Monday, April 12, 2021

I'm not Trans-Phobic, I'm a Grammar Nazi!


used to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified.
"the two men could get life sentences if they are convicted"

The word "they" is a plural pronoun and should not be used to describe a singular person!

PBS recently released a documentary about Hemingway, which you can stream online for free from their website.   Just hook up a laptop to your television and enjoy.  It wasn't a very good documentary, in that it concentrated more on his family than his literature, which is not surprising, as his last surviving son, Patrick is the "literary executor" of the Hemingway estate, and controls access to all the materials.  So the focus was on the family and the fact he wrote a few books was wedged in there.

And he wasn't a very nice person - particularly to his wives.   A lot of people, myself included - as well as Gertrude Stein - thought he was gay.   But in this biography we are told that he was essentially gender-fluid, or at least experimented with gender identity with his last wife - calling her "Peter" and himself "Catherine" and dressing both androgynously.

A younger Hemingway having a naked picnic in Spain with some of his bullfighter friends, because apparently that is what straight guys do.

His youngest son, Gregory, or Gigi, went as Gloria and went so far as to start a sex change gender reassignment surgery gender correction surgery gender affirmation surgery (as we call it today) before he died.  And Hemingway, the Senior, seemed to indicate that this "wickedness" in his son was an echo of his own "wickedness".  How sad.  Buy the kid a dress.

The smallest boy was fair and was built like a pocket battle-ship. He was a Copy of Thomas Hudson, physically, reduced in scale and widened and shortened. His skin freckled when it tanned and he had a humorous face and was born being very old. He was a devil too, and deviled both his older brothers, and he had a dark side to him that nobody except Thomas Hudson could ever understand. Neither of them thought about this except that they recognized it in each other and knew it was bad and the man respected it and understood the boy's having it. They were very close to each other although Thomas Hudson had never been as much with this boy as with the others. This youngest boy, Andrew, was a precocious excellent athlete and he had been marvelous with horses since he had first ridden. The other boys were very proud of him but they did not want any nonsense from him, either. He was a little unbelievable and anyone could well have doubted his feats except that many people had seen him ride and watched him jump and seen his cold, professional modesty. He was a boy born to be quite wicked who was being very good and he carried his wickedness around with him transmuted into a sort of teasing gaiety. But he was a bad boy and the others knew it and he knew it. He was just being good while his badness grew inside him.

— Islands in the Stream

But what was annoying to me was reading the Wikipedia entry above for Gregory, which used the pronoun "They" in the introductory paragraph.  It was confusing as fuck. "They" is a plural pronoun and when you use it to refer to a specific person it gets very confusing. Yes, technically there is an alternative definition used when you are talking about a person of unknown gender.  For example, "Call the desk clerk and ask them if they have extra towels"  In this instance, you don't know the gender of the person at the front desk.  In the case of Gregory, you could go with either him or her, but not "they".

UPDATE:  The Wikipedia page has been edited and edited again in the last few days and weeks, and there is quite a discussion amongst the editors on how to handle this.  As of this writing, Greg is referred to as "He" in most of the entry.  When I first read it, the opening paragraphs were all "They."  There is much heat and not a lot of light on the "Talk" page!

This idea that being called by the wrong pronoun is akin to being dipped in acid is just nonsense.  We take offense at so many things today, and trivial things you just have to let slide.

Grammar isn't just for funsies - it is how we communicate.  As I noted before, it is like checksum in data transmission.  You transmit seven bits of data and one parity bit that is the sum of the earlier bits.  If there is a disagreement on the receiving end, you know the message was garbled and can ask for a re-transmission.

Similarly, things like subject-verb disagreement and dangling modifiers tell the listener that the message is unclear - you can ask for clarification.

So when you read an article about a person and they keep saying "They" you keep wondering, "who are these other people?  I thought they were talking about one person!"

And it isn't just the pronoun, but the verbs.  For example, if you say "They are...." you have a plural pronoun and verb.  It isn't clear.  "They is..." is subject-verb disagreement.  And why the fuck are we doing this?  Because some snowflake claims they are of no specific gender?  Oh, for fuck's sake!

You know, in the "romance languages" such as French, they have genders for every noun.  You don't see the cats and dogs there protesting for being called "Le Chat" or "Le Chien" do you?

It just isn't that important, in the greater scheme of things, what pronoun someone calls you by.  And it isn't grounds for firing a school teacher.  One teacher is under attack for using the wrong pronoun, citing "religious views" - and we know he is religious as he nailed himself to the cross over this.  Another tried to duck the whole issue by referring to students (all of them) by last name only.  Sorry, no sale!  Not only do you have to teach the course material, you have to recognize each student's chosen gender and keep them straight (no pun intended).  If you get it wrong, even once, well too bad for you - career over!

Is this the hill we want to die on?  Is this worth losing the House or Senate or the Presidency?  Because let's face it, Fox News is having a field day with this shit - painting the Democrats as a bunch of loony-tunes who have nothing better to do than make bathrooms transgender and make everyone feel uncomfortable all the time.

I was just chatting with a neighbor lady who is a schoolteacher.  She has been teaching for decades now, and is doing virtual classes online.  She is a raging liberal (should I say "they?") but admits that today she has to "think very carefully about what I say in class" lest something be held to be not politically-correct and she gets reported to the authorities for re-education.  This "walking on eggs" thing is going to backfire in a big way, because no one liked to feel uncomfortable all the time or feel that anything they say off-the-cuff  is going to get them fired, destroy their career and maybe get them sued.

Who wants to live that way?  No one. And I say this having lived that way for nearly 18 years.  My alcoholic Mother used this same passive-aggressive technique to control people and it is a shitty thing to do.  She had a list (unwritten of course) of no-no words, which, if uttered, would send her off in a tirade.  Canada, for example, was one of them.  Dad had an affair with a woman from Canada, and if you had the audacity to mention the fact that America has no northern coastline but in fact borders another country, she would go "off" for hours, and probably end up attacking someone with a knife.

I vowed never to live that way, ever again.  I refuse to "walk on eggs" around someone because of their perceived "sensitivities" or "trigger words" or whatever.  It is crappy passive-aggressive shit, and the moment you cave into this, you are toast, period - because the list of no-no words will only grow over time, until you can say nothing.   This doesn't help - it hurts.

I mentioned before a friend of mine, after a few beers, talked about time he spent in Paris, where "all those Frenchmen wear those faggoty little hats!"  He realized what he said after looking at us, in horror. "I'm so sorry!" he said, and I laughed as loud as I could and told him not to sweat it.  You see, he felt he had to "walk on eggs" around us, and that inhibited the relationship.  You can't be friends with people you have to walk on eggs around.  You can be swell enemies, though.

And that is the point.  The more the far-Left plays these passive-aggressive word games, the more animosity it will stoke not only on the far-Right, but in the center - the very people the Left needs to get elected.  So long as the middle-of-the-road Conservative Democrats and Liberal Republicans feel they are being beaten down by the Word Police, the easier it will be for the far-Right to win.

He who controls the language of the debate controls the debate - and that is all that political correctness is, trying to control language.  It is Newspeak in real life.  And it will backfire in a big way.

It is also shitty grammar. If you want to create a new pronoun to describe a singular person of indeterminate gender, then do so. We created "Ms." to describe a female whose marital status is unknown or who prefers not to identify by marital status.  Can't we do the same here?  Be creative, for chrissakes - you're Lefists, after all, all artsy-fartsy to begin with!  Using "They" just smacks of laziness and a lack of respect for the English language.

We already have Him.  We already have Her.  How about Hmm

It would seem to fit!

Where My Stimilis Check, Bitch? (Gay Reparations)

Your stimulus check may be delayed for a number of reasons.  Don't panic.

I noted before you can check the status of your stimulus check online with the IRS.  My two previous "checks" were direct deposits to my checking account and came on-time.  This time around, they said they would deposit the money to the same account, but then for some inexplicable reason, changed their mind and said a check would be mailed on April 2nd.  Well, that was then, it arrived today, ten days later.  Thank you Mr. DeJoy!  Keep up the good work!

I examined the check carefully and it appeared to have some water stain on it or a wrinkle of some sort.  Something went wrong, somewhere.  I looked into this and the Department of the Treasury has a high-speed check printer in Kansas City that spews out 10,000 checks per hour.  They are then cut and sorted and send to Edna, who has been working there since 1967.  She puts each check in an envelope and licks the flap and then puts it through a Pitney-Bowes postage meter.  On the way home from work, she stops by the post office near her house and puts 5,000 envelopes in the night box.  This takes time.

The "economic stimulus" is actually a tax credit and your check is an advance on that tax credit.  If you don't get the check, don't worry.  There are ways to check on the status of the check or even track it, but don't get your hopes up - the IRS is discouraging people from calling and the folks who answer the phone really can't help you.  You can ask for the tax credit ("Recovery Rebate") when you file your tax return next year.  Hopefully, you won't have to wait until then.

In terms of free money, the Democrats are pushing through a bill to establish a commission for "slave reparations" which I am all in favor of.  Anyone living today who was enslaved should be eligible.   Is the Lincoln proposal still on the table?  40 acres and a mule?

Yes, I know that sounds racist, but as I noted in an earlier posting, trying to pay people today for ills visited on their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents is fraught with peril.  We also raise the ugly specter of having the government determine who is black which sounds pretty obvious until you realize a number of white people have been passing as black and if there is money on the table, I presume a few more might try it.

Then there is Obama.  Half-black or half-white?  Or is it just obscene to look at people like breeds of dogs or use Holocaust-like standards like "one drop of blood" or "one great-grandparent" or whatnot.  And in Obama's case, well, his Father was black - but from Africa and never enslaved in the United States or elsewhere.   Does he get a check, too?  Or are the reparations for other things besides slavery?

It is a slippery slope and right off the bat, it brings up the issue of Indians, or Native Americans, or Indigenous Peoples or First Nations Peoples, who also got a raw deal - slaughtered and moved to reservations and treated not as second-class citizens, but not even as citizens. When do they get reparations?  The casinos?

And Asians - under attack today and in the past.  The Chinese exclusion act.  The unjust internment of Japanese during WWII (a reparation was made for that - it was lacking, and only applied to living survivors).

And what about Hispanics?  They've had their share of discrimination and abuse as well.  Every immigrant group has, to some extent, although not as bad as the black folks have had.

What about Gay reparations?  Sure, why not?  My great-uncle shot himself in the head after he was arrested in a gay bar in Manhattan in 1948. They published his name and photo in the paper, which destroyed his life.

I am not being facetious here - there are horrific things great and small that have been practiced on all sorts of minority groups.  The Jews?  They've been beaten down again and again - even here in the United States.  Roosevelt sent back a shipload of Jews who were fleeing Nazi terror.  They were all murdered in a death camp.   Shouldn't there be reparations for that?

Now granted, the impulse for these reparations comes from a good place - people want to "do right" by others and right historic wrongs.   Well, I hope that is where it is coming from and it isn't just a cynical ploy to buy votes - or worse.

Yes, worse.   The "Slave Reparations" canard has been flown for decades now, and each time it seems it might get traction, the Democrats lose the House or Senate or the Presidency, and the whole thing gets shoved to the back-burner.  So maybe it is "safe" to talk about slave reparations and establish a committee to look into it, but whose findings won't be available until after November of 2022 - when the GOP takes back the House or Senate and buries the thing.  The Democrats can then use the issue to "get out the vote" in 2024 and start the whole thing over again.

And maybe there is a quid pro quo with their Republican colleagues, as the GOP realizes that "Slave Reparations" will get out the conservative vote - even for odious candidates.  And maybe the parties play this game with us - using these "social issues" like abortion, transgender rights, or whatever, to win and lose House and Senate seats.  Over time, nothing gets done - through legislation.  Recall it was a conservative Supreme Court that legalized gay marriage, not the cowardly House or Senate.

Maybe I am just jaded.  But it seems plausible to me.  These politicians stir the pot not to get things done, but to create controversy and heat and get everyone riled up and anxious, so they'll send in their $20 checks to the re-election committee or whatever.  You have to keep the rubes engaged.  And nothing engages them more than telling them their guns are going to be confiscated or whatever.

So no, I am not too worried that "Slave Reparations" are going anywhere.  So don't start picking out a new car or anything just yet.  On the other hand, maybe it is time to dust off that genealogy search your Aunt Sally did back in day - and explore those branches of the family tree that she inexplicably didn't research.  You too, maybe eligible for reparations!

I am sure it will be done.  You can bank on it.  Pun intended.

The Social Media Stock Market Crash


Pump 'n Dump has a new friend - Social Media

The market and the economy seem to be in disconnect - cognitive dissonance if you will.  On the one hand, people are out of work due to CoVid.  Folks are facing foreclosure and eviction, which is being stayed by government action.   The Federal Government is giving away money as fast as possible, and extending unemployment benefits (and padding them as well).  Meanwhile, "help wanted" signs are popping up like spring flowers everywhere - with no one applying for the jobs.  Oh, and inflation is rearing its ugly head, in direct response to the fire hose of money coming from the Treasury.   The deficit and National Debt are skyrocketing.  What the heck is going on?

Well, in 1928 things weren't much different. The underlying economy was weak, and farmers were going bankrupt.  But in the cities, everyone was making money in the stock market!  Buy stocks - any stocks! - and you'll be a millionaire in no time.  It sounds like what is going on today.

It is illegal - or was, anyway - to trade based on insider information.   It used to be illegal to run a pump-n-dump operation.  The latter was a pretty simple deal.  You buy up a cheap stock and they hype the crap out of it to unsuspecting yahoos, much as they did in that movie, Wolf of Wall Street (which was more about a small-time shady dealer from Staten Island than Wall Street).   The suckers (ahem! clients) buy the stock, which drives up the price - making you look like a freaking genius investment advisor.  You now sell your shares, as they have doubled in value, and the whole thing collapses.  You then leave town.

The Internet has made this even more lucrative.  I noted before how a teenager in New Jersey worked this scam, by mass e-mailing his "stock picks" to millions of people.  The incremental cost of sending out this message is basically zero.  No phone banks or boiler rooms, no faxes, no postage. You can SPAM the whole world for a few dollars.  And apparently he made a lot of money at this, so much so that when the SEC caught up with him and fined him, he just laughed and whipped out his checkbook.

The SEC isn't very proactive in going after these scams these days - thank your local Republican "small government" and "deregulation" Congressperson.  Yes, some regulations are stupid.  Government does get bloated over time.  But the regulations of our banking industry and investment system are there for a reason - a reason we seem to revisit every 10-20 years it seems.

Today, sending out e-mails seems almost quaint.  You can pump-n-dump through social media.  Elon Musk sends out a tweet saying he is selling the company for $420 a share and the stock price skyrockets.  He sends out another tweet saying he is buying Bitcoin, and the price spikes - putting Billions in his pocket overnight.  The SEC fined him for the former as he was hyping his own stock price and moreover, the "buyout" appeared to be a marijuana-induced fantasy.   But so far, no word from the SEC about hyping Bitcoin, perhaps because they don't view Bitcoin as under their purview.

Others have gotten into the game.  Celebrity "influencers" mention a product, company, or investment, or indicate they are investing in the item in question, and the price bumps up. Sooze Orman inexplicably states one day that she is now interested in Bitcoin (oddly enough, around the same time Musk made a big purchase of it - coincidence, I guess).  All it takes is one mention on social media, where "influencers" have millions of followers, and you can manipulate the market.  And while this might not sound as sexy as sending out twenty-million e-mails, bear in mind that the e-mail approach has a very low response rate.  "Followers" of an "influencer" are far more likely to respond.  Social media is much more toxic.

Then there are forums, like Reddit's aptly named "Wall Street Bets" (which appears to be manipulated by the "Robin Hood" people) where "people" post messages claiming they made millions on such-and-such a trade, but more likely are "what if?" scenarios based on historical data.   But since those early days on Reddit, some folks have hijacked the site to promote specific stocks and brigade-buying of shares.   They post fake messages from "users" saying things like, "I'm buying GameStop and holding on to it forever!  It has no place to go but up!"

And yes, it does go up, when hundreds of thousands of people start buying the stock, and panicked short-sellers lose Billions in the process.   But... this is not a long-term trend, just a blip on the radar.  The whole thing was based on screwing short-sellers, who will quickly learn not to short that stock anytime in the near future.  It doesn't mean GameStop has found a miraculous new way to make profits. It is the Blockbuster Video of gaming - an obsolete brick-and-mortar business that has already been replaced by online buying.

Then there are these SPACs - Special Purpose Acquisition Companies - which bypass all the regulations of the SEC normally applied to IPOs, by starting a company with no stated purpose and then doing a reverse merger to take a privately-held company public without having to do a messy IPO.  People invest in these things because a celebrity investor is behind it.  "Celebrity Investor is really smart!  So he'll make lots of money for me!"  But the deal is, he is investing to make money for himself, using your money to do so.

Which brings us to China.  Many of these SPACs are being used to take Chinese companies public, without having to do all the messy disclosure necessary for an ordinary IPO. As many Chinese companies have found out the hard way, if you want to list on the NYSE, you have to disclose a lot of information, and the Chinese banking and investment system is notoriously opaque, with many companies keeping debt "off the books" in order to make the company appear more profitable.  Hey, they probably learned this from us - and the ENRON debacle.

But the problem with China goes beyond that.  The trade-war that Trump started - and still goes on - is going to get worse.  China is flexing its muscles - muscles that we helped them build by bringing Capitalism to their economy.   Already the Chinese government is making noises that it is "unpatriotic" to do business with Western countries that don't kow-tow to the Communist party line.  And it can be stupid things, too, like where lines are drawn on a map, or if you slip-up and call Taiwan a "country" or even imply it is sovereign.   The Chinese people know all-too-well what happens to citizens who are not patriotic.

So where would that leave us if American companies did a mass-exodus from China - or were forced out?  The Huawei 5G debacle is only the tip of the iceberg.  And my suggestion is not to travel to China (among other places) as Westerners are being taken hostage there.  It is sad, too, as not that long ago, you could safely travel to places like China, and Russia.  Now it is like going to North Korea or Iran - you end up as a pawn in an international game of chess.

But given all that, it is amazing that the stock market continues to go up and up.  Is there really a "there" there, or are we all just deluding ourselves and priming the pump with wild-eyed fantasies?   It concerns me as I have been through this many times in my life.  The real estate bubble of 1989 was my first taste, and that wasn't so bad, although I had friends who had to bring money to closing in order to sell their homes.   We repeated it on a larger scale in 2008, this time bankrupting investment firms, banks, and many small-time "investors" who got caught up in the hype, but apparently didn't own a calcualtor - or even a pencil.  There are a lot of people today who are still "underwater" on homes they bought back them.

And stocks?  They have peaked and crashed a number of times in my lifetime.   Everyone jumps on the bandwagon of "The Next Big Thing!" - usually some tech stock deal - and it doesn't quite pan out as expected.  In some cases, these companies were never making any money and never had any plans to - they just wanted to do an IPO, cash out and then evaporate.

This is not to say that all of these were bad business plans, only that the companies in question were wildly over-valued. never made a cent, as they were selling products for below cost and then blowing their capital on Superbowl ads (and maybe hookers and coke, from what I hear).  Today we have which is the same (or similar) business model, but at least making a small profit - which seemed to shock the industryHey, this is the Internet!  You're not supposed to make profits!

Inflation is the thing that concerns me most of all, though.  The price of things in general are going up, up, up.  It wasn't that long ago you could go out for lunch for two for $25. Today it is $50 and up, and people are paying it with the funny-money from the government.  Shortages of key materials such as building supplies and microchips are cropping up, shutting down or delaying production and products and driving up prices.  Lumber is supposedly up 80%.

A neighbor took their house off the market as the builder for their new house told them it may be more than a year before he can even start building.  I suspect he wanted out of the contract as it was no longer profitable with the price of lumber being what it is.   Another neighbor has a bathroom remodeling project extending months, as basic things like shower enclosures and cabinets are all on back-order.   Everyone is staying at home and realizing their homes need fixing up.  Also, the funny-money checks are found money to most - why not remodel the bath or put in a skylight?

Inflation is a natural occurrence when you print more money.  We've seen this in the past in Wiemar Germany, in Peron's Argentina, or today in Maduro's Venezuela.  It also is the natural response to increases in raw materials or imported goods that are essential to the economy.  The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 doubled the price of gas, and too late, we realized that we needed gasoline (or diesel fuel) to make and transport every damn thing in our economy.  Prices shot up, so workers demanded bigger raises, which raised prices even further.  Today, it might not be crude oil that is embargoed, but with the trade war and shortages of microchips, the price of goods could skyrocket as they become scarce.

I hope I'm wrong.  Maybe it will be like postwar America in the early 1950's, where pent-up demand lead to a decade of prosperity before it all came crashing down in 1958 - and we avoided a post-war recession.  Maybe.  These things go in cycles, and we've been overdue for a correction for a long time.

And the longer we go without a correction, the worse it will be.  Again, like a rubber-band being pulled back - it will snap that much harder, the longer it keeps being stretched.

Scam E-Mail Supposedly from Norton

The scammers are getting better, but not perfect.

In the mail this morning, this missive:

Hi Robert this is an renwel reminder # 97070-1278-0366

FROM: Norton <*********> 10:22 AM (1 hour ago)

TO: me
Hi Robert,

Yes, its time for another year of safe and secure computing experience. Your annual maintenance contract with us is set to renew on 13th April 2021. For your order id 97070-1278-0366

$299.99 will be deducted from your Account. Since your account is set to auto-renew, We will automatically process the charge on 13th of April 2021. There is no action required from your end.

This email is just to remind you about the payment charge to cancel the contract and avoid charges, please reach us on at +1 888-***-****. We're available (24x7).

This is system Generated Email. Replying to this email will not cancel the contract. Please contact our support if you wish to stop this from getting charge.


Norton Support

+1 888-***-****

There are a few tip-offs that this is a scam:
1.  They misspelled "Renewal" in the title line.

2.  Poor Grammar in first sentence ("another year of safe and secure computing experience") - and elsewhere (run-on 3rd sentence, for example).

3.  The return address is some hapless person's gmail account that was hacked.

4.  The use of pressure to get you to act ("We will automatically process the charge on 13th of April 2021").  That's tomorrow.  Note use of foreign date formatting.

5.  The typo in the last line ("if you wish to stop this from getting charge").

6.  The ridiculous price being quoted ($299.99).

7.  Usually a legit e-mail will have the last four digits of the account they are going to charge listed. 

This is better than a previous iteration, which merely said "Dear User" and asked for $549 which is even more ridiculous.  Here they used "Dear Robert" but didn't cover their tracks on the return e-mail address.  They tried to incorporate the Norton logo, but it went to a dead link.  Again, they are getting better, but not perfect.

But then again, they are counting on people who don't notice the details, but get upset right away and call the number provided (an 888 number, no less) and blather out social security numbers, names, addresses, and maybe even credit card numbers, before they realize they have been had.

It's just a phishing expedition, folks.  That's all.

It goes without saying that even if this was charged to your credit card, you could dispute the charge with your credit card company. They want to get you on the panic, but there's no need to panic.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Problem With Patreon

Making money from the Internets isn't easy.

A few years ago I tried monetizing the blog as an experiment.  I came away with two realizations.  First, there wasn't a lot of money to be made monetizing stuff you put on the Internet, unless you have millions of views.  100,000 hits per month might buy you a few coffees at Starbucks, but that's about it.  Second, I found that I changed my writing styles and topics to see what got the most hits.  In other words, you quickly devolve into yet another click-bait site that tries to snare "clicks" by using outrageous titles and topics.  It is dumb.

There are other models for making money from the Internet and they also pretty much suck, too.  Either you are creating content because you want to, or you have to make a job out of this.   As I noted before, everyone and their uncle is on YouTube, windsurfing across Antarctica or something and blogging or v-logging or podcasting or whatever, about it, hoping to be the next big thing! on the Internets and become an "influencer" and push products on the side.

And yea, even my lame-ass little blog gets e-mail inquiries almost daily, asking me to allow "guest postings" or offering swag or small amounts of cash if I promote a product.  I have politely declined so far - no money has changed hands, other than the $2000 or so I got from Google AdSense in my monetization experiment after a YEAR of ads.

Speaking of which, that is the other problem with monetization - the ads that pop up on your site are for the very things you might be against.  So if I say, "payday loans are no good!" the accompanying sidebar ad will be for... payday loans.   Advertising just sucks, period.  It is premised on the idea of persuading you to do things not in your own best interests.  So it is a horrible way to make money from the Internets, but it is probably the most lucrative, if you are willing to sell your soul to the devil and spend every waking hour making YouTube videos and trying to attract followers before your 15 minutes of Internet fame evaporate.

So how else do you make a living from the Internet?  Well, you can sell swag, for one.  If you have a comic strip or a YouTube channel, you can sell t-shirts and tote bags with your artwork or logos on it.  Or you can sell products you endorse.  Or the products you endorse might give you a kick-back on sales.  "Use code IAMAWHORE at checkout for 10% savings!" - that sort of thing.

Then there is the Public Television approach - just beg for money.   Encourage people to send you money or become a sponsor on "Patreon".   I haven't gone the Patreon route for a number of reasons, and I haven't paid anyone through Patreon for a number of reasons.   I was surprised one day when a reader sua sponte sent me some money on PayPal.   I didn't ask for it, but he went and done it.   So I put a nice blurb in the corner of the blog and sure enough, a few more people sent money.  Again, not enough to retire on, or even make a living.  But it was nice of them - the gesture is appreciated.

But why not go the Patreon route?  A reader asked me about this, and then said he checked it out and was alarmed to see they wanted a credit card number to charge every month for donations to the site in question.   That's what I have a problem with.  I call it "subscription fatigue" - the little dings and dents in your wealth that occur when you sign up for recurring expenses every month.

When I was a Patent Attorney, so many people would come to me with various schemes for selling some sort of electronic service or device, and the kicker was always a $5.99 a month fee, or a $9.99 month fee or a $19.99 per month fee - charged forever.   Most people don't think of that as a lot of money, and they don't realize it adds up over time to a lot of money, particularly if, like most Americans, you only glance at your credit card bill and realize that you are still paying for AOL ten years after you stopped using the service (I kid you not - people do this!).   $4.99 a month adds up to $60 a year.  Take a few of these services and you are talking about hundreds a year - maybe into the thousands - and people wonder where all their money went!

So right off the bat, I can see our reader's problem with Patreon - you can't just make a one-time donation and walk away from it.  You could, but then you'd have to cancel, and once again, negative option rears its ugly head.  Negative option is such a pain-in-the-ass that you should never indulge in it, if possible, except for very important things, like your health insurance or your utility bill.  Some sketchy service on the Internet?  Hmmmm....... Not sure you can count on them to "cancel" when you say "cancel"!

For example, Netflix.   Over the last decade, we've used the service off and on, to the tune of $1409.17 (it helps to log all your expenses!).  So yea, subscriptions can cost a lot of money, over time.  And today, I am very cognizant of these charges - I cancel Netflix when we are away or when we are using another streaming service - which I am using one month at a time, instead of trying to subscribe to all of them at once.  Sadly, since the glory days of Netflix, the streaming environment has changed - you can pretty much watch all that is worth watching on any given streaming channel in one month, and then move on to something else.  Watching less television is always the default option.

But anyway, getting back to Patreon, there are some folks who are not happy with it.  If you set up a Patreon account for your blog or website, they will charge you every step of the way, which makes sense, as they are in business to make money - and assume that the folks who are using the site are looking at the income as "found money" anyway.  And hey, where else ya gonna go, buddy?  They have this thing sewn up - go big and take over the space, the old Silicon Valley mantra.

So what is the answer?  There isn't one.  Well, there is one, and it is the thing I have been harping on for the last decade - there is no such thing as a free lunch! or TANSTAAFL!  People hear that so-and-so the "influencer" is making millions on the Internet.  A 7-year-old boy (or his parents, anyway) made millions just playing with toys on YouTube! (I wonder how much of that cash, if any, he will ever see when he turns 18).   So this Internet thing is the bomb, and easy money, right?

Wrong.  You can't just "Airstream across America!" and live the high life, make a few videos and watch the money pour in.  It becomes a full-time job - preparing and editing videos and putting them up, and like any other "artist" you have to hope you get lucky and strike it big.  It is like the music busoness - maybe you will end up like Elton John, a multi-millionaire with homes all over the world.   Or maybe you will be the guy sitting on the streets of New Orleans, strumming a guitar, with people throwing loose change in your guitar case.  Talent helps, luck helps also.  And there is no guarantee of success.

So if you go this route, it is like a young relative of mine who was going to be the next Marshal Mathers.  Sadly, there are millions of 17-year-old white kids who think they are going to be the next big rap star.  There can only be so many.   Or maybe you think you are going to be the next Fortnite star or make money from some other video game.  Or maybe you think you have game and will get a basketball scholarship and end up as an NBA All-Star with a lucrative sneaker contract.   And who knows?  It could happen!  It does happen to someone, someplace, sometime.  But it is a long-shot deal, and it helps to have a "Plan B" in place, and also a realistic view of your talents and ambition.

That is why I never expected to make a living or even a modest amount of money by blogging.  It would become a full-time job, and I would have to completely re-make my blog to commercialize it, and then sell products on the side and post things like, "Here's the best HELOC loans available!  You should get one!  And a Reverse Mortgage, too!"   In other words, I would have to whore myself, and I am thankful to be in a position in my life where I don't have to whore myself and I can say what I want to say, even if it is not economically profitable to say it.

And that is the problem with our society.  The message I am saying is easy to dismiss.  After all, I don't even have sidebar ads on my blog!  How crummy is that?  People look as slick commercialization as a sign of legitimacy.  They will drive by a "Diner" serving great cuisine, to go through the drive-through at McDonald's where they are serving the same food, day in  and day out, all over the world, for the last seven decades.

But maybe that is the key.  The vast majority of the great unwashed masses think along those lines - that any business that looks successful must be a good deal, even if it is a shady car dealer or a payday loan place.   Act rationally in an irrational world - the mantra of my blog as of late.

And as for making money on the Internet?   My take is: forgetaboutit!   Unless you want to make blogging or YouTubing a full-time job - and even then spend years developing a following and hope you "get lucky" and then keep reinventing yourself so your followers don't get bored - it ain't gonna happen.   Yes, there is FOMO involved - "everyone else" is getting rich off the Internet, why not you?

But the vast majority of us are going to make our money through "jobs" and if we want to create wealth, we have to spend a penny less than we earn - and learn how to own money.

And as for Patreon?   I haven't bothered to set it up for my site.  I doubt it would generate much income, and the idea of recurring expenses on your credit card sort of goes against everything I have ranted and railed against for a decade now.  Besides, their site is clogged with annoying auto-play videos.  Never a good sign!

Friday, April 9, 2021

Recycling at Home!

You can make nice things from old junk.  (And Mexican tile...)

A reader writes that old deck boards can be recycled to make new things, such as a step for a hot tub.  Way ahead of you!  In our house in New York, we had the deck rebuilt, and there was a pile of pressure-treated lumber to dispose of.  We could have paid someone to haul it away, but have you seen the cost of lumber lately?  It was in good shape, other than it was splintery (never pressure wash a deck!) and had nails in it.

But Mark got to work and made various things with it.  I made a frame for a pottery kick-wheel that someone gave us on Ithaca Freecycle.  It was just a wheel, shaft, head, and two pillow-block bearings.

We went back to the house years later and these pieces are still in use!

Mark made Adirondack chairs, a bench (above), a table, a wedging table for pottery (the top is filled with plaster of Paris to absorb water) and a plethora of small benches, step stools, and yes, a hot tub step.

The craftsman at work, with assistant.

You'll note that the tools we used are not very sophisticated or expensive.  A power sander. A circular saw.  A jigsaw.  A screwgun. No table saw, planer or other tools of a "real" carpenter or cabinet-maker or whatnot.    But the end result was nice "rustic" furniture that was durable (and heavy!) as all get out.

Mark's Great-Grandfather was an amateur carpenter, and made small pieces of furniture even after he lost an arm in the lumber mill in Maine. We still have some of his pieces, including a nice end table which has the wood going width-wise rather than lengthwise.  When he went to get the wood from a friend, he was shocked to see they had cut it up into logs. "We thought you wanted it for firewood!" they said, so he worked with what he had.

Someone might mock such things as not being "professional" or "expert" and that's OK.  We have friends here on the island who have woodworking shops with tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, and they make amazingly crafted things.  The difference between the expert and the amateur is in the tools, it is said.  Well, that an experience and training.

But that doesn't mean you have to be an expert at everything just to try things.  Sure, it is nice to have neatly mitered joints and smooth finishes.  But then again, not everything in life has to be perfect, particularly a set of Adirondack chairs that will sit out at the dock, all year-round, even in the winter.

A lot of people would have paid someone to haul away that lumber, and then went to the big-box store and bought knock-down furniture made in the far-east from that weird lightweight wood that seems to rot apart withing a year or two - spending for what could be free.

And again, making and doing things is one sure cure for depression.  Learned helplessness sets in when people don't feel they can change their environment.  And no, whipping out a credit card isn't as satisfying as making something with your own hands, even if it is just a cake or something, and even if it doesn't come out "expert" or very good at all.

We used up all that lumber, and what scraps were left over went to the burn pile.  Our current project is taking a pile of shutters that were thrown away by the club hotel, and fitting them to the windows in our house.  The leftovers we are giving to a friend, or will be used to make plant stands or product displays.  Some half-rounded shutters (which came off Palladium windows) might make some interesting Adirondack chairs!  (The "Bahama" shutters we ended up taking down and installing inside).

So, once again, the circular saw and the sander get a workout.  Of course, it is nice to have a friend down the street with a table saw to cut them to length (and width).

Now, you'll have to excuse me, I have to get back to sanding shutters! (A PITA job if ever there was one - next to painting them, that is.....)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Who Wants To Be Angry All The Time?

Why do some people want to be angry all the time?  Why do some people want us to be angry all the time?

It is funny how people are.  I mentioned before how a neighbor lost their job because they insisted on driving their own car to clean rental properties.  Their car had a litany of anti-Trump bumper stickers, including a creepy "ReSisT 45!" in mis-matched mailbox letters.   The company offered them a free vehicle to use, but it was the principle of the thing, so no more job.

Well, since then, almost across the street is another angry person with a "Biden is not MY President!" sign, which is interesting, as I guess they must be Canadian or something.   People are angry about the election, and as I noted in a recent posting, will bend your ear about conspiracy theories and how everything is all rotten and evil.

Why would you want to live like that?  And it is a choice, too.  You can go down the rabbit-hole of conspiracy theories and Qanonsense, but that is a choice - a poor choice.   None of those theories or arguments are true, by the way.  No chips in the vaccine.  No, a software guy isn't in charge of bio-engineering viruses (other than maybe computer viruses!).  And no, Hillary isn't chopping up babies in the non-existent basement of a pizza shop.   There are a lot of things to be angry about in the world, why be angry about made-up bullshit?

Of course there are powers-that-be that want you to be angry all the time.  Republicans, Democrats, foreign governments, commericial interests, religions - even your family and friends.  In the politcal field, it is called "engagement" which is a term also used online.   People who are laid back and generally happy are not going to send off money to Senator Klaghorn's political committee.  And they are less likely to vote.

I wish I could say this was a Republican thing or a Democratic thing, but it is both.  I sent off a few dollars to Reverend Warnock and in return, he SPAMS me every day with alarmist messages that Democracy, as we know it, is about to collapse any minute now, unless of course, I send him more money.  I am not sure how sending money is going to make a difference at the moment, as no one is running for election in Georgia.   Rather, it is the same old money-raising tactic - instill a sense of fear in the voter, and then add a sense of urgency.   We need money or your way of life will be wiped out, and we need it now!

The NRA famously used this tactic - send us money or your guns will go bye-bye!   But for some reason, the government never gets around to "taking our guns away" and of course, the NRA would then say, "See, it worked!  We saved your guns from confiscation by the gun gestapo!"   In a way, this sort of thing is a perfect feeback loop.  It is like the "rainmakers" I wrote about before.  Give us money and we'll make it rain!  If it rains, they take the credit.  If not, well, you didn't give enough money!   Or they quietly slip out of town.  Or both.

OK, so it isn't hard to figure out why other people want us to be angry all the time.  But why do people go along with this - claiming to be "woke" or saying things like, "Of you're not outraged, you're not paying attention!"   It is a form of perverse status - the concept that you are "in the know" as to all the horrible rotten things going on in the world, things that only you and a few hundred million people know about.  And it is your job to educated the masses as to how horrible things are.

It is like the nice man I met - we had a nice chat, and then he went down the rabbit-hole.  He told me I was clueless to all the horrible goings-on in the world, and if only I would open my eyes and not be one of the "Sheeple" I would understand!  This from a guy living with his Mom, who blew his life's savings on cryptocurrency.  We had one thing in common though - neither of us worked.  Me, because I'm retired and a millionaire.  Him, because no one hires crazy.

Um, if this is ignorance, then ignorance is bliss.

Actually, if you want to be "in the know" and "woke up" or whatever, try law school.  Not that it will lead to a good job anymore, but in classes like Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, and particularly Tax Law, they show you how the system actually works - and how you can wildly profit from it.  Well, I did, anyway.  Not a lot of room for weak thinking in Engineering or the Law, although I have known more than one Patent Attorney who despite the best efforts of their professors, believed in nonsense like conspiracy theories or tax denial.  Logical thinking is no guarantee against mental illness.

Oh, right, that.  Mental illness - mild or wild - is behind a lot of this anger.   People want to take out their disappointments in life against society at large, or posit that the reason why things didn't work out as they thought they would was because of nefarious schemes by hidden forces.  It is a comforting thought, in a perverse way.  Nothing is ever your fault - "if only" Trump were dictator-for-life or the Democrats would wipe out my student loans, the world would be fucking perfect!

Sad, ain't it?  Because we've tried this approach time and time again in this world.  "If only" the workers were put in charge of the means of production!  The world would be a perfect place!  Millions of deaths later, people finally realize that "if only" ideas are never good ones.   The Germans tried it, too.  "If only," they said, "we got rid of the Jews - just that one thing - our country would be perfect!"  But again, it didn't work and the results were horrifying.

Mental illness might not be avoidable by the individual - or can it be?   I believe that mental hygiene is like personal hygiene - you have to work at it.  You start going down these rabbit holes of conspiracy theories and angry thinking, and you can literally drive yourself insane.  And yes, I think drugs are involved, either a lot of pot or maybe this meth that is going around - speedy people upset and going off the handle.  Perhaps.

Life is not an optimized event, and it is an irrational idea to expect everything to be optimal and perfect, particularly when humans are involved. Compromise and coalition are often a better approach to my-way-or-the-highway.   Biden wants his infrastructure deal signed, but some Democrats are balking at a 28% corporate tax rate and propose 25% instead.  Take the compromise, Joe.  Better to get something done than nothing - as Obama learned the hard way.   Politics is the art of the possible - holding out for the impossible ends up in gridlock.

If you think about it, the world really isn't such a rotten place.  Oh sure, there are rotten parts at any given moment.  But if you are reading this, odds are you aren't in one of those places.  If you live in the USA, you are in the best place in the world, relatively speaking - or at least one of them.  Well, a lot of people in those rotten places seem to think so - they keep banging on the door wanting to get in.

You can make yourself miserable by thinking everything is awful - awfulizing - and being angry all the time.  It will likely shorten your life in one way or another.   Anger causes all sorts of problems for your heart and nervous system.  Crazy people often don't live very long, as a result.

People say that Mark and I seem very happy all the time and wonder why this is.  We don't have cable television.  We don't spend countless hours watching left-wing or right-wing "news" shows or feel we have to keep "up to the minute!" on "current events!" - and I think that is the key.   They want to keep you wound up and watching - or clicking.  So if you spend hours every day on conspiracy websites or watching hyper-partisan news (or any news for that matter) you will turn into this angry person who is not very fun to be with.

Angry people tend to be helpless people - they have all this pent-up anger and feel cheated out of life, mostly because they stop doing things, other than watching angry television shows and reading angry websites (and "researching" Qanonsense - looking at shit on the Internet is not "research"!).

Get off the couch.  Turn off the TeeVee.  Disconnect the cable.  Stop staring at your cell phone.  Walk away from discussion groups, social media, and other time-wasters that raise your blood pressure and make you anxious and angry.

Live.  You don't have much time left - life is very, very short.  And it evaporates like ether.

It's a hellluva lot more fun being happy than being angry all the time.  And yes, you do have a choice in this matter.

Specialized Versus Generalized

Take anything and attach the word "Boat" to it, and you can double or triple the price.

The new hot tub is working out just fine. But it is taller than the old Softub, so it is harder for those short in stature to climb in.  Mark isn't all that happy.  So he looked online for a hot tub step.  They sell them, of course, from the hot tub dealer or manufacturer for $125.  Softub+ sells one, for example, for nearly a thousand dollars. Others sell them for a little less.  Mark found one generic hot tub step on the Walmart website for about $90.

I said to him, "Well, what about one of those Rubbermaid step stools?  You know, the kind made of plastic with a non-slip rubber insert?"   Well sure enough, they have them, for like $20 or less.  If you want to get fancy, you can pay $30 for this two-step job.   Hint to the Rubbermaid people:  Call this a "hot tub step" or "boat step" and charge $200 for it.

When we had Ginger, our greyhound, we had to elevate her dog dishes as she was, well, elevated.   They sell special dog dish platforms for $100 apiece in the pet catalogs, or you can go to Walmart and buy a plant stand for $10 that does the same thing.

Capitalism is all about charging what the market will bear.  And people pay for things based on perception as well as other indicia.   Now, granted, if you want parts for your airplane, you aren't finding them at the hardware store - or shouldn't be, anyway.  And some boat parts are very specific to boating.  The stainless steel fittings for home use will rapidly rust in a marine environment.   On the other hand, a plastic step-stool is a plastic step-stool.

So why the price differential?  Again, when I was a youth, I was naive and thought that people made things and then tallied up their costs and added a "reasonable profit" and that was the retail price.  Boy was I stupid!  The actual price of things is what the market will pay.   And sometimes this means people lose money selling some items (usually not for long, they go broke).

The reality is, people charge what the market will bear.  And if everyone is ga-ga over SUVs, well, then you can tack on a $10,000 profit on each one, at least for a while, until someone else decides that $9,000 is an adequate profit.   And of course, you can charge different people different prices, based on their own perception of value.

So a plastic step-stool may have one price for the homeowner, another for a boater, and another for a hot tub owner, and yet another for a hospital and of course, the highest price for the military (presuming it  meets MIL-SPEC).  A lot of hay was made a few years back about how the government was paying thousands of dollars apiece for a "stepladder" to get in and out of jet fighters.  But of course, that was all political bullshit.   The actual ladder was designed to attach to the plane, and wasn't what you'd find at home depot. And no, fighter pilots loaded down with gear can't hop out onto a rickety painter's ladder in a 20-knot breeze on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

This is not to say, of course, that generic products can be substituted in situations where application-specific products are needed.  Not only is this a false economy, it could be dangerous.  You should use new SAE bolts when installing a new clutch in your car, not the mild-steel bolts from the local lumberteria.  Not only that, but it reeks of cheapness when you see someone using something like sheetrock screws to attach a trim piece on their car.   It isn't worth the "savings" particularly when the dealer has those screws for a few pennies apiece.

On the other hand, there are situations where a generic product will fit in, look right, and work well.  And hot tub steps might be one of those areas, provided the steps can work with slippery wet feet.  Otherwise, you'll fall on your ass and end up in a world of woe....

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Credit Cards for Kids? (The Allowance)

Is giving a child a debit or credit card a smart move?  Or is this how life is today? Good Question!

I never received an "allowance" and that is a shame, not because I didn't get all that "free money" but because I didn't get a chance to learn about money early on.   On the other hand, my elder siblings got allowances, and it backfired so badly that they decided early in life that fiscal responsibility was a bunch of hooey.  Let me explain.

Before my next eldest brother and I were born, it was just my older brother and sister.  And they thought that was just fine, no doubt, and were none too happy when two more joined the brood.  My parents were just figuring out this "Parenting" thing and making a lot of mistakes along the way, which is typical.

My Dad gave both kids an "allowance" which was a fixed amount of money to spend every week.  They could spend it on whatever they wanted to, but it was understood that certain personal items, such as toiletries and whatnot, as well as their school lunches, were to be paid for from the allowance.   The idea was, the kids would learn to budget their money, shop for bargains, and save up extra leftover cash for something they might really want.   And of course, part of the rules was they couldn't just decide not to buy toothpaste or steal it from Mom and Dad's bathroom.

Every week, they would have to give an accounting of their spending to my Dad, and my Sister would usually end up in tears (as she later recounted to me).   Dad wanted a down-to-the-penny accounting of what she had spent, and she basically couldn't remember it all or be bothered to write it all down, so she would account for maybe 90% of the spending but was unable to account for the rest.  Dad would then yell at her (his standard mode of operation - anger) and she would cry.

Lesson learned: Anything to do with money was hard and bad and should be avoided.  Oh, and Dad is a dick, who should also be avoided whenever possible.

My Sister later confessed that if she had just lied about the rest, said she spent it on candy or whatever, she could "balance" her account to the penny and Dad would have been happy.   If only she learned accounting fraud!  Her life would be totally different.

Sadly, she never learned that lesson and money was a mystery to her for her entire life.  It didn't help any that her drunken husband cashed his paychecks at the bar and bought rounds of drinks for total strangers and came home late at night, shitfaced with a pocket full of change.  Sadder still, she had to ask my Dad for money, just like the little girl sitting in his lap, crying, at age 7, when she was well into her 40's.

Financial ignorance causes a lot of grief, sadness, and pain in life and it need not be so.  It took me the better part of 40 years to treat money seriously - logging every expenditure in Quickbooks, never bouncing a check or missing a credit card payment, paying off all my debts, and living debt-free.  Until you get your finances under control, well, it is just a train wreck waiting to happen - and will happen.

Before then, I was sort of like most people - I paid the bills, including the minimums on my credit cards, and then sort of spent the rest of "stuff I wanted" or whatever and never really thought about my net worth, whether it was increasing or decreasing, or where my financial life was going.

Like I said, my two eldest siblings had allowances and it went horribly wrong.  When my brother and I came of age, we had no allowances.  Our needs were provided for by Mom and Dad who bought us "stuff" and we had a charge account at the local drugstore.   Well, at least for a while.  Once my brother and I realized we could just charge things, all bets were off, and Dad got the bill one month and put an end to the charge account.

So my brother and I were broke all the time.  For some reason, my parents never thought that maybe we would need pocket change.  In fact, I ran up a debt with the school cafeteria that was over $100 by the end of the school year.  My Mother never seemed to have enough money in her checking account.  I think, in retrospect, they were house-poor, but they never shared their financial information with us, which is sad as (1) we could have all worked together toward a common family financial goal and (2) we would have learned about finances that way.  In fact, in retrospect, my parents sort of lived their own lives, separate from us children, which was kind of sad.  But I digress.

Being broke all the time was one reason I got a paper route and later, went to work at the Old Tyme Gas Light Restaurant before the cook shot himself (beating Gordon Ramsey to the punch!).   I wanted money to spent.  And I spent it.

Sadly, even though earning money as a kid and later as a teen was desperately difficult, I spent pretty much every penny as I made it, and never gave it much thought.  I never kept track of my income, and never saved a dime.  I made enough money in my paper route that by the time I was 14, I would have had enough to buy a decent used car.  But I spent it on record albums and candy and later on, beer and pot and other stupid things.

I was poor, in a sense, in that money passed through my hands - a lot of it, relatively speaking - and none of it managed to stick.  Looking back, that seems to be the hallmark of poverty.  The poor are not without money, they just blow it on idiotic things, which is why the stores selling idiotic things are all in the ghetto, either in the inner city or near the trailer park.  The guy with the fancy rims on his ghetto cruiser or trailer-park pickup truck isn't wealthy, but desperately poor, and he paid way too much for those rims and owes money on them at 15% interest.  That's a lot of money to spend on something you really don't need at all.

Getting back to our topic, there are ads on the radio (OK, Pandora, anyway) for a debit card for children.  I see it on YouTube as well.  At first, my reaction was, "Well, that's stupid!  Teaching kids all the wrong lessons in life!"   But then I thought about it, and as I noted in a recent posting, cash is going away, pretty rapidly.   Why bother teaching your kid the "value of a dollar" when you can teach him something he will need to know in his lifetime - how to deal with electronic cash.  Because the credit and debit card are not going away and maybe it is better to learn how to use them carefully than to deny their existence.

My Dad had a wallet full of credit cards.  You may not remember this, but back then, wallets were as thick as a hamburger, and by that I mean a Big Mac.  There was a plastic strip that folded out like two feet long, that held all your credit cards.  Visa and M/C natch, maybe Amex.  But also department store cards, gas station cards, and whatnot.  You could have a dozen cards without even trying too much.

And I think I learned my poor financial habits from my Dad.  Once a month, he would set up a card table in the living room and "do the bills."  That was a good night to sleep over at a friend's house.  A six-bedroom house and none of them could be a home office!  But that was how we did things back then.  Anyway, I guess Dad would realize we were spending way more than we should be, and by the end of the night, he would be in a fury.   But was it our fault?  We had no budget, as a family.  Mom and Dad held all the purse strings, and they charged up stuff until they ran out of credit.   And I think that is why he got mad - mad at himself, really.   Turn off those damn lights!  You're wasting electricity!

I mentioned before that Credit Cards are like a loaded handgun.  A useful tool, if handled carefully and properly.    But something that can blow your head off if you handle it poorly or leave it laying around for the kids to play with.  And it goes without saying that if you drop it, it may go off, if it has a hair-trigger.

You have to know everything about your card - the interest rate, the credit limit, the balance (hopefully zero) the statement date, the payment due date, and so on and so forth.  You'd be surprised how many folks don't know this basic information.  Like my Dad, I would pay bills "once a month" and often this meant late payments on credit cards (in the days of mailed checks, before the Internet) and thus late fees and jacked rates.  I never bothered to shop around on cards to get the best interest rates.  I had gas station cards that had scandalous rates and thought nothing of it.  A few dollars here a few dollars there for "convenience" - right?   Heck, I think I was even paying ATM fees back then.  Duh!

In today's cashless world, you have to be able to manage your cards - debit or credit.   And maybe training kids to do this is a good thing.  It could also backfire horribly.  Again, it all depends on engagement.  If you don't work with someone on this, they could go off on their own and end up in trouble, and as a parent, you have to bail them out.  We saw this back when I was in college and they were offering credit cards to college freshmen - who would go out and charge up a storm and them months later have to make "that call" to Dad and tearfully explain how they fucked it all up.  It was supposed to be a way of establishing credit, and in a way it was - bad credit.  Graduate from College with a 500 credit score - smart!

The Greenlight "FAQ" is awfully vague other than to admit there is a $4.99 a month charge for up to five cards for your kids.  Parents can "charge up" the card manually or even automatically (as a virtual "allowance.")  But what about hidden fees?

Suppose Junior wants to buy pot with his debit card.  Drug dealers don't take plastic, so he goes to an ATM at the Bodega and pays a $5 fee to take out cash.  What is this teaching your kid?   Suppose he goes over the limit, is the charge covered and an overdraft fee charged?  That was a gag the banks were playing for a while, with credit cards - free "overdraft protection" so if you went over your credit card limit, they would cover the charge (so you wouldn't be embarrassed!) and then sock you with a $30 overdraft fee.  Nice folks.

Apparently, parents can control whether the kid can use the card at an ATM, and if so, for how much.  But I suspect that since "greenlight" has no native ATMs around, you would be socked with ATM fees no matter where you go.  Their website isn't very specific on these questions.

Five pages into their website, I find a list of fees.  No, they don't charge ATM fees, of course, but the ATM owner likely will, as it is an out-of-network transaction.  No mention of other fees, such as the fees that many prepaid debit cards charge just to check your balance.

Of course, they promote other "features" as making the $4.99 monthly fee worthwhile.  You can set up a list of "chores" for your kids to do (mow the lawn, do the laundry, wax your car, re-roof the house - say, having kids is swell!  Just like personal slaves!).  I am not sure how the card can tell when the chores are done, however.   Does the family robot check up on this?

The real deal is another page into the site - the cardholder agreement.  This is the legalese that tells you what your rights are and aren't - and what few people bother to read.  It seems pretty typical - I could not find any "gotchas" other than those in ordinary Credit Card cardholder agreements.

So is this a good deal or not?  Depends on you.  Depends on your kid.  It is like the idea of handing out free laptops to kids in inner city schools. Great idea, until the kid has the laptop stolen on the way home from school by a neighborhood gang.  Or suppose he drops it - who pays to fix it?  Or maybe a relative pawns it for cash?  Does the school have to keep buying the kid laptop after laptop?  Interesting questions, I don't have the answers.

I can see where even in an affluent suburban school (or particularly so) junior shows off his new debit card to his friends and by the end of the day, some bully has swiped it from him.  First lesson:  If you have money, don't crow about it.  But kids, being spastic as they are, are inclined to do just that.   And maybe a painful lesson like that is a lesson remembered.  Or maybe, as a responsible parent, you tell your child this ahead of time - that a personal debit card is not for show-and-tell or for showing off.

The other problem I could see is that Junior would go out and spend it to the max the first day, trying to impress his friends and all, by buying things for them and himself.  So he goes to lunch at school the next day.... and the card is declined.  Again, maybe a painful lesson, but one that is remembered.  And one that is never learned if a phone call later, Dad bails out junior again and again.

So I guess it is really value-neutral, in some regards.  It is no different than the "allowance" my Sister got and mis-spent (or just didn't learn to lie about).  You can be just as irresponsible with cash as you can be with a debit card.  It all depends on the child, and the guidance (or lack thereof) they get from the parents.

I didn't explore their other tiers of service, which include an "investment" feature.  Little early for the little buggers to be buying Bitcoin and Gamestop, isn't it?  Because that's what they'd invest in, given the chance.

$4.99 a month (OK, five bucks!) doesn't sound like a lot, but when you realize you are paying $60 a year for the privilege of having a debit card, it seems like a lot of dough.   I mean, talk it over with your kids - which would they rather have, the convenience of a debit card, or $60 more in cash every year?  If they are astute, they'd go for the latter.....

Like anything else, the company that advertises the most often doesn't have the best prices.  There are other "debit cards for kids" out there with no monthly fees.  After all, they do make money on each transaction, right?  Why pay a monthly fee on top of that?

I never pay fees - annual or otherwise - to have a debit or credit card or checking or savings account.  Seems to me that getting your kid a card that costs $60 a year is, right off the bat, teaching them all the wrong things.... For example, that "convenience" is worth wasting money.

But that's just me. Thank God I don't have kids.  I can't imagine what it is like these days.  I see children as young as three, surfing the Internet with their own cell phones.  Oh brave new world!

Did We Dodge a Bullet? Yes and No.

The 2020 election could have gone either way - or not.

A reader writes that I have it all wrong - the 2020 election could have been thrown to Congress, in which case, Trump would have won.  On the other hand, I posited that it was a done deal - Biden would be President - no matter what machinations Trump tried.   Who's right?  Who's wrong?  We both are.  It all depends on the fact scenario involved - and illustrates how arcane our Electoral College system is.

Our reader is right that in the event of a so-called "Contingent Election" the House decides who is President and the Senate decides who is Vice President.  The Senate selects the Vice President based on a simple majority, while the House selects based on a State-by-State basis, and since Republicans have a majority of Representatives in more States (despite being in the minority overall) it is likely they would have selected Trump as President. In the Senate, they likely would have made Pence VP*.  But the reader is right - in the event of a "Contingent Election" Trump would have likely prevailed.

In the United States, a contingent election is the procedure used to elect the president or vice president in the event that no candidate for one or both of these offices wins an absolute majority of votes in the Electoral College. A presidential contingent election is decided by a special vote of the United States House of Representatives, while a vice-presidential contingent election is decided by a vote of the United States Senate. During a contingent election in the House, each state's delegation casts one en bloc vote to determine the president, rather than a vote from each representative. Senators, on the other hand, cast votes individually for vice president.

But... we didn't have a Contingent Election.  Such elections occur when there is a tie in the Electoral College (which didn't happen) or there are two slates of electors presented, or it is otherwise impossible to determine who won in the Electoral College.   The GOP tried to present alternative slates of electors, but that never went anywhere.  And they tried to throw a wrench into the Electoral College vote by objecting to several States' certification.   And this latter part is what I was talking about.

If at least one Senator and one Representative objects to a State's slate of Electors, there is an entirely different process that could lead to a Contingent Election:

Once a House member and Senator submit an objection, the two chambers of Congress separate to debate for two hours and to vote on whether to continue counting the votes in light of the objection. Both chambers must vote by a simple majority to concur with the objection for it to stand, otherwise the objection fails.

If both chambers of Congress affirm the objection and the objection results in no one candidate receiving the necessary 270-vote Electoral College majority, the 12th Amendment dictates a congressional process for selecting a president and vice president. The House of Representatives votes to elect the new president. As a bloc, members of the House cast one vote per state, choosing between the three candidates who received the most Electoral College votes. The Senate votes to elect the Vice President, casting one vote per senator.[1]
So you see, it is a two-step process.  If the Republicans could have successfully objected to votes in certain States to the point where the remaining Electoral College votes were indeterminate (neither side reaches 270, or a tie occurs) then a Contingent Election would occur and Trump could have won.

But - and this is a bigger butt than Trump has - to get to step 2, you have to go through step 1, because Biden clearly had more than 270 electoral votes going in.  And since the Democrats had a majority in the House, it was highly unlikely that any objection would have been affirmed.  As it was, only one objection was debated and both houses rejected the objection.  It was a done-deal from the get-go.

That being said, we stayed up until 2:00 in the morning to watch this spectacle carried out.  What was amazing to watch was the Democratic process being carried through, even after a mob stormed the Capitol and tried to murder legislators.   The Constitution prevailed.

The Electoral College process is indeed flawed, but whether a "simple majority vote" would be better is anyone's guess.  As recent events illustrate, objections could still be made to votes in various States and the whole process could be derailed.  It is a political process, not a legal one, and it depends on the good-faith of the actors involved in order to proceed.  We are fortunate that some of our politicians are good-faith actors, even if the result is not what they would have liked.   Our Governor in Georgia is being raked over the coals for "suppressing the vote" and perhaps he is.  But bear in mind, he was one of the few Republicans to stand up to Trump and do the right thing, even as it meant his party would lose.

Getting back to the news media, one of the infuriating things about the whole affair was how the media painted it a cliffhanger season finale episode of The Trump Show.   They did little to bother to explain the process to viewers, because if people knew what was going on, they wouldn't have tuned in, and that's not good for ratings!   So instead of saying, "Trump's wild-ass claims are a bunch of bullshit and this is going nowhere!" they instead tried to make it seem the election was in doubt and that the poorly written "law suits" had a chance of success.

You wonder if  perhaps the media paid Trump to do this - they made tens of millions of dollars off this nonsense, much as Alex Jones made millions by claiming Sandy Hook was a hoax.   You wonder how the media is going to survive the Biden snooze-fest!   After all, no one will tune in to a policy wonk who actually gets things done.   We saw that with eight years of Obama, which nearly bankrupted the major networks.

Come on, people!  Get agitated!  Get upset!  And be sure to watch endless coverage of nothing.   Tucker Carlson has to make a mortgage payment this month, and if you don't play ball, he could end up homeless!

And that is why I don't watch the news anymore.  It just isn't worth it.

* It gets more complicated.  Since Congress is sworn in on January 3, a "Contingent Election" would occur with the new Congress.  Compounding things, we had two Senators from Georgia elected on January 5th.  Assuming the Senate was tied 50-50, it is anyone's guess who they would vote for, for VP.  If Romney voted for Harris (which seems likely) and Susan Collins actually grew a pair, we could have had Trump as President and Kamala Harris presiding over the Senate (and doing little else). Oddly enough, Vice President Pence would preside over his own election and could cast a tie-breaking vote in his favor - or for Harris?   The Electoral College thing is weird.....