Saturday, November 30, 2019

Supreme Court Backs Charles Manson's "Right to be Forgotten" Online

Manson, convicted of crimes in 1971, wanted his name removed from internet search results.

Washington (AP)

Charles Manson, convicted of murder 48 years ago, has the right to be forgotten and have his name removed from online search results, America’s highest court has ruled.

The United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC, found in favor of Manson, who was given a life sentence for first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of seven people in 1971.

Manson, who was died in prison in 2017, was fighting to distance his family name from reports about the case, so as to protect the reputation of his daughter, Marilyn.  The decision could mean publications are forced to restrict search engine access to their online archives in such cases.

His full name still appears in online searches as part of an archived article in German weekly Der Spiegel.  But that's in German, and no one in America speaks German.

His case was initially rejected by a federal court in 2012 on the basis that his right to privacy did not outweigh public interest and press freedom.  But America's highest court has now thrown out that initial ruling, meaning his case will now return to the federal courts. Yet the court also insisted that individuals could not unilaterally claim a right to be forgotten and that its decision had been influenced by the amount of time that had passed since the crime.

The “right to be forgotten” has been the subject of a longstanding legal dispute involving Google and the US.  In 2014, a Federal Appeals Court ruling forced search engines to comply with requests to remove results.

Google hit back last September when the same court ruled that the right to be forgotten only applied to search results in The United States.

(c) 2019 fun with cut-and-paste.  And yes, this is parody.

* * *

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?  Yet this is the law (apparently) in Europe, where the rights of murders trump the rights of victims. Two boys who murdered a toddler decades ago are released from juvenile detention after a few years and granted the right to "start over" anonymously. When their real identities are found out, they are given new identities, again and again.   Yet for some reason, the two murderers don't end up becoming Nobel-prize-winning chemists, or indeed, apparently even ordinary productive citizens.

Are we misdirecting compassion here?

It is an interesting question, as similar arguments are raised in the United States - that the justice system is fatally flawed and that everyone - even murderers - should be let out of jail.   In left-leaning Washington State, a man guns down four police officers in a cafe, and a decade later, his accomplices are either free, or granted new trials.

Every month, another media outlet runs a "documentary" arguing that someone who was convicted of murder is actually innocent - and people jump on the bandwagon based on these one-sided documentaries.

Granted, it is distressing how regularly someone is found to be wrongly convicted, but this is the exception, not the rule.  It doesn't mean everyone is innocent.

The problem, as I see it, is that our population is trending younger.  One reason why crime dropped off so dramatically since the 1970s was not only our increased incarceration rates, but the aging of the population. Worldwide, populations are trending younger.  In some African countries, the average age is under 24.  And we wonder why protesters are setting fire to barricades all over the planet.

In the US, this may be the case in a few years, as the baby boomers start to shuffle off the mortal coil in increasingly large numbers, such that the so-called "millennials" start to out-populate them.  By then, we may very well be a much younger country, for better or worse (let's hope for the better).

And then, a decade after that, a new President will be elected on a "Return to Law and Order" platform.

Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Specious Metrics

One way to show a profit is to change the definition of profitable.

It looks like we're headed for another dot-com meltdown.  Despite all the hoopla about IPOs and unicorns, companies have to make at least a dollar profit to keep the lights on. This is an inexorable rule of financial law that cannot be violated for very long.  Like a rubber band, the further you pull it back and stretch it, the harder it's going to hurt when it snaps back.

I'll go over this once again. These dot-com companies go through cycles about every 10 years. Private-equity investors invest in these companies which burn through cash in order to build a customer base and get big before regulators catch on and before competitors can move into their space. Then, they do an IPO which sells stock to little people like you and me, and in turn, investors can cash out their investment.  Inevitably, most of these companies fail to make a profit, the stock tanks and little people like you and me end up getting crushed.

This is how the 1% gets Richer. They don't take our money away from us, we willingly give it to them. We actually begged them to take our money and think it's a privilege to invest in IPOs, not realizing that all we're doing is funding their dreams and crushing our own.

One of recent famous crash and burn stories in Silicon Valley has been Wework.  Wework like so many other companies these days, really isn't a technology company, it's just taking some old-time thing and putting it on the internet and claiming it's high-tech. They basically buy or lease office space and then sublet it to individual tenants on an hourly or daily basis.  Not real rocket science, here.

And of course it grew like topsy because they're renting out the office space at a loss, and many young gig workers needing a place to work, and are happy to find cheap office space for less than what they would actually have to pay for it.  But of course in order to obtain the kind of growth they had, they had to hemorrhage cash.  And in addition, the founders of the company were doing some insider dealings, using properties that they had owned personally - and even claiming rights to the trademarks and selling them back to the company.

But what really caused the whole thing to implode was when they tried to do an IPO.  Since they weren't making any money, they had to put a good spin on things.  So instead of talking about profits and losses they made up new terms or new metrics to measure the performance of the company.  They called it "community profit" or something like that, and they claimed this term showed they were making a profit, but only if you used some sort of special standard based on "community values."

Unfortunately for them, regulators and accountants would have none of it.  You had to have a balance sheet according to standard accounting practices. And if you didn't make money on a standard balance sheet then you weren't making money.

Sadly, though, there are other popular accounting practice terms that are often batted around which really are kind of specious.  One of these is EBITDA or "earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization."  For some reason, a lot of tech entrepreneurs and investors like to bat this term around as if somehow you're making money before you pay your taxes and you're actually making money.  Fortunately, the SEC doesn't recognize this term as meaning anything.

Why not make up a term called "EBAE" - or "earnings before all expenses"- which would mean your gross receipts, without deducting the cost of materials, labor, overhead, or any other expense.  Under that metric, 99.99% of companies would be "profitable".  As you can see, you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to accounting - as Enron illustrated.   "Mark to Market" was another non-standard accounting practice that booked phantom profits before they were realized.  Of course, putting debt off-the-books was another nice trick to play.

Another one of these companies that's hemorrhaging cash trying to build customer base is Lime, the scooter rental place.  I'm very skeptical of this company because they're blowing a lot of money on scooters which end up in dumpsters.  Not only that, the liability of all this staggering.  People are renting the scooters and driving around without helmets in traffic and eventually one or more of them will get killed and sue the company.  A class-action suit is inevitable.

In addition to all of that, many municipalities are getting tired of these scooters being dumped all over the place and are passing regulations outlawing or severely regulating these sorts of practices. Plus the whole thing smacks of a fad.  I've seen people on vacation rent these scooters and they tool around in them.  But after a while I think you will get tired of them, particularly on rainy days and in the snow.  There's not a lot of room for growth outside of San Diego.

But, thanks to Wework, companies like Lime are now having to show a profit or at least hinting making a profit, so that investors keep plowing money into them. Lime is claiming that in certain select cities they will be making a profit, before taxes.  In other words, they're not making a profit.

Lime came up with this new metric in their latest attempts to generate another round of funding from private-equity investors. Of course, if they were making a profit, they wouldn't have to be asking private-equity investors for more money.  You would think private equity investors would figure this out. It's not enough to say that "Gee, in three cities we could be making a profit if only we didn't have to pay taxes.!" Because like death, taxes are inevitable.

This is why this EBDITA metric is also specious.  They talk about earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization as if somehow you can avoid paying interest or taxes.  (Of course, that is one reason why drug dealing or any illegal business is so profitable - you don't pay taxes!)  I'm sure if you looked at Sears' or JC Penney's EBDITA, it shows them to be quite profitable companies. Unfortunately they are staggering under a load of junk bond debt which is very difficult to service. It is this kind of debt which bankrupted companies like Toys R Us - not online shopping through Amazon, it is often reported by The Washington Post.

It is akin to saying that it would only cost you $500 a month to live in your house, but for the fact you had to pay off a mortgage.  That might be useful information, but if you have $100,000 mortgage and no way of paying it off, it really isn't very useful information.  You could argue that your housing expenses are only $500 a month, but it's really not true, is it?  Particularly when the bank is foreclosing on you.

And that's what it gets down to - truth or falsehood. And it seems increasingly in the financial markets, people are willing to bat around falsehoods, because they make things sound a lot better.  But when you lie to yourself - deny reality - it comes back to haunt you later on.  And the longer you deny reality the worse it gets.

Market cap, as I noted before, is another one of these specious metrics.  Another recent article online laments the fact that "a hundred billion dollars" in market cap has "evaporated" overnight in Silicon Valley due to the setbacks at Wework as well as Uber, Lyft, and other companies. Where did all the money go?

As I noted before, the money never existed.  Market cap is another one of these specious metrics that is used to evaluate a company.  It represents nothing, actually. For publicly traded company, basically it is the price at the last chump paid for one share of stock, multiplied times the number of shares outstanding.  However, the majority of the shares - sometimes as much as 95% -  were basically given to employees or to venture capitalists who paid very little for them in terms of cost per share.  No one paid umpteen billion for Facebook, but the last sucker (you) did pay a lot for a share yesterday.

Another blogger, in relation to Bitcoin, illustrates how foolish "Market Cap" is, in relation to digital currency.  The same analysis applies to stock prices:
"Remember, the formula is LAST trade price TIMES circulating supply. So if person A buys 100 Bitcoins for $10K each, then the Market Cap is $10K TIMES ~17 million coins = $170 billion. Then person B comes along and buys 1 Bitcoin (just ONE) for $10.2K. That TIMES ~17 million = $173.4 billion. The Market Cap has increased by $3.4 BILLION DOLLARS because ONE person bought ONE Bitcoin for an extra $200!!! Yes, really! This is how it works!"
In other words, billions in "market cap" can be created when someone buys one bitcoin, or even one share of stock, if there are a lot of shares or coins outstanding.   There are over a half-billion shares of Apple stock outstanding.  Every time the price of Apple stock goes up (or down) a dollar, its "market cap" changes by a half-billion dollars.   It means nothing - only that someone bought at least one share a dollar more (or less) than before.

For privately held companies that are owned by venture capitalist employees with stock options, these numbers are entirely made up. Venture capitalists assign a number to the company, usually by using a dart board. They will claim that such-and-such a company is worth so much money based on how much money they plowed into it, or what they think the company is worth. But these numbers are basically pulled out of their ass, and are essentially meaningless - as WeWork's evaluation illustrated.  Every day, we hear how some venture capitalist has "re-evaluated" the market cap (read: invented a new number for) of a company they are financing.

Companies that stick around for the long haul usually turn a profit and often pay dividends.  But even then, companies are not forever.  As I noted in my IBM speech posting, most of the Fortune 500 or Dow Jones Industrial Average companies from 50 years ago are no longer part of that average - or in fact, no longer exist.  If you think about that, it's a scary proposition it makes you wonder why you're bothering to invest in stocks.

As Neil Shute wrote in his book Slide Rule, which was the story of AirSpeed, the aviation manufacturer he worked for, the people who initially invested in his company stock ended up getting their money back - many decades later after it was purchased by de Havilland.  Those who bought and sold in the interim either made vast fortunes or lost similar amounts. The price of the company's stock went up and down with the whims of the market, and often not in relation to any rational evaluation. Like most tech companies today, the company rarely, if ever, paid dividends as profits were plowed back into more R&D to keep up with the rapidly advancing technology.

Today we see the same thing, only there is no technology involved. These new startup companies come up with a business plan and then try to flood the market and drive everybody else out and have a monopoly or near-monopoly business.  It's a great theory, and with some businesses such as social media, it might actually work.  Facebook is the dominant social media platform because they are.  As Google illustrated with Google+, it's very hard to "me too" social media and take away even a small percentage of market share.

With other businesses such as renting out office cubicles or scooters, the barriers to entry might not be so high. And what's more, since these are very localized businesses, it might be very easy for a small competitor to chisel away at your profit margins.

The rise of these specious metrics I think is one thing that will cause the next recession. When people start talking about how profitable company could be if only they didn't have to pay taxes or pay back the interest on its loans, it's sort of pie-in-the-sky talk.  These are actual hard expenses that companies have to pay.  Hypothetical profits really don't keep the lights on.

Specious metrics and wishful thinking are sure signs that something bad is coming down the road.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Should you BOYCOTT? Probably Not.

Boycotts generally don't work, or they are not workable.  Combining politics with economics often results in poor financial choices.

In a recent posting, I remarked, somewhat sarcastically, that:
"Any liberal or Democrat who maintains a Facebook page is, in my mind, an utter hypocrite.  It would be like decrying global warming with a bumper sticker on your monster truck!"
Does this mean you should boycott Facebook?   No, and let me explain why.   A boycott means you refuse to do business with a company until they change their policies.   From my perspective, the only policy Facebook could change would be their decision to remain in business.   No matter how much Facebook promises - or actually delivers on promises - to squelch foreign interference in our elections, eliminate bullying of teenagers, debunk stupid conspiracy theories, or respect our privacy, it still will be social media.  And social media is incurably evil in and of itself.

If it weren't for Facebook, Myspace or some other company would be in the hot seat today - as indeed, many other "social media" outlets such as Twitter are.   It is the nature of the beast, and there is no way to fix it, anymore than there is a way to "fix" the gossip spread by high school girls.  And that's all social media is - gossip.

So to me, it is ironic that someone would take to Twitter or Facebook to denounce privacy invasions, or fake news, or conspiracy theories, or Russian interference in our election, or some poor teen girl bullied into suicide.   The revolution will not be televised.  Nor will it be on so-called Social Media.  Slacktivism isn't activism.

Even further, it is hilarious when people decry "income inequality" on their Facebook page, not realizing that they are making a very few people very, very rich, with each posting they make.   Facebook is selling their eyeballs to advertisers, one pair at a time.   The folks at Facebook became fabulously wealthy because your desire to share oh-so-scripted vacation photos with strangers.   They didn't take our money away, we gave it to them, willingly.

If you are OK with this, then fine.  Facebook away.   Blow your brains out.   But don't sit around and bitch about the "evil 1%'ers" while you patronize their businesses.

For me, it is mostly a non-issue.   Some of my friend chastise me for shopping at Walmart.   They believe it is more politically correct to drive an additional 15 miles out of their way to go over to rich people's island and shop at the upscale grocery store (itself a chain owned by a big international conglomerate).   They are making a difference, one artisan artichoke at a time.   Oh, and of course, it's mostly white people shopping there - which may explain their real preference for the upscale grocery store, although they never, never, ever would admit to this.

Myself, I shop at Walmart's "Ghetto Gourmet" on the corner of "Community" and MLK boulevards.  The prices are a lot better and the produce is generally fresher (the big Walmart has even better produce, usually).   And you meet people from all walks of life there, too.   And surprisingly, they have everything from gourmet foods, organic produce, and enormous bags of chitlins.

Am I resentful of the Walton family and their money (and their politics?).   No, not really.  They are doing what any company in their place would do - try to run a business as efficiently as possible, buy at the lowest prices they can get, take advantage of volume discounts, and sell in bulk to the masses - and make a hefty profit.   Like with Facebook, if there wasn't a Walmart, there would be some other company doing the same thing.   In fact, several are - all wanting to be the next Walmart, or at least take a chunk out of their business.  As the CEO of Walmart famously said, recently, "it could all go away" in a real hurry, if the company didn't try to innovate and constantly keep an eye on what the customer wants and needs.   The minute they take their eye off the ball, they are history.

Similarly, I have no hard feelings about Chik-Fil-A, other than I utterly fail to understand the appeal of the place.  It's just fast-food chicken sandwiches, not gourmet cuisine.  And the prices are anything but cheap.  We don't tend to eat a lot of fast-food, anyway.   On the few occasions when we are traveling (not in the RV) and want a fast meal, Chik-Fil-A is not at the top of the list.   Because the Baptists love to go there (because they skipped church the day before, and this sort of makes up for it) there is always a huge line at the place.   Even with all the "controversy" about Subway recently, I find that their foot-long (sans soda or chips) is still a better, healthier bargain, and usually a lot faster than waiting in line at Micky-D's or Chik-Fil-A.

But boycotting Chik-Fil-A?  Not intentionally.  And besides, there is sort of a reverse boycott in effect.   Gays should be careful about calling for boycotts, as they can backfire.  Here in the South, many Baptists will patronize Chik-Fil-A over other fast-food restaurants because of the politics involved.  Buying the type-II diabetes happy meal not only is yummy, it is a way of making a political statement just as a boycott is.   And like I said, a way of getting on Jesus' good side after you slept through church last Sunday.

My only beef (if you'll pardon the pun) with the place is that they want to open at airports and at roadside rest areas, like on the Turnpike.   That's fine, but those are publicly owned spaces, built to serve the public, seven days a week.   If you want to serve food at the airport, and want a concession, you have to be there when people are travelling.   And unless they close the airport on Sunday, that means you have to be open then.  Ditto for the Thruway rest stop.   Why do you think they call these leases "concessions" in the first place?   We are conceding public space to a commercial enterprise in order to serve the public.

Maybe we need to go back to government-run food stands, like they had on the New York State Thruway back in the 1960's.   Thruway coffee.  Ugh.  And those mashed up hot dogs and hamburgers wrapped in paper-backed foil,sitting under a heat lamp for what seemed like days at a time.   Pretty bad food - but they were open on Sunday.

Recently a lot of bruhaha has been made that Chik-Fil-A is "conceding" to the boycott by distancing itself from some charities viewed as anti-gay.  The founder of the company has gone out of his way to distance his personal beliefs from those of the company itself (nice try).  He also has perpetrated the myth that the stores are closed on Sunday "to give people a day off" and implied that Sunday was just a day chosen randomly.   Actually, if that were the case, a day with the least foot traffic, such as Tuesday, would make more sense, or at the very least, selecting the day off based on local sales patterns.

But I don't think these changes (or appearance of changes) in their practices are the result of boycotts per se.  The chain wants to expand out of the South, and the South is increasingly invaded by Yankees, Damn Yankees, and Goddamn Yankees.   It is hard to open a Chik-Fil-A franchise in a public space in New York City, with the politics involved.   It is not that people are boycotting the restaurant, but that the restaurant wants to open in new territories in the future.  Kind of hard to boycott a restaurant that hasn't opened yet, isn't it?

There are other calls for boycotts.  In our small town, we have a Michaels craft store, and way out of town, a Hobby Lobby, the latter of which has made much hay about their religion.   We went to Hobby Lobby once, and quite frankly, it was kind of creepy.  Michaels has a lot of the same craft items for sale, but not as many with Jesus on them.  It seemed like Hobby Lobby is going a bit overboard with the religious angle.  When you enter the store, there is a huge display about their "Museum of the Bible" in Washington DC, which is full of ancient biblical relics, a few of which are apparently even real.

It gets back to what the CEO of Walmart said.  Hobby Lobby isn't keeping its eyes on the ball - which is selling crafty crap to little old ladies at the lowest prices possible.   They are getting distracted by this religious angle, to the point where they are forgetting why they are in business.   But, as with Chik-Fil-A, there are some Baptists who will only shop at Hobby Lobby as a means of professing their faith.  Where would Jesus Shop?  That is, if he were in the market for a self-portrait made of yarn.

The best companies, I think, don't advertise their politics.   I am sure the folks at Walmart are pretty conservative and donate money to Republican causes.   And you can't really blame them for this, when the opposing party regularly trots out Walmart as an example of Everything That is Wrong With AmericaWalmart is the bad guy if they open a store, because that puts "the little man" out of business.  Walmart is the bad guy if they close a money-losing store, because they have created a "food desert."    And you wonder why the Walton family votes Republican. 

The "Freaknomics" people, who I think are blithering idiots most of the time, think boycotts don't work.   And to some extent, they have a point.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott didn't end segregation of buses - the Supreme Court did.   Urban bus companies generally operate at a loss to begin with.  If people stopped riding them, the city would likely save money.  But that is not to say the boycott didn't have any effect.  Well, not the boycott itself, but the lawsuit brought on behalf of riders arrested for violating the segregationist policy and got it in front of the courts.

Similarly, it isn't a lack of business at Chik-Fil-A that is causing them to change their business practices (again, with lines out the door, it doesn't seem the boycott is working).  But the publicity surrounding the company's policies is making it harder for them to do business in some Blue States, so they are slowly moving the company into a more apolitical direction.  And of course, this is pissing off some Southern Conservatives, who will no doubt now call for a similarly ineffective boycott of Chik-Fil-A.   Perhaps both groups of boy-cotters can share a Big Mac on the (nonexistent) picket line.

You see how silly this gets.

Are there some companies you shouldn't do business with?  I suppose so - if they are truly evil.   But history has shown that many companies are willing to engage evil, head on.  I mean, would you buy a computer from a company that sold punch-card machines to the Nazis, so they could keep track of how many Jews they killed?  Does a Jew have any business buying a Ford product (founded by a notorious anti-Semite) or a Mercedes (or indeed, any German car)?  Seems like an innocent question, yet I have a lot of Jewish friends who tool around in Fords and Mercedes.   Polish friends of mine born in a Nazi work camp have driven German cars - mostly Mercedes - exclusively for years.  Heck, they even had German Shepard's - the same kind of dog sic'ed on them in the camps.  I guess you can't hold it against the breed, right?

And where does it end?   There are so many boycotts out there today, that arguably you should never leave home.  Some on the Left argue that flying in a plane is destroying the world, which is nonsense.  Any act of consumption results in some sort of injustice, if you want to look for it.  The only real solution is to just kill yourself and be one less mouth for the planet to feed.

Maybe there is another way, however.  Maybe if you vote for a candidate that can actually enact change, change will occur.  Boycotts and "my way or the highway" candidates don't seem to be very effective, but in fact, little more than temper tantrums.

And we know what happens to children who throw temper tantrums.


It is good to have "an art" on your walls.  However, don't kid yourself that you are an art collector.

We are about two-thirds the way done with the flooring project. The master bedroom is next.  And then we have to paint the remaining rooms in the house - the paint is nearly 15 years old, dirty, scuffed up, out-of-style, dull.   You have to repaint every so often.

It reminds me of a nice fellow I worked with at the Patent Office.  He is probably long dead by now - he was a big smoker.  He lived alone for decades in an apartment in Arlington, and spent all his money on a new Cadillac every few years, and at Pimlico, betting on horses.  That sounds very sad, but I think he was one of those people who knew exactly what he wanted out of life, and got it.  He wasn't interested in a career, family, or whatnot.  Just driving the caddy and betting on ponies.

Anyway, he was talking to me one day and mentioned that his apartment manager wanted to repaint his apartment.  "Can you imagine that?" he said, "I've been living there for over 20 years, and for some reason, they think it needs a coat of paint!  I told them, 'no thanks!'"  I think he eventually relented and let them paint the place.  But it illustrates that even landlords - who have every incentive to be cheap, realize that a coat of paint is not forever.

But speaking of painting (pardon the pun), when doing this makeover, we've had to remove all the art from the walls, and when we finished, put it back.  Hanging paintings is like rearranging furniture or trying on clothes at the department store - not one of my favorite tasks!  And yet, as I write this, Mark is down at the gallery.... hanging paintings.   I was there yesterday, but today, I got a reprieve.

We don't have any fancy or expensive art - that I am aware of.   And art is an interesting thing - like wines, some are so intimidated by it that they have none of it.   You've seen the houses, with the large blank walls with nothing on them, or "an art" as one wag put it - a tiny painting, hung off-center and crooked.

You can have nice artwork without spending a lot of money.  In fact, odds are, you can't afford to spend a lot of money on artwork.   Art is one of those things subject to The Casino Mentality.   The plebes love to read stories in the paper about some painting that the artist sold back in 1935 for $25 now selling at auction for $5 million.  Or better yet, how "one of us little people" strikes it rich when they discover the painting they brought to Antiques Roadshow is actually by long lost artist of the Hudson River School and worth millions.

Plebes love that shit, which is why they buy lottery tickets.

But it is true that some artists' works are worth millions, just as some rare stamps and coins are worth a lot.  I am not sure the winning baseball from this year's World Series is worth millions - but the press reports that every year.   Why would anyone spend that much money on what is, in fact, an ordinary baseball?   Maybe to complete their collection?   It makes no sense to me.

But again, plebe thinking is along these lines - that such-and-such a "rare" item is collectible and thus worth a lot of money.  And who knows?  Maybe you too, will strike it rich with collectible lottery - better hang on to those Beanie Babies and Elvis Plates - any day now, their value will shoot up!

By the way, there are a lot of cons out there involving collectibles.   People put up fake auctions on eBay, literally asking millions of dollars for "museum quality" Beanie Babies.  They then use these as price references to sell a similar doll for "only" a few thousand dollars to unsuspecting rubes.   The collector mentality is dangerous to your pocketbook.  Just because something is rare, doesn't make it valuable!

But the sad fact of the matter is that the crap that most of us own isn't going to be worth bubkis, in our time or even that of our grandchildren.   Yes, that meticulously restored numbers-matching Hemi Cuda convertible may bring a million at auction - when some clueless dot-com dweeb decides to blow his wad.   But no, your rusted-out slant-six Charger with three-on-the tree isn't going to be worth anything, anytime, ever.  The cost of restoration would exceed its market value for some time to come!

Part of the problem is, of course, that art collectors sometimes drive the market.  Peggy Guggenheim bought a lot of works before they were collectible - such as Jackson Pollack, who sold her his drop cloths.   By dint of her buying his work, it became collectible, valuable, and made Pollack famous.  It is an interesting analogy to the financial world - people with vast amounts of money can often drive markets, sometimes merely by investing in them.

When it comes to art, for the rest of us, a better idea is to find things you like to look at, and don't worry about making an "investment."    Buying original paintings is often out of the question for most of us, unless they are from someone we know, a local artist, or some unknown.   Prints are usually the order of the day for us middle-class folks.

The picture above is a print my Mother bought back in 1965, entitled "Fall, Third Ward" by Ralph Avery.   It is one of several gloomy pictures he did of the Rochester area.  He also painted more lively artwork for Reader's Digest and The Saturday Evening Post.   We had taken this down from the wall, and have not put it back up.  Not only is it gloomy (much as Central New York often is) it is faded a bit.  The original watercolor recently sold for $1650 according to one auction site.  A fellow Central New Yorker is offering a similar print to mine on eBay for $150 - with no takers.   In looking at the original painting online, I realized how much detail and color was lost in the print, particularly as it has faded over time.

My parents gave this print to me back in 1988 - apparently the gloom was too much for them back then.  I am guessing my Mother paid under a hundred dollars for it back in the 1960's - perhaps on the order of $25 or so.  With inflation, if the print is indeed worth $150, you can see that art - for the rest of us - is a lousy investment.  Even the painting is a lousy investment - at $1650 in 2014, it would be worth about $200 back in 1965 or so.  Buying art as an "investment" is nothing short of a long-shot.

On our cruise to Alaska two years ago, they had an art show on the ship - most cruise lines do this, as they have a captive audience.  They usually have a reception, with free (inexpensive) champagne, and some fairly recent artists who you likely have never heard of. The art is interesting, although sometimes a little gimmicky, and the prices are usually in the low four-figures - small enough to charge on your credit card, large enough for you to take it seriously as "art".   We took a pass, as I didn't see anything I liked looking at.

And for me, art is that way.  We were driving through Ithaca, New York, and saw a sign that said "Art Garage Sale!" and leaning up against a fire hydrant was this painting.  I locked on the brakes.  For whatever reason, it spoke to me, and I had to have it.  The artist sold it to me for $100 or $200 as I recall - she was desperate for money at the time. I kind of felt bad, paying so little for it.  I bought three or four more of her paintings.  She had just returned from Italy, and brought them back in her luggage, rolled up.

Will these ever be collectible?  Hell, no, unless I stumbled upon some unsung genius who will be lauded after their death.  And oftentimes, this is what happens.  We visited a museum in Mississippi, which showcased the pottery of "The Mad Potter of Biloxi" George Ohr.  Ohr was never famous in his lifetime, but after he died, his heirs inherited trunks of his pottery.  They managed to get some articles written about him in major newspapers, lauding this unsung artist, and they slowly sold off a few pieces as demand ramped up - sort of like a penny stock pump 'n dump - and it's been done before, too, with other photographers, painters, sculptors, and whatnot.

Good old market forces at work!  If you can inherit a trove of artwork from some unknown - that is essentially worthless - you can increase its value by having articles written about the artist in the New York Times, or perhaps a documentary movie or whatever.   If you can crank up demand, and control the supply, well, you can become rich.   You needn't be a Guggenheim!

So find a broken-down artist friend, buy up all their works for cheap, so they can feed their heroin habit.  When they die tragically, start a PR campaign to profile the misunderstood artist - and profit!

This is not to say people have done this intentionally, only that was the way it worked out.  Most artists don't profit from their works in their lifetime, except perhaps, Jeff Koons, who some would argue is not an artist at all.  I have an old vacuum cleaner and some Plexiglas, why can't I be a millionaire?   It would be funny, wouldn't it, if the cleaning lady at MoMA took one of his vacuum cleaner "art" objects out of its case, after hours, and cleaned the gallery with it - never realizing it was art - and then putting it back in place afterwords, with no one knowing.  Every night for a year.

Sometimes abstract art gets too abstract.

But getting back to plebe art, chances are, you will spend more on framing than on art itself.  When we bought our house in Jekyll, it had a long, long hallway going to the master bedroom. Lots of blank space and nothing on it.   We had a calendar of travel posters from the 1930's which was published by the Smithsonian, printed on archival paper.  We took it to a framing shop and they matted and framed all 12 prints, which we used to line the hall.   They look great, and cost little - well, the framing cost a bit, to be sure!

We were in Maine and visited a gallery that had a beautiful original painting of the coast.  The artist wanted over $5000 for the original painting and $500 for a lithograph print.  Mark's brother surprised us with a poster copy ($25) which I think we spent over $300 having framed.  It is a large piece and it looks great, and reminds us of that visit every time we look at it.

The point is, the idea that art is "unaffordable" is bunk.  Art needn't cost a lot of money, and you should buy what you like to look at, rather than something sold to you on the premise that it is "valuable" or might someday be valuable.

Whether you like how something looks and enjoy looking at it, is more important - as you will have to look at it, for years at a time.  And in that regard, with apologies to Mr. Avery, we have taken down the dreary Rochester print and put it in a closet for now.   It may be art, but it is not pleasant to look at, unless one wants to be in a dark mood.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Is Donald Trump Diabetic?

The pattern is all there, and it explains a lot.
There's a cantilever that would make Frank Lloyd Wright proud!

Before Mark's stepmother died, she could be hell-on-wheels. Well, let me correct that.  In the few years before she died, she was a sweet old lady, if not quite a bit overweight and diabetic. The difference between the "before" Shelia and the "after" Shelia was when they adjusted her medications and put her on dialysis. As it turned out, she was not in good health, and that in turn affected her mental state and thus her behavior - which was highly erratic for a while.

I mention blood sugar here a lot, because your mental state is often determined by how hydrated you are, when you last ate, what you ate (and regularly eat) and how healthy you are, overall.    Several times a day - even if you are a healthy person - your blood sugar will rise and fall.  And when it falls, you can become cranky and irritable, and oddly enough, sometimes more pliable.

Salesmen know this, which is why they often keep people at a car dealer for four, five, six hours or more.   Once they have you "invested" in the process, you won't leave, thinking you can salvage a good deal from a bad one.   Once you've spent an hour waiting for the "closing guy" - who is laughing it up in his office with the salesman - you'll wait another hour and go through "whatever it takes" to get the deal done and drive home.   By the way, what they are laughing about in that back office is you.

If your blood sugar goes low enough, you'll "lose it" and start screaming at them. They expect this and don't mind. You'll immediately become embarrassed by your outburst, and then be twice as malleable as a result.   But it is a fine line for the salesman to walk.  If they leave you unfed long enough, you may just go ballistic and walk out.  A good salesman, while toying with you this way, might offer to take you to a fast-food outlet while "the boys in the back room prepare the paperwork."

Anyway, getting back to my late Mother-in-Law, she was the one behind the infamous Stone Crab Incident, which, in retrospect was a result not only of passive-aggression, but her fluctuating blood sugar.   By the time we got back "late" with the stone crabs, she hadn't eaten since breakfast, and her blood sugar was at an all-time low and, of course, bad things happened.

Then she had her meds adjusted and those sort of incidents stopped occurring. Funny how that works.  We like to think we are in charge of our own destiny, but we are just a bag of chemicals and electrical impulses.  We like to think we can control our gambling habits, but in reality, it is just a chemical in our brain that causes us to take risks - a chemical that has been accidentally identified.   I wonder if the put it in the food in Las Vegas?

And I wonder what chemicals - or lack thereof - are going through our President's brain?  He is hardly the acme of good health. He is clearly overweight, something he not-so-cleverly disguises with loose clothing and his famous long overcoats.  He famously wolfs down large quantities of fast-food, including sugary soft-drinks.  He is a poster child for type-II diabetes.  And we see a lot of folks who act and look just like him, in rural America.  Many end up losing limbs, which is sad.

It is interesting, though, that a lot of these severely overweight people seem to be very conservative and also intolerant.  Not that there is a direct causal connection, but I think this low-blood-sugar thing (as well as radically fluctuating blood sugar) tends to make one tired and cranky and less likely to put up with anyone's bullshit.

The other day, the President made a surprise visit to the Bethesda Naval Hospital (I sold my car to some patients there once - I wonder if it is still in the parking lot?).  It is not unusual for someone in his age group (which I am quickly approaching) to have the occasional health crises or health scare.  I wonder if he is having his meds adjusted or what?  Mild heart attack?   It was something, for sure, not an "early check-up" as he claims.

Anyway, type-II diabetes would explain a lot of his behavior - the paranoia, the late-night Twitter rampages, the outright lying (for example, about the hospital visit) and delusional thinking (conspiracy theories, for example).  It might even explain his odd skin color.  Is it the tanning bed, or just jaundice?

We like to think we all have this inner moral compass, and that bad people do bad things because they are bad - or that good people do good things because they are good.  But taking aside, for the moment, that one man's bad is another man's good (and vice-versa), I think a lot of a person's actions can be explained, at one time or another, by their blood chemistry.   Anyone is capable of doing bad things, if their chemistry is altered enough - and the actions of drug addicts illustrates this every day.

We like to think we are civilized, but the veneer of civilization is very thin.   You can live for just a few minutes without oxygen, a few days without water, perhaps a few weeks without food.   But if one is starved for any of these essentials, it is quite interesting how quickly they revert to a feral state.   People will do whatever they have to do, in order to survive, and often do very odious things.

I think the same effect is in play here.  Trump's blood sugar goes low and he gulps down a soda pop to compensate - further fueling the type-II diabetes nightmare.  One minute he is angry and light-headed, and the next he is euphoric and everything is "perfect" - a weird adjective he likes to attach to things that one normally doesn't attach it to, such as phone calls.

It is just a theory of mine.   What is clear to me, though, is that he is not a very healthy person, and it is entirely possible he may not outlive his term in office, given his age, weight, physical condition, lack of exercise, and behavior.

UPDATE:  It also is possible that Trump is having a reaction to decongestants.   When I moved to Washington, DC, I developed severe allergies.  The place is hot, humid, and full of pollen, like much of the South.  I started taking these little red decongestant pills and noticed they made me kind of edgy.  Turns out the same ingredient in decongestants is in speed, which is why, when you buy cold medicine, you have to show ID - meth heads boil it down for the speed factor.

I have a theory that pollen explains why our government is so dysfunctional.  Everyone is wired on cold pills most of the time!

Either that, or these people are like that normally.  Perish the thought!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

You Can't Just Wish Debt Away

If you are bogged down with debt, you will have to change your lifestyle to get out of it.

I was going through my credit cards the other day, making a list of all the cards, their statement dates, the payment due dates, and the interest rates and credit limits.   I realize that we have some cards we no longer use (such as a card I had for my business) and our credit limits have crept up (even after I asked them not to raise them).  The good news is, the balance on all of them is zero dollars and zero cents - and has been for many years now.  But getting to this point wasn't easy, of course.

I wanted to document all this credit card information for Mr. See (or our executor) in case something happened.  You'd be surprised how many married couples don't talk about money.  The husband dies, and the wife doesn't even know their bank account number, how many credit cards they have, and when the bills are due (and what bills are due).   I put all these due dates on Google calendar, so they show up on the computer and on the phone.   And I try to document everything, so Mr. See (or our next of kin) can untangle things, should the need arise, which it eventually will.   Life works that way.

Anyway, I was looking through my hard drive and came across two WORD documents with graphs illustrating the credit card pickle I got myself into when I sold Duke Street and had to pay a hefty capital gains tax bill - to the State of Georgia.   We had a lot of credit card debt back then, and I was not very good at paying off the balance every month.  In fact, we were struggling to pay the minimum every month.   But we had two homes, nice cars, boats, a Jeep and lots of other "things" that we thought we had to have.

Over 50 grand in credit card debt - not hard to do, in America!

I also came across this second chart, showing the amount of debt and the debt limits for each card.   It was pretty scary to look at, ten years later.  It was even more so back then.  Almost every card was at or near its limit.

I realized we were in trouble, and managed to roll over much of this debt into a 0% balance transfer (which still involved a hefty 4% fee, as I recall) to a Citibank credit card.   I started trying to pay down the balances on these cards and, well, nothing happened.   You see, like losing weight, losing debt doesn't work with good intentions, you actually have to make sacrifices - severe ones.   It wasn't until I sold a car, the Jeep, and a few other toys, that the balance on these cards started to drop.  But it still wasn't enough - I was paying hundreds of dollars in interest per month, with no end in sight.

I would try to make larger payments on the cards, but with nearly half of each payment going to interest, nothing was happening.  And if you pay too much on a credit card, you end up with no cash to buy groceries, so..... you put the groceries on the credit card.   It is called a "revolving" account for good reason!   I realized after a  year of trying to pay down these debts, that we would never get out of debt, unless we kept paying for well over a decade.

We finally sat down and talked about it (which is probably why I made these charts) and realized that we could continue to struggle like this forever (and have to work forever) and be caught with our weenies in the wringer if the economy suffered a further downturn, or we could get rid of "stuff" and pay off debts and remain debt-free for the rest of our lives.   So we put the house on the market, sold the boat, sold the tractor, sold another car, sold furniture, had a garage sale - had another garage sale - sold things on eBay.  You name it, we did it.  We slaughtered the sacred cows.

And as you can see in the chart, the balance on all these credit cards drops to -zero- in November of 2010.   Not only that, but we had no car payments, no student loan payments (paid those off) and no mortgage payments.   Of course, this meant we had "only" one house, and "only" two cars.   Gee, how rough is life, anyway?

Of course, for me, these were pretty easy sacrifices to make - I was flying high on a six-figure income at the time, and thought I was a superman.   For others, it is a lot harder.  A poor person might have "only" $5000 in credit card debt, but to them, it seems as intractable as the over $50,000 in credit card debt I had.  And while he might not have a boat and a vacation home, he might have a set of rent-to-own bling rims, rent-to-own furniture, and of course, the latest smart phone and all the cable channels.  He isn't poor because he has no money, he is poor because he spent it all.   Same shit, different day, different level of spending.

That's the beauty of our debt society - everyone at all levels can play!  You can go broke on a $100,000 a year, $175,000 a year$250,000 a year, $350,00 a year, or like Kamala Harris, on $1.5 Million a year.

We are an equal opportunity country!  Stupidity is available to everyone, at every income level!  Of course, there is less of an excuse when you are a college graduate and making six figures.  That just makes these "paycheck to paycheck" arguments all that more obscene.

I recounted before in an earlier posting about a fellow who was having "suicidal ideations" (a term than seems to be in vogue in the last ten years, which my spell-check doesn't recognize) over his relatively small amount of intractable debt.  "I don't want to make any lifestyle changes, I guess" he says.

But in order to get out of debt, you have to make these lifestyle changes.  You can't wish debt away.  There is no secret "kit" you can buy or seminar you can take.  There is no company that will "negotiate" away your debt - they are just con artists who will add to your debt load - and your misery.

No, you have to get rid of things and stuff and subscription services.   If you really want to get rid of that debt, you have to cut cable TV entirely (No, just dropping to a lower tier of service isn't going to do bubkis).   You have to shop your car and homeowner's insurance.  You have to sell the hobby car, the bass boat, the motorcycle, the ATV and so on and so forth - these are things you are effectively "paying for" at murderous credit card interest rates.  If you own a hobby car (or bike, or boat, or whatever) and have intractable credit card debt, then you are making "payments" on that item with your credit card.  Money is agnostic - it flows from one thing to another.

Sadly, we tend to think the opposite - that inanimate objects owe money, not us.  The house owes money on its mortgage, the car owes money on its car loan.  But if a car is "paid for" then we own it, outright, even if we owe tens of thousands of dollars in other debts.  Cars do not owe money, we do.

Is it easy to get out of debt?  HELL NO.  Giving up on "things" never is.  But in retrospect, I am glad I did, and sorry I didn't do this a lot sooner in life (like 40 years ago).   I could have lived with fewer cars, fewer toys, no cable television (which made me depressed, lethargic, and more likely to order delivery or carry-out food).   I could have been more careful with money, but I wasn't.   And it took not one, not two, but three of these credit card debt crises for me to finally wake up and figure out what the heck I was doing wrong.

Debt is never a desirable thing.   For a business, debt can be used to create wealth - but too much debt can sink a business, as we are seeing today.   For an individual, debt may be necessary to buy a house - but too much house or an overpriced house laden with funny-money debt can bankrupt the individual.   Debt to get a college education can be a good thing, provided you aren't using it to buy beer and a new fart muffler for your car (I've seen it done!).   And it goes without saying that a lot of college educations are utterly worthless (more and more so these days) and going into debt for a degree that does nothing for you whatsoever is not a good "investment".

But even worse than these examples is consumer debt - debt incurred to buy a snowmobile or a jet ski or something else utterly unnecessary to your life, but guaranteed to depreciate down to nothing in under a decade.  Even worse are "personal loans" such as unsecured loans, consolidation loans, pawn loans, or payday loans.   Borrowing a dollar to buy food today only means you pay back $1.25 next month.  How is this making you wealthier?  It ain't - it's taking what little you have and making it littler.

Yet so many people do it, because our whole society is laden with debt, sold on debt, and immersed in debt.  We swim in a sea of debt, breath debt, eat debt, live debt.  We live in a debt culture.  The very value of our currency is based on debt.  It is hard to escape.  It is all some folks talk about - their debts, better deals for debt, their credit score, and where can they get more debt.   Debt, debt, debt, debt!   It is their whole lives.  Which is sad.

The funny thing of course, is once you have no debt, none of this matters - at all.   I have locked all our credit report accounts, and it is no big deal as we'll never have to borrow money again.   Why can I say that with certainty?   Well, why would I borrow money which I would have to pay back with savings - effectively turning a dollar into 89 cents?   It would make no sense.   Since I no longer need to borrow money, our credit scores are over 820 (oddly enough, they dinged me four points when I contested a credit card charge at a restaurant recently!  Bastards!).

I realized, from these charts, that just "wanting" debt to go away wasn't going to work.  I had to make severe changes in my life - changes I was loathe to make.  After all, I was having fun, right?  But in retrospect, it was the right move to make.  The toys and vacation home were nice and all - but I was already starting to get bored with them.   When nearly new, these things are fine and all, but as they wear out, well, you have to fix them, and as I am learning with just one house, often everything breaks at about the same time.

And over time, you run out of energy to maintain all of this.  We see this with some of our friends who still "snowbird" with a house up North and another down South.  Neither house is in very good condition.  What's more, if all of this is funded by debt, it is a classic case of living beyond one's means - borrowing from Uncle Tomorrow for fun today.

But it is a funny thing.   Today, I feel "wealthier" than I did back then, even if back then I had a lot of "things" like nice cars, boats, toys, properties, and other stuff.   We have less "stuff" today (and I want less and less as I get older) but feel wealthier as a result.   And maybe this is because we can do what we want to do, rather than be chained to a mountain of possessions and a debt-hamster-wheel needed to keep it all going.

Hoarding experiences doesn't require that we rent a storage locker!  Hoarding things does.  But that is a subject for another posting.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Underachievers, Overachievers, and the Peter Principle

Is it really true that we all rise to our level of incompetence?

In a previous posting, I opined that the way I got major raises in my salary wasn't by "asking for a raise" but by getting more and better skills to qualify me for better jobs.  From laboratory technician, to Electrical Engineer, to Patent Attorney - these were the major raises in my life.

However, I realized the moment I said this that it could be taken by some as an impetus to get one of those dubious "online" advanced degrees that they are pushing on the Internet.  For only a few tens of thousands of dollars in impossible-to-get-rid-of private student loan debt, you can get an advanced degree and qualify for a better job!

Well, in theory, this works, but in reality, maybe not.   Getting an online degree or a degree from a "for profit" college isn't the same as a law degree from Harvard - or even lowly George Washington University.   And I should have mentioned, in that previous posting, that when I was designing circuits for UTC, I was going to school at night to work on my EE degree - in effect getting the job before I got the degree.   The same is true for Patent law - I was writing cases and working on litigation while going to night school.   For me, these degrees were just certificates I needed to keep the job I already had, not some wild bet on a possible new career down the road.

Others are not so fortunate.  They sign up for one of these online deals, promised that they will get that "executive" job with the corner office right after graduation, as they are now "qualified" for that position.  But there is a big, big difference between having a degree and having experience and skills.  You can go to college to be a business manager and be a shitty business manager who drives companies into the ground - my Dad exemplified that.

On the other hand, if you have a job skill and experience - as I had - you'll find people lining up to hire you, with the degree merely a formality as a job requirement.   I learned more about circuit design by designing them.  I learned more about the law by practicing it.   School is fine and all, but a lot of what is taught isn't really relevant to your career, other than to teach a certain mindset.

But getting back to our topic, does the Peter principle make any sense - and is it useful to an individual in making career decisions?  Is it possible you have already reached your level of incompetence?   Or are you merely an underachiever who has yet to recognize their own abilities.  Or maybe an overachiever who has elevated himself far higher than he is entitled to go?

The Peter Principle states that:
a person who is competent at their job will earn promotion to a more senior position which requires different skills. If the promoted person lacks the skills required for their new role, then they will be incompetent at their new level, and so they will not be promoted again. But if they are competent at their new role, then they will be promoted again, and they will continue to be promoted until they eventually reach a level at which they are incompetent. Being incompetent, they do not qualify to be promoted again, and so remain stuck at that final level for the rest of their career.
It is an interesting concept.  And in a way, it is a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Anyone's career can be characterized this way - we all work our way up the ladder, so to speak, until our careers stall at a certain level - at least most of us do.   Few end up continually moving up forever in life, if any.

And the concepts of underachieving and overachieving are interesting, but also could be just crippling labels that we like to slap on people, particularly in an academic environment.  The underachiever is deemed to be a smart person, but for whom, for one reason or another, does not live up to their potential (sounds like my 5th grade report card!).

Perhaps there is some truth to this.   Throughout school, I was capable of getting much better grades than I did, but I was bored, stoned, and depressed most of the time.   It turns out that your emotional state is as important as your mental abilities.   So I ended up dropping out of college and taking slacker jobs, for the most part.   It was only when I stopped smoking pot that I realized that not only did I want more out of life, that I was capable of more.

Low self-esteem drives a lot of this.  People who are smart and productive end up falling down the economic ladder because they let emotional issues dictate their lives.  They spend too much time worrying about the past - their dysfunctional parents, their horrific four years of high school - and forget to appreciate the present or plan for the future.  And the sad thing is, with all this introspection, they learn nothing.   The past can be instructive, if you use it as a means of learning and growth.  It is self-destructive if you just use it as a means of feeling bad about yourself.

Perhaps I was an overachiever, though.  Overachievers get ahead not through intelligence or skill, but simple brute-force hard work.   You could say I did that, working several jobs at once, going to night school for 14 years, and butting my head up against the wall again and again, until I punched through (Thermodynamics - three times!  I did finally get an "A" in it!).

But that is the problem with these terms - they are just labels, and labels are not very useful, other than in terms of symbolism.   It is like people trying to argue that Abraham Lincoln was autistic - or gay.  What does it mean, other than to slap a label on someone - but label-slapping is in vogue these days.   Is your child transitioning yet?  Which gender do they present?

And in a similar manner, the Peter principle might be worthless as well, as it doesn't really present any good advice for managing people in a work environment or in managing your own career.   It, does, however, provide endless amusement for employees who want to tag their bosses' foibles - he can't help it, right?  He's reached his level of incompetence!  That explains everything!

There is another principle that may tie all of this together, and I call it the "Dirty Harry Principle."  In that movie, Clint Eastwood is given the line, "A man has got to know his limitations!" which in effect, touches on all three of the principles discussed above.

If you understand what you can and cannot do, I think you can be happier in life.  Because we can't all be rock stars or even YouTube stars, and that's OK.   The vast majority of us will be plebes and unfamous and unknown.  To quote About Schmidt, once we are dead and everyone who knew us is dead, it will be like we never existed.   And that's OK, too.  Once you accept your insignificance, it is a lot easier to be happy in life.

Others take a different tack.   They posit that it is "unfair" that others are making so much money and are so successful, and "but for" the actions of others, they would be similarly wealthy.   And maybe they have a point - the system is unfair and people who are utterly incompetent end up floating to the top of the septic tank.   On the other hand, complaining about the wealth of internet billionaires on your facebook page or through a tweet or on a message tagged with "Sent from my iPhone" is the ultimate in idiocy.   Here you are handing over your money to these people, and then complaining that they "took" it from you.   Sheesh.

(I digress, but the recent revelations that Trump had a "secret" dinner at the White House with Mark Zuckerberg and right-wing Trump supporter and Facebook Board member Peter Thiel are quite interesting.  Any liberal or Democrat who maintains a Facebook page is, in my mind, an utter hypocrite.  It would be like decrying global warming with a bumper sticker on your monster truck!).

Overachiever, Underachiever, Level of Incompetence - these are all just labels.   Be happy with your station in life, and if you can't earn more money, figure out ways to live within the salary you have.  Odds are, earning more is just a way to get onto a bigger hamster wheel, not a way of getting ahead.