house such that when the power goes off, the generator automatically starts and powers most, if not all, of the systems of the house - depending on how powerful a generator you bought.

In areas where power outages are frequent, this might make some sense. However, many home improvement stores are selling generator sets like this from Generac, which in my experience has been less than reliable. We had a Generac generator set in our class C motorhome, and it was little more than a lawn mower engine attached to an alternator. It died a quick death.  Some wags say that "Generac" stands for "Generate a Racket!" and that is apt.  We replaced the broken Generac in the Class C with a Honda RV genset (they since have left that business) and it was much quieter.

You will see these cheap generators for sale at big box stores and Tractor Supply and Harbor Freight and they seem appealing. For less than half the cost of a Honda generator, you can buy some Brand X model that comes in a cage and as loud as hell.  But in my mind, it is a false economy.

There are basically two kinds of generators, the alternator type and the frequency inverter type. Alternator type generators are basically an internal combustion engine hooked up to an alternator which generates an AC waveform.  To maintain 60 hertz frequency, the generator runs at a constant, wide open speed which makes them very loud. But they are also very cheap to build and that makes them appealing to people who think they can have a generator on a budget.

Inverter generators, as the name implies, use a DC generator with a frequency inverter to generate an AC sine wave regardless of engine speed. Thus, if the load level is low, the generator will throttle down and still provide the correct frequency and amperage needed. When the load increases, the internal combustion engine will throttle up accordingly. As a result, such generators are far quieter and more fuel efficient than the alternator type. However, is sufficiency and quietness comes of the cost. They are often twice as expensive as the inexpensive alternator type generators.

The temptation with generators is to be the person on the block who has all his lights on when the power is off. People don't like to feel helpless when situations are out of their control. Having a generator is a way of exerting control over your environment, albeit in a limited way.

What brought this to a head was a friend of mine bought an alternator type generator and installed it in their storage shed on their property, with a very elaborate system of fans and vents to keep it dry, but well-ventilated.  When the storm hit, the power went off for 12 hours because Georgia Power couldn't put up the snorkel trucks in the high winds.

Rather than run the generator for a few hours to keep the fridge and freezer cold - and then turn it off - they left it on all night.  Something happened - the generator caught fire, and since it was plumbed to a large propane tank, the fire quickly spread, particularly once the propane line melted.   It took two hours for the fire department to extinguish the blaze - and the shed and accompanying studio were reduced to ruins.

Was it worth it?  The idea was that with a generator, you would "ride out the storm" - but as we saw on Ft. Myers Beach, ten feet of water with waves of four feet or more, will push a house right off its foundations and then reduce it to scraps, in a matter of minutes.

Maybe a generator is not such a great idea.   Even the "whole house" generators are problematic.   Since most are rarely used, they don't need to be all that reliable.  They are like a parachute that is never used by skydivers but only for "emergencies" - you could sell one that is nothing more than shredded newspaper inside and who will ever find out?   The unlucky bastard who actually uses it won't be around to complain.

Generators, by their nature, tend to sit for long periods of time between uses and this is problematic.  Fuel can go stale - gasoline will turn to varnish and clog filters and carburetors.  Diesel fuel will actually grow algae and turn to gel.  Spark plugs foul, components corrode.  Machinery does not like to sit idle, which is why motorhomes or boats, used intermittently, usually break down the first sunny weekend the owner decides to use them.  Generators break down at the worst time - when you need them most.

This is not to say that no one needs a generator, ever, only that a lot of folks waste money on generators and never use them, and they are not usable when you do need them.  Worse yet, people spend money on generators and then fabricate a need for them and thus run them all the time, even when not needed.

When camping, we see folks running generators during "generator hours" - starting a loud, cheap generator at 9:01AM and not shutting it down until 4:59PM.   They don't really need it, but claim to be "charging their battery" which shouldn't be running down so quickly (they need a new battery!) running some LED lights in their camper.  Worse yet, people will run the generator to make microwave popcorn while camping.   A viable alternative is to lean to do without or use alternatives, when camping.   You can make popcorn on the stove, for example - I know it sounds weird!  But our ancestors apparently did this, before microwaves were invented.

For most of us, a generator is just another expense - a $1000 purchase that will never (or rarely) be used, and when it is needed, likely won't work.  A better and much cheaper approach is to think about how to live without electricity - or simply leave the area if a storm is approaching.

The risk of death from carbon dioxide or the risk of fire make the whole proposition even worse.

Think long and hard before buying a generator.  Do you really need one?  Or do you just want to be "that guy" who has all his lights on, while the neighbors all live in the dark?

Yea, status - it rears its ugly head once again!

Friday, September 30, 2022

Hurricane Recovery - Faster Than You Think!

Our favorite picnic spot on the Sanibel causeway is now underwater.  But not for long....

People are freaking out - and rightfully so - at the level of destruction caused by hurricane Ian.  It hit Ft. Myers Beach (Estero Island) pretty hard, pretty much washing over the island and wiping out a number of homes.  Down the road, the causeway to Sanibel island was wiped out in many spots - the bridges collapsed in sections and water rushed over the sandy parts, forming new channels - including one right where our hamster is shown parked above.

The death toll is unknown, but it could be bad, as a lot of people didn't leave when they had the chance.  Many more left cars and boats behind, only to be destroyed by the storm.  It will take months and years to rebuilt it all - but a lot will be built back faster than you'd expect.  The causeway to Sanibel will likely be fixed in months, I suspect.  But we'll have to wait and see.

The big problem is insurance.  I wrote before that we had a windfall (sorry, pun) profit with our condos in Pompano Beach after a big hurricane, as the State Farm adjusters all needed a place to stay during the normally-slack summer months.  Those State Farm checks paid our mortgage!

So they will once again send down agents and appraise damage and cut checks, although State Farm no longer writes on coastal areas and many more agencies have left Florida (as I noted before) due to the roofing scam (which will go into overdrive now).  The few companies left may also leave the State or jack their rates - already high - through the roof.

Would you write a policy on a house built on a spit of sand in the ocean?   An honest question, as I own a house on a spit of sand in the ocean.  So far, it looks like the hurricane will miss Jekyll Island, but by Sunday, I could be homeless.  Good thing we are in the RV in Mississippi, where it is sunny and cool and a little windy.

The insurance issue could have ripple effects across the country, as other companies re-think their exposure to storm damage.  Anything on any coast is suspect - Texas, the Carolinas, California-Oregon-Washington (with added tsunami risks!) as well as New England which was socked with hurricanes.  You do remember what happened to the Jersey shore, right?

Even inland areas are not safe.  I wrote before how we traveled through Vermont on Route 9 after a hurricane - yes, a hurricane - hit that land-locked State.  The road was washed out in several spots, but the Governor redirected road crews across the State to stop work on every project and rebuild Route 9, which they did in record time.  So it can be done.   The main road of Estero Island looks bad, but it is just sand over the road.  When the hurricane hit in the 1950s, they brought snow plows from up north to move the sand away.  The same will happen again - or something similar.

On the other hand, many entire neighborhoods were reduced to rubble.  The question is, will people rebuild and what will they build if they do?  Already the island was over-developed, as I wrote about before, more than once.  Old houses were torn down and replaced with high-rises, but the same narrow road handled all the increased traffic.  It took hours to traverse the island, which is hardly larger than the one I live on.

Maybe this is a chance to rebuilt in a way that is better for the environment as well as traffic flow and quality of life.  Nah!  Can't have that!  This is Florida, after all.

It is interesting to note that in the views I have seen so far, the newer houses and condos, built on stilts, and made of concrete, seemed to weather the storm much better.  The old "beach shacks" made of wood, floated away and were smashed to kindling.  No doubt, insurance companies (and zoning laws) will require that any new construction be elevated and hurricane-proof or at least resistant.

But whether it is affordable to rebuild is the question.  As I noted in an earlier posting, the property taxes in Florida are obscene.  So if you buy a wiped-out house from the owner (who cashes his insurance check and leaves) and you build a million-dollar home on the bay (it's been done, a lot, there) your property taxes will be in the five figures, easily.  Add in a five-figure insurance bill and you wonder who can afford to live there.  Even a half-million-dollar home is unaffordable - which is why we sold Mark's parents home on Ft. Myers Beach, when they passed away.  As out-of-state owners, we'd be looking at 20K a year in taxes and insurance and would have to rent the place, week by week, to vacationers, just to cover costs.  And of course, today, we'd be looking at a vacant lot.

Actually, it was a vacant lot a few years ago, when a storm came in (two years after we sold out) and pretty much destroyed the place.  And that was just a "tropical depression" not a major wipe-out that we had this time around.

We are fortunate - so far - that Jekyll seems to miss hurricanes.  Florida sticks out into the Gulf Stream, as does South Carolina.  The Georgia coast - all 100 miles of it - is inland from the Gulf Stream and protected not only by barrier islands, but by offshore sandbars and reefs which mean we have shitty surfing, but little erosion.

But that doesn't mean we are safe.  In the late 1800's a hurricane hit the island dead-on and water washed over the island much as it just did to Ft. Myers Beach.  Fortunately, most of the island was uninhabited at the time.  Today, it is only 1/3 developed, but that still means a huge economic loss if we get a major storm.

Maybe it is time to sell?  Or maybe it is too late - after all, the orgy of buying peaked about three months ago when interest rates spiked.

I am sure a few savvy investors will fly down to Florida on private planes and start snapping up damaged properties and either bulldoze them and build mini-mansions, or do half-assed repairs and sell the mildew-smelling homes to unsuspecting buyers (we've seen more than a few in our real estate adventures in the sunshine state!).

But on the whole, I think within a few years, all will be forgotten, particularly if there is not another major hurricane making landfall.  There are lots of hurricanes out there - if you visit the NOAA site during hurricane season, you will notice this.  Many - maybe most of them - either fizzle out in the deep ocean, or hit "other countries" which of course, as Americans, we don't care about much, other than to throw paper towels at them.

And once again, we will get complacent, and then a big storm will hit - and everyone will act like this never happened before.

What would I do if hurricane Ian turned sharply West and wiped out our island?  Hard to say.  FEMA flood insurance covers only $250,000 which they claim is the cost of rebuilding the house.  If this is so, then the cost of the land is another quarter-million.  Problem is, if you want to just "walk away" no one will pay you much for a piece of land that was just scoured by a hurricane, particularly if everyone else is selling at the same time.

People like to talk about insurance scams - and they exist.  But for the most part, with deductibles and all, you don't come out ahead when making an insurance claim - you end being made partially whole, but not entirely whole.  And it is rare that you would come out ahead.

But then again, sometimes it happens.  When Mark's stepmother weathered one of the minor hurricanes on Estero, the insurance company came out and wrote her a check for $10,000 to repair the screen "cage" around the swimming pool.   She called her handyman who repaired and re-screened the cage for $3000.  "I feel guilty about this!" she said.  We told her to bank the money - the next storm would not be so generous!

To the insurance company, it was a minor payout and the cost of researching the cost of repairing versus replacing the cage wasn't worth dickering over - particularly when there were hundreds of other houses to visit and adjust.  And of course, they just pass on these costs to the consumer - so Floridians love to gloat about how they "pulled a fast one" on the insurance company, but then bitch about the outrageous premiums.

Mark's Uncle once had a chimney fire in his house.  Before he called the fire department, he pulled logs out of the fireplace and rolled them on the carpet. "This way I get new carpet!" he boasted.  I am not sure he came out ahead there, but it illustrates the mentality of some people, particularly folks who consider themselves to be "operators" like Mark's Uncle did.  By the way, that's called insurance fraud, although the $500 in wall-to-wall carpet wasn't worth litigating over, from the perspective of the insurance company.

Of course, hurricane season isn't over quite yet.  So hold on to your hats!


Thursday, September 29, 2022

Thing You Don't Need - Crypto, Gold, Guns, Vaping

When you see something being sold in poor neighborhoods, it is probably a "poor" bargain!

We were driving through rural Arkansas and saw many a sign for gun shows, or pawn shops hyping that they sold guns and gold (or bought back same, for half-price, of course!).  The funniest, I thought, was a vaping store that advertised that they sold "Crypto!"

Of all the things an impoverished redneck doesn't need...

I recounted before how during the last recession, people were unloading guns (no pun intended) for half what they paid for them.  They went out and bought an AR-15 because, you know, crime and all, and after a decade of it sitting in a closet (loaded of course, where the kids can find it) they realized they spend a thousand dollars or more on what is, in effect, a paperweight.  No one was busting into their dilapidated trailer to steal their precious collectibles.

But again, you see this all the time in impoverished areas.  A run-down trailer or house with "NO TRESPASSING!" signs all around it, or, as we saw at one house in Missouri (that upon initial inspection, appeared abandoned), "TRESPASSERS AND THEIVES [sic] WILL BE SHOT ON SITE [sic]!"

The less someone has, the more paranoid they are about it being taken away.  So they cling to rusted-out old cars that stopped running during the Reagan Administration.  Then they tell poverty stories to their friends how their rusted-out collection of mediocre cars will someday be worth millions.

But they won't.  The common denominator is that poor people "invest" in things like gold, crypto, and guns and then later on - when they need the money - they sell them for half what they paid for them (the real market value).  Worse yet, they sell them to make payments on a credit card, which is where they charged the purchase to begin with.

It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.  And things like vaping and tattoos and piercings just add to the pile.  You could argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with these pursuits (except maybe vaping, which can destroy your lungs) but they are things that are unnecessary to daily living and really a burden if you are living "paycheck-to-paycheck" as so many claim to be doing.  And yes, in these same neighborhoods are liquor stores with bars on the windows, selling pints of booze - right next to the payday loan place.

But like clockwork, people defend these practices and businesses - often the very victims themselves or people claiming to be sympathetic to the poor.  More than once I have read, in "liberal" publications, that the poor need payday loans, as no one else will lend to them, and they need to borrow on their paychecks to put food on the table.   As if turning $1 into 50 cents somehow feeds your family.

Similarly, many on the left claim it is "poor shaming" to call out someone who has $10,000 in tattoos but complains they will "never be able to pay off" their $25,000 in student loans.  Sadly, unlike a gun or a bar of gold, you can't pawn a tattoo.

They want their cake and eat it too.  Every "poor" person I know has an iPhone they bought on a three-year contract with Verizon.  Every "poor" person I know eats out more times a week than I do - often every night of the week, day of the week, and morning of the week.  But I am "poor shaming" by scrambling my own eggs!  Lookit Mr. Gotrocks with his fancy-dancy hotplate!

I digress.

The point is, the poor are poor not only because they are exploited by the rich, but because they make poor decisions which makes them easy to exploit by the rich.  And in terms of changing behavior or changing society, I see only one realistic and achievable path for most people.  We can wait for massive social changes and hope they don't screw us further (as revolutions tend to do) or we can change our own lives.  In terms of what is do-able, the latter is far easier to achieve.

No one is pointing a gun at your head and saying, "drive ten miles to McDonald's for breakfast!" - and yet, I see people do it, every day, in campgrounds and neighborhoods across America.  Not only is it a horrible waste of money, it is a horrible waste of time.   Similarly, no one points a gun at your head and says "get a tattoo instead of paying your credit card bill!" - yet so many do and then claim to be victims of the "system."

You drive through poor neighborhoods like that - in rural Arkansas or the ghettos of the city - and you see these raw deals being presented and you know the reason why these stores and shops are there.  People are lapping up these raw deals, in droves.

And apparently, that is the fault of us who do not.