Friday, March 29, 2019

Nazi Experiment in Socialism Fails

Panera Bread gave up on giving out free food when it turned out people wouldn't pay for free food.
And gee, the guy doesn't even look Nazi!
(Photo: Helmüt Hedd)

Panera Bread was in the news recently for two reasons. First, the family that owns the parent company of Panera Bread as well as Peet's Coffee, Krispy Kreme, Einstein Brothers Bagelry, and those despicable  Keurig people, turned out to be descended from virulent Nazis. They've apologized for their ancestors' behavior and agreed to donate millions of dollars to charity.

The family owns a host of food chains, most of which I never visit.  Mark dragged me to a Panera Bread once - decades ago, in Virginia - and told me it was the kicky new thing all his friends at work were talking about.   All I thought was, "it's just sandwiches, and not very good ones at that - and the ordering process is convoluted and confusing!"   I think it was more about being trendy than the food, back in the days before bread was considered evil.

Sure, we used to go to Krispy Kreme, when it was a Southern Institution in Virginia - until we realized that wolfing down a box of Kremes with a large coffee was like a 2,000 calorie nightmare - and sure to put you on the toilet in short order.   When they went "public" in one of the previous IPO orgies, I sort of lost interest.  It's just donuts, people, not oxygen.

The problem with Einstein Brothers Bagelry - besides the irony of Nazis serving bagels - was that while I loved bagels, I came to realize that just a plain bagel without anything on it was like 300 calories alone.  And like the Panera Bread store, the cost of these sandwiches was, well, outrageous.  The ambiance of these places was, well, it was not a dining experience, but more of a refueling.  And good luck finding a table with all the trendies doing their thing on the WiFi.  So, their stores are just not my thing.    Besides, it is far easier to just make breakfast at home - and cheaper.

In other news, Panara Bread recently canceled their free food program which was offered in places such as Portland, Oregon (big surprise) and Boston, Massachusetts. The idea was that you would go into Panera Bread and pay what you felt was reasonable for the food at the checkout line. If you wanted to, you could pay for more than your food with the excess going to cover the cost of food for people less fortunate than yourself.

Of course, this whole thing is predicated that people who have less money than you are less fortunate, and not merely lazy, drug-addicted, mentally ill, or have other issues.  It is true that fortune smiles upon some and frowns upon others, but as Thomas Jefferson once said, "I find the harder I work, the more my luck improves."

Of course, he owned slaves.  That improves your luck as well.

This also plays into the narrative that people are starving in America, when in fact we have the most obese and overweight poor people on the planet.  It also plays into the guilt factor - as you are buying food, you are reminded that other people don't have food.  So, they try to extort money out of their own customers.  But some people like that sort of guilt, particularly people on the left.  So in a way it is smart marketing.

What Panera Bread found out, was something that a third grader could have told them.  When you put out things for free, people will take them.  And many students in the area, including high school students and college students, would come in and take the free food and not pay anything for it.  Also, homeless people flocked to the stores and took everything they could get their hands on.  If the food was free why shouldn't they be allowed to take as much as they wanted?  They tried banning students from the store during school hours, but that didn't work.  They tried hiring people to shame folks into paying for their food - that didn't work, either.   Free is free - you can't charge for things that are free.  Like I said, a third-grader would have figured that out.

Of course, this experiment in socialism might have worked out just fine if Mr. And Mrs. Gotrocks showed up and bought one sandwich and paid $5,000 for it because they felt they needed to make up for their good fortune in life.  But what Mr. And Mrs. Gotrocks did was not show up at all. They didn't want to dine at a sandwich shop, much less a sandwich shop frequented by noisy and loud students and smelly and aggressive homeless people.  Most people wouldn't, even Mr. and Mrs. Middle-Class, who had to work for their money.

In a way, it's like the Oprah-Pontiac effect. Oprah made big news by giving away Pontiac G6 sedans to homeless mothers. Pontiac apparently thought this would be good public relations for them, but instead it tagged the car as being the vehicle of homeless people.  If you want to sell a car, you want a celebrity to endorse it, not a bum.  By the way, Pontiac is no longer in business.

Most restaurant owners have discovered this effect through trial and error. It seems like a helpful thing to do if you have leftover bread or other products to hand them out to some homeless guy who comes to your back door asking for food because he's hungry.  Of course, he's not really hungry, he just spent his cash money on drugs and doesn't have any money left over for food - a decision he consciously made, because he knew that in a caring country, no one would let him starve.

And if you are a compassionate person you don't want to throw away food when somebody's hungry. So it seems like a no-brainer to just give him whatever you have left over. The problem is, tomorrow you open the door for business and find two homeless people sleeping on the loading dock asking where their free meals are.  Then three.  Then twenty.

It's the same thing with feral cats or chickens or squirrels. You put out food for them and they take it. And then more of them show up, and more of them, and more of them, and pretty soon you're overrun.  And then you have to make the hard choice to stop feeding them - which usually results in more problems, as they are now dependent on you.

Of course the entire thing was a marketing gimmick. Panera Bread is trying to appeal to a liberal consumer base.  Liberals will generally spend more money on products than conservatives.  If you want to sell overpriced coffee or overpriced sandwiches you're better off targeting upscale liberals than conservatives.  Conservatives might have more money, but chances are they earned it the hard way and they respect money and thus they won't spend $15 on a poorly made sandwich. And they certainly won't spend $25 on the same sandwich on the premise that the extra $10 will go to feed some homeless chap.

I can't blame Panera Bread for using this marketing technique, because this is how you make money - by determining who your demographic customer base is and then pandering to them.  It is the same reason Subaru sponsors NPR - they know their customer base.  I think, however, that a more effective and efficient way of doing this would be to offer the diners a chance to pay a dollar extra at checkout, with the money going to a local homeless shelter.

Many grocery stores are doing this, such as Whole Foods and the like, where you are asked at check out if you want to donate money to charity.  Again, the target demographic is wealthy liberals, and many of them will pay the extra dollar, particularly if they are shamed into doing it.

In addition to being a more efficient way of distributing money, it means you won't have smelly homeless people clogging up the aisles of your upscale gourmet food store, scaring off Buffy and Biff, who are perusing a selection of exotic imported cheeses.

But maybe a better idea is to just separate politics from business entirely. Why should I care whether a business supports a particular charity or not?  Unfortunately, it seems like people on both sides of the political spectrum are at this. We recently visited a Hobby Lobby to buy some wind chime parts for one of Mark's art projects  (Micheal's didn't carry them).   As you walk in, there's a huge display promoting their Museum of the Bible which is apparently on or near the mall in Washington DC and is full of relics, some of which are actually real.  It's not a very subtle message - when you spend a dollar at Hobby Lobby you are funding right-wing fundamentalist Christian theology.

But again, Hobby Lobby knows their market, and this actually helps them in some markets particularly in the South, where people are religious and conservative.  People will go there instead of patronizing those atheist bastards at Michael's, to show their support for the Jesus.  So again, maybe it's just good business - at least in the South.

If you want to expand your market beyond a certain region or demographic, however, oftentimes these sort of political marketing techniques can fail. Chick-fil-A realized this when they tried to expand out of the South.  Their Christian affiliation and anti-gay stands did't sell well in places like New York City. And it's just a chicken sandwich for Chrissakes, it's not like they've made them out of gold or something.  I for one, don't understand the lines-around-the-block for these sandwiches.  But again, judging by the number of Christian fish emblems on the backs of the SUVs in the drive-through, I am guessing that they are buying their lunch there as a way of making up for missing church that week,

But getting back to feeding the homeless, another item in the news illustrates how inefficient these methods are in helping the poor.  Another tear-jerker story in the Washington Post (yes, they still have "democracy cries in the darkness" on their masthead) recounts how two women living in a tent near Union Station were able to raise $22,000 through crowdfunding.   That's enough to pay the rent on an apartment in DC for nearly two years.  But for some reason, they are still in the tent, and will be finding a place "soon" - perhaps through the public housing authority.

The problem I have with these types of stories is twofold.  First, I have no way of vetting these two ladies.  Are they really downtrodden people who are just out of luck, or is there another side of the story, usually involving drug use?   Also, why isn't the money being given directly to them, or more precisely, shouldn't it be?   It would be interesting to see what they did with that much cash and how long it lasted.  I am thinking that it might not play out the way "homeless advocates" think it would work out, which again, is bad PR.

But the second problem - the big one - is that this is a very uneven way to apply aid to people.   These two ladies are sympathetic and a homeless advocate set up a gofundme page for them - and they have publicity in the mainstream media.  They are attractive people and engaging, so they get funded.  This is a irrational way to apply aid to "those in need" - based on how appealing their victimhood is.  Need should not be determined by who has the best PR behind them, or who is the most media-savvy or television-ready.

Similarly, offering free sandwiches at selected outlets in selected locations doesn't really seem a like a substantial way of combating homelessness, so much as it is a publicity stunt.   Which, of course it is.  Or was, anyway.

These publicity stunts are akin to someone walking by a house on fire, and then throwing a glass of water on the fire and saying, "we're doing our part to put out house fires!" - when in reality, they aren't doing much at all, other than to aggrandize themselves.   Actually solving problems isn't sexy or exciting, but drudgery.  And the people solving real-world problems are not doing so to promote themselves or burnish their image.  And we rarely hear about them, because they don't have a publicist.

It is like the lady I saw in the Jaguar giving a homeless man a $20 bill at the traffic light, while it was green, during rush-hour.   We all had to wait in line after that, but she showed us that she cares about the less fortunate!   I doubt she would sell the Jag and donate the proceeds to a homeless shelter, though.   It's all about show, not about the go.   And the guy getting the $20?   That didn't change his life much - but he did get really, really high that night.

Getting back to Nazis, through, the same thing is true.  The family that runs these trendy food companies doesn't need to apologize to me or anyone else for having Nazi ancestors.  If you were born after 1930 in Germany, chances are, you had ancestors or relatives who were either Nazis or sympathizers or fought in the war, or worked in war industries or merely failed to say anything when bad stuff was going down.   The fact that your ancestors did something bad doesn't mean you are bad.  I mean, it isn't like being a member of the Sackler family, right?   I mean, if that was the case, then you are a real sonufabitch, and no amount of donating to art galleries is going to make it all right.

And it's not like you are the Sultan of Brunei, either.

Generally speaking, I tend not to do business with companies that are owned by murderers.   But other than that, I try to keep politics out of it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Nol Pros (Jussie Paints a Picture)

Nolle Prosequi is a Latin phrase meaning "will no longer prosecute."  It is part and parcel of our judicial system.

Recently, Jussie Smollett made headlines, again, when prosecutors dropped 13 felony counts against him in exchange for community service and him forfeiting a $10,000 Bond. Many people were outraged, claiming this was another giant fraud being perpetrated on the American people.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, the Mueller report comes out, and special prosecutor Robert Mueller declines to prosecute President Trump for any possible collusion or other crimes involved in the 2016 election.  For some reason the response by the public is more muted.

However, both situations are arguably the same thing - a case of nol pros - where a prosecutor declines to prosecute a perpetrator for a number of possible reasons.  One reason might be that there is not sufficient evidence to make a concrete case, and thus it's not worthwhile to pursue the matter - at least for the time being. In other instances, the matter is so trivial compared to what else is on the prosecutor's plate that they rather dispose of the issue before even going to trial.

In the Jussie Smollett case (which falls into the latter category), although it seems like a dramatic indictment with thirteen possible felony counts, in reality the actual charges are not so severe.  The thirteen separate counts relate to thirteen separate false statements he made to police - as part of the same incident.  No doubt, at trial the charges would be combined into a single felony count, which most likely would be reduced to a misdemeanor.

And as a misdemeanor with a first-time offender, he probably would have been sentenced to community service and a fine. And since he already served community service and paid a $10,000 fine by forfeiting his bond, the net result was about the same.

Some folks might howl about this.  False reports of crimes arguably damage our judicial system. When a woman falsely claims rape, it is a punch in the eye to women who are actually brutally raped. Similarly, Jussie Smollett's false claims of hate crime attacks are an insult to those who are actually the victims of hate crimes.

But, be that as it may, it seems that these days, false reporting of a crime rarely results in a felony conviction, but most likely a misdemeanor one.  For most people facing first-time misdemeanor convictions, the end result is usually community service and a fine. So justice was in effect served here, even if some politicians want to grandstand over it, or people with a "justice boner" want to moan and groan about it (Geraldo Rivera claiming fraud?  Ain't that the pot calling the kettle...whatever?  A fraud calling fraud - that's something new).

There may also be ancillary considerations they took in to account. For example, Smollet's acting career has probably been irreparably harmed by his false accusations.  I doubt he will continue on as a character on the television show which he was trying to prevent from being fired from.  In fact it already appears he's been written off the show.  It is highly doubtful that anybody else would want to hire him at this point given his odious reputation.  So in effect, he is paying a steep price for his false claims.

With regard to Donald Trump, a similar but separate thing is occurring. It's not that any possible collusion or coordination with Russia is not a prosecutable crime, only that the special prosecutor has yet to find any sufficient evidence to show such a crime was committed. Although it's clear that members of the Trump campaign and even his immediate family had some contacts with Russians or Russian intermediaries, it would be next to impossible - if not outright impossible - to prove that there was any specific coordination or collusion to somehow sway the election.

And even the collusion in question is somewhat tangential. It's not like Russians hacked into our voting machines and changed the results in order to win the election. Rather, they put up pages on Facebook and postings on Twitter to encourage Americans to be divisive and to hate one another. They also spread a lot of false stories about Hillary Clinton and spend a lot of time on Reddit hyping Donald Trump.

You can blame the Russians for doing this, or you can blame Americans for being such patsies as to fall into such an obvious trap.  Even then, it's not even clear this "interference" with our election, on social media, had any significant effect on the outcome. Hillary Clinton made a serious miscalculation with regard to some of the so-called blue wall states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  She refused to even campaign in these States, assuming that they would vote for her - without bothering to ask herself why they would.

During the campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly returned to those States, again and again, to campaign, puzzling the pundits and the media as to why he would campaign in States that were a "lock" for Hillary.  The reality was of course, they were not a lock, and perhaps Trump - or his strategists, - were smarter than we thought.

Again, maybe also ancillary considerations are at work here. Generally speaking, members of Congress and the President cannot be prosecuted for various crimes while in office.  The idea behind this was to prevent local governments from interfering with the federal government's responsibilities. If a Senator or Congressman could be waylaid by a local sheriff on his way to Washington, they could affect the outcome of a Congressional vote.  Thus, there is limited Congressional and even Presidential immunity for some criminal acts - or at least prosecution for such acts would not occur until they left office.

Our founding fathers relied upon the mechanism of impeachment - which they perceived as being something rarely used as part of the checks and balances in our government.  And it's possible that the Democrats may proceed with impeachment articles in the House, though doesn't look like they're going anywhere in the Senate.

To me, the issue is moot.  What we need to do is put up a candidate who could appeal to a broad spectrum of America in 2020.  And unfortunately it seems the Democrats are embracing the far-left ideology that appeals to only a fraction of the population.  If they lose the election in 2020 they have no one but themselves to blame, particularly after the lesson they learned in 2016.

Or perhaps it is a lesson they are refusing to learn.

Travel Rules

Years ago before he died, my father went on a world tour with his new wife.  They went down to Machu Picchu and climbed the thousand steps. Then, they decided to take a charter plane to Easter Island.  Unfortunately, they didn't coordinate very well with each other as to how to look out for one another while traveling.

My stepmother checked in at the airline ticket counter, grabbed her bags and ran out on the tarmac and boarded the plane, leaving my father at the ticket counter.  My father had his passport, tickets, and wallet in a belly pack which he set down on the floor next to him while he talked with the ticket agent.  The ticket agent was probably in on the whole thing, too - encouraging my step-Mother to board the plane to "save a seat" next to her.   While he was talking with my Dad, somebody else snatched his belly pack.

When he noticed it missing, he panicked.  And his wife was nowhere to be found.  She had to be called off the plane, and instead of trying to be helpful she actually got mad at him.  "How could you let someone steal your belly pack like that?"  Of course, nobody was there to ask the pointed question as to why she ran off and left her husband at the counter and jumped on the plane when she should have stayed with him when they were both elderly and travelling a foreign country where they didn't even speak the language.

Traveling is stressful.  While you're traveling, you are very vulnerable.  If you are away from home or in a foreign land, and you are without your wallet, passport, cell phone, and the like, life can get very difficult in a hurry.  Also, if you become separated from one another and lost, it can create a panic-like situation.

During the recent art association festival, a young man came running to us, asking us if we'd seen his daughter, who is only 7 years old.  She had wandered off while nobody was watching, and fortunately someone called the police.  They found her, a few minutes later.  She had wandered off to the pier.  It's unclear how they got separated, but it illustrates how if you're not paying attention in an alien environment, it can cause a lot of trouble.

It's very easy to get confused and lost in a strange environment.  I stopped at a rest area once in Ohio and thought somebody had stolen my van.  The rest area was located between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the interstate, and to get to the rest area, you had to walk across a pedestrian bridge on each side.

Unfortunately, the architects of this rest area believed in absolute symmetry.  So both sides of the rest area were identical down to the last detail.  So, I walked across across the bridge over the westbound lanes and used the restroom.  When I came out, I took a wrong turn and crossed over to the eastbound side.  I looked in the parking lot where I thought my van should be, and saw that it was missing.  I went into a panic and ran around the parking lot looking for it, before I walked back across the pedestrian bridge to find a security guard.

It was only then that I realized that I'd taken a wrong turn when I exited the restroom. I walked back across the walkway over the westbound lanes and found the van right where I parked it.   It is easy to get lost and confused while you were traveling.

Recently, Mark "ghosted" me at a rest area on the Florida turnpike.   These are located in the center of the road, between the north and southbound lanes, and there are a number of symmetrically arranged buildings, some of which were under construction.   Mark wanted to get coffee and we talked about that.  So, after using the restroom, he left, saying, "I'll see you there!"

See me where?  I was still pissing, and before I could ask him, he vanished.  So, I figured he must not have but a ten-second lead on me, and I could find him.   But there was an elderly guy with a veteran's hat ahead of me, painfully walking slowly out the double-doors, which for some reason were narrow.  I couldn't just knock him down and say, "Hey old man, who cares if you are a veteran, younger person comin' through!"   I mean, Donald Trump might do that, but not me.

So after Dad lurches through the final glass door, I pass him and look around and.... no Mark.  And I have no idea where "there" is. I didn't see a coffee shop or anything, other than a pavilion about a quarter-mile off.   There was another large building behind us, so I went there, only to find it was the turnpike administration building.

So, I call Mark.   He either has his ringer off, or has decided not to answer the call, thinking it is yet another robo-call from a 703 area code number (another reason why telemarketers are evil and should be destroyed).   So he doesn't answer.   Where the fuck is he?

Well, he was at the coffee shop, hidden behind the gas station.  I didn't see it.  Fortunately, there was no line there and he popped out a few minutes later, as I was on my way back to the truck (I figured he would eventually have to go back there).

I was upset.   There was no reason for him to run off so quickly (instead of waiting two seconds for me to finish).  And there was no reason to use a vague passive-aggressive term like, "I'll see you there" instead of "I'll see you at the coffee shop behind the gas station."

But fortunately, it all worked out OK.   In other instances with other people, things don't work out OK.  They get robbed, they get raped, they get lost, they get confused.   And it needn't be that way.  You just have to set up some ground rules when traveling, so that there is no confusion.

Of course, some people don't listen to rules.  I've traveled with friends and family members who are, well, utterly clueless about travel. When we take them anywhere, a group of us have form a phalanx around them, in a diamond formation, fending off beggars, pickpockets, and thieves, because the person in question is a like a kid in a candy store - all they see are colored shiny things and think, "oooh, I have to go see that!"   Left to their own devices, they wander off, like dementia patients, only to be found, blocks away, in some soap and candle shop.

It gets tiresome to travel with such people.

While you don't have to be paranoid when you travel, having some basic habits and rules that you understand with your travel partners can save a lot of time and hassle.  Having a secure place to keep your wallet, cell phone, passport, etc. for example, saves a lot of time and hassle.  Trust me, you don't want to travel with someone who constantly is putting everyone on paranoia level alert five because they "can't find their wallet" or whatever, only to realize after fifteen minutes of frantic search that they left it in a jacket.   Being consistent helps.

Anyway, here are my basic rules for travelling:
Stay Together:   Like I said, I wonder if the ticket agent didn't encourage my step-mother to board the plane ahead (and separately from) my Father.   It would make it easier for a pickpocket to snatch his belly pack.  Wandering off on your own in an alien environment is a sure recipe for disaster.    Stick together and do things together.   If you don't want to do this, ask yourself why (another one of those dark questions).

Communicate:  One problem Mark and I had, was that he said, "I'll meet you there" without being more specific.  I talked before about the famous stone crab incident, which foundered on the fact that in Maine, "dinner" means "supper" and "supper" means "lunch"  - or whatever (who the fuck really cares what Mainers call things?  The other 49 States do not give a rat's ass, let me assure you).   But poor communication ended up causing problems with an intransigent step-mother (not mine, this time) who was needing medication, in retrospect (may she rest in peace).   Being specific about when and where you are to meet is important.   Don't say, "We'll meet by the hotel" when  you are checking out of one and into another - it is unclear which hotel you mean.   Use explicit language.  As a lawyer, I had to learn this.  Lay people largely never do.

Carry Cell Phones & Ringers ON:  One problem we had was that when I tried to call Mark, his cell phone ringer was off (or he wasn't answering calls).  Imagine you are a widow of someone who died in one of those 737 Max 8 crashes, and your husband tried to call you at the last minute to tell you goodbye - and you didn't pick up the call!    Meanwhile, he's struggling with, "If you are satisfied with your message, press 8, if not, press 9 to re-record!"  (And, by the way, why do we have this stupid message on most cell phone voicemail systems?   We really don't need talking Sally to walk us through this high-tech world of answering machines!)

Meet up Place:  Always have a default meet-up place, should one or both of you get lost.  When we travel by RV, it is the truck.  Oh, and make sure you are explicit about where this meet-up place is.  "If we get separated, we meet up at the meet-up place, right?"  He thinks it is the car, she thinks it is the ticket counter.  Hilarity ensues.   Have  a default place in mind and make sure you both are on the same page and discuss this in detail.   This is not a "yea, whatever" kind of deal.

Look Out For Each Other:  We like to go to New Orleans (been there five times, now, I guess, so we must like it).  It is a crime-ridden city and a tourist trap.  It is rife with pickpockets, con artists, bums, and outright criminals (who will put a gun in your face or even shoot you).  You have to be on your toes.   You can't wander off into the 9th Ward just to see what is like, or worse yet, one of you wander off there.   You have to keep an eye out for each other and look around you and be situationally aware.

You may not see anything, of course.  But the fact that you are being vigilant and keeping an eye out will discourage most amateur thieves and criminals.  The pickpocket goes for low-hanging fruit - the tourist who is gazing at all the colored shiny things and leaving their purse on the table.   They are less likely to bother someone who eyeballs them.

I am not ragging on my step-mother, as she may have been manipulated in a complex rip-off scheme.  But instead of hopping on a plane without her husband, she should have stood by him and waited for his ticket to be printed (again, why this required to separate transactions makes me suspicious).   If she had stayed there, it was less likely a thief could have snatched her husband's purse.

Lock You Car - Always:  I noted before that in some gas stations, "homeless" people (criminal beggars) will try to insert themselves between you and your car.  They may be trying to distract you (Excuse me!) while an accomplice opens the passenger side door and rummages through your purse.

Again, you don't have to be paranoid, just astute. Don't walk down dark alleys after midnight (particularly in the French Quarter!).   Know where you are going and don't be "that guy" in the middle of the street, reading a tourist map at 2 in the morning.  If someone is following you, cross the street or change direction.  If they keep following you, step into a local business or head to more trafficked areas.   It is basically common sense.

When you read about travel tragedies, often the common denominator is lack of communication between people, and getting separated or failing to look out for each other.

Of course, if you travel alone, it is a whole different ballgame.   All I can say is, tie your boots to the bedframe because in those hostels or on the train, people steal them.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Cult of MLM

MLM schemes are cult-like because they are cults.

I never have addressed the cult of MLMs directly in this blog - or dwelt on it much.  I guess I figured if you could read this far, you're smarter than to fall for such an obvious scheme.   And obvious it is, to anyone with half a brain.   You can't just keep adding layers of "distributors" indefinitely and still be able to sell product.  And selling products is a task that requires low overhead and great efficiency - as the margins are razor-thin.   Anytime someone tries to interest you in a business deal that just involves selling things that people can buy elsewhere, ask yourself what you are bringing to the table to make the experience different.  Chances are, you aren't.

But what interested me about this topic was something I read recently on an online forum of people who are against MLMs - which is about as astute as being against ISIS.  I mean, duh, being against bad things takes no special insight.   Down with bad!  Up with good!  We're freaking geniuses!  As you might expect, many of the members of this group were former MLM "distributors" themselves, who like former Scientologists, just can't let it go.

And they illustrated how the methods and techniques of these MLM cults were just like other cults - using love bombs, gaslighting, and other psychological techniques to confuse and convince people to hand over all their money - and their very lives - to the cult.   Same shit, different guru.

One of the writers was talking about how they were going to "talk their friend out of" joining an MLM cult.  I thought to myself, "what a waste of time!"

Why?  A number of reasons.

First, you are trying to convince someone of something using your amateur persuasion skills.  Good luck with that.   You see, your "friend" will go running back to the MLM people (or the cult guru, take your pick) saying, "my friend says all of this is a ripoff!"   And the MLM people, using their finely honed psychological and persuasion skills, will convince your friend that you are wrong (and just jealous, of course) and what's more, encourage her to sever the friendship (a blessing-in-disguise for you) which is something that cults typically do - get people to sever ties with family and friends and other "non-believers".

The cults are prepared for your amateur intervention. They've seen this all many times before and have well-packaged responses ready.

So, you are just wasting your time.   Your friend is a gullible type, easily taken in - a sheep about to be slaughtered by the wolves.  And just in case the wolves don't finish eating her still-breathing corpse, she will sign up for another MLM later on.   Even if you succeed in talking them out of joining the MLM cult, she will probably join another one.   People who are prone to joining cults and whatnot will always be vulnerable this way, and the moment you turn your back, they will join.  So you are playing whack-a-mole here, "saving" your friend from one peril, but they will shortly put themselves into another one - the friend with the perpetual problem strikes again.

(And I say "she" as women are more likely to be drawn in to MLM schemes than men.  Most of these MLM products, are aimed at women - cosmetics, fashions, jewelry, oils and incense, kitchenware, and so forth).

You need to find new friends, seriously.   As I noted before, if you have friends who do drugs, you will end up doing drugs.  If you have friends who are drunks, you will probably become a drunk.  If you have friends who are Republicans.... perish the thought! So the longer you hang out with people who believe in something-for-nothing, the more likely you are to drink the Kool-Aid and end up part of the pod people.

But then there is the really ugly part.  You have to look deep inside yourself and ask why you are trying to talk your friend out of this and where it will lead you.   Are you trying to play the hero here, hoping  your "friend" will be eternally grateful for your sage advice which saved them thousands (nay, tens of thousands) of dollars?   In your intervention fantasy, are you the hero like Indiana Jones, swinging in on a rope at the last minute to save the day?  In short, are you doing this to help your friend, or help yourself?

A dark question, to be sure.   Altruism is always suspect, and often people who claim to be altruistic are, in reality, evil people - sometimes just a little bit evil, but evil nevertheless.  You can't save people from themselves, and the very act of trying is somewhat narcissistic.  If you are carrying a balance on your credit card from month-to-month, you got no bidness telling others much about anything.  Spend that energy getting your own house in order, let your friend drive their car off a cliff, and find new friends.

Besides, your friend will probably argue that driving a car off a cliff is just a clever and smart shortcut to the bottom of the mountain (as opposed to all that pesky driving) and they are in to the secret tips 'n  tricks to driving off cliffs.   So just save your breath.

But, let's assume that your motivations are as pure as the driven snow and you can convince your friend that the MLM scheme is a con-job, and the MLM people are unable to persuade her otherwise.   Where do you go from there?

You see, the friendship is now dynamically altered forever.   It is no longer a peer-to-peer relationship where you two are equals.  No, no.  Now you are the sage adviser and in charge of looking out for your friend, who feels like a fool or idiot for even getting caught up in the MLM scheme.  Expect the friendship to peter out, over time, as a result.

No one wants to have a friend who can constantly lord over them as a superior.   People want to relate on a peer-to-peer level.  It gets awkward, to say the least, when you try to socialize with people above or below your social status (or people who merely believe themselves to be above or below your social status).  A poorer and less-educated person than yourself may feel intimidated by you and it makes it harder to relate with them.   People with greater education and wealth may think you are a yahoo and want nothing to do with you. I've been in both situations, and it is awkward to say the least.   Even though I do have a law degree and Engineering degree, there are some folks who look down at me as some "mere tradesman".

Similarly, I have had trouble interacting with people from lower social status groups, who don't think I am an aficiado of tractor pulls or demolition derbies - particularly the figure-8 kind.  OK, so maybe I am white trash.   But I think you can appreciate both Opera and the State Fair, without being an elitist or a bumpkin.   Others are less sure.

So, it is likely, that even if you succeed in talking your friend out of the MLM cult - or any other cult for that matter - the odds are, it will ruin the friendship down the road.

So, maybe a better idea is just to move on with life, realize you can't save people from themselves, and while there is a lot of injustice in the world, the MLM people are just the tip of the iceberg - and they do require the willing cooperation of their victims in their schemes, unlike, say, the guy who shoves a gun in your face and demands your money.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Beware of Movements - and Committees

The clickbait news media is more than happy to use press releases as news articles. Sadly, they show a marked lack of interest in researching these press releases.

Recently, former US Army Private Bradley Manning was incarcerated in Virginia for refusing to testify before a grand jury.  I'm not sure what the brouhaha is all about.   Manning refuses to testify on the grounds that he/she already gave this testimony to Congress.  If this is the case, then why not testify again? It seems kind of silly or perhaps an attention-getting device.

But like pavlovian dogs, the press eats this shit up. People will click on the articles because they support Manning or because they despise Manning.  I probably fall into the latter category as I think this whole transgender thing is overblown and disclosing secrets of the US Government when you swore an oath not to disclose them, seems to me not an act of heroism, but of cowardice.  One of the biggest mistakes of the Obama Administration was pardoning Manning.

But all that being said, who is putting up all these press releases that the news media is latching onto? I tried to research this online and I kept hitting a brick wall. There's something that calls itself the "Committee to Support Chelsea Manning" or something called "Chelsea Resists!" The news media blandly refers to these organizations as "Manning's supporters" but doesn't go into any details as to whether they have names, or how many of them there are.   Not even a name of the spokesman or spokesperson is mentioned.

One thing's for sure, they've saturated social media and nearly every type of website, blog, or whatever, to pitch for money for legal defense fees.  But for all I know, this could be one person with a computer, or five people, or five thousand, or five million. It's hard to tell. The organization doesn't seem to have any structure with named leaders, and doesn't seem to be a 503c nonprofit or whatever.

I noted before we have a organization on our own Island here called the "Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island."  They gathered together - all five of them - in somebody's living room, and issue press releases and pronouncements about how evil the authority that governs our island is, and how everything's going to hell in a handbasket.  One wonders why, if they hate it so much, why don't they just leave? They really need to visit some other resort islands on the coast of Georgia, or Florida, or the Carolinas to appreciate how lucky they are.

But when you release a press release on the letterhead of the "Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island" it sounds like a grassroots organization that has the support of most of the residents here.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Granted, there are few hardcore people just want to hate for the sake of hating.  Most people have no opinion one way or the other, or are easily swayed by these haters - until you set them straight.  But the majority of people are quite content with the way things are going, because, quite frankly, things aren't going that badly.

And I think the same thing is going on here with this "Chelsea Resists!" nonsense.  The supporters which are obliquely referred to by the press are probably not a legion or army of people, or  transgender people, or whatever, but rather a few of his/her close friends.

And like I said, I think the whole thing is a publicity stunt to raise Manning's profile in order to probably make money in some way, perhaps selling a book or going on talk shows or whatever. Because let's face it, we all forgot about Manning long ago.  And I'm sure Manning is enjoying nailing himself/herself to the cross and playing the martyr - starring in her own one-man show.  On Broadway!

Sadly, the news media seems to strangely lack any curiosity as to who these so-called supporters are, and what the extent of the support is.  Rather, they barf up the same news releases verbatim in one outlet after another. And I know this because after searching on Google for ten minutes, I see the press releases from her organization on their website and then see them repeated verbatim in newspapers such as the Post, the Times, and even on Fox News.

I'm not taking a piss on Manning here - well not too much of one, anyway.  What really irks me is the media, and how they seem to have an utter lack of curiosity these days. It is laziness generated by staff cuts. They don't have the time and energy to truly investigate things and, let's face it, investigative reports just don't generate the clicks. But a flashy press release just printed verbatim generates a lot of clicks both by lovers and haters so why bother doing anything else?  I mean, this is free content, we're talking here.  Just post it and profit!

The moral here is, for you the reader, is to be very skeptical of these sort of things. When you read an article in the newspaper, ask yourself the tough questions such as to who the people are in the article - the old Who/What/Where/When/Why/How stuff that the press seems to have forgotten about. When you see these things over and over again about "Manning's supporters" and it doesn't say who the hell they are, and when you Google it online you can't even find anybody with their name on this so-called committee, you have to wonder what's really going on.

And what's really going on is a tempest in a teapot.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Feral Humans

What makes one sink to the level of living in a car or on a broken sailboat with no toilet?

I've written before about feral cats and dogs.  I've written before about homeless young people.  The real tragedy about these kids - in their 20's and early 30's is that they are capable of earning a living and living a normal life, but choose instead to live on the streets, begging for money and doing drugs.   One day they will wake up and wonder where their life went.

Key West is an interesting place - one that changes rapidly, too.   Some things never change - the Schooner Wharf bar and Michael McCloud (now in his 70's), B.O.'s fish wagon, or the El Siboney restaurant.  But the rest gets more and more gentrified and Disneyfied every passing year.   It just ain't the same since the cruise ships arrived, grouse the "locals" who are local by dint of living here for three years (I kid you not, I heard a bartender say that about himself).

But homeless bums are also a constant here - as in any resort town where the begging is good and the thieving ain't bad, either.  And for the most part, it is the same old story.  Yes, there are some grizzled oldsters who have resigned themselves to a life of alcoholism and just don't care anymore.  We saw one, once, trying to get on his bicycle.  He was so drunk, he could not throw his leg over the bike, so he went down the street with one foot on one pedal, trying again and again to throw the other leg over.   In this manner, he made it to the bar, never actually mounting his steed.

Others are not as far along in the lifestyle.  Again, these are younger people who do have opportunities in life - who do not seem to be insane or heroin addicts or anything.  They have just fallen into a lifestyle that is convenient and seems like an adventure - like kids who hop trains these days for the excitement of it all.

We see these folks and overhear some of their conversations - things along the lines of places where you can sleep in your car (a good thing to know, I guess).   Many others here buy old boats that are decrepit and on the verge of sinking and then live on them.  We are not talking yachts here, but rather things like a 21-foot sailboat with no toilet or kitchen - just a cabin with a place to throw a sleeping bag.   How they live in the summer here with no air conditioning is beyond me.   What they do to keep busy all day is also a good question.   "Hanging Out" and begging for money seem to be the two biggest time-killers.

And that is the shame of it all - they are 20-something years old and "running out the clock" with random diversions - something that maybe a 70-something might do.   But at age 25?   There is so much more to life than sleeping in your car or living on a sinking fiberglass boat.

And like the fellows discussing primo places to sleep in your car overnight, these young folks trade tricks and tips, often online, on how to "beat the system" by living in an abandoned house, a dilapidated boat, or in your car - as if somehow they were "winning" at life by being bums.  It is very sad.

But in addition to drug use, are mental health issues, and in that regard, some of this becomes more clear.   We lost "Stobe the Hobo" last year when he was hit by a train.   We used to enjoy watching his videos on YouTube.  From his obituaries and memorials online, it appears he was in the Coast Guard once, so he clearly was capable of making a living.  He was also a talented piano player, playing the background music in most of his videos.   For some reason, in his later years, he decided that riding the rails was what he wanted to do, in a perpetual search for cheap beer and fried chicken.   He had sort of a deadpan delivery and perhaps had Asperger's or some mental health issue - or just plain old alcoholism.  But even in his transient lifestyle, he was able to assemble some compelling videos for his YouTube channel.

But he didn't start out as a hobo, and he wasn't a bum.  He didn't sit around on sidewalks with some cardboard sign of lies about being evicted or a combat vet or whatever.   He did his own thing and didn't take away from everyone else.  RIP Stobie!

These "homeless" people in resort towns, on the other hand, aggressively attack tourists and demand money.  Or they wait for people to exit bars, drunk, knowing they will fork over some cash (and maybe drop their wallets).   And if you need a bicycle, well, there's one to be "found" in one place or another.   And if it needs a new wheel, well, you can "find" one of those, too, from someone else's padlocked bike.   Ditto for kayaks and canoes (to get to your derelict boat).   Pretty neat lifestyle for them - not so much for the rest of us.

By the way, where do you think those kids are going to the bathroom on those old derelict boats?  They ain't doing no pump-out at the marina.  It's over-the-side or poop-in-a-bucket (which goes over the side as well).   How environmentally correct!

But like I said, the real tragedy isn't the inconvenience to the rest of us (urine and fecal matter on the sidewalks, being accosted by smelly, drunk, angry bums demanding money, bums stealing our shit that isn't nailed down, people using social services instead of getting jobs - and so on and so forth).   No, the real tragedy is that these kids have chosen a "lifestyle" at age 25 that has nowhere to go but down from there.    I mean, that is just tragic that your peak in life is being a bum at age 25 and it gets worse from there.

While drug abuse and mental health issues are a large part of this problem, there are a number of these so-called homeless youth who are doing this as as social statement or as a form of "adventure".   I recounted before about a friend's daughter who ran away from home at age 14, living on the streets, sleeping under culverts or in flophouses.  To her, it seemed like a grand adventure - survival sex, drugs, and partying all day long.   What's not to like?  Beats Mrs. Beasley's 3rd period history class by a long shot!

And I think a number of these kids are playing at being homeless as a fun lark that is better - in their minds - than "selling out to the man!" and getting jobs and buying a car and having a house and all that other "bourgeois" stuff.  I say this as my own brother tried that tack - living in an unheated bar in Vermont as part of an artistic commune for a decade or more.   But even he wised up over time and now has a nice cushy job at a university - hopefully with a nice pension as well.   Hey, he might be a stinking hippie commie, but I don't want him to starve, right?  He'd then be on the government dole and we'd all have to pay for him.

And no doubt, some of these kids will pull out of the nosedive and wake up one day and realize that their friends "Sunshine" and "Ketchup" were going nowhere in a real hurry.   My friend's 14-year-old daughter did, although it took the better part of a decade for her to figure out that having is better than wanting and it is not a crime or evil to have nice things in life - or just take care of yourself.

But others, they might not get the message.   My late sister, for example, embraced all this 1960's hippie nonsense, and married someone far below her station in life, just to "prove a point" to my parents, who were grooming her to be an executive's wife.  Now, granted, one shouldn't feel obligated to follow their parents' plans for their life.  But to intentionally sabotage your own life to "get even" with Mom and Dad is just ridiculous.   And people do that, odd as it may sound.  And I wonder if that is what some of these homeless youngsters are up to.

There isn't, of course, much you or I can do about this.  Like with AA or any other 12-step program, people have to hit their own bottom before they decide they want to change - as happened with me.  One thing not to do, is to hand money to one of these folks, thinking you are "helping" them, as all you are doing is perpetuating their bum lifestyle.   When you make it easier to be a bum, well, people have no incentive not to be a bum - and others have an incentive to join.

I think also, too, we can contribute by not romanticizing the lifestyle - buying into ideas that some kid living in his car in a tourist town and begging for drug money with a cardboard sign is some sort of "folk hero" who is "sticking it to the man" or "beating the system" or whatever.   When you hear this kind of talk, quietly shout it down for the nonsense that it is.

But not much else has stayed the same in Key West over the last 30 years or so.  They used to have a feral cat problem here, so they neutered the feral cats.   Now there are a lot fewer cats around, but an awful lot of chickens and annoying roosters ("Cock-a-Doodle-Do! - how original).   The cats kept the chickens in check, and when removed from the ecosystem, the chickens (also introduced by man) took over.   Funny how that works, eh?

People are not much different.

When You Have Nothing Else - Status

Status causes us to spend more than we should on useless things.

Mark and I were talking about status the other day and he made the interesting comment that people who have nothing else in life often seek status.   This struck me as profound, both in observing how other people live and in my own life.

The times in my life when I sought status the most - by purchasing status items like cars and toys and whatnot, I was the most broke.  That is to say, I was living the "paycheck-to-paycheck" lifestyle that so many Americans including myself, lead.   For the life of me, I could not figure out why money was always in such short supply, even as I looked at the four cars parked in my driveway.

Status cars, status clothes, status watches, status shoes - these things are sold to the very rich, to be sure, who consider them ordinary expenses.  But I suspect the bulk of sales are not to the billionaires of the world, but to the "strivers" - the wanna-bes who want to pretend to be really rich by aping the customs of the very rich - behavior I am sure that the very rich finds amusing and only validates their lifestyle.

We plebes can't afford a mansion with security guards on 200 acres.  But we can afford a mini-mansion that is brick on the front, in a "gated community" on two acres, even if the gate is broken off and the guard shack was never manned.   Our pretend mansions look like the real thing if you sat a half-mile away and squinted in the waning light of the day.   But they are not the real thing.

But they sell like hotcakes.

Every "status" car maker (except the very high end) sells expensive status cars to the very rich.  They also sell lesser models to the rest of us.   A new BMW 7-series is a rare car, as few can afford to spend $100,000 or more on a sedan.   But the 3-series is a hot seller as any young salary man kids himself he can "afford" to buy a car that cost as much as both of his neighbor's Camrys.   Porsche sells $100,000+ super-cars, but also sells more plebian rides, such as the Boxster and Carrerra that upper middle-class people can afford.

And this is not new.  When the 911 came out, its $6500 sticker price was a little much for the average person to swallow.  But the four-cylinder 912 could be had for $4500 and outsold its big brother by 2 to 1.   You sell the image and that sells the cars.

And of course, status is a good way to move those off-lease luxury cars that no one else in their right mind would want to own.   Once out of warranty and over 100,000 miles, esoteric foreign luxury cars are very cheap to buy  - the repair bills easily exceed the sales price.

And bear in mind that "status" is more than fancy cars, clothes, and houses.  Even anti-status is status.  People who can't afford "status items" find status in other ways.  We all do it.

But why do we seek status in life?  What causes us to desire the recognition from strangers that our lives and make our existence mean something?   Because that is all status is - the desire to impress people you don't even know.

And the answer is kind of ugly.  We crave status to fill an emptiness in our lives.  We want to leave our mark in the world as meaningful and important people.  We want to distinguish ourselves from the pack, even if the means we do it in is the same as everyone else in the pack.  When we have nothing going on in our lives we find solace in status.

It is kind of sad and depressing.

But again, it depends on how you look at it.   You can run yourself down over this most human of impulses, or just realize you are doing it and try something different - while realizing that your craving of status really never disappears.

The key, I think is to realize we are doing it, and to minimize the cost of status-seeking.   Because, let's face it, half the people in the United States who are living "paycheck to paycheck" aren't doing so because they can barely afford food and rent, but because they have spent more than they should on things they really don't need.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Bribing the Wrong People - the College Admissions Scandal

If you want to get your stupid kid into a good school, bribe the school directly.  Paying money to some middleman is just dumb - and a waste of money.

Two readers have asked me what I thought about the college admissions scandal.   I thought it was pretty stupid.  These parents are wasting their money hiring middle-men to bribe officials to get their kids into college.   You are better off just paying the money to the school - they will take it - and get your kid in the old-fashioned way.

There are different types of schools and different types of students.   In Engineering schools, it is rare that someone bribes their way in - the course material is too hard for someone to "fake it" and even if you could, the Engineering profession easily spots and doesn't tolerate fakers for very long.

One reader noted that in his class of 45 students, only about 17 graduated, which is a pretty low rate.  When I was at GMI, during freshman orientation, they told us, "look to the left of you, look to to the right of you, one of you won't be here in five years" and we all thought that person was the other guy, but in my case it turned out to be me.  The person to the left of me is now President of that company.

I recounted before about annoying girl at Syracuse University, who tried to cheat her way through Engineering school by studying old tests rather than the coursework.  When a professor changed the questions on the test, she complained it wasn't fair, to the Dean.   She tried to have one Arab teaching assistant canned as being "antisemitic" when in reality, he was just anti-stupidity.   Nevertheless, I wasn't too surprised to read in the alumni newsletter that her burgeoning career with a computer company ground to a halt only a few years after graduation.  You can't fake Engineering, even if a lot of people in Silicon Valley keep trying to do it.

But other schools are different, and let's face it, you can fake your way through an undergraduate degree in sociology, psychology, communications, history, and a host of other subjects, which require only that you need to know how to read and write - and not even much of that.   In the good old days, of course, the very rich didn't even need to do that - their kids were admitted to school based on "legacy" status (their parents went there) or the mere fact of being very rich.   Franklin Roosevelt did this, getting into Harvard and then not doing much of consequence while in school.  Studying hard and getting good grades was something only the children of tradesmen did.  The rich made connections and joined secret societies and often got blind drunk most of the time.

That time-honored tradition still exists, to some extant.   I transferred to Syracuse University after going to work for Carrier.  They paid for my tuition at SU's night school and eventually I was admitted as a full-time student.   Since so many people drop out of college, they do need butts in the seats in the upper-level classes, and they were happy to take my (and Carrier's) tuition money as a result.

But once I started getting good grades, they started tossing me small scholarships and whatnot.   As one of the school Deans explained to me, "We need students with good grades to keep up our accreditation.   We need the students with bad grades, whose parents pay full tuition, to keep the lights on!"  And of course, many of these "full-price" students were foreign ones - a big source of income for American colleges and universities.

You see, college tuition is the ultimate "sliding scale" pricing scheme.  From an economist's point of view, it is a perfect pricing scheme - where everyone pays the most they can afford to.  If you have great grades, they want you, again, to keep up appearance of academia.  So you get a reduced rate in tuition or even, in some rare instances, an entirely free ride.   Others have to pay.   Syracuse had a reputation as being a sort of second-tier ivy league school for kids who couldn't get into the real ivys, but whose parents had enough money to afford the staggering tuition.  A lot of kids from "downstate" would go there, pay full boat, and party their asses off.  Mom and Dad would buy them a spanking-new '81 Trans-Am to go off to school in.   Those were heady days.

And if their kids were falling-down dumb and couldn't even get some reasonable SAT scores to get in, they could always sponsor a scholarship or otherwise donate money to the school.   I was on the receiving end of such a scholarship - not a large one, but one nevertheless.    Likely some other kid got into "communications" school as a result of their parents' largess.   One hand washes the other.

Which is why I say this entire "scandal" is a the height of stupidity.  In some instances, these parents paid this middleman hundreds of thousands of dollars, of which less than half went to actually bribing the school officials.   A better approach (and a more efficient one, from an economic perspective) would be to donate the money directly to the school with a quid pro quo understanding that your kid will get in, despite his horrible high school record and poor SAT scores.

But of course, if you are really super-rich, does it really matter that your kid gets into a name school or even goes to college at all?   If you can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on bribes, maybe you would be better off just putting that money into a trust fund and sending the kid to community college.  As an heir or heiress, what they really need to learn is how to handle all this money, deal with trusts and estates, and of course, lawyers.   Hmmmm..... maybe some enterprising college could come up with a major for this - "Inherited Wealth 101" or something like that.   Would probably do better than Party-Till-You-Puke U.

Now, of course, some folks are outraged by this all - or feigning outrage.  Outrage is the new currency in America, part and parcel of the damning and shaming which have replaced public discourse in recent years.  Rich people have unfair advantages in this world!  (this is news to you?)  We need to take away their money and make everything "fair" again!  (you think this will happen?).   Of course, as I noted before, relying on massive social change as the blueprint for your life is a short-sighted proposition.   While you should support social changes you think are worthwhile, in the meantime, you should concentrate on how to improve your personal life the best you can in the existing social structure.

Was I pissed-off that there were students at SU who were "coasting" and that annoying girl was trying to work the system?   Yea.  But that wouldn't take me from lab tech at Carrier to Engineer and later Lawyer.   Not smoking pot and drinking beer all day long just might, though.   And as I noted, the karmic wheel turns fairly fast.  The people trying to "work the system" often failed badly, and had no "Plan B" in place when their schemes didn't work out.

While the system may be unfair, I think it is far more fair than it was in the not-too-distant past.   Like I said, Franklin Roosevelt could count on family connections and wealth to get into Harvard, and then coast and have a good time (and he was a good guy, too!).  Today, this is harder to do - but not impossible - and even if you can do this, it is harder in our more merit-based economy to get anywhere with a useless degree and poor grades (although our President seems to have overcome this handicap).

Today, the chances of a minority student succeeding are still below average. but at least it is possible to get into most universities as a minority student, if you have good grades - something that in the not-too-distant past was not only unlikely, but impossible or even illegal.   The deck is still stacked against the poor and un-empowered.   That doesn't mean it is impossible to play the game or improve your hand.

It is hard to "fake it 'til you make it" as they say in silicon valley, in the fields of Engineering and Medicine.  Many have tried, and some succeed.  But most fail.   And the few that succeed only succeed because suckers like you and me decide that "investing" in their ill-conceived ventures and IPOs is the way to get ahead.   You can blame people for being crooked, of course.  But you can also blame yourself for being greedy if you keep giving crooked people your money.

One of the kids caught up in this cheating scandal is the daughter of a "celebrity" who makes a ton of dough being an "influencer".   This is all horribly unfair, of course!  But then again, who makes a celebrity a celebrity?   We do, by mindlessly adoring these folks.  And who makes an influencer an influencer?  We do, by purchasing the crap they hawk on their social media pages.

And, yes, at one time I thought these things were outrages.  I would hang out with like-minded people, and we would opine, between bong hits, how "unfair" things were, that some people appear to coast through life, while we got the shitty end of the stick.   But then I realized that this was just loser-talk and that having a "justice boner" wasn't really helping my own bottom line.  It was just an excuse to cover up my own failures in life.

I put down the bong and started trying harder.   And my life improved.  Am I now a billionaire?  Hardly - and few are and few can be.  But I realize that in the greater scheme of things, I am well within the top 5% of wealth for this country and top 1% of the planet.   All things considered, it would be obscene for me to complain about "fairness".   Yes, it is unfair I have to drink inexpensive champagne.   Weep for me.

So no, I am not "outraged" by the college admissions scandal.  I am only amused that these folks caught up in it were dumb enough to give their money to the wrong guy - some middleman instead of the Dean of Students.    If you are going to bribe a college or university to get your kid in, do it the legal way.  Donate enough money to the school, and anything is possible.

That's how the system works.   Act shocked.