Monday, November 29, 2021

Market Cap Means Nothing - Well, Maybe Something Bad!

The media loves to hype "market cap" as being some measure of a company's value. It isn't.

The pump-n-dump people are going wild lately.  You may recall I wrote about how the scheme works.  Years ago, a kid in New Jersey, not even old enough to drive, bought a list of a million e-mail addresses for a few dollars.  He then went and bought stock options on some obscure penny-stock that had a name that sounded technical - and similar to that of a major corporation making headlines.  He then sent out an "investment letter" to those millions of e-mail addresses, touting the stock.

The next day, some chumps - not many - spent a few hundred dollars each, buying these penny stocks.  The price doubled - from 15 cents to 30 cents - and he cashed in his options, making tens of thousands of dollars.  The day after, well, the stock price tanked and those idiots who followed his advice each lost a few hundred bucks.

Illegal? Hell yea.  But the SEC is understaffed and when they showed up at his door, with a fine of $25,000, his only comment was, "do you take a check?"  Because by then, he had made well over ten times that amount, playing this same con, again and again.  All his parents said was, "He does something up there in his room with computers.  Not sure what, but he says he's making money, so we leave him alone!"  Nice parents.

I received many of those e-mails back in the day (1990's) before there was such as thing as a SPAM filter.  It was kind of annoying. Yet, I recall at the time wondering, "Maybe I should..." - then I came to my senses.  Today, it is far less prevalent - by e-mail.  But Social Media offers a chance to hype stocks - anonymously - and reach an audience of millions, without even having to pay for a mailing list!   Sites such as Reddit allow you to set up "subreddits" hyping stocks - subreddits that you might even moderate, so you can delete any negative comments about your scheme.  Why doesn't the SEC clamp down on this?  Again, lack of resources.  And no one cares if some stupid chump spends $500 on Gamestop "Stonk" and loses it all.

Of course, I have digressed quite a bit from my topic.  Or have I?   You see, one of the stocks these "Stonk" promoters have been hyping is Sears Holdings and Sears Holdings Canada.  The stock is worth pennies, or in one case, a penny.   They mentioned the stock online and the price doubled overnight to two cents.

Now, forget for a minute about price ranges.  Sure, stocks like Tesla are like $1000 a share.  Usually when that happens, companies do a "stock split" to make the share price "more affordable" or so they claim.  It is a weird thing, because you can buy and sell a fraction of a share online, so share value, in terms of number range (pennies, dollars, hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars) is really pointless.  I could make a company with one share of stock that sells for a million dollars, with most people owning only a millionth of a share.  It is no different than having a million shares selling for a dollar each.

But there is perhaps something psychological going on here.  People look at a stock selling for 50 cents a share and think the company is worthless.  But if there are a Billion shares outstanding, well, it isn't entirely worthless,is it?  That doesn't mean it is worth a half-billion dollars, though.

Which brings us to today's topic - Market Cap.

When Sears Holdings (or whatever) went from a penny a share to two cents a share, does that mean the value of the company doubled overnight?  I ask this question as some folks are particularly dense when it comes to "Market Cap".  And folks in the media are often this dense - or this deceptive - as they love to use "Market Cap" to generate click-bait headlines.  And you've seen them all.  "Tesla is now worth more than Ford and GM combined!"  "Apple is worth more than the combined wealth of all the crowned heads of Europe!" (the latter not hard to do, lately).  Or take this recent one, "Lucid Motors now worth more than Ford!"

Um, really?  Again, "Market Cap" is measured by taking the number of outstanding shares and multiplying it by the price the last sucker paid for a share.  It doesn't mean all those shares are "worth" that much, as the recent sale of Musk's Tesla shares illustrate - even trying to cash out affects share price!  So we are told that a company that is just starting to ship cars hasn't sold a single car is worth more than Ford, even though it never has made a profit.  What's more, it's selling a sedan in an era of SUVs.  The car made Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" award, supposedly, but you know how I feel about those car mag awards (I wonder how much that cost?).  The company "went public" though a SPAC which means none of the finances were scrutinized by the SEC (or the investors) before going forward.

I mean, other than that, it sounds like a good deal, right?

The problem is, of course, that people are speculating - wildly - on stocks these days.  And these crazy Market Cap valuations are saying one thing to me - and very loudly - that we are on the cusp of a huge-ass bubble.

Now granted, Ford Motor Company, with its storied 100+ year history, worldwide collection of factories, parts makers, research centers, as well as a huge established dealer network, could all go away in a heartbeat.  We saw GM go bankrupt, and Chrysler go bankrupt - twice.  Hell, Chrysler doesn't technically exist anymore - now part of "Stellantis" (Fiat) after sleeping with Mercedes, Mitsubishi, and Renault (via AMC) in the past.  So yea, it is possible that Ford might be left behind in this new EV era, and these new companies - Tesla, Rivian, Lucid, Nikola (well, not Nikola) might replace them.

It is possible.  But as Tesla is learning, having an installed base of dealers, a parts network and so on and so forth, is sort of essential in creating an overall system of transportation.  Cars do not exist in a vacuum - they require a network of roads, fueling (charging) stations, parts supply, mechanics, and so on and so forth.  It's a transportation system, not just a car.  Tesla has been out ahead in installing charging stations (we have dozens here on our island, for Tesla and "other").  But even Tesla has fallen down a bit on the after-market service.

The major automakers are not sitting on their hands either - almost every automaker is pouring Billions of dollars into EV technology.  Ford just pledged $11 Billion into a new EV F150 plant and a battery plant in Kentucky.  Meanwhile, Lucid crows about having $488 million on hand.  See you and raise you $10.5 Billion.

Like with the railroad glut of the late 1800's, I suspect we may see an EV glut in the coming years, as there is a shakeout in the auto industry.  Worldwide, auto production capacity has exceeded demand by over 100% for decades, which is why, in part, GM went bankrupt and later abandoned its European holdings, and why Chrysler is part of Fiat/Stellantis now.  So far, Ford has gone it alone, which may be why its stock is so undervalued.

Yes, undervalued, with a P/E ratio of about 28, rising from as little as 11 earlier in the year (!!).  Lucid?  Losing about 50 cents a share so far.  They have to sell a lot of cars in a hurry to make things turn around.  And quite frankly, I think the Tesla Model S has the luxury end of the EV market sewn up right now.  In fact, that part of the market might be saturated.  Meanwhile, Tesla's SUV - which turned into a gull-winged disaster - illustrated that there is a demand for such vehicles and people are willing to endure a lot of crap to get one.

Which may be why Ford is selling the EV "Mustang" which is actually an SUV and apparently quite well made (compared to the Tesla Model X, anyway).  The point is, there is no "secret sauce" or as Warren Buffet likes to call it, a "moat" around EV production.  GM is going all-in on the EV Cadillac, forcing dealers to retool or retrain to sell EVs - or get out.  The market, which Tesla pretty much had to itself for many years, will soon by overflowing with EVs of various sorts.

Who will win, who will lose?  Hard to say, of course.  I am not in the prediction business since my time machine broke down.  It is possible - but not likely - that all of these startup companies will prosper and displace the old-line carmakers.   I suspect the reality will be that a few of them will succeed and one or more of the major car makers (worldwide) will fade away or merge with competition (as has been the trend before EVs came about).  The advantage GM, Ford, Stellantis, Toyota, Mercedes, BMW, etc. have is established factories, established Engineering staff, experience with making and selling vehicles, huge dealer networks, networks of parts suppliers and so on.

One critique of Tesla products is that while the electronics part is keen, the "car part" is sort of being done on the fly.  Things that are bread-and-butter to Toyota and GM, like fit-and-finish issues, as well as crash repair parts, warranty claims, and so forth, are all newbie problems to Tesla.  The interior of even the Model S pales in comparison to that of even an Audi.  And maybe early on, people would put up with that, to have the "latest and greatest" vehicle.

Like I said, a few years ago, down in Winter Park, Florida, I walked by some tony restaurant that had valet parking. Behind the velvet rope were parked a Bugatti, a high-end Porsche, and a Tesla.  Back then, it was an exotic.  Today, well, the Tesla would likely be parked around back.  Times have changed, and having an EV is no longer seen as a status symbol.  So I question Lucid getting into the "luxury" end of EV motoring, just at the point where Tesla has gone mid-market with its Model 3.

But like I said, there is an upside to crazy Market Cap valuations - they may be a sign that something is going on - something bad.  Maybe this Lucid company can jump into the fray and sell more cars than FoMoCo within a year or so - at a higher profit level as well.  And the supply of buyers for such vehicles will be endless and the market will not be saturated.  Or... maybe people are getting ahead of themselves here and the "retail" investor, reading about EVs online and wanting to jump on "The Next Big Thing!" is paying more than they should be, for stock in a company that hasn't shipped any cars yet  or even built a factory to make them.  In fact, it seems all they have done is build prototypes and raise money - much like Elio and Nikola.

But the market cap!  They have all this money!  They are worth so much!  No. Again, market cap is meaningless and doesn't represent any real wealth.  There is no billions, just the under half-billion they have on hand, and some assets.  Market cap is a mythical number based on the number of shares times the price the last chump paid in.  They don't have billions to spend or invest.  And quite frankly, I am not sure that a half-billion on hand is enough to roll out a new EV.  But, we'll see.

All I know is, I'm not gambling my future and my wealth on possibilities and what-ifs and long shot bets.  Because that is all it is - gambling.  And when you hear the media hyping "Market Cap" at best you are being click-baited.  At worst, you are being pumped-and-dumped.

When the marketplace turns into a casino, well, all bets are off!

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Non-College Careers

You don't have to go to college to be successful in life.  But that doesn't mean you don't have to hump, though.

I have a number of friends who never went to college - or dropped out early on - who are now retired and living quite comfortably.  Turns out, the dire predictions of what life would be like without college were largely untrue.  Yes, backward-looking statistics from the 1960's and 1970's show that you will make more money with a college degree - back in the 1960's and 1970's.  Today?  Well, factoring in the staggering cost of college these days, it isn't always a value proposition.

Take Jeff, for example.  He didn't want to go to college, or at the very least, not at the college his parents wanted him to go to.  Like most parents, they wanted him to go to a big "name" school, even though his grades were mediocre and his SAT scores were lacking.  I ran into this same deal - my Mother wanted me to apply at Harvard, when I had not even a snowball's chance in hell of getting in.  I think she had a vague idea of bragging to her friends at cocktail parties about her son at Harvard.

And let's get that out of the way right there - many parents do odious things in the name of their own status.  They pressure their kids into career paths that don't interest them (and for which they have no innate talent) simply so they can have bragging rights on the cul-de-sac.  I know of a lot of doctors and lawyers who entered the field at the urging of their parents, not because they necessarily wanted to.

Anyway, Jeff ended up at a Forestry school, which if he had graduated, would have qualified him for a comfortable government job and a pension, after working 30 years in the middle of nowhere.  It was a career path, but not one he wanted.  Likely had he graduated, he would not have ended up as a forest ranger anyway, as the school graduates more people in the field than there are jobs.

So, after a half a semester at school, he dropped out and went to work.  He got some odd jobs at first, working at the bank.  But he eventually started his own business doing home appraisals and inspections and eventually getting his real estate license.  He also snapped up some distressed properties and fixed them up, using his handyman skills, and sold them for a profit.

He did very well for himself, and now owns a winter house and a summer home - he is hardly poor and destitute or working some minimum-wage job at McDonald's - the nightmare scenario his guidance counselor and parents instilled in him.  In fact, he never worked at such jobs.  In fact, such jobs are a dead-end and a waste of time.  Sure, they are a means of earning money while you apply for a better job.  But the idea of a "living wage" on a dead-end job is just stupid.  Who wants to retire from McDonald's?  Who ever does?  No one!

Fred never went to college.  After High School and the Army, he got a job in the trades and worked his way up to owning his own HVAC and industrial design company.  It wasn't easy, of course - it required a lot of hard work and some humping.  But by the time he retired, he owned a house in the country - on 100 acres, as well as a vacation home down South, as well as some investment properties.  He hardly is poor, and is better off than a lot of college-educated people at the same point in life.

What's the common denominator of success?  Well, having some native intelligence, some skills, and a motivation to succeed.  College is fine and all - I spent 14 years there.  But it is not a guarantee of success.  In fact, it may be the opposite, as we promise an entire generation (or two, or three) that "if only" they borrow staggering sums of money to go to college to study nonsense, they will have cushy jobs like on The Office, where no real work is done, other than office gossip and back-biting.  And kids dumb enough to fall for this lie probably get what they deserve.  Sadly, it is often the parents, as I noted before, that push them into this stupidity.

And let's face it, a lot of parents, in addition to status reasons, want their kids to go to college just to get them out of the house.  They don't want some gun-collecting and ninja-sword wielding "gamer" living in their basement and biding his time until the next school shooting.  They want the kid launched and college seems like an easy out.  It kicks the can down the road for another four years, at least.

The one other thing that my non-college friends seem to have in common is that they get touchy about the fact they never went to college.  I suppose if you never went, you might feel you missed out on something.  You didn't.  Just imagine high school with dormitories.  Same shit, different day.  Kids being stupid, boring studies that often have little to do with what is going on in the world.  And few kids studying anything "hard" - with most of their time taken up with social grooming.

But for some reason, my non-college friends have a chip on their shoulder about college.  And I am not sure why.  Some of my college-educated friends make a fetish about their alma mater 20 or 30 or even 40 years after graduation.  They fly the school flag and root for the home team, even though they live a half-dozen States away and none of the people they knew from "back then" are around.  I guess some people are desperate for an identity in life.

I wouldn't be jealous of that!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

The Sad Joke of the Gig Economy

The recession of 2008 forced an entire generation to give up on their dreams.  I wonder what the next recession will bring?  Probably don't have to wait long to find out.

Stable economies are boring economies for the wealthy.  You would think the very wealthy would want a stable economy where "bank interest" was the norm, and loans were generally paid back at nominal interest rates.  You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.

Wild swings in the economy - from booming double-digit growth to sagging recession and even depression - allow a very few to make an awful lot of money in a short period of time.  Since you can "bet" on the economy using derivatives or futures, you can leverage a small bet into a big fortune, if you can time it right.  You can even make a fortune just by selling out in time.  I did.  Maybe not a fortune, but I managed to do well.  Joseph Kennedy sold out before the 1929 crash.  The folks who did "The Big Short" saw the writing on the wall about the 2008 crash.  A lot lose a little, a few win a lot.  

But beyond making money on stocks, these wild swings also are a way of enslaving millions.  During the boom times, you can snooker the small investor into betting on IPO stocks (that you are selling) or today, Bitcoin or "Stonks" that are hyped online.  Today it is getting so bad, that people are once again hyping penny stocks (quite literally!) such as Sears, which was selling for a penny a share until someone posted something online and it "soared" to 2 pennies a share - a 100% gain!  And the plebes buy into this.

When the crash comes, they become desperate for money.  First, they sell off all their stocks at a great loss.  Then, their house, their hobby cars and toys, and then their more intimate possessions, until they are left with nothing.  During the 2008 crash, people were cashing in their 401(k)'s to pay the mortgage on a house that would never be worth what they paid for it.  By the time the 401(k) was tapped out, the house was foreclosed upon and they were left with nothing - which is stupid, as that that 401(k) or IRA would be protected in bankruptcy!

But the plebes are not smart with money, which is why they remain plebes.  About the same time as all that went down, the idea of the "gig economy" or "side hustles" came to the fore.  Financial advisors would say things like, "Work that side hustle!" or "In this gig economy, you have to have a number of irons in the fire!"  They acted like this was some great new thing, as opposed to full-time employment with benefits.  The very rich were turning us from salary slaves to literal slaves.

Let's take a look at some of these "gigs" and maybe you'll understand what I am talking about.

Uber (and Lyft et al) started out as a "ride sharing" app that allowed college students to share rides home from school.  But it quickly morphed into an illegal taxi business.  I actually signed up for Lyft just to see how it worked.  I was appalled.  In order to drive for these services, you have to have a late-model car.  Don't have one?  No problem - they'll loan you the money to buy one!  So now you owe money to "the company store" and you drive all night, picking up drunk passengers who puke on the floor or worse, just so you can make payments on the car.  And in some instances, the folks doing this are living in their car.

It gets worse.  Since these "ride sharing" apps have taken off, they have basicially bankrupted many taxi companies and individual taxi owners.  People who got bank loans to pay a million dollars for a New York City "Medallion" are finding that the Medallions are now worthless - but they still owe the money.  Overseas, locals are finding their taxi companies are going bust, but their fellow citizens are now working for a taxi company headquartered in Silicon Valley.  The upshot is, this new generation of taxi drivers makes half as much as the old generation - and a huge portion of the proceeds are being siphoned off and sent to Silicon Valley.  A few foreign countries have seen through this ruse and outlawed Uber et al.

In a pattern we will see repeated again and again, the amount of money drivers made started to fade over time, as policies and pay rates were "adjusted" by the operators of these "apps" and as more and more people became drivers.  A common complaint among drivers was that in the early days, it was a good gig, but then they tweaked the rules and flooded the market with drivers so that you spend hours just sitting, waiting for fares.  This was not by accident.

Of course, you can't live on Uber earnings - it is a "side hustle" designed to bring in extra income.  In order to survive in the "gig economy" you have to have two or three of these "hustles" going on.  So, why not work for Amazon?  They are always hiring at the warehouses, and the company is a behemonth at this point.  Jeff Bezos is getting heat lately (in addition to other heat) for proposing building "Company Towns" to house his workers.  The problem with this model is that it was tried in the past in the coal mining regions of Appalichia and even at the Pullman factory (which made railroad cars).  When you lived in a company town, you rented your house from the company, bought your groceries from "The Company Sto" and were often paid in fake money - scrip - that could only be spent at company-owned outlets.  You never get ahead in such a scenario - in fact you don't even break even, you just fall further and further into debt.

But Bezos need not build his "Company Towns" as he already has them, in effect. I mentioned before how we stayed at a campground in California where half the residents were living in dilapidated RVs and walking across the street, twice a day, like zombies, to the Amazon warehouse that loomed over us like the Death Star.  These folks weren't getting anywhere in life.  Every dollar they made, they spent on lot rent, food, beer, drugs, and tattoos.  Granted, they were making poor life choices - just as a person "investing" $100 in Bitcoin is making a poor life choice (and enriching others, not himself).  But the entire system was designed to exploit people who make poor life choices.   And there should be something fundamentally wrong about that.

I mentioned also that in another campground, they had a sign up offering campers a chance to work seasonally at an Amazon warehouse - they would even pay your lot rent (some restrictions apply - natch!).   It was a chance to snare some elderly or retired folks as well - maybe more people who were making poor life choices, or had made poor life choices in the past, or were just victims of circumstance.

Again, the whole point of this "gig" economy thing is to make sure that everyone is classified as part-time, which is why you need two or three of such jobs to survive.  Since full-time employees have to be provided with benefits, it is far cheaper to hire two part-time "associates" than to pay one full-time one.  In fact, you can hire three part-time "associates" and work them for 20-30 hours a week, for less money than one full-time 40-hour "associate".

Part of the problem is the staggering cost of benefits. Obamacare has forced employers to pay for healthcare for full-time employees, and the costs are pretty high - $1500 a month or so, depending on the plan.   And then there is competition from overseas, where labor rates are measured in pennies.  Combined, well, it makes more sense to either move production overseas, or to pay people as part-time workers.

It hasn't happened yet, but I suspect Bezos will realize that even warehousing can be outsourced to overseas.  Why ship things over in bulk in containers, warehouse them, pick orders, package, and then ship, when you can do all that overseas?  Just fly in pre-prepared packages and put them on the delivery trucks!  I am sure someone, somehere, is thinking about this right now.  It already is happening on eBay with these "China Post" sellers shipping thing from Hong Kong - but that takes weeks to arrive.  They just need to get the shipping time down and it would work.

But I digress.

The gig economy isn't just victimizing the very poor - the middle-class get ensnared as well.  Amazon started out with amazing low prices, but over time, prices crept up to the point where today, well, they are higher than most other outlets on the Internet.  They count on the laziness of the users, who crave the "convenience" of buying on Amazon (with "one click!") over shopping on price.  Paycheck-to-paycheck at any income level!

And hey, why not rent out that spare room or your vacation condo on AirBnB? Never mind that you are turning a residential district into a hotel zone, just to satisfy the needs of some Silicon Valley "entrepreneur"   Your neighbors will love it!  In the name of "progress" we are all turned into shysters and hustlers and this is supposed to be a good thing.

Food and package delivery is another "gig economy" job that combines the worst of Uber and Amazon.   You can be an Uber driver and also deliver food - for Uber or for Grubhub or any one of a number of such services.  I am not sure why this has taken off in recent years (other than the pandemic) but it has been growing steadily since, well, since I used to do it when I was in my 20's.  Back then, it was mostly Pizza Hut and Domino's and the target market was college students (and often the labor pool as well).  Since those days, though, pizza (and food) delivery has expanded to suburban areas.  People come home from work and send out for food, "too tired" to make food of their own.

This victimizes two classes of people.  First, you have the middle-class workers who are making "good money" but still living "paycheck-to-paycheck" on $100,000 a year.  They wonder why this is - after all, their neighbors all send out for pizza or Chinese, at least 2-3 times a week as well, right?  And then there is the poor fellow who delivers - the guy working the "side hustle" and selling his car to Domino's one fender at a time.  I've been both those persons at one time of my life or another, so I know of where I speak.

If I had been better with money as a youth, I wouldn't have had to deliver pizzas to make ends meet.  If I had been better with money as a middle-aged lawyer, I wouldn't have sent out for those pizzas, either.  The system exploited my weaknesses - my desire to have "things" and convenience, both as a youth and as an adult.  Pretty slick system - but in both cases, I willingly played the game, I guess.

Food delivery not your thing?  Well, drive your Uber over to Amazon and you can deliver packages for them during your down time.   You sit in the parking lot at the warehouse and wait for jobs to come along, bidding against your fellow drivers for the privilege of wrecking your car for the glory of Jeff Bezos - so some suburbanite can have his package pirated from his porch!  Meanwhile, a union UPS driver is laid off for lack of work.

The list goes on an on.  These "side hustle" or "gig economy" jobs have one thing in common:  They pay very little and offer the employee contractor little or no hope of advancing over time.  At best, you are treading water, staying in place.  At worst, you are going further and further into debt, over time.

In a way, the situation today reminds me of another Heinlein story, Logic of Empire.  In that story, two well-off upper-class men get into a drunken argument as to whether the emigrants to Venus (which in the story is a habital world) are indentured servants, or actual slaves.  They get drunk and make a bet and sign on for a trip to Venus, much to their regret.

The "workers" end up on plantations, beholden to a plantation owner who himself is barely making ends meet.  The workers spend what little they have on drugs, just to keep going through the daily grind of manual labor on a harsh planet.  They have a choice - to save their money and buy their "freedom" (by paying off the debt from their passage) but most choose to wallow in drug use, which ends up increasing their debt load.  In theory, they could buy their freedom.  In reality, few ever do.  It is an interesting analogy to today's "gig economy" workers, who could be faulted for making poor life choices, or could be pitied for falling into an economic trap.  A well-laid trap.

Now, granted, with the so-called "Labor Shortage" today, maybe some of these things will disappear.  Unions are trying to break into Amazon and courts are deciding that gig workers are employees and not "contractors".   Is the gig economy on the verge of being reformed?  Maybe, maybe not.

Remember how we got here - and what I started out with at the top of this page.  It was a recession that ushered in the era of the gig economy and the side hustle.  A recession that was preceded by a labor shortage as well.  An overblown economy based on wild valuations of housing and investments in nonsensical things - and even sensible things that were wildly over-valued.  It all collapsed overnight and those that had money snapped up all those houses at foreclosure.  They snapped up all those dying and ailing companies and stripped off the liabilities, decimated the pension plans, and then paid themselves handsomely, leaving nothing but wreckage behind.  Hell, one of them even ran for President, arguing they were a "jobs creator!"   And people believed it, too.

I can see the same thing happening again.  The "gig" economy worker and the middle-class software engineer, both losing their jobs and what pitiful saving they have - as well as their speculative investments in "Crypto" and "Stonks".  Talks of unionization will evaporate as it becomes "every man for himself!" and once again, people bid against one another for the privilege of making negative income at an Amazon warehouse.

Or something like that.

So, what can be done about it?  Probably not much.  The idea that a Leftist revolution will save us all is probably a wild fantasy.  Even if the Bernie Bros could win the White House, the House of Representatives and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate (and a majority of the governorships) - like that could happen - the result would not be a Leftist Shangri-La but a Socialist nightmare.  But we need not speculate about that as it will never happen.  We have people in this country - in the medical field no less - that think medicine is fake.  It is akin to working for NASA as a flat-earther.  I am sure there is at least one, too!

Revolutions are fine and all, but you can't count on one to save your personal situation.  Besides, they tend to end up not working out as planned, for the individual, particularly if the individual picks the wrong side.  And often, you don't know until the smoke clears, which is the right side to be on.

There is another way.  Maybe it isn't the easy way, nor is it guaranteed as a means of success.  But an awful lot of folks follow this path, over time, and while they may not end up Bezos-rich, they end up pretty damn well-off.  If you can resist the urge to spend all your money on stupid shit like Jet Skis, Tattoos, drugs, fancy cars, and other "status" or self-destructive things, you may just come out ahead.  If you invest some money in logical things - as opposed to  gambling in long-shot scams, you may end up accumulating wealth, over time.

It's a crazy idea, I know.  But it beats the alternative, I think.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Satilla Shores - The Final Chapter?

Quite frankly, I was surprised by the verdicts yesterday.  Pleasantly surprised.

The verdicts came in and it was a little surprising to many folks that all three people were convicted.  But then again, stereotypes about Georgia are somewhat outdated.  Not only is the metro Atlanta area very blue, but the coast of Georgia (all 100 miles of it) is home to many Yankee transplants.  My Trump-supporting neighbor who was on the jury was an alternate - so their vote didn't count.  But even then, I suspect they would have voted to convict on at least some charges.  The process was exhausting, they said.  Imagine having to watch a video of someone being killed, over and over again.  Why the defense thought "leaking" the video to the media would help their case is beyond me.

But of course, it isn't over just yet. There will be motions for a new trial, appeals, and so forth.  And in February of 2022, there is a Federal trial on hate crime charges.  So stay tuned for that.

The police cars stationed at the entrance to the Satilla Shores housing development, off route 17, will no doubt disappear.  The television news trucks that were parked on the lawn by the courthouse will go away, along with the stage they set up, and the multiple Jersey barriers. The expected rioting and protesting never occured, and everyone went home for Thanksgiving.

Well, not everyone.  Mr. Aubery is still dead and his family will no doubt miss him at the Thanksgiving table.  Finding someone guilty doesn't make everything go back to the way it was before.  But maybe - just maybe - this case and trial can be a lesson for everyone involved. Running around with guns, trying to enforce the law to protect property is a futile and dangerous endeavor.  Maybe the Rittenhouse kid got away with it, but his life will no doubt be marked by that one event.  We just have to hope that protesters and counter-protesters don't take that case as carte blanche to bring guns to a protest rally.

Time was, you couldn't do that.  In fact, they even outlawed signs-on-a-stick, as the signs were detached from the sticks and the sticks used as weapons.  For some reason, today's timid Police don't see the need to disarm people at protest rallies.  The 2nd Amendment is not an absolute right - none of the rights in the Bill of Rights are absolute - even the right to "free speech".

So no, it isn't over.  White supremacists are still among us.  Hundreds of people are still waiting in Dealey plaza for the reincarnation of JFK and JFK Jr. who will for some reason endorse and run with, Donald Trump.  Like that could happen.  Reincarnation, I could believe.  Endorsing Trump?  Not bloody likely.

The sad fact remains that a small but vocal percentage of  people in the USA are literally insane, and believe in things like Qanon or "Stop the Steal" or whatever.  These are people who are delusional.  Granted there are delusional people on the Left as well - they want to hand out money to people, as opposed to executing them, though.  I am less worried about the Left than the Right.  One wants to shower me with money, the other with bullets.  This will not end well, if left unchecked.

Maybe the "Crazy Years" will wind down with the pandemic.  And make no mistake, it is a worldwide phenomenon.  People all over the world are losing their minds and voting for dictators.  It isn't just the United States, it isn't just Trump.  People want to blame Biden for high gas prices and inflation - but who is causing high gas prices worldwide?  Inflation worldwide?  That Biden is a busy guy!

But again, it gets down to delusional thinking.  People seem to think there is a knob on the wall of the Oval Office that sets gasoline prices.  Trump turned the knob down, while Biden for some reason, keeps turning it up.  Maybe he thought it was the thermostat.

Left or Right, it doesn't matter.  People are idiots and blame whatever is going on in their lives on things like Presidents or Congressmen.  No one wants to look inwardly and ask whether their own life choices come into play.  So many people I know use pickup trucks as personal transportation.  Not to carry loads, tow a trailer, or even haul five or six friends around - they drive to work solo, in a 4,000-lb gas hog, and then complain about fuel prices.

We have a pickup truck.  It is stored in a storage locker out by Satilla Shores.  Why?  Well for starters, it won't fit in the garage (or will, just barely).  Second, we only use it to tow our travel trailer.  It is not a fun vehicle for running errands or getting groceries.  It is too big, too hard to see out of, and gets pretty mediocre gas mileage, even without the trailer attached.  If we give up RVing, the truck will be sold the same day.

But that's thinking logically.  Thinking emotionally is deciding you "have to have" this huge vehicle as a personal car, because you think it will make you look rough-and-tough.  And of course, jacking it up and putting Bozo tires on it is part and parcel of the deal.

I digress, but it goes to the point about delusional thinking.  These guys from Satilla Shores weren't "on edge" over a "series of break-ins" in the neighborhood, because there weren't any.  The only thing stolen from that neighborhood was a gun that one of the defendants left in his truck, in plain view, on the front seat, overnight, unlocked, parked on the street.  Again, delusional thinking - and a poor example of proper gun safety!  It is not surprising, in retrospect that people like that, engaging in lazy thinking, would assume that chasing people down was the "answer" to a question no one was asking.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Satilla Shores the housing development.  I think if I was on the HOA board, I would propose renaming the place at the very least.   It will be hard to sell a house there, I think, with the reputation it has acquired.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Leader of a White Supremacist Group is.... Black? WTF?


People named "Enrique" should understand that they are pretty much first in line when the holocaust comes.

I really haven't been following the news too much, particularly these fringe groups.  But this fellow who calls himself "Henry" but is actually named "Enrique" is complaining that the conditions in the DC jail are deplorable and he should be let out early.  Fortunately, the Judge did not agree.

When I saw his photo, I thought to myself, "Gee, the leader of a white supremacist fascist movement is... black?  Or maybe he just needs to shave more?"

But I looked it up online and indeed, he is "Afro-Cuban" which means black.  A black white supremacist - Dave Chappell couldn't make this shit up!  Well, he already did, I guess.

Clayton Bigsby, the black white supremacist!

It also seems that Enrique is also a snitch - and we all know that snitches get stitches.  So maybe that is one reason he wants out of DC jail - for his own safety!  All those dangerous black men in there might mess up a delicate white fellow such as himself.

I kid, but I mentioned before how racism is a worldwide thing.  It is very prevalent in Central and South America, and in Caribbean countries.  The lighter skinned people tend to rise to the top of government, business, and industry, and no one will admit to having native or African blood, unless of course it is quite obvious.  If you read Waiting for Snow in Havana, you realize why so many Cubans supported Castro, even as he destroyed the economy.  For Afro-Cubans, life under Communism was harsh, but still better than life under Capitalism.

So it is odd to me that this fellow seems to think that being part of a far-right fascist organization is going to work for him.  Or maybe this is just part of his snitching operation - he is operating under deep cover!  Or, maybe it is part of a self-loathing he has for himself - hence re-inventing himself as "Henry" instead of proudly calling himself "Enrique" as his parents named him.  Maybe he feels that if he plays nice with the white supremacists, they will let them in their little club.  Maybe, but I doubt they will.

Or maybe this is some sort of long-suppressed homoerotic attraction he has to white guys, as his "Proud Boys" (itself an interesting name - Boys?) is an all-male organization.  Hey, I'm a member of an all-male organization, too!  Maybe they'll let me in their club as well!  What night is orgy night?  I'll bring my toga!

Now, granted, the "Proud Boys" claim not to be white supremacists, but the organization was founded by a white supremacist and only "renounced" white supremacy after "Henry" took charge. Nevertheless, they still support white genocide theories and the lingering stench of white supremacy festers just below the surface.

Or maybe, like I said, Enrique is going under "deep cover" to disrupt and foil the plans of the far-right.  But I doubt it. Oddly enough, many Cuban-Americans are very right-wing and tend to vote Republican. Many are still upset that they, or their parents, or their grandparents, lost huge estates, businesses, casinos, prostitution rings, or just cushy government jobs, as a result of the Castro revolution.  They are not so much right-wing as virulently anti-Communist.  They want all their stuff back!  But that ain't happening.

What is funny to me though, as a bona-fide "white guy" is that such folks latch onto a "white supremacy" movement, not realizing that, among really white people, anyone with roots in a Mediterranean country is very suspect in terms of who gets into the country club. Sorry, but Spanish or even Italian descent is not considered proper Anglo-Saxon, and indeed, prejudice against those groups has been notorious in the past, and even today.  I am not saying that is right, only reporting what happened.

Yes, maybe a light-skinned Cuban can "pass" as "Spanish" and maybe get into the white-man's club on a probationary basis.  But don't think that gets you into the Klan!   And the moment the shit hits the fan, well, the white folks will be quick to throw you under the bus, particularly if it means their own survival, politically, economically, or physically.

And someone with as deep a tan as "Enrique"?   They aren't going to let him into the club at all - other than in the servant's entrance.   Proud Boy?   More like Bus Boy - that is how the people he is sucking up to will treat him.  And don't blame me, the messenger, for telling you this, it is the God's honest truth.  The white supremacists of the world do not consider Hispanics to be "white."

Discrimination is wrong. Racism is wrong. And minority groups trying to join or lead racist white supremacist organizations is not only wrong, it is ridiculous.

However, ridiculousness never seems to have bothered Enrique in the past, or indeed, today.  He is a very ridiculous man.  Or should I say, Boy?

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Two Weeks Notice

Do you really have to give two week's notice before you quit a job?  And why is this considered "traditional"?  Turns out, it is a tradition started by, and for the benefit of, employers.

Years ago, I worked at a hydraulics supplier, assembling hose fittings and shipping boxes of parts - and delivering finished hose fittings to quarries, shops, and factories.  It was OK work, but at $4.25 an hour, just barely enough to live on.  I applied for and got a job as a contract employee for Carrier at the princely sum of $8 an hour.  I thought I was rich!  And in a way, I was - $16,000 a year wasn't a bad wage in 1981, and indeed, until recently, some unfortunate folks were making that little at retail jobs.

So I told my boss, on a Thursday, that I was leaving.  "You have to give me two weeks notice!" he said, "I need time to find someone to replace you!"  So I told the folks at Carrier I would start a week from next Thursday.  But my old boss said, "You have to give me two full weeks notice!  You can't leave until the Monday after that!"   I grumbled but said OK, and the folks at Carrier weren't happy - they needed help now and might have gone and hired someone else in my stead.

Turns out, that's what my old boss was hoping for.  The next week, I looked in the paper and there was no job posting.  I waited a few days and then I asked my boss when he was going to "start looking" for my replacement.  "Oh," he said, "I don't know.  Maybe a few weeks after you left!"

That did it.  He screwed around with me just to mess with my head and hope that the job offer from Carrier would evaporate as a result of his "two weeks notice" nonsense.  So I grabbed my coffee cup and toothbrush and walked out.  I spend the next week-and-a-half at my parents' house, water-skiing.  And Carrier was happy to have me come in early.

Recently, there has been something called "the great resignation" going on.  People are quitting their jobs in record numbers - not just hourly employees or fast-food workers, but middle- and upper-management as well.  Many people are retiring - either early or at retirement age.  The age pyramid, which I have written about before, is started to show its distorted shape. The next generation isn't as large as the previous one, or more precisely, isn't larger the way they traditionally are.  As a result, we have a labor shortage.

There are other causes - people are quitting to get better-paying jobs.  Employers are offering more money to new hires - sometimes more than to existing employees.  So the existing employees quit and go over to another company.   There is also the increase in abusive behavior by some anti-maskers and Karens of the world.  Would you want to be a flight attendant right now?  With all the bullshit going on?  People are being abusive to fast-food workers, like the lady who threw hot soup in a cashier's face, even after the cashier offered to replace the soup or give a refund (the only two things she could do, really).

So people are quitting their jobs and surprise, surprise, managers and bosses are asking for "two weeks notice!"   And often it is the same old gag - by holding an employee hostage, they hope the new employer will hire someone else in the interim.

Do you have to give two weeks notice?  Some employers, like my old boss, try to imply that this is the law or something, or a tradition.  Some will imply that they will not give a good recommendation if you don't give two weeks notice - but likely those bosses aren't going to give recommendations anyway - and besides, few companies allow bosses to give recommendations, good or bad, for fear of being sued.

In general employment law, in the USA anyway, I am not aware of any State that legally requires you to give two weeks notice before quitting.  In fact, I doubt such a law would be Constitutional.  We did abolish slavery a long time ago.   If you are working under a contract, however, it might be a different deal.  They can't make you work (again, slavery) but if you violate the terms of the contract, you could be liable for damages.  But contracts like that are usually only applicable to people in the upper echelons - movie stars and whatnot - the sort that have non-compete clauses.  Although, I am hearing noises that some employers are using "labor contracts" with low-wage employees.  Whether those are enforceable or not is a good question.

Many States, particularly Red States, have "at will" employment, or as they used to say at Carrier, "I came here looking a job, I'll leave the same way!"

Should you give notice before quitting?  In general, I would say it depends on the job, the nature of the job, and why you are leaving.  Obviously, if your boss pisses you off and you say, "I quit!" then giving notice is sort of dumb.  Even in other situations, I am not sure the two most awkward weeks of your life are really worthwhile.  Unless your old employer is decent, really appreciates your hard work, and wishes you well in your new job, odds are, it is going to be very, very strained.

My gut reaction is the same I had back in 1980 when I left the hydraulics place.  It is nice to be courteous to your old employer, but when they squander that two weeks you gave them, just to be spiteful, then, well, fuck them.

Recently, I have read online about people being "anti-work" and many of them tell stories of quitting their jobs, where bosses imply they legally have to give two weeks notice.  Some just walk out - no one really cares whether you gave two weeks notice in a retail job.  Others stay on for the two weeks, only to be given the worst shifts possible - doing overnights on holidays, for example.  There are many ways an employer can abuse this.

In other situations, particularly professional jobs, giving notice allows you to tie up loose ends on projects before you leave.  For example, at the Patent Office, there were cases in the pipeline that I had to finish, as well as the reassignment of my existing docket to other Examiners.  The same is true at the first law firm I worked at - I gave them notice so I could wind down my docket.  That was a bit more awkward, as the firm was in the process of dividing in half, and there were a lot of bad feelings flying around. I left in part because I didn't want to be part of that.

Other places, less so.  The big odious firm I briefly worked at had a security guard escort me off the premises, when they found out I was leaving. They were trying to be all Silicon Valley "high tech" and whatnot (doing IPOs and VC funding) and I guess that is how it is done out there - you leave and it is like the Mafia - "your're dead to me!"

But since then, I have been self-employed, and my boss is a total ass.  I did give him well over a years' notice when I quit that job.  And it is OK to say you quit, and OK to give up on a job or a career when it stops bringing you joy.

I wrote before about a friend of mine whose parents forced him to go to music school.  He wanted to be a pilot, but his parents thought that was beneath their stature in life.  Hmm.... Sounds like the same situation Trump's brother had!  Anyway, he spend a boatload of money going to music school, only to realize there were few jobs in the field, most paid very little, and there were 100 qualified applicants for every opening - 20 of whom were extremely well qualified.  He was not one of them.

So he paid his way through Embry-Riddle and became a commercial pilot.  Fast-forward 30 years and he realizes that the fun is no longer there. He also realizes that mandatory retirement age is fast approaching, and he has two years of combined vacation and sick leave coming to him.  So he retires.  And that's OK.  It is the same reason I retired - I was done having fun and it seemed more like stress than the fun it was in the early days, so it is time to move on.  And we were both fortunate to be in a position to do so.

I suspect that the same is true of a lot of people who are in this "great resignation" thing - at least the older ones.

We went through this labor shortage nonsense a couple of decades ago.  I recall quite vividly how hard it was to hire anyone at any wage, back in the late 1990's and early 2000's.  We had a recession right after that happened.  I think the two are connected.  In any business, the last hired is the most expensive and least productive, in many cases.  You hire extra people to get more work done and serve more customers, and you realize that while you are making a profit on the first guy you hired, the last guy is barely breaking even, if not operating at a loss.

That happened to me, so I closed my office and went back to solo practice.  Turns out the "first hire" (me) was the most profitable employee.  Each additional employee I hired was decreasingly profitable until the last one was a loss.  And meanwhile, I had to spend more time managing employees, which meant the output of my most profitable employee (me) decreased.  It was like an algorithm!  And I suspect that many companies see this same effect in a tight labor market.  The guy who has to be bribed with a lot of cash to get him to come to work, is the least effective worker.

There is an old saying in the employment game, that if you offer more money to an employee to get them to stay on (and get them to turn down another job) the chances are, they will leave in six months anyway.  It turns out that the reasons they were leaving were not just about money.  They either wanted career growth, were bored with the work, were bored with the coworkers, or just found the work environment unpleasant.  It is an interesting phenomenon, but I've seen it happen a few times, firsthand.  Something to think about before you offer an employee more money to stay on.

Much of this "anti-work" nonsense is coming from union organizers, of course.  And there is nothing wrong with that, only that, over time, as unions become more powerful, they will do odious things.  But given today's circumstances, it would take the unions a few decades to devolve into the corrupt mess that was the Teamsters back in the day, or the UAW even fairly recently.

Union leaders realize, over time, that they are selling a product called "labor peace" and that employers are willing to pay cash - under the table - for that product.  So they push through a contract that employees might not like, and take cash under the table as a bribe.  I mean, act shocked - that folks affiliated with organized crime would, well, commit crimes.

It seems, however, that the time for labor organizing is coming - we have gone too long with stagnant wages and "the gig economy" - the latter of which was just a bold power-grab to take crappy, minimum-wage manual labor jobs, like driving a cab, delivering a pizza, or working in a warehouse, and then skimming a big piece off the top and handing it to some Silicon Valley company, by calling it "tech" - when it is not tech, just 19th Century Robber Baronism.

People are fed up, and I can't say as I blame them.  You have to set up the system so that people can actually win if they work at it.  That was the system I worked at, when I was a 20-something.  Even at my minimum-wage job,  I could afford an apartment, food on the table, a few beers, and even a little weed.  All that seems to have changed, at least in many urban districts.

That being said, if you are going to quit your job, line up another one first.  And if your boss asks for two weeks notice, well, I am not sure I would give it to him!

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Internet Turns on Elon Musk

Once hailed as Space Jesus, Elon Musk is now reviled as an Evil Billionaire.

In the last few days, it seems there is an orchestrated effort to discredit Elon Musk.  Perhaps it started with this income inequality thing.  With the over-inflated values of Tesla (again, Market Cap is a nonsense number) it made it appear Musk was one of the wealthiest - if not the wealthiest - people on the planet.  But of course, as his recent stock sales illustrate, if you tried to liquidate that wealth, you would not yield full value.  The very act of selling affects the stock price.  And just because some 20-something "Stonk" buyer paid a king's ransom for one lousy share, doesn't mean the rest of the shares are worth that much.

I think the thing accelerated when Musk - never one to mince words - insulted Bernie Sanders, by saying "I didn't know you were still alive!"  The Bernie Bros started a torch-and-pitchfork parade.  Musk was their hero a few months before - he was going to colonize Mars!  But then we realized that such colonization was an expensive fantasy that no government would underwrite or afford - and the private sector would not invest in, as there is nothing on Mars to export back to Earth, even if it was affordable to ship things back.  There is no return on investment in colonizing other planets, period.

What Musk did do was sell seats on his rocket ship - as did Bezos and Branson.   The media had a field day with this - competing Billionaires with their penis-shaped rockets, trying to out-testosterone each other.  It really didn't help mankind, it just helped rich and famous people.  Maybe the Bernie Bros realized then that when Musk talked about colonizing Mars, he wasn't talking about them.

The stuff I am reading on the Internet - over and over again - sounds like something from a Fox News Talking Points Handout.  Musk was the son of a wealthy diamond or emerald mine owner in South Africa (depending on which source you read).  He treats his employees poorly, firing them on a regular basis.  The Tesla cars are junk - poorly made (according to Consumer Reports and they know about cars, right? Wrong).  We are told the folks at the Tesla factory are worked to death, sexually assaulted, and on drugs or drunk most of the time.  CNN reports the Tesla on "autopilot" drives into oncoming traffic.

It goes on an on.  No matter what Musk has touched his hand to, it is now stained and flawed.  He went from doing no wrong to doing no right in ten seconds flat.  And somehow, I suspect - I know - this is orchestrated.

But by whom?   Short-sellers are always a suspect when it comes to Tesla stock.  But I think the union people are also behind this - wanting to unionize the Tesla factory since day 1.  And no doubt, his competitors, oil companies, electric-car haters, and now Bernie Bros, are all against him.  Funny how that worked out.

I think also he is a victim (if one can use that term on a Billionaire) of the general drumbeat against Billionaires as of late.  People are not happy that a Billionaire tax wasn't part of Biden's "Build Back Better" deal - as nixing any tax increases was the pact he had to make with the Devil (Mitch) in order to get his infrastructure deal through (Boo! Hiss!  Republicans hate infrastructure, other than private airports and helipads).  It seems that Billionaires are on everyone's shit list these days.

Of course, Musk could - and probably should - retire from the limelight.  His Tweets are not quite yet as toxic as Trump's were, but he's getting there.  Maybe he should just go swim in his Scrooge McDuck money vault and enjoy life.  Sometimes the best thing you can do as a Billionaire is to keep a low profile!

That is, in short, why most founders of start-up companies are forced out, once the company goes mainstream.  Probably for the best.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Whatever Happened to Craigslist?

Craigslist never adapted to the world of Social Media.

I was surfing the net the other day and thought to myself, "Gee, I haven't looked at Craigslist in ages.  Are they still even around?"  And indeed they are, but only a shadow of its former self.  What happened to Craigslist?  Why did it fade away?  The answers are many and are a valuable lesson for anyone wanting to start a website or e-commerce business - or invest in the stocks of one.  The Internet is not forever and sites that were wildly popular only a few years ago are forgotten about today.  Whatever happened to Vine for example? Or Webshots?  Picasa? MySpace? AOL?  Second Life?  - the list goes on and on.  Sites go from "hot" to "not" in about five years, on average, it seems.

Bear in mind that as recently as a decade ago, Craigslist had over 45 million users a day, and was -back then - the largest job posting site and largest real estate site on the Internet. But even then, it had its share of issues, and one reason we have so many other sites available today - and why Craigslist has faded from view - is because of the inherent weirdness of Craigslist.

Today, well, Craigslist has been in steady decline.  This site, for example, illustrates part of the problem - the number of hits to the site is declining almost linearly - a 60% drop in just the last few years.  And the places where Craigslist is most popular?  Montana?  Bend, Oregon?  Craigslist definitely trends rural!

Of course, this doesn't mean Craigslist will "go out of business" anytime soon.  Since it is privately owned and has a very small staff (50 people by some estimates) it need not make a lot of money to survive.  And with 50 employees and (according to some estimates) $1B in income, well, they can stay in business a long, long time, even as a niche player.  That is something that gets lost on the Internet a lot - that you don't have to be "The Next Facebook!™" in order to make money.  So many good sites which were generating ad revenue for their owners, were shut down or reconfigured in futile attempts to wring more cash from them.  The Webshots debacle, for example, is a case in point.

In autopsying Craigslist, I came across several causes of death:

1.  Facebook Marketplace:  Facebook has become the new AOL - the de facto login for people who don't know how to use the Internet.  To a whole generation of folks, Facebook is the Internet, and they get all their news from there, their messages, e-mails, shopping, and so forth.  Even if they visit another website (and that is all Facebook is, a website) they do it through a Facebook link.

Zuckerberg is using the Microsoft model of business.  Back before it became evil, Goolge's mantra was "Don't be Evil!" because their number one competitor, Microsoft, ended up emulating the monopoly practices of its predecessor in the computer world, IBM.  Microsoft put WordPerfect out of business by coming up with the clunky and incredibly complicated Microsoft Word which they handed out for free with new editions of Windows.  They did this to get it established, and it worked.  Within a few short years, WordPerfect, once the default word processing software of the world, was gone.  Word took over.

Microsoft did the same thing with Explorer - making that Internet Web Browser part of Windows and again, free, which basically put Netscape Navigator out of business.  Of course, since then, Explorer has fallen from favor and Google Chrome has taken a big share of the market.  Windows itself may go by the wayside as Android-based products come to the fore.  Microsoft dropped the ball several times - with Zune, with Explorer, with the Windows Phone.  But then again, maybe they don't care anymore, as they make more money with cloud computing and enterprise software.  It is like what IBM is doing - a mystery to most of us, but apparently incredibly profitable.  And by the way, Bezos is doing the same thing - his computer division makes far more money than his mercantile business.  He stands to double his wealth if they split up Amazon.  Poor fellow!

But getting back to Facebook, they are doing the same thing, except instead of swallowing up operating systems or web browsers, they are taking bits and bobs of various internet sites.  The Facebook Marketplace is just Craigslist for Facebook, only without Craigslist.  And more and more of my friends are using that to buy or sell things online.

Granted, there are also a few other Johnny-come-latlies who have tried to enter Craigslist space, with various levels of success.  And of course, there is eBay, which has tried to become more like Amazon as of late and less of a garage sale.  That being said, I have had better luck selling things like cars on eBay than on Craigslist.  In fact, Craigslist seems to attract the weirdos and time-wasters of the world.

2.  Fraud and Cons: I did an extensive posting on how a con can work on Craigslist.  Put up some photos of a desirable item at a low, low price, and the wackos and weirdos who peruse Craigslist will send you all their money.  Craigslist doesn't do much to curb this fraud.  They rely on people like you and me "flagging" postings as improper, and if enough people flag something, it *might* get removed (paid commercial postings rarely get removed, even if they violate the ToS by text-spamming).

The problem with the flagging system is that legitimate postings can be flagged as improper, particularly by cranks and misanthropes.  So people have legit listings canned while fraud goes on rampant.  Eventually, people get tired of this and leave.

Craigslist is facing the same problem that Facebook has - how do you moderate millions of postings for content, without hiring thousands of people to read and review each posting?  And moderation can backfire on you, as a moderator will kill a posting that is legit and people will cry "censorship" or politcal correctness or cancel culture or whatever.

One way to fix the system is to charge money.  The guy putting up 500 fraudulent advertisements for Casita travel trailers isn't going to pay even a dollar per ad, as it would bankrupt him.  But paid advertising goes against the whole concept of Craigslist, and traditionally, paid ads are far less popular than free ones.

For example, Autotrader has paid ads - I know of few people who have had luck buying or selling a car on there.  People put up "dreamer" prices on cars and the bulk of ads are from used car dealers.  Not a lot of bargains there, if any.

Facebook Marketplace, on the other hand, has ads from "real people" who are not supposed to be using fake accounts.  But given how Facebook works, you can at least click on the seller and see whether their account is ten minutes old or whether they have any sort of background.  Again, Facebook comes out ahead, Craigslist falls further behind.

3.  Tinder, Grindr, and other hookup sites:  Craigslist no longer takes "lonely hearts" ads - the M4M, M4F, F4M, F4F, and so on and so forth.  There was a lot of trolling going on there to be sure. Some folks put up fake ads and tried to get people to send naked pix, either for their own gratification or for blackmail purposes. Others were involved in human trafficking or trying to solicit minors.  It was a huge part of the site at one time, but Craigslist decided the liability wasn't worth it.  All it takes is one person to be victimized though Craigslist and they would end up getting sued.

Of course, this wasn't limited to sex ads.  Every month, the news media would report a "Craigslist Murder!" where someone met someone in shady part of town to buy or sell a laptop, a cell phone, or a car or something.  One party shows up with the item for sale or the money to buy it, and the other party shows up with a gun.  The media would call this a "Craigslist Murder!" with the exclamation point, but never called a similar crime a "Classified Ad Murder!" if someone was victimized through the classified ads in the newspaper.

The message the media was sending was that Craigslist was somehow dangerous and evil - not like the good old fashioned classified ads in the newspaper that the media outlet just happened to own.  Of course, that sort of nonsense has faded away as of late.  I guess they call them Facebook Murders now or something.

4.  Dealer and Manufacturer sites:  When searching for our cars online, we didn't spend much time, if any, on Craigslist.  In our truck search, the only one really advertising on Craigslist was a rural dealer who had trucks all with over 100,000 miles on them.  There were a few local sellers, often with beat-up high-mileage vehicles that were not in good shape.

We found that for new cars, you can search dealer inventory usually from the manufacturer's site, and for new and used cars, from the dealer sites.  Such sites have improved dramatically, usually with a plethora of photos, CarFax information, and even 360-degree views.   They also usually had prices, too, none of this "call for price" nonsense you see a lot on Craigslist, despite their rules about pricing things.

Frankly, manufacturer's websites should give Amazon pause as well.  We bought new sneakers the other day, and I opened up several sites online - eBay, the Merrell site, and Amazon - as well as a google search.  The prices were all about the same across the board, except I found one pair for Mr. See at a 15% discount on eBay.  The Merrell site offered a 10% discount if I signed up for their newsletter.  Amazon only offered full price.  After I bought one pair, Merrell offered 25% off on my next purchase (!!) which severely undercut Amazon's prices.

Note that I did not look to Craigslist for sneakers - it isn't an e-commerce site, but some sort of funky, slightly shady, garage sale.  And no, I am not interested in used sneakers - they do sell them on eBay!  Yuk.

I found the same to be true on the Bissell and the Black and Decker sites - prices as good as, if not better than Amazon or eBay, items in stock more often, and fast, free shipping.  It is a big shift from not-too-long-ago when manufacturers were obsessed with not undercutting their retail partners in price, and as a result offered clunky, hard-to-use websites with "meh!" prices.  Times have changed and I suspect we will see more direct manufacturer-to-consumer sales in the future - but that is a subject for another posting.

5.  Clunky Interface: Craigslist is sort of stuck in the 1990's in terms of website design.  I don't mind that - it loads pretty quickly and doesn't have a lot of unnecessary graphics, animation, or stupid auto-play videos.

But if you want to buy something, it gets tricky - you have to "contact" the seller, which is through an anonymous e-mailing system, I guess because they are worried about security or something.  I am not sure how this anonymous system helps anyone, other than crooks and con-men.  I mean, eventually, you have to deal with someone face-to-face and know their name and location.  Why make this a State Secret?

It really needs some work - and updating to at least 21st Century standards.

6. Weird Secrecy: Craigslist the company, has been critiqued due to its apparent secrecy as to how it operates, how it makes money, and who is really in charge.   The company is wholly owned by its founder, Craig Newmark, and as a result, we have no real idea of how much money they are making, even as some report it as $1 Billion a year.  The problem with a company like this, is that the iconic founder usually has to be booted out, over time, to make room for new ideas, new blood, and more professional operation.

In any start-up, the founder usually has an idea of "how things should be done" and resists any attempts at change.  As a result, founders are usually forced out, once the company goes public.  Even Steve Jobs was fired from Apple.  Others merely step back, much as Bezos is doing.

Craig clings to his clunky old list because he invented it and sees no reason to change it.  As a result, it never will change, even as the Internet changes around him. In 2010, Craigslist may have been the "go to" site for a lot of things, but since then, other sites have cleanly eclipsed it.

Craigslist is weird and will likely stay that way, until either Craig dies, sells the company, or Craigslist goes out of business.  Given the limited overhead involved, the last possibility isn't likely.

So what is the future for Craigslist? Like I said, if they sell the site or when Craig dies, unless he has a successor lined up, it may all go away. Someone will sell the site to investors, who will want a return on their investment, likely fire all the people working there, hire overseas folks to manage it, and then SPAM the crap out of it until they chase all the users away. It's the Silicon Valley Playbook for dying websites!

But until then, Craigslist will muddle on, remaining popular in rural Montana and other areas, where Cletus and Bubba think their 289,000 mile pickup truck is worth $9,000.  If nothing else, Craigslist has its entertainment value as a comedy site!

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Standard Of Proof

Under the law, you have to meet a certain standard of proof to win a case - and in criminal cases, this standard is the highest.

A reader wrote to me, somewhat outraged by the Rittenhouse trial.  Not that he was acquitted, but that he was tried at all, since "clearly" he was innocent by dint of self-defense.  My point to him - and to anyone - is not to get riled up by these trials.  The media wants you to get riled up because it gets you to watch.  They really don't care about you.  During some previous trials, the media went so far as to speculate as to the extent and number of riots that would occur when the verdict came down.  It seemed to me that they were hoping for riots as that was good for business - their business - as it would get more outraged people to watch.

Stop being outraged.  It doesn't matter whether you think Rittenhouse was guilty or not - your opinion and mine don't matter.  What matters is the opinions of 12 jury members.  And they decide based on the evidence presented, not on what the news people present.  And yes, often they decide "wrong" and that is the nature of the justice system.  It is run by people and thus by nature, imperfect.

Pining for perfection in the world and getting upset when it doesn't occur is a sure-fire way to end up getting depressed.  The media plays this tune all the time, on a cheap harmonica.  The world is not perfect!  Governments are inefficient!  People get away with crimes!  Bad things happen for no reason! Humanity is doomed!  All of these things are true, but not really alterable.  Perfect governments never existed, and the idea of a dictator "getting things done" has been proven wrong since the dawn of time.

So relax and let it all go and appreciate the world for all its beauty and appreciate the decent people in the world.  The beautiful world is outside your door.  The decent people are all around you.  The beautiful world isn't on television, nor are the decent people.  Think about this for a second - what is the prime meat for television shows?  Crimes and people being boorish and stupid.

So just turn that shit off and be happy.  That's why I call the television the depression box.

I tried to explain to our reader that as a lawyer (well a retired one, anyway) I could see where Rittenhouse would likely be found not guilty, but that this doesn't mean he was exhonerated or that his life will go back to "normal" in any way.  It doens't mean what he did was a smart move, or even morally correct.   When riots break out, the best and only thing to do is to run in the opposite direction and let the police sort things out.  No personal property or used car lot is worth risking a life over.  And it could have gone very differently - with Rittenhouse the dead on the ground, trying to save a lot full of used cars.  Would you be willing to die for a used car dealer?  Quite frankly, they are the scum of the earth.  And likely they were hoping the place would be torched so they could collect insurance money.

But I digress.

In the law, we have what is called "Standard of Proof" and depending on what kind of case it is and what is being proven, the standard varies, from "preponderance of the evidence" to "beyond a reasonable doubt" - the latter the standard in criminal cases.

It is damn hard to prosecute criminals.  You have to catch them first, collect enough evidence and testimony to show they are guilty and then prove this to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.  So long as the defense can raise this reasonable doubt the jury will likely acquit.  And it is not a hard-and-fast standard nor is justice always done.  OJ Simpson, for example,  got away with murder, quite literally.  A jury found "reasonable doubt" only because the police and prosecutors made some gaffes, and the media turned the case into a circus - and the judge let them.  Televising court cases was, is, and will always be, a bad idea.  Our legal system should not be entertainment.  But then again, how many television shows are about court cases?  I guess trials have always been the highest form of theater, and the best lawyers are also great actors.

But even though OJ was acquitted (not "found innocent" please!) he was found liable in the resulting civil suit, where the standard of proof was far lower (and the media circus had largely left town by that point).

So when I heard about this Rittenhouse thing, I didn't get all riled up about it.  A jury would decide and their decision would not be affected by how hard I watched television.  And you could watch television as hard as you can, and it still wouldn't make a rats's ass difference.  I know that is hard to wrap one's head around, but it is the basic truth.  You have to let these things go and not get obsessed about them.

The hard-core political types, the foreign trolls, the useful idiots, and so forth have other ideas.  This is important stuff and you need to make it the centerpiece of your life!  Right now, some of the folks on the far right are laughing and saying, "We owned the libs!  Yee-Haw!" but the reality is, it was a court case, not a referendum on Trump or whatever.  And the case was decided on the facts, not on emotions, and according to the standard of proof required.  The fact the jury deliberated for three days shows that they carefully reviewed the evidence before jumping to conclusions.  And "not guilty" does not mean "innocent" - not in any court in the world.

On the other side of the spectrum are those who claim this is an injustice - and are shocked, shocked, I say, to that injustice exists in the world in any way shape or form.  These folks don't get out much, I think.  So they decry the justice system as "rigged" and the judge as "biased" and the prosecutor as "incompetent" and so on and so forth.  They've been watching too much Perry Mason, I think.   As trials go, it was pretty standard.  No trial is perfect, which is why it is hilarious when someone picks apart a conviction (usually as part of one of these "innocence" projects) for having errors.  Whether the errors were relevant to the outcome is the real key.

And speaking of which there was a fellow on death row in Oklahoma whose sentence was commuted to life without parole the other day.  His lawyer said this was a sign that he was "innocent" of the crime.  Lawyers love to try cases in the court of public opinion - don't let them.

The Rittenhouse case was not an example of outrage for either side.  He should have been put on trial as people were killed.  The outcome was not an outrage as the defense could argue that there was reasonable doubt as to whether it was self-defense or not.  If you go to grab someone's gun, there is a valid argument to be made that they were in "fear of imminent death or great bodily harm" if they let their gun be taken away from them.  See someone with a gun?  Run the other direction as fast as possible.

Sadly, both sides of the political spectrum will use this case to make political points.  And our overseas adversaries who troll social media will stir the pot - and in fact, are already doing so.  They want to divide us from one another and get us so outraged we stop thinking logically and start thinking emotionally.  Getting worked up over these trials is a case in point - it blinds us to reality.

There will be another verdict (or a hung jury) soon in the Aubery case.  Like I said, I know one of the jurors is a rabid Trump fan, so I predict a hung jury is a distinct possibility.  As with the Rittenhouse case, when you go after people, carrying a gun, bad things will happen, and you should be held accountable for manslaughter at least.  Stop chasing after people with guns.  Stop bringing guns to the situation.  It isn't helping and the results are predictable.

That being said, I can see the defense will argue that when Aubery grabbed the shotgun, he pulled back on it, which caused the gun to go off, as the other fellow had his hand on the trigger.  Alternatively, they will argue that the shooter was "in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm" if Aubery got ahold of the shotgun.   Again, it doesn't matter whether you or I agree with these arguments, but whether 12 jurors think there "reasonable doubt" that these arguments have merit.  It doesn't take much to meet this standard.  An acquittal is entirely possible.

But again, even if acquitted, I doubt the lives of the men involved will ever get back on track.  Likely they will have to move somewhere to get away from the notoriety.  I am sure their neighbors at Satilla Shores would like it if the whole thing blew over.  I suspect they may rename that housing development as a result.  Would you want to live there?  With protesters and police cars parked out front?  Didn't think so.

The law is not a perfect machine - no endeavor of man is perfect as we are imperfect beings.  We strive to make it better, but the bottom line is, our imperfect behavior is what creates injustice, not the system itself.  Yes, it is sad that a black man gets harassed - and killed - jogging through a white housing development.  It is sad also that I can't go jogging through the housing projects in downtown Brunswick without facing similar harassment and physical danger.  It sucks that some people think rioting is a legitimate response to injustice.  And it sucks that some folks seem to relish the idea of joining the riot and causing even more mayhem.  Maybe if people weren't so shitty to one another, that would put an end to injustice.  Relying on courts and juries is only a backstop, not our first line of defense.

But the main thing is, getting upset when life isn't perfect isn't making your life any better, but in fact, far worse.