Monday, August 31, 2020


Gossip is part of human nature. What facebook has done is industrialized it and monetized it. 

A friend of mine likes to gossip. We all do, of course - it is part of our nature to share the latest rumors or talk trash about someone. Not a pretty part of human nature, but one nevertheless. In the military, they call it "scuttlebutt" and oddly enough, it oftentimes ends up being more accurate than actual official proclamations. So people place a lot of weight into rumors and whatnot. 

But oftentimes, these can go off the rails. No doubt you played the game "telephone operator" in grade school, where the teacher would say something to one student, who would repeat it to the next, and so on, until after 30 students had passed on the message, it was completely garbled. This is also a problem in electronic communications, which is why we have parity, checksum, and error correction codes (hamming codes and the like) to preserve the robustness of a signal, or at least indicate when it has been corrupted. 

I opined before that things like subject-verb disagreement work the same way in language - as a parity check. If you "receive" a message where the subject and verb disagree, you may be inclined to distrust it, or at least ask for clarification. Sadly, grammar is falling by the wayside these days, and conjugating verbs (which sounds like something dirty) has been reduced to one simple tense, for all subjects. The verb "to be" is now conjugated as "I be," "we be,"  "she be," "he be," "they be," "you be," in ghetto slang - past tense, present tense, and future tense. Not a lot of checksum there.

But getting back to gossip, and example of this telephone operator effect was when a friend of mine came by one day and told me that the director of our island was tearing down the 4H center to build a palatial residence for himself. It was entirely untrue, of course, but it was another example of the machinations of the Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island, which is very good at spreading rumors and gossip just for the hell of it.

And of course, they spread this on facebook. 

The problem with facebook gossip (and that is all it is - gossip - which is why it is trending toward an older demographic) is that it is broadcast for everyone to see, and a permanent or semi-permanent record is made of scurrilous gossip. We all say and do stupid things on occasion - again, this is human nature. But with ordinary gossip, such things die down in short order, whether what idiotic thing you did is the subject of the gossip, or perhaps the idiotic thing you did was gossiping in the first place. 

But with facebook - and Twitter - well, careers are lost over saying one wrong thing. People over-react and engage in damning and shaming (and a little awfulizing as well). The torch-and-pitchfork contingent gets a mob started and before you know it, they are virtually lynching someone. 

All fun and games, of course, but as the French Revolution (and the Soviet Revolution) illustrated, it isn't long before the executioners become the executed - in fact, it is inevitable, as they run out of people to execute, and everyone is an "enemy of the State" at one time or another. 

So why is facebook any different? Why would it be better or worse? Well, like I said, facebook has industrialized and monetized gossip. In the past, Mama went down to the town well to fetch water and gossip with the other ladies. Not much harm done, spreading rumors - and gossip was considered to be just that, gossip. It was not deemed to be trustworthy information, and what's more, people tended to let things pass over time, 

Not so with facebook - it is on your "wall" forever, or copied and forwarded to someone else's. And maybe that is why the younger generation likes these message sites like Instagram, where offending comments are erased after a short period of time. No permanent record of offense is made. However people do an end-run on this by making screen shots of comments and then re-posting them on - you guessed it - facebook.

Gossip, however, can be evil, even without electronic amplification. Human nature is a thing best not examined too closely, lest we understand what nasty little creatures we really are. Self-examination is a tricky business, and you may not like what you find out, if you look too hard.

I recounted before about a friend of mine who took me out to lunch every day for weeks, talking trash about the company we worked for and how it all sucked and how he hated it. Before long, he had me joining in, and of course, he repeated anything I said to my boss (or made up even more outrageous things). Before long, I was so depressed that I left the company (which turned out to be a good thing) and my "friend" ended up getting a promotion. Turns out I was the one in the way of his being promoted. 

Did he do that on purpose? Well, technically, yes. But I doubt even in his conscious mind he realized he was doing it. The human mind is very powerful and very tricky, and we often do things subliminally without ourselves even realizing it. 

For example, let's say Cindy is a friend of mine. She likes to gossip, and she tells me that Eleanor, another mutual friend, is doing something stupid. Of course, when she is alone with Eleanor, she talks trash about me, I am sure. Why does Cindy do this? There may be two subliminal reasons. First, Cindy wants to monopolize my friendship with her. Eleanor is a threat to her, in a way, as Cindy worries that maybe I will start hanging out with Eleanor more and more and less with Cindy. So she keeps us apart by saying nasty things about us to the other. 

The other explanation could be (and both could work at the same time) that Cindy wants to be friends with Eleanor, and if Eleanor spends all her time with me, she will spend less time with Cindy. So this trash-talking works both ways, insuring that Cindy will be "popular" with both of us, but that we won't exclude Cindy from the mix. 

Evil? You bet. Human? That too. A conscious choice? Hardly - this sort of thinking goes on in the lizard brain, the part of the mind that desperately works on keeping you alive. And while being popular with a social set may not seem like a life-or-death matter, it is indeed important, particularly in earlier times, when being shunned by society often meant starving or death. Folks who didn't fit it were often thrown out, or accused of witchcraft or whatnot. Conformity is a survival skill, which is why we do it.

Fortunately, today, being popular with your peers isn't as important in the past - even if it seems to be a life-or-death struggle in high school. You can walk way from gossips and being part of "society" whatever that means. Others find they cannot - they so desperately want to "fit in" to a social group that they will do anything to be part of it - including stabbing others in the back. And this is why, in part, we don't spend a lot of time on the Parcheesi club or care what the little old ladies (LoL's) think of us. Because once you go down that road, they've got you, and you have to dance to their sick little tune. 

And besides, no one cares about Parcheesi club, other than the LoL's who run it. You can walk away from such social nonsense, or participate only at a peripheral level. No one will accuse you of witchcraft. Well, they will, but you can walk away from that as well. 

But that sort of desperate need for social acceptance is one reason why I walked away from Facebook. While once in a great while there is some piece of information on that site which isn't available elsewhere, for the most part, it is a pretty shitty place to get information. Most of the information is inaccurate and it is parsed in a manner than makes it impossible to figure out. 

For example, some small businesses rely on their facebook page as the go-to for information on their business - hours of operations, products and services offered, and so on and so forth. The problem is, of course, that the "wall" of postings isn't really informative for anyone other than a regular patron of that business - who likely already knows all the information anyway. For a newcomer, a facebook page of a business is likely just to be confusing and a turn-off, as it looks to the outsider more like some private club than a business open to the public. I suspect a lot of small businesses that rely almost exclusively on facebook do so because the proprietor has a facebook addiction problem and rationalizes that spending hours a day on the facebook page is somehow "working" for the business. 

UPDATE:  We stopped at a farm stand today - nice place.  The guy behind the counter confirmed my suspicions (unprompted!), telling me the owner's wife spends all day on facebook grooming their page, but not doing any actual work for the business.  What a coincidence!

So facebook really isn't a great place to get information of any sort. It is a great place to read and spread gossip, though. And that alone is one reason why we are in such trouble today, because gossip on facebook has the same value as factual data. You can post anything on facebook, and likely someone will believe it and spread it, virally. Vaccines cause Autism? Sure, why not? The world is flat? Seems plausible to me! This is how we got to where we are today. 

Sadly, too little too late, Facebook and Twitter try to institute a "truth squad" to weed out most of the really egregious shit - which leads to calls of "censorship" by people who never read the US Constitution (but cite it often!). As I noted in another posting, one reason these social media sites have been as profitable as they are (or aren't hemorrhaging even more money than they are) is that they have had zero oversight in the past. Trying to "moderate" such sites is an expensive proposition, and let's face it, one reason people go to such sites is to get gossip - and if you censor that, the customers will flee. 

So that's the problem with industrialized gossip - it can't be fixed. You can't "fix" facebook by weeding out egregious postings or "fact-checking" rumors. Because that is the very nature of these sites and people don't want to come to a gossip site if there aren't any wild rumors to read. 

And that's all facebook is - gossip.   Pardon me if I don't partake.

Weekend Warriors

There is RVing and there is camping.  For most people, either is a weekend experience.

We have returned somewhat to civilization - although we still have no power, water, sewer, electricity, cell service, internet, or much of radio reception. We get Vermont Public Radio, which is infuriating, as there is apparently some sort of hurricane going on, but they won't say where it is striking or what its path is. Instead, they have a lot of hand-wringing global warming talky-talky about how hurricanes are getting worse. Could you just tell me whether or not my house is going to be flattened? What ever happened to the old who, what, where, why, when, how reporting? It is all a political agenda.

Frankly, I think the increased hurricane activity is due to President blowhard and all his hot air. There's global warming for you right there.

Anyway, we left the far North for more civilized climes, and when we hit what used to be called the "Northway" but is now the "Adirondack Turnpike" and we started hitting people (not literally) - lots of people, from New York City, all in their designer hiking togs, lining each side of the road. It was a culture clash, to say the least. 

At our new campground, which is still primitive, but at least kept up, I talked to the park manager. They were reading the rules to me and said, "no dumping camping gear in the dumpster!" which flabbergasted me. Apparently, a lot of city folks read some bit in the New York Times Magazine about "glamping" and decide they are going to hit the Adirondacks, after spending thousands of dollars on camping gear, new outfits, and fussy hiking shoes. 

They get up here and it is buggy and pours down rain and they decide that camping is for the birds. "What about all this wet camping gear?" the husband says. "Leave it," the wife replies, "I don't want a wet tent hanging in the rafters of our SoHo loft, staining the antiqued floors! 

So they throw away all their camping gear - all of it - and not just cheap Walmart stuff, either. The problem is, this fills up the dumpster rather quickly, and since Governor "Uncle Tone" not-affiliated-with-the-mafia has the trash business all tied up with his "family" friends, you cannot throw anything away in New York, without paying exorbitant fees to the mafia. So, 500 pounds of camping gear in the dumpster really puts a dent in the park's trash budget. 

Still, I thought it was funny - nowhere else but New York would people throw away a fussy $500 REI tent after one use. Well, I'm guessing in the parks within a four hour drive of LA, San Francisco, or Seattle, it probably is the same deal, although folks in the Pacific Northwest are a little hardier - you can't be dissuaded by a little rain there. 

The nice thing about weekend warriors is that the often leave firewood behind. At our last site, there was a pile of firewood in the fire pit at an abandoned site, which had been covered with some sort of accelerant, but failed to light in the pouring rain. Next to the pit were three bundles of firewood still in the wrappers, along with a entire box of "fire starter" cubes. Score! Over $25 worth of stuff, left behind. We rarely have to buy firewood, as so many campers abandon it. Just walk around after people leave and scoop it up. 

You can also cut and use downed, dead wood, and a battery-operated Sawzall with a long wood blade is handy for this. Axes and whatnot are worthless. We have a saying, "There's always a chopper!" in every campground - a man (usually a man) vainly chopping away at some 10" diameter log with a hand axe and getting nowhere other than to perhaps remove a finger. But you hear it, everywhere - there is always one - chop! chop! chop! 

Others bring entire pickup trucks of wood, apparently planning a bonfire. On Sunday morning, they are too hung over and tired to load it all back on the truck, so..... once again we score free wood. 

In one instance, Mark came scurrying back from an adjacent site with a log, which was still burning - sort of like how the Grinch stole Cindy-Lou Who's holiday Yule log. 

Of course, being a lawyer, not only do I steal, I cheat. Wet wood never burns, no matter how much tinder you put under it. Yes, I know, you can make a fire by rubbing two Boy Scouts together. And I did that, as a Boy Scout - making fire with two sticks of wood and some tinder. Handy to know you can do that if you had to. We don't have to. We have technology. 

Those fake "fireplace logs" they sell at Walmart or Home Depot will burn for hours. They are basically sawdust covered with waste wax products from oil refining. We cut them in half (again, Sawzall) and wrap them in a plastic Walmart bag and tie it tight with a knot, to make a small cube. 

Put this under the wettest log on the planet, it will burn, trust me - for a couple of hours, too. Cheating? Sure. But why be the guy who abandons his camping gear and firewood because of a little rain, when a little shortcut will make all the difference in the world?

Yes, when the rain comes, you have to get out and do things - a cheery fire can improve your mood, along with a big pot of hot coffee. Right now, we're making chicken soup and biscuits in the oven (cheating again - having a camper, instead of a tent). But it takes the chill off and makes the day seem a little less gloomy. 

The weekend warriors went home, and we have a new stack of firewood next to our fire pit. Tomorrow, the sun will be out, and it will be a nice day for Kayaking. 

Of course, there are plenty of others who are far more hard-core than us. The two men in the site next to us, are pretty serious about their hiking - and camping. This morning, I was somewhat shocked to see one of them naked, showering in the rain. No shrinkage, either. I guess if I was that way, I would be showing off too. I am not sure why one would shower in a cold rainstorm, only to put on sweaty hiking gear and go off to hike in the rain - after a cold wet night in a very small tent, too! By my hat is off to them - they aren't going to abandon their camping gear anytime soon. And sadly, neither a stick of firewood will be left behind, either!

Note:  The image above is from a "Weekend Warrior's Guide to Camping" - apparently the author was unaware that the term "Weekend Warrior" isn't deemed a compliment, so much as an epithet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

What Do You Do All Day? Mostly The Same Old Shit

What does one do all day, camping out?

When I retired, one reader opined that I would be bored out of my mind, with "nothing to do"all day long.  And yet, activities filled the days, with no free "bored" time to be had. In fact, I find there is less boredom in retirement than in the working life.

When RVing, people ask, "what do you do all day long?" which is an interesting question.  To be sure, on what we call "house moving day" there is a lot to be done - cleaning up our campsite, putting things away, hooking up the camper, and driving to our new destination - preferably less than 100 miles away, and our new home for several nights, if not a week or more.

But once there and "set up" what to do?

Well, most places are near water, so we have a kayak that we use to explore. It seems kind of scandalous to us to go to such a place and not kayak, so that sort of pushes us to make use of the facilities while we are there.  We also have mountain bikes, so we can explore the campground and, if available, local mountain bike trials.  Or, if near a city or town, we can ride into town to explore there - local museums and attractions, maybe a winery or whatnot.

We also like to go on hikes - fairly short ones, that is, unless you place your faith in a NYS DEC trail sign that says a hike is 3.7 miles and a mile into it, suddenly becomes 4.3 miles and then 4.5.   Always have a trail map - and GPS!

There is also routine personal maintenance.  Just because you are on "vacation" doesn't mean there is isn't laundry to be done, beds to be made, meals to be cooked, and floors to be cleaned.  Life goes on, and life is a lot of work - if done properly.   There is also RV maintenance - minor repairs which always need to be done.  A new propane tank for the trailer, a new AGM battery for the truck. A hook to be hung up here, something to be optimized there.  It never ends, unless of course, you want to live in your own squalor.  Many choose to do so - without ever leaving home.

You find your life revolves more around the weather forecast than the news stories.  Rainy day?  Good time to go into town and do laundry and get groceries.  Nice day?  Maybe today we get out on the kayak or take that six mile hike (that turned out to be eight or more!).   What you do is based on what is available, not what you are scheduled to do.  Doing things on a schedule make less and less sense.

And a lot of things are spontaneous.  As I noted before, we tend to stop at waysides, tourist information centers, rest stops, museums, old forts, and whatnot, just to have a place to park and have lunch and to see what the local situation is like.  Many a small town puts a lot of effort into creating a town park - often not appreciated even by the local residents.  But often such parks lead to local sales, at the gas station or grocery store.   It is an investment, tourism.

But the long story short is this: You don'r run out of things to do in retirement.  In fact, you finally find the time to do the things you want to do, in the way you always wanted to do them - not hurried or rushed or on a deadline.

And it is a nice feeling. let me tell you.

But others, who failed to save for retirement, claim they will work until age 70 - a nice theory, if they let you do that.   They claim they like work and that being retired would be "boring".

Perhaps. Or perhaps a post-hoc justification for poor life planning?  I tend to think the latter.

Because not working really rocks.  It really does!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Why the EU is Failing

Brexit is just a symptom of a larger overall problem.

For years, many have hoped that Europe could come together as some sort of "United States of Europe" as for centuries, Europeans have been killing each other in various wars, and of course today, due to soccer hooliganism.   The common market was a first attempt at trading between nations without tariffs and borders - to create an economic powerhouse that would rival the United States of America, and today, China.

But the final attempt at integration - the EU - seems to be running off the rails.   The UK, which never was fully committed to the concept (balking at the Euro) has bailed on the deal, and no doubt others will follow.  Worse yet, it looks as though some newer members, such as Poland, just don't get the whole concept and might have to be booted out.

The United States became an economic powerhouse in part because it is such a large country, and until recently, you could travel from "State" to "State" (or Commonwealth, as in Massachusetts, Virginia, et al.) without a passport and settle anywhere you wanted to - or could afford to.  Even today, though, the various States can't stop you from entering due to the Corona Virus - all they can so is advise you to quarantine, and in some instances, enforce it.  Interstate commerce, indeed, even international commerce, continues unabated.

We had the advantage over Europe of sharing a common culture and language, at least at first - which is one reason, I think, over the years, people have reacted negatively to new waves of immigrants, convinced they would create a culture-within-a-culture, as many are alarmed about today.   But left to their own devices, most immigrants in America blend in within a generation or two, and homeland languages and customs slowly go by the wayside.  Well, maybe not today, when our identity politics friends encourage people to live in separate cubbyholes.

We are seeing this across the world - dead languages or languages that were nearly dead, being revived as part of a regional sovereignty and identity.  French was on the ropes in Quebec before the separatist movement.  Today, they speak a charming textbook version of French, which I can more readily understand, being a "C" student.  Folks from Paris think it is an abomination.   Young people in Wales are re-learning Welsh.  Scottish identity is a big thing these days.   Everyone wants to have their own country, about three-feet square, surrounding them.   They even have a name for it in the States - "Sovereign Citizen" - but of course it is all bullshit.  We all belong to one country - one world, one race.

Of course, things didn't initially go smoothly for the USA, which is why it is not unexpected that things are not going well in the EU.  We started out with an "Articles of Confederation" which was a weak form of central government (sound familiar, EU fans?) that ceded much power to the States. After a few short years of that nonsense, we scrapped that for the US Constitution we have today.

But the hard times weren't over yet.  The bloodiest war ever fought by the US, killing more people than all other wars we fought in, combined, finally put into place the idea of a powerful central government, and killed off the "States Rights" movement pretty much for good (but like a bad penny, it keeps turning up every so often).  Yes, the Civil War was about slavery - the "State's Rights" to legalize slavery in their State - and expand it to new States being formed.

Since then, our Federal government has increased its scope and power, much to the distress of some folks who want a "do over" on that whole Civil War thing.    But we do have a national set of standards and laws that apply to every State, with the Congress using the cudgel of the power of the purse, to coax States into complying with various laws.   There are still a few variations between the States.  Florida, for example, doesn't require you to wear a helmet on your Motorcycle.  That sort of pretty trivial things.

So, it took only 200 years or so, the bloodiest war in our history, and quite a few false starts, but here we are today - and the job isn't over yet.   Europe expected to do this in a few years?   With everyone speaking a different language and having different cultural values?   Oh boy, what were they thinking?

And sadly, the whole point of an EU was to avoid these nasty little European wars that seem to break out every few decades, and now it seems we are heading for just that.

Of course, the problem is, the original member States at least had some cultural values in common - religion, and a few core "romance" languages.   Some of these new States (or wanna-bes) have different ideas, and once again, "States Rights" rear their ugly head.  The idea that human rights have to be consistent from State to State is something that is taken for granted in America - and much of Europe.  Poland seems to have other ideas.   Europeans criticize our antiquated and oddball election system, but the Poles have us beat (well they have the opposing party beat, anyway).

The cure, of course, is what took the United States 200 years and oceans of blood to figure out - you have to have a strong central government with a standard set of rules for all the States. Yet the rallying cry of the Brexit folks is that "Brussels" (their version of "the swamp") is the problem, what with all the regulations and so forth.  This is the exact same thing rural rednecks with "TRUMP 2020" signs on their pickup trucks say.   In fact, the parallels go further, all the way down to oddball leaders with piss-yellow bad comb-over haircuts who could stand to lay off the fast food.  Trump or Boris Johnson?   What's the difference?  By electing Boris, the Brits have given up all right to any criticism of the US, at least for the time being.

Same shit, different country.  Only the real problem for the EU is not that poor Southern States are seceding from the Union, but rather one of the principle members.  It would be like if, in 1860, New York State decided to secede from the United States over the issue of slavery. The whole damn country would have fallen apart.  We'd be singing "God Save the Queen" by now, as those wily Canadians would no doubt taken advantage of us and invaded (the Northern border of the US is ringed with old forts to thwart Canadian aggression, as did occur in the war of 1812).

So yea, Brexit is a total shitstorm.   Not only will it wreck the economy of the UK (when a pissed-off EU decides that a trade deal would only reward Boris) it will wreck the political future of the Union itself, as the power of the UK cannot be brought to bear to bring into line some of these other EU newbies who are off the leash.  One by one, the more powerful countries will leave, until the whole thing is a smoking mess.  And at that point, no one wins.

Yes, the EU had its problems.  So did our country, early on.   But if you stick around and try to solve those problems, it is a better approach than taking all your marbles and going home to play with yourself.   Which might be all the UK can do at this point - play with itself, in both senses of the word.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Does the Media Want Trump to Win? It's Good Business!

The news media has had a field day since Trump was elected.   Clicks are up, profits are up.  Why stop the party now?

Imagine Biden gets elected.   Other than some bruhaha over vote counting and speculation whether Trump will leave the White House peaceably (he will - he doesn't want to be blamed for what happens in the next few years), there isn't much of a news story.  Biden nominates pretty conventional people, and Washington DC goes back to being "Hollywood for Ugly People."  

End of story.  End of the New York Times, who will have nothing to report.

Now, imagine Trump gets re-elected.  In a squeaker of a vote - just like last time - he pulls it out of his ass, strategically getting the electoral votes of States the Democrats overlooked or assumed would go their way.   Polls showed Biden leading by ten points!  But they also did so for Hillary, remember?

Ratings would be boffo.   There would be a recount, of course, and a Supreme Court case like Bush v. Gore.   And the emboldened Trump administration, with nothing left to lose, would be off-the-leash full time.   You thought the first four years were bad, eh?

But for the Washington Post and the New York Times, business would be brisk.  Angry liberals would buy the papers in droves, hoping that each successive article lambasting Trump would prevent Democracy from "dying in the darkness".   It happened in 2016 - subscriptions to the Times shot up after that election.  And who knows?  By 2024, people would be ready for anything - maybe a President Bernie even if he was in a coma.

Bad news is good business, which is why all news is bad news.   Even when "their" candidate wins, the media tears them apart.   Remember the Clinton years?  Or Obama's tenure?  The liberal media outlets wasted no time in tearing down Democratic Presidents for not being liberal enough, or for bombing terrorists with cruise missiles or drones.   They did this not because they hated Clinton or Obama, but because no one would buy a newspaper (or today, click on a story) that says, "Hey, way to go our side!"

Which is why, probably, Fox News is struggling a bit these days. They fall all over themselves sucking up to Trump, but there is no controversy or heat in such presentations.   Maybe that is why Fox News is producing stories that are critical of the President or having interviews where sharp questions are asked.   After all, the only other way they know how to gin up the ratings - having a host make controversial racist comments - is kind of out of fashion.

I don't trust the Times or the Post or the media in general.  They have a divided loyalty here - their primary loyalty is to their own bottom line. They promote the stories that sell, and I think deep down, they realize that a Biden Presidency would so put people to sleep, that another legion of newspapers would go broke with nothing juicy to report, other than today's "gaffe" whatever that is.

The New York Times secretly wants Trump to win.

I'm Back! What Did I Miss? Not Much, I'm Guessing

Being off the grid means a lot less stress in life, and you really don't miss all that much.

We are perched next to a mountain lake in the Adirondacks.   We've had no cell service or Internet for over a week.  All of the radio stations are in French, except for one weak Vermont Public Radio signal that comes and goes.   Today, for some reason, the phone beeps and says I have a message.  Turns out, we have one bar of service, provided I prop up the phone just so, outside on a picnic table.

I am guessing I didn't miss too much while I was out-of-the-loop.   Some bad news happened, and Trump sent an outrageous Tweet to distract everyone from what was really going on - right?  I'm clairvoyant!.  And the media - even the liberal media - like an obedient lap dog, made Trump's tweet the top story, even as they admit that the whole point of it was to distract from..... what was it again?  Nevermind, back to the Tweet!

Public radio goes so far as to have a hand-wringing session where they talk about their complicity in this sort of thing.   How ironic - by doing so, they further distract from the real news.

Howabout this?  How about reporting real news, and not things based on Tweets, Reddit postings, YouTube viral videos, or Facebook likes?   Just a crazy idea, I know, and it might involve leaving the desk and going out and researching things and talking to real people, not just barfing up wire service stories or press releases.  It might mean taking control of the news instead of waiting for something to happen on the Internet.  Fake news exists, because news organizations have become passive, and wait for a story to land in their lap.   And nefarious forces love to throw stories in their laps.

I harp a lot in this blog about unplugging from the media.   There is no need to see the latest releases, hear the latest songs, wear the latest styles, or hear the latest news.   All becomes clearer with time - what the actual facts of a news story are, what styles and music are timeless, and what was a regrettable fashion trend.

The good news is, since I am not paying off my credit card balance daily, I have a small balance (no interest payments, though!) and this increased my credit score. How funny - they want you to be in debt, and reward you for doing so.

Anyway, back off the grid for another week - no electricity, no water, no sewer, no internet, no television, no phone - not a single luxury.   Well, other than an RV with a furnace, hot water heater, generator, air conditioner, refrigerator, stove, bathroom, shower, and a solar panel.

Hey, I'm not that crazy!  We have technology.  No need to live like a refugee.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Not Dead, Just Hiking

Never trust an NY DEC Trail sign.

Back in a few....

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Restroom Christians

What's the deal with leaving Bible tracts in public restrooms?  Sheesh.

I wrote before about Chick Tracts - little comic books about Jesus that some evangelicals leave in public places to "educate" the heathens about things like evolution.  For example, did you know we are not descended from monkeys?   It's true!  Otherwise, why would there still be monkeys?

Of course, even biologists don't believe that. The theory of evolution is that we are all descended from a common ancestor  - all of us, plant or animal.  Which is why our DNA is so much alike.   But like I said, it's a theory, and mixing scientific theory with belief (the latter not being the same as fact) is just asking for trouble.

In this case, the tract was a "discover series" booklet from RBC or what is now called "Our Daily Bread" - which is a third generation evangelical church in Michigan. The booklet in question was all about "Render Unto Caesar" which posited that you should pay your taxes.  They even went to so far as to condemn those who look to the Bible for "tax protesting" advice.    I looked them up online and they seemed fairly harmless -  not many controversies or outlandish hateful positions on things.

I also found a blogsite where someone critiqued their positions.  It was a "former Catholic" site and the author, having been indoctrinated in the "one true religion" all his life, decided to abandon Catholicism for born-again faith, which he now realizes is the one true religion.   Irony is lost on such folks.  His critique of "Our Daily Bread" was that they were not militant enough on the "hot button" issues like abortion (not calling for shooting abortion doctors!  Straight to hell!).   Worse yet, the author claimed that RBC people were guilty of the ultimate thought crime - Ecumenicism.

Ecumenicism - you know, the crazy idea that other people may have different belief systems than you, and that it's OK not to kill them over this.   Radical stuff, I know.   Yet most of the world seems caught up in the opposite idea.  Just as most blacks in the US are not killed by whites or police officers (but are killed by their own kind, at a horrific rate), most Muslims in the world are not killed by evil American drone missiles, but rather by each other.   Sunnis and Shiites kill each other at an alarming rate - with various attacks, car bombs, suicide vests, and outright wars.   There is no need for America to intervene in the Middle East - just sell them the weapons they want, and let 'em go at each other.   Until 9/11 that pretty much was our Middle Eastern policy.

Christians used to do this in a big way, but not since the accords in Northern Ireland, have Christian sects gone after each other over who is the one true Jesus.  But it was not always so - Protestants and Catholics waged bloody wars over the years, particularly in what is now the UK.  And of course, Catholics did a bang-up job of torturing and murdering people, particularly non-Christians, in places like Spain, back in the days of the Inquisition.

Today, we see similar stuff going on in India, where Hindus are going after Muslims and vice-versa, or in Myanmar, where Buddhists go nuts and kill Muslims, or even in Tibet, where militant Buddhist Priests run amok on occasion.  There really is no religion that is safe from this sort of nonsense, at one time or another in its history, in some time or place in the world.

Which is why I say that organized religion is a very evil thing - designed with one thing in mind, and that is to control your mind to advance the earthly goals of the leaders of that religion.   You can't have ten "one true" religions in the world - nine of them have to be wrong, maybe all ten.  Oh, they cloak it in a lot of hoo-doo and whatnot.  The Dali Lama and the Pope wear robes and seem like saintly people, but their real agenda is maintaining and expanding their power base.

On the scale of one to atrocity, leaving bible tracts in public restrooms is pretty low - maybe a 0.1 or so.  But it is creepy.  And the Bible, being written, edited, and translated by humans, often to their own ends, has a lot of crazy stuff in it that makes no sense.  Jesus stealing horses?   Jonah in the whale?  The holy ghost?   A lot of it makes no sense, but people use it and "explain" the meaning to us in a way that usually ends with a collection plate.

You can have belief and not pay for it, or pay for it in ways that help society, not some Cardinal buy a $42M mansion.  And while starting a religion might seem like a real profitable venture, bear in mind that it is the second or third generation of leaders who make the real money, once the first generation is persecuted for their beliefs.

The name of this blog is Living Stingy, not "how do I buy pastor a new Lear Jet?"  Tithing 10% or more of your pre-tax income to any church is just insanity, particularly given all churches' history of how they spend money - on air-conditioned dog houses or Sistine Chapels.  And I've met people in life who ended up broke and bitter, after giving over a substantial portion of their wealth to some religious leader (not God) and then get tossed out of the club when their well runs dry.

Your relationship with God is a no-cost deal.   He doesn't want your money, as he can't spend it.  And he's not impressed with your cathedral, as he can conjure up far nicer digs, with a wave of his magic wand.  Belief can be a comforting thing, it can also be corrupted to earthly ends.

And as for answers to the unanswerable questions in life?   We all find out in a very short period of time.   Asking fellow humans, who have been on this earth as long as you have been, is just stupid - they really don't know either.   Oh, sure, they'll quote some Bible verse or something from whatever book sets forth their belief system - but that is just quoting answers without any analysis, and often are just answers written down by fellow humans, who are just as clueless as you are.

You don't need those intermediaries to commune with God.  Or at least that is my belief.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Good News For Modern Man

There is a lot of bad news in the papers these days.  But come to think of it, there has been bad news in the papers since the day I was born.  Is there any good news?   Plenty of it.

I was reading a depressing piece today that says that Greenland is going to actually become green, as all the ice melts away, revealing layers of US Army Air Corp planes that have been long buried there.  This means sea levels will rise six meters (that's about eighteen feet for us Americans), flooding New York and most coastal cities.   Oh, what will we do?

There is, of course, a lot of other bad news, including President Bad News himself, planning on barricading himself in the White House, if he doesn't win, and threatening World War III unless we let him play President-for-Life.   Well, that's what Hillary thinks, anyway.  Let's hope she's wrong.

Oh, and this pandemic thing.  Rioting.   Income inequality.  Wealth Inequality.  Terrorism.  Wars around the world.  Migration.  Worst of all - calling people by the wrong pronouns.  The horror of it all!

But bad news is the definition of "news" and has been so since time began.   It is in our nature to seek out the downside to everything.   When I was very young, it was the Cuban Missile Crises - I was too young to remember, but my older friends remember being sent home from school because World War Three was about to start, so you might as well go home and hug your parents, because it was all over.

The scary thing is, of course, that the threat of nuclear annihilation is now just background noise, and we are used to that level of stress.  Yet, if you think about it, for every year that goes by, the probability of someone tossing a nuke (likely some third-world country like North Korea or Iran) is pretty finite.    If you add up all those probabilities, it comes out to a certainty.   If I flip a coin that has only a 1% chance of landing heads, and flip it for a hundred years or more, well, eventually you will hit the jackpot.

Hey, I thought this posting was about "Good News" - don't be a downer!

But getting back to the narrative, the news didn't get much better over time.  The Vietnam War, Assassinations, Rioting, Oil embargo, Nixon, Watergate, Stagflation, Iranian hostages, Iran-Contra, the first Gulf War, Monica Lewinsky, 9/11, the Second Gulf War, various real estate and stock market crashes, and so on and so forth.   The media has always had some red meat to feast upon when it comes to bad news.

So what's the good news?  Good news is often things that are never reported, because they too, are like background noise.  We don't think about how lucky we are to be raised in a world where Polio was conquered and many childhood illnesses vanquished, until the bad news comes out that some idiotic Karens think vaccines cause autism.

We harp about income inequality, but at the same time fail to realize that over the history of mankind, income and wealth levels have risen steadily over the years, to the point where we are today, where real wealth is higher than it has ever been in the history of mankindWorld poverty levels are the lowest ever measured by the World Bank.   The largest health issues affecting most Western countries are not things like malnutrition, but obesity, because we are awash in a sea of inexpensive food.

A lot of people complain that they have it so bad, because housing takes up 1/3 of their income or more.   It was pretty much that way back in the day and will continue to be that way in the future. Most people's real complaint is that they don't have the housing arrangement they'd like to have, or what their parents had - and well, neither do I.   But in terms of overall wealth, we have things today that our parents never dreamed of - and what I read about as science fiction in my youth.   My battered old laptop that I am typing this on, that I paid $100 for, has more power than a Cray "Supercomputer" of my youth.   Hell, I have a hand-held computer that has far more power - the cell phone.  We are a far wealthier nation than even in the immediate past, and I can attest to that having lived in the immediate past.   We haven't had gas rationing since I was in college, for example.

But what about the pandemic?  Surely it will kill us all!   Well, not likely.  And like any crises that goes on long enough, it becomes background noise.   Life is returning to "normal" or at least a new normal.  Despite all the politics and hoopla, the death rate is slowly declining, and indeed, the infection rate, after peaking, is declining again.  Will there be more peaks?  Perhaps, especially with school reopening.   But as treatments improve and vaccines are developed, the virus will go away - which all viruses do, over time.   Life will go on, although that is cold comfort to anyone who dies or loses a loved one.   But the death rate has dropped to less than 1% from all appearances.   This is not the end of mankind as we know it.

And global warming?  Well, the Greenland article is a bit misleading.  Global ocean levels are not rising at feet per year, but in millimetres.   The most aggressive estimates are that by the end of the Century, levels could rise to three feet.   But that is a high-end estimate.   Others claim even higher levels, but based on nothing being done in the interim.  The good news is, some things are being done, and in fact, due to the pandemic, global CO2 production has likely fallen in the last few months.   Not only will solar panels and electric cars reduce carbon pollution, but we are finally realizing that driving all over hell's half-acre is really pointless.  Getting in a car and driving an hour each way to work so you can sit at a desk with a computer is stupid - not when you have a computer at home.  The death of the car-based economy may be at hand.   Someday there may be a beltway museum in Washington DC, when that roadway is replaced by a ring of green space around the city.  Maybe.

This does not mean that everything is good news - it never is.   We have to take the good with the bad.   But realize that most of the world's "problems" are problems of our own making.   The world's religions exhort us to "go forth and multiply" and to strap on suicide vests and kill our fellow neighbor who does not believe as we do.  Mankind is an an animal, like any other, and will fight to occupy every ecological niche where there is some advantage to be had.  It is in our nature to survive.

The good news is, there is also another aspect of our nature that helps negate this - the part of us who thinks things through critically and analytically and comes up with solutions to the problems we have created.   We created civilization to attenuate our baser instincts - to aspire to more than merely the "Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie" of human nature.

Funny thing, there is an election in a couple of months, and the choice seems to be civilization versus "What's in it for me?"   We have a choice of "America First" or "Mankind First" it seems.   There will always be people who will sell out mankind, if it means a nickel more in their pocket.  And sadly, many will use religion to justify this (hey, End Times and all - right?).

The good news is, many folks are voting for civilization.   Whether or not they win, remains to be seen.  Getting depressed by bad news and doing nothing, however, is not the answer.

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Tik Tok Farce

Trump spouts a lot of gibberish.  Can he really force the Chinese to sell TikTok?  No, and he can't make Mexico pay for a wall, either.   But there are real issues at stake.  Too bad Trump has to muck them up.

The whole Tik Tok thing is a farce.  Presidents cannot force foreign countries to sell their companies to American companies, nor can he take a "cut" for the Treasury as a "finder's fee".    Well, if he could do these things, it would mean a lot of capital flight from America.   Would you invest here, knowing that your company could be nationalized like in some Banana Republic?  Hell, no.

The real issue, lost in all this Trumpian Buffoonery is that China has banned all US-sourced Social media in its own country - Facebook, Twitter, et al., mostly because they cannot censor it  to their liking.   Make no mistake, though, Facebook will bend over backwards (and forwards) to meet the demands of petty dictators and autocrats, if it means they can make money.

So there is a bit of a quid pro quo here - why should we let a Chinese social media company - one with ties to the Communist Party - operate here?   What is disturbing is that personal information might be used to blackmail users in the future.   If this sounds far-fetched, listen on.

Some of the major "hook-up" sites are - or were - owned by the Chinese. Grindr, a site for gay men (and many closeted gay men) was owned by a Chinese company, until security concerns forced them to sell a 98% stake to a US investment firm.   The security concerns are ample.  Suppose, for example, a high-ranking government official or military officer was on one of these dating sites - behind his wife's back?   He posts compromising photos of himself, and perhaps even "hooks up" with a Chinese agent.

To avoid being outed at work or having his wife find out, perhaps the Chinese might request a few certain "documents" be sent to them.   It has been known to happen.  The sad thing is, in this day and age, people feel ashamed of sex, still, and can still be blackmailed.  So the government, back then, forced a sale of Grindr to some "American" investors, one of whom is Chinese and a founder of the Chinese search engine Baidu.   Problem solved!

It is interesting how the Chinese have jumped on this social media bandwagon, and gone so far with it - perhaps even poised to eclipse some US companies.  And maybe that is the real concern - because the US government has had some success in obtaining personal data from US social media companies, even if it requires a subpoena.   But an offshore company?  How do we get data from them, if they have no assets or offices in the US?

That is the real issue at stake - the ability of the US Government to pry into your social media accounts to see if you are pledging to ISIS or worse yet, the Democratic party.

But perhaps this is all a negotiating stance - to get the Chinese to open up their country to US-made social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.  Perhaps.   All I know is, this talk of a "finder's fee" is just nonsense - illegal nonsense.   And it is disturbing that Trump's nonsense gets more nonsensical by the day.

I mean, birther conspiracy theories, again?   Are Americans that dumb?   Don't answer that.

UPDATE 2022:  I found the above image while Googling "TikTok for sale" - and it is interesting.  You develop a "following" online and you can then sell or rent your account to others.  Even I get inquiries about "guest postings" from online bots.  In recent weeks there is talk of banning TikTok as they cull user data and.... do something with it.  I am not sure why the personal habits of 100 million clueless Americans are of vital interest to the Chinese or are, in fact, a State Secret.  But I guess it is a security threat, and if the gyrating "influencers" of TikTok went away, I would not shed a tear.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Another Reason Your FICO Score is Bullshit

Your credit score reflects how desperate you are as a borrower.   And they want you to be desperate!

When I started this blog, the credit reporting agencies treated your credit score as some sort of state secret.  It was "intellectual property" they claimed, and thus if you wanted to see your own score, you had to pay.  This was at least better than in previous years, where if you even wanted to see your own credit report you had to pay - if they would even let you do that.

Thank God for Republicans! They protected the almighty intellectual property interests of these credit reporting agencies for as long as they could, before those evil Communist Democrats made the credit agencies cough up your credit report once a year, for free, at  If left to their own devices, those same evil Democrats would establish some sort of "Consumer Protection Agency" to protect people from predatory lenders and force lenders and other financial institutions to disclose things like interest rates and payment terms (intellectual property also, right?)  Can you imagine what would happen if they came to power?   Your financial advisor might actually have to obey the laws of agency and act in your best interests, rather than his own.

And we can't have that, can we?   All those storefront financial advisors (and you know the brand name I am talking about) would have to close.  Honest hard-working people would be out of  a job!

But I digress.

Since those days, the credit card companies and credit reporting agencies hand out your credit score like it was crack.  They went from the chaste girl in high school to the town bicycle - everyone's ridden her!   The state secret is no more, and every credit card company and bank, as well as online sites like CreditKarma, hand out scores in one form or another.  It wasn't such a big freaking deal, in retrospect, was it?

What made me laugh this morning was a dire warning from Bank of America that my FICO score has dropped eleven points!  Oh my God!  How will I be able to finance my next car?  Oh, right, by writing a personal check for the purchase price, like I did with my last four cars.   Can't pay cash?  Think hard about borrowing money and borrow the least amount you can/  If you can't pay cash for a depreciating asset, that is God's way to telling you that you really can't afford it. Seriously. Going into debt for "things" is about the dumbest thing I ever did in my life.

Why did my FICO score drop 11 points?  Well, I pay off the balance on my credit card every day, so I am not carrying a revolving balance, and thus paying no interest.  Well, that's no fun, is it?  I mean, how are our friends at the banks going to make money by charging me interest for a meal I ate and pooped out last month, if I pay off the balance daily?   People like that are what cause unrest.

They helpfully tell me why my score dropped with this quixotic explanation:
Score Factors
What affects my FICO® Score?

You have an exceptional FICO® Score, with minimal impacts from the information below. Keep up your good financial habits! 
No recent bank/national revolving balances

FICO® Scores evaluate recent balances on the credit card accounts shown on a person's credit report. Your FICO® Score was impacted because you are not currently demonstrating active bank/national revolving credit management.
Keep in mind:

People who demonstrate moderate and conscientious use of revolving credit card accounts, such as maintaining low balances and paying them on time, tend to demonstrate lower risk to lenders.
Did you get that?  They dinged me not because I pay my bills on time but ahead of time and thus have no "balance" at the end of the month.  To game your score, you need to have some balance by the statement date and then pay it before the due date.  They are encouraging you to play the float, and playing the float is a very, very dangerous game.

Simply stated, if you fail to pay that balance on time, for example, forgetting to make the payment, or sending a check through the mail - and having it arrive late - can cause you to not only pay interest on the balance, but pay a late fee as well - which may negatively impact your credit score.  Now that your credit score is trashed, you can't get that low-interest credit card or home equity loan to pay off the ever-increasing balance on your card, which, by-the-way, has now ratcheted up to the "punishment" rate of 25% or more.  Welcome to your own personal credit card crises.

The banks love this.  You played the FICO game and lost.  You thought you were being "smart" by playing the float - after all, you got all that "free interest" for a month, right?  Between that and clipping coupons, and leasing cars to "free up your cash-flow" for sure you will be a millionaire - provided you "invest" in the right "stock tip" from the shouting guy.

Geezus Christmas on a Stick.  They must think we are really dumb.   Well, actually they know this.

You aren't going to win at the game if you play by their rules.  It is funny, but I get indignant e-mails from some readers who inform me that I am full of crap because "everybody knows" that playing the float and opportunity cost arguments make sense, because all the banks and finance companies and salesmen make these arguments.  And they should know - they are financial professionals!  And what do I know?  I'm just the chump who fell for these arguments and spend years digging myself out of financial holes as a result.

Anyway, I had to laugh at the FICO people.  Oh, I am so scared now, my score has dropped - now that I have absolutely no debt whatsoever, nor the need for debt.  Yes, no need for debt.   People claim that debt is a need, and indeed, when you start out in life, it may be inevitable.  Maybe to get a good college degree at a reasonable price, you should borrow - but as little as possible.  If you are going to college on loans and sending out for pizza, something isn't right.  Remember, I was the guy who delivered that pizza.  Thanks for the tips and the bong hits.  How's those student loans working out?  Pooped-out pizza, financed over 30 years, that makes sense - right?

And buying that first house - you don't have a hundred grand or more laying about, doya?  So you have to borrow - to get a mortgage.  But don't kid yourself that you are "making out" on the home mortgage interest deduction and the "more home you buy, the more you save!" or anything of that sort.  And don't fall for the trap - as I did - of refinancing a house to pay for credit card debt.  It is just dumb.

But once you are retired - and you will be retired someday, likely at a time and place not of your choosing (for most people) - you will have to live off your savings and what little you get from Social Security.  At that point in life, it makes no sense to be borrowing money - effectively turning a dollar's worth of buying power into 80 cents or less.   Maybe if you are one of those lucky dinosaurs who has a State pension, you can get away with paying interest - but even then, you are decreasing your wealth (and increasing the bank's) by borrowing money at a point in life when you shouldn't need to.

To create wealth, you have to own money, not owe money. The banks would rather you owed, not owned.  They make a lot of money from the owers - sometimes 22% or more - but make very little from the owners.   People like me want free services, higher interest rates paid for savings, and cash-back on the credit card.  And if we don't get it, we move our money somewhere else, because we have choices.  When you have money, banks are your friend.  When you owe money, they are your mortal enemy.  It is as simple as that - and you can't go from being an ower to an owner by borrowing more and more money.

I tried that.  I report reliably that it doesn't work.

Post Script:  Every time I try to Google, "Living Stingy Owning Money" good old Google says, "surely you mean owing money, right?  Because no one owns money!"  Interesting how this is so ingrained into our culture that even the Google search engine doesn't recognize anything other than perpetual debt.

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