Sunday, December 31, 2023

Famous Spelling Bee Champs And Rubik's Cube Wizards

Do Spelling Bee Champs and Rubik's Cube Wizards end up becoming famous?

A friend of mine dropped off some "stocking stuffers" that they found in a dumpster.  No, I am not kidding. The island authority throws away a lot of stuff and we always check the big industrial roll-offs for good things - decent lumber (have you priced lumber these days?), Christmas decorations (a few hundred feet of lighted garland - it all worked, too!  LED!) and so on and so forth.  At the museum, they has some kind of kids program a few years back and handed out small toys as prizes to the kids.  I guess they had a few left over as my friend found a large shopping bag of them, untouched.

One of the items was a miniature Rubik's Cube and I remembered why I hated these things. It is not hard to figure out there is a trick or knack to these things, but I just don't have the patience for it.  I've seen these videos where some kid is able to "solve" a Rubik's Cube in a matter of seconds and that indeed is pretty impressive.  But on the other hand, I wonder if people like that are one-trick ponies or like child actors - you never hear about them outside of that narrow field of endeavor.

It is like spelling bee champions.  Yea, they are smart kids and as one article notes, many go one to be successful journalists or doctors or other types of professionals.  The journalism thing is explained by the fact that many spelling bees are sponsored by newspapers who offer internships or scholarships to winners, so the thing bootstraps itself.

Funny thing - the ability to memorize spellings of thousands of words doesn't necessarily translate into real-world success.

You never hear about a famous scientist or President or celebrity or inventor or whatever, who was a spelling bee champ or a Rubik's Cube wizard.  Sure, they are successful in life for the most part (it seems, but then again, the newspaper doesn't report on homeless spelling bee bums or some wino with a Rubik's Cube).  We never hear about super-star status.

In a way, I guess, it is like with sports.  Many play, a few are good, a few go on to play professionally.  Of those, most crap out before age 30. The lucky few who make it to the top of their sport, can make millions - provided their sport is a top sport.  A star basketball player can rake in hundreds of millions in salaries and endorsements.  A superstar in track in field is not as lucky.  I doubt Nike is paying much for the endorsement by a discus thrower.

Indeed, it is like so much else in life. We are told to do well in school and get good grades and write a good term paper and that is the key to success.  But as I noted before, often school skills don't translate into real-world success (another reason not to borrow too much money for school!) and in fact, can lead a very successful straight-A student into becoming a drug addict, school-shooter, or homeless bum. Mental illness, in the form of schizophrenia, often sets in around the age when people transition from the classroom world into the working world.

I was fortunate, going to work at GM at age 18. But then again, I always had a "job" starting at age 13 and I guess I just assumed that working was as important as studying, if not moreso.  14 years of night-school later, I ended up a lawyer.  I never saw that coming!

In fact, it seems that the most successful people in the world are dropouts of one sort or another.  Most of the tech superstars of our generation (and you can name them without me asking) dropped out of college - utter failures, these Billionaires!  Of course, some of the people on that list are a little odious (or a lot) so then there's that.  But I wonder if Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg can solve a Rubik's Cube in under a minute or win a spelling bee or become a Jeopardy! champion.  And it really doesn't matter, does it?

So I don't worry too much about not being able to "solve" the Rubik's Cube. Sure, there are YouTube video tutorials about it and I suppose I could spend the time trying to learn it, but to what end?  I am content to be amazed at some kid who can solve it in minutes and bask in his glory.  We don't have to win at everything in life - or even try everything, in order to win.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Why Fascism is Attractive

When liberal governments can't seem to get things done, people pine for fascism.

There is a new Sheriff in town in Argentina, and he is certainly stirring up a hornet's nest.  He claims to be an "Arachno-Capitalist" which I think is some kind of spider.  He actually is a fascist.  The reason why he elected was that people were tired of governments that for decades appeared to be ineffective and corrupt.  People would hold demonstrations in the street that lasted for days and blocked traffic and the Police acted like there was nothing they could do about it. Politicians, nervous about losing support, were afraid to take harsh measures to fix the economy, so nothing got done, other than to kick the can down the road a ways.

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. It was Germany in the 1930s, it is Western Europe and North America, today. Whether real or imagined (or merely exaggerated) it seems that waffling liberal governments are unable to get things done.  But oh, boy!  That Putin fellow really knows how to knock some heads together! (and throw people out of windows).  People want action - even if it means horrific consequences, such as nearly a million dead in a pointless war against Ukraine.

In the US, we see these protests where people chain themselves across a road or glue themselves to the counter at a business.  You have to wonder if "stop oil!" is in fact, sponsored by the oil industry.  It has already been revealed that one of the heirs to the Getty oil fortune is a big backer of it. Make climate change advocates look ridiculous and you make climate change look ridiculous. Meanwhile, the Police, feeling embattled, are "quiet quitting" and doing the absolute minimum to stop crime.  Wishy-washy judges and prosecutors are letting criminals go free (or such is the narrative, anyway) giving rise to the feeling that "sumptin' needs to get done!" to fix all this.

Dictator, anyone?

In Mussolini's Italy or the Nazi Germany, the feeling was the same - the people felt they needed discipline and order, even if it meant privation for themselves. Liberal governments are reluctant to take extreme actions like cutting social benefits, when budgets needed to be balanced. A dictator simply abolishes them and if anyone complains about it, they are shot. Easy-peasy!

Hmmm.... what did I say once that simple solutions to complex problems are almost always the wrong answers?

Of course, in the long run, the dictatorship ends up being a raw deal for nearly everyone involved, even the dictator. Even those in the "inner circle" of power are constantly nervous that they will be denounced and put before a firing squad (or in Russia today, defenestrated).  It is not a relaxing way to live.  Sure, you can make millions as a member of the Saudi royal family - until you are detained in a hotel and beaten to a pulp until you give up your perks.

The dictators themselves?  Well, maybe the dynasty in North Korea has had a good run, but most others end up dead, either by declaring war on the rest of the world, or due to palace intrigues.  In the interest of "getting things done" everything is destroyed.  And not much gets done, either - Mussolini never got the trains to run on time, despite the slogan.

And Hitler?  For a brief period it seemed he would help the working man with cruise ships for the workers and the world's largest resort hotel as well.  People would drive Volks-wagens on the Autobahns, and life would be sweet.  But few "Beetles" were produced before he wrecked the entire country by declaring war on the entire world.  Conditions for "the workers" got worse, not better.  The country was bombed flat and millions of young men lost their lives on the Russian front.

That's the problem with a dictatorship. One man rule can "get things done" but unless that one man is wise and compassionate, it won't work out well, for long.  Sadly, the kind of people who pine to be dictators often turn out to be narcissistic assholes as well as insane.  The myth of the "wise king" in fairy tales is just that - a fairy tale.  Even a "normal" person, once they are given absolute power, become crazed. "Absolute power corrupts, absolutely!"

Of course, the problem for would-be dictators is, how do you get people to elect you as dictator?  If conditions are horrific, people will go along with anything. In post-Soviet Afghanistan, people welcomed the Taliban as liberators - after years of indiscriminate shelling by competing "warlords"  The harsh rule of the Taliban turned out to be anything of a picnic - out of the frying pan and into the fire.

But what if things aren't that bad?  In Germany in the 1930s, the economy was actually recovering before the Nazis took power.  There was sort of a second recession in the late 1930's and the Nazis made  sure there was political violence in the streets, with brawls with Communists (who also wanted to take over).  So they created chaos to convince people a strong-man was needed.

And I think we are seeing the same today. We are told there is a homeless crises and a drug crises and a border crises and a transgender crises and a crime crises and protest crises and so on and so forth. In part these are exaggerated. Homelessness is a tiny fraction of our population. Crime rates are a fraction of what they were in the 1970's. Protesters are annoying, but if they glue their hands to the highway, simply arrest them (but it seems the Police fail to take action, in part to foment this discontent and make  Democracy look ineffective).

A lot of people are buying into this - convinced that an era of record low unemployment, low interest rages, low inflation, and a prosperous economy is somehow awful because, reasons.  How can you be happy when a transgender athlete is competing in women's track? (Answer:  Because largely this isn't actually happening except in a few rare cases, and State after State, as well as sports regulating bodies are outlawing this sort of thing).

We are poised to throw away our county over nothing - and it is just stupid.  Dictatorship is not the answer - it will destroy us all.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Doing Drugs Is Fun! That's Why People Do Drugs!

Balancing your checkbook isn't hard, unless you are high all the time.

I was reading an online forum about finances and some social justice warrior was railing against "big banks" for charging overdraft fees.  Someone responded, "Well, it isn't that hard to not have an overdraft, so why do it?"  And as you might imagine, he was shouted down by a chorus of people feeling sorry for themselves.

I bounced a lot of checks and had overdrafts when I was younger, mostly because I was high most of the time and doing dumb things like buying beer and paying by check.  It wasn't until I started my own business and had to balance my own accounts with an accounting software that I realized that waiting until the end of the month to get a "statement" was stupid.  You have to keep your own record of your accounts so you can reconcile them with the bank's records.

And it took me even longer to treat my own finances like a business and log every expenditure and deposit and thus know, down to the penny, what my available balance was in every account at every moment.  And today, thanks to the Internet, this is a lot easier to do!

If you're not high all the time, of course.

Why was I high all the time as a youth?  I could blame it all on my upbringing, which was kind of weird, but not a lot weirder that most. But that would be using a crutch - a popular crutch used by drug uses and scofflaws when they get into trouble. "I can't help it man!" they cry, "I came from a dysfunctional family!  My Mother used to dress us all in matching clothes!"  The horror!

I am not trying to trivialize childhood trauma, only point out that it isn't all that uncommon.  A lot of people have horrific childhoods and manage to turn out just fine - after a lot of hard work.  We don't give them a pat on the back or an "atta-boy!" but instead reserve our praise for the junkie who is in his third rehab, after committing a number of felonies.  He's had it rough!

Or has he?  Because being high all the time is a laugh riot which is why people do it and why I did it. Many "homeless" people actually choose that "lifestyle" and eschew offers for "help."  They don't want a place to stay, particularly if it has rules that have to be obeyed.  They don't want a job (the horror!) or even food, but cash-money to buy drugs and booze and get blotto and live under a bridge.  There is no easy "cure" for folks like this, who make up a huge portion of the "homeless" and just giving them a free place to stay with no strings attached isn't going to change the way they live, only their address.

And by the way, the "homeless crises" makes up less than a fraction of a percent of the population.  It is a very visible and annoying fraction of a percent, though!

I wrote about this before, many years ago.  People posit that drug addiction is a tragedy - that drug addicts are "sick" and that it is "hard" to "kick the habit" and as a result, they relapse.  But the reality is, being high as a kite, while it may appear to be a miserable existence, is actually quite pleasurable, which is why people do it. And the people doing it don't want to stop, either. It is not a matter of "they can't help it!" or "They need treatment!"   You can't help people who don't want to stop doing drugs and enjoy them, because they are, in fact, pleasurable.  You did listen to Amy Winehouse's song about "rehab" - right?  She wasn't just making that shit up.

Yes, drugs can lead people to dark places.  When you are on drugs all the time, well, staying on drugs seems to be the order of the day.  Everything else is secondary - including responsibilities such as jobs, children, the rent money, and so on.  I noted before how a friend of mine's husband who was in law school developed a crack habit and proposed spending the mortgage money on crack.  She balked at the idea, "But then the mortgage won't get paid and we'll lose the house!"  He replied, "Yea, but we'll have a boatload of crack!"  They divorced, but not before he took out loans in her name - to buy crack.  He ended up starting a meth lab after moving back home and being supported by his father.  He was having a grand old time and leaving a trail of wreckage in his wake.

But to hear some folks tell it, he's the victim.

Some are starting to question the whole theory of addiction.  We were told in grade school that physical withdrawal symptom from hard drugs - or even alcohol - could be devastating or even deadly.  But some are starting to question this premise that addicts are the real victims and not just - in some cases, at least - raging narcissists who are having a grand old time at everyone else's expense.  And when called out on it, of course, they play the victim-addict card.

But you have to ask yourself, if drugs are so horrific, why do people do them?  Because it is pleasurable and fun!  Even when you are not "high" the prospect of being a bad-boy drug user (or bad-girl) is intoxicating enough, particularly to young people.

I am not sure what the point of all of this is, other than when I was getting high every day, no one cut me any slack or tried to "help" me.  In fact, not only did I bounce checks, but I squandered money, flunked out of college, and was thrown out of prep school.  I had to face harsh consequences and that was what, in part, forced me to re-think my love affair for drugs and alcohol.  I didn't need some coddling or rehabilitation or excuses made for my behavior - I needed to experience the consequences of my actions, unvarnished and raw.

When it comes to drug use - or any other form of self-destructive behavior - the stick can be far more potent than the carrot.  And no, coddling people is often not a "kindness" but the worst form of cruelty!

Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Speed Of Lies

It seems lies are the new truth!

When I was a kid, the television told a lot of lies.  But for the most part, they were harmless lies, such as Brand X detergent will "get your laundry brighter!"  That's not a lie, as they don't say lighter than what?  Yes, it likely will get your laundry brighter than it would be, unwashed.  But we all kind of knew the drill and didn't believe really that "Hertz will put you in the driver's seat" or anything like that.  They were just slogans and jingles designed to create brand awareness, and I think we realized that.

There were laws back then against "false advertising" and they were pretty much enforced.  Since the advertisers on television were all major brands from big companies, they were deep pockets to sue, if they made misrepresentations.  So for the most part, television advertising was "clean" and respectable.

By the late 1970s, cable television went from a rural enclave to a mainstream necessity - bringing hundreds of channels into urban and suburban homes.  Since there were a lot of "empty" channels and bandwidth was cheap, the infomerical was born.  Advertising went from a storied profession to the gutter, nearly overnight.  Suddenly anyone could advertise anything, and they did.

With the internet and video streaming, it got a lot worse.  And it seems in recent months it has degraded further - or maybe we are just starting to notice it, as YouTube blocks our ad-blockers, at least for the time being.  The ads I "skip" are little short of scams.  One fellow implies that guaranteed basic income is right around the corner - what he is selling I do not know.  Another claims "Obamacare" can pay you up to $5100 with a benefits card, to spend on whatever you please.  Still another fellow tells me I am an idiot for selling on Amazon "the old way."  What these folks are selling, I do not know, as I click on "skip" as soon as possible.

But it struck me how sleazy these ads are - and clearly for some kind of con-job.  And it didn't used to be this way.  It seems everything is a lie these days and no one seems to notice or care.  I noted in a recent posting about how Sirius XM makes it difficult to cancel their service.  But everyone knows this and knows this business model, as it was pioneered by AoL in their final death throes and taken up by every other subscription service since then.  We expect the companies we do business with to be mean, underhanded and flat-out lie to us, and we can't imagine it any other way.

Now granted, this is not to say the 1960s were a utopian time when every merchant was honest and no one dealt in underhanded chicanery.  But I think, back then, it was easier to spot sleazy merchants as they were obviously sleazy.  Smilin' Sam's used car lot was known to be a den of thieves.  And back then, things like payday loans and stock buy-backs were illegal.  Spoofing the stock market with pump-n-dump schemes had been illegal since the days of Joseph Kennedy and the 1929 crash.  Today, there are entire online discussion groups dedicated to pumping up obscure stocks so that the pumpers can make a small fortune before they dump.  And no one seems to notice or care or prosecute.

In politics, the lie is the new norm.  Granted, politicians were always known for telling "little white lies" - vote for me and I'll balance the budget! (Hey, he didn't say when did he?).  Today, the nature and scope of the lies is much greater.  "We have evidence of election fraud!" they cry - for years.  But for some reason, they can never produce it or let anyone see it.  And a lot of folks go along with this "big lie" theory and even make excuses for them.

Joe Rogain mocks Biden for saying there weren't enough airports during the revolutionary war - or some such nonsense.  He's senile!  Unfit to serve!  His own staff correct him (they're fired, no doubt!) by pointing out that Biden was just repeating what Trump said to show that Trump has lost his mind.  Rogain's response?  "He musta mis-spoke!"

Even when confronted with the truth, they dissemble and equivocate and make excuses - because what is really important isn't the truth, but our side winning at all costs.  And speaking of lies, Mr. Rogain claims to be a neutral party and not a raging MAGA-head.  Lies, all lies.

It was not always thus.  The lies were not so... odious.  We did not have "alternative facts" 50 years ago.  We had them nearly 100 years ago, when the Nazis rose to power and played the "I tell you three times and it is true!" game - repeating lies so often that ordinary people assume they are just background facts.  For some reason, we are going down this same road again - with people, some say as much as 30% of the population, believing that God chose Donald Trump to be dictator for life and rule the United States like a King.

History doesn't repeat itself exactly, a wit once noted, but it rhymes. Or echoes.

So what's the point of all of this?  Not that the world is suddenly going to hell in a hand-basket - that is a trend that started decades ago and today we are just now seeing the fruit of all of these lies.  The Civil War wasn't about slavery, right?  And slaves were happy-go-lucky employees learning valuable skills that would serve them well later in life, right?  Hitler wasn't that bad - and the Holocaust never happened! The world is flat, aliens live in Area 51 and dinosaurs co-existed with cave-men 5,000 years ago when the world was formed.  There are people today who fervently believe these things.  And when, as a nation, we believe fantasy over fact, it never ends well - for any nation, historically.

Act rationally in an irrational world has been the mantra of my blog.  But increasingly, I am not convinced that is enough anymore.  Sure, it may help you get ahead, personally.  But when the irrational people take over the government and announce they are abolishing social security or on the other end of the spectrum, handing out $1000 to everyone in the country, well, bad things will happen to us all.

At that point, the only option is to leave.  Problem is, where do you go?  And can you afford to?

UPDATE:  Speaking of lies, the above quote attributed to Mark Twain is said to originate with Jonathan Swift. More lies!  But relatively harmless ones.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Why Music is a Young Man's (and Woman's) Game (And Why We Listen Less As We Get Older)

As we get older, we listen to music less often and purchase less music.  Our musical tastes change as well!

I recounted before how a 14-year-old girl I knew ran away from home. Foolishly, I flew out there to "rescue" her from being sex-trafficked and it was an eye-opener for me. I forgot how illogical teenagers can be (and how illogical I was at that age).  I think if most would-be parents spent the weekend with some unruly and moody teens, they would end up getting a vasectomy and their tubes tied.

But I digress....

One thing this moody teen told me at the time - that stuck with me - was her response when we talked about how her life was going off the rails.  "I'll always have my music!" she said, as if that was a reason for living.  And maybe it was.

Bear in mind she didn't play an instrument, other than the obligatory piano lessons that we all took in middle school when our parents were convinced we were the next Mozart or something. She didn't play the guitar, sing, or make music of any kind, as far as I know. What she was referring to was music she listened to, on the radio or played on a CD player or whatever.  For some reason - a reason we shall explore - she felt her identity was tied up in a packaged product of not only recorded music, but a set of attitudes and postures that were bundled with it.

It made me realize that at that age, I too, fell into this marketing trap.  The music business is aimed at young people and performed by young people.  In fact, it is amazing to me that the peak years for many performers are in their teens and early 20's.  Unless they are a superstar and can do endless "farewell" or "comeback" concert tours, most pop stars fizzle by age 30, as they are too old for the target demographic of 18-24 year-olds.

Music becomes a form of tribalism as well. Young people like to listen to music that alarms or annoys their parents or the older generation in general.  When my Mother swooned over a young Frank Sinatra, my Grandmother thought no good would come of it.  When Elvis swung his hips, ministers across the nation condemned it as obscene. When the Beatles said (misquoted) they were "bigger than Jesus!" it was deemed blasphemy.

And older people claimed the new music was just "noise" and had no artistic merit.  Later on, when heavy metal came about - followed by "rap" music (music is now just people talking!) our generation decried it as "noise" as well.  Only this time, it was literally true - or are we just getting old, too?

People seem to fixate on the music they bought and listened to as teens and 20-somethings.  Maybe some new "pop" artist comes along that they listen to as well.  Typically, though, music tastes get more "sophisticated" and softer as you get older.  Metal guitar riffs are less enjoyed, classical music and "old standards" are rediscovered.

But overall, I find myself at least, listening to less music as I get older.  Why is this?  I think a number of factors are at work:

1. We got a life: When you are a teen or in college, you have a lot of free, unstructured time on your hands, despite what put-upon teens and 20-somethings will tell you.  So you have more time to listen to music.  Over time, this is less the case, as life interrupts your listening time.

2. Disposable Income:  While perpetually crying poverty (I know I did!) teens and 20-somethings have a surprising amount of disposable income to spend on things like beer, drugs, and music (sounds like a party!).  We didn't have much money back then, but somehow found the cash to pay $4.99 for an album at the drugstore (yes, it was a thing back then).  When CDs came out and were retailing for $12.99 and up, well, it seemed an outrageous waste of money.  But by then, I was in my late 20's and had car payments and a mortgage to make.

3. Fixation:  Like I said, we tend to fixate on the music of our youth, and by age 30 are already grousing about this "newfangled stuff" that is "no damn good!"   Remember back in the 1970s when "Rock and Rollers" said "Disco Sucks!"  It wasn't that they hated Disco in particular, but the fact it was not the 1960's rock they had fixated on.  Kids these days!  Wearing nice clothes and dancing!  What is the world coming to?   Most of the 10,000 songs on my phone are from my youth - what does that say?

4. Moving On:  While we do fixate on the music of our youth, as we age, we realize that much of it was crap and not worth listening to.  The best survives and appears on the "oldies" station.  The worst fades away.  So much of what I thought was "good music" in my youth (by dint of repetition) I cannot even listen to, today.  The Talking Heads?  Seemed so hip and trendy at the time, but now seems just weird.  Elvis Costello?  Mostly un-listenable, as the rage in his early music sounds more like noise today. Tellingly, Elvis today sings "old standards" and you know what?  He's pretty good at it.  His wife is pretty easy to listen to as well!

5.  Hearing Loss: As you get older you lose some of your hearing - mostly high frequency for men.  I tried this informal hearing test with some dinner guests the other day, and it was interesting that the women could not hear the lower frequencies while the men could not hear higher.  I tapped out at about 12 KHz. I need a hearing aid! At parties, the collection of voices sounds like a cacophony and it is hard to pick out one voice in the crowd - including the person you are talking to.  Much music, as a result, sounds bad to older ears.  I find myself turning off music sometimes, as it is literally uncomfortable to listen to.

6. Talk Radio/Podcasts/Audiobooks/News Programs: I am not a big fan of talk radio or podcasts or audio books.  But when travelling by car, we often tun into the local public broadcasting station for the news.  And then we turn it off.  But a lot of people love these talky-talky programs, particularly talk radio.  It really took off in the 1990's and is a staple of radio today.  It seems odd to me, as when I was a youth, radio was all-music and the only "talk" was the DJ blathering on between records (or sometimes talking over the intro to the record) and we all wished he would just shut up. For some reason, talky-talky is the new norm, with people "watching" podcasts where someone with headphones and a big microphone (so they must know what they are talking about!) blathers on for hours.  I prefer to blather in text, thank you.

7. Marketing:  Like I said, most of what we think of "music" is marketing of an image or lifestyle.  Pouting heavy-metal "rockers" with their manes of hair are as much about the image as the music.  I noted before how the whole "glam rock" thing catered to the sexual insecurities and androgyny of adolescents and young adults.  Heavy-metal "headbangers" sold a message of nihilism.  Today, rappers sell the "gangsta" lifestyle, which young white suburban teens mimic until they grow up and get jobs.  As one gets older, I think, one realizes that this is just posturing and no one takes it seriously.  It is just a market-tested means of snaring followers, who ape the dress and actions and attitudes of their favorite "stars" - at least for awhile.  As a (real) adult, however, you realize that this sort of stuff is kind of juvenile.  You can't be a 50-year-old Juggalo, although I am sure some have tried.  Again, Marketing.

8. Disillusionment:  Tied closely to #7 above, I think older people get disillusioned with the whole "music industry" thing, particularly when you discover that your musical heroes are a bunch of racists, rapists, pedophiles, drug addicts, or tax cheats (or all of the above) or just abusive to their band mates or raging narcissists or whatever.  You also realize these folks are raking in millions of dollars of your money and you start to think less and less that spending $200 on a concert ticket is a swell idea.  Some of these "rock stars" turn out to be real jerks.  Others, you later realize, didn't even record their own albums, but instead had the "wrecking crew" or "the swampers" do all the heavy lifting, with the star's actual voice enhanced by massive over-dubbing (back in the day) or today, by "auto-tune."  Even when performing "live" they rely on a pre-recorded "backing track."  It is all a game of illusion!

There are probably a dozen or so more reasons.  It may be that the music business isn't what it used to be.  Hard to sell an "image" since the death of album covers and since music videos were supplanted by reality tee-vee (reality killed the video star!).  This music industry database shows that overall revenue from the music business peaked in the 1990s and is only now exceeding that revenue in 2023.  Meanwhile, the population of the US has increased, which means revenue per capita has decreased over time and is just now turning around.  Perhaps this is following the age demographics of our country as well.  Or maybe it reflects the sea change created by streaming music online. It is an interesting thought.

Of course, the death of radio might also be to blame. We bought albums of music we heard on the radio. After enough repetitions, you start to think the music is actually good!  Let's face it, the band "America" would never have sold a single record without massive airplay.  Horse with no name? Oz never gave nothing to the tin man?  Be serious!

In any event, it seems that people listen to less music as they age (from my observation, anyway) and in part this is because the industry markets to youth for the most part, as that market segment "buys" the most music.  And I doubt that will change, either.  Old people just don't listen to as much music as young people - it seems to be an intractable thing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Anatomy of Hit Piece

Electric cars, like most modern cars, have their share of esoteric problems.

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun revealed quite plainly the prejudices of the author. Electric cars are no damn good, he posits, because the batteries are so expensive and hard to replace.

Of course, you could argue that Internal Combustion cars are no damn good because the engines are so damn expensive and hard to replace.  The twin-turbo, variable valve timing, direct injection, aluminum block V-6 in my pickup truck is a miracle of modern engineering.   That being said, if it fails (say, the timing chain breaks, which has been known to happen on these vehicles - every car has its weak points!) the cost of putting a brand-new engine in it could exceed the resale value, particularity down the road.

And no, if I run it over a rock, rip out the oil pan and then run the engine until it seizes, that is not covered by the warranty.

This is a fact-of-life for any car, however.  Eventually, something expensive breaks and it ain't worth fixing.  In some cars, even having the air bags go off is enough to "scrap" them rather than repair.  And since such an accident would taint the car with a "salvage" title, it is better for the owner to merely get a check and move on with life.  But more about salvage titles later.

Both of the above propositions are "true" in the sense that if a major component on a car fails, it is often "scrapped" or "totaled" or "written off" (not really, as we will see later) rather than being repaired.  The formula is simple: If the repair costs exceed the price of a replacement car (usually used) they cut you a check for the resale value of your car and move on with life.  There is no point in spending $22,000 repairing a $15,000 car (as one insurance company did with one of my BMWs).  Just buy another car - they made a lot of them.

The story, of course, is fishy as hell.  They first claim that the battery pack was "scratched" which necessitated it being replaced.  Then it is said to be dented and then back to "scratched."  The message is clear - these things are so fragile than even a small scratch scraps them!  I suspect the reality is they ran over something (likely a rock, going off-road) and dented the battery pack, which in turn damages the battery cells.  Hence you need a new battery pack.

And no, running into things is not a warranty claim - another misdirection in this article.  If I drive my truck into a wall, it isn't Ford's fault, unless the brakes were faulty.

Then, they go on to quote a husband-and-wife team of  "automotive journalists" who have a YouTube channel (I guess that makes me an "automotive journalist" as well!) who make all sorts of ridiculous arguments as to why electric vehicles are no good.  Once again, credentialism (as thin as it is) raises its ugly head.  These "automotive journalists" said electric cars are bad!  So we have to believe what they say, without investigating their credentials or arguing the thing on its actual merits.

Then there is the language - what Heinlein referred to as "high-index words."  They refer to electric cars as "light-duty vehicles" for some reason - a term which encompasses every vehicle on the road, other than 18-wheelers and the like.  The subtle message is clear:  These are flimsy buggies, little more than glorified golf carts and make no sense whatsoever!   They only make up  3% of the product mix in Canada!

Then why do you feel so threatened by them?

The reality is, this car isn't going to be "scrapped" but most likely a used battery pack from a wrecked car might be installed and the car resold - for a repair price far, far less than what a dealer would charge for the retail price of a battery pack and installation using dealer labor.

The same is true in the IC world.  A car blows an engine and it isn't "scrapped" unless the rest of the car is shot.  The cost of the dealer installing a factory-new engine at retail price and at dealer labor rates might exceed the value of the car.  But someone might buy the car at auction, put in a used or rebuilt engine, and then resell it as a used car - and it may give many more years of good service as a result.

I've seen used battery packs for sale on eBay - for various electric cars.  So they do exist.  And as more electric cars hit the road - and hit other cars and trees and deer - and end up in the junkyard, the supply of used parts will increase.  And as demand is satisfied, the supply of new parts and third-party parts will increase as well.

You can get "knock-off" parts from China for your Toyota Camry, simply because they made so damn many of them.  Parts for more esoteric brands are harder to come by and thus more expensive.  This is why fancy cars are so expensive to repair.  I read a posting online recently where a mechanic did a work-around on a Rolls Royce by repairing the steering column "clock spring" (a coil of flat-printed wire used to connect the steering wheel buttons to the rest of the car) by taking apart a BMW one and then re-working it.  The Rolls dealer wanted $2500 for the part!  Kind of scary when BMW parts are seen as the cheaper alternative!

But the same is true of electric cars - as only a fraction of the overall fleet of cars on the road, they are still "exotics" and parts are harder to come by and more expensive.  This is not a function of them being electric, but being rare - for the time being.  Then again, it is something to think about before buying an electric car.  It is like the cheap "buggies" sold at Lowes.  Great price, great features - but can I get replacement parts for it?  Or do I have to throw the whole thing away when the control board is fried?

And that is one reason I am not rushing out to buy an electric car.  Early adopters have to have a high threshold of pain.  And part of that pain is seeing the "me too!" people jump in years later and do the same thing for half the cost - after you have blazed the trail.

So why is the Vancouver Sun dinging electric vehicles?  Well, it has to do with demographics of Western Canada, which are not dissimilar from Northwestern United States.  That is to say, while Seattle is "Liberal" and urban, much of Eastern Washington State is anything but.  Similarly, BC, outside of Vancouver, can be pretty conservative. And don't get me started on Alberta and Saskatchewan!  Canada makes its living exporting raw materials, which in turn, props up the welfare state.  It is like Alaska, where oil money results in residents getting paid instead of paying taxes.  And with that big oil sands project going on.... well, electric cars are seen as a threat - to their way of life.

So, they write this piece claiming electric cars are no damn good and never will be. But only an idiot would read this and think it was an impartial piece of journalism and not a hit piece on electric cars.

Of course, this could all change if a major lithium deposit is found in BC! Then the Vancouver Sun would call them the wave of the future!  Makes about as much sense as the Ithaca paper that promoted coal and said wind power would hurt the environment.  Yes, they actually said that, in liberal Ithaca!

Maybe money changes hands, I dunno.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Old Cats and Old People

Old people get to be like old cats!

When you get old and retire, you measure time differently.  Before, when you were young and working, it was always "I hate Mondays!" until "Hump Day" and then "Thank God It's Friday!" and "I just live for the Weekend!" and then repeat again.  You count down the days to your two-week summer vacation or until the Christmas holidays.  And then repeat again.

Old people count time differently.  Every day is another weekly Advent calendar on your pillbox.  Let's see, is today Tuesday?  Did I forget to take my pills again?  Weeks go by based on the trash collection.  Monday Night - trash night!  Better get the rolly-bin out there tonight, as they come by early!  Is this a recycling week?  I can't remember - better check the calendar!

Such are the days of our lives.

When every day is vacation, it is hard to keep track of time, other than the unyielding clock of the trash pickup or the daily ritual of medicine.

At first, retirement seems like a lot of fun.  The "younger" set (anyone under 80) goes to (or holds) parties or goes to bars and restaurants, or plays golf or tennis or goes on cruises or bus tours or bike riding or whatever.  Always some activity to do!  As you age, "activity" narrows down to "going for a walk" and sometimes you have to force yourself to even do that.  Having a dog helps.  We are dog-sitting this week.

But as people age, they get to be like old cats.  We had three cats, and two of them lived to be at least 20 years old.  As they got to those final years, they ate less, got all skinny and bony and wanted to just sit and sleep all day and purr.  They also sort of retreated from activities - going outside less and doing less.  The old kitten days were gone.  One cat wandered off to die (which they tend to do) and we found his lifeless body in a neighbor's barn.  Poor kitty.  He was a good cat.

Old people, once they reach a certain age - and that age depends on the person - start to withdraw from society and get all skinny and bony as well - just like cats!  Perhaps it is because socializing becomes harder as eyesight dims and hearing fades.  I find this a problem already as going to a party or restaurant or reception is a cacophony of noise and it is hard to hear people's individual voices. I tend to nod and agree with people without understanding what they are saying half the time.  Socializing is about social grooming more than what is being said.  It is just acknowledgement of other's presence and importance to you.

I think also, as faculties fail and the body starts its slow decline, people feel embarrassed about being infirm.  When going up and down stairs becomes a major hassle, you tend to want to do it less.  And one bad fall can break brittle antique bones - and even kill you, as recently happened to a friend of mine, after it killed his father as well.  So people feel less inclined to go out.

Mental illness or more precisely, mental decline, comes into play.  Some older folks become downright anti-social, finding fault in friends and family and making enemies for little or no reason.  With women in particular, nasty gossip is spread around and people start getting weird about trivial things.  "We need to blackball Suzie from the Parcheesi club - her casserole is too dry!"

Then again, there is dementia.  One of Mark's LoL's (Little Old Ladies) came to the door the other day, mad as a hornet that Mark wasn't at her house at 8:00AM to help her clean out her garage.  "It's Wednesday!  He said he'd be here!"  I had to gently remind her that it was, in fact, Tuesday and the agreed-upon time was 10:00 AM.  It is very sad, but that's why we have assisted living, so someone can take charge of our daily schedule and handle trivial things for us, so we can relax.  Who needs or wants a big old house to rattle around in?  Not me!

That's not an isolated incident, either.  Old people get pissed-off about the slightest things and will hold a grudge forever.  I've seen it among friends and neighbors - feudin' like the Hatfield's and McCoy's!

We moved here 18 years ago and some of the oldsters told us "You're too young to be living here!" as Mark was 40 and I was 45.  Well, no one is saying that anymore.  Most of the folks who said that to us have shuffled off the mortal coil.  We're the old people now.  Well, not the really old people, but like cats, they tend to stay home and have withdrawn from most socializing.

Having watched this process for almost two decades now, well, we hope we are learning something.  Maybe we can avoid becoming recluses in our own home and narrowing our lives like Emmett Kelly's or Carol Burnett's swept-up spotlight, until it becomes a tiny dot and disappears entirely.

Or.. maybe this is an inevitable part of aging - and one reason why "assisted living" is not such a bad thing.  We used to laugh at "old people" living in retirement homes and taking packaged bus tours.  But now we realize that such arrangements can enforce socialization and activity among the elderly.  Living alone at home, with declining health can result in depression and worse.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - a house can be a trap for the elderly.  There is nothing wrong with living in a well-maintained and well-run retirement community.  Such places not only make elderly living easier, but arguably can extend your life - and your enjoyment of it.

The alternative is becoming a recluse, never leaving the house, and ending up being found dead in the living room - weeks after you passed.

Hope the cat didn't eat your face!

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Beggar Strategy

It never hurts to ask, right?

There is an old joke I recall from my college days.  A young guy goes up to a young co-ed and asks her to sleep with him.  She slaps him in the face and says, "You pervert!" and walks away.  He does this again and again and is slapped, kicked and abused and called various names.  One of his friends sees this and asks him why he does it.  "After all, you are just getting rejected again and again!" his friend says.

"That's true," the young man answers, "99 out of 100 times.  But that one time!"

It is an interesting strategy - and one that people and corporations and scammers use again and again.  The guy at Exit 29 with the worn cardboard sign saying "Just Evicted!" (since 2018, no less) is counting on the sheer number of cars passing by.  99 times out of 100, people ignore him or throw beer cans at him or call him names.  But that one time - when some clueless Joe hands him $10 or $20  - makes it worthwhile.  And since 1,000 cars a day pass by him, well, he can clear $200 a day easily, just for doing nothing but sitting there.   In some places, like tourist spots, you can clear hundreds and hundreds a day - enough to support a deluxe drug habit. Tax-free, too!

Of course, the entire premise doesn't work unless that 1-in-100 gives money.  We'll get back to that later.

Another example of this strategy is in scamming.  I recounted before how long ago, when I opened my law practice in 1994, I would get letters - physical letters - from a "Nigerian Prince" telling me they wanted me to deposit some millions of dollars for them.  It was the classic "Nigerian Scam" in paper and ink.  Later on, I got faxes along the same lines - dozens of them over the years.  And eventually, the Internet took over - and I got thousands of SPAM messages addressed to "My dear friend in Christ" or some such.

They played the odds - that one in one-hundred, or one-in-a-thousand, or one-in-a-million would bite on the scam.  Chelsea Clinton's father-in-law, who was an investment advisor, stole millions from his own clients to pay a Nigerian scammer.  So it isn't just "dumb people" falling for this, but random people.  And thanks to the Internet, these scammers can play odds as long as the lottery - that one in a million, or ten million or a hundred million or even one in a billion will answer.  Since there is no incremental cost in sending e-mails (as opposed to mail or fax) you can power-SPAM and play the odds and win.

And again, so long as one person responds, well, the scam works.

The same is true for telephone scams or text message scams - which is why wasting their time is the best way to hurt them (although I think you get put on an informal "time waster" do-not-call list these scammers pass around). They use an autodialer to call every number on the planet and eventually someone picks up and engages.  So long as the incremental cost of contacting potential victims is low, they can make money at this.  If you can keep a scammer on the phone even for a few minutes, it increases their cost-per-victim substantially.

But most of us have better things to do with our time.

Recently, New York Attorney General Letitia James decided to sue a scammer for ripping off people.  No, not Donald Trump this time, but an organization almost as scummy - Sirius XM.  What is interesting about this scam is that they not using the shotgun technique of calling millions of people to get one hit, but badgering existing customers who want to quit.  And the technique apparently works, too.

I wrote about Sirius XM's crazy business model before.  They charge an outrageous fee for "meh" content.  They pay car companies to put XM features in the cars, and offer a free subscription to new car buyers.  If you subscribe to XM and then try to cancel, they don't make it easy.  I had to call someone and they kept me on the phone with a "retention specialist" who badgered me to stay with their network.

They quickly offer to discount the service for up to a year for as little as $5 a month (as opposed to, say, $17).  I did this once and then once the price went back to the regular amount, I cancelled again.  I don't commute anymore and our car has 36,000 miles on it in nearly ten years, so I just don't spend enough time in the car to make it worthwhile as a service.

But others do.  I have a friend who signs up for six months or a year at $5 a month and then on the last day, calls to cancel and then ropes the "cancellation specialist" into offering another year for $5 a month, convinced they "won" a discount and beat Sirius at their own game.  They drive even less than I do.

In a way, it is the reverse of the beggar strategy - you get the victim to call you and then beg to get the service at a discount.

But they make money in other ways as well.  For example, if you do try to cancel the service, but don't stay on the line for a "confirmation number" they will say you changed your mind and "have no record of a cancellation request" - a stupid pet trick if there ever was one.

Still others - and I am not talking about rich people, either - will let the $17.95 a month charge go on and on, on their credit card, because they never check their balance and have no idea what they are paying for (and usually make the minimum payment every month, if that).  I used to be one of those people - long ago before XM was invented.  In the days of monthly statements mailed at the end of the month, well, it was darn hard to keep up with what you charged and a lot of people just gave up and assumed that what the credit card statement said was correct.

Today, of course, you can check your balance in real-time.  When I charge something, my phone buzzes almost immediately with a text-message telling me my credit card was charged.  There is really no excuse for not knowing.

But getting back to Sirius XM, even though the cost of haranguing your customers with "retention specialists" is far higher than what scammers pay to SPAM millions, it works along the same lines. "It never hurts to ask" as they say, and if you can get one-in-ten to stay with the service, you've come out ahead.  And if you are paying someone in a third world country to work as the "retention specialist" and pay them on a commission basis, well, your actual retention cost may be very low.

Even if you can scam a "cancelling" customer into paying for a few months more (at the regular rate) until they call up again (pissed-off this time!) and try to cancel again (be sure to accidentally "drop" the call before you read that cancellation confirmation number!) you make money for the company.

Maybe this only works for one-in-ten or one-in-a-hundred, but it does make money.  And so long as even one person engages with this strategy, they will keep using it.  It is like seagulls at a restaurant - all it takes is one jackass to offer a french fry to a seagull and the whole restaurant is swarmed with them!

To me, of course, it is the ultimate turn-off.  I look at Sirius XM like I would look at a venomous snake - pretty to look at from a distance, but nothing I want to handle directly.  They left such a bad taste in my mouth that it is a "never again" kind of deal.  Others of course, put their hand on the hot stove again and again - and never learn.

On the other hand, if Sirius is forced to put a prominent "Cancel" button on their website - one that quickly and easily works - then people would not try the scheme my friend uses, to negotiate with the "retention specialist" for a discounted rate.  As a result, they would lose my friend as a customer, unless they reduced their regular rate to something more reasonable, like $5 a month.

At which point, I might actually subscribe!  Nah.  I think I would throw $5 at Pandora before I give those bastards at Sirius XM a friggin' nickel!

That's the problem with the beggar strategy.  Whether it is a "homeless" bum, or a guy trying to score with chicks or an online scammer or a satellite service, the strategy leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth and eventually results in a bad reputation for the scammer.

Think about it - do you harbor warm and fuzzy feelings for your cable company?  Of course not!  But so long as even one person keeps engaging with them, they will keep being scammy.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Cheap Gas!

Thanks Biden! (Just Kidding, Presidents don't control gas prices that directly).

When Joe Biden was elected, gas prices were sort of high - not by world standards or even historical standards in the USA.  Trumpers put stupid stickers on gas pumps with a picture of Joe Biden on them, saying "I Did That!" as if there was a knob or dial on the wall of the Oval Office that set gas prices nationwide and somehow Bumblin' Joe bumped into it and jacked the price of gas without realizing it.

Actually, he did the opposite - releasing oil from the national reserve (which Republicans criticized) at a very high price and now is refilling it at a lower price.  Buy Low, Sell High!  "Businessman" Donald Trump could learn a lesson or two from "senile" Joe Biden.

Trumpers are sort of cute in their naivety, like a five-year-old believing in Santa Claus (bad news, kids!).  Except the five year old doesn't have a gun and isn't trying to take over the government by force to install a dementia patient as dictator.  Why is it that dictators and wanna-be dictators are always insane?  I think that kind of answers itself, if you think about it.  Few do.

Anyway, the stickers went away when the price of gas dropped - to historic lows.  Trumpers blame Biden for high gas prices, but won't credit him for lower prices.  Again, five-year-olds with guns.

Yesterday, I went to the Circle K here on the island and regular 87 octane was $2.89 a gallon (plus nine-tenths but lets ignore that historic chicanery).  If you want to save on gas, regularly (sorry, pun) buy a car that burns 87 octane gas.  Prescription gasoline costs a lot more and doesn't really give you more in return.  If you can buy a "flexi-fuel" car you can really clean up, as when we traveled in the Midwest, we saw E85 Ethanol gas selling for a dollar a gallon cheaper than regular gas.

Check your owner's manual - most cars can burn at least 15% ethanol without damage.  The problem with ethanol is that it can attack aluminum and "pot metal" present in many fuel systems, particularly older cars, boats, small engines and the like - in high concentrations.  A flexi-fuel car is just the same car with stainless-steel fuel lines and whatnot, and a reprogrammed engine management computer.  Ethanol doesn't get better gas mileage - in fact, it is slightly worse (and power output slightly less).  But on the other hand, you don't need to go to $5-a-gallon "ethanol-free" fuel, either, for most cars these days.  Check your owner's manual - you may be surprised.  Much of this information is printed on the gas filler cap or filler door on modern cars.

Back in the day, we called ethanol "dry gas" and we put it in our cars to prevent water from freezing and clogging the fuel lines in winter.  In the days of vented gas tanks, humid air could condense in the tank and water would sink to the bottom and then freeze at the fuel pickup.  We never had problems putting this small amount of "dry gas" in the tank, but today, people are paranoid about it.  In the Experimental Aviation community (Homebuilt) people reverse this "dry gas" process and add water to ethanol-boosted gasoline and then let the ethanol-and-water separate out, siphoning out the "pure" gasoline from the upper part of a five-gallon fuel jug.  A neat trick and I guess if your life depends on your engine not stalling, a worthwhile one.

But for the rest of us? Forgetaboutit!

They don't have E85 here in Georgia, or at least it is not common.  The Sunoco sometimes has 100-octane "ethanol-free" gas, but again, they want $5 a gallon for it (or more!) and unless you are racing, it isn't worthwhile.

And as for environmental concerns, it probably is a wash or indeed, a negative impact, as the demand for corn-based ethanol has meant that more and more farmers are plowing all the way to the road and planting as much "roundup ready" corn as they can fit in an acre.  It gets the vote out in Iowa, but that's about it.

If you really want to save on gas, buy a fuel-efficient car.  The hamster routinely gets 30 MPG which today is actually low for a car.  The King Ranch gets 22-25 MPG when not towing, and an amazing 14-15 MPG with the trailer behind it.  But so many men have to compensate for their tiny penis by buying a F350 dually when they are not towing commercial trailers, or indeed, anything.

Note also that if you want to save on gas, change your driving habits.  Flooring it all the way to red lights or stop signs just wastes gas and wears on your brakes.  Weaving in and out of traffic, speeding, and tailgating also waste gas.  You can increase your gas mileage by 1/3 or more (or cut it in half) depending on your driving habits.  Few bother to think about this, even those (especially those) with fuel-efficient or hybrid cars.

I always get a chuckle when I see a Dodge (Ram) 3500 four-door long-bed dually diesel with one of those useless "four-way" ball hitches on it (1-7/8", 2", 2-5/16" and 3") on an aluminum shaft.  You aren't towing a 10,000 lb trailer with that piece-of-shit trailer hitch.  But then again, I doubt they are towing anything other than a bass boat.  And for that, a half-ton pickup truck is more than sufficient.

I digress, but you see a lot of rusted-out pickup trucks here in Georgia. Not being raised in the snowbelt, the locals have no idea how corrosive salt really is.  So when we picnic at the boat ramp, we cringe when we see someone launch their boat by backing their truck and trailer so far into the water that the truck bed is underwater and the tailpipe is bubbling like a hookah.  It wouldn't be so bad if they rinsed under the truck with the hose provided at the ramp - they slavishly flush their outboards, but neglect their truck!  As a result, you see trucks nary five years old with rear bumpers rusted through and barely hanging on to the frame.  There are a lot of idiots in the world, to be sure!

But getting back to Circle K, we have this Circle K debit card that debits our checking account when we buy gas from them.  This saves them the credit card fee, so they offer 10 cents off a gallon on gas.  So $2.89 is already $2.79.  Most gas stations have a deal like this and it can be deceptive as you drive by and see the lower price displayed with the notation "club members" before it flashes back to the higher price.

Of course, you could pay with a "rewards" credit card that gives 3% cash back, but under $3 a gallon it is less of a reward than the 10 cents off.

Anyway, the Circle K is also promoting an "app" where you can get free coffee, as I noted in an earlier posting:

Sadly, we all fall for these gimmicks on occasion. I have been visiting our local gas station here on the island to get free coffee as part of their online "app" promotion. Of course, since I don't commute 40 miles every day in a big-dually pickup truck (or indeed, drive very much at all) I am not buying much gas. Nor are they cleaning up by inducing me to spend on a candy bar or a "roller item" as I have bought neither. Nevertheless, I feel like a member of the "inner circle" when I ring up my XXL coffee and the amount due is $0.00 and I walk out the door paying nothing.

I've also scored three free bags of potato chips.  They also offer 25 cents off on gas for the first five fill-ups (these offers expire in 27,000 days, so no rush!).  This brings the price down to an astounding $2.54 a gallon.  Things are so bad today, aren't they?

If you think this is still "too much money" bear in mind that when I was born in 1960, gas was a "low" 31 cents a gallon, which in today's dollars would be over three bucks.  In other words, gas is cheap, which is why people are buying "gas hog" trucks and SUVs right now - and will be sorely shocked (yet again) when yet another gas shock is orchestrated, not by the President and his dial-on-the-wall-of-the-oval-office, but by the oil companies, who, like any good drug dealer, hand out free samples to get us hooked (on gas-hog vehicles) and then raise the prices once we are addicted.

We have no one but ourselves to blame.

But at this point in the cycle, gas prices are startlingly low - even without the discounts and promotions.  Yet people still bitch and moan about "how awful" everything is.  They are fed this narrative by social media trolls and of course, foreign influencers.  No matter how good things get - or how bad - everything is rotten, rotten, rotten and it always is someone else's fault!

Better elect Trump as dictator - he'll solve all these problems!  And create quite a few more!

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Controlling People With Sex

Tell someone their natural urges are abhorrent and you can make them do anything!

I wrote before how groups like Hamas target young gay men to "volunteer" as suicide bombers. They are given a choice: be beaten to death and bring shame to their families, or strap on a suicide vest and kill some "infidels" and become a martyr (and your family is paid $50,000).  If you are going to die anyway, I guess the second choice is at least quick - and makes your Momma proud.

Throughout history, religions have denied or tried to control the sex lives of their followers. Sex outside of marriage was usually proscribed.  Often, crimes like "adultery" were punished by death - often a gruesome death such as stoning.  Even sex within marriage was seen as unseemly and disgusting - something you have to do to make babies and that's it.  We were all tainted by "original sin" committed by that slut, Eve - and by the way, women are thus evil and need to be contained and controlled lest their lust get the better of us.

Men are little better, it was said.  A woman showing her hair or a sexy ankle was "asking for it" as she was not modestly covered from head to toe.  You can't blame a man from raping when they are showing off like that, right?  Yea, religion and misogyny go hand-in-hand, it seems.

The point is - and was - to get people to feel they are "sinners" and somehow damaged goods, whose only redemption can be had through slavish following of the dictates of their religious leaders.  A pretty neat trick to pull off - and pull it off they did, for millennia.

There is an old joke that "if you are not embarrassed after having sex, you didn't do it right!"   It is natural, I think, to be embarrassed and even repulsed by sex at times, otherwise you'd do it all day long and starve to death.  So we have to do it for the species to survive, but at the same time, have another impulse to not do it. I think this dichotomy of instinct can drive people insane - particularly if they are manipulated into thinking somehow they are uniquely bad for this and not merely human.

A recent article in a psychology journal argues that some mass killers may have links to a "NoFap Army" which is a slang term for a group of young men who are renouncing masturbation as sapping their energy and masculinity.  Much of this is fueled by "red pill" and "incel" influencers like Andrew Tate et al., and I suspect by professional online trolls funded by a foreign adversary.  What better way to drive people crazy then to tell them their natural urges are.... unnatural?

(This also plays into the time-honored scam of telling people that all of their complicated problems can be solved with simple solutions.  If you just change one thing in your life, everything else will fall into place!  But life isn't that simple and simple answers to complex problems are always the wrong answers).

This is not to say that compulsive porn addiction isn't a real thing.  But the authors of the study also monitored a porn addiction group and found that the incidence of violent postings - and violent action by members - was far less. The entire concept apparently started in a bodybuilder forum and them morphed into the "nofap army" moderated by a fellow who ran a "pickup artist" forum (the "red pill" type of people who believe there is a "war" between men and women).  The whole network is full of toxic masculinity (I hate to call it masculinity as I suspect it is all a cover for closeted homosexuality) and caters to people who have self-esteem issues as well as mental health problems.

(Yes, they have even incorporated this and are making money from it, by offering online and in-person seminars and whatnot).

It ain't rocket science.  You tell these gullible young men than their problem is jerking off and that if they just stopped, they would become testosterone super-men (there is zero science behind that, by the way).  Of course, they fail at this as they are males - and men, well, are men.  So then they feel guilty about this and the cycle continues, with each iteration amplifying the guilt and shame levels until they act out their frustration in violent acts against specific targets or random strangers.

And with an online forum, well, you can direct your little wind-up soldiers against specific targets.

It is all pretty sick, but that's how the powers-that-be have been manipulating people, particularly young men, throughout the ages. Deny them sex, and watch the stress and pressure build up until they explode.

One wonders what target these puppet-masters have in mind for their "nofap army."  But given our current political climate and the calls to violence by many members of the GOP, it ain't hard to figure out where this is going.  Scratch a 1/6 insurrectionist and I suspect you'll find a nofap army member.

That's how it works.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

No Substitutions!

 You go to a restaurant to have someone else cook for you, not to play pretend chef!

I saw something online the other day about people who go to restaurants and play pretend chef or perhaps fancy themselves a sophisticate, by making complicated orders and substituting one item from a dish for another.  I despise dining with people like this.  Serving staff isn't much happier, nor is the "back of the house" where the food is made.  No matter how carefully the cook tries to follow the convoluted instructions during a busy dinner hour, these sorts of diners will always complain it isn't right and thus ruin the meal for everyone at the table.  Then they go online and leave a bad review when their concoction takes like crap.

Worse yet are places that try to accommodate folks like this with "make your own burger!" or "design your own sandwich!" where they provide a list of ingredients and you have to painstakingly recite what it is you want, from the bread type to the meat (if any) to toppings to condiments.  It is just exhausting and in most cases they never get it right.  It is what I like least about Subway - where the sandwich maker acts all pained because you asked for hot peppers and banana peppers.  So many decisions to make!

And often, the end result sucks.  Why?  Because most of us are not chefs or even cooks.  And there is a big, big difference!  A chef designs a meal, a cook merely prepares it according to instructions.  You go to a restaurant because a chef created a menu item and if you tinker with it - even with the best intentions, you probably screw up the delicate balance of flavors.  And I have been down this road before, at "design your own...." burger, sandwich, pasta bars, or even buffets.  You are far better off having a meal that was created by someone who knows what they are doing than to throw together ingredients willy-nilly just because they sounded good at the time.

The worst are people who think they are clever or sophisticated by ordering "off the menu" at a fast-food restaurant.  If you know the "secret tips 'n tricks" you can get a Big Mac with one beef patty replaced with a breaded chicken patty!  Oooooh!  A freaking gourmet burger!  Ahhhh!

You are not fooling anyone - it is still fast-food and I suspect the net result tastes the same as the ordinary Big Mac, which is to say, no flavor at all, other than a scientifically designed "mouth feel" that does not require teeth to masticate.  Enjoy your soft kibble!

There are some restaurants that don't allow substitutions for the simple reason that the meals they prepare come out of a freezer bag already made, and the Chicken Pesto can't be made without the Pesto because it comes that way from the corporate factory kitchens via refrigerated truck.  You might as well ask McDonald's not to bread the chicken nuggets.  They come that way, in a big frozen bag.

Some better restaurants don't allow substitutions for other reasons.  They have a line out the door, for example, and the one "special order" throws the whole system out of whack.  They can afford to piss-off Ms. Special Snowflake and her complicated order instructions, as no matter what they do, she will be pissed-off anyway and demand a refund or discount.  Meanwhile, three potential paying groups walked away, tired of waiting for a table because Ms. Special Snowflake threw a wrench in the works.  The "Soup Nazi" had the right idea - "No Soup For You!  NEXT!"

Others will try to accommodate the special snowflakes by offering a "make your own" on the menu, but not allowing substitutions on signature items.  It is harder to remove or change one ingredient from a menu item than to simply start with a list of what the diner actually wants.

But you know, I tend to shy away from places like that, particularly ones where they ask you to "pick your protein!" - I am not running a science experiment, I am trying to have a good meal.  Protein? Yuk!

But what about allergies and Celiac disease?  People have special needs!  Very true, but then again, you can't order the peanut chicken and expect them to "hold the peanuts" - you have to order something where your allergen is not a primary ingredient.  But a better bet is to not go to a restaurant that serves shellfish, if you have a severe shellfish allergy - or whatever.

More and more restaurants are putting disclaimers in their menus that their menu items may contain nuts, dairy, or whatever else you are allergic to - even if such ingredients are nowhere to be found in the kitchen.  It is akin to California's Proposition 65, which was supposed to require businesses to warn customers about carcinogens in products. Since almost anything could be deemed a carcinogen in certain quantities it was just easier to label all your products as carcinogenic and avoid a lawsuit.. Far less time-consuming as well.  It is just easier to slap this label on all of your products than to try to figure out the chemical composition of everything you make (and still getting it wrong!).

This label is emblematic of how irrelevant California politics have become.  By the way, this blog may contain cancer-causing chemicals.  Run and hide!

This is the end result of our litigious society and political correctness.  If you have a food allergy or some other "special diet" requirement (real or imagined) the onus is on you to deal with it, not the rest of the world.  But I digress...

What was interesting about the discussion on this issue is that the majority of people chimed in about what a pain-in-the-ass these "special order" people were - either to the waitstaff and kitchen workers, or to fellow diners.  A small, vocal minority thought that their food should be prepared "just so" and the "way I like it" because since they are paying for it, everyone else has to be their slave.  Again, I despise dining with folks like that - who treat waitstaff like shit and make a big freaking deal about whether they have Pepsi when they wanted Coke (or vice-versa).  The soda-pop gourmand strikes again! 

It just gets tiring. And as I noted in an earlier posting, sometimes these chain restaurants plant these "off the menu special!" stories as a means of inducing consumption.  You had no plans on visiting Onion Garden but now you've read online the "secret tips 'n tricks" to getting extra breadsticks, you want to go - to show everyone you have the inside knowlege!

Sadly, we all fall for these gimmicks on occasion.  I have been visiting our local gas station here on the island to get free coffee as part of their online "app" promotion.  Of course, since I don't commute 40 miles every day in a big-dually pickup truck (or indeed, drive very much at all) I am not buying much gas.  Nor are they cleaning up by inducing me to spend on a candy bar or a "roller item" as I have bought neither.  Nevertheless, I feel like a member of the "inner circle" when I ring up my XXL coffee and the amount due is $0.00 and I walk out the door paying nothing.

Like I said, we all fall for this sort of nonsense.

The only thing worse than these "design it yourself" menus are the ones where if you don't tell the server you want all the ingredients, you don't get them.  I was at a sub shop once and ordered the roast beef sub and was surprised when all that it was, was a sub roll and roast beef - period!  "Oh, you wanted lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, pickles?" the server said, "you didn't ask!"   What do I have to do, jump over the counter and make it myself?  Like I said, this shit gets tiring, which is one reason why I just dread going to restaurants these days.

When I was five years old, for some reason, I hated yellow mustard.  It literally made me gag for some reason.  Kids favor sweet over savory - the latter being an acquired taste as you get older.  It is why 20-somethings drink flavored vodkas and sugary shots of crappy liqueurs.  I outgrew that phase, but not before annoying everyone around me.  When we went to McDonalds, back in 1965 - when they were still frying hamburgers en masse, I would always ask for mine without mustard and it would take forever for them to make one special burger (when they fried them in batches of 50).

Remember that?  You went to McDonald's and they had little chutes that the burgers came down and the server would grab the burger and throw it in a bag.  If you were in a hurry, you just looked to see which chute was full and ordered that.  Today, everything is made-to-order and fast food is no longer fast - or cheap, for that matter.  Or good - if it ever was.

The place was run like a machine - you went in, ordered one of three items on the menu, took you feedbag and then left.  In-and-Out seems to still follow that model.  I blame Burger King for their "Hold the Pickles, Hold the Lettuce, Special Orders Don't Upset Us!" jingle.  Special orders upset everyone there, including the guy behind you in line.  And what's the point?  "I want my shitburger without pickles!  Pickles are gross!"  Like you can even taste the difference?

I mean, I was that way with mustard.  I was five years old at the time!

And yes, it annoyed the snot out of everyone, too.

Friday, December 15, 2023


Getting old is messy.  Dying is even messier.

A friend is in hospice after falling down at the garden center and hitting his head.  He never regained consciousness.  He was life-flighted to Mayo, and they tried some sort of treatment for 14 days on a ventilator, and then gave up and sent him to hospice.  It is very sad.  And it illustrates how fragile the human body really is.

TBI - Traumatic Brain Injury - can happen to anyone, anytime, and falling down is one way to do it.  It is the reason why bicycle helmets were promoted for children - and everyone - and why "conservatives" hate them as an example of "telling us what to do!"  But they are a good idea.  Quite frankly, it probably is a good idea to wear a helmet all the time.  But that's not practical.

Bob Saget, the host of "America's Funniest Home Videos" died this way.  As best can be reconstructed, it appears he fell in the bathroom in a hotel he was staying at, and hit the back of his head.  He probably felt bad (headache, dizziness) and went to lay down and fell asleep - and died in his sleep.  Apparently, slipping and falling in the bathroom is a common cause of death, particularly among the elderly, who have balance issues and also weakening of the muscles, as well as arthritis.  But as Saget's example illustrates, it can happen to anyone at any age.

The ironic thing is my friend was just getting over his own father's death.  His Dad was 101 years old and decided to drive into town to buy a watermelon to share with his kids.  When he got home he tried to lift the watermelon out of the trunk and slipped and fell and broke his femur - one of the biggest bones in your body! - and was sent to the hospital.  At that age, a faint breath of air can kill you, and a hospital stay was enough to finish him off.

The sad thing was, my friend was one of those folks who never was able to completely get out from under the thumb of his domineering father.  So once his Dad died, he had about two weeks of "freedom" before he fell.  Life isn't fair.

What is distressing too is the strain this has put on his partner, who has to make these medical decisions and then sit by his side and watch him slowly die.  It sucks.

I recounted before how a friend chastised us for "only talking about money and death" to which I replied, "well, that leaves only sex, wanna talk about that?"  Because everything else is trivial.  Most people shout down these things by concentrating on mindless gossip, politics, or celebrity worship.  But living here on Old People's Island, variously known as "God's Waiting Room" or "Home of the Newly Wed and Nearly Dead" we have seen many a friend and acquaintance shuffle off the mortal coil.

And it ain't pretty.  In any marriage, the one who dies first is the lucky one.  The surviving spouse (usually the wife) has to do the messy business of watching their spouse die and planning their funeral - and picking up the pieces and moving on with life (or trying to) at an advanced age, without the assistance of a life partner.

Little old ladies (LoL's) rattling around an empty house, slowly losing their minds until one day they are found wandering around in their own filth, or dead on the floor, their face eaten by their cats (the fear of one LoL we know).  Like I said, it is messy.

We sort of had a falling-out with our friend since the video above was made many years ago.  He is a decent guy, but I think he was driven insane by his domineering Dad.  We've stayed in touch with his spouse, and we are keeping him in our thoughts as he goes through this difficult time.

Of course, death at Christmas adds a poignant touch.  But statistically, it happens 1/12th of the time.  Mark's Mother had a massive coronary in mid-December when he was 14 years old.  It was during a blinding Maine snowstorm and the local volunteer ambulance couldn't come out.  So he had to sit there and watch her die as his father pounded her chest in a vain attempt to resuscitate her.  Very traumatic and sad.  But such things happen every day, around the world, to various people.  And as a result, Christmas often creates traumatic memories for many folks.

It was bittersweet for Mark at Christmas that fateful year, as the family opened unmarked presents that his Mother hadn't yet put cards on.  They opened the presents and then tried to guess who the intended recipient was.

The thing is, as sad as these things are, life goes on, and we have to keep living it to the fullest.   It seems obscene to make plans for the future when so many of our friends and family have fallen.  But then again, perpetual grief is not an answer, either.

What the ultimate answer is, I do not know.

UPDATE: Curtis Smith passed away today, Sunday December 16, 2024 at 1:30 PM