Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Winning - At Trivial Things

When people live in competitive situations, winning at trivial things seems important.

Leaving the mega-city that is South Florida, I realized that my behavior had changed in the short time I had been there.  I was no longer a relaxed driver, but like the rest of the lemmings, was flooring it to red lights and stopping at the last minute.  Stupid stuff, really.  But if you don't do this, the guy behind you will zoom around you, cut you off, and then slam on his brakes, so he can "win" at the game of traffic.

What drove this home to me was a trip to the Trader Joe's in Ft. Lauderdale.   There was a line outside, as they were only letting so many people into the store.  It wasn't a long wait - maybe a minute or two.  As we walked to the end of the line, Karen got out of her car and started sprinting across the parking lot to "beat" us to the end of the line and thus "win" at queuing.  So I sped up my pace a bit to get there ahead of her, and she sped up as well, to the point where towards the end, she was doing the 50-yard dash.  I still got there ahead of her.  I won.   Stupid.

But it made me think, how when you live in a crowded city where resources are scarce and it is hard to get ahead, that stupid games like this go on every day.  Traffic is bad, so you seek out the tiniest advantage - a car length - to "get ahead" of the traffic.   I saw this firsthand when I moved to Northern Virginia.  Coming from a more rural area, competition wasn't so fierce.  But in the city!  People drove like maniacs, and every little thing seemed like a competition - like getting on an elevator, or in the subway car.  It was stupid stuff, really.  Who really "wins" in getting a seat on the subway?  City dwellers will tell you this is deathly important.

What was really scary was how I quickly re-adapted to this mode of thinking.   Moving to Northern Virginia was depressing at first.  Everything seemed so expensive, and the competition for just about everything seemed fierce.  But within a decade, I had graduated from law school and opened my own law practice - owning a home of my own (with a swimming pool) as well as an office building in old town.  Not bad for a kid who came to town a decade earlier in an old Chevette and $50 in his pocket.  Funny, too, when I told my parents I would own a place in Old Town some day, they laughed.   When I finally did it, they sort of belittled the accomplishment.   Oddly enough, they are in Northern Virginia now - in Arlington..... Cemetery.

But maybe there is a method to this madness.  In the country, the light turns green and there are maybe one or two cars that go through the intersection.  You can take your time.  No hurry, no rush. But in the city, if everyone drove at that pace, no one would get anywhere. So ironically, even though people are travelling much shorter distances in the city than in the country, they tend to drive faster in the city. The faster they go, the more traffic the system can bear.  How odd.

But eventually, living like that wears on your soul.  I recounted before how winning in life is not necessarily coming in first place, but just finishing the race. The stress of "winning" all the time wears you out, which is one reason why, when we had the chance to escape from Fairfax County, we did so - and why I live on an island today, where the speed limit is 35 (max) and 25 in most places - and you can drive a golf cart on the road.

It is funny, but you can tell the "city people" visiting the island from the way they drive.  They tailgate and speed and try to "get ahead" but often don't even know where they are going.  So intent on "winning" the race of driving, they will pass you in a no-passing zone (almost killing a bicyclist in the process) and then a half-mile later, you see them by the side of the road trying to figure out the map.  Don't know where they're going, but they're making good time!   This on an island seven miles long, with only one major loop road.  Just keep driving, you'll reach every point on the island in a short period of time.

It is good to go away, as you realize how lucky you are to live where you are - well, unless you live in some festering city.   Once you do live in a city, as I noted in an earlier posting, you do find ways around, and perhaps your own quiet corner, as we did in Hollin Hall.  But to an outsider, it seems so noisy and busy and insane.

I guess that is the other thing I am looking forward to - less noise.  Being camped next to I-95 for several days was, well, noisy to say the least.  We are now at Faver-Dykes State Park (no, I am not kidding, that is the name of the place) and went for a nice kayak ride and enjoyed the deafening silence for the first time in more than a week.

Tomorrow, our second Covid Shot!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Banality of Evil

There are evil people in the world, and we shouldn't let them win.

Two things in the news recently sort of bookended each other.  First, in Virginia, they abolished the death penalty.  Second, a man on death row recently died of a Glioblastoma - a rapidly spreading form of brain cancer.  His crimes were horrendous, and I won't mention his name here, as it only serves to glorify these sort of nutjobs.  But if you look online, you'll find all the gory details, including his blog (yes, right here on Blogger) in which he whines about his treatment and the prison food, and describes in cold detail the murders and rapes of small children he committed.

The guy was arrested after wiping out an entire family - killing parents and children alike, and kidnapping and then raping and torturing the two youngest before killing one of them.  One survived - he was caught before he could carry out his last murder.   Once convicted, he confessed to a number of other child murders as well as molesting children back to his early teen years.   If this guy doesn't deserve the death penalty, who does?

Sadly, some people think he didn't, including lawyers he didn't hire, who appealed his convictions over and over again until he died in prison.  They argued he had a hard life and that he was imprisoned for "much of his adult life" which was the same excuse he gave for the murder-spree he committed.   Life was unfair to him, so to "get even" with society, he would commit horrendous crimes.  I don't buy it.

For example, he claims he was unjustly convicted and sentenced for 20 years when he was 17 for raping a ten-year-old boy at gunpoint.  "The gun wasn't even loaded!" he says, as if that makes it all right.  "It was only oral sex!" - he just doesn't get it.  But once in prison, he did to confess to raping at least nine other boys before that.  He was also in other legal trouble, including breaking and entering and stealing cars.  This was a bad person from the get-go.  His excuse for his murder spree was that after he was paroled (after serving 17 years) he tested positive to marijuana use, and rather than serve the remaining three years, he decided to "get even" with society by killing people.  Again, I don't buy it - one bit.

Others, apparently do, buying into his story of "unjust conviction" and "troubled childhood."  Some folks want to believe that people are decent and good down deep, and just get a bad lot in life.  Again, I'm not buying it.  We all make choices in life, even when dealt a bad hand.

Again, others bought into his spiel - psychopaths are quite persuasive.  They loaned him cars and thousands of dollars of money to pay for legal fees. A prison pen-pal fiance even sent him semi-nude pictures of young girls clipped from magazines.  He howled at the "injustice" when the prison warden confiscated them as child porn.  He just didn't get it.  But who in their right mind enables people like this?  It is bewildering, but I've heard of this before - people coming to the aid of child molesters and paying for attorney's fees, bail money, and whatnot.  It makes no sense to me.  It is almost as evil as the crimes themselves.

I suspect it was this same "fiancee" who posted his prison writings on his "blog" as he wasn't supposed to have access to computers while in prison. The blog is a fascinating look inside the mind of a narcissistic psychopath. In his mind, he did nothing wrong, and the injustices in the world are how lousy the prison food is, and the fact that the justice system "murders" (executes) inmates.  No word on whether the children he murdered deserved better.   He whines about how hard prison life is (getting up in the morning, making coffee, watching television, waiting for breakfast to be delivered) and doesn't get the connection that the life he has in prison is life - something he stole from nearly a dozen people - adults and children.

What is also interesting is how cowardly he was.   He always picked victims that were vulnerable and easy to manipulate and overpower.  It is like this guy in New York, recently, who stomped an elderly Asian woman.  He looked like he just came from the gym.  He attacked her from behind with no warning, and then stomped on her face once she was on the ground and helpless.  What kind of coward does shit like that?  It is akin to the stupid "knockout game" some teens were playing - coming up from behind and punching people in the head to knock them out.  Some fell to the ground and hit their heads and died.  It isn't an act of bravery, but an ambush - a cowardly ambush.

The blogs are terrifying, not in the telling of their tales, but in the banality of them.  The first is a diary of prison life, and is full of dull details and whiny complaints about life in prison.  People are too noisy, and he is convinced they are doing it all just to annoy him.  You see how this works - he is the center of the universe and the rest of the world revolves around him.   The rest of us are just wallpaper and not even real.

The second blog contains confessions of the crimes, but only in part.  He recites the murders in dispassionate detail.  But oddly enough, the sex crimes are sort of glossed over.  There is no evidence of remorse or regret, or any recognition that his victims were human beings as he was.  Again, other people are just wallpaper - not really real, and to be used and abused for his own advantage.   His only real regret was in getting caught, it seems.

I don't recommend reading his blogs or even looking for information about him.  But it just struck me how the phrase "banality of evil" applies here.  He describes the murder of an entire family with the same dispassionate discourse as one would use in describing how to change the oil in your car.

It struck me that there are likely a lot of people like him in the world, and likely never hear about most of them.  Some of them are political leaders, others run huge corporations.  To them, the rest of us are wallpaper and not real people.  Sure, they may pander to us, but only to use us - to lure us into the car with the offer of candy.  Only later do we regret it.

I understand why some may be against the death penalty, as it is unevenly applied, and in the past, (and in some countries today) it was even applied for non-deadly crimes.  But in situations where there is a heinous crime, and the evidence is overwhelming (and real) and there is even a confession, I am not sure it is not an apt punishment.

Of course, so many people die on death row from old age, as appeal after appeal can be lodged and these take their time to work their way through the system.  In the meantime, death row inmates enjoy a private cell, peace and quiet, "three hots, a squat, and a cot", a numerous trips to court and to see attorneys, as well as the prospect of lonely-hearts pen-pal fiances and whatnot.  From his description of prison life, it sounds pretty bad, but not all that bad, compared to prisons in other countries.  In fact, it sounds like a country-club compared to say, China or Russia.

What was surprising - but not all that surprising - was how this fellow invoked God and Jesus and the Bible (and Torah) as justifications for his acts.  He claimed the Torah sanctions child-sex, which might be technically true as the age of consent was much lower then (and indeed, even during the history of this country).  But that does not mean it condones child-murder, or just plain murder, for that matter.  It is interesting how someone can twist logic around like that - and even make it sound persuasive.  In this era of the Internet troll, it is a frightening thought - particularly when he apparently had admirers, followers, and supporters, as did Charles Manson.

It is also a little frightening that he was at least a passable writer - and a fairly prolific one.   We tend to think of murderers as wild animals, unable to control their urges, acting out based on anger and emotion. On the contrary, this fellow carefully stalked his victims and carefully thought out the crimes. Staking out a house for 12 hours gives one a lot of opportunity to say, "Gee, maybe this isn't such a swell idea!" but that never seemed to occur to him.  He wanted to inflict fear, pain, misery, and death on others, strictly for his own amusement.

It made me very sad to read all that, and I kind of wish I didn't.  On the other hand, it made me appreciate all the decent and honest people I know in the world - and there are an awful lot of them, too.  Hold them close to you, hold them tight.  And watch out for the sociopaths and psychopaths in the world - they do exist, but the can be easily spotted, if you know what to look for.

And yes, he had those "crazy eyes" look that so many school shooters and serial killers have.  As I have noted more than once, it should be possible to program a facial recognition software to identify this look.   Maybe I should Patent that.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Return To Pompano Beach

Pompano Beach isn't quite SoDoSoPa just yet, but they're trying!

It was weird to revisit Pompano Beach after selling our condos there 15 years ago or so - just before the bubble burst.  Oh, right, there are no bubbles, just market re-evaluations.  A helpful reader taught me that.  And yes, he was full of shit.

Anyway, being in the "big city" which is all Southeast Florida is, one mega-city from Homestead to Jupiter and beyond, is pretty jarring.  People are in a hurry to get everywhere, even a block or two from their homes, and are willing to risk life and limb to do it.  Running red lights is so common that people hold back when the light turns green, to check for red-light-runners.  This means, of course, that fewer people can go through the intersection when the light changes, which in turn, encourages more red-light running.  People -what's not to like?

We decided to visit a waterfront restaurant we visited once by boat.  They have valet parking, but unlike Seasons 52, there is a huge wait for a table.  Over an hour for a table by the water, nearly an hour for a table inside, and thirty minute wait just to sit at the bar!  We ordered two drinks, which came to over $30 with tax and tip (!!!) and decided to try a less-expensive venue across the street.  Yes, we are old and retired and "living on a fixed income" and take advantage of "early-bird specials!"

But again, I am no longer in the game.  Back when we lived here, we were both working, and we spent money at places like that and never thought much about it.  People were literally lined up out the door to buy $13 cocktails in 7-ounce glasses that were mostly ice.   They must still have jobs.

The big high-rise complex that was going to be built was never finished.  They finished one building and the rest is a vacant lot.  I think it went bankrupt.  Lots of signs saying "units for sale!" and "restaurant opportunity - commercial space available!"  $850,000 for a one-bedroom "designer ready" unit on the second floor facing the dumpster - with a $3500 a month condo fee and $10,000 a year in taxes, plus another four grand in hurricane insurance.  I guess developers don't own calculators.

But construction is booming - mostly on luxury rental units, which, like the condos of 2008, are all topping out at once.  Each has a weird name, like "Luxura" and there is a wall going around the construction site exhorting us to "Live the Lifestyle of Luxura!" with photos of 20-somethings all laughing and having a good time, apparently with photo-shopped teeth.  I am not sure most 20-somethings can afford "Luxura" nor could the model by the pool wearing that kicky outfit she just bought from the boutique across the street that doesn't exist yet, but will replace the Mom-and-Pop Kebob&Gyro shop that has been there for 40 years.  Maybe.

The best part?  You'll be close to the nightlife!  And Kenny's House.

Pompano Beach (or SoPoBe, I guess it should be called) was never a high-end place to live, always in the shadow of its wealthier brethren in Ft. Lauderdale, the Galt Miracle Mile, or Miami Beach.  It was the kind of place you could buy a bungalow with a dock, to keep your 18' fishing boat at, and park you Pontiac under the carport.  It was a refuge for retired Italians from Long Island, including more than one old mobster or hit man or such.   The food was amazing.  But one by one, the old Italians have died off, and the great restaurants have closed.  Times are a-changing - but not that much.  Kenny's house is still there.  Stubbornly.

It makes us appreciate the island.  As Mark says, "you have to leave the rock once in a while to appreciate it!" to which I reply it really is more of a spit of sand and not much rock.   But it is true.  The idea of waiting more than a minute or two for a table on Jekyll Island is alien to us and would cause people to leave the restaurant.   And $13 cocktails?  They had better be artisinal cocktails cooked up just right, not Tanquerey and some high-fructose tonic water served in a small glass.

Of course, that is the thing about living in one place - you learn the ins and outs of an area, and find the real bargains, such as our favorite run-down Mexican Taqueria, or the "Taco Tuesday" special at the island tourist trap.  You also learn the local roads and traffic patterns, and learn to avoid certain streets and routes, as well as how to take a few shortcuts if traffic backs up - something that rarely happens, if ever, on our little island, other than at the gatehouse during an event.  We just never leave the island during those times.

There are still a few isolated places we remember from back in the day.  John U. Lloyd State Park (Whiskey River) for example, is still a great place to visit, but not on a weekend.  Our favorite site by the beach, where we can hang two hammocks next to a picnic table, in the shade, is still there - and rarely claimed by anyone but ourselves.  Spring Breakers have yet to find it.   Of course, they changed the name of the park, I guess because the old name was racist or something, I don't know.  Some things change, for better or worse, others seem never to change.

One thing that doesn't seem to change here is the traffic - always congested, but always moving, despite the numerous bridges over the ICW as well as the commuter train traffic from Miami.  Unlike Washington, DC, where traffic comes to a standstill and stays that way for hours, the traffic here can ebb and flow, but never seems to stop entirely.

The weird thing about Broward County is that they actually have a campground in the middle of this mega-city.  It is near I-95 and the railroad tracks.  You can kid yourself that the traffic sounds like the surf at the beach - with car horns and sirens.  There is a Frisbee Golf tournament here, and it is the first park I've been to where the Frisbee Golf course was actually being used seriously (and not by the merely curious) or utterly abandoned.  Fascinating to watch.

But we will push North soon and get back to "normal life" and finish painting the living room.  Oh, joy.   This has been a nice little shakedown cruise for our summer trip, which should take us to a dozen States or more this summer and fall, from as far North as Maine, and as far South as Alabama.  Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, New York, The Blue Ridge Parkway, the Natchez Trace, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  It is a beautiful country - get out and see it sometime.

If nothing else, it might make you appreciate home that much more!

Patriotism is the Last Refuge of the Scoundral

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Boswell tells us that Samuel Johnson made this famous pronouncement that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel on the evening of April 7, 1775. He doesn't provide any context for how the remark arose, so we don't really know for sure what was on Johnson's mind at the time.

However, Boswell assures us that Johnson was not indicting patriotism in general, only false patriotism.
The term "Patriot" has an interesting meaning here.  After all, in 1775, in America, if you were a "Patriot" as we define it today, you would be loyal to King and Country - your Country being Great Britain and the British Empire.  Those trying to form a new country in America, well, they were called Rebels.

And perhaps after the Civil War, the term "Rebel" took on a more negative meaning, and thus today, we use "Patriot" to describe the folks who fought in the Revolution, which by definition, should be Rebels, or at least, Revolutionaries.  But once again, we see that if you can control the language of the debate, you control the debate.   And today, the term "Patriot" as used by most, means someone who is defending the United States, and particular, the Constitution - and not trying to tear it down.

Yet, people who stormed the Capitol claimed to be "Patriots" who were defending the Constitution by disrupting the very Constitutional process going on.   And no, Trump didn't win.  People don't like him.  Get over that.

But as I noted before, Trump isn't some sort of American anomaly.  Look across the world today - in nearly every country on the map, some strong-man "Patriot" dictator or populist has taken power, and promised to "Make [insert your country name here] First!"  Whether it is Modi in India, or Erdoğan in Turkey, or Jinping in China, and of course, Putin in Russia, Johnson in the UK, Netanyahu in Israel, Obrador in Mexico, or the various military juntas who are running other countries such as Egypt and Myanmar.  The list goes on and on, and there are too many to list here.

Patriotism and Nationalism are sort of intertwined today.  When all else fails, you can rely on Nationalism to carry you through to the next election.  The invasion of the Falkland Islands riled up nationalistic fervor in both the Argentine and UK.  When in doubt, declare a war - no one votes a war President out of office.  Trump seemed to forget that.  A little invasion of Iran, and he'd still be in the White House - and his followers would have quickly forgotten about promises to disengage from foreign wars.

The question to me isn't why Trump happened in America, but why these nationalistic urges seem to be happening all over the world, all at once.  It is like the "migration crises" - which is worldwide, not just at the USA-Mexico border.  By the way, Mexico is another "United States" but no one seems to realize that.

Migrants travel across the Mediterranean in flimsy, overloaded boats, and drown by the dozens - risking life and limb to get somewhere where no one is trying to shoot them, or people aren't starving to death.  Migrants are even trying to get to Australia, which has own little offshore detention camp and is the subject of as much controversy as detention camps in Europe, Asia, and America.

Again, a worldwide phenomenon, not just limited to the United States.  And the two are related.   Patriotism, as it is known today - which is more a form of Nationalism - is a natural reaction to perceived threats to a person's way of life.  Brexit, we are told by some sources, is a natural reaction to sudden changes in society - and a migration, legal this time, of people from other EU States, including Poland, looking for a better life in the UK.  And speaking of authoritarian, nationalistic governments... Poland.   Such a shame, too, as the Polish people have a heart of gold and after being invaded by both Germany and Russian (both promoting Nationalist causes) you would think they would know better.

So maybe this is just human nature - something driving us all insane worldwide, all at once.  You can try to pin "causes" to these various things, but I think those are more the symptoms of the underlying illness than the cause of them. Nationalism, Patriotism, and a knee-jerk reaction to change is the cause, the symptoms of various international incidents are just the predictable outcome.

And sadly, this predictable outcome can be measured in terms of riots and brutal suppression of protests - in mass shootings and vandalism of ethnic enclaves. The painting of swastikas in a Jewish cemetery, or the arson of a "gay" lifeguard stand in California.  People feel emboldened to strike out at what they perceive as to be new, different, or threatening.  And yes, part of this is lashing out against people of Asian descent, which puzzles me to no end, but has a long history in the United States.

So what is the answer?  Again, beats me.  Only that I don't want to be the Jew who thinks that "This Hitler nonsense will blow over!" and not leave Germany when the getting was good (and before it was too late). If this worldwide nationalist fervor continues, it is only a matter of time before borders are closed, people are not allowed to leave, currency is not allowed to leave the country, and human rights are suppressed.  You know.... Venezuela.  Or today, China.

The Chinese who have money have tried to establish a foothold in the United States, or preferably, Canada, which as a "Commonwealth" nation had allowed residents of the former Hong Kong to emigrate pretty freely, provided they brought cash with them.   This distorted the price of real estate in places like Vancouver, and no doubt some locals were alarmed to find they could no longer afford to own a home in their own hometown - and billboards were appearing in Chinese, with no English translation. Our Canadian friends, though, always polite to a fault, have not engaged in much anti-Asian hate. although apparently some.

But these Chinese ex-pats are discovering that a mansion in Calgary isn't necessarily the protection they thought it was. The Chinese government has been holding relatives hostage back home, until ex-pats return and disgorge their wealth.  Students in Canada and America find they are under observation, much as Iranian students were kept under surveillance during the reign of the Shah (and later, the Ayatollah).

The Chinese government is forcing movie stars and pop stars to cancel endorsement deals with "foreign" companies who dare to claim "concern" over issues of human rights.  And the Chinese people are exhorted to praise and defend "the Motherland".   I said it years ago - how long will GM stay solvent when half its profits are made in China?  If the Chinese decide that buying a Buick is unpatriotic, then business could go South in a hurry.  Also, I think even if there isn't a cultural taboo involved, the Chinese will stop sending profits overseas, once they have the technology in place to go it alone - which is happening rapidly.  Or has already happened.

Any smart businessperson should have a post-China strategy in mind, if they do business in China or manufacture products there.  It could all come crashing down in a real hurry, if the Chinese carry through on their Nationalistic threats.  All it would take is an incident in the Taiwan Strait, which the Chinese military seems eager to see happen.  Of course, this could mean the Chinese are killing off the goose that laid the golden egg - and a quick return to the isolation and poverty of the Mao era.  It was increased freedoms and capitalism, not Communist ideology - that built China into the world power it is today.  It is sad to see this come apart.

The irony, of course, is that the Taiwanese (oh, boy, I just got censored on Weibo!) are descendents of folks who fled Communism and followed the Nationalist, Chiang Kai-Shek, who of course, drove a Buick.  It's not that the Taiwanese don't consider themselves to be Chinese - far from it.   And I am sure, under the right conditions, they would like to be reunited with their former countrymen (many businesses on mainland China are run by Taiwanese concerns - and there are frequent flights between the two countries daily).   But after seeing what happened to Hong Kong, I doubt they will be in any hurry to embrace the mainland again.

That is the funny thing.  If you make your country hospitable enough, people will want to join it - or come there.  Not many people are trying to swim to China these days, unless they are defecting from North Korea, which says a lot.   On the other hand, people are lined up - literally - to get into the United States.  And Puerto Rico, after sitting on the fence for so many years, is now coming to the realization that being part of the United States is better than not being.   Of course, that Statehood ship may have sailed already - not much attractive about bringing a corrupt and mismanaged territory into Statehood.  Maybe if they discovered oil there or something....

But as depressing as it sounds, I don't see this getting better before it gets far worse.  The last time Nationalism was in vogue, was, well, before World War II.  How did that work out?  Not well. Will all this chest-thumping and saber-rattling and racist and anti-immigrant demagoguery lead us to another war?  I would hope not, because the next "World War" would be awfully short - and final.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Profit Motive in Healthcare

Profit-based healthcare doesn't favor personal health.

Boris Johnson (or as Trump calls him, "Mini-Me!") recently stepped in the dog-doo by saying that profits and greed are what brought the CoronaVirus vaccine to market.  Speaking of markets - like the old "Common Market" - those snooty Europeans are apparently boycotting the UK when it comes to vaccine shipments.  The UK is "Mini-Me!" to the USA in terms of Corona infections and death rates, but at least in the USA, one-third of the population has already been inoculated.  In many States, including Georgia, shots are available to anyone at any age. For free, too - at least at our local "gubment-run" health department (and they say Republicans can't do Socialism!).

But the comment struck me as odd.   Yes, the profit-motive drives healthcare in the USA.  It brought us the opioid epidemic, for example, that crippled and killed hundreds of thousands, nay millions, of people, to profit one family's business. But beyond drug-pushing - which is a huge consequence of capitalism in health care (if I never see another ad for prescription drugs, that's fine with me) - I think the entire system favors sickness, particularly chronic illness, that can only be managed, for a profit, or if cured, only by staggeringly expensive techniques.

This is why the medical industry can sell you a sex change, gender corrective surgery, gender affirmation surgery, for a million dollars, but can't cure the common cold.  It is why doctors will perform expensive surgeries to correct your heart condition, but let you accumulate plaque for 30 years without trying to alter your behavior in the interim.  Patient heal thyself.

And if you can find a disease that can't be cured, but can be treated with a lifetime of staggeringly expensive medications, then, buddy, you've won the lottery. HIV is a godsend for the medical industry - you can't cure it, but you can hook someone on a lifetime of treatments to manage it.  

Chronic conditions are ideal also because if the patient dies, well, no one can accuse you of malpractice - hey, he was like that when I found him!

Diabetes is another good one, too - and thanks to High Fructose Corn Syrup and a crappy diet, anyone can get it - you no longer need to have some inherited condition.  Buy stock in DiVita Dialysis! A growth industry!

Just kidding - there is one of these DaVita franchises on every street, across from the McDonald's. But there is another chain competing with them for those medicare dollars - like the Burger King across from the McDonald's as well.  So it doesn't pay to try to pick winners.  Besides, with CoVid, all these boomers on dialysis might be shuffling off the mortal coil and where does that leave you?  No fun if the chronic condition actually kills the patient.

And in that regard, I am sure more than one pharmaceutical CEO is secretly hoping this CoronaVirus thing mutates so they can sell a new vaccine every year from now on. Hey, we can't let all those mask manufacturers suffer, either, right? Or else your investments in PPP stocks are worthless.

What got me started on this is that our healthcare provider in Gerogia - the aptly named Ambetter Peach State - has this website that exhorts you to exercise and eat right, and gives you points for going to the doctor or filling our surveys or promising to exercise.  You can buy a toaster or some small gift with these points, or just use the points to charge a debit card which can be used for your co-pay.

They also do odd things like send you a herb planting kit.   It is interesting, but I think it is part of some Obamacare mandate to encourage preventative medicine - that is to say, keeping people healthy so they won't need that hundred-thousand-dollar procedure down the road.  Maybe they should consider encouraging people to stick to their present gender or not surf Qanonsense sites, as gender operations and mental health treatments are two of the big money-pits in medical care and one reason why Obamacare is so bloated.

Yes, sometimes life-saving medical procedures are necessary - and they can be expensive.  But on the other hand, it is harder and harder to find a good GP and quite easy to find a specialist - the latter makes far more money, in case you didn't get it.  I love those old-time doctors with their practical medical advice.  For example, I had back pain, and an old Navy doctor gave me some back exercises to do and recommended massage. Mark went to a pill doctor (since disbarred and arrested for running an oxycontin operation) and he suggested invasive back surgery, a spinal tap (that went horribly wrong) and of course, oxycontin.  Mark ended up doing the back exercises, yoga, and getting massages and I am happy to report, he's doing fine.  Occasionally there is a flare-up, but that's part of 50-something growing pains.

Our last GP died unexpectedly of an undiganosed genetic heart condition.  Since then, finding a GP has been hard.  We relied on "doc-in-a-box" for a while (those urgent care centers, next door to McDonald's and DaVita) and now have a Cardiologist as a GP - with predictable results.

So is socialized medicine the answer?  Well, it depends on who you talk to.  In Canada and the UK, you will find proponents and opponents of their National Care system.  My experience with the very well-run local Health Department seems to indicate that government-run health clinics, at least, can operate efficiently (I shouldn't say that, or they will appoint someone like DeJoy to run the place - into the ground - to "prove" that government-run anything is a bad idea).

Medicare seems to be a hybrid of both worlds. The government sets prices for procedures, and doctors and hospitals seem to be able to make a buck at it.  In Florida, for example, eye surgery places are located in strip malls.  If you have elder health issues, don't go to a local doctor who has never seen such a problem but once or twice in his life - go to Florida where the storefront Doc did fifteen procedures this morning.

This present system, with "retail" prices for procedures - that no one pays, unless they are indigent, in which case they never pay - is just stupid.  It is a patchwork system that favors the very wealthy, who can pay to cut to the head of the line, or fly off to China to have a Falon Gong heart installed (according to the paranoid Trump supporter I talked to yesterday). But that is the problem with "socialized" medicine - they just let any ordinary Joe have medical care, even before important people!  Why waste a perfectly good liver on some working stiff, when your kid needs one after she OD'ed on designer drugs?

Well, of course, I can't solve the problem and have no idea how to solve it.   We live and die, and if, by chance, some medicine or medical procedure makes you a little more comfortable or extends your life a little bit, great. Other than that, the outcome is preordained.  But one can hope that the current system can be improved somewhat - the glaring errors of Obamacare fixed, or at least reduced to a chronic condition.  And who knows?  Maybe medicare-for-all might be an answer of sorts - the medical industry doesn't seem to have an issue with a system that cuts regular paychecks for them.

Just wait until you are 65 - your doctor will suddenly find there are a lot of things wrong with you, expensive things, that for some weird reason didn't exist when you were 64 and your cheap-ass insurance wouldn't pay.  Maybe Boris Johnson was right - this "profit motive" or "greed" does a good job of delivering health care, to those who can afford it, or have good insurance, anyway.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Trolling and the News

We all get trolled from time to time - and trolling has existed long before the Internet!

I get an e-mail from a reader, who asks, "Why do you hate Fox News so much?" which seems like an innocuous question at first, until you dissect it - it is the entree to a troll.   The question presupposes that I hate Fox News.  The troll impales you with an opinion that is not your own, and now you have to either defend this opinion or disclaim it.  Neat trick.  It is the classic loaded question - "have you stopped beating your wife?"  No matter whether you answer "Yes" or "No" you are admitting to being a wife-beater.  Even if you try to denounce wife-beating, you end up sounding like you are covering something up.  Like I said, it is a neat trick for trolls - and trolling has been around long before the Internet.

Well, stupidly, instead of hitting "Mark as SPAM" and delete, I answered the query. No, I don't hate Fox News, but in fact, all news organizations are about the same - selling eyeballs with sensationalism. It is just that Fox seems to be the most outré of all of them. But in their defense, I noted, Fox did go against Trump with his "election fraud" nonsense and there's something to be said for that.

So in response to that, I get the classic troll line, "Well, I clearly see I touched a nerve!  Maybe when you calm down we can talk about this like rational human beings!"

It sort of falls flat in an e-mail, but works well in a discussion group or on social media where there is an audience - others see this and assume the other person is off their rocker, getting "all upset" about the topic at hand.   Like I said, it is a classic troll move - when you can't answer an argument, attack the person making the argument as unhinged.

And trolls are one reason to just avoid social media - it isn't worth the effort.   But trolling, like I said, has been around for a long time, and you may be trolled by friends or even family.  And coming from a dysfunctional family, I saw this firsthand.  My Mother, for example, would get drunk and go looking for a punching-bag, usually verbal, but sometimes physical.  Since I was the youngest and didn't have a driver's license or a girlfriend or mistress to go visit, I was sort of stuck at home, particularly on sub-zero snowy days, as we lived miles from town.  Gee, thanks, Dad! 

Anyway, one game my Mother used to play was to say, "Well, you think...." whatever and then having set up this straw man, knock it down with her drunken witty repartee - or what she thought was witty repartee and not just slurred words.  So for example, she might say something like, "Well, you think Richard Nixon is so great!" or something like that, which is an odd thing to say to a 13-year-old who didn't particularly care for Nixon, anyway.  And then she would make a triumphant argument as to why Nixon was no-good and "win" the day.  And it didn't matter if you agreed with her or disagreed with her, she was blind drunk, which I suspect most trolls are on the Internet.  Have a few beers and cruise Facebook - what fun!

My eldest brother, the stinking hippie, perhaps being schooled in this nonsense by Mom, did the same sort of thing.  If you were not a follower of Karl Marx, well, then you were some evil Capitalist bastard.  "You think babies should be harvested for their organs, don't you?" or something like that.  Again, the actual argument is not the point, it is ascribing a viewpoint to another person without their consent, which is an evil thing to do.   Politicians do this all the time.  "My opponent thinks we should abolish the Constitution and live in a Socialist paradise!" one intones, and half the people listening believe this, asking the opposing candidate, "Why do you want to destroy America?"

You see how the game is played.  And when the opposing candidate denounces such chicanery, the loudmouth who started it all merely has to say, "Well, sorry I upset you!  Clearly you are unhinged and unfit for office, if you let little things like me calling you a traitor to our country, get on your nerves!"

Trolls suck - but they are everywhere.   When you see an ad in the Warehouse store brochure for the ultimate backyard playground set that says, "Be the envy of the neighborhood!" you are being trolled.  Because you either buy a playset for your kids so they can enjoy it, or not.  Buying something to make the neighbors envious is..... well, dumb.

By the way - and I digress here - I got my homeowners insurance renewed and there was a trampoline rider or disclaimer on it.  If you have a trampoline in your back yard and the neighbor kids falls off and breaks their neck and is crippled for life, well too bad for you, your insurance doesn't cover it.   And that right there is why you rarely see trampolines in wealthier neighborhoods - people with assets don't need that kind of liability.  Cooter in his trailer, with the redneck trifecta - the tinkler above-ground swimming pool, "envy of the neighborhood" (or trailer park) play set, and trampoline - has nothing to lose, other than the money he is squandering on crap while barely making his lot rent ever month.

But I digress.

Getting back to the News, it is depressing to read it these days - which is odd as it seems we are turning a corner on this virus thing and the economy hasn't crashed quite yet.   But it seems each media outlet is using current events to trick us into clicking on articles that are designed to get us upset, outraged, and depressed.

Talk about trolling!

So, another day, another mass-shooting.  And politicians on both sides of the aisle line up to push their agendas.  "If only we had more gun control!" Democrats say.  "How dare you!" the Republicans reply (classic troll, by the way) "with the bodies still warm!  Have you no shame?"   Yes, Republicans have no shame.  They go on with, "The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!" and then describe their dream world where everyone is armed and daily shootings are a common occurrence.  Their dream is coming true.

Problem with the "good guy with a gun" argument is that a good guy was there with a gun during the last shooting - a policeman, in fact.  He is dead now.

Of course, no one wants to talk about a compromise - how about no crazy people with guns?  Yea, I know, hard to enforce, particularly in an era where mental illness is pretty much defined by the irrational need to accumulate an arsenal of weapons for no particular reason other than vague paranoid theories that are promulgated by the right-wing media.  Or the left.

Yes, I recounted before how a young black friend of mine showed me his new shotgun (part of an arsenal he was collecting).  After many well-publicized incidents where black people died in custody, he wasn't "taking any chances" he said.  "If the cops pull me over, I'm shooting first!" - which seems like a dramatic response to a potential speeding ticket.

I tried to explain to him that pulling a weapon on a Police Officer gives them carte blanche to gun you down, without any consequences.   Upping the ante here isn't the right idea, it would only make things worse.  Similarly, this idea that if everyone carries a gun, they can start an old-West style free-for-all in the grocery store when a mentally imbalanced person shows up with an assault rifle (and please don't try to tell me those don't exist and "Palestinians" are not real either - trolls don't get to control the language of the debate!).   It would not decrease violence, it would increase it.

But speaking of trolling.... the NRA.  As we have learned in recent months, the NRA is basically an organization more interested in lining their own pockets than anything else.  Most organizations are this way, whether they are a charity, a car company, or a lobbying group.  The guy at the top wants to see his perks protected - and increased.  And every so often, this sort of thing blows up, when it is revealed that the head of a car company is using private jets at company expense to take his family on vacation, or the head of a charity is using charity money on hookers, or the head of a lobbying group is taking home an obscene salary.  The only answer, I think, is to consider carefully before throwing your pitiful dollars at these organizations.

But the classic troll the NRA and other "guns rights" groups use, is to exerpt the helpful parts of the second amendment.  It is, after all, one sentence long, and that is too much to process.  So instead of:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

They print:

"... the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed".

Which misses the point.  These crazy people storming the Capitol were not a "well-regulated Militia" but traitors to the very Constitution they claimed to be defending.  Drunken nutjobs running around with their shirts off in some self-declared "militia" are not "well-regulated" at all.

And besides, the Supreme Court has held, time and time again, that regulation of weapons is permissible, but outright bans are not.  So no, you can't own a nuclear weapon, or a howitzer.  You can own a machine-gun, but it is damn hard to get a permit.  And permits to carry concealed weapons were, at one time, hard to get (and still are, in some States) and probably should be.  It is not against the Constitution, eitherBut of course, that is up to the Supreme Court to decide, not you and me.   What they decide next week is anyone's guess, but based on 200 years of jurisprudence, "anything goes" isn't the law, just yet.

But again, if you say this, the trolls come popping out.  "You're against guns!" they cry - again ascribing an opinion to you that is not your own.  I am not against guns, just against people who are stupid and irresponsible.   Like a friend of mine who kept a loaded .357 Magnum next to his nightstand and blew part of his head off one night.  Why he needed such a hand-cannon loaded next to his bed is anyone's guess.  To me, it is just irresponsible gun ownership.  They do make gun safes - I have two of them.

Or people who leave guns around where children can find them.  Or idiots who I used to party with, who would get drunk and then pull out their pistols (paging Dr. Freud!) and play around with them.  "Oh, no, it ain't loaded!" they would say, but when I asked them to check, it was "Whaddya know?  There was one in the chamber!"  Duh!

The NRA used to stand for responsible gun ownership - teaching gun safety to kids in Boy Scounts and teaching people how to handle firearms safely.  Today, their core member is the guy who lays out guns on his bed (Dr. Freud!) to take a photo to post on the Internet.  Google it - it's a thing.

These are not people who hunt.  These are not even people who bought a pistol for "personal protection" or whatever.  These are folks assembling arsenals of weapons for a potential mass-shooting.  There is no other legitimate reason for collecting such an arsenal.  And no, throw-away AR-15 knock-off rifles are not "collectibles" any more than Elvis plates are.

The problem which is unique to the United States is not just permissive gun laws and lax enforcement, but our mental health system.  Years ago, we let people out of mental hospitals to save money (and to be "compassionate") and gave them a few pills and wished them luck.  It didn't work.  There was a reason why we locked up paranoid schizophrenics back in the day, before they could hurt others or themselves.  In countries with fewer gun deaths, there are more restrictive firearms laws, but also better mental health care systems in place.   It isn't just about guns.

But once again, I digress...

The point is, the "news" is just bullshit.  First of all, we don't know what "really happened" until months or even years after an event.  They just sentenced a guy who shot and killed two elderly black people at random in a grocery store.  We know now that he was blinded by racial hatred and set out to target people of color - and killed them.   If you look at his picture, you see those same crazy eyes staring back at you.  Maybe some sort of facial recognition software will detect this in the future.  The point is, it is nearly three years later when we know the whole story.

But again, simple answers to complex problems are usually the wrong answers.  And sadly, after each one of these "news" events, both side trot out their simple answers and panaceas to all of our problems.  Each person looks at the same "news" story through a different lens.  The Leftist sees the need for gun control.  The rightist sees the need for more guns.  It is the tale of the three blind men and the elephant, each "seeing" a different thing, and each getting it all wrong.

And it doesn't look like that is about to change - which is why I don't bother watching the news so much anymore.   Any why it is so depressing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Thoughts and Prayers Hotline

NOTE: I started writing this weeks ago and then put it away, thinking (correctly) that no matter when I posted it, it would be "timely" as there is always a mass-shooting in America.  Seven in the last seven days, in fact.

"Thoughts and Prayers Hotline, how can I help you?"

After every school shooting or other disaster - or the Capitol riot - Republicans line up behind the microphone to offer "thoughts and prayers" and not much else.  It got me thinking as to where all these thoughts and prayers end up?  Does heaven have a phone bank set up to handle them?  And if so, how would it work?  Maybe something like this...

"Thoughts and Prayers Hotline!  How can I help you?"

"Uh, hi.  I'm a Republican member of Congress, and there has been another mass-shooting, and I feel I should do something, but I don't really want to..."

"No problem sir!  This is what the Thoughts and Prayers Hotline is all about!  We'll accept your thoughts and prayers for the victims of the shooting, and you're off the hook!"

"It is as simple as that?  Don't I need to, well, actually do something?  I mean, I am a legislator!"

"Well, sir, we can upgrade your Thoughts and Prayers to one of our premier packages.  This includes a tearful visit to the scene of the massacre, and a bouquet of flowers and a teddy bear to place at the makeshift memorial.  The teddy-bear is pre-mildewed, so it fits right in!"

"Say, that sounds good - a photo-op!  But I'm a little troubled - some of my constituents might think I am be being soft of on gun rights or something."

"No problem, sir!  Just be sure to say your thoughts and prayers are not only for the victims, but also the shooter and his family, who 'must be going through a hard time'.   You know the drill - 'good people on both sides' and all - or 'he was having a bad day.'"

"Say, that's not bad!  You guys are good at this!"

"Well, after all sir, 50% of the voting Republicans are potential mass-shooters.  We understand how this works.   You do want to be re-elected and all that, right?"

"Of course I do.  And I can't afford to piss off the NRA or Infowars at this point.   You guys really have this wrapped up!  But I wonder, is this all on the up-and-up with Jesus and the Big Guy?  I mean, murder and all - the ten commandments...."

"Sir, I think you are a little mistaken as to which office you've contacted.   You don't remember selling your soul to us a few years back on the eve of your first election?  Oh, right, we did a memory-wipe back then.  Well, I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you - you will have to rot in hell for all eternity.  It's part of the deal.  But there is good news, though!"

"Good News?  What could possibly be good news about this?"

"Well, all your Republican colleagues will be sending you their Thoughts and Prayers when your time comes!"

* * *

The Thoughts and Prayers Hotline:  Make it sound like you are doing something, when you are doing nothing at all!

NOTE: it appears that this latest shooting is like so many of the others, a crazy person with access to guns. Why is there no sanity check before a Firearms permit is issued? Oh, right, because half the people wouldn't qualify.

Monday, March 22, 2021

CoVid Relief Payment Status

You can check on the status of your relief check with the IRS.

Another round of free money is coming out, and of course, you should get yours, even as it decreases the value of your savings by an equal amount, due to inflation.  This is why you should get your check - because it just allows you to stay even-Steven.

By the way, another reason to keep your retirement income as low as possible - not only does it preserve your capital in case you live longer, it means you qualify for more government gimmies - relief checks, Obamacare, and so on and so forth.   Since we keep our annual income very low - which we can do because we have no debts to service - we qualify for the full amount of "relief".

What a relief.

Anyway, you can check the status of your check - or better yet, direct deposit - at this IRS site.  I did today, and it gave me the following feedback:

Payment Status

You are eligible for the payment. Once we have your payment date, we will update this page.

We will deposit your payment to the bank account below.

Bank Account Number: ************

Updates to your payment are made no more than once a day. We will mail you a letter with additional information on this payment.

If you need additional help, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.

Of course, I had to dick around with the site and enter my data five times.  I can never be sure if they have my address as "N Riverview Dr" or "North Riverview Drive" or "Riverview Dr." or what.  Fifth time was the charm.

Setting up auto deposit wasn't hard to do, and you should have done it by now - before the first checks went out last year.   Unfortunately, it seems that it isn't possible to enter bank information for non-filers anymore, and I cannot find any link for bank information entry in the "Get My Payment" site.  In fact, the FAQ (link above) merely states that if your bank information is wrong, the bank will return the money and you'll be mailed a check.  No word on what to do if your address has changed.  The system doesn't favor the itinerant.   On the other hand, they are probably doing this to prevent fraud.

Am I personally in favor of "relief checks?"  It is hard to say.  Both sides are claiming responsibility for this, even as every member of the GOP caucus voted against this.   The GOP was against these checks back in December, when Trump tried (and failed) to push them through in a last-ditch attempt to boost his popularity.

Like with so much else, this blanket firehose of money isn't really the answer.  It is like "student loan forgiveness" for college students.  To the struggling student who racked up fifty grand in debt and has no job (because they went to a "for-profit" college, for example) ten grand knocked off the top might be helpful, but not solve their problems (and they are the least likely to navigate the byzantine government site to get such aid - if they even qualify).  On the other hand, Buffy and Biff, at the tennis club, order another bottle of champagne, as their loan is now being paid off a little earlier than they thought.

There are some people really hurting in this economy, and this "help" is not directly targeted at them.  In fact, much of this "help" is being stolen by overseas scammers, who are filing unemployment claims in the names of others.  Still others are filing specious claims here in the States - in their own names.  Seems you could get unemployment benefits if you were "self-employed" which is a shame, as I retired two years ago.  If I just had kept my practice going another year, I could have filed for "unemployment" benefits when I retired.

I know folks here on the island who work part-time at the golf course so they can get free golf.  They were laid-off due to CoVid and got unemployment checks with that $600 booster or whatever.  They were making more on unemployment than they were working.

I get it that trying to tailor relief to the recipient would take far too long so it is easier to just throw money out there - and hope that those who don't need it, spend it, and thus stimulate the economy.  I suspect more than a few idiots will spend it on Gamestop stock or Bitcoin or some other get-rich-quick scheme, as money you didn't work for gets spent twice as fast.

Sadly, inflation is already a "thing" now - despite the wild claims by the far-right that the fractional inflation rates of the Obama era were destroying the economy.  Say, remember the Obama era - where the market went up steadily every year for eight years?  When interest rates and unemployment rates dropped every year?  Not very exciting, but it was sure and steady.  Then we have Trump and wild swings in the market, which make a few people rich and then a lot of people poorer.  We can't blame him for the virus, but we can blame him for his lackadaisical response to it.  And no, he did not create the vaccine or do anything to speed it to market.  Warp Speed, Indeed!

I met a nice man the other day here on Pine Island, who apparently spends a lot of time watching Fox News and going on Qanon sites.  He held forth on how the virus was created by Bill Gates and then sold to the Chinese (because you know, Bill Gates needs the money, and he is an expert on biotechnology) and how the virus is mutating (by design - it was manufactured!) and we are all going to die and nothing will ever be the same, ever, ever!   Keep a happy thought.

I don't think his dire predictions are going to come true, mostly because "life as normal" or a  new normal has pretty much gone on.  While unemployment is high, the majority of people still trundle off to work every morning, even if it is in their spare bedroom which is now a home office.  People still flood the bars and restaurants, particularly here in Florida (the Ragged Ass Saloon had an outdoor concert with hundreds of people in close proximity, and of course, no masks).  As vaccinations (at 100M so far, or 1/3 of the country!) increase, life will return to normal faster and faster.

No, I think the real issue is economic.  We were due for a recession when Trump took office.  He goosed the economy with tax cuts and proliferate spending for three years before the virus struck.  It is like pulling back on the stick to gain altitude in an airplane (like they do in the movies - accompanied by the sound of dive sirens from a WWII Stuka).  Yes, you will get a little more altitude that way, but you lose speed as a result, and likely stall the plane.  You need more power and thus speed, to gain altitude.  Pulling back on the stick don't do shit.

And so Trump pulled back on the stick, showing a gain when there should have been a loss, and now we are in a stall and flat-spin.  The economic damage we will be facing will take years to repair, much as it took eight years for Obama to fix the toys that Bush broke.  And like clockwork, the GOP will call it "The Biden Recession" and bring out the "Debt Clock" and deny any further stimulus - provided they can win the Senate back in 2022.  Democrats, the clock is ticking.  You have less than 24 months to pass your programs.

And like clockwork, the Democrats will screw up a wet dream.  Which is a good thing, as we don't need a radical agenda enacted - just a rational one.  Sometimes government gridlock is the best option.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

College Sports (For People Who Never Went to College)

Why are people who never went to college, fans of college sports?  Why do people root for teams from schools they never went to?  It mystifies me - but there is money involved, which explains a lot.

We are camped in the middle of a group of Wisoconsites and Minnesotans.  Real salt-of-the-earth people, and I love hearing that rich Wisconsin accent, although some from the Cheese State don't seem to have a volume control.

Anyway, "the boys" are all gathered around the telly at their RV every evening watching basketball. That is to say, NCAA Men's College Basketball.  And it is exciting to watch, to be sure.  But what struck me as odd, is that most of these fellows never went to college and thus are rooting for teams that represent schools they have no affiliation with.   In some cases, they are rooting for teams not anywhere near their hometown, or indeed, even in their State.  What's up with that?

Before I go further, let me say that not going to college isn't the end of the world.  I have a friend who never went, but was an autodiadact - he taught himself mechanical engineering and refrigeration technology and went on to run his own business designing and building commercial systems.  He always has had this chip on his shoulder about not going to college, which I think was probably driven home by some clueless college-educated dweebs who gave him a hard time about it - sometimes they were his employees

Going to college doesn't make you an expert in a field, or indeed, even qualify you to work in that field - you have to get work experience to do that.   All I can say is, every time I graduated from college, my reaction was the same:  "That's it?  But I don't know anything yet!"   You learn more in life than you do in school.  So college isn't for everyone, and in fact, as we are seeing, it can be an exorbitantly expensive waste of time for many.  If you didn't go to college, it doesn't mean you are any less of a person, in fact, you may be more of one.

But my friend also follows college basketball, at least for a college in his home State. To me, it is puzzling, as that really isn't "his team" anymore than it is mine.  And even attending some schools with reasonably decent basketball programs, I never felt any "team spirit" for our school - the teams were made up of players recruited from all over the country, and not locally.  You never saw the players on campus, as they took special "jock" courses, and lived off-campus in expensive luxury housing (paid for by the school).

So yea, rah-rah for the team and all, but I never felt it, particularly when you see how much money is involved - millions in television rights, and of course, the players rarely receive any of that.  And their "free education" is worth what they paid for it.  College sports are just feeder teams for professional sports - using up four years of some of the best productivity of an athlete, who can hope for, on average, maybe another five years of paid employment, if they are picked up by a professional team, before an injury takes them out.

Of course, cutting to the chase and dropping out of school and going pro is frowned upon, because, well, I'm not sure why.  College Deans are against this idea, of course - the sports franchises are money-makers for the schools, as one Dean of Students reminded me when a football player was accused (and convicted of) rape.  The College held their own trial and found him "innocent" which is a crock.  So maybe that is why I am not a big "fan" of college sports.  It is a plantation system, exploiting young (mostly) Black men for their free labor, all of whom hope to "make it big" and get endorsements from Nike and whatnot, and become the next Michael Jordan.  The odds, sadly, are pretty long, even if you are recruited to an NCAA team.  My suggestion - take the college part seriously and learn something.

Anytime someone talks about actually paying the college players who are bringing all this money into the school, well, all hell breaks loose!  "This is amateur play!  People do it for funsies!"  But the coach of the team is often the highest-paid employee in the school, and often the highest paid employee in the State.  He's not doing it for funsies.  He's not an amateur.

Sure, it is fun to watch a well-played, competitive game. But I am not a "fan" anymore than I am a "fan" of Lady Ga-Ga, who is also a money-making franchise, making money from "fans" who will do anything, pay anything, to show their allegiance to their Ga-Ga God.  Again, if you want to starve the 1%, stop giving them your money.  And when you go nuts over sports teams or a rock star - and pay hundreds of dollars for tickets or decorate your house as a monument to them, you are merely trading your drab little life for a very small piece of reflected glory, at quite a staggering cost.

I am not sure what got me going on this, and to you flamers and trolls out there, no, I am not "against" college sports, just I don't think they are so important to dedicate my life to.  Yet these nice men I met, who never went to college in their lives, could tell you reams and reams of statistics about their favorite college team, the coach, the players, and so on and so forth.  They didn't seem to know much about the actual college itself.  I am beginning to think that perhaps a lot of these colleges are little more than justification for a sports franchise - a profitable one where you don't have to pay the players.  Oh, sure, they bring in a couple of students and professors on campus to make it look legit, who can buy "oxygen" seats in the rafters for only $50 each, if they want to come to the games themselves.  Otherwise, the school part isn't all that important.

We went back to Syracuse last summer, and it was interesting how some things never change.  Acropolis Pizza, where I used to deliver wings and pies, is still there.  But the "Carrier Dome" is now getting a new hard-top, it seems, and I notice they no longer call it the "Carrier Dome" but "This Space Available Dome" as Carrier has faded from the scene as a defining industry of the Salt City.  Maybe they can go back to salt.

The point is, there is a lot of money on the table to build domes and stadiums for these teams, and given the publicity, companies will pay a lot of money for "naming rights" even on a college campus - especially on a college campus.  As Dean of Athletics, you just have to hope they don't sell the rights to Enron.

I just found it kind of odd these fellows where so devoted to these teams - from schools they never went to, or knew anything about, sometimes not even in their State.  How does one go about picking a team to be a fan of?   And why does someone pick one team over another?   I mean, I guess I could root for my "Alma Mater" but no one on the team today was there 40 years ago when I was a student.  Well, other than Jim Boeheim - damn, that guy has been around forever hasn't he?

But let's not kid ourselves - there is little difference between NCAA "amateur" basketball and NBA "professional" basketball, other than the pay for the players.

UPDATE:  A reader writes that Baseball, being created in an era where College was only for the elites, has a different structure as a result.  Sure, college baseball exists - so does college fencing, crew, and boxing.  Not many people pay attention to them, or pay to see them.  Baseball has "farm teams" that recruit talent, and you can be sent "up to the majors" or "sent down" to the minors, even more than once.   And farm team players are paid - although not much in some instances.

It is a more just approach to the labor problem, I think - and one that is more democratic.  A friend of mine left college to go play for such a farm team.  He told me, in all earnestness, that he didn't expect to make it to the majors, but instead he could play for a few years until he aged out - and live a lifelong dream of playing professional baseball.

But of course, such a system of "farm teams" would destroy the NCAA and its "amateur" rubric.   The colleges would revolt.  That is the problem - the system is so entrenched and so much money is involved - and the people with the money make the rules - that change isn't very likely.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Baby Boomers Can't Die Fast Enough!

Maybe the problem isn't Millennials...

We were in a bar on Pine Island the other day.  Pine Island is - or was - the sort of place retired auto workers went to, when they spent their 25 years on the assembly line at GM and got a pension.  Of course, those were heady days - GM had a 50% market share and was the largest car maker on the planet.  As I noted before, GM's share is down to 17%, about in line with Ford, and now the #4 automaker in the world, perhaps #5 after the Fiat-PSA merger.   How times have changed.

Anyway, we are sitting at the bar, and these two Boomer couples are hooting it up over a video of Joe Biden slipping on the steps of Air Force One.  It was a deep-fake video, taking a real incident and exaggerating it.   Apparently those aluminum steps are kind of slippery, as many a President, from Ford, to Trump, and now Biden, have slipped on them.   To these Boomers, it was the height of hilarity - someone's failings - and a substitute for real political thought.  "You see, Old Sleepy Joe has lost it!" one said, to which I replied, "Watch while I drink my beer like Donald Trump!" and I held my glass in both hands, trembling.

Of course, Donald Trump doesn't drink beer - or any alcohol.  Something wrong about that.

What was funny was that these folks were running down "Sleepy Joe" not on any policy matters (indeed, they likely have no clue about such real issues, other that vague allegations that he is going to "take our guns away!") but on perceived age and infirmity.   I look at these four people, and they are all older than Joe Biden.  One has a hearing aid, his wife has coke-bottle glasses, and a third has a tell-tale lump on his chest for his pacemaker/defibrillator.  The fourth has the bump on his belly belying an insulin pump.  Oh, and like most Americans, they were of course obese.  Some fit crew!   But Uncle Joe - he's just out of it!

Anyway, they kept up this "HAW! HAW! HAW!" for 20 minutes and far longer than necessary - it just wasn't that funny a video.  They were trying to make some sort of "Trump Train" point - to intimidate other folks and imply that everyone prefers Trump, of course, even though he lost the popular vote twice and the electoral college once.  Oh, right, massive fraud.   That could have happened!

We took our drinks and went outside.  No point in hanging out with boorish retired assembly-line workers.  But it got me to thinking, maybe these sort of folks are the reason why we have the problems we have today - the divisiveness in politics, the unaffordability of homes, the lack of good-paying factory jobs.  You see, these same autoworkers - sucking the life out of GM, Ford, and Chrysler with their hefty pensions and health plans - were the same people who put coke bottles in the doors of the cars as they went down the assembly line.  These are the same people who went on strike at the drop of a hat back in the day - while already being paid 4-5 times the rate of non-union workers.  It didn't help that the salary workers basically gave up and milked the company for their share as well.

Crappy, overpriced cars were the result.  Vegas, Pintos, Chevettes, Novas, Camaros - all crap, and all outclassed by the primitive Japanese cars of the time, which did one thing and one thing well - lasted longer than the payment book.   So GM's share of the market dropped from 50% to 17% not because of "the imports" but because of these overpaid clowns.   Every foreign manufacturer has demonstrated that American labor, when not pampered with union contracts, can produce world-class products at a reasonable price.   We export cars from my hometown, but they are Hyundais, KIAs, Mercedes, BMWs, and maybe a few Suburbans going to Arab Sheikhs.

Back in their day - the post-war period until the 1980's - you could graduate from high school, go down to the Union Hall and get a job, once you told them your Dad worked in the same factory.   It was a pretty keen deal, but they screwed it up royally by holding the automakers hostage to crappy quality and high labor costs.  One by one, the plants closed, and parts production went overseas - and market share dropped.   The cushy deal they had was no longer available to their children, as those greedy pigs sucked up all the money they could without thinking of the next generation.

Today, even if you are lucky enough to get a job on the assembly line at an "American" car company, there are two retirees you are effectively supporting.  Oh, and you might be getting the raw end of a  "two tier" wage contract - making half of what your Father did.

Meanwhile, down here in Florida, your folks sit at the bar laughing at Biden and wondering why their kids are not as "successful" as they are.  "Kids these days!" they grouse, "Don't know the meaning of hard work!"  And they say this without irony.  The opportunities they had as kids are long-gone today, mostly because they thought that GM would never go bankrupt - or Chrysler twice.  They milked the system for all it was worth and then left their employers as a battered shell of a company with staggering pension and health care liabilities.  Damn Millennials!  Must be all their fault for buying those foreign cars!

And before you flame, please recall that I worked in General Motors Plants back in the 1970's and saw what went  on.   Numbers running, drug dealing, theft rings - and once in a while we made a car with most of the parts on it and half the frame bolts.   Don't understand why people want to buy those funny little Japanese cars!

But it got me to thinking that maybe the Boomer generation - of which I am tail-gunner charlie of - is to blame for our series of financial woes.  After all, our generation was the one that indulged itself in more ways than one.  We indulged in drugs and free-sex and gave the world the meth and opiate crises and HIV.  It was Boomers that gave us the dot-com bubble - and bust.  Boomers who lead us into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Boomers who gave us the divisive politics we have today.  Boomers who decided, in 1989, 2008, and now 2021, that houses were made of gold and bid up the prices to the point where no young person could afford them - at least not the working-class young people.

Yea, them.  Those awful Millennials again, working "side hustles" in the "gig economy" because the college degree their Boomer parents exhorted them to get is basically worthless, yet cost $100,000 of which half they still owe.   But you know, we can't have the Millennials making good coin  - that would destroy the rate of return in the stock market for their parents!   We are eating our own young.

But there is good news, and I think of this every time I see a bunch of blowhard older people holding forth about how "Kids today are no good!"   They are all going to die soon.  In droves.  And CoVid is helping the process along.  Yes, the idiots at the bar I saw all were proud not to wear masks - ever - or get the "Microsoft vaccine" because the whole thing was a hoax.   They will shuffle off the mortal coil in the next few coming years, and it will change our world.

I read the other day that more than half of the people in the UK favor the Monarchy, but those that do tend to be older - far older - like 70 years old or so.  Among the younger population, support is about 30%.   This should worry Uncle Chuckles, as when he ascends the throne (if ever) he will be facing a constituency who is hostile to the whole concept of a Monarchy.  The world could change - and will change - very soon.  As I noted before, I may not agree with the Ms. AOC's of the world, but then again, it's their world now, and maybe we need to let them take charge.  You know, all that passing-of-the-torch to a new generation and all.

As Boomers keel over, a lot of wealth will change hands.  A lucky few, who have parents who saved money and paid down debts, may inherit a house or a share of a house and maybe part of an IRA.   Who knows?  They may even get a life insurance payout.   The impoverished Millennials may be in for a payday in the next few years - if their greedy parents don't spend it all, which I am quite sure most will do.

It also means our politics will trend younger, which is why the GOP is courting the young with online presences (and why they don't decry extremism which attracts 20-something while males).  TPUSA is the Hitler Youth of our era.   And don't just take my word for it, listen to the words of an up-and-coming youngster in the GOP: "Hitler was right on one thing that whoever has the youth has the future."

And maybe that is why both sides are desperately fighting for the hearts and minds of the next generation - with the Left promoting free college and guaranteed annual income, and student loan forgiveness, and the Right promoting the insanity of Qanonsense, which appeals to bigoted white male "incels" who blame feminism for their inability to rape anymore.

But that is what I thought, listening to these overfed and overpaid blowhards complain about "Socialism" and their own children ruining the world.  They needed to take a good long look in the mirror over the bar.   These folks can't die-off soon enough.  And this CoVid thing just isn't doing the trick.  Obesity, heart attacks, stokes, diabetes - the medical profession seems to be curing these faster than they can kill.

We need something more aggressive!  But as they say, time heals all wounds, and in the coming decade, my generation (the widest and last gasp of the baby boom) will hit the retirement age and cause a shortage of beds in retirement homes.  But shortly after that, they will die off, too, and there will be a lot of houses for sale, as well as used motorhomes, trailers, Harleys, and other toys accumulated by our generation.

If the Millennials can just hang in that long....