Monday, May 31, 2021

I Killed Gavin MacLeod!

Causation and Correlation are two different things!

The other night, we were watching an old Hawaii Five-O episode featuring Gavin MacLeod as "Big Chicken" the drug dealer.  At first, we didn't recognize him as he was quite chubby at the time.  But it was him.

Later that night, I went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole and Googled his name, only to realize he was born Allan George See, in Mt. Kisco New York, where Mark was born.  Could they be related?  Possibly, as distant relatives.  Mark's Mom, a "Davis" from that tony neighborhood of Mattawamkeag Maine, always looked down on the Sees as "Simple Rustics" - apparently she didn't know about Gavin MacLeod. Oddly enough MacLeod's Mother worked for Reader's Digest, where the father of Mark's Sister-in-law worked.  Clearly there is a conspiracy in all of this!

Anyway, I woke up Mr. See to inform him of his famous relative and mumbled, "Yea, I know. Go back to sleep!"

Mr. MacLeod was a yeoman actor, appearing in almost every television show of the 1960's and 1970's.  The guy was never out of work for long.

Anyway, the very next day he died.  Clearly I need to stop Googling people's names!

His death was reported in the papers by his nephew, Mark See.  Since then, we've gotten countless e-mails from folks wanting to know if Mark is Gavin MacLeod's nephew.  Yes, I'll admit it, we inherited all of Uncle Gavin's money and we are now going to book a round-the-world cruise on The Love Boat.

Or maybe not.  It was just a weird coincidence.

But one thing we understood - why Allan George See changed his name to Gavin MacLeod.  The last name of "See" (which may be of Dutch, French, or Jewish origin) is very confusing.  Short names are harder to explain over the phone.  If your name is Kozlowski, people can spell it - like it sounds.  But when you say "See" they think you are spelling the first letter of the last name, or saying "Yes" in Spanish.

Sometimes, Mark (or I) try to spell it out loud.  "My last name is See - S-E-E!" we say.  But then a letter comes addressed to Mr. CSEE.  You can't fucking win at this game!  I get the same thing with Belle or Beal or whatever.  Single-syllable names are cursed.   I'll bet Cher gets junk mail addressed to "Mrs. Share" or something like that.

So, Gavin, rest in peace.  And we understand why you changed the name.

And to all you other aging celebrities out there, I promise I'll stop Googling your names, so rest easy!

Apologists for Communism's Slaughter?

This funny little comic drove home a point I hadn't considered before.

I like to read the funnies everyday, and this one gave me a chuckle.  But then I realized that he was making a point - that Mao murdered more people than Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot combined, and yet today, no one really seems to care, and this important event isn't taught in school.  Why is this?

Well, for starters, China was sealed off from the West for decades, so what went on in China was not reported much.  Second, well, they were Chinese, and anti-Asian prejudice was and is still rampant.  Back in the day (the 1960's) we talked about the "Chinese Hoards" and America has been suspicious of the Chinese since nearly its founding.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in part because Americans were worried that a wave of Chinese immigration would simply overwhelm America, particularly its recently acquired Western provinces.

The sheer number of Chinese is also used as an excuse to ignore their plight.  It is akin to how the poor and minorities are treated in any country.  "There's so many of them!" people say, "They breed like rats!"  Or worse yet, "They don't feel pain like we do!"   When you can characterize a group of people as less than human than it is easier to slaughter them, or at the very least, ignore their being slaughtered.

An article in the Washington Post makes these points and a few more.  And one of them, sad to say, makes a lot of sense to me - that many in academia on the left (which is to say, academia) are apologists for Socialism and Communism and don't want to see leftist causes indicted by the excesses of those philosophies.   And yet, in nearly every Communist country, such atrocities abound.  When the state is all-powerful and owns everything (even you) then it will eventually go out of control.  Absolute power corrupts, absolutely:

But an even bigger factor in our relative neglect of the Great Leap Forward is that it is part of the general tendency to downplay crimes committed by communist regimes, as opposed to right-wing authoritarians. Unlike in the days of Mao, today very few western intellectuals actually sympathize with communism. But many are reluctant to fully accept what a great evil it was, fearful – perhaps – that other left-wing causes might be tainted by association.

. . .

In addition, our continuing historical blind spot about the crimes of Mao and other communist rulers, leads us to underestimate the horrors of such policies, and makes it more likely that they might be revived in the future. The horrendous history of China, the USSR, and their imitators, should have permanently discredited socialism as completely as fascism was discredited by the Nazis. But it has not – so far – fully done so.

Just recently, the socialist government of Venezuela imposed forced labor on much of its population. Yet most of the media coverage of this injustice fails to note the connection to socialism, or that the policy has parallels in the history of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and other similar regimes. One analysis even claims that the real problem is not so much “socialism qua socialism,” but rather Venezuela’s “particular brand of socialism, which fuses bad economic ideas with a distinctive brand of strongman bullying,” and is prone to authoritarianism and “mismanagement.” The author simply ignores the fact that “strongman bullying” and “mismanagement” are typical of socialist states around the world. The Scandinavian nations – sometimes cited as examples of successful socialism- are not actually socialist at all, because they do not feature government ownership of the means of production, and in many ways have freer markets than most other western nations.
Communism sucks, let's face it.  But yet there are a hoard of people, mostly intellectuals, who have never had to run a business or hire people (and pay them with their own money), who argue that Communism or Socialism are the "answer" to a question no one is asking.  My own stinking Communist hippie brother used to excuse the excesses of Stalin, claiming that what was going on in Russia wasn't "true Communism" and if only we hadn't embargoed Cuba, the excesses of the regime there would not have occurred.  In other words, the excesses of Communism are all Capitalism's fault.

And with regard to China, this lame excuse could be applied as well.  Mao was forced to murder millions of people because we didn't recognize China at the United Nations and thus forced China into isolation and forced them to make radical changes to "catch up" to the West.   The reality was - and is - that centralized planning always backfires, every time, resulting in people starving to death, whether it is the famine in the Soviet Union, or Cambodia, or China.  When people lose all incentive to work (other than the threat of death or torture) they pretty much stop working.

It is an convenient excuse - blaming the West - and one that still goes on today.  Every third-world dictator uses "Yankee Imperialism" as an excuse for their own failures.  The Communist governments of Cuba and Venezuela justify their harsh treatment of their own people on the grounds that the West has forced them into a corner by refusing to trade with them.  Yet Venezuela was once one of the world's largest oil exporters, before Communists and "Central Planners" took over - and fired all the people actually running the oil business and replaced them with party lackeys.  Today, they secretly export oil (and gold bars) just to generate enough capital to keep the rulers in power - and in the lap of luxury.  It is the North Korean model of economics - starve an entire population so the fearless leader can have a new Ferrari.

Nixon went to China in 1972 and "opened up" the country to the West.  We recognized China in the UN, and Western businesses flocked to China to set up factories, hire people, and export goods.  Thanks to Capitalism, China went from a backward pre-industrialized country to a world powerhouse - slated to surpass the United States as the world's largest economy.   The standard of living for the average Chinese is higher than ever, and until recently, the amount of freedom was greater than ever as well.

But sadly, it seems China is destined to slip back into its old ways.  The Communist Party still controls China, and they see the writing on the wall.  An emerging middle-class and an emerging Capitalist class are a threat to its power structure.  People with real money and real power are all planting one foot in Canada or the USA, as they realize - and see - that anyone who poses a threat to the powers-that-be can be imprisoned or even executed for crimes against the State, even if their only crime is having too much money.

The Chinese are trotting out the same old paranoid excuses for their actions - that foreign powers are "meddling" in their affairs by protesting human rights abuses.  To even raise concern about the treatment of Muslim Uighurs can result in your business being shut down or your country's ambassadors being sent home.  Our support of Taiwan - an island nation a short distance from the coast of China - is deemed "interference" with national sovereignty.   Of course, Communist support of Cuba is an entirely different thing and donchuforgetit!

Sadly, this situation seems destined to get worse before it gets better.  As the central government consolidates power, more and more foreign enterprises may be squeezed out of China.  The Capitalist miracle of the Chinese economy may quickly become a thing of the past, as billionaire entrepreneurs are replaced, one by one, with party apparatchiks - with predictable results.

The big problem, as I see it, is that our economy is so intertwined with that of China.  We've gone all-in on cheap Chinese imports, and this could change dramatically in the next few years.   Even "American-made" products like pickup trucks (assembled in Mexico) rely on a number of microchips and other car parts made in Chinese factories.  Rising nationalism in China may make such arrangements difficult. Do we continue to import parts from China after they've nationalized the factories that Western countries have built?  Does GM continue to import car parts after China has squeezed out their Buick brand?

It could happen and is already happening.  The Swedish retailer H&M has faced boycotts and more, since issuing a statement expressing "concern" for reports of forced Uighur labor being used to harvest cotton.  Not only is the Communist party calling for a boycott of the retailer, mall owners are cancelling leases (illegally) on retail space leased by the company.  The rule of law in China - something so necessary to the working of a Capitalist economy - can be arbitrary and capricious.  The China market represents only 5% of H&M's business.  They can afford to walk away from China.  The closing of stores by landlords may be a blessing in disguise - H&M can walk away from multi-year lease agreements without penalty at this point.

On the other hand, China represents over 50% of General Motors' profits and a huge source of cheap parts for its American-made trucks and SUVs.  Not only that, GM has a huge investment in manufacturing infrastructure in China.   Can GM afford to walk away?  Stay tuned.

And so on down the line.  Apple makes record profits, selling iPhones for over $1000 that cost maybe $100 to make in Foxconn factories.  We are so in bed with China, that a major confrontation with the country could create a horrendous economic fallout.  It would take time to relocate factories and establish new supply chains.  And in the meantime, there would be shortages and huge price increases of everyday products.   Say, isn't that already happening?

The flip side is also true as well - Patriotic fervor in the US might cause some to boycott companies seen as too much "in bed" with the Communist government.   This might mean not only MAGA-hat wearing Republicans (whose anti-China feelings have been stoked by Trump) but folks on the left who are appalled by the treatment of minorities in China.  From the article above, this tidbit about Apple:
Other Western brands like Nike Inc. and Adidas AG have also drawn consumer ire for their pledges not to use Xinjiang cotton, but H&M appears to have suffered the brunt of the fallout after the statement was called out by the Communist Youth League and the People’s Liberation Army. Its outlets have also vanished on Apple Maps and Baidu Maps searches, making it hard for Chinese consumers to locate stores, and it’s been removed from Chinese e-commerce platforms.
Apple - and Google - as well as some airlines, have found themselves between a rock and a hard place, when it comes to China.  Even mentioning Taiwan as a "country" is sure to raise the ire of the Chinese Communist government.  According to the Chinese Communist government, Taiwan is a "Renegade Province" which is an interesting gambit.  How long before other nearby countries are deemed the same?  How long before China call us a "Renegade Province" that is rightfully theirs?  We threw Taiwan under the bus by recognizing China in the UN (and booting Taiwan out).  That decision will come back to haunt us.

The locations of H&M stores vanishing from Apple maps didn't happen without Apple consenting to this.  How can anyone claim to be progressive and liberal and own an Apple product?  It is an interesting thought.

If this trend continues, companies will eventually be forced to choose sides.  And this is not the first time this has happened to Corporate America.  IBM, Ford, and others, all did business with the Third Reich, until the outbreak of war forced them to stop - sort of.   IBM machines continued to operate during the war, tabulating each Jew murdered, on convenient punch cards.  After the war, IBM made sure Germany paid their lease fees for the use of those machines during the war era.  Hey, business is business, right?

Of course, maybe I am being alarmist.  Maybe the Chinese Communist party will back down and realize they will destroy the "Chinese [Capitalist] Economic Miracle" just as Mao destroyed the Chinese economy before them.  They will realize that negotiation is better than confrontation, and that being paranoid and reclusive has no real profit in it, if you'll pardon the pun.  No sense in turning into a giant North Korea, right?

Maybe, but I doubt it.  Kind of sad to see, too, as the ordinary Chinese people are decent and hardworking folks who deserve a lot better.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Life and Death of Modern Radio

At first blush, it would appear that technology has supplanted the radio, in terms of listenership.  But that's only half the story.

I mentioned before that people who pine for the days of zeppelins and trolleys and trains are putting nostalgia ahead of cold, hard facts.  And the facts were, that zeppelins were little more than experimental transportation systems, that made a few demonstration flights and a few "regular" service flights, before they were deemed obsolete.  They could carry only a few dozen people, but required a crew nearly as large, if not larger. They were expensive to operate, slow, and difficult to land and secure.  Oh, and being "lighter than air" they were at the mercy of even the mildest of winds.

Trolleys are fun to ride on - in a museum setting.  But the reality was that most lost money and were taken over by municipalities as they went bankrupt, one by one.  People didn't like the hassle of having to schedule their lives around trolley schedules, and to be beholden to trolley companies that could raise fares (and still lose money).  Trains were about the same - losing money on passenger service, while people complained about the inconvenience and cost.

My Father's generation couldn't wait to get their hands on a Model-T Ford, and later, a Model-A, so they could go where they wanted to go, when they wanted to go, and often at a lower price that public transport.  The trolley and train companies made their services so odious that people leaped at the first thing that came along that was an alternative - even if sometimes the real human costs were much higher.

This same effect can be seen in almost every industry.  The American car might have supplanted the trolley and the railroad, but the foreign car supplanted the American car, even if they were initially somewhat tinny and cheap.  People were so fed up and tired of the poor craftsmanship and quality - and high prices - of American cars that they jumped at the chance to buy a Toyota.

I have watched a few old episodes of WKRP In Cincinnati, which you can stream for free on YouTube (for the time being, anyway).  Speaking of odious businesses - cable companies made their business so toxic, that people would rather stream on their phone than deal with Comcast, or Dish Network, for that matter.  Same shit, different day.

It is hard to remember, and I am sure many today were not even alive back then, but radio went through a Renaissance back in the mid- to late-70's and early 1980's.  It then went rapidly downhill.  What the heck happened?

Well, I mentioned before how radio evolved in the early part of the last century.  Starting out as a point-to-point communication system (much as the Internet was, early on) it morphed into the "Broad-Cast" model which was pioneered or at least shepherded by a young Russian immigrant named David Sarnoff.  He saw that two-way radio was expensive and what's more, kind of boring.  But a central, powerful, transmitter could blast professional entertainment on the airwaves to relatively inexpensive radio receivers in every home.  People could sit back in the evening and listen to Fibber McGee and Molly or a game show, or a live orchestra.

And until television came along, that was pretty much the model for radio - it was the talking lamp, without the lamp.  But once television penetration was nearly universal in America, radio game shows and serials and comedies went away and a new kind of radio emerged - the top 40 pop music format, with fast-talking disc jockeys, and this new music called "Rock and Roll."  It was the era of Dick Clark and Wolfman Jack.  And radio came in one flavor - AM.  Cars that came with a radio had only that option.  FM radio was an esoteric novelty that few bothered to deal with.

Even well into the 1960's, FM radios in cars were rare.  If you read old auto brochures, you will see the options were limited.  AM radio, or an AM/FM radio, or and AM/8-track.  You want AM/FM/8-track?  Don't get fancy buddy!  It wasn't until the 1970's that FM radio became a thing.

And early on, FM wasn't much of a thing.  There were scratchy Public Radio stations that barely came in.  There was the "Classical Music" station that was actually commercial (not public) and took advantage of the quiet of FM to play music that had a lot of quiet in it.

About that time, when I was an early teen, I wanted an AM/FM radio so badly.  It barely came in, but we could get reception from WOUR in Utica, the only Rock and Roll (Album Oriented Rock or AOR) radio station in the greater Syracuse area.  And by Rock and Roll, I don't mean the bubblegum pop they played on the "Top 40" AM stations, but album rock.   There was also the college radio station - WAER - in Syracuse, that played progressive rock music.  College radio stations were often feeders for commercial stations.  They could afford to experiment with new bands and new music.  What you hear on WAER one day, would appear on WOUR a month later.  And months later, it would eventually find its way to the AM dial.

Sadly, my parents ignored my pleas for an AM/FM radio.  Being from an earlier generation, they felt that was expensive tomfoolery and only suitable for adults.  What does a kid need with FM?  So they bought me an AM clock radio and I was bitterly disappointed.  But I listened to "Phil Markert in the Morning" on 62 WHEN Syracuse, who played top-40 hits interspersed with his own banter and comedy bits.  But it just wasn't the same.

Of course, eventually, the radio station owners sensed the new trend, and FM rock stations started to appear on the dial.  But it was the beginning of the end already.  The very people who ran FM Rock were smothering the baby in the crib.  Today, FM radio is almost impossible to listen to.  Saturated with loud and annoying ads, they play the "Same Old Oldies 92" or "New Country the Wolf 106!" or some such nonsense.  And when the ads are not blaring, the DJs are talk, talk, talking - often over the music itself.  Yet other stations have given themselves over to 24 hour talk formats - cutting to the chase and getting rid of all that pesky "music" that required royalty payments.

So what destroyed FM radio?  Was it changes in technology or changes in format?  A little of both, with the latter pushing people into the former.

Back in the day, cassette decks were just becoming a thing.  Early cassette decks were horrific - the tapes were full of hiss and noise.  But slowly new types of tape were developed - metal tapes and Chrome Oxides or whatever, and the quality of the decks improved.  You could now record an album and then play the cassette in your car.  Or you could borrow the album from a friend and then make a recording of it.  Or better yet, record off the air.  It was like Napster before Napster, or online streaming before streaming.

I recall back in the day, the DJ's at WOUR would announce that a new album from your favorite band was just released, and that they would play the entire album on the air, uninterrupted.  "So get your tape deck ready!" they would say, and then they would play the whole album, interrupting only to flip it over, which gave you time to turn your tape over and hit "record" again.

Well, as you might imagine, that sort of nonsense didn't last long.  Record companies were not happy that the radio station was encouraging piracy.  But other factors came to the fore.

My brother was keen to get into radio and he became a Newhouse Fag, working at the WAER radio station which as a college progressive rock station (today, a bland NPR/Jazz outlet).  One of his classmates was station manager and record company flacks would visit regularly and they would have closed-door meetings with lots of laughter.  Later on, the manager would put selected albums in the "emphasis box."   DJs were told to play songs from those albums every shift.

Was there payola going on?  Perhaps.  In the 1950's payola was a real thing.  Record company promoters would literally pay DJs to play certain records.  And it turns out that if you hear a song often enough, you will start to like it - and it will sell.  There was a scandal and supposedly the record companies cleaned up their act - and if you believe that, you are more gullible than you look.

My brother's ambitions of becoming the next WKRP DJ never quite panned out.  Radio had changed.  Many stations went to automation - eliminating that pesky on-air "talent" and paying for canned programs.  Even "Public Radio" went this route, paying royalties for NPR and APM drivel rather than nourishing local content.  And while public radio continually cries poverty, these content providers rake in millions upon millions of dollars.  The salaries of the executives at NPR would make you blush.  Think about how much the head of Clear Channel Communications must be making!

Enter Howard Stern.  Stern started out as a pretty conventional DJ but quickly morphed into something else.  Radio station operators were quickly learning that "Drive Time" - the commuting hours in the early morning and late afternoon - were a key demographic of radio listeners.  Trapped in their cars, radio listeners were perfect targets to be marketed to.  And rather than music, what they really wanted to hear was another human voice - saying something interesting.  Any by interesting, I mean outrageous, risque, or just plain dirty.

Before long, Stern's radio show - and ones like it - were being licensed and broadcast nationwide.  Even local stations who couldn't afford Stern would hire their own "Morning Zoo Crew!" to yak it up and tell off-color jokes.   And people ate it up.  What's worse, political types started to take hold, blathering for hours about how awful things were in America, because of the Democrats.  Right-wing talk radio became a thing.  Left-wing talk radio never really took off.

But franchised programming became a thing.  Remember "Delilah?"  It was simply easier to pay a franchise fee for a "feed" from a nationally-syndicated show, rather than try to develop in-house talent.  Syndicated shows were a proven thing, your own DJ was, well, who knows?

My brother's classmate graduated and started a radio station.  But unlike the laid-back WOUR in Utica, it was more high-energy.  The DJs talked and talked, and even talked over the music, talking through the intro of any song until the lyrics stated (because all that nasty instrumental part is just noise, right?) and then the talking started right back up again as the song ended.  And the music they played - there had to be payola, right?  I mean, who in their right mind listens to "Def Leppard" unless forced to do so in a torture chamber at Gitmo?

So, by the mid-to-late 1980's, radio started to fade. The public radio station fired all the local announcers (including my former roommate from Prep School) and just paid for NPR or APM programming - which again, was all talk, talk, talk, and little or no music, other than "Performance Today" which reduced classical music to a Top-40 format.  The college radio station became an NPR affiliate.  And across the FM dial, Jesus stations popped up, along with "New Country" music, and of course "¡Musica Latina!" - among others.

It was fun while it lasted.

The glory days of album rock FM radio were dead.

But maybe they were destined to die.  Like I said, at the same time, FM album rock became a "thing" we teenagers and 20-somethings were saving our pennies and dimes to buy a cassette deck, not only for our apartments, but for our cars.  And increasingly, car makers were even offering these from the factory (although, let's face, it, factory radios were lame and overpriced).  The local stereo store could to an "install" of a Pioneer deck and four speakers (!) for less.  Of course, you lived in constant fear of it being ripped-off.

We had options now, when it came to music.  So maybe the radio stations had to offer something else.  It could be that technology pushed the change in programming - or vice-versa.  We started playing our cassettes (and later, CDs) because FM radio started to suck so badly.  You wanted to hear music, and all you heard was talk, talk, talk!  On the other hand, why listen to music on the radio, if you have a cassette deck?  Radio had to offer something your cassette deck didn't.

And since then, the technology has accelerated.  Cassettes gave way to CDs which gave way to iPods and then memory sticks, satellite radio, cell phones, streaming, and whatnot.  As the chart above illustrates, Pandora streaming trounces the next largest radio network by a factor of four or more.  We seek out music, instead of talk, and other technologies will provide it.

Of course, this same technology also has talk, talk, talk, as well.   Sirius XM radio seems to have mostly talk channels - and a few music channels.  And sadly, the music channels are not all music, but lots of DJ banter between fewer and fewer songs.   I mean, I don't mind hearing Nancy Sinatra reminiscing about her childhood on the Sinatra channel, but having some lame-ass DJ fast-talking and over-modulating is just annoying.

So, today, if you want to listen to music, you have to stream it - on YouTube, or Pandora, or whatever.  Or you play the songs you have ripped to your phone or dongle or whatever - I have over 10,000 songs on my phone, there is never a shortage of stuff to listen to.

But the radio?  I opined earlier that Sirius XM was just a waste of time and energy (and money) and a format whose time may have come-and-gone already.  It could also be that FM has gone a similar route.   And AM went that route many years before.

But maybe it is because I am getting older and consume less media in general, and less music in particular.  Music is a young man's game.  You look at the performers and writers and hardly a one of them is over 30.   Willie Nelson was only 29 years old when he wrote "Crazy" for Patsy Cline.  Most performers are ready to retire by age 40, or at least have trouble selling records later in life (Nelson being one of the few exceptions).

As I have noted before, the music business is all about selling image as well as music.  In the old days, it was album covers and liner notes that clued us into what image the band was trying to sell.  Things like punk rock or glam rock were more about attitude than about music, per se.  And we ate it up.

I recounted before how a friend of mine's daughter ran away from home at 14.  I tried to talk some sense into her, but to no avail.  One comment she made stayed with me, though - "I have my music, and that's what's important to me!"  It wasn't that she was a musician or a singer, but she had a list of favorite bands and songs around which she had built an identity - which we all do when we are at that age.  And I guess when you get older, you find less comfort in music and your identity isn't defined by what songs you listen to or what bands you follow.

But maybe age is part and parcel of the deal.  The baby boomers created Album-Oriented Rock FM - smoking pot and drinking beer while partying to the tunes.  But then they got older and started drinking cocktails and snorting coke - and going to the disco.  But eventually, they settled down and had kids and listened, in their BMWs, to the oldies station - or something called "Adult Contemporary" - music that wasn't challenging the system, but part of it.

And speaking of the system, I guess that is the ultimate culprit. Rock-and-roll was subverted to commercial and conservative causes.  Yesterday's heavy-metal rocker is today's alt-right fanatic.  The far right has co-opted rock-and-roll and even Donald Trump non-ironically uses gay disco music in his Nuremberg rallies.  Hard to believe that the music of teenage rebellion as well as peace-and-love is now the favorite of the intolerant and bigoted.  But there you have it.

I am not sure where I am going with this, but when I was a teenager, we thought that this stuff was permanent - part of the landscape.  I recall visiting the WOUR studios once - in a rickety old wooden house in Utica.  Sort of a letdown to what our expectations were.  I mean, the whole thing could have blown away in a storm.  It was not as permanent as we thought.

And I guess nothing really is.  We fret about conditions today, about the alt-right or the new wacky wing of the GOP.  But these things change, and indeed, change is what brought them to us.  The hippie movement had nary a decade in the sun.  The 1,000-year Reich lasted hardly longer.  Donald Trump won't live forever, and it doesn't seem like anyone would be his anointed successor - nor that he is inclined, like most dictators, to anoint one.

This goes beyond politics - it also encompasses business models.  People think Twitter or Facebook are forever things.  We thought the same thing about AOL - who at one time bought Time-Warner.  Within a few years, the were gone - people moved on to "the next big thing!"  I'm not saying Facebook's days are numbered, only that something else will eventually come along.  We thought GM was a permanent part of the landscape.  But post-bankruptcy, they are a different company - no longer having myriads of parts divisions or building cars in Europe.  Today, they are a truck company - and making money at that.  And they were making money at that, too, right before the previous bankruptcy.  Things can change in a hurry.

Album-Oriented Rock lasted maybe ten years, tops, before it became co-opted by commerce.

FM isn't gone - just changed.   Today it is all talky-talk radio and I don't listen to it anymore, because I can stream music with few interruptions, or if I pay $5 a month, none.  I can also listen to my own music that I own (or, ahem! borrowed) on my phone or dongle or whatever.  In a few short years, cars went from having an optional AM radio, to having an AM/FM/Cassette standard, to, well, today where many cars don't even bother with CD players anymore.

It seems the only thing constant is change.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Getting Baked!

Our generation was taught to make everything on top of the stove.  But the oven is not only better, it is easier.

I noted in an earlier posting that Cook's Country has some great cooking tips (and some crappy subscription services).  That is one reason I cannot fathom this whole "I don't know how to cook!" movement, at a time when cookbooks, cooking shows, cooking channels, cooking YouTube videos, and cooking magazines are so prevalent and popular.  But then again, maybe that is the problem - everyone wants to watch or read about cooking, but not actually do it.  These are the so-called "Foodies" - people who love to eat, provided someone else does the cooking, preferably a chef at a restaurant.

Bacon has also become wildly popular in recent years.  Yes, when I was a kid, frying up a slab of Oscar-Meyer bacon was a messy chore that left your kitchen a haz-mat cleanup area.   Today we have all sorts of gourmand bacons to choose from - thick, thin, peppered, spiced, smoked and dipped in maple syrup.  What's more, you can buy bacon pre-cooked and even pre-crumbled in packages that may not even require refrigeration, until opened.  We live in bacon utopia.

Back in the 1970's, we had something called Bac-o-bits, which were a chemical concoction that tasted like industrial waste and had a texture that was not of this planet.  They were laced with salt and I am sure some monosodium glutamate.   That was "out there" bacon back in the 1970's when better living through chemistry was going to save our modern lives.

Anyway, getting back to baking.  Cook's Country did an article about bacon, and they suggested that instead of frying it on the stovetop, to put it on a cooking sheet (the kind with edges on it) lined with parchment paper and then bake it.  Parchment paper sounds like a recipe for an oven fire, until you realize it won't burn until Fahrenheit 451, so if you keep the temperature below that, not a problem.

Turns out, there are a lot of things you can bake in the oven rather than fry on the stovetop.  Mark likes to slice aubergine very thin and place them on a cooking sheet (again with parchment paper) and some olive oil and seasonings, and let them crisp in the oven until they are like potato chips.  Speaking of potato chips, this works for potatoes, too.

The other morning, we indulged ourselves in one of my unhealthy treats - corned beef hash.  I remember vividly when I was four years old, in Rochester, New York, my Dad proposing that we have corned beef hash for dinner, as Mother was tired of cooking and Dad was going to take command of the kitchen, open a can of what looked like dog-food and fry it on the stove.  The appearance and taste wasn't what set me off, though.  The term "corned beef" in my four-year-old mind was somehow wrong.  They were putting corn in the beef?  Somehow "corning" it?  That's just not right!  so I threw a four-year-old full-bore fit, at which point, I think the entire family realized that three kids would have been plenty enough.

Anyway, I tried it, and in a Green-eggs-and-ham moment, liked it.  It is, of course, not health food, particularly with a fried egg on it.  But it is also a mess to make on the stove, splattering and spitting all over the place.  And the texture can be a little mushy unless you cook it forever, at which point it instantly burns to a crisp.

I digress, but "hash" in general was made in the old days by grinding up leftovers and maybe throwing a few ingredients with it, and frying it in a "spider" (or in Maine, "Spy-Da!") which is a cast-iron skillet.  Red Flannel Hash, for example, adds beets to ordinary corned beef hash.  Others will take a corned-beef-and-cabbage dinner leftovers from the night before and just grind it up and heat it.  Sausage hash is another unhealthy treat.  We were driving through rural Georgia and saw signs for "Fred's Famous Sausage Hash" and I kick myself for not stopping and buying some.  I am sure it was good.

Anyway, getting back to baking, you put that in your Spy-Da and place that in the oven, and you end up with a crispy treat.  Only a billion heart-clogging calories, too!

Many folks don't like to use the oven - it takes too long to heat up and is a bitch to clean (dollar tree oven cleaner makes short work of it, although the fumes are pretty nasty).  The toaster oven is a good alternative, and many are huge today and even have rounded backs to accommodate the Spy-Da.  And while everyone is agog over the "air fryer" many toaster ovens already have this feature, which blew hot air over the food with a small fan.  Apparently, this is now a "thing" and people are rushing out to buy $199 "air fryers" when the $49 toaster oven does basically the same thing.

Oh, but an "air fryer" is oh-so-trendy, and a "toaster oven" is what your grandma uses to set the rest home on fire.  But I digress.  Yet again.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Getting Organized

When you retire, you finally get a chance to organize your life...

You know the routine, if you have a "job" or are even self-employed.  You get up in the morning, hit the "snooze" button on the alarm clock, wake up a hour later and realize you are late for work.  You rummage through the closet for something to wear - so much seems outdated or doesn't fit.  You find a shirt that is sort of clean and throw it on, grab some sort of donut-bar and a cup of coffee and rush out the door.

It is all-too-easy to fall into a trap - the Salaryman Trap - where you have "no time" to take care of yourself, your finances, or your things.  So you send out for pizza when you come home exhausted.  And since you were late for work, you don't have time to make a lunch, so you spend twenty bucks at some crowded, unsatisfying restaurant near work. Your health deteriorates as a result, and your finances, too.

Of course, not everyone does this.  There are some folks who have their shit together and realize that it is the little things that make the difference between life being grand and being a grind.  And getting off the "I'm so busy!" and "I'm so tired!" bandwagon is a start. We might not think we have "time" to manage our finances and spending, but the reality is, most people have plenty of time, but prefer to indulge themselves with four hours of television and a delivery pizza.  Let's face it, which is more fun, that or balancing your checkbook?

We all have regrets in life - even those of us who claim not to have regrets.  And one thing I do regret is not taking better care of myself, in terms of physical and fiscal health - which can be somewhat related.   As I noted in a recent posting, it is tempting to treat yourself with some tasty tidbit, whether it is a high-calorie snack or a high-dollar purchase.  The initial rush wears off quickly, though, and the long-term effect - on our health and wallet - makes us feel like shit.  So we go back to the crack pipe, so to speak, for another hit of junk food or junk shopping, just to try to recapture that dopamine rush.  It is, in no small way, akin to drug addiction.  In fact, it is the exact same thing.

This is why I rail against the television and the poor normative cues it presents.  The TeeVee wants you to be depressed, because depressed people are excellent consumers as I have noted time and time again. But only recently did I figure out how this works - how buying things and eating crap food gives us that dopamine rush, just as it does for drug addicts and alcoholics.

When you crash-land in retirement-land, it is akin to surviving a plane crash.  The money train comes to an abrupt halt, and you realize (or should realize) that this is all you got left.  You rummage through the wreckage of your tattered 401(k) plan, trying to figure out how long you can survive on those limited rations. Suddenly, it seems that things you took for granted, when you were flying high, were ridiculously obscene.  You make a new friend out of a soccer ball, named "Wilson".

My parents went through this before me.  I recounted before how my Dad dug a jacket out of the closet that I had used as a paperboy back in 1973.  It was bright yellow and I had bought it intentionally so that the snow-plow drivers would see me during the morning blizzards.   It was now 30 years old and my Dad started wearing it.  "This fits great!" he said.  And I guess, since he paid for it, it was his to wear. But stuff like that happens when you retire - you suddenly start to make use of things that in a previous life, you would have discarded.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with clothes.  I was never a clothes-horse or interested in fashions and styles, in fact finding all of that to be a lot of phony marketing bullshit.  I mean, what better way to sell someone something they don't need, other than to tell them their serviceable clothing is now hopelessly "out of style."  And people buy into this, too.  A friend in Atlanta told us that "no one wears pleated pants, anymore!" as if we were country bumpkins who were embarrassing him in front of his real friends.  We don't hang with him anymore, to say the least.

That being said, clothing accumulates.  I found myself with a closet full of t-shirts - the new uniform of our generation.  You go to a park, or a venue, or a tourist attraction, and they sell you the t-shirt.  There is an event going on, and they print t-shirts for it, and often these are given away for free.  We get so many "EVENT STAFF" shirts leftover from island events, but I feel weird wearing them, as if I am trying to pass myself off as a cop or something.

Anyway, I decided, a week ago, to go through all these clothes and toss out the stuff that doesn't fit, isn't comfortable, has weird slogans on it, was worn out, or I just don't wear.  I could cut off the scratchy neck tags and iron-on the old name tags my Mother bought over 50 years ago.  These come in handy, as there are so many shirts today that are "tagless" but have a label printed on the inside of the neck. Problem is, this printing wears off, and you end up putting the shirt on backwards half the time.  No more!

The end result you see is above - I finally have my t-shirts organized!  It is a small victory, but an important one.  For starters, I still have too many damn t-shirts.  I am trying to wear them all, rather than the same one or two, all the time.

My other hobgoblin was the sock drawer.  Let's face it, socks suck.  At Christmas, your parents would always give you socks as a present, which is nice and all, but not really a "present" per se.  I mean, if you want to have kids, that's great.  Feeding and clothing them is part of the deal.  So taking something that is a baseline parental responsibility and claiming it is a "gift" is kind of cheeky.  Besides, as a kid, you see this brightly-wrapped present and tear it open, hoping it is a Gameboy, but get socks, instead. What a letdown! Even worse, you try so hard to not look disappointed.  But no one believes it when you say, "Gee, socks!  Just what I wanted!" because at that age, you just as soon go barefoot.

But I digress.

Our sock drawer was jammed full of socks, all bundled in there willy-nilly. Need a pair?  Start digging!  As a result, the same few pairs end up being worn over and over again.  Worse yet, half the drawer was full of "little people" socks.  I have a size 13EEE shoe and Mr. See has a size 8.  We wear different socks, other then the Dickies (which are still my favorite).   The problem with being disorganized is that you don't realize what you have and if you own something but can't find it (or forgot you had it) it is like not owning it at all.  This sometimes results in duplicate or triplicate purchases of the same item, which is just wasteful.

So, anyway, I went through the sock drawer, which took only about an hour or so.  I threw everything in the washer (which filled it!) and as they came out of the dryer, I sorted them by size, color, and brand, throwing away the worn-out stuff.  We had quite a few "dress socks" from our working days.  I am not sure we need to keep those, or at least not keep them in the sock drawer.  Dollar tree sells nice little organizers - for a dollar - that can hold these rarely-used items.   One bonus was that I discovered we have a short version of the Dickies socks, which I didn't realize we had and come in handy for this warmer weather.

At least now, I can find my socks!

Was it a stupid waste of time?  Maybe, maybe not.  One reason the sock drawer was stuffed to overflowing was that we kept buying more socks, convinced that we didn't have "any good pairs" when in fact we had tons, but they were just inaccessible.  We literally have a lifetime supply at this point.

Of course, the process is not over.  I already went through the underwear drawer.  I need to go through my Hawaiian shirts and discard some of those that are worn, have holes, or no longer fit.  And there are some dress pants and suits that need to go away, as well as dress shoes that haven't been worn in years.  Why do we save this crap?   Oh, right, we paid "good money" for it, and cannot bear to throw any of it away.

When we are younger, we view owning a lot of "things" as a sign of wealth or luxury.  In almost every movie that portrays a wealthy woman, there is a scene in her walk-in closet where they show the racks and racks of shoes the woman owns.  Apparently, to a lot of women, this is akin to the trope of the aluminum suitcase full of $100 bills.  But if you think about it, it is kind of dumb.  You can never wear all those shoes, and owning them provides no enjoyment in and of itself, other than to show-off your shoe collection to intimidate other women.  Sadly, a lot of middle-class people get drawn into this nonsense, convinced they can afford the walk-in closet full of shoes, at least metaphorically speaking, when they really can't.

What is interesting about retiring and getting older is how you want less in life.  Owning a house seems like a swell deal and touted as "The American Dream" by deceptive politicians (I am being redundant).  But the reality is, you learn after a lifetime, that a house is just a series of expenses, and like with a car, the more expensive the house is, the more you pay for these expenses.  A fancy roof with lots of valleys and features seems keen (the vaunted "rich people's roof" as I call it) but when it comes time to replace it, you may be chagrined to learn it will cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace - money you may not have or want to spend.  Twenty grand buys a lot of fun, but not a lot of roof.  Suddenly, a one-bedroom condo seems more appealing than ever.

Compounding this is the "sea of crap" effect we see all-too-often on retirement island.  People start to drown in the junk they collect.  As a retiree, you don't want to "waste money" so you become more reluctant to throw things away, which leads to nascent hoarding.   We've been to many an estate sale or have helped neighbors pack up to move, and it is sad to see all the crapola they've been unable to part with over the years.  Jars of rusty nails, or an old fry pan with a broken handle (that they long ago replaced with a new pan).  It isn't that they are "poor" but that they get in this mindset that throwing things away is "wasteful".

I desperately want to downsize and simplify my life.  I find things that I have kept and it horrifies me.  Old pairs of glasses from a decade ago that make me dizzy when I put them on.  Why on earth would I be saving those?  The list goes on forever, it seems.

Fortunately, I have one thing on my side (or at least think I do, the almighty has the final word on these deals) - time.  I try to make a "project" every day to clean and organize some small corner of my life, to "tidy up" and throw away something or some things.  It isn't really "boring" as you might think, but actually liberating.  Because when you are done organizing, you realize you have things you forgot you had, and that an area of your life is now neat and more usable.  It is a way of preventing learned helplessness from setting in - by doing something to alter your environment.

Now, to organize my tool chest!  Ugh!

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Where to Retire

Modern Retirement has existed for only about 50 years or so.  Many folks are still figuring it out.

A reader writes that many people choose to retire in high-tax areas "up North" to be close to family, and that moving to Sun City Arizona or The Villages in Florida can backfire, as your kids and grandkids won't come to visit very often.  I suspect many move to these places for that very reason - to get away!.

But she has a point.  We see, all the time here on "retirement island" the trend for people to move "back home" to be "closer to the kids" as they get old and infirm.  The children and grandchildren all have jobs and responsibilities and can't fly down or drive six hours to visit Mom and Dad on a regular basis.  When you get halfway into dementia or break your hip, you might want to have someone around who you can trust, to take care of you.

For me, this is not an issue.  My parents are in Arlington.... Cemetery.  And so are Mark's.  My siblings are all older than I am and will likely predecease me.   And no offense, I don't feel close to any nieces or nephews to trust any of them, particularly the ones with criminal records.

But for others, moving "back" to be near "family" is a thing, and I suspect about half the people we've known on the island here have or will do so.  The other half either die here or go to an assisted living center on the mainland or on an adjoining island.  With a few, a family member actually moves nearby and they move in with them.

As I noted before, however, the whole concept of retirement is a post-war conceit, and one that really only came into being in the 1960's and 1970's.  So it is only about 50 years old.  It was only after the war that people started living long enough to retire, and thus collect on pensions and social security.  Plus, retirement age for many companies was lowered at that point - you could be "vested" in a pension in as little as 20 years, which was convenient as that was about the age you were forced in an "early-out" to retire, as the economy crumbled.

It was in the 1960's that "retirement communities" started to spring up and Florida turned into a retirement haven, followed by Arizona.  I watched a documentary on Netflix about South Beach, Miami.  It was a collection of old Art Deco hotels from the 1930's that fell upon hard times, as the new hotels (like the Fountainbleu) opened up.  Old folks from New York City (mostly Jewish) settled in these cheap hotels on South Beach, because you could live there for only a few hundred a month.

Of course, that was then.  Today, that whole area has been turned into a nightmare of nightclubs and high-end hotels and apartments - and gridlock "cruising" almost every night.   I have no desire to go back there anytime soon!  I mean, it was fun to go and all - and stay in Gloria Estfan's hotel and gorge on Cuban food and stone crab....

But slowly, one by one, the orange groves were plowed under to make retirement communities - everything from trailer parks to "over-55" park model communities, to planned communities such as The Villages (which did start out as a trailer park - today you can buy a multi-million-dollar home there).  People started retiring with fat pensions and social security at an age where they were too young for the nursing home, or even shuffleboard.  You could sell your house "up north" and take out enough cash to buy nicer house with a pool, in Florida.  Many did.

Over time, however, the economics have changed.   The price of housing in Florida has gone up, to the point where you could spend more on a house in Florida than what you would get for your place "up north" - unless you want to move further and further inland.  All the good spots are taken.  And as property taxes have gone up, the equation has changed even moreso.

Others have taken to the road as "full-timers" in RVs, only to discover that can be more expensive than owning a home in one place.  Often they end up "landing" somewhere, and that somewhere ends up being a run-down trailer park.  There are no easy answers.

Of course, many retirees, particularly women, want to be near their families so they can dote over these magical creatures they call "The Grands!" or grandchildren.  It is a second bite at the parenting apple, and a chance to spoil kids that they don't have to care for on a daily basis. As I noted before, many of these old folks use this as an opportunity to subvert their own children's parenting efforts and will run down their own children in the presence of the grandchildren.  What sort of mixed-message does a kid get when Grandma tells them their own mother is an incompetent?   Sorry, but I have little patience for meddling grandmas - or grandpas who buy the kids the Playstation that Mom and Dad said they couldn't have.  But I digress.

There are no easy answers, which is one reason we have "stayed put" where we are.  We travel by RV and visit places all over the country and have yet to find a place better in all respects than where we are now.  Florida has nice weather - but not in August - but also has too many people and much higher property taxes.   Up North is nice in the summer, but geeze, I'm done with snow for a lifetime after getting up at 4AM to deliver newspapers in 10-below-zero weather.   The West is nice, but the blazing sun in Arizona will literally melt your car.  I guess the RV thing, for now, has been the best of both worlds - allowing us to see parts of the county when they are at their best and most comfortable.

But when I get old and infirm, there is no "moving back" to be "close to family" as there is no family to move back to.   It is a scary proposition, in some regards, but life is kind of scary and unpleasant in parts, particularly the last parts.  Hey, why do you think in those horror movies, the monsters are usually shown as creaky old people?  Because getting old is indeed the scariest thing we will experience!

And of course, even if you have "family" that is "back home" - do they really want you moving back?  I've seen this play out both ways. I recounted recently a friend who should be selling her three homes and moving into the in-law suite her daughter built for her.  The daughter wants to "take care" of Mom, but Mom still wants her "independence" whatever that means (freedom to fall and break your hip and have your cats eat your face, I guess).

Others are not so luckyI recounted before a friend "up north" who tried to help his spendthrift Mother, putting new tires on her old car and paying off her credit card debts and getting her into Senior housing.  The next week, Mom shows up in a new (used) sports car she bought from friendly buy-here-pay-here motors.  "Mom, you could have at least let me take the tires I bought you off the old car - I need them for my Volvo!"

Turns out, his many siblings (practicing Catholic family) wanted nothing to do with Mom, as she was (a) quite crazy, (b) a total spendthrift, and (c) utterly manipulative.  She would place herself in positions of peril (usually economic) and then plead for her offspring to bail her out.  Most got tired of it rather quickly.  If you see a friend or family member about to drive their car off a cliff, make sure you are not in the back seat!

Of course, it is hard to see a family member drive off a cliff, but on the other hand, my experience has been they think they know what they are doing - and think you, in fact, are the one driving off the cliff!  So better off to let them do their own thing, most of the time.

So, what is the answer?  Beats me. There isn't one. What works for one person doesn't work for another.  Moving back to be close to your kids (or retiring there) is great, if you like your kids and they like you.  For others, it may be more economical (and more fun) to move elsewhere.  Some end up snowbirding - spending half the year near their family, and then moving down to a retirement community after Christmas to play golf.  If you live near Orlando, the kids might actually come to visit, too!

But in a way, for me, it is liberating not to have to deal with "family" in making my life-choices and decisions.  Yes, we visit Mark's brother in Florida on occasion, and plan on seeing them this summer in Maine.  But quite frankly, they get sick of us after a few days, so we try to keep the visits brief and fun. And since they are older than both of us, it is unlikely they could "take care" of us down the road, and in fact, quite the opposite is more likely.

In the meantime, well, we try to enjoy ourselves.  Speaking of which, time for a bike ride and picnic!  I have such a hard life!

Is AP Biased Against Electric Vehicles?

Today, I found out that "AP" stands for "Amalgamated Petroleum"

AP NEWS, May 23, 1901 - PITTSFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich.  - On the outside, the gasoline powered Ford wagon looks much like its wildly popular horse-drawn version. Yet the resemblance is deceiving. With its new gasoline-powered wagon, Ford is making a costly bet that buyers will embrace a vehicle that would help transform how the world drives.

Branded the F-100, the wagon will be able to travel up to 300 miles per tank of gasoline, thanks to a frame designed to safely hold a huge gas tank. Going from zero to 30 mph will take just 14.5 seconds.

With a starting price near $4,000 (before options), Ford has calculated that a gasoline version of America’s top-selling wagon will appeal to the sorts of buyers who favor rugged wagons prized for strength and durability. If it succeeds, it could speed the nation’s transition away from horse-drawn wagons— a cornerstone of President McKinley's broad effort to solve the manure problem on the nation's streets.

“It’s a watershed moment to me,” Ford CEO Henry Ford said of the gasoline-powered wagon, which was formally unveiled Wednesday night. “It’s a very important transition for our industry.”

For the McKinley administration to prevail in its push for horseless-driven manufacturing, it will need to overcome resistance as well as skepticism. Critics fear the loss of jobs in a shift away from horse-drawn vehicles. Because gasoline-powered vehicles do not require horses, scores of buggy-whip makers, as well as manufacturers of saddles and other tack - not to mention the proprietors of stables and farms, may be put out of business.

For its part, Ford is taking a significant risk by sinking so much capital into an horseless version of a wagon that commands a huge and loyal following. In a typical year, Ford sells about 100,000 horse-drawn wagons nationally. It has been America’s top-selling vehicle for nearly four decades.

Horse-drawn wagons are staples on job sites across the nation, where workers haul equipment and materials and often don’t see a need for change. So it could be years before Ford realizes a return on its investment in a gasoline-powered wagon. This year, through April, the company has sold only 1,000 of its new gas-gasoline-powered wagons - just over 6% of the Ford's total sales.

Ford said 2,000 people had put down $10 deposits to order the new gasoline-powered wagons as of Thursday morning.

Still, introducing a capable horseless wagon at a fairly reasonable price could potentially produce the breakthrough that draws many more people to gasoline-powered vehicles of all sizes, said Ivan Drury, a senior editor at Edmond's Carriage Review.

“If you’re going to choose one vehicle in the industry that’s going to do it, this is going to be the one,” Drury said. “I expect this to be a home run, and I expect it to really convert a lot of consumers’ minds.”

At the same time, the gasoline-powered wagon, due in showrooms by the middle of next year, comes at a time when American drivers remain reluctant to jettison horse-drawn vehicles. Through April, automakers sold about 8,000 gasoline-powered vehicles in the U.S. Though that’s nearly twice the number from the same period last year, horseless carriages still account for only 2% of U.S. vehicle sales, according to Edmond's.

In addition to the F100, though, the growing number of horseless offerings will help raise sales numbers. Automakers now sell 18 horseless carriage models in the U.S.; Drury expects 30 by year’s end.

To be sure, Ford won’t stop building horse-drawn wagons for years. They remain an enormous cash cow. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that the horse-drawn Ford wagon generates $2 million in annual U.S. revenue for the automaker — more than such entire companies as Automat, Brown Shoe, or Bell Telephone do.

Initially, Ford expects F100 customers to be mainly higher-income urban and suburban residents who seldom go off road or use wagon beds to haul anything heavy. But the company plans a commercial version designed to make work more efficient. Ultimately, Farley expects sales to be evenly balanced between work and personal buyers.

But Ford may have a hard time selling it to people who build houses, maintain lawns or haul cargo.

“It sounds good, but it’s not good for the type of business I’m in,” said Jimmie Williams, owner of a landscaping firm on Chicago’s South Side. He doesn’t think the gas tank will have enough range to last the 12-14-hour days his crews sometimes work maintaining about 700 properties.

He’ll stick with his three horse-drawn wagons, in part because he hauls cargo in the winter, when cold weather can make gasoline engines hard to start.

Others aren’t ready now but might be convinced to switch in the future.

“Maybe when I’m retired,” quipped Steven Realy, a foreman for a subcontractor at a housing development in Pittsfield Township, Michigan.

Realy, 28, whose company uses Ox-drawn wagons to carry equipment and building materials, doesn’t think a gasoline-powered wagon will do the job now but maybe in the future.

“When gasoline takes off more than what it is right now,” he said, “I could see myself owning one, definitely.”

Yet it may be difficult to persuade some people to give up the big horse-drawn wagons they’re used to.

“I like my four-horse team,” Anthony Lane, a 26-year-old plumber in the same development, said from the driver’s seat of his gleaming Studebaker wagon.

Even the base version of the horseless F100, with two rows of seats and a 230-mile estimated range per tank of gasoline, can haul up to a ton in its bed. A high-end model equipped with a larger gas tank can tow an estimated 10,000 pounds, matching many Ox wagons, though falling about 3,000 pounds shy of them.

Competition for the F100 is looming. Studebaker says it’s working on a gasoline-powered wagon, and the Dodge Brothers claim to be working on one as well.

All will face an inevitable obstacle in seeking buyers: brand loyalty. Wagon drivers often stick with one company for life. Sometimes, they choose a brand because it’s been in the family for years, if not generations.

“I’m not a Ford guy,” said Lane, the plumber. “I've driven Studebaker Wagons my whole life.”

Once Studebaker comes out with a gasoline-powered wagon, though, Lane might consider a change.

“I’ll probably stick with the horses,” he said. “But if they ever fully switch over to a gasoline-powered wagon, I’ll probably get the Studebaker one.”

(c) 2021 Fun with cut-and-paste, inc.

* * *

The article above is word-for-word from a recent AP "News" article, with a few words changed, such as "electric" to "gas" and "truck" to "wagon".   Other than that, it reads like the naysayers of the gasoline engine at the turn of the previous century.  Gas-powered buggies!  Who would bother when horses are so reliable and there is a stable on every corner!   And where would you get this "gasoline" anyway?  The only place who carries it is the local pharmacy!  Dagnabbit!

What I liked about the article was how the "reporter" decided that the right person to interview was a couple of yahoos who own a landscaping business or  worked as a plumber.  And yes, a 300-mile range certainly isn't enough for a landscaping business, right?  I mean, after all, you drive at least 400-500 miles a day for that!

Oh, wait.  300 miles a day alone would take about five hours of driving - leaving little time left over for landscaping.  I suspect that the typical landscaper probably drives less than a 100 miles a day, if that.  And oh boy, wait until he finds out that the future of lawn equipment doesn't involve gasoline, either.  Lithium-Ion powered lawn mowers, weed-wackers, edgers, and blowers are the wave of the future.  And no, recharging isn't an issue, as the battery packs can be removed and swapped out.

In construction, this already is the case.  Time was, people hammered nails into sheetrock, but that was replaced by the sheetrocking screw and the electric screwgun.   That was 40 years ago.  Today, they use battery-powered screwguns, because it is so much easier to deal with than all those extension cords.  All sort of battery-powered tools abound today, often replacing their plug-in or air-powered counterparts.  When something is cheaper and easier to use, well, it takes over.  You can't fight progress.  It is pointless.

Electric tools for yardwork are making real inroads for homeowners right now.  I've gone through maybe two or three gasoline-powered chainsaws in my life - most given to me by friends.  As a homeowner, I rarely use them, and when I want to use them, well, the gasoline has turned to mud and the spark plug is fouled.   An electric chainsaw, on the other hand, works great for occasional use.  Eventually, they may supplant the gasoline kind, but it will take years.

Similarly, gasoline-powered weed-eaters were a pain-in-the-ass to start, and the electric kind so much cheaper and easier to deal with - for homeowners.   A commercial version, however, can't be far away.  My neighbor uses an electric lawnmower, and my next (and last) lawnmower will likely be electric as well.  Another neighbor uses a robotic lawnmower.  Hmmmm..... the job of "landscaper" might go away, or morph into real landscaping and not just running over your grass with a zero-radius machine.

But electric cars?  Trucks?  Already on the scene.  And the skepticism of them might have been a "story" five or ten years ago, but today it is just a tired old trope.  Range anxiety?   Running out of charge is really no different than running out of gas.  If you remember to put gas in your car - or charge your EV - it isn't an issue.  Yet the media hypes this out of proportion - which becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy as people then become anxious after reading these stories.

A friend bought a Lithium-Ion powered golf cart.  A nice piece of equipment!  But they were worried, from the get-go that it would "run out" of power.  I told them it would easily go around the island on one charge (which it will) and so long as they plug it in when they get home, they will never have a problem.  It took them a while to overcome this media-induced fear, but they realize now, it was overblown.

Sadly, stories abound, from the days of lead-acid batteries, of electric vehicles going bust.  A friend of mine refused to replace the five-year-old lead-acid batteries in his golf cart with predictable results - it left him stranded.  A new set (about $500) and you can buzz around the island all day long.  People remember things like that, and don't bother to learn about other possibilities.

Lithium-Ion batteries last a long time (the life of the vehicle) and yet I have had people tell me knowingly that "you have to replace them after five years and they are expensive!"  Yet when a ten-year-old Prius was compared to its brand-new sibling, it was found the batteries were degraded by only 5% or so.   A lot of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) is being spread around, concerning electric vehicles, and it is hard for the average person to discern what is real and what is made-up.  The Associated Press isn't helping with click-bait crapola like this.

Do electric vehicles make sense?  That depends on your application and situation, not politics or Joe Biden. Another thing that irks me about this article is that it pitches electric vehicles as a "green" initiative and not just technology whose time is rapidly coming.  If Ford didn't introduce this truck, a competitor would.  And no, EV sales are not a big part of the market right now, but every manufacturer on the planet is convinced they will be, and not in the too-distant future.

If the USA decides that EVs are no good and opts out, it makes no difference.  It would only mean that we would fall behind the rest of the world, as our European and Asian competitors in the global marketplace are going "all in" on this technology.  And playing catch-up will be hard to do, down the road.  We got lucky with Jets - letting the British take the lead there, while we dicked around for a decade with old WWII piston designs.  Fortunately, first to market is often last in the marketplace, which reminds me, what ever happened to Elon Musk's weird-shaped pickup truck?  And what happens when Ford and GM don't need Musk's carbon credits anymore?  Hmmmm.....

Until recently, the cost of EVs was such that they made no economic sense for most people.  Even a hybrid was sort of a money-losing proposition, with payback periods measured in decades.  But of course, the hybrid was a costly short-term solution to the problem.  Hybrids cost more than EVs in part because they incorporate two drivetrains - gasoline and electric - and when you ditch one or the other, costs drop dramatically.

The new Ford "Lightning" costs less (base price) than I paid for my five-year-old used F150 "Ecoboost" which itself is a technological tour-de-force, but incredibly complicated, in order to squeeze the last bit of horsepower out of an IC engine. As electric vehicles become more and more popular, and volumes increase, prices will come down, just as they did with early horseless carriages and early computers.

Gas-buggies in the early days were staggeringly expensive - costing more in dollar amount that a luxury car would cost today.  Factor in inflation, and they cost more than a house, today.   By the early 1900's, Henry Ford had dropped the price to under $365. Gas stations and repair outlets were few and far between, early on.  With in a few years, Standard Oil put an end to that problem.  Once a critical mass of users was created, the whole system took off.

This will take some time for electric vehicles.  Wiring your house to charge an electric car (preferably with a 220V outlet) costs a little money, but over time, more and more houses will have it - just as my great-grandfather ran electric wires through the gas pipes in his house to "electrify" it in the early 1900s.  Newer houses will be built with charging stations built-in.

Will gasoline-powered vehicles go away entirely?  Probably not, but there will reach a knee-bend in the curve where they become more and more impractical except for specific needs. Gas stations across the country changed their service bays to convenience marts as cars became more reliable (and the number of gas stations decreased).  Similarly, there will reach a point where gasoline sales decrease to the point there gasoline becomes more expensive to make, due to limited demand, and the number of gas stations becomes fewer and fewer. It will simply be less economical and practical to own a gasoline-powered car at that point.  If you doubt this, take a look at what is happening to diesel - the diesel car is rapidly going by the wayside, a victim of high-efficiency gasoline engines and expensive diesel fuel.

Of course, all of this isn't happening next year, or even the year after.  But change is coming, and many folks are uneasy about change - which they say is what drove Brexit and lead to the worldwide movement toward conservative leadership.  Others decry the government as "picking winners" in the marketplace by promoting electric vehicles, through tax incentives and other inducements.  That sounds wholly unfair until you look at how the horseless carriage was subsidized over the years by our government.

We lease out government lands (and offshore rights) to oil companies for cheap, in order to satiate our need for fuels.  We build highways, roads, and bridges to handle all this automobile traffic.  We allow for enormous pipelines across government lands to pump these fuels.  We got into bed with the auto and petroleum industries a long time ago, so decrying EVs on the grounds that they are being "favored" by the government is the ultimate in hypocrisy.  It is like Amund Bundy whining about losing his "right" to graze cattle on government land, free of charge.  I mean, we subsidize his business enough as it is, if he can't make it work, maybe the problem isn't the "Gub-ment."

I switched to the AP app from the MSN News app, but quite frankly, I am not sure one is much better than the other.  The problem, I think, is the quality of reporting today.  Too many "Newhouse Fags" out there who believe that reporting consists of barfing up social media posts, and then peppering it with "quotes" from "sources" - to promote an "angle" that you had before you even started writing the piece.  It isn't news, it is just drivel.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Is the AP Biased Against Israel?

Recent accusations against an AP reporter are not really half the story.

Recently, the far-right of the GOP went on a pitchfork-and-torch march against a young AP reporter who had only been working there for a few months.   Her crime was posting messages on her Twitter account that supposedly supported Palestinians.  No good ever comes of Twitter, does it?  The deal is, AP wants to appear to be "neutral" and thus doesn't want their reporters to "take sides" or express opinions in their social media.

When my phone died, I ordered a new (used) one on eBay for $80.   I decided not to load the MSN news app on it, as so much of the stuff on that site was just pure clickbait.  I just wanted impartial news.   AP seemed like a good choice, as after all, it is a wire service and just reports stories.   What is interesting about the app is that it doesn't update very often, which is to say, they don't feel the need to constantly barrage you with clickbait, or change the title of a story ten times, to get you to click on it.

The recent "war" in Gaza illustrated how they work, however.  The same story would be updated and expanded upon as the events progressed, with the opening paragraphs telling the latest "news" and as you read down further, you realize the rest of the story is just what they reported the day before - word-for-word.

Before this bruhahah about some obscure reporter's opinions, however, I got the feeling that AP was slanting the news just a wee bit.  Initially, they seemed to downplay the 4,000 rockets (four-thousand rockets - wrap your  head around that!) that Hamas was firing at Israel.  I mean, that is a major aerial assault.  Granted, Israel was able to intercept most, but that misses the point - this was a major act of war instigated by Hamas, not Israel.

To read the AP - at least initially - you would have thought it was the other way around.  Headlines were like, "Israel poised to invade Gaza!" or "Israel airstrikes kill civilians!"   You would think, reading this, that Israel, like Han Solo, shot first.  It wasn't until several days later that the AP would put in one sentence explaining that Hamas started the war by firing "a rocket".   And even that was qualified with the reasoning that they were sort of justified because of unrest and police action in Israel.  But I guess that's at least something.

Not only that, but every story seems to dwell, for at least a paragraph, on the "plight of the Palestinians" and how awful things are in Gaza since Hamas took power.  Bear in mind the Palestinians voted for these clowns or at the very least, let them take power. Hamas is brutally suppressing any dissent, political or otherwise, in that territory.  Rather than provide humanitarian aid to their residents, they spend what precious little resources they have building four-thousand rockets.

Four-thousand rockets.  You understand why there is a blockade of Gaza.   Hamas spends its energy on building tunnels to smuggle rocket components, as well as building and launching rockets.  And they place these facilities in civilian areas, often using schools, hospitals, residential districts and yes, even journalists' offices as "cover" or human shields.  Yet the AP reports Israel as the bad guy when civilian human shields are hurt or killed in airstrikes designed to dismantle this rocket program.

Worst of all, it seems the main story, from the AP's point-of-view is the destruction of their own offices. It was almost comical, reading the story where the AP talks about itself in the third person, griping about losing some computers, photocopiers, and printers.   Israel notified them well in advance of their intent to bomb this Hamas hideout, and no one was injured as a result.

Therein lies the problem for Israel. Hamas can launch four-thousand rockets (take that, Elon Musk!) and kill civilians and children. Then, they hide behind civilians and children, knowing full well that Israel will have to retaliate, which will then create the "optics" that Hamas wants, of dead and dying civilians and children, so they can paint Israel as the bad guy.

Bear in mind, too, that this latest batch of four-thousand rockets isn't the first or the last. Hamas regularly launches a rocket or two on a near-daily basis, just to harass and annoy Israel and try to goad them into responding. The AP rarely reports these.  It is a passive-aggressive game.  When Israel responds to this aggression, Hamas can paint itself as the "victim".

Oh, and where is Hamas getting its financial support?  From Iran. And Iran loves to stir the pot in the Middle East.  Chaos favors their "cause."

The problem with Gaza goes back decades. Yassir Arafat loved to keep his own people in "refugee camps" indefinitely, so he could trot them out as "victims of Israeli aggression" and raise money, which went into his Swiss bank account. Make no mistake about it, he was a first-class asshole.  Hamas is taking the same route - putting their own people in perpetual peril, and then claiming it is all Israel's fault as well as using their plight to shape public opinion and raise money abroad.

As with the Dali Lama, a lot of Americans just assume that the Palestinians are victims here - of Israel and not their own "government."   I know so many young people on the Left who have "Free Tibet" bumper stickers on their Subarus as a form of radical chic, but have no clue who the Dali Lama really is (not a vegan, not a nice guy, not taking a vow of poverty. He's also homophobic, and on the payroll of CIA).

It is akin to how many on the left supported the Ayatollah Khomeini when he was in exile.  The Shah was an evil man, to be sure, but the Ayatollah turned to be more of the same. Hamas and even the Palestinian Authority are no sweethearts, either. These folks are corrupt as all hell and line their pockets with "aid money."  Why would anyone support that?

Whatever the "answer" is to peace in the Middle-East, Hamas is not a part of it, nor do they want to be part of it.  Rather, they want to create and maintain chaos - a festering "issue" they can milk to stay in power.  It is akin to how the GOP and the Democrats bat the abortion issue across the net in a perverse game of Badminton.  No one wants the game to end, of course, because it is good for fundraising and get-out-the-vote. If someone actually won the game, then what would we do?

In a similar manner, it seems Netanyahu wasn't interested in "winning" against Hamas so much as he was interested in bolstering his fading poll numbers.  Yes, I know that sounds crass, but it is an old adage that whenever your political fortunes are failing, to declare war.  People don't change Presidents in the middle of a war, generally. And apparently it worked, although Biden's meddling in pushing for a cease-fire may have come too early.  Netanyahu is still facing an uphill battle, politically. Oh, and criminal corruption charges.

Of course, individual Palestinians are caught in a trap between these two political powers.  I am sure that most are not involved in these terrorists acts.  But then again, if you "go along" with Hamas or cheer when a suicide bomber kills some Israelis, are you really all that innocent?  Bear in mind that Israel is home to a number of "Palestinians" or Arabs who never left when Israel became a State.  In fact, they are quite a voting bloc in the Knesset. Palestinians talk about a "great return" to Israel and to the properties their parents and grandparents abandoned (just as many Israelis abandoned properties in Gaza) - yet some never left in the first place.

Nothing will change while Hamas - a terrorist organization - is running Gaza.  People seem to forget that.  The AP seems to have forgotten that.