Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Virtual Distractions

Could Zuckerberg Be Right?

A lot of people - including myself - have had a good time mocking Mark Zuckerberg and his "Meta" fixation.  He dreams of a virtual world that he will control - and he's betting the company on it.  His theory is that we will all want to live in a virtual secondary world instead of the real one.  And most folks think this is stupid.

Including me.  Until recently.

It struck me one night that maybe he is on to something.  We already live in secondary virtual worlds and seek escapism at every turn.  Whether it is though movies, television, books, music, drinking, drugs, video games, hobbies or whatever, we seek a secondary world removed from the realities of our own lives.  Even politics are just a big distraction from daily living - so many people know the names and positions of famous politicians, as well as the latest outrages, but cannot tell you the balance in their bank account.

I ran into a fellow while camping, and he was in wonderment as to how we could exist without television.  He bragged that he turned on the TeeVee as soon as he woke up in the morning and didn't turn it off until he fell asleep at night - the classic "talking lamp."    I could not fathom why someone would want this annoying thing constantly blaring in their lives, but it is an example of how people crave distraction.  Their lives are so boring and bland (or so they think) that they need the carnival of television to make life seem worthwhile and interesting.

A lot of people run down gaming - myself included - for various reasons. Like the cell phone, it is a perfect Skinner box - issuing fewer and fewer rewards for the increasing time spent on it.  And no, of course, it doesn't promote violence.   I mean, we know how neural networks are programmed through "training" so obviously, spending hundreds of hours playing a "first person shooter" game that rewards points for killing hookers couldn't have any impact on your psyche in "real life" - right?

But that's not why I dislike computer games - they are a time bandit of epic proportions.  But they are also an example of virtual reality already enabled in the world.  People spend hours in online game worlds, with gamer names and avatars.  Zuckerberg is, if anything, late to the game - if you'll pardon the pun.

We were at a (gay) campground and there were two guys walking around.  One had a t-shirt on that said "Gamer" on it and the other had a t-shirt on that had a Pac-Man "ghost" on it.  Both had stringy, dirty, greasy long hair and everyone was giving them a wide berth due to the smell.  It made me wonder why anyone would be proud of such behavior.  Well, at least the t-shirts were a warning.

But maybe Zuckerberg is on to something.  Maybe - as the comic above illustrates - it doesn't matter anymore if you win or lose in life, so long as you think you are winning.  So if your life is a trainwreck and the world is going to hell in a handbasket, you can retreat to your virtual world, where everything is sunshine and lollipops and life is but a dream.

A virtual dream.

So, no need to worry about global warming - in Bro-Pony land, it doesn't exist.  And your virtual investments in Bitcoin?  They're doing great!  Because in the virtual world, lies are truth and slavery is freedom - and ignorance is strength.

Of course, there is a downside to the virtual world - one than E.M. Forester predicted a century ago - and that is someone has to work in the real world to keep all the equipment running.  Maybe, as in The Matrix, the machines will tend to us like children or gardened plants - while we live out our virtual lives in peace.  But I doubt it.  I think instead, this retreat from reality will have severe negative consequences, over time.  It will cause a collapse in society as we become more and more disconnected from reality.  Maybe this has already begun.

It is rubber-band theory again.  The more your perceptions of reality deviate from actual reality, the worse it will hurt when the rubber-band snaps back.  And it always snaps back.  Reality cannot be denied for so long.  And no, it is not subjective or based on perception.  It actually exists and has finite parameters.

Distracting yourself from reality, whether it is through celebrity worship, media, the internet, or the bottom of a bottle, always will have negative consequences, once reality starts to slap you around. For many people, this results in a further retreat from reality - such is the nature of addiction.  Yes, I'm broke, lost my job, and was just evicted - but if I can score some Oxy, I can live in paradise for at least a few hours before I come down.

Problem is, eventually you have to come down and face the music.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Kaiser, Frazer, Tesla

You can be well funded, make an awful lot of cars, and still go out of business.

A lot of people are wondering whether Elon Musk is the Preston Tucker of the automobile world. That is an incorrect assumption. Elio Motors is the Preston Tucker of the automobile world, trying to sell stock and taking deposits on cars that were never made.

But the post War era was full of other oddball brands that never made it past the 1960s or in some cases, the 1980s. Hudson, Nash, Rambler, American Motors and of course Kaiser-Frazier.   All had their brief day in the sun and then faded away.

Kaiser-Frazier bears special mention, as the founder of the company, Henry J Kaiser, was a multi-millionaire if not billionaire, from all the profits he made from building Liberty ships during World War II. He owned Kaiser Aluminum and also started Kaiser Permanente as a healthcare plan for his workers. His name lives on today, there.

But even though he had lots of money and a reasonable car design, he couldn't keep up with the big three. Right after the war, he sold an awful lot of cars because there was an automobile shortage.  People didn't mind so much that they were buying an old flathead engine car from the 1930s that was woefully out of date.

But very quickly the other automakers upped their game. Overhead valve engines and small block V8s became the norm, along with automatic transmissions. Particularly the latter made it hard for smaller manufacturers to keep up. Automatic transmissions were very complicated devices for their era and only big companies like General Motors or Ford could develop and  manufacture them.

Hudson actually came up with its own unique automatic transmission known as the Ultramatic drive. And apparently it wasn't a bad automatic for its era. However, Hudson was still saddled with Flathead engines from the previous decade, and it only was toward the end of their lifespan that they developed an overhead valve V8 - but by then it was too late.

Meanwhile Henry J Kaiser's big idea was to develop a small car. It was a good idea in an era where Volkswagen Beetles were starting to take off along with weird French cars and British imports. However the so-called "Henry J" was a stripped down econo-box that punished its owners and for only $100 more you can buy a base model Chevrolet with an overhead valve in-line 6 and a real trunk lid that opened.

The writing was on the wall. Frazer left the company leaving Kaiser to himself. The only thing kept keeping Kaiser afloat was their purchase of Jeep. And that was bought out by American Motors in the 1960s. Kaiser got out of the automobile business for good.

What is interesting to look at in terms of the old brochures that are online is that Kaiser had very ambitious ideas for a post-war car. The Frazer brand would be there luxury upscale model with a conventional front mounted engine and rear wheel drive. But the Kaiser car would be a front wheel drive car with unibody construction.

However, even with all the money Kaiser had, he couldn't afford to pay for the development costs of such a unique design. So the Kaiser-Frazer cars entered the market being virtual clones of one another and virtual clones of 1930s technology.

Of course, today, transverse mounted front wheel drive cars are pretty much the norm. But back then it was considered radical technology, unproven and undeveloped.

It makes me wonder whether Elon Musk is the Henry J Kaiser of our era. It is true that he's been very successful with his automobiles so far - and in many ways, they include cutting-edge technology - or what was cutting-edge technology when they came out. I recently ran into a French Canadian who was towing a travel trailer with his Tesla Model X. He says he can go about 150 miles a day before having to recharge which is pretty impressive considering he's towing a 3,000 lb trailer.

But he paid over $100,000 Canadian for that SUV which is an awful lot of money. I only paid $40,000 for a pickup truck, and $60,000 buys an awful lot of gasoline over the years.  In fact, the price difference would buy enough gasoline, at $4 a gallon and 15 mpg, to go over 200,000 miles.  As I noted before, hybrid and electric cars might not make much economic sense for most people - for now, anyway.  The prices have to come way down in order to make them work.

Meanwhile, Ford, GM, Chrysler, Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota, Honda and everyone else in the world is starting to build Electric cars. I wonder if the Tesla will become an interesting oddity, much as an old Henry J Kaiser was by the 1960s. And by the 1970s, most of the Kaiser-Frazier cars were long in the junkyard.

My Canadian friend also has a deposit down for the "cybertruck" which seems to be as elusive as the Elio three-wheeled car.  With a production date of "next year" (always a convenient timeline, as you needn't update it on your website!) and oddball styling, one wonders whether Musk has grown bored of Tesla and finds manipulating stock prices a better deal.  And maybe he sees the writing on the wall as the market becomes flooded with better-made and lower-priced electric alternatives. While the "cybertruck" remains to be seen, Ford and GM already are selling their electric models.

We'll have to wait and see how this drama plays out.  Quite frankly, the thought of buying a new car scares me to death, as I hear these stories about how you have to pay a "subscription fee" with some brands (such as BMW) just to use your heated seats.   This strikes me as very wrong - and anyone who signs up for it, is a blithering idiot.

But then again, people today plead poverty while tapping at their new iPhone to have DoorDash deliver some cold french fries from McDonald's - for a $15 delivery fee.   People are idiots, it seems!

Monday, October 3, 2022

Decline and Fall of the British Empire

Put a fork in it, it's done!

I used to get a lot of crap from my British friends - as well as American friends who moved to the UK - about how great Britain (pardon the pun) was compared to the USA.  Free college!  Free healthcare!  Parliamentary democracy!  The EU!

But it seems that, one by one, these things are being dismantled - or perhaps were not what they were cracked up to be in the first place.

This year, they had a major change in government.  Boris Yeltzin Johnson stepped down, finishing his career as PM on a high note - Brexit was a smashing success and inflation was at all-time lows and the Pound at all-time highs.

And unlike American Democracy, where an "electoral college" chooses the President, in the UK they use the much more democratic method of letting about 160,000 people (out of 67 million) freely elect the new Conservative Prime Minister - or about 0.2% of the population.   Gee, that makes our pathetic voter turnout and the machinations of the electoral college look downright democratic!

The "other" leader, who is supposedly only ceremonial, was the new King - elected by...  nobody.  Well, he was elected by birth, a process that is decidedly un-democratic and archaic in this modern age. Sadly, today, many wordwide want to go back to the era of kings and appointed dictators - failing to remember how awful things were back in those days - and why we fought a revolution to displace a King and a World War to squash dictators.  Gosh, maybe we were wrong all those years?

Maybe not.  And maybe what the UK is going through isn't any different that what people are going through in many Western countries - the US, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, and even the Nordic countries.  There is this perpetual dichotomy between conservative thought and liberal thought.  And as populations age out, the conservative think-tanks realize that the younger generation will trend liberal and conservatives will lose power.

They need a "hook" to stay in power - even as their support base races towards the grave and the majority of the population despises their values.  So how do you do it?

Well, in the US, the electoral college certainly helped Trump - and controlling the State houses allows them to gerrymander districts to skew representation in the House.  Since every State has two Senators, States like Montana, which has a population less than that of Brooklyn (about a third, in fact) gets the same representation as, say, the State of California, which has a population 40 times as large.

With these factors in play, it makes it appear that the two sides are nearly evenly balanced, when in fact, the GOP is a distinctly minority party.  But even that isn't enough - with enough people voting, the Democrats can overwhelm even gerrymandering and the electoral college - as the 2020 elections illustrated, just barely.

So you have to get younger voters.  But how?  Well, you don't run on your actual platform of cutting social programs (including college assistance) and cutting taxes on the very rich.   The young don't benefit from that platform - neither do the middle-aged or the very old for that matter (who are living on Social Security).   So you push "social issues" like this whole transgender thing which is being fanned not by transgender people themselves (other than some useful idiots) but by the far-right commentators.

Xenophobia and racism are also hot-buttons.  Immigrants are ruining "our way of life" (funny thing, the Native Americans made the same complaint, 500 years ago).  And the blacks!  Nothing but trouble!  Always whining that "their lives matter" when we know from "science" that they don't really feel pain.

Right?

Sad as it sounds, those are arguments making the rounds on the Internet these days.  Marshal McLuhan once said that television would make the world a "global village" but the Internet was what really did it.  Ideas pass from country to country in a nanosecond, and you can influence opinion on the opposite side of the globe with the click of a mouse.

So the rise of nationalism, petty dictators, xenophobia, and other trappings of the far-right, are appearing all over the world at the same time.  And young people - not a lot of them, but some - are falling for this nonsense.  The right targets the disaffected, the loners, the people who don't fit in.  They go after (and created the whole concept of) "incels" - telling unattractive, self-centered young men who are overweight and have hygiene issues that liberal thinking and feminism are the only reasons why Stephanie the lead cheerleader doesn't want to date a 75-lb overweight teenager with greasy stringy hair, who smells bad and rants about politics all the time.   If only the USA was like Iran or the Taliban, where you could just buy your brides outright!

Similarly, in the UK, you tell some lazy slob that the reason he lost his job wasn't the fact he showed up late (if at all) and drunk or on drugs, but because of "Brexit" and minorities and immigrants.  Even today, as their economy craters (faster than other Western countries) they play this blame game.  The damage done by "Brexit" wasn't the fault of conservatives, but rather petty retribution by those snooty EU technocrats!   Why can't we "fast lane" the visa queue when visiting Malta?  I mean, just because we don't let them into our country!

But of course, the problems the UK date back to the second World War.  The British Empire peaked about 1922 and then went downhill from there.  Colonialism was already dying by the time of the first World War, by the end of the second, it was largely dead.  The UK, broke and broken, retreated inwardly into itself.  Workers decided that after the travails of war, they deserved a break.  And labor strife slowly destroyed the coal industry (which was a good thing) and the British auto industry (no great loss!).  Brexit may be the final nail the coffin for remaining industry as well as the financial sector.

What's the point of all this?  Not to beat up on the UK - it is a fine country, once they work out all the bugs and maybe abolish the monarchy*.   Rather the point is, no country is perfect, and we are all subject to the same worldwide trends in politics and human nature.  Donald Trump was not some sort of American anomaly, but a symptom of a communal desire for a strong-man - a desire that seems to overwhelm humanity every 50 years or so.  Even today, people are praising "Dark Brandon" because Joe Biden appears to be taking the gloves off and "getting shit done!"

But one thing is for certain.  The next time my Euro friends crow about the advantages of a multi-party system and parliamentary democracy, I will cry "BULLSHIT!" as loudly as possible.  Because while our system is imperfect, experience has shown that other systems aren't much better - and in fact, some are far worse.

* Why not replace the royal family with historical re-enactors?  It works for us!  After all, it is what the tourists want to see - the pomp and circumstance.  And a bunch of actors would be a lot cheaper and easier to manage than the real royals.  To prevent them from being beatified, they should be swapped out every year, perhaps in some sort of Eurovision song-contest kind of competition.  Say, since Brexit, is the UK allowed to compete in Eurovision?  Just asking.  I mean, they aren't part of Europe anymore, right?

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Generators

Do you really need or want a generator?

We took our generator with us this summer on a 3-month trip through the Midwest up to Minnesota and back. I'm not sure why we brought it, because we only used it once and that was to cool down the camper while we were shopping in Walmart.

We bought the generator years ago when we had Ginger, our Greyhound dog. We were concerned we would be in a situation where we had to leave her in the camper for an hour or more in the heat, and the generator would power the air conditioner to keep her cool. And we did use it for that purpose. But overall we maybe put a few dozen hours on the generator before Ginger passed on.

Since then, we've hardly used the generator.  And every time there's a hurricane or major storm, you hear terrible stories about people who buy generators and then run them in their garage or other part of their house and end up killing their whole family with carbon monoxide. It is very sad.

And what do they need the generator for? In most cases, the generator won't run the air conditioning or other major systems of the house. Rather, they're trying to keep some lights on or maybe the television or possibly the refrigerator to preserve less than $100 worth of food.  Here's a hint:  If you don't open the refrigerator door, it may keep food cold for hours - until the power comes back on.

Some folks go all out and buy a whole house generator. These can cause cost thousands of dollars and generally rest upon a pedestal and are connected into the main electrical system of the house such that when the power goes off, the generator automatically starts and powers most, if not all, of the systems of the house - depending on how powerful a generator you bought.

In areas where power outages are frequent, this might make some sense. However, many home improvement stores are selling generator sets like this from Generac, which in my experience has been less than reliable. We had a Generac generator set in our class C motorhome, and it was little more than a lawn mower engine attached to an alternator. It died a quick death.  Some wags say that "Generac" stands for "Generate a Racket!" and that is apt.  We replaced the broken Generac in the Class C with a Honda RV genset (they since have left that business) and it was much quieter.

You will see these cheap generators for sale at big box stores and Tractor Supply and Harbor Freight and they seem appealing. For less than half the cost of a Honda generator, you can buy some Brand X model that comes in a cage and as loud as hell.  But in my mind, it is a false economy.

There are basically two kinds of generators, the alternator type and the frequency inverter type. Alternator type generators are basically an internal combustion engine hooked up to an alternator which generates an AC waveform.  To maintain 60 hertz frequency, the generator runs at a constant, wide open speed which makes them very loud. But they are also very cheap to build and that makes them appealing to people who think they can have a generator on a budget.

Inverter generators, as the name implies, use a DC generator with a frequency inverter to generate an AC sine wave regardless of engine speed. Thus, if the load level is low, the generator will throttle down and still provide the correct frequency and amperage needed. When the load increases, the internal combustion engine will throttle up accordingly. As a result, such generators are far quieter and more fuel efficient than the alternator type. However, is sufficiency and quietness comes of the cost. They are often twice as expensive as the inexpensive alternator type generators.

The temptation with generators is to be the person on the block who has all his lights on when the power is off. People don't like to feel helpless when situations are out of their control. Having a generator is a way of exerting control over your environment, albeit in a limited way.

What brought this to a head was a friend of mine bought an alternator type generator and installed it in their storage shed on their property, with a very elaborate system of fans and vents to keep it dry, but well-ventilated.  When the storm hit, the power went off for 12 hours because Georgia Power couldn't put up the snorkel trucks in the high winds.

Rather than run the generator for a few hours to keep the fridge and freezer cold - and then turn it off - they left it on all night.  Something happened - the generator caught fire, and since it was plumbed to a large propane tank, the fire quickly spread, particularly once the propane line melted.   It took two hours for the fire department to extinguish the blaze - and the shed and accompanying studio were reduced to ruins.

Was it worth it?  The idea was that with a generator, you would "ride out the storm" - but as we saw on Ft. Myers Beach, ten feet of water with waves of four feet or more, will push a house right off its foundations and then reduce it to scraps, in a matter of minutes.

Maybe a generator is not such a great idea.   Even the "whole house" generators are problematic.   Since most are rarely used, they don't need to be all that reliable.  They are like a parachute that is never used by skydivers but only for "emergencies" - you could sell one that is nothing more than shredded newspaper inside and who will ever find out?   The unlucky bastard who actually uses it won't be around to complain.

Generators, by their nature, tend to sit for long periods of time between uses and this is problematic.  Fuel can go stale - gasoline will turn to varnish and clog filters and carburetors.  Diesel fuel will actually grow algae and turn to gel.  Spark plugs foul, components corrode.  Machinery does not like to sit idle, which is why motorhomes or boats, used intermittently, usually break down the first sunny weekend the owner decides to use them.  Generators break down at the worst time - when you need them most.

This is not to say that no one needs a generator, ever, only that a lot of folks waste money on generators and never use them, and they are not usable when you do need them.  Worse yet, people spend money on generators and then fabricate a need for them and thus run them all the time, even when not needed.

When camping, we see folks running generators during "generator hours" - starting a loud, cheap generator at 9:01AM and not shutting it down until 4:59PM.   They don't really need it, but claim to be "charging their battery" which shouldn't be running down so quickly (they need a new battery!) running some LED lights in their camper.  Worse yet, people will run the generator to make microwave popcorn while camping.   A viable alternative is to lean to do without or use alternatives, when camping.   You can make popcorn on the stove, for example - I know it sounds weird!  But our ancestors apparently did this, before microwaves were invented.

For most of us, a generator is just another expense - a $1000 purchase that will never (or rarely) be used, and when it is needed, likely won't work.  A better and much cheaper approach is to think about how to live without electricity - or simply leave the area if a storm is approaching.

The risk of death from carbon dioxide or the risk of fire make the whole proposition even worse.

Think long and hard before buying a generator.  Do you really need one?  Or do you just want to be "that guy" who has all his lights on, while the neighbors all live in the dark?

Yea, status - it rears its ugly head once again!

Friday, September 30, 2022

Hurricane Recovery - Faster Than You Think!

Our favorite picnic spot on the Sanibel causeway is now underwater.  But not for long....

People are freaking out - and rightfully so - at the level of destruction caused by hurricane Ian.  It hit Ft. Myers Beach (Estero Island) pretty hard, pretty much washing over the island and wiping out a number of homes.  Down the road, the causeway to Sanibel island was wiped out in many spots - the bridges collapsed in sections and water rushed over the sandy parts, forming new channels - including one right where our hamster is shown parked above.

The death toll is unknown, but it could be bad, as a lot of people didn't leave when they had the chance.  Many more left cars and boats behind, only to be destroyed by the storm.  It will take months and years to rebuilt it all - but a lot will be built back faster than you'd expect.  The causeway to Sanibel will likely be fixed in months, I suspect.  But we'll have to wait and see.

The big problem is insurance.  I wrote before that we had a windfall (sorry, pun) profit with our condos in Pompano Beach after a big hurricane, as the State Farm adjusters all needed a place to stay during the normally-slack summer months.  Those State Farm checks paid our mortgage!

So they will once again send down agents and appraise damage and cut checks, although State Farm no longer writes on coastal areas and many more agencies have left Florida (as I noted before) due to the roofing scam (which will go into overdrive now).  The few companies left may also leave the State or jack their rates - already high - through the roof.

Would you write a policy on a house built on a spit of sand in the ocean?   An honest question, as I own a house on a spit of sand in the ocean.  So far, it looks like the hurricane will miss Jekyll Island, but by Sunday, I could be homeless.  Good thing we are in the RV in Mississippi, where it is sunny and cool and a little windy.

The insurance issue could have ripple effects across the country, as other companies re-think their exposure to storm damage.  Anything on any coast is suspect - Texas, the Carolinas, California-Oregon-Washington (with added tsunami risks!) as well as New England which was socked with hurricanes.  You do remember what happened to the Jersey shore, right?

Even inland areas are not safe.  I wrote before how we traveled through Vermont on Route 9 after a hurricane - yes, a hurricane - hit that land-locked State.  The road was washed out in several spots, but the Governor redirected road crews across the State to stop work on every project and rebuild Route 9, which they did in record time.  So it can be done.   The main road of Estero Island looks bad, but it is just sand over the road.  When the hurricane hit in the 1950s, they brought snow plows from up north to move the sand away.  The same will happen again - or something similar.

On the other hand, many entire neighborhoods were reduced to rubble.  The question is, will people rebuild and what will they build if they do?  Already the island was over-developed, as I wrote about before, more than once.  Old houses were torn down and replaced with high-rises, but the same narrow road handled all the increased traffic.  It took hours to traverse the island, which is hardly larger than the one I live on.

Maybe this is a chance to rebuilt in a way that is better for the environment as well as traffic flow and quality of life.  Nah!  Can't have that!  This is Florida, after all.

It is interesting to note that in the views I have seen so far, the newer houses and condos, built on stilts, and made of concrete, seemed to weather the storm much better.  The old "beach shacks" made of wood, floated away and were smashed to kindling.  No doubt, insurance companies (and zoning laws) will require that any new construction be elevated and hurricane-proof or at least resistant.

But whether it is affordable to rebuild is the question.  As I noted in an earlier posting, the property taxes in Florida are obscene.  So if you buy a wiped-out house from the owner (who cashes his insurance check and leaves) and you build a million-dollar home on the bay (it's been done, a lot, there) your property taxes will be in the five figures, easily.  Add in a five-figure insurance bill and you wonder who can afford to live there.  Even a half-million-dollar home is unaffordable - which is why we sold Mark's parents home on Ft. Myers Beach, when they passed away.  As out-of-state owners, we'd be looking at 20K a year in taxes and insurance and would have to rent the place, week by week, to vacationers, just to cover costs.  And of course, today, we'd be looking at a vacant lot.

Actually, it was a vacant lot a few years ago, when a storm came in (two years after we sold out) and pretty much destroyed the place.  And that was just a "tropical depression" not a major wipe-out that we had this time around.

We are fortunate - so far - that Jekyll seems to miss hurricanes.  Florida sticks out into the Gulf Stream, as does South Carolina.  The Georgia coast - all 100 miles of it - is inland from the Gulf Stream and protected not only by barrier islands, but by offshore sandbars and reefs which mean we have shitty surfing, but little erosion.

But that doesn't mean we are safe.  In the late 1800's a hurricane hit the island dead-on and water washed over the island much as it just did to Ft. Myers Beach.  Fortunately, most of the island was uninhabited at the time.  Today, it is only 1/3 developed, but that still means a huge economic loss if we get a major storm.

Maybe it is time to sell?  Or maybe it is too late - after all, the orgy of buying peaked about three months ago when interest rates spiked.

I am sure a few savvy investors will fly down to Florida on private planes and start snapping up damaged properties and either bulldoze them and build mini-mansions, or do half-assed repairs and sell the mildew-smelling homes to unsuspecting buyers (we've seen more than a few in our real estate adventures in the sunshine state!).

But on the whole, I think within a few years, all will be forgotten, particularly if there is not another major hurricane making landfall.  There are lots of hurricanes out there - if you visit the NOAA site during hurricane season, you will notice this.  Many - maybe most of them - either fizzle out in the deep ocean, or hit "other countries" which of course, as Americans, we don't care about much, other than to throw paper towels at them.

And once again, we will get complacent, and then a big storm will hit - and everyone will act like this never happened before.

What would I do if hurricane Ian turned sharply West and wiped out our island?  Hard to say.  FEMA flood insurance covers only $250,000 which they claim is the cost of rebuilding the house.  If this is so, then the cost of the land is another quarter-million.  Problem is, if you want to just "walk away" no one will pay you much for a piece of land that was just scoured by a hurricane, particularly if everyone else is selling at the same time.

People like to talk about insurance scams - and they exist.  But for the most part, with deductibles and all, you don't come out ahead when making an insurance claim - you end being made partially whole, but not entirely whole.  And it is rare that you would come out ahead.

But then again, sometimes it happens.  When Mark's stepmother weathered one of the minor hurricanes on Estero, the insurance company came out and wrote her a check for $10,000 to repair the screen "cage" around the swimming pool.   She called her handyman who repaired and re-screened the cage for $3000.  "I feel guilty about this!" she said.  We told her to bank the money - the next storm would not be so generous!

To the insurance company, it was a minor payout and the cost of researching the cost of repairing versus replacing the cage wasn't worth dickering over - particularly when there were hundreds of other houses to visit and adjust.  And of course, they just pass on these costs to the consumer - so Floridians love to gloat about how they "pulled a fast one" on the insurance company, but then bitch about the outrageous premiums.

Mark's Uncle once had a chimney fire in his house.  Before he called the fire department, he pulled logs out of the fireplace and rolled them on the carpet. "This way I get new carpet!" he boasted.  I am not sure he came out ahead there, but it illustrates the mentality of some people, particularly folks who consider themselves to be "operators" like Mark's Uncle did.  By the way, that's called insurance fraud, although the $500 in wall-to-wall carpet wasn't worth litigating over, from the perspective of the insurance company.

Of course, hurricane season isn't over quite yet.  So hold on to your hats!


Thursday, September 29, 2022

Thing You Don't Need - Crypto, Gold, Guns, Vaping

When you see something being sold in poor neighborhoods, it is probably a "poor" bargain!

We were driving through rural Arkansas and saw many a sign for gun shows, or pawn shops hyping that they sold guns and gold (or bought back same, for half-price, of course!).  The funniest, I thought, was a vaping store that advertised that they sold "Crypto!"

Of all the things an impoverished redneck doesn't need...

I recounted before how during the last recession, people were unloading guns (no pun intended) for half what they paid for them.  They went out and bought an AR-15 because, you know, crime and all, and after a decade of it sitting in a closet (loaded of course, where the kids can find it) they realized they spend a thousand dollars or more on what is, in effect, a paperweight.  No one was busting into their dilapidated trailer to steal their precious collectibles.

But again, you see this all the time in impoverished areas.  A run-down trailer or house with "NO TRESPASSING!" signs all around it, or, as we saw at one house in Missouri (that upon initial inspection, appeared abandoned), "TRESPASSERS AND THEIVES [sic] WILL BE SHOT ON SITE [sic]!"

The less someone has, the more paranoid they are about it being taken away.  So they cling to rusted-out old cars that stopped running during the Reagan Administration.  Then they tell poverty stories to their friends how their rusted-out collection of mediocre cars will someday be worth millions.

But they won't.  The common denominator is that poor people "invest" in things like gold, crypto, and guns and then later on - when they need the money - they sell them for half what they paid for them (the real market value).  Worse yet, they sell them to make payments on a credit card, which is where they charged the purchase to begin with.

It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.  And things like vaping and tattoos and piercings just add to the pile.  You could argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with these pursuits (except maybe vaping, which can destroy your lungs) but they are things that are unnecessary to daily living and really a burden if you are living "paycheck-to-paycheck" as so many claim to be doing.  And yes, in these same neighborhoods are liquor stores with bars on the windows, selling pints of booze - right next to the payday loan place.

But like clockwork, people defend these practices and businesses - often the very victims themselves or people claiming to be sympathetic to the poor.  More than once I have read, in "liberal" publications, that the poor need payday loans, as no one else will lend to them, and they need to borrow on their paychecks to put food on the table.   As if turning $1 into 50 cents somehow feeds your family.

Similarly, many on the left claim it is "poor shaming" to call out someone who has $10,000 in tattoos but complains they will "never be able to pay off" their $25,000 in student loans.  Sadly, unlike a gun or a bar of gold, you can't pawn a tattoo.

They want their cake and eat it too.  Every "poor" person I know has an iPhone they bought on a three-year contract with Verizon.  Every "poor" person I know eats out more times a week than I do - often every night of the week, day of the week, and morning of the week.  But I am "poor shaming" by scrambling my own eggs!  Lookit Mr. Gotrocks with his fancy-dancy hotplate!

I digress.

The point is, the poor are poor not only because they are exploited by the rich, but because they make poor decisions which makes them easy to exploit by the rich.  And in terms of changing behavior or changing society, I see only one realistic and achievable path for most people.  We can wait for massive social changes and hope they don't screw us further (as revolutions tend to do) or we can change our own lives.  In terms of what is do-able, the latter is far easier to achieve.

No one is pointing a gun at your head and saying, "drive ten miles to McDonald's for breakfast!" - and yet, I see people do it, every day, in campgrounds and neighborhoods across America.  Not only is it a horrible waste of money, it is a horrible waste of time.   Similarly, no one points a gun at your head and says "get a tattoo instead of paying your credit card bill!" - yet so many do and then claim to be victims of the "system."

You drive through poor neighborhoods like that - in rural Arkansas or the ghettos of the city - and you see these raw deals being presented and you know the reason why these stores and shops are there.  People are lapping up these raw deals, in droves.

And apparently, that is the fault of us who do not.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Nagging

What is nagging and why do people do it?

What exactly is nagging?  Why do people do it?  And how can it be stopped - or can it?  I was thinking of this the other day.

A husband is late for work, and says to his wife, "I'm late for work, I can't find my car keys!  Have you seen them?"

Now, in response to this question, there are three right answers and several wrong ones.

The right answers are:

"I haven't seen them, sorry!" or
"They are on the dresser!" or
(best of all) "No, but let me help you look for them!"

The wrong - nagging - answers include:

"You're always losing things!  Why don't you keep better track of things!" or

"I'm not in charge of your car keys.  If you can't do a better job of....(etc. etc. etc.)" or

"Late for work again!   You're always running late!  Why don't you... (etc. etc. etc.)"

You see the difference.  Someone asks a factual question ("Have you seen my keys?") and the answer they are looking for is a factual one - one that will help them.

But the nagger decides this is the opportune moment to pick apart their spouse's flaws, real or imagined, or just kick them when they are down and most vulnerable.   They already feel like shit, being late for work and having misplaced the keys, why not make them feel worse?

And we wonder why the divorce rate is so high - and the spousal murder rate isn't lower!

In the movies and comic books, nagging is usually depicted as a housewife constantly talking to the husband - and reminding him of things to do, like take out the garbage.  But nagging is more than that.  It is this incessant need to tear down a spouse or a friend, with this constant background level of criticism.

If we dissect nagging, we see why it is traditionally something that wives are accused of doing to husbands.  Nagging is all about the power imbalance.  Until fairly recently, women were unempowered in most relationships and in fact, little more than property - and still are, in many most parts of the world.  But with changes in social attitudes, I am sure that husbands will start to nag as well - and probably many already are.

In almost every relationship or marriage, one party has more power than the other - it may be slight, it may be severe.  In America, traditionally the husband was the "breadwinner" and had a job and a career and the social status that came with it.  In most households, he was "head of the house" and made all the important decisions - at least on paper.  Wives had to be content with basking in the reflected light of their husbands, being "Mrs [Husband's Name]" and not even having a name of their own.

Like I said, this is changing.

But nagging gives the more submissive party in the relationship a chance to get even, so to speak - to assert some form of power or authority over the dominate party. It is akin to how powerless inner-city youth vandalize and spray-paint things - they are attempting to exert control over their own environment in the only way they know how.

Nagging may be the only way to achieve a power balance in a marriage.

Or it may be something else.  Sometimes people don't respond to simple requests (e.g., "take out the garbage") and thus, the request has to be repeated again and again, until it becomes nagging.   When a person realizes that there are no consequences to ignoring the first request, they wait until the second, third, or fifteenth, before taking any action.  They "win" at the game of passive-aggression, in that, while they are forced to take out the garbage in the end, they make the spouse whine and complain about it the whole time.

Marriage is like a war - or many small, pointless battles.

I think also that television is to blame, in particular, the "Sit-Com" with its put-down humor and annoying laugh track.  We have friends who watch way too much television (in other words, like 90% of America) and they enjoy this put-down humor, which is, in effect, a form of nagging.

In the oh-so-funny sitcom, the main character comes in (to applause, naturally, because entering a room is worthy of applause) and says, "Have you seen my car keys?  I'm late for work!"  The other character(s) then say amusing bon mots with put-downs of the main character's personal flaws, met by howls of laughter - from the laugh track.

That's television in a nutshell, and dealing with people who watch this drivel gets tiresome.  To begin with, they start to think this is funny and worse yet, normal behavior.  So you try to talk to them and they insult you - or the clothes you wear or you hairstyle or whatever.  It isn't that they don't like you (well, maybe...) but that this is what they think is normal for humans to do.  Insult comedy - Don Rickles has a lot to answer for.

Whatever the cause, nagging is annoying - and a form of passive-aggression.   Over time, it can be destructive to relationships and marriages. The extra-martial affair is attractive not because of the wild sex, or "true love" but because, as at the start of any relationship there is little in the way of nagging.

But can it be stopped?  That's the nut to crack.  Once the nagging habit starts, it is hard to curtail.  You can call out the nagger, but that does little to attenuate the problem.  Or you can, like so many spouses do, just ignore it and let it become the background noise of any relationship.

Sadly, that may be the best any of us can hope for.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Amazon Stock Soars on Prison Labor Deal

Amazon has found an end run to the labor shortage.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - Amazon announced today that it has solved the labor shortage problem and also found a new way to thwart the unionization of its distribution centers by hiring prison labor.

"The solution presented itself," Jack Whitehead, Amazon's vice president of labor relations noted, "We were experiencing labor strife at one of our fulfillment centers, and then we noticed it was within a half mile of a privately run prison.  It was a no-brainer."

Amazon can now hire non-union prison labor for $1 per hour, far undercutting current wages paid to Union and non-union laborers like. What's more, the company no longer has to comply with pesky labor laws, eliminating such perks as periodic rest breaks and restroom visits.

"They can piss in their pants for all we care," Whitehead chuckled, "They're prisoners, what are they going to do, escape?"

Ask whether there could be a shortage of prison labor as well, Whitehead noted that, "That's the beauty of it! We can always create new laws to criminalize everyday behavior and create an endless supply of slave labor. Whoops! Did I say slave? Just kidding!"

Marijuana is still a criminalized in many states, and Whitehead noted that Amazon is on the forefront of pushing to recriminalize marijuana in many more states. "This way," he noted, "We can create an endless supply of low-wage labor for our warehouses."

* * *

It is a frightening thought, but one I had while driving through Arkansas.  We saw a sign that said "Federal Prison" and the arrow seemed to be pointing at a FedEx distribution hub. It got me to thinking..... kill two birds with one stone!

Many people are alarmed by the rise in private "for-profit" prisons, which States have used as a means of handling overflow prisoners, reducing overcrowding, and of course, cutting costs to the bone. Prison industries are nothing new - when I was at the Patent Office, the desks and chairs we had were built at the minimum-security prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania - where the Watergate burglars were sent.  Each one had a sticker underneath advertising this fact.

But that was then - prison labor was used mostly for government contracts, or, like in the days of "Cool Hand Luke" as chain gangs, clearing brush from the side of the road or breaking rocks for road paving. Even the chain gangs were going away, at one time - thought to be a vestige of the old, racist South.

Today, though, prison labor is a hot topic, as many private prisons are making money by selling the labor of their "guests" to the highest bidder.  Prisoners are paid - a pittance - which is mostly used to buy small items for their own comfort, such as toiletries and the like - things you'd usually expect to be provided by your host!

Many argue that the wages paid are scandalously low - a few dimes and pennies per hour, in some cases.  Others point out that your "room and board" are covered by the government, and thus the pay is not as unfair as it might seem.  If we pay prisoners minimum wage, does the government get to charge them rent?   After all, it can cost well over twenty grand a year, just to keep someone incarcerated, and the principle of charging prisoners for their incarceration is also gaining ground.

But if you think about it, prison labor would be ideal for Amazon.  The "workers" wouldn't be able to unionize, go on strike, or even take a bathroom break - not without asking permission of shotgun-toting guards.  And if the fulfillment center is located next to the prison, then the transportation costs are nil.  Infractions of rules can be used as a means of denying parole or even extending sentences. And creating new classes of crimes and criminals would create an endless stream of virtual slave-labor.

I sort of chuckled as I thought of this - not because the idea of slave labor is funny.  But rather, I thought it would be funny to somehow get access to the Amazon labor relations people and pitch this idea with a slick PowerPoint presentation - and see what happens.  Rather than being appalled by the idea, I suspect several of the executives would instead ask pointed questions as to actual costs and how to implement the scheme.   The morality of it would likely not be questioned.

The more I thought about it, the more horrified I became.  This is a way virtual slavery could be instituted.  We would end up with a two-class society, with the very wealthy able to skip out on criminal convictions because they could hire lawyers, or, as in recent months, never be charged as prosecutors would know not to whack the bee-hive.  Meanwhile, the poor would be assigned public defenders and the best they could hope for is to negotiate a plea deal with as little time as possible.

And maybe - just maybe - we're already there.  Pay a friend with Venmo to have sex with an underage girl and you skate away from charges like a pat of butter on a hot skillet.  Steal a video game from Walmart and you end up in jail.  The rich, it seems, get away with it, or at worst, serve light sentences in celebrity jails and then write books about the experience - and come away richer than ever.

We are at risk of becoming a two-class society, with the very rich getting away with whatever they want, and the very poor having no options at all.

Funny thing, though, while driving through Missouri (and most of America these days) we saw hardly any Trump signs, flags, or bumper stickers.  Part of this is due to the fact that the "Made in America" merch he sold his chumpkins was in fact, poorly made in China.  The few people stupid enough to still fly Trump flags were flying faded tattered remnants of banners.

But one fellow had a sign professionally made at Sign-O-Rama, with the American flag as a background.  The lengthy message on it was something to the effect that the Demmycrats want to create a two-class society - the very poor (who will exist on social welfare subsidies) and the very rich.  I thought this was an interesting take on things, as the same accusation could be better made against the Republicans - who want to cut taxes for the very rich, cut social programs for the very poor, and criminalize all sort of behavior and throw everyone (except the rich) in jail.  He had the right idea, but the wrong party, I think.

Maybe it is just me, but I'd rather collect my free Obamacare and free Obamaphone and Social Security, than live in a prison and working for 33 cents an hour.  One party promotes the former, the other promotes the latter.  Some in the GOP are still serious about abolishing Social Security and Medicare!  I guess they figure the older voters who were their base are dying off - and now they are courting the grievance vote - chubby 30-something men whose lives are a wreck, blaming immigrants and feminists for all of their problems.

UPDATE:  While Amazon doesn't yet use prison labor, apparently many other major corporations do!

UPDATE: A reader reminds me that Amazon’s newest executive of warehouse Learning and Development is a former Corecivic executive. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Mesmerizing

If you want to make something look more important than it is, embellish it.

Playing Cards.  Beer Labels.  Booze Labels.   Currency.  They all have something in common - they are embellished and decorated in a mesmerizing fashion to make them appear more serious and important than they really are.

I was thinking about this while perusing the alcohol aisle at a Missouri WalMart.  As you know, Juame Serra Cristallino sparking Cava is still my "go to" beverage and we buy it by the case.  But recently, Walmart has introduced a line of "Winemaker's select" wines, and their sparkling wine, at $4.96 a bottle (take that, inflation!) is a good deal.  If you are in Bolivar, Missouri, don't bother - I bought every bottle they had.  Well, I left two as a token gesture.  It's like their Woven Squares wheat crackers - when you see them in stock, you buy every damn box (which usually means, all three).

But looking around, I realized there were a plethora of brands of beer, wine, and liquor, and the labels and names of many are quite embellished and decorated - particularly those aimed at the youth market. As a young adult, the mysteries of alcohol seemed deep - and learning all the different cocktails and liqueurs seemed so "adult" at the time.  Sounds a lot better than the idea you are pouring an industrial solvent and nerve poison down your gullet.  It's got botanicals!

Look at the label of a pedestrian can of Budweiser sometime.  You probably can recite the banner text from heart, if you spent many hours of your youth at the kinds of places that served Bud in cans and you played pool for 25 cents at a time:

This is the famous Budweiser beer.
We know of no brand produced by any other brewer
which costs so much to brew and age.
Our exclusive Beechwood Aging produces a taste,
a smoothness and drinkability
you will find in no other beer at any price.

It's like Haiku - poetry.  And many a beer-goggled drunk has read this label and said to themselves, "damn, this is fine beer [hic!]" before power-vomiting in the bar toilet.

We used to buy cases of "ponies" - sturdy reusable green bottles of Rolling Rock "Old Latrobe" from Pennsylvania.  The back of this bottle contained this inexplicable verse:

Rolling Rock
"From glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe,
we tender this premium beer for your enjoyment as a tribute to your good taste.
It comes from the mountain springs to you."
"33"

Wow. (Quote signs are in the original).  What mystical poetry that only a drunk could appreciate.  And what does "33" mean, anyway?  It is like the mystical eye in the triangle on the pyramid on the dollar bill.  Serious Mason shit, that's what that is, I tellya what!

Playing cards are similarly embellished.  There really is no reason why a "Bicycle" playing card has all that graphics on the back side - naked angels riding penny-farthings, surrounded by spirograph lines.  All that is to distract you from how plebeian and simple card games are - and the fact you are losing money.

Now, granted, some of this tomfoolery has a purpose.  The fine lithographic work on the dollar bill was supposed to help thwart forgers, who didn't have access to the geometric line scribing machines that the Federal mint had.  But that doesn't explain the strange Masonic symbolism on the dollar bill, or the weird fonts, slogans, and whatnot.  It is designed to be intricate, because intricate is serious.

You see this all the time in Victorian architecture and machinery.  The whole |"steam punk" genre is a celebration of this era when decoration often supplanted Engineering in terms of design ethos.  Don't know how to calculate the stresses on a bridge?  Well, then, add some ornamentation to it!  Even something as functional as the connecting rod of a steam engine piston had to have the image of the queen embossed upon it, otherwise it wouldn't work!

Methinks the "engineers" at the time used this distracting decoration to make the technology seem more advanced and safer than it actually was.  Surely this bridge is sound and this locomotive is safe - look at all the bric-a-brac embellished upon it?  Never mind safety features - you can't see that, even if it existed.

Casinos use the same mentality - they are over-the-top in terms of distracting design elements.   Hey, why not add a "waltzing waters" fountain or maybe a miniature Eiffel Tower?  Pyramids at Giza?  Sure thing!  The message is simple and clear:  This is something important and serious - it has to be, look how ornate it is!  And hey, if a business looks successful, then it must be a good bargain!  How else would they stay in business?  It's all about selling the sizzle.

Rulers have known this since time began.  As Monty Python put is, "How do you know he's the king?  He's not covered with shit like the rest of us!"  So royals from the beginning to today, ride in royal coaches that look like something from a cartoon and wear gowns, capes, and crowns that are designed to wow and impress - although anyone can go to a costume shop these days and put on similar gear that would be indistinguishable from 10 yards away.

So what's the point of all this?  Well, once again, the marketing types are trying to bamboozle us into thinking something is more important than it really is.  Whether it is intricate decorations in the labeling and packaging, or impenetrable jargon and terminology than you have to learn, just to be "hip" with the latest product, the idea is the same - get you to think it is far more important than it actually is.

They try to mesmerize us - to distract us from the underlying bargain.  The "sexy" new car has "tortured" sheet metal (as we called it in the industry) which looks functional and serious, but is not - any more than the tortured headlights that adorn most cars today.   You can make something look important and expensive simply by making it look complicated.  I'm looking at you, Chevrolet - who decided to make the ugliest pickup trucks on the planet?  It's like different people designed the front, the sides, and the back.  But it is ornate and "serious" looking - at least to some people.

Don't fall for design distraction.  Putting gee-gaws and dagmars on a product doesn't make it better, more "luxurious" or "professional grade."  It just distracts you from the underlying bargain.

UPDATE:  A reader writes, noting that "cheap" products are often demarcated by plain packaging, such as the "store brand" packaging that Walmart and other stores use - often for the same exact product in the "name brand" package.

Perhaps this has two intended effects.  First, the bargain-seekers seek out the "plain" packaging as a sign of thrift and value.  But I think a second effect is more to the point:  The "plain" package in your cart or on the conveyor belt (or in your pantry) screams to the world that you are "poor" - and people care more about what others think about them than what they think about themselves.  And brand-name products are a way many people establish their identity and also social status.  See, e.g., Apple products.

Of course, every recession, we see "generic" products become more popular.  In the early 1980's, it was a big deal.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Brief Trend of Adopting Chinese Infant Girls

From 1998 to 2018, about a hundred thousand Chinese babies, mostly girls, were adopted by parents, mostly in the United States.  What will happen to this generation of adoptees?

You may have forgotten about it already.  But back in the days of the Clinton administration, it became a "thing" to adopt children from China.  Why was this?  Why did it stop?  What will happen to this generation of adoptees?  All good questions.

China still pretends it is a "developing" country and in some regards it is - trying to develop a working government and stable economy.  China puts out more pollution and carbon emissions than the entire West does, and gets away with this because (a) they want to, and (b) they have this "developing country" badge which is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

China has always been famous for overpopulation.  It is a large country, but has an even larger population.  When I was a kid, my parents would exhort me to eat my green beans, because of "All the starving children in [China, Africa, India, etc.] and famines were a routine thing throughout the tortured history of China.   In reaction to this population problem, China instituted a "one child" policy - every married couple was allowed one child and would be penalized for having more.

Since boys were more likely to get good-paying jobs and support their parents in old age, people preferred having one boy.   Yes, misogyny is an international sport.  As a result, the birth ratio in China was skewed in favor of boys as some parents would abort baby girls.   Given all that (and the same is true in India, supposedly) one would think Asia would be a great place to open up gay bars.  But they get all hinky about that for some reason.

The mythology was that Chinese couples were abandoning their girl babies in the streets and that orphanages were overflowing with Chinese girls. Some claim this wasn't necessarily true, and that perhaps the incentive to have overseas adoption of these Chinese girls was the $25,000 fees collected for each adoption.

Why did Americans (among others) adopt these children?  Well, for starters, they wanted to be helpful and help out kids in need.  It was also easier.   For some reason, right-wing Americans hype adoption as the answer to the abortion issue.  But if you've ever tried to adopt a child (no thanks!) or know someone who has, you realize it costs an awful lot of money and takes forever.  Many adoption agencies, it seems, just want to keep the kids, or keep them in foster care, until age 18.  And many of the kids up for adoption are often damaged goods - born addicted to crack or with fetal alcohol syndrome.  These are kids who act out, not only because of their damage at birth, but because they've been batted around an adoption system for years, going from one foster home or institution to another, usually being abused along the way.

It is a crazy system, as they make it so hard for "normal" people to adopt children, and yet we hear, with great regularity, how the child welfare system fails adopted and fostered children, who are found abused, underfed, starved, overworked, or even raped.   This great screening process that takes years to go through, seems to screen out only the good parents and leave the bad.

So childless couples who wanted to adopt, quickly got frustrated and disgusted with the regular adoption system in the United States.  They would have to wait years to go through background checks and then be given a child to take care of that would be a challenge to professional psychologists.  Many people turned to private adoption - making their own deals directly with parents, often very young, who were overwhelmed with parenthood, or maybe just wanted to make a few bucks in the process.

I know one family who went though this - they tried "the system" and were told to get in line.  Meanwhile, they found a young woman who was having child #4 from an ex-husband, and didn't want to keep the baby - and didn't want to get an abortion.  I am not sure how they hooked up - classified ad in the paper?  You see them all the time - "Childless couple looking to adopt..."

And apparently there is no age limit.  I met a fellow at a campground in Alabama who told me he was in the process of adopting a 30-year-old woman, which is apparently legal in some States - as she was struggling with drug addiction and facing a serious prison sentence.  By adopting this adult woman, he could care for her children while she was in jail, as their "Grandparent."  Sounds like a lot of hard work and possibly dangerous work as well.  I hope he does well.

I know another family that decided to go to China to adopt.  At the time, the "one child"  policy was in effect (it has since been abandoned in favor of a 3+ child policy) and China was basically selling babies at that point.  The reasons they went to China were many.  You can adopt an infant child and raise it as your own (as opposed to a 5-year-old with fetal alcohol system and behavioral problems).  The waiting time and background checks are far less.   You go to China, you come home with a baby - it is as simple as that.

And this went on for a couple of decades, at least, until China shut the door in 2018.  I think they stopped the program for a number of reason.  For starters, it was causing China to "lose face" by basically selling off infants.  What sort of country does things like that?  That treats female babies as excess inventory to be shunted off to whatever country will take them?

But more importantly, the "one child" policy wasn't replacing the population or expanding it.  For all the talk of "Chinese hordes" it remains a fundamental problem with the human economy that it is based on growth.  So long as the next generation is larger than the last, the economy booms.  In many Western countries, the population is barely replacing itself - or actually shrinking.  And for some reason, we cannot figure out how to run an economy based on a stable population.

So the exodus of Chinese girl babies came to an end about four years ago.   And now there is this generation of adopted young women who are now just coming of age.   How will this pan out for them?

Being adopted, regardless of circumstances, can be a hardship to some extent.  A friend of mine, who was adopted (as was his sister) through the Catholic church, would always get maudlin after a few beers and say, "Did I ever tell you that I was adopted?" and we'd reply, "Yea, ever time you have more than three beers in you.  Get over it!"

His parents were pretty typical middle-class people and from what I could tell, decent parents.  He had nothing to complain about, to be sure.  You could use your adoptive status as a crutch, if you choose to, even when you are not incapacitated by it.   On the other hand, as I noted above, you do hear these horror stories about "families" with a dozen kids, some fostered, some adopted, some their own, often found in squalor or abuse.  They've got something to drink about.

So they have this baseline "I'm adopted" thing to deal with, even if they have loving parents and a good home.  But pile onto that, the anti-Asian sentiment sweeping the US (which makes no sense at all, thank you very much Donald Trump!) and things get a lot harder.  It isn't just the virulent MAGA-hat wearing racists out there (and they are out there) who have an irrational fear of Asian people.  There are many, many documented cases of violent assaults against Asian people as of late.  Oddly enough, many of these assualts are from blacks or homeless people, who are making a habit of pushing people in front of subway trains.   The world really has lost its mind as of late.

There is also the subtle anti-Chinese sentiment that these adopted kids have to deal with.  And we all do it, too.  We talk about cheap products from China (which, like opium, we are addicted to) and deride them as being made of "Chinesium".    Give me a good old American pickup truck - made in America with no Chinese parts!  Oh, wait.... like every other car made, worldwide, it has parts sourced from all over, including China.

There is an additional burden for these youngsters, as while they have a foot in two countries, they are strangers in one.  I wrote before about a Korean friend of mine who runs a successful law practice representing some big Korean companies.   I asked him if being of Korean descent helped him with these business contacts - being able to speak the language and all.  Turns out, he left Korea at age 8, and speaks only a juvenile form of Korean.  He learned early on to keep his mouth shut, as when he tried to speak his "native" tongue, it sounded like baby-talk.  Besides, all his business contacts - like most business-people in Asia - spoke English perfectly.

We deride Asians for speaking "Engrish" but let's fact it, the number of Americans and Westerners in general, who speak any Asian language is infinitesimal.   When I told my CIA recruiter friends about the local bartender who spoke mandarin, they got very excited.  And the next week, he disappeared and was never seen again, bartending.

So, our stupid prejudices against Asians are a really big deal for these adoptees.  Yet, they can find little or no solace or support in the Chinese immigrant community, as they have no real link to Chinese customs, language.  They are, to some extent, a stranger in two lands, and feel unwelcome, in some instances, in both.

Some adoptees try to reconnect with their birth parents, which mixed results.  Another friend of mine, who was adopted, and is quite successful and doesn't get drunk and maudlin about his adoptive status, decided to seek out his adoptive parents, which you can do, if you have money (which he does).  They turned out to be two college students who had sex in college in the 1960's and had him.  They didn't feel they could raise a baby, so they put him up for adoption.

They had since divorced and the birth Dad really wanted nothing to do with him, which I am sure hurt.  But Dad had a new, new family, and wasn't even keen on visiting the kids from his first marriage, much less their first child they put up for adoption.  His birth mother was a little more receptive, and his new siblings seemed pretty friendly.  But there was no Hallmark homecoming - it was, in fact, awkward as be put it.  And they haven't stayed in touch that much, in terms of spending holidays together or whatever.  You meet someone after 40 years, what do you have in common, other than DNA?  And the real truth is, we share 99.9% of our DNA with everyone else - a similarly high percentage with other animals or even plants.

My Chinese friend arrived in America with a tiny sticker attached to her, where no one could see, with tiny, tiny lettering in Chinese.  She had a friend translate it and it said something about the child's name and birth mother.  "Oh, surely you saved that in her baby book!  She might be interested in that someday!" I said.  "No, I threw it out," the mother replied.  I guess Mothers don't like competition.  When my other friend sought out his birth parents, his adoptive parents (who he loves very much) were supportive but ambivalent about it.  I guess as an adoptive parent, you always have this subliminal fear that the "real" parents will take your child from you.  Perhaps.

So what is the point of all of this? I dunno. It just seems to me that there is this "lost generation" of young women who were adopted from China, who are a tiny minority of the population, who are basically on their own. There is no generation like them before or after them. It was a blip on the radar, a trend for 20 years or so. Meanwhile, they have to live their lives in a country that is increasingly hostile to minorities of all sorts, with Asians being the piƱata du jour.  I hope there is some form of support system in place for them.

Of course, they are not entirely alone in terms of foreign adoptions.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Russian children were adopted by Westerners until 2012, when, like in China, it was outlawed.  Again, the reasons were similar - selling children was seen as the sign of a third-world country.  Russia also has a severe declining population problem.  In addition, there were a few celebrated cases where adoptive parents mistreated or neglected adopted children (which also happens with birth parents!) which spurred changes to adoption laws.

Today, with abortion being severely curtailed, many are pushing adoption as a solution.   But something in the adoption system is severely broken, and it seems these institutions don't want to see it fixed.  Ready and willing adoptive parents with good homes are forced to go overseas or through private adoption, to adopt a child.  It seems the one way to not adopt a child is through a State adoption agency.  And the State adoption agencies seem to have the worst track record in terms of screening adoptive parents.

You hear horror stories about adoptions, both foreign and domestic.  Desperate parents "re-home" adopted children by granting custody to total strangers on the Internet.  The results are about what you would expect.  The real conundrum for society, however, is what happens to these kids when they grow up?   Of course, this is a problem for non-adopted kids, who are also subject to abuse and horrific conditions with their birth parents.

Or sometimes, kids just turn out weird.  I have one friend who has a child who was institutionalized pretty much all their life - and probably will be.  Schizophrenia is an awful thing, and outpatient treatment often doesn't work, if the patient refuses to take their meds.

So, maybe these horror stories are overblown.  The vast majority of adoptees, like my wealthy and successful friend, turn out perfectly fine and in fact, may do better than non-adopted children.  Maybe these kids from China will have to endure racism in our society - as do all minorities.  Being adopted doesn't make that better or worse, does it?

It would be interesting, from a anthropological point of view, to see how this generation of adopted Chinese girls makes out, in 20-30 years.  Do they do better or worse than average, or do they muddle along just like everyone else?

What is certain, though, is that there will not be another generation like this, from China, in the near or even far, future.