Monday, February 27, 2023

Don't make it like they used to

When you get older, time compresses.  Whoever has this toilet tends to lean to one side!

It seems like only yesterday we replaced the toilet seats in the house with those fancy "slow closing" models.  Like slow-closing drawers they are a neat feature - no more banging and slamming as our primitive ancestors did! Can you imagine what it was like to live in the 1900's?  When you closed the tailgate on your minivan you actually had to reach up and close it by hand!  And it made a big slamming noise, too!  Not like today when you just press a button - and presto!

I digress, but a friend of mine had a used Mercedes wagon and they were trying to close the tailgate by hand and they were struggling with it.  "What are you doing?" I asked.  They replied, "This tailgate has always been hard to close since we bought this!"  I reached up and pressed the "tailgate close" button on the bottom of the tailgate and they looked on in amazement as it slowly lowered into place.  "I always wondered what that button did!" they said.   Like I said before, we live in a cargo cult culture.

But anyway, today Mark announces the toilet in the master bath is "broken" as the "slow close" feature of the toilet seat no longer works.  I also have to do a bit of a toilet overhaul (again) as the flapper valve sometimes leaks.  Every so often, if the flapper valve doesn't seat right, the tank float switch will trigger, to top off the tank.  It also needs a new flush handle, as they tend to corrode and break (even the plastic ones) in our marine environment.

It seems just a few days ago we replaced all this stuff - more than once since we lived here!   They just don't make things like they used to, dagnabbit!  You hear old people say that all the time.  But then I realized, it has been twelve years since we rebuilt both toilets and the seats are at least five years old.  Both have lasted a good long time (and arguably the seat is still functional, it is just the slow-close feature that broke).   But as you get older, well, time compresses.  When you are 20 years old, a decade is half your life.   At age 63, well, a decade is less than 1/6th of my life and frankly, age 50 didn't seem that long ago.

When I was a kid, if something lasted a few years, it was a miracle.  Now, I realize that I am driving an eight-year-old car on the original dry-rotted tires.  And not long ago, eight years was far longer than I ever kept a car.

It isn't that things don't last as long as they used to (well, maybe that is partially the case) but that as I get older, time compresses, so it seems like "just yesterday" I bought something and darn it, it's broken already!   Then I go back and look at the owner's manual and original receipt (another old-people thing - keeping all that crap) and realize it has been a decade or longer.

A note on toilet seats:  They do wear out, particularly the cheap kind.  The cheapest ones are often made of wood or wood products and then painted.  The paint wears off, exposing the brown wood underneath as shown in the photo above.  It looks like someone shit on the seat, quite frankly.  If you have this, either repaint the seat or buy a new one - they are cheap (In fact, so cheap that they can cost less than a can of spray paint!).  The all-plastic kind seem to last longer.  The hinge mechanisms are problematic as well - the metal ones can corrode and rust and fuse themselves solid.  The plastic kind don't rust, but can get brittle and crack.

By the way, if you are selling or renting out your house, inspect the toilet seats carefully.  If they look worn or faded, it is a cheap upgrade and people feel more comfortable sitting on a new seat (unused by others!) than some faded, cracked, chipped, or worn out seat.   If there is a lot of lime stains in the bowl, consider replacing the toilet if you are selling - they are not that expensive and you'd be amazed at how it brightens up a bath.

And when replacing a toilet set, read the instructions carefully.  They usually have an elaborate rubber or plastic washer mechanism to prevent you from over-torquing the bolts and cracking the toilet.  It is kind of clever, actually.  But I digress yet again.

Yes, "they don't make things like they used to" but as I noted before, in the "good old days" a solid "well-built" American car went to the junkyard in eight years or less.  The idea of cars going over 100,000 miles was alien, hence most American odometers went only to five digits. "Foreign" odometers went to six digits only because kilometers were of shorter length.  Today, cars are expected to routinely go well beyond 100,000 miles and last far longer than a decade.

What has changed is the mode of failure of most technology.  Back in 1968, an "old car" from the early 1960's might be losing compression, have a knock in the motor, be hard to start, have a transmission issue, and of course, rusty holes all over the body.  The upholstery would be shot and the paint faded. It was a "junker" and many were driven to the junkyard.  A friend of mine picked up a 1962 Ford Falcon at the "landfill" in our town.  Someone drove it there and left the registration and keys on the dashboard.  Free car!  He drove it for a few years and then drove it back to the landfill and left the keys and registration (older cars were not titled back then) on the dash and someone else drove it off the next day - blowing oil smoke the whole way, of course!

Today, what causes a car to be "junked" besides wrecks is when the repair costs exceed the resale value.   So, often an expensive transmission or engine repair is enough to make people call it quits - or some esoteric electrical problem.  But even then, these problems largely don't crop up until the odometer has spun well past 100K.

So maybe it isn't a matter of "they don't make 'em like they used to!" so much as as you get older, time compresses and you don't realize how much time has slipped by.

Just a thought.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

How "Tom" Killed MySpace (and How "Elon" Will Kill Twitter)

I closed my MySpace account when they made "Tom" a mandatory friend.

Long before there was Facebook, there was MySpace.  And at first, it seemed pretty cool and novel.  But over time, it got weird.   They tried to monetize the platform too much and too soon, and it was SPAMmed with ads.  But the straw that broke the camel's back, for me, anyway, was the founder, Tom.

I kind of was losing interest in MySpace early on, and stopped logging in regularly.  There was a new kid in town called "Facebook" and my interest in that would be even shorter.  Anyway, I logged into MySpace after a few months and found they had changed the interface - both the layout and how it worked.  Suddenly, I had a new "Friend" named "Tom" who was recommending all these grunge garage bands to me.  I tried to "unfriend" him but it wouldn't let me.

I contacted customer service with the issue and they said it wasn't a bug, but a feature!  Tom would recommend kewl new kicky bands to me and I should check it out!  I decided to check out, instead.  I closed my account and never looked back.  Apparently they saw the writing on the wall with Facebook and tried to "re-imagine" MySpace as a music forum, but I'm not sure that ever worked out.

MySpace is still around, but a shadow of its former self.  It did make money for a while - when they saturated it with ads.  But the word is today they are not making much, if in fact they are not losing money. Some blame Facebook for the decline, but I am not so sure.  I think the problem was multifold.  To begin with, too many owners (including Newscorp, Viant, Justin Timberlake (!?!), Time, and something called "Meredith").  I think each owner wanted to maximize profits, and when they weren't materializing, dumped the service on the next sucker.

In addition, the change in focus from generic social networking to music-centered social networking only insured a narrow, limited audience.  And when that never really materialized (thanks to music streaming services and moreover, YouTube) its fate was sealed.  Some claim that Facebook and Twitter were more aggressive about upgrading and changing the platform. I am not sure about that - Facebook's constant changing of the interface and the algorithms was one reason I left - just as I got "my page" set up on Facebook, they changed it so everything was scrambled.  I didn't feel the time I would have to invest to unscramble it was worth itSo I closed my accountOr tried to, anyway.

It could also be that social media sites all have a story arc - a beginning, a middle, and then an end, or at least a tapering off.  Some stories are longer than others.  And maybe Zuckerberg is right - move on to the Metaverse as Facebook has already turned into an old-folks-home where grandma shares her alarming memes about demmy-crats and transgender liberals.

On the other hand, someone sent me a photo of a kid in a restaurant wearing an "Oculus" type headset, even more removed from reality than his cell phone ever could.  I can see that VR might be the new television - something parents park their kids in front of, just so they don't have to deal with them - and their behavior.

But I digress.

During the Superbowl, both Elon Musk and President Biden tweeted something about the Philadelphia Eagles, and apparently, Biden's message got retweeted twice as much as Musk's - or something like that.  Musk apparently had a meltdown and once again threatened to fire everyone (does anyone still work there other than his cousin?) unless his tweets always got seen first!  So they changed the algorithm to make him a "super-user" and the next day, people logged on and all they saw were Musk Tweets.

Meet the new Tom - the friend you cannot unfriend.  Hello, Elon.

In addition to being an utterly narcissistic move, it is one bound to backfire.  I resented having a mandatory "friend" on MySpace and I am sure many will also resent Elon elbowing his way into their lives.  People who have specifically blocked Musk from their "feed" are now finding multiple Tweets from him on the front page after they log in.   Talk about making your site toxic!

This goes right back to this "Free Speech Absolutist" and "Cancel Culture" nonsense that the far-right is pushing.  Not only do they claim to have the right to "free speech" - they can tell other people to shut up.  Moreover, everyone is obligated to hear what they have to say, sponsors are obligated to pay for it, and we have to buy the products and go to the shows put on by these right-wing nutjobs.

It is an interesting turn of events, to be sure.  The one problem with Social Media was the silo effect - once you started "liking" and upvoting or whatever, on a social media site, you end up getting nothing but that content and anything contrary is filtered out.  I am still getting knitting videos on my YouTube "home" page nearly six years later!

So, in a way, Musk has a point (so does a pencil, for that matter). People are silo'ed into echo chambers, and the worst aspect of this is that many far-right people have been lead down the road to Nazism and fascism - and even calls for violence as a result.  In the liberal silos, they are calling for national health care.  I wonder which is more dangerous?

Of course, echo chambers are only echo chambers if you let them become one.  If you go on a social media site and any contrary opinion is voted down or worst yet - deleted - then maybe you are not getting a full picture of what is going on.  On Reddit r/conservative, for example, any contrary opinion is deleted by the moderators and the user banned.

On the other hand, Twitter and Facebook have (or had) taken steps to squelch things like death threats, child porn, graphic gore videos, racism, calls to violence, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theories, and other harmful content.  And they have hardly been successful in this effort - noxious content still permeates most of social media.  Moderating content is expensive and cuts into profits.

People on the right call such content "free speech" but would delete content calling for, say, unionizing a Tesla factory. Pretty funny how that works - free speech for me, but not for thee!

Of course, the irony of the whole Twitter saga is that many on the Left are still on Twitter and spending countless hours on it complaining about Twitter and Musk and saying, "This is it!  This is the last straw!  If they keep this up I may seriously start to consider closing my account or maybe cutting back my Twitter engagement to only four hours a day!  That will make them sit up and take notice for sure!"

Social media is like an addictive drug, it seems - and some folks just can't give it up, no matter how toxic it is to their own lives or society in general.  Hey, that's just like drugs, gambling, or alcohol!

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Bavarian Soviet Republic (And California)

Fear of Communism was a real thing back in the 1930's - for a reason!

What we learn in history class in school is often very superficial.  We are told to memorize "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!" and all that talk of genocide and theft was swept under the rug.  Winners write history.

The run-up to World War II is similarly sanitized - or at least summarized.  Naughty Nazis took over, and started a world war and genocide.  Then Brad Pitt went over there and showed them what for and we won.  The End.

Or was there more to it.  Numerous volumes have been written about the inter-war years and what caused the rise of fascism.  Was it the great depression?  Or something else?  In my primary education that was taught in a vacuum and the next semester we learned about the Russian revolution - which was treated as a separate thing.

But of course, it was all one thing.  Ideologies were changing in that era - even before the collapse of the stock market and a worldwide depression.  The concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few was a concern, as was the working conditions for factory workers, who were often children.  Hey, stop me if this sounds familiar today, eh?

So people started embracing "-isms" as a solution to their problems.  Communism was envisioned as a solution to governance in an industrial society were "the workers" would "control the means of production."  However, as much as organizers tried to agitate for a Communist utopia in the West, it only took hold in Russia, which as a backward agrarian society (and not much has changed in the last 100 years other than Russia is now a backward energy export society).

There was a real fear, in places like Germany, that Communism would take hold - and it did.  However, people were enamored of their private property, it turns out.  But that didn't stop some from trying to create a Communist utopia, and in Bavaria, for a brief period of time, they sort of took over and tried to create a "Soviet Republic" in that State.

It is almost comical to read the results - people with no qualifications in government, such as a playwright, trying to institute radical societal changes, with predictable results - everyone suffered, whether from confiscation of their property to food and material shortages.  It lasted less than a month.

What is interesting to me is that I never learned about this in school, although granted, one could argue that a "Soviet Republic" that lasted less than a month was little more than a footnote in history.  But it illustrated how volatile things were in Germany after the war, and why people were nervous about Communism "taking over" the country.

The Bavarian Soviet Republic was arguably something of a joke - a bunch of artists and writers playing at being revolutionaries - and making bizarre pronouncements:

Other Toller appointments included: as commissar for military affairs, a former waiter; a burglar with a conviction for moral turpitude as police president of Munich; as commissar for transportation a part-time railroad track maintenance worker; and – in Catholic Bavaria, where nuns ran the schools – a Jew as minister for education. Toller's minister for public housing published a decree saying that no house could thereafter contain more than three rooms and that the living room must always be above the kitchen and bedroom.

Of course, none of it made any sense or did any of it stick.  Toller was in "power" for less than a week.  I would presume that some Bavarians who went on vacation that month came back and said, "Anything happen while I was gone?"  "Oh, a Communist Revolution, but we put that down."  "Oh, right."

But nevertheless, fear of Communism was palpable, and fascist thugs would get into street brawls with communist thugs, who were more than happy to oblige.  It was this fear that allowed the fascists to take power - with more centrist politicians believing that they could use the fascists to retain power and then neuter them later on.  Today it is the boogeyman of "Antifa" which comprises a half-dozen patchouli-stink leftover hippies, and "proud boys" or some such, playing at Commies-and-Nazis in the streets.

We see the same pattern of appeasement today, in the United States.  Republicans - the more traditional type - are using the far-right to try to win elections.  Since their actual fiscal and political policies are not that attractive (cutting taxes for the rich, increasing spending, cutting benefits to ordinary people) they rely on culture wars to achieve power.   Forget about balanced budgets!  That was our mantra back in the Clinton era (when budgets were balanced)!  We want you to be upset about M&Ms not being sexy enough!

It almost sounds like a comedic bit, except that it isn't funny.  The most serious issues facing the United States today isn't some guy in a dress.  But they don't want you to think about that too hard.

Too late, the "normal" part of the GOP tries to rein-in the extremes.  Mitch McConnell (who is the first Google hit if you type in "Senator Turtle") is trying to convince the far-right that we should support Ukraine.  It is an uphill battle for McConnell as many of these far-right politicians are supported by the Kremlin, either financially or through social media tampering - which has been well-documented.  Politicians like Our Miss Margie and Lara Boobert or lying drag-queen turned dog-thief Santos got into office only because of Russia and they are smart enough not to bite the hand that feeds them.

In fact, they are now calling McConnell a "communist" and worse.  The GOP hoped to tame the far-right as they tried to tame the "tea partiers" - but the new Nazis of our era are not having it.

Of course, there are not exact parallels to 1936 with today. Not many Americans really embrace Communism.  Sure, there are postings online about how great Communism would be - but their broken English and poor grammar (and British spelling) give away the game - the people making these postings as "Mike from Cincinnati" are clearly not Americans, but from the Russian Internet Research Agency.

But the far-right of today has their own Bavarian Soviet Republic to use as a whipping boy - California.  Whenever people agitate for a government that is more accountable to the actual citizens, the folks on the right (and Fox News) will use some wacky legislation or legislator from California - whether it is someone proposing "guaranteed annual income" (usually on a limited basis, which proves nothing) or some sort of law requiring us to all use designated pronouns.

The point is, California is held up as some sort of socialist bogeyman, intended to frighten the rest of America into capitulation.  "Maybe we should let the fascists win - they'll put a stop to this transgender nonsense once and for all!"   Of course, more pressing issues - like economic issues - are not addressed, by design.

And one has to wonder whether these far-left wackos are not as equally influenced (and financed) by Russia as well - persuading leftists to embrace wacky liberalism as a means of discrediting the left and also increasing divisiveness.  After all, divisiveness plays into their hands, and again, you see these postings online in fractured English that give away the game.  After all Bradley/Chelsea Manning, the self-proclaimed "Transgender Hero" leaked classified information to Wikileaks which has been proven to be basically a Russian asset, which should come as no surprise to anyone:

The organisation has been criticized for inadequately curating its content and violating the personal privacy of individuals. Wikileaks has, for instance, revealed Social Security numbers, medical information, credit card numbers and details of suicide attempts. Various news organisations, activists, journalists and former members have also criticized the organisation over allegations of antisemitism, an anti-Clinton and pro-Trump bias, various associations with the Russian government, a history of buying and selling leaks, and a lack of internal transparency. Journalists have also criticized the organisation for promoting false flag conspiracy theories, and its exaggerated and misleading descriptions of the contents of leaks. The CIA defined the organisation as a "non-state hostile intelligence service" after the release of Vault 7.
We are being manipulated, and that is well-documented online.  Foreign powers are trying to influence elections in our country and other countries worldwide.  And yes, we've been doing this (and I presume we still do it) for decades.  In fact, we've influenced politics in other countries for over a century.  Every country looks out for its own interests - this should surprise no one.  Folks who claim that other countries are not trying to influence American politics are either incredibly gullible or just being obstinate.

Back in the old days of the cold war, you had to have boots on the ground and throw some money around and maybe some weapons as well.  Start a proxy war in some undeveloped country.  Usurp an election in another.  Co-opt the press.  Maybe even an assassination or two.  We did it.  The Russians did it.  The Israelis did it - and still do it.  You don't let world events "just happen" without trying to shape them - anything less is an abrogation of your responsibilities as a government.

Today,  of course, we have the Internet.  No need - or as much of a need - for "boots on the ground" in some foreign country, when you can hire an army of young people who are (hopefully) fluent in the local language to go online and just nudge the conversation on social media one way or another.

And that's all it takes, is a nudge.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Long Covid Effects

When CoVid is over, it ain't over.

Apparently, when you are "cured" of CoVid, either by your own body driving out the virus, or with the help of  medication such as Paxlovid, you are not entirely cured.  It may take up to four weeks to get over CoVid, but the "Long Covid" can go on for months.  Some fun!

It can take six months or more to fully recover, and I have some friends who got it last summer and are still seeing effects from the illness. Myself, I am feeling a little better every day - getting my energy back, but not quite like before. Not only that, I feel "different" now that I had the China virus. All hail Xi Jinping and the glorious Chinese Communist Party!

Just kidding.

If anything, my political perspective is more entrenched to the left than before.  The government's response to this virus under Trump was pathetic.  Trump allowed conspiracy theories to fester and even promoted quack cures himself.  He got an entire group of people to distrust science and the vaccine, even as he got it himself.  He encouraged anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers and it wasn't just him - his whole administration and the GOP in general, either actively worked against scientific understanding o of the virus, or failing that, dog-whistled conspiracy theories to their "base."  It really made the whole thing a lot worse than it had to be.

It also killed off a lot of their voters, too.   Every cloud, it seems....

But getting back to long CoVid, what sort of after-effects will you see - and you will see them, as it is likely that eventually everybody will get CoVid.   Maybe you'll be lucky.  Let's hope so.

The following are some of the "long CoVid" effects I have experienced or my friends have experienced.  Some effects may not always be attributed to CoVid, as we shall see.  I suspect they will find more.  If you know of some, let me know and I will expand the list:

Fatigue:  This is the biggie - sleeping for 12 hours a day or more and just being tired all the time.  Like I said, for me, every day it seems this seeps away a bit and I have more energy.   But it can really wear you down for weeks after you are "cured."  One friend of mine complained of this, but wondered whether it was from CoVid or just getting old.  That is one problem with diagnosing "Long CoVid" - people may attribute things to the disease that are actually "shit happens."

Bitchiness:  Part of fatigue is bitchiness - you are tired and not feeling well, so your tolerance for B.S. diminishes.  We both find ourselves getting mad an inanimate objects or even each other.  Damn socks won't go on my feet!  Lousy socks!

Weakness:  Many report feeling weak and having diminished muscle strength.  This hasn't hit me as much, but I do feel it a bit, particularly a couple of weeks ago.

Coughing:  I had this badly, and it only went away after I bought my second 60-pound sack of Ricola cough drops (what am I going to do with them all?).  During CoVid it was a hideous cough that started down in your lungs and was "non-productive" as it seemed nothing came up.  But a thin clear gruel of lung schmung and chunks 'o lung (apparently) did come up as the lungs try to heal themselves.  After a month, this has largely diminished for me.  According to online sources, it can go on for as long as six months for some people!  After a while, you can recognize "CoVid Cough" when you hear it from others, too!

Dizziness:  Mark has this and it isn't quite vertigo, but sudden movements of the head can make him dizzy and nauseous.  We are visiting the doctor next week to address this.  A reader tells me their friend had it so bad they could not longer drive.  Vertigo is nothing to laugh at - it can be completely debilitating for some folks.

Brain Fog:  The classic CoVid "brain fog" is walking into a room and forgetting why you went there.  I am reading a lot of comics online in the last few months where this was a theme - apparently it happens to a lot of people.  And yes, it happens to healthy people as well.  But you notice an uptick in short-term memory loss after CoVid.   What was I saying, again?  Oh, right, brain fog.  Again, is this just getting old or CoVid or both?

Dry Ears: This is  weird one and I thought it was not CoVid related.  I always have had ear wax issues (some people do, some don't) to the point where as a teenager I had to have my ears sluiced out by the school nurse with hot water.  My ears were clogged to the point I could not hear.    Since then, I have been very proactive in cleaning my ears and always it seems there is this disgusting brown wax in there.  The human body is gross!   Since CoVid, though, no wax at all.  Maybe this is a good thing?  Instead, my ears are dry - almost painfully so - and instead of wax, I get this flaky white scale instead.  I thought it was just me and I mentioned it to another CoVid survivor and they said they had the exact same thing!  So I wonder what other "long CoVid" effects there are out there that no one is connecting with CoVid - or maybe the opposite is happening and we are attributing every damn thing to CoVid?

Light Sensitivity:  Two friends report this but neither Mark or I have it (that we know of).  They have become sensitive to bright light and have to wear sunglasses more often, even.  Some complain about lights being too bright indoors. I am not sure what causes this, other then CoVid does cause micro-blood-clots and I guess if you got those in the capillaries in your eyes, it might kill off some rods or cones or something.

What is weird about these symptoms is that they are all over the map and not everyone gets any or all of them.  What is sad is that it doesn't seem we have a handle on what is causing this or how to cure it, just yet.  And some of the long CoVid symptoms - renal failure or heart attacks - can be fatal.

I kind of got angry - and then depressed - thinking of how this has affected my life.  I am sure it has knocked a year off my life expectancy and has damaged organs throughout my body.  Whether I can heal from this damage or just adapt to it, remains to be seen.

Fun stuff, but eventually I realized that it is what it is - and I have to adapt mentally to this new reality, rather than rail against it or be depressed about it.  How you react to a situation is up to you.  Life is going to have you a few shit sandwiches.  In most cases, they aren't horrific - such as for some folks who are scarred or mutilated or see friends or loved ones die horribly.  That is the reality for most of the rest of the world.  We complain when they forget to put ketchup on our cheeseburger.  Yea, I know - the outrage of it all!

So I try to put things in perspective.  I am still one of the lucky ones.  I live in a wealthy country, had an interesting job and an interesting life, a spouse who loves me, and enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my life.  Most folks aren't that lucky.  CoVid happened.  Sure, I could get angry that maybe it could have been nipped in the bud earlier.  I could rail against the injustice of it all.

Or, I could just vote.  Vote for people who don't equate science with superstition.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Downfall of a "Community Activist"

Protesting is your Constitutional Right.  But as my Mother always said, choose your battles wisely!

I found a copy of the local paper in the trash can at Goodyear and was intrigued to read an article about a local community activist protesting a road re-alignment.  Christ Church, on Rich People's Island is a local landmark and all the Elderhostel tour buses stop there.  We take out-of-town guests there to see it. It is on the way to Fort Frederica which is a National Monument.  So they get a lot of traffic down that way, what with tour buses and tourists and whatnot.

Having been there, I can tell you it was dangerous.  The only place to park was across the street from the church, and you had to dash across the road to avoid being run over by a car, because everyone in Georgia the United States the world drives like a jackass.  So the County decided to re-align the road, moving the road to where the parking lot was and putting a parking lot on the same side of the road as the church.  This way, the tour buses could park and discharge the elderly to go see this nationally famous landmark.

Seems like a good idea, right?

Well, a local community activist decided it wasn't and filed a lawsuit claiming all sort of malfeasance.  He claimed the "tree ordinance" wasn't being obeyed, when in fact, the "ordinance" comprised an advisory committee (He would have had better luck on our island, which is a State Park and trees are sacrosanct!).  They he changed his complaint to allege that the swapping of land with the church (giving the old roadway to make the parking lot and vice-versa) was illegal as the value of the two properties wasn't the same (in reality, both properties were worth nothing other than to the parties involved).

He kept this up, asking for injunctions, even after the new road was built.  He dropped all his claims and raised a new one - claiming that under the First Amendment and the Georgia Constitution, the County had violated the establishment clause by moving the roadway, which clearly was establishing Christ Church as the State's new religion.

There was a happy ending to all of this, though - the judge finally was fed up and awarded the church and the County $100,000 in damages, for all the vexatious and pointless litigation this "activist" started.  There is justice in this world, you just have to wait for it.

Did his claims have any merit?  I don't think so. While the first amendment does require a separation between church and State, it does not mean the two should never interact at all.  If the County is going to pony up the dough to install a new intersection near the new WalMart, then they can make similar improvements at a busy church - after all, a church is a business like any other, and like any other "non-profit" it is tax-exempt.  The first amendment does not require that we provide churches only with dirt roads or no break in the curbing for access.   The whole thing was stupid, and as someone who has visited the church and almost been run over, I can say the project was necessary.

You see, in addition to benefiting the church (which charges no admission for you to visit) it benefits the people driving on the road, who no longer have to slow down (ha-ha) or stop for the pedestrian crossing.  It improves safety for everyone, and if safety of intersections and roadways is based on whether the adjoining properties are of a religious nature or not, that ends up being discriminating against religious organizations.

When I searched online for the name of this "activist" and his "Community Organization" I got a number of interesting hits - if you'll pardon the pun.  Apparently he was arrested for assaulting a 70-year-old at some meeting downtown.  Sounds like a fun guy at parties - could I recommend an anger management program?

You see, while it is good to express your opinion and even protest injustice, if you take extreme positions and make nonsensical arguments (take note, "trans activists") you end up undermining your own cause.  People in general are pretty receptive to different arguments and protests, provided they are rational and don't sound crazy.  When you come across like Professor Click, well, you end up defeating your own cause.

The opposition need only say, "You see how unhinged they get?  They are crazy, therefor their ideas are crazy!"  And often the opposition does this by trolling their opponent to get them angry and off-the-leash, which can then be used against the opponent.  And in some instances, they will create a "crazy person" (or encourage a useful idiot) to say stupid things (and make sure they get lots of airtime and attention) to discredit an opponent or opposing idea.

I noted before we have such a group here on our island - the "Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island" which just knee-jerk shouts down anything that is proposed.   This "Coalition" comprises seven people meeting in someone's living room and does not represent the majority or even a significant minority of the population of our island.

And organizations like this can be downright evil.  A young immigrant had a contract with one of the hotels to provide beach umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent on the beach.  He had a small trailer to carry them, and pulled them onto the beach once a day, using an access built by the authority for beach patrols and turtle patrols.    He drove 50 yards on the beach and back.  They decried this as "ruining the environment" while at the same time the State Patrol and the Authority employees were driving pickup trucks up and down the 7-miles of the beach.  Worse yet, the "Turtle Center" was selling beach tours via four-wheelers, to go see turtle nests.  Maybe what he was doing was worse, I don't know.  What I do know is that it was evil to vandalize his equipment as someone eventually did.

Beware of committees and organizations - they take on a life of their own.  And don't assume just because someone creates a "Community Organization" that it represents the opinions of anyone beyond the organizer. Funny thing is, I went on the website for this "Community Organization" and the guy behind the lawsuit is nowhere mentioned.  Maybe they dumped him after the $100,000 judgment against them?  I sure as hell would be mad if I paid dues to such an organization!

Choose your battles wisely.  Re-aligning a roadway is hardly the end of the world and hardly worth litigating about - particularly after the fact.  What were they hoping for?  That the County would tear up the roadway and put it back the way it was and magically cause trees to re-appear?

Sorry, but to me the whole thing sounds crazy - and I am less than enthralled with this orgainization as a result - even if they have a bunch of PhD's on the board and may actually be doing good things elsewhere.

Then again, organizations take on a life of their own after a while, and if there is no outrage to protest against, you either have to close up shop or find a new outrage to protest over.

Or, failing that, manufacture one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Only Thing to Stop A Bad Guy With A Gun..... is more bad guys?

In places where there are more guns, more people die from guns.  Funny thing that.

The NRA has done a good job of trying to tamp down gun violence statistics.  In fact, they have done a pretty good job of keeping America in the dark ages.  They are so paranoid about a "national gun registry" that they have forced the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to keep all their records on paper - and not on computer.  Instant background check?  Let me go get that file for you....

Suppressing gun violence data has been high on their list as well.  Why?  Well, because if people realized their real risk of gun violence wasn't from "a mugger" or "an intruder" but rather from a spouse, a friend, or a child who finds a loaded firearm, they might re-think gun ownership and how they handle their guns.

I noted before a friend of mine blew off part of his head (and brain) by keeping a loaded .357 Magnum (a most impractical weapon, in reality) loaded on his nightstand.  They had a plethora of weapons in the house on the premise that a "home invasion" in white-bread suburban hell was a real possibility.  What was a real possibility was that keeping a hand-cannon loaded on your nightstand is likely to hurt you, rather than imaginary intruders.

The chart above tells an interesting tale.  Most folks would assume, based on what they see on the news (particularly on Fox News) that places like New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles are crime-ridden ghettos where people are gunned down on a daily basis and they just leave the dead bodies lying in the streets.   While it is true that crime rates across America have increased in recent years, they are still far, far lower than the heyday of crime in the 1970's and historically (going back as far as history goes) are among the lowest ever.

But what is interesting is that overall, you are more likely to die from gun violence in a red state than a blue one.  Now this may be due to suicides using guns, or accidental shootings as well.   When there are more guns around, there is a higher incidence of accidental deaths as well as suicides with guns.  Kids find Dad's gun and point it and go bang-bang - it happens every day in America.

Does this mean guns are bad?  Well, not exactly.  What is interesting about gun ownership in America is is that, during my lifetime the number of gun owners has decreased - by nearly 50% from the peak in the late 1970's.  What is interesting is that although there are fewer gun owners, they tend to own more guns - often dozens of firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition.  These are people with personal arsenals, not merely a hunting rifle or two and a handgun "for protection."  Gun ownership in America has devolved into a fetish.

I noted before that it is a "thing" on the Internet to place your array of firearms on your bed - which is weird - and then take a photo and post it online.  Lookit all ma guns!  These folks would rather spend a few hundred (or thousand) dollars more on another weapon than on a decent lockable gun safe.  And like a friend of mine, they keep their guns unlocked in a closet, leaning up against the wall.  Real safety there!

The gun market has expanded to satiate demand.  And since most of these firearms are never fired more than a few times, a lot of cheap and arguably unsafe weapons are hitting the market, often from overseas.  A recent article online talks about how a gun store owner was fined for throwing away shotguns in a dumpster without sawing them into pieces first.  The accompanying photo of a dumpster full of shotguns had many scratching their heads.  Why throw away working firearms?  Why so many?

Well, it turns out the shotguns were made by a company called "Radikal" (which tells you who the target audience was) and made cheaply (like Ford Transit Vans or concrete buildings) in Turkey.  They were styled as "tactical" shoguns and were probably more style than substance.  Allegedly, they were so defective that they could blow up in the user's hands - potentially killing the user, not the intended target.  They were disposed of as they could not be repaired and sending them back to Turkey was too expensive.

Even the most favorable review online noted that the manufacturer recommended "breaking in" the weapon with at least 100 rounds.  That's a day at the range, for sure.  But it illustrates what I wrote about before about guns and parachute theory - most weapons are purchased and rarely used.  So, why not make something that looks like a gun and barely qualifies as one for this new audience of gun collectors?

I read online all the time from real gun enthusiasts, postings (and videos) of these "weekend warriors" who bought all these tough-looking weapons and then finally bring them to the range to see how they really work.  Often they are asked to leave as they have no idea what they are doing and might injure themselves or others.

For example, in one video, two young men take turns pointing a 9mm at each other, laughing as they make Tick-Tock videos of themselves pointing a loaded weapon at each other's heads.   The range safety officer shut that down really quick and threw them out.  It illustrates how many ding-dongs are buying guns these days.

In another video, a fellow fires off his AR-15 lookalike, but fails to understand why they put a stock on it.  Instead of putting it against his shoulder to take the recoil, he holds it like they do in the movies, with predictable results - the recoil pushes the gun into his face and he gets a black eye.  He got off lucky.

In yet another video, a fellow shoots off a pistol he was unfamiliar with.  The recoil pushes the gun upward and he inadvertently pulls the trigger a second time.  He was lucky not to blow his head off, like that poor fellow who tried to help a little girl fire an Uzi.

Back in the day, the emphasis of the NRA was firearms safety.  Now, the NRA agitates for mentally ill and the blind to own firearms.  I kid you not - they pushed "blind hunting" which I guess could be safe under very controlled circumstances.   Nevertheless, it generated bad visuals (sorry!) for the organization.

The more guns in circulation, the greater the chance of some yahoo doing something stupid.  So the map above makes sense - in States where there are lots of firearms, there aren't neccessarily more yahoos, but the yahoos are more likely to own guns, and hence more shootings - accidental or otherwise.   In States with fewer firearms - and more restrictive gun laws which make it harder - but not impossible - to obtain a firearm, there are fewer shootings.

It is sad, but to get a driver's license, you have to pass a written test and a driving test (as well as passing the eye chart).  For new drivers, some kind of driver training is suggested.  But in many States, as soon as you are as young as 16, you can own a gun - with little or no training or supervision.  Look at the idiots around you - would you trust most of them with a gun?

The irony of "gun control" is that many on the far-right were in favor of laws making it harder (but not impossible) to obtain a firearm.  It was the 1960's and there were riots, protests in colleges, and of course, the Black Panthers. The visage of blacks exercising their second amendment rights scared the crap out rich white folks.  Laws were passed, for example, making it illegal for a convicted felon to own or possess a firearm. The NRA has since lobbied to eliminate such restrictions. And now you know why the NRA is in trouble - they are pissing off the far-right by making it easier to arm blacks.

And we can't have that, can we?

I am not anti-gun, but I think this stupid trend of accumulating masses of cheaply built weapons (and displaying them on your bed - weird!) and not knowing what you are doing with them is not a good thing.  For over a century, the Supreme Court has clearly stated, again and again, that the second amendment is not absolute - there are limits on the kinds of weapons an individual can own, and moreover, there can be standards on who can possess such weapons.  Criminals and the mentally ill should not own firearms - and that was the law for 100 years or more.

Today, it seems like everyone who falls into this gun fetish trap is, by definition, mentally ill.  Someone who collects a dozen tough-looking "tactical" firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition, and doesn't hunt or even go to the range, is, by definition, unbalanced.  It is only a matter of when, not if, such people "go off" and start shooting innocents.

This is an instance where "the good old days" were better.  The NRA pushed for gun safety, not gun insanity.  More people owned weapons, but owned fewer of them, and treated them with respect.

Funny thing, people were better drivers back then, too!

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Kansas Tax Debacle - When People Don't Understand Taxes

Double-taxation of corporations is an issue.  You don't solve this by eliminating taxes on "pass-through" Subchapter-S corporations!

In recent years, Republicans have been a one-note Johnny on taxes.  "Cut taxes!' Cut taxes!" is all they seem to say.  In action, they cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.  The Trump "Tax cuts for the middle-class" had a built-in expiration date.  The tax cuts for the highest brackets never expire.

But in discussing taxes, you realize how many people just don't understand how they work.  And a lot of folks, who pay little or nothing in taxes, are often outraged at being "over-taxed!"

Take the Gifts and Estate tax, for example.  Republicans label it a "death tax" because if you control the language of a debate, you control the debate.  The reality is, of course, that you are not taxed on the first eleven million dollars or so of your estate.  If you want to leave your trailer home to little Bubba and his common-law wife, well, you need not worry about any "death tax".

You'd be surprised how many poor people are up in arms about the "death tax" - but fail to realize that repealing it (as happened for one year) would benefit only the mega-mega-rich.

When talking about income taxes, you have to talk about marginal rates - and people don't understand what that means, because "math is hard" and "you don't need to know math in real life."  I pity what passes for "real life" for such folks - just watching television and consuming endlessly, I guess.   But until one understands how marginal rates work, and the difference between a tax deduction, and a tax credit,one doesn't really have any sort of valid opinion about tax law.  It is like asking an anti-vaxxer for a recommendation of a good Doctor.

I mentioned before how we double-tax corporations in this country - something that is alien to a lot of countries, worldwide.  We tax corporate entities on the "profit" they make, and then tax the shareholders on their dividends and capital gains.   So, for example, a corporation makes $100 in profit, they pay corporate income tax on that.  They pay out a dividend from that profit of $1 to each of 100 shareholders, each of them pays income tax on that as well.

Of course, there are games played here.  Corporations can structure themselves so they pay little or no income tax.  You sell your "Intellectual Property" to an offshore division in Ireland, and then license it back for an amount strangely equal to your corporate profits.  You show zero income as a result, while your Irish subsidiary shows all the profit - but pays little or no tax in that country because of their favorable tax laws.

In the higher brackets there are all sorts of games to play.  And shareholders can avoid paying taxes on dividends if the company doesn't pay dividends, but instead retains earnings (which can be taxed) or buys back stock to inflate the stock price (which used to be illegal for obvious reasons) and thus the shareholder is only taxed when they sell shares, and even than, only at lower capital gains rates.

So it all evens out.  Even with double-taxation, there are still a lot of corporations in the United States who seem to somehow eke out a living despite this "burden."

For smaller companies - like a Mom & Pop Shop, there is something called the Subchapter-S corporation - which provides you with (you hope) insulation from personal liability like the big corporations get, but without the double-taxation.  Subchapter-S (named after a portion of the IRS code) corporations "pass through" profits to the shareholders, who pay taxes on those profits as ordinary income. 

Yes, in theory, you could pay yourself in dividends - although there are limits as to what is a dividend and what is ordinary wage income.  A friend of mine tried this game - encouraged by his accountant - and the net result was an audit and penalties and back taxes owed.  Turns out it was audit-bait and that accountant is now in jail.

The other problem for my friend is that since he was paying himself in dividends, he wasn't paying Social Security and Medicare taxes (payroll taxes - doubled for the self-employed!).  When you are young, this seems like a cool deal, but as he approached retirement age, he realized he didn't have 40 quarters of reported income and thus would not qualify for either Social Security or Medicaid.  He spent the last decade of his working life paying those taxes so he would qualify.

Sometimes these clever deals can backfire in a big way.   But I digress.

The point is, Subchapter-S corporations are not double-taxed at all.  So it made no sense whatsoever when Kansas decided to go Big Republican with a nonsense tax bill that eliminated all State income taxes on Subchapter-S corporations.  The net result was that people who didn't have a Subchapter-S corp quickly formed one.  And the bulk of the people who were spared State taxes were wealthy business owners and professionals, such as doctors and lawyer and dentists - as well as the guy who owns the car dealer or the local auto parts store.

In other words, in Grand Republican Tradition, it was a big tax cut (down to zero!) for the upper-middle-class and the wealthy, but didn't do bubkis for the poor.  The proponents of this bill argued that these business owners would "hire more people" if their taxes were cut.  But I have addressed the folly of that argument before - if you need more people to make more money, you hire them.  You don't hire people willy-nilly simply because your personal tax bill went down.  I mean other than perhaps a pool guy, a maid, and a gardener, I suppose - employees who are personal expenses.  But for your business?  Hiring decisions are not made based on your take-home pay.

The net result was, of course, none of this "trickled down" to the poor, nor did it encourage hiring.  And since it left a huge deficit in the State budget, it had the opposite effect - spending on necessary things like roads and bridges had to be slashed. The Kansas economy did not take off.  And dissatisfaction with the law was so great that the legislature not only voted to overturn the law, they overrode the governor's veto.  This poorly conceived idea pretty much killed off Governor Brownback's Presidential ambitions.

Now granted, tax cuts can stimulate an economy, particularly when taxes were onerous.  Kennedy cut taxes in an era where marginal rates were 70% or more.  Economists will point out that if you raise taxes high enough, you end up collecting less money as you strangle the economy and people spend most of their time on tax-avoidance schemes, rather than productivity.   But when rates are already low, cutting them further can starve a government - which is often the plan.  Some Republicans want to shrink government so small that it would fit in your bedroom.

Regardless of whether you thought tax rates in Kansas were too high or not, cutting the rates to zero for a selected class of wealthy individuals is an extreme and dramatic action - and favors only certain people.  The party that decries "Picking Winners!" certainly picked some here.

The funny thing was, when the law was enacted, many people rushed to register their Subchapter-S corporations, including a lot of lawyers who had previously been solo practitioners or partnerships.  People got wind of this and, since everyone hates lawyers - were outraged by it.  So Governor Brownback promised to amend the law to exclude lawyers and other "service providers" - again, the party that eschews picking winners, picks winners.

So how did this nightmare come to being?  The simple answer is, your average citizen doesn't understand the tax code because they don't understand math.   Your average wage-slave thinks that their "tax refund" is free money from Uncle Sugar and not his own money he overpaid being returned to him.  I mean, granted, there are incidents with tax credits where you are getting free money, but by saying that just now I confused the fuck out of half the readers who, again, don't understand the difference between a tax credit and a deduction. What's worse is that most people don't want to know, and will actively thwart you if you try to teach them.

They will put their hands over their ears and shout, "La, La, La, La - I can't HEAR you!" because they prefer ignorance to knowledge.  Then they will chant "tax cuts! tax cuts!  Own the libs!" because they believe they are paying "a lot of taxes" which is going to "welfare" so that black people can sit around all day doing nothing except planning their next riot.  No, they really believe this.

You try to explain to people that TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) is limited to five years for your lifetime and that other benefits, such as "Food Stamps" (SNAP) and Medicaid have a working requirement that you either have a job, are actively looking for one, or have some valid reason why you can't work (in school, disabled, etc).   But no, they heard on Fox News about "Welfare Queens" whose families were "on welfare" for "generations" and get free cars and furniture and stuff from the government. Fox News would never lie to us, would they?

Now, most of use don't live in Kansas, and not many people actually do live in Kansas.  So this Kansas debacle was of no concern to the rest of us.  When it all blew up in their faces, everyone had a good laugh because it didn't affect us and illustrated the stupidity of the people of that State for voting for this sort of crap.

But we shouldn't have laughed.  Because the "Kansas Experiment" illustrates how easy it is to pass bad legislation and horrific legislation - and there is ample precedent for this. Prohibition was based on a Constitutional Amendment that went horribly wrong.  A whole legion of people call themselves "Constitutional Warriors" without ever having read it - or understanding how, at one time, it condoned slavery as well as outlawing alcohol.  The Constitution is not some sort of Bible that is sacrosanct, but rather is a framework we are supposed to use to work things out - and change when conditions warrant change and the framework is no longer workable.

But again, ignorance. Many of these "Constitutional Warriors" are now in jail or on trial for treason as they tried to usurp the Constitution on January 6th when votes were being counted according to the process set fort in the Constitution.  But just as these sort of folks don't really understand (or have even read) the Constitution (or the Bible for that matter) they had no understanding of how the tax code works.  They only know what they are taught to think - by far-right media outlets.

Even today, Republicans and "Libertarians" are claiming that the Kansas "Experiment" was a success - but that a "rural recession" hampered it and the "liberal media" is lying about it.  But numbers don't lie, and whatever "rural recession" they are talking about somehow evaded all the neighboring States whose economies grew while Kansas receded.

Of course, to repair the damage, the legislature had to repeal the tax cuts and rebuild reserves and catch up on all the delayed infrastructure projects.   While they are doing the heavy lifting and taking responsibility and governing, the detractors sit on the side lines and say,  "See?  They raised your taxes!  Biggest tax increase ever!  That's what you get for electing Democrats!"

And the Ignorati believe this sort of thing.  Deep down, they believe that a society can exist with no taxes whatsoever and that roads will magically pave themselves and school teachers will work for free and the Police don't need to be paid.  And there are countries like that in the world - with no taxes, just horrendous import duties.   You pay top dollar for any imported good.  The roads are treacherous and schools are only for the wealthy.  And the Police?  Corrupt - they favor whoever pays them the biggest bribe.

It seems that some folks want to see this in America - see us turned into a third world country.  And if they get their wish, they won't have to worry about "migration" anymore - no one will want to come here!

Does this mean all tax cuts are a bad idea?  No, only when they are not accompanied by spending cuts.  And spending cuts are only justified if spending is not needed or can be reduced.  Sadly, this is the other half of the tax-cut debate:  Republicans under-fund programs (such as Medicare and Social Security) and then let the fail - and claim that "big government doesn't work!"   And this is not limited to the United States.  We see in both Canada and the UK an effort to undermine national health care by intentionally under-funding it to "prove" it doesn't work - and then privatize it.

It is a plan that will only work if we let it....

Monday, February 20, 2023

Cancel Culture - Consequences Culture

If you say or do obnoxious things, people may not like you.  Funny that.

There seems to be a growing trend in America that people believe that they can say whatever they want, no matter how noxious, and people have to listen to it and moreover have to like it and agree with it.  Anything less is tyranny.

The far-right is often caught in this trap - saying things like "Hitler wasn't so bad" or "the Holocaust was over-stated" and then they act all Pikachu-shocked-face when people turn away from them.  Maybe this is a result of our "participation trophies" that were handed in out in 3rd grade, where Mrs. Beasley, our homeroom teacher told the kids that they all had to play fair, take turns, and be nice to one another - even bratty little Tucker Carlson.

The problem with that approach is that it removed consequences.  People try to avoid people they don't like, whether it is the kid with bad B.O. or the class bully, or the gossipy girl who says horrible things - with a smile - about other people. Or maybe it is just a person who just doesn't click with you.  Whatever the reason, you have a right of association - and disassociation - with people you don't like.

And because of that, people feel consequences for their actions. You act like a jerk, you'll end up alone.  Maybe you'll figure it out and be less of a jerk.  Or maybe you'll prefer to be alone.  Either way, it works out.

With these "celebrities" it works the same way.  A movie star says they admire Hitler - the movie studio cancels their contract. Funny thing - the studio has a clause in that contract that addresses this very scenario. It isn't their first merry-go-round. Movie stars and other celebrities have stepped in the dog-shit for ages and have had to face the consequences - fair or not - for their actions.

Back in the early days of Hollywood, there were "sex scandals" where actors would be found to be in adulterous trysts or at orgies or in the closet with another actor.  The studio had a "morals clause" in their contract - they weren't obligated to pay an actor who besmirched the studio's good name.  Now, since then, what constitutes "besmirched" has changed.  No doubt sex scandals are no longer a reason to cancel an actor's contract.  But admiring Nazis or calling for civil war are still on the no-fly list.

You may recall back in the 1950's, a lot of Hollywood actors, directors, and writers were "blacklisted" because of the "Red Scare".  And maybe that wasn't fair - people joined the "Communist Party" or attended a meeting or two in the 1930's when it seem that Capitalism was on its last legs.  Fast-forward two decades and Capitalism seems pretty swell, but a witch-hunt for "Commies" has commenced.

The Movie Studios couldn't be seen as hiring actual Communists - even if some of those on the "Black List" were just folks who refused to testify and/or refused to renounce their prior membership in the Communist Party as an adolescent dallying.  But the studios had no choice - they would face more pressure from the public if they didn't fire those who were deemed damaged goods.  Oddly enough, many of those "black listed" found work under other names (as writers or directors).  Actors had a harder time of it, but by the mid-1960's most people had forgotten all about it.  For some actors, however, it was the end of their careers.

Funny thing, the people today complaining about "cancel culture" would likely have no problem with "Communists" losing their jobs back then - or even today!  Cancel for thee, not for me!  You can see how "deep" their opinions go.

Today it is the same yet different.  People say horrible things - or do horrible things - and the companies that sponsor them are under pressure.  And often - like with the "Red Scare" - people are called into account for things they did decades ago, in an era where legal and social standards were different.

Take Bill Cosby for example.  What he did over the years (and often decade ago) would have been excused as "boys being boys" in another era - an era before "no means no" and little understanding of what "consent" means.  You can't blame film studios, comedy clubs, and television networks from distancing themselves from a rapist. And no, the fact that one of his convictions was overturned on a technicality doesn't make him "innocent" - he admitted to the crime in a deposition!

It also illustrates how social values were different in that era - we had the "sexual revolution" but no one won, except perhaps the men, who now could have consequences-free sex, while women were still held to 1950's moral standards.  But over the years, we've reconsidered a lot of what we thought was "progress" and realized that despite the interesting articles, Playboy magazine really didn't advance the cause of women so much as it did men.  And men will behave badly if permitted to do so.

With other "Celebrities" the facts are muddier.  Al Franken apparently grabbed a sleeping woman's breasts in a photo gag in an Air Force plane - and there are other allegations of playing grabby as well.  I am not trying to diminish those claims, of course, but they are not at the same level as rape.  I have a friend who was brutally raped at knifepoint when she was 13 years old.  Comparing that to a butt-grab is kind of an insult to rape victims.

But yes, it raises the issue - where do you draw the line?  When does playful flirting cross over into uncomfortable territory?  And what is deemed egregious enough to end a career?  What is interesting about the Franken situation is that Democrats had to do a lot of hand-wringing, and then rowed Franken out to the middle of the lake - like an old farm dog - and tossed him over the side with a stone tied around his neck.  Meanwhile, a Republican accused of soliciting sex with minors gets to keep his job  - because his party doesn't play the emotional touchy-feely game at all - just the actual touching, and feeling, and...

People are today making a big deal about Louis "CK" and his "comeback" by selling out Carnegie Hall.  I am not sure that is so much a rehabilitation than it is just a few fans who are willing to overlook his transgressions.  We're talking about a venue of 21,000 seats in a city of eight million people.  And yea, some of his stuff is funny - some of it not.  I am not sure where he is going with making fun of teenagers who were shot at Stoneman Douglas High School.  I mean, I get it, that was sort of his shtick, going after "taboo" topics.  But some of his stuff is just unfunny - and the first rule of comedy is to be funny.

Sadly, it seems that you can be successful in "comedy" these days not by telling jokes, but by seeking "claughter" (or clapter) - people applauding your "brave" pronouncements more than your jokes.  We were at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and they had the Gatlin Brothers as de facto hosts for the evening.  I think one of them has had a stroke, because the other did all the talking - too much of it, in fact.  Instead of playing music, he felt he had to riff on political topics, proclaiming "They'll never cancel me!"  I would hate to break it to him, but no one really gives a shit about him enough to "cancel" him - and he doesn't have any major endorsements or contracts what would in jeopardy if he was.

But hey, never pass up a chance to play "victim" - right?  And in the same breath decry "victim culture."

But you see this with a lot of right-wing entertainers.  Jeff Dunham used to be pretty funny, even if some of his puppets were a bit across the line.  A white guy doing a vent act with a black puppet (who is dressed as a pimp, no less) is, yes, a little bit racist.  Or maybe a whole lot racist.  But he had good jokes with his bits.  Today?  I tried to watch his latest show it was just a lot of "Let's go Brandon!" kind of nonsense, which the white-haired audience lapped up.  Feed 'em the red meat and maybe they won't notice the jokes aren't landing.

And no, no one is trying to "cancel" Jeff Dunham, either.  He just isn't that important.   That being said, I wouldn't pay money to see him, either.  I saw him back in the day at Oshkosh in the "theater in the woods" where Bill Lear's daughter Shanda (I kid you not) performed.  She has quite a nice voice, too.  He was funny back then - but I never got the impression his comedy was politcal then, either.  People change, I guess, or he is going where the money is - Claughter.

What the people who cry "Cancel Culture" fail to appreciate is that commercial interests have to sell products that appeal to the broadest customer base possible.  If you target your product at the far-left or far-right, you limit your product appeal.  If you make your product synonymous with odious political thought, you may turn off not only people offended by those politics, but sympathizers to those targeted, as well.

Ford, for example, has done a good job of distancing itself (and burying the connection) of Henry Ford's obsession with antisemitism. There is a reason Jews bought Chrysler's - back in the day at least.  Similarly, Volkswagen has tried to squash its Hitler connection - as Mercedes and BMW have had to do as well.  And given enough time, such efforts can work - provided you don't double-down your bet by saying, "Well, Hitler built the Autobahn's so he wasn't all that bad!" You can't equivocate your apology.

And for the most part, that has worked. My Polish friends - born in a Nazi work camp - drive a Mercedes and a Porsche.  Time heals all wounds, provided you don't keep picking at them and trying to open them up again and again and rub salt in them.

Sadly, it seems some folks take the opposite tack - they argue that "cancel culture" was unfair (wah!) to them and that they are victims - even as they decry the "victim mentality."  In their minds, they should be allowed to say odious things with no consequences.  Sponsors should be forced to sponsor them, audiences should be forced to attend and forced to pay for tickets and forced to buy sponsor's products.  Mypillows for everyone - by law!

The reality is, no one has "canceled" them at all. They canceled themselves and have to face consequences of their actions.  Over time, people may forgive and forget - depending on the nature of the offense and the sincerity of the apology.  While some may even forgive mass-murderers, most folks will not.  And insincere apologies along the lines of, "I am sorry that some took offense at what I said," just don't cut it.

The Louis CK thing is weird.  This is a guy who made a career out of telling jokes about how he exposes his tiny penis to unwilling audiences of women.  We were shocked to find out later on this was exactly what he did.  I thought some of this comedy was funny, but quite frankly his television show fell flat (but then again, most sitcoms are stupid to begin with - who watches that shit?).  It may be, as some have said, that in order to be a comedian, you have to be somewhat mentally ill.

But quite frankly, comedians in general, are highly over-rated.  Some folks will claim that such-and-such a comedian is the "greatest of all time" or that some misunderstood comedian is a "comedian's comedian" and only fellow comedians would "get" his jokes.   For example, many worship at the dead feet of George Carlin.  And yea, he had some funny bits.  But you know something?  Seven dirty words didn't age well - it isn't funny 50 years later.  We realize in retrospect that it wasn't liberating humor - just diminishing.  Yes, we can all say vulgar words now - where did that get us?  And his sermonizing and better-than-thou attitude gets a little grating at time.  If only George Carlin could be appointed dictator for life!  Then everything would be swell.   That's dangerous thinking.

Then there are weird comedians like Any Kaufman whose "foreign man" character on Taxi was not only unfunny, but a cheap stereotype of Slavic peoples.  But, we were told, he was a comedy genius, what with serving milk-and-cookies to his audiences, or his "Tony Clifton" alter-ego - who was just annoying.  And the wrestling women bit?  Not exactly gut-busting humor.  Yet we are told, in somber tones, by "serious" comedians (an oxymoron if there ever was) that he was a "genius" and only fellow comedians really "got" him.

And if he had not died (and he did die, let's not go down that road!) I am not sure he would be seen as "funny" today.  Even if it was just an "act" his misogynist "wrestling women" bits and his "foreign man" act would be seen as, well, unseemly, by today's standards.  And maybe that is where this "cancel culture" seems unfair to some folks.  Rock and Roll stars, back in the 1960's and 1970's attracted young groupies - often aged 16 or so, the age of consent in that era.  Today?  That is viewed as sexual predation.  Times change and values change.  And quite frankly, if you were a Rock and Roll star in the 1960's or 1970's your career is over, anyway, if you are not already dead.

Funny thing - maybe 20-something rock stars shouldn't be banging 16-year-old girls in the back of the band bus?  Just a thought.

The sad part of all this is that some folks seem to believe that bad behavior should not only be excused, but celebrated.  Celebrated by people who call themselves "involuntary celibates."  To them, Louis CK's "triumphant return" is a slap in the face of the "PC Crowd" and will show them that it's perfectly OK to show your wienie to people whenever you feel like it.  I am not so sure that is the case.

I am sure that Louis CK will fill comedy clubs and even theaters. Whether he does another Netflix comedy special remains to be seen.  The bottom line is, of course, you have to be funny.  Claughter only gets you so far, with certain demographic groups. You can't just go up on stage and say, "Let's go Brandon!  Amirite or what? Ha-ha!" and expect the audience to explode in laughter and applause.  You gotta have more than that.

It is the same problem Carlin had toward the end - where his comedy shows seemed more like lectures than entertainment.  Bill Maher suffers from the same problem - if only the world was according to Maher!  One does tire of the lecture.

Of course, I suffer from the same problem - but no one listens to me.  And I don't live in fear of losing a sponsorship, either. I am truly free. In a way I feel sorry for those "celebrities" - they cannot live a normal life and often their lives are tragic as a result.   But we all make choices, right?

And when you choose to walk away from million-dollar endorsement deals or television shows because you can't keep your mouth shut about Hitler, well, I have no sympathy for you whatsoever.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Presents for Spouses

As a married couple, all your assets are jointly held - or should be.  Spending money should be a joint decision.

Mr. See's birthday and St. Valentines Day nearly coincide.  And every year, I make him a birthday card.  I started doing this years ago on a dot-matrix printer.  I never realized he was saving them all!  But we are long past the stage of buying "presents" for each other, as we both realize that when we spend money on things, half that money belongs to the other person.  So if I buy something as a "present" for Mr. See, I am merely spending his money to do so.  Hope he likes the present!

I guess for some people it is different.  Husband buys the wife some sort of jewelry bauble and spends thousands of dollars in the process.   Thoughtful?  Perhaps.  But half that money was hers - and maybe if asked, she would have wanted a different bauble - or her 401(k) fully funded.   Because we've seen firsthand what happens when a husband dies (and they usually predecease the wife) and leaves her destitute, because he blew it all on bling and toys and had a good time - and left her to pay the bills.

Carol Channing told us "diamonds are a girl's best friend!" - which sort of implied a prostitution-like arrangement where women would trade favors for baubles from admiring men.  It was OnlyFans before the Internet.  Problem is, gold and diamonds and "precious stones and metals" are an inefficient way to transfer and hoard wealth.   You spend $1000 at a jewelry store, and end up with $500 of jewelry - if you are lucky.  The jeweler has to make money on both ends of the deal - and has to hope that there is a buyer for his inventory.  That's why you see those "we buy gold!" places in poor neighborhoods - poor people buy gold coins - paying top dollar for them - and then sell them for less than half, when they need money.  Well, that, and they cater to people who break into houses and steal jewelry - someone has to melt it down!

Hmmm.....  Spending a lot of money on jewelry is really pointless, isn't it?  It is just stuff to get stolen, and the transaction costs mean it will be expensive to buy and sell.  So what's the point?  Oh, right - status.

But I digress.

I mentioned before the utter insanity of people buying their spouse a car as a present.  The wife (and it is usually the wife who is recipient) doesn't get to choose the options, make, model, or even the color of their car.  Which brings us to another point - his and hers cars.  People ask us, "which car is yours?" and we say, "neither and both" as we don't consider our possessions to be separate (other than perhaps, clothes, but even then, we share socks).   We only use the truck to tow the trailer (indeed, it doesn't fit in the garage and spends the rest of its time in a storage locker).   If not for the RV, we would sell it and have only one car.   You'd be surprised how many retirees have two cars and only drive one of them regularly - it is only when Dad loses his license that they break down and sell his S-10 pickup, which has three flat tires and a dead battery.   You only really need one car in retirement - unless you are not really retired.

But I digress, yet again.

When you are a kid and have no assets and income of your own, sure, it is nice to get presents at Christmas and Birthdays.   You have no idea about your parents' wealth or income, so when they buy something for you, it truly is a surprise.   If I was to buy something for Mr. See (or vice-versa) our cell phones would beep and vibrate the moment the credit card charge went through.   So much for the surprise!

But we're not children anymore, and quite frankly, our house is already full of "stuff" as it is - we don't need more things in our life, unless we got rid of something we already had.  After a certain point in life, possessions become a burden, not a joy.  You want to do things, rather than own things.  So for Mr. See's birthday, we will hook up the camper and go on a trip.  And I bought him some of that sexy underwear he likes - and a box of candy.

And when my birthday rolls around, well, I expect nothing in return from him, except perhaps a card.  We aren't kids anymore, and birthdays are just days.  After the first 60 or so, you don't look forward to them anymore.

And that's OK, too.  In fact, it is better.  It is like getting off the Christmas consumerism bandwagon - removing all that stress of finding "the perfect gift!" and decorating the house and whatnot, is far better than all the gift-wrapped packages in the world.  Nothing beats ignoring the holidays altogether.