Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Are KIA's Easier to Steal Than Other Cars? No, Not Really

Older cars with key-type ignitions are quite easy to steal.

Years ago, my Dad, in one of his rarer moods, decided to buy a Land Rover.  No, no, not some "Range Rover" luxury SUV, but a 1970's-era Land Rover, with a four-cylinder gas engine, bench seating for nine people, and a four-on-the-floor.  He wanted to use it to plow snow, but it wasn't really suited for that.  He ended up selling it a year later.

In the interim, being teenagers, we wanted to take it for a spin.  Of course, Dad hid the keys, as he realized my older brother was a destroyer of cars.  I recounted before how he had an old '65 Wagoneer, and my brother drove it 70 miles an hour with every light on the dashboard lit.  Seems it was four quarts low on oil.  That old overhead-cam six was quite an engine, but it didn't last long in my brother's hands.

So my brother says to me, "You're good with cars, can you hotwire this thing?"  And I did, and it was pathetically easy to do.

Back then, we had ignition column locks, but foreign makers sort of cheated on it.  While Ford, GM, and Chrysler had a column lock that was built into the steering wheel (but could be defeated with a slide hammer, if you knew how, and had a screwdriver to turn the lock cylinder) most foreign manufacturers simply bolted a key lock to the column, covered by a clamshell of plastic attached with three or four phillips-head screws.

I carefully unscrewed the plastic cover and then unbolted the lock from the column.  Land Rover conveniently provided a tool kit for this purpose.  It was a weird vehicle.  You could remove the center seat cushion and open a door to access the transmission and transfer case, should you decide to check those fluid levels. In the back, it had two facing rear bench seats that could conceivbly seat six.  And of course, it was made of aluminum - which tended to cause the steel frames to rust, but that's the subject of a class-action suit.

Once I had the key lock removed from the steering column, it was a simple matter of jumpering the ignition to "ON" and then sparking the correct wire to get the starter solenoid to kick in.   So we joy-rided the thing around and had fun and then put it back where we found it and I reassembled the steering column lock.   Dad was never the wiser.   Sometimes it is best if parents don't know.

Years later, I would own a number of "foreign" cars and they would be as easy to steal.  My 1988 Toyota Camry had the same setup - a kid with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers could steal the car in a matter of minutes.  Ditto for the Suzuki Samurai I (briefly) owned.  A Lesbian couple in my apartment complex had one, and indeed, it was stolen by a 14-year-old kid.  When arrested, his Mother professed ignorance of how he came into the car.  She thought he bought it from a friend, she said.  Yea, right.

Mark's Volkswagen GTI was the same way - easy to steal, once you broke in - and in fact, it was stolen at the beach.  The thieves were kind enough to bring it back to nearly the same site!  So back then, people bought these anti-theft devices, like "The Club" or the "Cane."  The former attached to the steering wheel and prevented it from turning, so even if you hotwired the car, you could not steer.  The "cane" attached to the steering wheel and either the clutch or brake pedal, so you could not steer or brake, if you hotwired the car.

Of course, thieves (or teenagers, same thing) were one step ahead of the game.  Most steering wheels will bend quite a bit, so it was easy to remove the "cane" if you bent the wheel.  Manufacturers responded with canes that wrapped around with a loop - which was harder to install, but avoided the bending trick.  Thieves escalated the game by simply cutting the steering wheel with a bolt cutter and removing the anti-theft device.   And yes, still others just tried to drive the car with the device in place, making only 1/4 turns of the steering wheel.  Sort of like driving around with a parking "boot" attached to your tire - a recipe for an accident.

Of course, these devices deterred only amateur joy-riders.  Professional thieves can steal a car no matter what.  If a car is worthwhile stealing, they will just flat-bed it to their chop-shop and take all the usable parts out of it.  For many expensive marques, the resale value of the parts is more than the car is worth as a whole.  And since it was stolen, pure profit.   So the idea that you can stop any thief, any time, from stealing your car, is just foolishness.

Of course, by the 1990's, a new trend started - the carjacking.  Thieves got tired of hot-wiring cars and defeating alarm systems.  So they just stuck a gun in your face and said, "get out of the car" and you had to think quick whether the hassle of filing an insurance claim was worth more than your life.

Of course, the ultimate anti-theft device is to own a car not worth stealing.   That may deter the chop-shop thieves, but the joy-riders may still steal your jalopy, regardless.

Recently, much ink has been spilled on how easy it is to steal KIA vehicles with a "USB Cable" as illustrated on "Tick-Tock Challenge" videos (why haven't we banned Tick-Tock already?  Between these and "prank, bro!" videos, nothing good has come of it).   For some reason, they make a big deal (or the press does) about using a USB cable, but I think any old wire will do, to jumper the ignition to "ON" as I did with Dad's Land Rover.  I guess kids have USB cables in their backpacks, so it is handy.

Some KIA's (and I guess Hyundai's) with keyed ignitions can be hot-wired this way.  So can a lot of other, older cars, with key-ignitions.  The reason why KIAs are being singled out is that there was this meme created by these Tick-Tock videos, with step-by-step instructions, which makes it easier for teenage thieves to figure this out.  My brother, for example, would never have figured out how to hotwire the Land Rover, as he has no mechanical/electrical skills like baby brother.  There was a reason they kept me around.  That, and my paper-route money would buy a lot of dollar pitchers of beer back then (It was a different world, I was served in bars at age 15).  But I digress.

The most basic KIA models still have key ignitions, although they are getting harder to come by.   Ours has all the options (the "whole shebang!" package, they call it, I-kid-you-not) so it has a key fob and pushbutton start, which I guess is a lot harder to foil on a moment's notice. But the keyed-kind, well, they are right out of 1988.

And of course, the King Ranch has a similar fob system.  But our 2013 Nissan Frontier had a very primitive keyed ignition, and while I never tried it, I am sure it would not be too hard to defeat, if you had the time and patience.  Funny thing, our 2002 BMW X5 had a code in the key head (which was also the fob) which was read when you stuck the key in the ignition - this deactivated the "immobilizer" that could cut off all power to the car. Of course, in the process of installing a new navigation system, I realized the vaunted "immobilizer" was little more than a massive relay in the spare tire compartment, that could be jumpered around with a jumper cable, or the output wire from it could simply be bolted to the input wire.  There is always a workaround.  But I digress, again.

KIA has noticed this trend and the negative publicity. They are offering free "club" type anti-theft devices to people with keyed ignition systems.  You can apply for one online, even.  But you will need your car's VIN number and the "offer code" that comes with the letter you should receive.  Oddly enough, their site claimed my car had a keyed ignition and not a push-button start fob.  Weird.

I digress again, but if the batteries on your fob die,  you can unlock the car with the hidden key in the fob.  The car may even start if you place the fob over the pushbutton and press down.  Apparently, the button will read an RFID code in the fob.  Expert tip:  Figure out what kind of batteries your fob takes and buy a half-dozen of them on eBay and keep them in the glove box.  Bonus tip:  Keep the fob more than 20 feet away from the car when not in use, as the batteries will run down from constantly "talking" to the car.  Also, your trunk or tailgate may open to thieves if your fob is kept nearby!  But I digress yet again.

So why did KIA put a keyed ignition in cars in recent times?  Well, it was a cost thing.  The KIA Soul, for example, was sold for as little as $15,000 new (back in the day) with a six-speed manual, manual windows, and a steel top.  You could option it up (as I did) to include things like leather interior, panoramic sunroof, Infinity sound system with a huge subwoofer and so on and so forth.  Most cars had the pushbutton start.  But many people wanted a "simple, inexpensive" car and KIA had one for them, in the form of the stripped Soul.

And for folks like my friend, who lives in rural Maine, it works just fine.  Not much car theft up there.  A teenager who wanders into someone's yard to steal a car could expect to be on the receiving end of a shotgun, which hopefully is only charged with rock salt.  Most of these "Tick-Tock" challenges are in the inner-city ghettos or in the suburbs filled with bored teenagers.

I noted before that GM, Ford, and Chrylser had their locks built-in to the steering column.  This was a better solution, but as the opening credits of Gone in 60 Seconds (the original, not the lame remake) illustrate, a simple slide-hammer can be used to "pull" the lock cylinder and a new cylinder (and key) inserted - or even a screwdriver - and you can drive away.   There is no such thing as a theft-proof car.

Kudos to KIA, however, for offering these free anti-theft devices.  They have also given them away to Police departments to give to citizens who may be affected.  Now, some may argue, "Well, they just went to key ignition to save a few bucks!" and that is true - so they could offer an inexpensive and more affordable model at the bottom of the range (hence, most of these thefts are in poor areas).  The locking system is really no different than the one in my Dad's 1970's Land Rover, my 1987 Samurai, Mark's 1986 GTI or my 1988 Carmy - or indeed, even my 2013 Frontier SV.   You don't see people making Tick-Tock videos about those cars or the plethora of others with similar systems.  But of course, you'd have to know about the wiring code colors on another brand of car, unless some helpful Tick-Tocker made a video for you to follow.

KIA has also had an issue with some engines failing.   In some cases, the engines overheated to the point where they caught fire - but you'd have to really work at that.  You'd have to be like my brother, driving around with all the dashboard lights on, saying, "the lights must be broken or something!"   No, he was not the brightest light-bulb on the chandelier - or the dashboard for that matter.

Another bonus tip:  When you turn the ignition "ON" the dashboard lights usually come on, to show they are working.  Indeed, with the ignition "ON" and the engine "OFF" the oil pressure is zero and the battery is at 13V, so both alternator and oil pressure lights should be on.  Once the car starts, these lights go off.  If a light doesn't light when you first turn on the ignition, the bulb is out.  Of course, in modern cars, with LED lighting, this is less of an issue.  But my brother's idiotic mantra of "the light must be broken" is just stupid.  If the light is OFF it may be broken, but ON?  If it's on, you have problems.  I digress, yet again.

KIA's engine problem started, apparently, when someone didn't torque down the connecting rods to the correct torque.  All it takes is one badly calibrated torque wrench on the assembly line, and hundreds if not thousands of engines might go down the line without the bolts properly torqued.   Since you don't know which engines out of millions are affected, how do you recall the cars to "fix" this?  Pulling the oil pans on a million cars on the premise that one-in-a-thousand might have a loose bolt is problematic.

So, KIA reprogrammed the knock sensor (a simple piezoelectric device) to detect the characteristic noise made by a loose connecting rod.  If the check engine light goes off, the owner can take it to a KIA dealer for a free repair.  And they extended the engine warranty to 15 years and 150,000 miles, which should do us right for another seven years.  Yes, the hamster is now eight years old and amazingly only has 36,000 miles on the odometer.

What got me started on this was three pieces of mail I received today.  One from KIA "customer satisfaction" advising me of this free anti-theft device offer.  Two were from a class-action settlement, which extended the warranty from a previous extension (10 years, 100,000 miles) and also offered to reimburse people whose cars died or caught fire.

Of course, one wonders why they had a class-action suit in the first place, as I received a recall notice from KIA years ago, to reprogram the knock sensor software and extend the engine warranty.  I guess we get another five years now.  KIA previously offered to repair or replace cars that caught fire or had engines seize.  So I guess we get the same deal, but a lawyer now takes a cut.

This is, of course, in stark contrast to the old days of "secret" or "hidden warranties."  My Mother's 1973 Vega only lasted about 65,000 miles (my brother strikes again!) as the engine seized due to overheating (and the brain-trust said, "the light must be broken!").  By then, both front fenders had rusted through, which was common when GM removed the fender liners from the car to cut costs in the wake of the 1972 strike. If you asked nicely, GM was secretly installing and painting fenders (and putting in fender liners) on cars, but only if you knew about it and made noise with the zone office.  It was like the THM250 transmission deal.  Long out of warranty, GM made repairs and covered some or all of the cost.  I've read that GM rebuilt or replaced some Vega engines too.

But back then, it was a secret deal for those in-the-know, original owners only, and the companies just hoped that most people would just figure they got a "lemon" and move on (to the Toyota dealer, if they were smart!).   By making these warranties "secret" they could save repair costs - but the damage to the reputation of the marque is just as costly.

So, kudos to KIA to addressing this head-on, even before the class-action suit (which enriches only lawyers, not the class-holders).

It has been the perfect little car for us.

As for the hamster, I guess we'll keep it another seven years until the warranty expires.  It will probably have 50,000 miles on it at that point!  I do have to buy new tires for it, though.  Eight years is a long time, and they are developing flat spots and dry rot.  So this fall, we will re-shod the old gal!  KIA already replaced the wheels under warranty when the clearcoat started to peel.  They have stood behind their product, unlike some other companies (Cough, Ford, Cough!).

Funny thing, Ford once owned KIA, before they sold their stake to Hyundai.   Shoulda kept it!

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Whataboutism, Revisited

Whataboutism is a way of derailing discussion and analysis.

A friend of mine loves to argue politics, and by "argue" I mean what they call Gish Gallop, where he spews a bunch of "factoids" which are just assumed to be true, in machine-gun rapid fire, so you can't keep up.  He spews something about "election fraud" and by the time you've gotten around to marshaling the detailed arguments about why that never happened, he's moved on to "Hunter Biden's Laptop" - which apparently takes about three or four years to download the contents of.  From what I understand, the "smoking gun" are comments made by a drug-addled son of the President, apparently implying he had influence he didn't have.  But they took that ball and ran with it - and now the Biden's are billionaires on Chinese money, although, like the "election fraud" claims, there is no real evidence to support this.

And no, innuendo and hearsay are not "kinds of evidence" as Mr. Lionel Hutz would say.

Whataboutism is one of the main arguing tactics of my friend.  And no, I don't like to hang out with him much, as he is always just itching to drop the latest Fox News Talking Point.  What is Whataboutism?  It started - or at least was named - during the cold war.  During the "Kitchen Debates" between Nixon and Khrushchev, when Nixon would mention the atrocities committed by the Soviets in killing millions of their own citizens, Khrushchev would respond with, "Well, what about the lynching of Negros in your America South?"

And the term "Whataboutism" was born.   As you can see, it is an idiotic argument.  Yes, lynchings were an abhorrent crime and miscarriage of justice.  They were not official government policy and certainly not one that slaughtered millions.  In fact, Americans were, at the time, fighting to put an end to Klan violence, segregation, and discrimination.  The Kremlin, on the other hand, wasn't doing much to shut down the Gulags.  It was a feature, not a bug!

Speaking of Communists, it is a tactic of the far-right (or indeed, even the not-so-far-right) to tag Democrats as "Socialists" and "Communists" and even "Nazis".   While some Democrats may pine for the day when national health care is a reality (like most of our Western allies have), few, if any, pine for a totalitarian dictatorship.  And the "Communism" in the former Soviet Union was anything but communal - it was a brutal, violent dictatorship run by one man.  It was fascism, which is why the Soviets found alliance with Nazi Germany so convenient.  And of course, the guy running "Russia" today, was a former KGB agent for that dictatorship.

Republicans like to play stupid word games as well, with "Nazi" - "It stands for National Socialism!" they cry, "See, Nazis are leftists!"  And yea, that's why they gassed leftists to death or put them in front of a firing squad.  Because they loved leftist politics so much.   And yet, people are dumb enough to believe this nonsense - or more precisely, the GOP throws out this sort of agitprop just to get people riled up and "own the libtards" or whatever.  Oh, trolls are so clever!

Sadly, the media goes along with Whataboutism nonsense far too often.  By trying to appear "neutral" a new program will present "both sides" of an issue, as if genocide had a logical argument to support it.  It becomes a slippery slope - bending over so far backwards to appear "neutral" that you are, in fact, giving fringe ideas legitimacy.

It is akin to the paradox of tolerance.  Two sides come to the negotiating table, and one sides's inflexible negotiating position is, "you all die and go away forever!"    Kind of hard to negotiate with that.  It is the problem with negotiating with terrorists - other than having a hostage returned (often for millions of dollars, which is then spent on arms to fight us, and provides motivation for more hostage-taking) there is no real long-term "treaty" you can negotiate with an organization whose charter is based on utterly destroying you.   There are no "two sides" to such a debate.

There has been a lot of talk about "fascism" lately and people have tossed around the word, not even knowing what it means.  Putin calls Ukrainians "Nazis" and yet their government was freely elected in free and fair elections, whereas Putin has basically made himself dictator-for-life and what elections they do have are sham elections - with opponents put in jail or poisoned or thrown off buildings.

Yet, the GOP has this weird fascination and admiration for Russia these days - admiration for a fascist dictator.  And part and parcel of this are financial ties to the Russians as well as their documented interference with our culture and our elections.  Of course, you can't say that - the Gish-Galloping set merely retorts with "Oh yea, and so's your mother!" which is what they are really saying when they release "reports" which admit there is no evidence of malfeasance by President Biden, but then go on Fox News and spin the whole thing to say Biden is a puppet of China.

News Flash:  Putin is a puppet of China - who do you think is buying all his oil and will be supplying him with weapons?

But of course, people who watch Fox News aren't going to get to that point.  They won't read anything contrary to what they see on TeeVee.  Indeed, it is not a reading crowd in general.  They tune in, every evening and say, "Tell me what to think!  Tell me what to be angry about!  Tell me what to be afraid of!"  "Tell me who I should be shooting!"

A reader takes me to task for criticizing (daring to criticize) the amazing patriots who tried to usurp nearly 250 years of Democracy so they could install a failed housing developer as dictator-for-life (I guess that beats failed landscape painter!).  "What about Antifa?" he crows.  When you start a sentence with "What about" you are engaging in Whataboutism.

The ruse is to get you to forget about the horrible things the other side did and then try to "defend" something you had no intention of defending - lynching of blacks, or rioting by idiots.  I noted before that this new generation of "Nazis" and "Antifa" are both a bunch of blithering idiots - just thugs looking for a good time - and a "good time" to them is rioting.  Sadly, it seems the media is glorifying this nonsense just for ratings.

Rioting protesters of any stripe should go to jail - and many are.  And let's be real here, many of these "BLM" protests that devolved into riots did so because a few people (or a lot of people) decided that breaking into stores and stealing stuff was a swell idea.   These protests attract a lot of hangers-on, who are just there to cause trouble.  If you are a white guy at a BLM protest, throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, go home, you ain't helping.

None of the riots accompanying BLM protests were specifically instigated by the President of the United States ("Fight like hell!") with the goal of bringing down the government.   Whatabout that?   There is a big difference.  Both forms of rioting are wrong, but for the most part, a smashed store can be rebuilt and restocked.  A smashed Democracy cannot.

Anyone who claims otherwise is just being deceitful.

But of course, it raises the issue, why would anyone want to argue like this?  Time was, you could disagree with someone and leave it at that.  Today, people have to "win" at everything, from a political argument to a parking space at Walmart.  And often these battles are fought by shitty passive-aggression.

The guy brainwashed by Fox News isn't going to convince me that the January 6th insurrectionists were merely tourists (flat-out denial) or were actually Antifa in disguise (except for Ashley Babbit - she's was the one real Trumper there, right?).  So why bother?  I think in part it is because of the weird mocking tone the Right uses these days.  It isn't about the issues, it is about being belligerent and "winning" at all costs.  And maybe this is because their core ideas have been shown, time and time again, to be unpopular with the electorate.

So they have to lie. George Santos wasn't a bug, but a feature.  If you run for office on a platform of cutting Social Security and Medicare, as well as Veteran's benefits (on Memorial Day, no less!) you aren't going to win any elections - and in fact, they have been losing a lot.  But if you can straw-man your opponent by claiming he is in favor of transgender litter boxes for kindergartners, and lie about your own background, you just might win.

What is sad is that a media so obsessed with trivialities cannot discover a bald-faced liar until after the elections.  Seems they do a good job of asking all the hard questions after it's too late.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Jesus Hates "Thoughs 'N Prayers"

Thoughts and Prayers are useless, if you don't actually do something!

I saw this exchange online and it was interesting.  The Bible was written by men (mostly men) and edited again and again to serve the needs of man, particularly the men running things.  So you can find justification for almost anything you want to do in the Bible.

However, this also means, you can find condemnation for things you are doing, in the Bible, regardless of who you are, or whether you are religious or not.  The difference is, the people who quote the Bible as justification for their actions always seem to conveniently forget about other quotes that condemn their actions - or in this case, inaction.

Of course, people who believe the Bible is a bunch of silly ghost stories don't have this problem.  One pitfall I see a lot of atheists fall into is trying to argue Bible verse with so-called Christians.   It becomes a game of one-upmanship, with quote chasing quote and no one ever winning, although both sides go away thinking they have "won" the debate.  Sadly, this seems to be a problem in our times - people cannot merely discuss issues, they have to "win" and "own" the opponent, which rarely never happens, except in Twitter fantasies.   And then everyone clapped.

The actual quote from James 2, goes as follows:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  James 2:14-18

Sounds pretty damning.  But of course, gun nuts will dig through the Old Testament and find some other quote that argues you should put all your faith in God and do nothing.  Of course, as I have noted before, the New Testament is just that - an update and new version of the gospel.  It overwrites Bible 1.0 to update it to Bible 2.0.  And things in the Old Testament that conflict with the New Testament are archived and no longer valid.  "An Eye for and Eye" is replaced by "Turn the Other Cheek" - you can't have it both ways, and Jesus himself said the latter, not just some ancient Sumerian King.

It is an interesting contrast between "thought and prayers" and real action.  One is a passive action - learned helplessness.  "Nothing we can do, folks!  It is just like the weather!  One day it is sunny out, and the next day, you have a hail of bullets!"  Needless to say, this ignores the fact that mass shootings didn't exist before the NRA was established and gun laws were increasingly liberalized or abolished.  We lived for over 100 years with the notion that "A well-regulated militia" meant that guns could not be outlawed, but could be regulated.

For example, crazy people shouldn't own guns.  Seems like a simple proposition and Republicans pay lip service to it, but when it comes time for action, they do nothing.   And what weak laws are passed, are underfunded, so they can say, "See, toldya it wouldn't work!"  They are doing the same thing to Medicare and Social Security  - sabotaging both and then using this as justification to say, "toldya they don't work!"

The reason for inaction is simple.  If we had strict rules about crazy people not owning guns, or required that "a well-regulated" militia have proper training in firearms use and handling, well, an awful lot of people would be denied gun ownership.  Let's face it, owning a horde of guns and then laying them on your bed and taking a photo of them (It is a thing - paging Dr. Freud!) is just the definition of craziness.  If we prevented crazy people from owning guns, that would mean most Republicians couldn't own one.   You can't believe in Qanon and "stolen election" theories and be sane.

Which raises the sticky question, why are they doing this?  Is this an accidental side-effect of a policy of no restrictions on firearm ownership, or was it the design all along?   Gun ownership in the United States has actually declined over the years.  A smaller percentage of people own firearms in the USA than when I was a kid.  But today, you have a smaller group (in terms of percentage) but they own, or should I say, stockpile, numerous arms and ammunition.

We've created an army of wind-up soldiers.  They are not controlled directly by the powers-that-be, of course.  But if Republican politicians make enough disparaging remarks about some out-group, it is only a matter of time before some wind-up soldier takes them up on the implied offer, and goes off to shoot up a school, nightclub, shopping mall, or workplace.  It is a predictable outcome of this trend.

And perhaps that is what they were hoping for on January 6th.  But for some reason, many of the January 6th rioters left their firearms at home or in their cars.  Even bomb-making materials and pipe bombs were found left behind.  Maybe next time around, they won't forget.  We dodged a bullet (pun not intended) that day.  We relied on a few important people to do their jobs and uphold the Constitution.  If one or two key people, particularly in the Pentagon, had different ideas, it might have turned into a bloodbath - which would be a pretext for martial law and Trump barricading himself in the White House forever.  Welcome to North Korea.

This isn't by accident.  The manta of the far-right, is that the 2nd Amendment places absolutely no restrictions on gun ownership (even though it explicitly does) and that isn't just some abstract concept or mere political plank.  It was a plan - it IS a plan - to create a rag-tag army that could be summoned, at will, when the time is right, to take control of the government and "purge" those who stand in the way of their power-grab.

Five or ten years ago, I would have said this was a paranoid fantasy or conspiracy theory.  But it is clear today that is their intent.  Again, these wind-up soldiers are not directly organized. Most are "lone wolves" which are taking matters into their own hands - these are misfires.  Others are loosely organized into a number of far-right, white supremacy, neo-nazi, or other "patriot" organizations.  They are training, they are marching, and they openly talk online about the coming revolution and the subsequent "purge" of opponents.

While the people who are vying for power are merely in it for the power-grab, the stories they are telling these wind-up soldiers are that groups of people are trying to destroy America and the Christian way of life.  These out-groups have names like "Jew or "Muslim" or "Socialist" or "Communist" or "Gay" or "Trans" or "Black" or "Hispanic" or "Illegal Immigrant" - just to name a few.  These wind-up soldiers are being trained - like a Pavlovian Dog - to hate these out-group people with all their heart, and to think of the out-groups as less than human - the first step in creating a genocide.

Remember the war in Bosnia?  Hotel Rwanda?  That's all it takes to start a civil war.  It is, in fact, how our own Civil War got started.  Get people a-hatin'  and pretty soon they'll start a-shootin'.

Will this happen?  If we let it.  And it seems a lot of people are inured to the danger.  Again, we dodged a bullet (again, sorry) on January 6th, much as Germany dodged a bullet during the Beer Hall Putsch.  It was just a dress-rehearsal.  It seems kind of crazy, in retrospect, that a few drunks in a beer hall could take over Germany.  But Communists actually did it, albeit for a short period of time, in Bavaria, and Italian Fascists, in FiumeBoth were arguably dress rehearsals.

So this gun nutz mentality and the treatment of the 2nd Amendment as a religion has created this de facto army, which just needs a leader to organize them and direct them, when the time is right.  And that time would be during a period of upheaval, economic uncertainty, and social disruption.  That time may be very soon - sooner than we expect.  Let's face it, no one thought that Trump would actually try to take over the government by force - but he did.  Thankfully, it went about as well as the Trump Casino, the Trump Shuttle, the Trump Princess, and just about any other endeavor he got into, with his name emblazoned in gold letters.  He sucks at running things, let's face it.

But he's not the one behind all this gun-nuttery.  And I am not sure it is as organized as we might like to think.  It is a conspiracy of thousands of people, but not one where they have secret meetings in hollowed-out volcanoes or even meet at all.  Most are not aware that they are working toward a common goal, but rather have subliminally created the conditions necessary for such a take-over to occur.  The only one really "organizing" this is perhaps our Russian friends, who want not so much as to take over, as to disrupt and create the environment where our country is no longer the most powerful in the world.  I'm sure the Chinese are on-board with this as well.

Constant negative messages on the Internet and in the "news" hammer home the hate.  Hate your neighbor.  Hate the minorities.  Hate the homeless.  And hate the trans and the gays.   And fear them!  They are all out to get you and if you don't shoot first, that 11-year-old ringing your doorbell as a prank will likely gun you down.  Live in fear, be in fear - what little you have is going to be taken away by them.

Conspiracy theory?  Nope.  Because there is no formal conspiracy here - no Illuminati meeting in secret chambers, chanting satanic slogans.  It is just shit that happened - by a lot of people nudging things in a particular direction, often unawares they are doing it, themselves.

When the time is ripe, the right person will find themselves in the right place at the right time - and the rest of us will be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thoughts and Prayers!  We're gonna need 'em - not that they'll do any good.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Another Day, Another Scam

It is perfectly legal to send out scam letters, provided you label them as scam letters.  If people don't read, well, it's on them.

In the mail today, a piece of junk mail that I threw out right away.  But then I retrieved it from the trash, as it was good blog material.  It is a scam of course. They mock-up the mailing and envelope to make it appear that your domain name registration is up for renewal - at an astounding $288 a year! (odd number, eh?).   I'm sure some people or small businesses pay this without thinking.

Your secretary or accounting person gets this "bill" and cuts a check without looking at it too closely.  After all, they are busy, right?  If you send out a million of these letters, and one-in-ten respond, well, you've made $28 million.  Nice work if you can get it.  Even if one-in-a-hundred respond, you make a couple mil.  One in a thousand?  You still make back your postage cost.

The key is, of course, that they say, in big print, that this is NOT a domain name renewal, but merely listing your domain name on a "directory" that is on a website.  I've seen this scam before with regard to Trademarks and Patents.  And lawyers.

I've had clients call me and ask whether they need to pay a Trademark "registration fee" or a Patent "publication fee."  They were suspicious, as the post card they received was printed on a dot matrix printer and instructed them to wire money to Hong Kong.  One client actually sent money, thinking he was avoiding "lawyer fees" by "doing it himself!"  In the fine print on the post card, they tell the real story - the fees are only to have their Patent or Trademark "published" on CD-ROM which will be mailed to someone, somewhere.  They aren't doing absolutely nothing in return for your $288 but it is awfully damn close.

But Lawyers get caught in this web, too.  Not a day goes by I don't get a SPAM message asking me to register online for some sort of lawyer directory, promising me loads of clients, if I put my name on a website!

Invention Brokers advertise online, promising you can make money from your invention.  They ask for $5,000 to $10,000 up front and then keep it and do little else.  The FTC investigated them and discovered that basically no one ever made money from their inventions - the success rate was something like 0.0025%.  So as part of a settlement, the invention broker had to publish their success rate.

So they did.  And people still sent in their money.  There are a lot of people who are not very bright in this world, and senility and dementia factor into the equation.

So, if you want to make money, send out a letter or spam-call people asking them to send a dollar to "Happy Dude!" and you'd be surprised how many people do just that.

Hey, it worked for Homer!

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Hindu Nazis, Black Trumpers, and Hispanic White Suprmacists - What in the Ever-Loving Name of Christ is Going On?

When the white supremacists take charge, brown people will be some of their first victims.  Remember that.

Recently, a series of unfortunate events have taken place that has me scratching my head in disbelief.

1.  A young Hispanic man who professes to be a "white supremacist" and racist, shoots up a shopping mall, killing and wounding several people.

2.  A young Hindu Man of Indian descent rents a U-haul truck and tries to ram it into the White House, carrying a Nazi flag with him.

3.  A young black man wearing a MAGA hat marches around his neighborhood with a loaded AR-15, hanging out at the school bus stop and terrorizing parents and children alike.  And yes, he lives with his parents.

4.  The leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, (who tries to go by "Henry"), is a "Afro-Cuban" which in white supremacy circles is two strikes against you right there - black and Hispanic.  Yet he leads a white supremacy group.

5.  Nick Fuentes - now that's a proper Anglo-Saxon name! - is a speaker at various white supremacy gatherings and an "influencer" of sorts.  Again, he seems to fail to realize that real white supremacists would "send him back where he came from" on the first boat - regardless of where he actually came from.

The list goes on and on.  Others have noted this trend, particularly among Hispanics.  I noted before that many Hispanic people consider themselves to be of pure Spanish heritage and are insulted if you imply they might have some indigenous or African blood in their background.  My Costa Rican friend, whose skin was a light tan and whose face looked like that of a Mayan God, nearly punched me in the face, when I gave him what I thought was a compliment.  My Cuban friend insists he is 100% Spanish blood, and for all I know he is.  But when his family came to this country after Castro took power, they had to take menial jobs and were taunted and called "Wetbacks" and "Lazy Mexicans" by white people.

Why would Hispanics want to join that group?  The white people group, that is.  

Let me say, as a bona fide white guy, with documented roots in Scotland, Ireland, and Switzerland (among other places) and a good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon name, that the white folks aren't about to let you into the country club or the prep school, or the prestigious university without a fight.  We are not your friends.

I say this as a 100% WASP - White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. When "White Supremacists" are talking about the "Master Race" they are talking about people like me.  Sorry, but no Catholics, Jews, or even people with a Southern Mediterranean background (Italy, Spain).  Even Irish are suspect as Papists.  You may think you belong to the Country Club, but you are only getting in through the servant's entrance - if that.

So, pander all you want to.  Suck up to the great white man.  He may pretend to like you, "Diamond and Silk" but make no mistake, you are only let into the club as a guest, on permanent probation.  Clarence Thomas, take note. Rich guys wouldn't let  you near their yachts, if you were not on the Supreme Court.  Behind your back, they are calling you an Uncle Tom.

Of course, even I am not allowed into the club, either.  They don't like the gays much these days, although they will let us cater their weddings, arrange their flowers, and do their wives' bouffant hairdos, before they usher us into the gas chamber.  It is all part of the plan.

But of course, that is the problem with white supremacy - once you filter out all the non-white groups, and then go after the "near white" and non-Protestant groups, the remaining field gets smaller and smaller.  It is like Stalin's purges - eventually everyone ends up on the lists.

So why do these minority people profess an admiration for white supremacy?  The fellow who shot up the outlet mall even admitted he wasn't "white" but took us to task for not asserting our supremacy enough.  What makes people think this way?

Well, in a way, it is collateral damage from the relentless campaign being waged online and in the media, trying to make white supremacy seem a legitimate political view, or even endorsing or espousing it.  Foreign powers are at work, as they know "divide and conquer" will destroy us from within without them having to fire a shot (the latter of which they are not very good at, apparently).  So long as we think our neighbors are the real enemy - and not Russia or China - then we are doomed.

Sadly, this propaganda was so effective it had an overshoot effect.  People not in the target audience were radicalized online, which isn't hard to do.  Whether it is Qanon, anti-vaxxerism, flat-earth nonsense, Bride-of-ISIS, Al Qaeda, Scientology, Antifa, or an MLM scheme, it isn't hard to convince the vast majority of Americans of utter nonsense.  You tell people that a pizza shop is running a pedophile ring and before long, a wind-up soldier shows up and starts shooting - fortunately in that instance, no one was hurt.

So mental illness factors into the mix.  Young men (and it is mostly men) with no direction, usually under-educated, unemployed, and unemcumbered by family and career obligations, have a lot of time on their hands and spend countless hours on 4chan or 8chan or whatever odious site that spews hate, such as Fox News or Twitter.

Parents, are, of course, largely to blame, as they tend to sweep their son's mental illness under the rug, as if it were shameful or something.  They don't push their kids to leave the nest, or even charge them rent.  They allow the child (still a child at 25!) to acquire weapons - AR-15s, Japanese Kantanas, and of course, various home-made explosives.  The parents are usually the first victims when their deranged son goes on a killing spree.  But by the time the child has acquired their first weapon, it is too late.  The parents are already living in fear of a violent outburst from their own child, so they ignore the problem for another day and hope it goes away.

In other cases, the parent actually encourages aberrant behavior.  "I know what will cheer him up!  A trip to the shooting range and that new AR-15 he's always wanted!"  It is akin to signing your own death warrant.  Yet parents do this, unable to figure out how to push their 20-something mentally-ill son out of the nest.

I read online a story (whether it is true or not, I don't know) of parents so afraid of their own kid, they set him up with an apartment, paid the rent for the first year, got him a checking account and credit card and then sold their house and moved - leaving no forwarding address.  No doubt the kid was homeless after a year - or maybe he saw this as a wake-up call and got a job and started taking care of himself.

Nah. That rarely happens.  Once you have that pod living in your basement,  you are screwed.

But getting back to non-white white supremacy, is self-loathing a part and parcel of the deal as well?  Perhaps.  There has been some speculation that some of these mass-shooters have issues over their own race or background.  And it goes without saying that a closeted homosexual raised in a strict religious upbringing is a bomb waiting to go off.

This fellow, who was half-Filipino was said to have such issues, convinced he was "ugly" and thus unable to attract a mate.  It was all in his head, I'm afraid.  But having a foot in two camps can be difficult.  The black teenager raised in a white suburb may find they are not really accepted by their white peers at the all-white high school - and neither are they accepted by inner-city blacks.  My Korean friend, raised in America since age 8, tells me he is treated poorly when he travels to Korea on business - people think he is retarded, as he speaks with the vocabulary of an 8-year-old.  My adopted Chinese friend faces the backlash caused by the anti-Asian posturing of the GOP, while at the same time, mocked by Chinese foreign exchange students for not understanding Mandarin or Chinese culture.

You have a foot in both camps, but again, are welcome by none.  That could mess with your head.  Then again, millions of people have gone through this sort of thing and not shot up a school or became Nazis.  So that seems to me more of a cop-out than a motivation.

No, no, I think plain old vanilla mental illness is at work.  That and the allure of jumping on a bandwagon, even if it is set to run over your whole family.  People like to join causes - to be part of something bigger than themselves, to be a part of history.  To be famous - or if not, infamous.  And the latter is one reason why the media is shying away from mentioning the name of, or profiling, mass-shooters.

As for the Hispanic and Black Nazis, well, I think they are also mentally ill, but are "useful idiots" and in fact quite useful idiots to the party that recently tried to overthrow the government.  They are perfect windup soldiers, and the fact they are of the wrong race only helps fuel "false flag" conspiracy theories and whatnot.  A black Nazi provides the GOP with "plausible deniability" if something should go wrong. "Hey, he isn't one of us!  We're racists, remember?"  Sometimes being odious comes in handy, don't it?

But I think the real reason is just overshoot.  They are targeting this "white supremacy" nonsense at young white men, and as collateral damage, are picking up a few mixed-race individuals who think somehow "white supremacy" might include them.  They are in for an education in short order.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Supply and Demand and Inflation

Prices will come down when people stop buying.

I noted before that while we were re-habbing the condo, we saw a Dunkin Donuts delivery person (or DoorDash or whatever) deliver a two donuts to someone at our condo development.  Now, our condo isn't quite a ghetto, but it is a working-class kind of place.  Simple garden-style apartments and outside parking.  This isn't a place for rich people, or even upper-middle-class.  It is mostly young people starting out, a few old people living on social security, and yes, some section-8 housing.

It was weird, but a few minutes after the donut delivery, the person living in that apartment left for work.  Now, the Dunkin Donuts is about 1/8 mile away - across the street, really, and you could have gone there on the way to the Metro or in your car if you were driving to work.  Why pay a delivery fee on such an inexpensive item?  It boggles the mind.

Yet, I read online all the time, people complaining about missed deliveries, cold food, wrong orders, and steep delivery fees.  It isn't like the old days where you would have friends over and buy $50 of Chinese food and have it delivered by the restaurant owner's son.  No, today, people are having a Big Mac and fries and a Coke delivered - the Big Mac arriving cold and mushy, the fries ice cold and congealed with hardened grease, and Coke watered-down by the melted ice, and warm.   What's the point of paying a delivery fee for that?  Deep-fried food - if it is to be consumed at all - should be consumed piping hot.

But people are in a state of denial.  They rage against companies for making "record profits" during an inflationary period.  Of course, this attitude is negated by two simple observations.  First, as I have noted before, everything in the world is always "the most this" and "the most expensive" that.  Populations are always at "record highs" and prices are always at an "all-time-high" because population always increases, goods always become scarcer and prices, over time, always go up.

Yes, prices do drop from time to time, but the overall trend - measured in decades, not months - is upward.  So companies are always - or mostly always - going to be posting "record profits" over time, as profits will go up with prices.

The other aspect is supply and demand.  When a commodity becomes scarce, people bid up prices, and as a result, suppliers profit more.  In turn, this profit incentive motivates them to procure or produce more product to meet demand (and make those tidy profits).  During the pandemic and accompanying "supply chain" shortages, well, prices shot way up.  And the poor bastard whose car lease expired during that period really got raked over the coals, as his options were limited to (a) buying the car at an inflated price, or (b) buying one of the three cars on the dealer lot at an inflated price.

But all of that is going to change, and very soon.  And again, the change is not permanent - over time, prices will continue to go up.  But we will see, in the short term (a few years) prices may decrease or at least stabilize.  And what will trigger this is anyone's guess.  In 2008 it was gas shooting up to $5  gallon (which would be about equal to $7 today).  This time around, it could be the Government defaulting on its obligations.  Who knows?  The herd can be stampeded by something as simple as a coyote howl.

A reader sends a link to an article opining that car prices are set to "plummet" shortly as automatkers, worldwide, have built 6% more cars than the market demands.  I am not sure where they get their numbers from, but like "unaffordable housing" there is no such thing as "unaffordable cars."  No, no, those Facebook ads you see crowing "unsold SUVs going for pennies on the dollar!" are just a come-on.  Cars, like houses, always sell - maybe not for the price the seller would like, but they do sell, sometimes even at a loss to the dealer or manufacturer.  But no, they aren't going to crush brand-new cars because they don't sell for list price - better to sell for 20% off than for nothing.

A good example is the Audi TT roadster.  Volkswagen overproduced these models, and after a famous rally car driver was killed in one that went airborne, they were all recalled to install a rear wing to keep them from experiencing high-speed lift.  But the damage was done, and the roadster craze of the 1990's (have to write about that sometime, if I already haven't) was winding down.  What to do with excess inventory?

Well, VW gave dealers a hefty credit and the cars were moved from the new car lot to the used car lot - some with less than a dozen miles on them - and sold at used-car prices.  This avoided having the new-car sale price being dinged (and yes, this information is tracked by a number of sources) and moved the cars off the lot, particularly as some were sitting there for a year or so.  Better to sell them used, and at least recoup costs, than to simply throw them away.

But speaking of old inventory, it is pathetic, but small-town dealers often have older inventory they try to sell as new.  I saw one dealer, locally, trying to sell a Nissan pickup truck for sticker price, even though it was two model years old.   I took a pass.

Funny thing, though, two years later, I got a call from the "big city" Nissan dealer who I had made inquires of 18 months prior.  It was October, and the 2013 models were aging on the lot and 2014's were arriving daily.  So they offered me a deal - a nicely loaded 4-door SV model for about what the local dealer wanted for a stripped 2009 model.  Needless to say, it wasn't a bad deal.

Fall is a good time to buy car. Some say Christmas as well, as other than idiots who are buying cars as gifts, the showrooms can be somewhat empty, and "last year's model" is something they want to get rid of.  Others argue that when buying at the end of the year, you take a larger depreciation hit.  For example, if you went to the dealer in October of 2023, you could buy a 2024 model and in 2025, it would only be one model year old and subject to a lot less depreciation than a 2023 model, which would be two model years old.  An interesting argument, I suppose, if you trade-in cars every three years (and like to set fire to piles of money as well).  On the other hand, if you are keeping the car for several years, it doesn't make as much a difference.

But I digress.

We have a pulse on the car market locally, as our little port is one of the largest roll-on, roll-off car carrier ports on the East Coast (some years, the largest).  They have huge lots where cars are parked after coming off the ships.  We also export cars - Mercedes, KIA, Hyundai, BMW, Suburbans - as well as construction equipment.   So there's that.

They recently added an expansion lot across the street to house more cars - just in time for the pandemic.  Also in time for the pandemic, Stellanis (Chrysler) built a staging lot for their ill-fated production model, where they were cranking out cars with no buyers, in anticipation of a UAW strike which never materialized.  A lot of people, including dealers, criticized this move, as it created a huge inventory of cars and "forced" dealers to take oddly-optioned vehicles they didn't want (e.g., a work truck with a sunroof and alloy rims).

Well, Chrysler had the last laugh, as during the pandemic, that lot, which had been full to bursting, was cleaned out.  It was almost abandoned, with nothing but a bunch of car carriers parked there.  Similarly, during the pandemic, the lots by the port went from acres of cars to empty.  The Ro-Ro ships stopped coming into port, and in fact, for a while, the only ship we saw was the Golden Ray, until they finished cutting it up.

So you can get an idea about car sales, just from the inventory on these lots.  Back in 2009, the lots were overflowing with cars, as the recession hit and people stopped buying cars.  VW had a surplus of cars (probably exacerbated by dieselgate) on the lots.  They hired people to drive them from the car port, across the causeway to our island, and then back again, presumably to charge the batteries and circulate the oil.  This went on for months until the economy recovered.  It was comical to see the Audis being driven with their shipping blankets in place, with the drivers looking out a little hole made over the windshield.

Today, the lots are pretty full and the Stellanis overproduction lot is also seeing an increase in cars - but not like the old days.  I think the guy who came up with that brilliant idea was fired.  But it isn't like the pandemic, when the lots were empty.  And dealer lots are filling up, even in small towns.  We drive by a Ford dealer on 301 in Florida, and they used to have literally 100 F150's lined up out front.  During the pandemic, they had six.  Today, it seems like they have 50 or more, brand-new.  Maybe not as many as before, but certainly a helluva lot more than a year ago.

So does this mean that car prices will be slashed?  That you will be able to buy a coveted (yuk) SUV for "pennies on the dollar" like those Facebook ads promise?    Well, not exactly.   They will offer deals and rebates and low-interest or no-interest financing to move cars off the lots.  And they will adjust production schedules - and already have, I am sure - to decrease production in view of recent sales and future projections.  They may lay off the third shift, or maybe even the second.  An extra plant may be closed or mothballed.  Supply will decrease to meet demand.   And prices will drop - not dramatically, but significantly.  Maybe even the Toyota dealer will drop the attitude that they are selling rare collectibles.

But all of this won't happen until people stop spending like drunken sailors.  You can't complain about high food delivery prices, period.  If money is that dear to you, get off  your fat ass and go pick it up yourself.  Or try meal-planning and buying groceries and learn how to cook - instead of wallowing in your own crapulence, for chrissakes.  But I digress, yet again.

It is human nature, this hysteresis in the economy.  When prices go up, people grouse about it but initially do nothing about it.  Spending goes up (I know mine has!) and credit card balances increase, as people try to continue to live as before without making sacrifices.  It is a lot easier to increase your spending habits than decrease them - which is the reason why I started this blog in the first place.

I saw a posting online of a sign at a grocery store explaining that Coca-Cola had raised its prices significantly and suggested to shoppers that they try Pepsi or store-brand soda instead, as it was far cheaper.  I have that beat entirely - we have largely given up soft drinks in favor of tap water, which is nearly free and a lot better for you than a bunch of high-fructose corn syrup.  Or as one friend put it, "I'm saving my caloric intake for more important things - like alcohol!"  The man has his priorities!

People will change habits, much as they did back in 2009 and back during earlier recessions.  I was only 18 in 1978 and living on my own for the first time, so it seemed "normal" to me that some things were in scarce supply and rather expensive.  But people were scrimping and things like Raman noodles became popular around that time.  Staples like peanut butter were also popular - to the point there were shortages and the price skyrocketed.  A staple became a luxury - it made no sense, but people rarely do.

Like I said, there will be some triggering event that will cause people to wake up and take notice.  Credit card debt is at an "all-time high" (remember what I said about that phrase?) and default rates are increasing.  People will start to cut back, particularly when the media starts running "recession" stories.

Remember all the stupid crap from 2008?  "Our family decided to stop spending money for a week!" one headline crowed.  But of course, they just spent twice as much the next week.  But it was a chance for people to re-examine their spending habits.  I realized that I was just paying "whatever" and not looking at prices - of food, insurance, utilities, you-name-it.  It took me a long time to start examining each expense in my life and cutting back.

And yes, over time, my spending has gone up, little by little.  I need to re-examine some recurring costs, particularly insurance, which seems to be jumping up quite a bit, for homeowner's and automobile.  But more on that, later.

Supply and Demand - it is a law that cannot be ignored.  You have too much supply, you have to drop prices to spur demand.  You have too much demand, you raise prices until it drops, or supply increases.  We see this on a day-by-day basis at the gas pump - prices vary from week-to-week depending on supply (refinery goes offline) or demand (holiday weekend).   And while you may think demand is steady and inflexible, the effects of the 2008 recession proved otherwise.  People will make changes in their lifestyle, when prices go high enough.

Maybe this time around, no one will be trading in their Dodge Ram for an Aries K-car or a Ford Fusion, as they did in 1981 and 2009, respectively, but perhaps people will slow down, drive less, and yes, maybe consider a compact truck at trade-in time.  This will mean pain for some folks, but again, being "poor" in America means driving a shitty car.  In Africa, it means you didn't get shot at today.  No one feels sorry for overfed, overpaid, and overweight Americans.

Nor should they!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Has Television Created Perpetual Children?

In reality, Lisa and Bart Simpson would both be pushing 40 by now and Marge and Homer would be in their seventies.

"Kids today!" the oldsters grouse, "They aren't like when we were that age!  Hell, by age 25, I had a job, a house, and a family!  My kid?  He sits at home all day long playing video games in the basement!"

Or so goes the tale of woe.  Of course, if you have "bounce-back" kids or kids who never left home, the problem isn't necessarily them, but the family dynamics in general.  Kids don't end up living in your basement without your permission.   Here's a helpful hint:  If you have a captive "gamer" ensconced in your basement, just stop paying the Internet and Cable bills.  Eventually, they will have to come up for air.  Just a thought!

But this whole thing got me to thinking that, in addition to economic concerns, perhaps our culture has conditioned young people to remain perpetual children in the family dynamic.   The television cartoon, The Simpsons, has been on the air for an astonishing 33 seasons - about 26 beyond their best period.  At this point, it is largely unwatchable and just a money-making machine for Fox.

But something else is afoot.  You see, in 33 years, Lisa and Bart never left elementary school or even advanced to the next grade (not to mention, no graduation ceremony!).  In fact, they have not aged one bit. They have stayed perpetual children in the family dynamic - never growing up, going to college, getting a job, or getting married.   Sure, there were a couple of episodes set in "the future" - one where Lisa is President of the United States, in fact.  But for the most part, the family dynamic is static.  And dynamics, by definition, are not static.

Many television shows in the past followed a similar pattern.  However child actors do grow up and often that has to be incorporated into the script.  However, most shows go off the air long before 33 years elapses, so while there is an aging process, we just don't see the eventual outcome.  In a cartoon, people can remain static for decades.

There are exceptions, of course.  In The Waltons, John-Boy grows up to be John-Man, and goes to college, buys a car, and becomes a writer and newspaper reporter (as I recall) toward the end of the series, of course.   The family does age and Grandpa Walton passes on.  Other kids leave home and start their own lives. Unlike a lot of television, the family actually ages as in real life.  Of course, that show went off the air decades ago.

Sadly, that is the exception to the rule.  Most television shows only kill off a character when they ask for more money - and the producers want to send a message to the other actors.   But for the most part, there are little in the way of dynamics in the family dynamic on TeeVee.  There are no normative cues for young people about growing up and settling down.

Even "adult" shows like Seinfeld and Friends have their characters in static modes for years and years.  Seinfeld was famous for "no hugging, no learning" as the characters acted like overgrown children, indulging every possible whim and never moving on in life.  Friends was a sitcom about a bunch of 20-somethings that refuse to grow up, and instead act infantile and hang out in a coffee shop.  The show basically ended with two of the characters getting married, but then we never see the realities of married life after that - they just sort of disappear into the ether.  Message?  There is no life after marriage.   You stay a kid forever, or a parent forever - there is no transition, no dynamic.

And this is sad, too, as the transition from geeky zit-faced teenager to adult with a job, responsibilities, career, home, and spouse, is a difficult one, but at the same time, can be an exhilarating and rewarding experience.  Once one realizes they can do this and live independently on their own, well, life really begins.  That's why I say it is a tragedy when kids just "give up" on life and become homeless with pets, or stay in Mother's basement and live online.

UPDATE:  This raises three other issues.  First is Hollywood's fascination with High School - the subject of many a television series and movie franchises.  To hear Holllywood tell it, those are the best four years of your life (high school students may disagree).  Second, is the perception that settling down, getting married and having a career and family is "boring" or at least not telegenic. And I guess there is a nugget of truth to that.  Hard to make a show about someone commuting to a job for 30 years, unless it is a wacky comedy with mostly young people, like "The Office."  And I guess the third thing is sex - Hollywood caters to young people not only because they are a huge audience for movies and television, but because even oldsters reminisce about the glory days of first love and whatnot.  Or at least, maybe that is the perception.  But I digress.

And I wonder, maybe poor normative cues from society and television set low expectations in young people.  On television, being a kid is a role to play and not some brief transition in your lifetime, before you grow up and live a life of your own.  Being a perpetual child is possible in the fictional land of TeeVee.  You can be a kid forever, and today, there is no shame in being an unemployed "incel" "gamer" living with your parents.  Well, there is shame, but not among their own peer group.  They're just living the Bart Simpson lifestyle - don't have a cow, man!  A daily trip to the comic book store, maybe some skateboarding, or playing Bonestorm on your gaming console with Milhouse.  It's a lifestyle.

Or you can be like wacky Kramer and the crew on Seinfeld, never really growing up or having a serious relationship - just a string of dates, one-night-stands, and transitory girlfriends or boyfriends.  If one of them gets serious about getting married, maybe they will be poisoned by the glue on the wedding invitation envelopes and you can dodge a bullet.  You see the message - growing up and settling down are bad things that should be avoided at all costs, even if it means killing your future spouse.  Single forever!  Perpetual childhood!

Maybe I am taking away too much from this - maybe not.  Others have noted in the past, the tendency of television - even in the early days - to use the broken home as a model.  Andy Griffith was a single Dad.  Jed Clampett had no wife, only "Granny."   My Three Sons had no mother, just "Uncle Charlie" who was some sort of gay uncle.  The list goes on and on.  The only "normal" intact families were The Munsters and The Addams Family.

And the list of "never grow up" sitcoms abounds.  Mary Tyler Moore dumps her boyfriend to move to Minneapolis and gets a job as a television producer - but never dates, never marries.  If a "boyfriend" character is introduced, he is a guest for one episode, and dumped before the next - and forgettable as well.   Larry Hagman was a perpetual bachelor and astronaut in I Dream of Jeanie, and when they got married toward the end of the series, it pretty much ended the show.

Part and parcel of this is the tired old trope used in sitcoms where Person A and Person B are destined to be together, but hate each other.  As the series progresses, they flirt back and forth between affection and hatred, with the series culminating (and ending) with them getting married.  It is so tired and shopworn a plot device that when I see a new show with a man and a woman bantering like that, I already have written every episode for the entire series in my head, and I shut if off.  Been there, seen that, thank you very much.   It is the classic RomCom striver/slacker plotline, one of ten or so that Hollywood knows and never deviates from.

And it is a trap, for a writer.  You can't have the main couple actually get married as that would remove the underlying tension in the plot that keeps people "tuning in" (an archaic phrase, even in the early days of television) week after week.  Will Sam hook up with Diane this week?  Of course not, but they will tease you and the couple will engage in the usual banter and put-down humor.

Speaking of which, I noted before how you can tell a TeeVee addict from a mile away - they engage in this put-down humor and act mystified when people don't respond to their insults.  On television it is so funny and everyone laughs!   Why is this guy punching me in the face for calling his wife a fat pig?  It makes no sense.

Normative cues, again.  Poor normative cues.  So I wonder if the same effect is present on young people today, raised on a diet of television shows where even the grown-ups never grow up.

Maybe.  Nah - television has no affect on your brain, right?  Watching eight hours of Fox News a day won't turn you into a paranoid raving maniac with a gun collection.

Right?  Of course!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Impermanence of the Internet

This video illustrates how various websites rise and fall in prominence.

I saw this video online a few months ago, and it drove home what I have said for some time now - that what we think of as "permanent" online is really an illusion.  And if you have been online since the days of dial-up 300 baud modems and BBS bulletin boards, you know what I mean.  We were always looking for "the next big thing!" even as the last-next-big-thing was still in diapers.

It seems like the Internet is static - that there are a few primary sites like Facebook, Twitter, and so on and so forth, that have been there since forever and will continue to grow and prosper and never go away.  But recent events seem to suggest otherwise.  Twitter, which never really made a profit, is shedding users and cockamamie plans to charge users for using it seem to be falling apart.  The latest gag is that Musk tried to charge the New York Mass Transit Authority the sum of $50,000 per month or over a half-million a year, just to be able to send alerts to customers.  Funny thing, though, the MTA has its own app and website that does just that.  And in an era of budget deficits, the MTA figured out how to quickly save $600,000 or more.

Every company that has a major online presence has to hire someone to manage that.  If your website becomes a cobwebsite, people think you went out of business. If your Facebook page looks stale, people lose interest in your company.  If your Twitter feed has no content, they assume you have nothing to say. So in addition to any advertising or user fees, you have to hire someone to maintain all these things, and that is a real cost - particularly for smaller businesses.   Some businesses decide to cut costs by shaving one or two of these outlets.

Unfortunately, this often means dumping or archiving their website.  I notice a lot of small businesses have decided not to maintain their websites or let them just remain static.  I logged onto a local citizen's group website and it said, "stay tuned for our new website!" which has been on there for months now. Meanwhile, the existing website is just a bunch of dead links to other groups and sites.  Their Facebook page is very active, however.  Sadly, it is sort of like that "Neighborhood" feature, where people spread rumors and fear, rather than provide any real information or data.

With a recession happening, Elon Musk has chosen the wrong time to start charging for Twitter.  $8 a month might not seem like a lot - for an individual user - but commercial users are being dinged for far more.  And with the rise of hate speech on the site, there is a dirty halo effect.  Companies insisted that Facebook and Twitter clamp down on odious content, as their advertisements were appearing next to Nazi and racist talk - which makes it seem like the company is endorsing that sort of thing.  That's one reason why Fox fired Carlson - advertisers were fleeing.  Toward the end of the reign of the odious Glenn Beck, his only advertisements were for penis enlargers and sketchy gold coins.

You can't make a living just advertising the MyPillow guy - you need Johnson&Johnson, Proctor&Gamble, General Motors, Ford, and the rest of the Fortune 500 or whatever.  Those are people who sell a lot of product and don't mind paying a lot to advertise.  Without mainstream advertisers, your internet site becomes the equivalent of an obscure cable channel that offers nothing but sponsored programming, such as ads for Ronco gadgets and Ginzu knives.  There is profit in that, of course, just a smaller profit.  Does Twitter want to be the next Home Shopping Channel?  Maybe Musk can model that set of Tanzanite earrings.  Order in the next ten minutes and they will throw in the matching necklace!

The reasons the various sites shown above screwed the pooch are many.  In some cases, they were forced out by competition.  A similar animated graphic illustrates the rise and fall of many web browsers.  Netscape was king for a while, until Microsoft bundled "Explorer" with Windows.  Today, Chrome is king, but if they squelch adbockers, something else may take over.  In a similar manner, newer sites cannibalize older ones.  Maybe "Tom" screwed the pooch with MySpace - making it a niche site for bands to advertise themselves, instead of a one-size-fits-all Social Media outlet.  But whatever the reason, Facebook took off where MySpace faltered.

And sometimes it is just style or fads that create and tear down various sites.  The kids log onto Facebook - indeed, "The Facebook" was a college creation.  But when they realize their parents - and grandparents - were on it, it got awkward.

The point is, I guess, that investing in this "technology" of websites is a tricky business.  All it takes is one mis-step for a site to go from hot to not.  What we think as permanent fixtures of the Internet is really just ether.

One day, maybe Blogger will disappear as well!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Death of Cable News?

CNN's latest antics aren't the sign of some new trend, but the last dying gasps of an outdated and outmoded communication medium.

I noted before how over time, various media have become obsolete.  Just in the last few years, print media has all but disappeared  - replaced by the ubiquitous smart phone.  Some "newspapers" have transitioned to this new media, others - particularly small-town newspapers - have died off.  Even the storied Grey Lady and the WaPo are struggling to make ends meet in this new era - laying off reporters and staff and thus cheapening their product and making it even less attractive to readers.

FM radio has been replaced by streaming services - the only thing on FM are automated networks with bland "New Country" or the "[Same Old] Oldies" repeated again and again, in-between blaring commercials for raw deals on used cars. And AM?  Only religious nuts and the La Salsa channel, on that scratchy, buzzy medium.  Radio is dead, period.

Cable television of course, is still around, but its consumer demographic is aging out - dying in fact.  Young people are more likely to use cable as an internet portal - if they have it at all - and are streaming video through televisions sold at Walmart which advertise this feature.  Traditional Cable networks are scrambling to get onto this new streaming format and emulate Netflix - and they are all losing money at it, too.  Even Disney is hemorrhaging cash at this gig.

Funny thing, when people pay for channels à la carte, they choose not to pay for most of those channels.  Cable television costs so much money because if you subscribe, you are paying for the "right to carry" a plethora of channels you never watch.  Sure, things like the shopping network are free, but the cable companies have to pay Fox News and CNN and MSNBC for carrying rights - whether you watch these channels or not.  Fox, in fact, is demanding a huge increase in carrying fees from the cable companies as we speak - they have (or had) a lock on the only steady demographic left for cable - right-wing baby boomers.

It is ironic, as in the early days of cable, the cable companies paid nothing to rebroadcast off-the-air television stations.  And you would think that the broadcast networks would welcome having additional viewers, which would add to their Nielsen ratings and thus increase their ad rates and thus improve their bottom line.  It is a sick and twisted dance, they do, and both broadcast networks and cable companies are pretty odious organizations - something I realized after working in cable litigation many years ago.  Hard to feel sorry for anyone involved, even the viewers.

Our personal "viewing" habits are probably more typical of the younger generation.  We use our poverty WiFi (cellular) hotspot ($25 a month) to stream video from various online "channels" which are either free, or we subscribe to, one at a time, à la carte for one month at a time, maybe every third or fourth month.  So our television watching fees are very low - maybe $30 a year or so.  You can watch the entire season of The Mandalorian in one month and pay for only one month of service.  It's that easy.  And sadly, there isn't much worth watching on Netflix, since it went to an all-soap-opera format.  Actually, all the streaming channels are this way.

Quite frankly, we find ourselves watching less and less television anyway - Mark falls asleep about 15 minutes into a movie, so we never see a whole one.  We have busy lives actually doing things, instead of watching television.  I highly recommend it.

Others, less so.  I noted before that in many houses here on Old People Island, you can drive by in your golf cart and see that all the lights are off, except for the flickering blue glow of televisions at each end of the house.  He's watching Sports or Fox News and screaming at the television set.  She's watching a home show or MSNBC or something. Two people, married for nearly 50 years, living in the same house and yet living apart.   And this is rather common, too.

CNN "made news" the other day, which a news organization isn't supposed to do.  News organizations are supposed to report the news, not make it.  But the baby-faced new CEO of CNN (a registered Newhouse Fag, as we used to call them at SU) is trying to shake things up by giving our deranged ex-President a platform to spew hate speech, conspiracy theories, and outright insurrection.

(What is a "Licht" anyway?  I thought that was some kind of harpy or demon of some sort).

Funny, thing, it didn't work.   It didn't attract the MAGA crowd to CNN, who think the network is either the "Clinton News Network" or the "Communist News Network."  In fact, the few people who watched the "Town Hall" thought that it was Liberals in the audience hootin' and hollerin' for Trump, as if he had convinced even the far-Left of his legitimacy.  Meanwhile, this sort of thing has driven liberal viewers away toward MSNBC.  Younger viewers?  They simply don't exist.

In terms of ratings, CNN is now behind Newsmax, an ultra-right-wing conspiracy-theory channel.  This doesn't mean that America is embracing the far-right, only that television viewers, which are becoming a smaller and smaller demographic, tend to be right-wing nutjobs who hate change ("streaming video?  I don't need that newfangled technology when I've got good old reliable Cable Tee-Vee!  Bring back the carburetor, too!")

Ratings for all cable news channels are down - way downCNN has been the hardest hit, but even Fox News is shedding viewers.  News and Sports are the highest rated shows on cable, but News channels are losing viewers.  Where are they going?  No one watching cable anymore, except old people and the televisions left on in the bars.  It is a dead and dying medium - and a dying viewing demographic.  It is obsolete.  Rather than showing what you want to watch at a time when you want to watch it, Cable TeeVee plays continuously, and you have to adjust your schedule accordingly - unless you want to pay on demand video or dick around with a TiVo type device.

If cable television is a dying media, then what is the "next big thing!" anyway?  That's where it gets tricky.  With the Internet and streaming, anyone can be a "channel" and what ends up being the next big thing is a slippery slope.  It is like trying to shovel water or grab the ether - it is always just slipping out of your hands.  The broadcast model of the 1950's and 1960's locked people into three largely interchangeable networks.  Cable television promised 500 channels of variety, but ended up just giving us more of the same thing, plus shopping channels.   The Internet provides all sorts of weird stuff, sadly, and as a result, provided a megaphone for fringe thinking.  It's the year 2023 and we're now talking about whether the earth is flat and whether Nazism is a good thing or not.  This is regression.

(Prediction:  In the next ten years, one of the cable companies will throw in the towel and go to an all-streaming format.  The bandwidth "wasted" sending 500 channels to viewers who aren't watching any of them could be better used for internet streaming.  It will be a controversial move, but within a few months, every other Cable company - and sat-e-light tee-vee company - will follow suit.  Cable TeeVee as we know it will be dead.)

Cable is dying, and as part of its death throes, it is resulting to more and more extreme thinking, in order to attract these fringe audiences.  The CNN Trump Town Hall wasn't a harbinger of things to come for CNN, but the beginning of its epitaph.

Oddly enough - or not so oddly - I wasn't aware of this "Town Hall" before it aired as we don't have cable television - or even off-the-air television.  I only read about it online, after the fact.  I haven't watched CNN in ages, and even their articles online kind of suck.   CNN was dead to me long before this.

Years ago - maybe 30 years in fact - we got cable as part of an internet "bundle" - they priced the internet service such that it was cheaper to get it bundled with cable.  They were that desperate for viewers even back then.  Mark was excited to try out this new "CNN" thing - they would have 24-hour in-depth reporting!  More than just the 22 minutes of the "Nightly Nooze" that broadcast television provided.

Boy, was he disappointed!  Instead of more and better news, these "24 hour news networks" just barfed-up the same stories again and again, with all these graphics (with whooshing sounds) and scrolling text to make it seem more important than it was.  On Fox, everything was a "Fox News Alert!" - a term that should be limited to runaway freight trains carrying toxic chemicals or impending tornado destruction.

We had it for about a year, gained ten pounds, drained our bank account ordering take-out food, and became depressed.  500 channels and nothing on - and we would surf channels during the ads and end up watching snippets of programs before falling asleep - often to the blue glow of the television.  We were hooked on a drug called cable TV - a drug as bland and unappealing as cigarettes.  So, one day, I said to Mark, "Let's get rid of the television entirely!" and we gave to the TeeVee to a neighbor, who was mystified why we would give away such a valuable thing - and we never looked back.

Years later, we started subscribing to Netflix, when it was a DVD service, and once a week, we'd watch some great classic movie.  It was like a film school education back then - you could screen all the auteurs.  That went away in favor of online content, which thanks to the STARZ contract they signed, had a plethora of movies as well.  But the STARZ contract expired and Netflix reverted to "Netflix Original Content" which is just episodic television, and the whole thing sort of went downhill from there.

So, even streaming has its limitations.  Cable is dead - streaming is not far behind!

Lately, I find myself watching mostly old car videos on YouTube - if I watch at all.  Maybe we'll give away yet another television, again.

Maybe no television is the best option!