Monday, October 30, 2023

Life Span and Social Class and Intelligence

If you are dumber, you won't live as long.

A reader sends me an article about life span in the United States.  They had previously posited that college graduates live longer than non-college graduates.  But in a new analysis of the data, it appears that high school dropouts skew the statistics for "non-college graduates" as the drop-outs have a significantly lower life expectancy.

Why is this?  Well, the article gets all weepy-liberal (the wrong kind of liberalism, in my mind) about how we should be reaching out to the lower classes, perhaps by lowering the power window on our limousine and handing them a twenty.  There, problem solved!

Having rubbed elbows with the poor and working class (Yes, I lived in Chittenango once - as well as Flint, Michigan) I have a different perspective.  Yes, the poor get a raw deal and don't live as long, but it isn't just a matter of them getting depressed and killing themselves - at least not in the traditional way.

Lower class people end up being forced to take jobs that essentially kill them over time - jobs that are dangerous or expose them to toxic materials.  Much ado was made by Republicans about how they were going to "save jobs" in the coal mines of West Virginia.  But who the hell wants to work in a coal mine - if there are other alternatives?  I spend some time in the Mountain State, and there are billboards galore for law firms willing to represent you for black lung cases.  Yea, we all thought that problem was "solved" back in 1968.  It wasn't.  It still happens.

People take jobs like that not because they love being a mile underground in an environment that might explode, cave-in, or suffocate them to death at any moment -  and if they survive that, will slowly kill them after 30 years of inhaling coal dust.  No, people take those jobs because that's all there is in impoverished areas like West Virginia, and coal mine owners know this.

Kind of weird, when you think about it, that one guy gets to own this huge mine and make tons of money from it while hundreds or thousands labor underground for a relative pittance.  Why does one guy get to own a natural resource that arguably should belong to all of us?   But that's commie thinking and dangerous.

And no, I don't feel sorry for that "one guy" when demand for coal dries up due to the low cost of natural gas.  Free market, baby!  You live and die by it.  So of course, the coal mine owners throw money at political candidates who promise them to save the coal industry by passing laws restricting fracking, solar, and wind.  That's Capitalism, right?

But I digress.

When I worked at GM and Carrier, I was exposed to a lot of hazardous materials - and I was a salaried employee!  But those were just places I was passing through - three years at GM, five at Carrier.  The career employees saw much more in the way of toxic exposure than I did.  And most salary employees were ensconced in clean, well-lit offices, that had little in the way of exposure to toxic chemicals, other than perhaps a whiff of photocopier toner.

I recall a guy at Carrier, "Herman the Crazy German" who ran the trichloroethelyene bath in TR-1. "Tri-chlor" as we called it (and we washed our hands with it) is nasty stuff.  They used to use it for dry cleaning, but it can kill you if you are drunk and inhale the fumes, apparently.  We had a "tank" of the stuff, set 30 feet into the ground, about the size of a small swimming pool - maybe 30 by 20 feet, rectangle.  Herman manned the tank and he was crazy as a loon. The other workers told me his brain was full of holes from inhaling the tri-chlor.  I don't know.

The bottom of the tank was filled with tri-chlor maybe ten feet deep - hundreds of gallons of the stuff.  Halfway up the tank was a set of cooling coils that caused most of the tri-chlor fumes to condensate into a nasty ominous-looking cloud about ten feet from the top.  Herman would lower machinery into the tank to "degrease" it.  If you lowered something into the cloud, you could see the grease just melt off it - and the paint, too!  Down into the liquid, well, when you pulled whatever it is up, it would be clean and shiny metal!  Great stuff!  Too bad it is deadly and a carcinogen.

They bulldozed TR-1 and planted grass there.  I am beginning to understand why.

Guys like Herman worked at jobs like that and yea, as a union job it paid well.  But every day he went into work, it took a toll on his body, a little bit at a time.

At GM, I worked in a ball bearing factory.  We had a "grind shop" where inner and outer rings were ground to precise tolerances.  The grinding machines used a "grinding fluid" which was an emulsion of water and oil and filled the bay with a fine mist to the point where you could not see the far wall during the day.  You spend a few hours in the grind and you end up blowing oil-snot out of your nose.  And the noise was deafening.  Some wore hearing protection, others were basically stone deaf.

Of course, when you grind metal, you produce a lot of metal powder and for high-chrome alloy steel, this includes some heavy metals.  The stuff is flammable - like magnesium!  Half the plant burned to the ground only a year after it opened.  Putting out a metal fire is hard to do - pouring water on it makes it burn even hotter.  Imagine inhaling all those metal particulates.

Those were, of course, union jobs.  Other jobs pay less and are more hazardous.  A friend of mine took a job with a temp agency doing "Hazmat cleanups" on the Interstate whenever a truck turned over.  Mostly, it was just mopping up spilled diesel fuel, but other times, it was far worse.  The truck they used to service these incidents was a hazmat site of its own - having had every sort of chemical known to mankind tracked into it.

Most of the other employees were desperate people - ex-convicts, drug addicts, and illiterates who could not get any other work. Their employer viewed them as an expendable commodity.  Most didn't work there for more than a few months, but one or two made a career out of it.  I think my friend lasted a week.  He was kind of appalled by the whole thing.  If you think experts in space suits mop up all that crap and carefully dispose of it, you've got another think coming.  At least back them, it was a lot of kitty-litter and hosing things into the storm drain.  Can't keep the Interstate shut down for days while you clean things up with a Q-tip!

The point is, people with lower education levels tend to end up in more dangerous jobs that expose them to imminent physical danger as well as exposure to toxins.  One of the most dangerous jobs out there - more dangerous than Policeman - is garbage collector.  Riding on the back of a truck, with one foot on a tiny, greasy step and one hand on a slimy bent handle is just one mis-step from falling off and being run over by the asshole tailgater who is in a hurry to get nowhere.  The guy climbing the tower at the radio station risks his life every climb.  The executive in the corner office risks getting a paper cut.  That's one reason why lower education means lower lifespan.

But there are other reasons as well.  Less-educated people engage in more risky personal behaviors.  Smoking is prevalent among the lower classes, and today is seen as "trashy" by more educated people.  Heavy drinking and drug use are also more prevalent among the poor and less educated, even as some celebrities and rich folks fall into that trap.

The poor are less likely to get top-level medical care. Even in countries with socialized medicine, the very rich can afford private doctors and get moved to the head of the line for transplants and special surgeries.  It is unfair, granted, but that is part and parcel of the problem.

Even something as simple as dentistry is to blame.  Many doctors are now realizing that heart problems may be linked to mouth bacteria which in turn may be linked to poor dental hygiene.

Then there is diet.  The poor are more likely to be obese (oddly enough - the trope of the "starving poor" has no traction in the USA, where we have the fattest poor people on the planet).  The rich are not the ones sitting in line at the drive-through, waiting for their diabetes meal.  It is the poor who eat the worst sort of trash.

Maybe you shop at the high-falutin' grocery mart and never see this.  I shop at Walmart.  And it is heartbreaking to see a 300-lb (or higher) person in an electric scooter, loading their cart with orange soda and chips - after having already lost one leg to diabetes.  You want to reach out and shake them. You want to shout, "Stop killing yourself with shitty food!"  But them you realize you'd probably be thrown out and the "helpless" person would pull out a gun and shoot you.  You can't fix stupid.  You can't save people from themselves.

The poor and less educated tend to engage in more risky recreational behaviors as well. The poor drive fast everywhere - and drive a LOT, as I noted before.  Car accidents can happen to anyone, but they seem to happen more often to the poor.  Throw in drug and alcohol abuse - combine that with reckless driving - and you've got a perfect storm.

When I was living in Chittenango, I had a neighbor, Gwen Swatski.  She was a sweet lady and worked at Syracuse China (now defunct).  One day, I came home from Carrier, and she opened her window and introduced herself and asked if I wanted a beer.  I said "sure" and we sat in her kitchen and had Genesse beers.  She used these to wash down handfuls of aspirin, which she said helped with her various pains.

She had a sump pump in the basement and her ex-husband "Stan" had rigged up a string to the sump pump, and ran it into the kitchen next to her chair, so she could tug on it, occasionally, and get that last bit of water out of the sump.  She lived on a corner lot and from her chair, she could see everyone coming and going through the Venetian blinds.  Whenever one of us peeks through a Venetian blind today, we call it "doing a Gwen Swatski."  Her memory lives on.

She was a nice lady and took me to the Syracuse China company Christmas party, making all the other office ladies jealous that she had such a "handsome young man" on her arm.  It was fun.

But over time, her diet of beer and aspirin - and did I mention cigarettes? - took its toll and she developed stomach cancer and she died not too long after retiring from Syracuse China.  A sad story, but illustrative of how the working class often ends up living shorter lives.  No doubt the level of medical care she got was not the same as, say, Dick Cheney.  It is sort of like how my Sister was treated for breast cancer - with her rural doctor denying for two years that the odd lumps in her breasts could be cancerous - until she finally demanded a biopsy.  "Well, if you're going to get hysterical about it!" the doctor said.  And later on, he said, "Whaddya know!  Cancer!"

You don't get that kind of treatment at Mayo.

And then there are firearms.  Not the root cause of the discrepancy, but yet another factor.  The poor are more likely to squander what little money they have on guns.  And gun owners are 22 times more likely to kill themselves or a family member with their gun, than an intruder or criminal.  You do read the papers, right?  Every day is a story about some man (and it is usually a man) who murders his whole family before turning the gun on himself.  Those who merely kill themselves are not reported on much, other than to be listed in their obituary as "dying suddenly" in their home.

Eschewing masks and vaccines took a toll mostly on the less-educated.

Today, the pattern continues.  The poor and lesser-educated are more likely to believe that vaccines are bad for you - and they died in droves during the pandemic.  As the above-chart illustrates, life expectancy among the less-educated was already several years less than those with a college degree.  But it really took a nose-dive during the pandemic, as the less-educated were more willing to believe in conspiracy theories and deny basic science.  Far more of the poor earned their "Herman Cain Award" than the rich and better-educated.

UPDATE:  Note how this graph is made to look more dramatic by starting the Y-axis at 50 and using the metric of "life expectancy at age 25" instead of overall life expectancy.  A zero-axis chart with overall life expectancy would not show such a dramatic difference or such a dramatic drop-off, either.

So what is to be done about it? To some extent, nothing.  As I noted before, you can try to educate people but they will shout you down as "telling 'em what to do!"  You can't fix stupid, you can't save people from themselves.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.  We've known this for millenia.

Of course, some folks seem hell-bent on stripping our educational system down to nothing and letting it fail - replacing it with religious education.  That has worked out so well in the Middle-East, hasn't it?  An army of uneducated people who will die young and die for your cause or your industry.  And they won't do pesky things like use Medicare or Social Security, either!   Hell, if you play the game right, they won't even live long enough to qualify for either!

Intervening in people's lives isn't the answer.  Throwing money at them isn't the answer, either.  You can try to educate people, and hope they make better life choices.  But if they insist on self-destructive behavior, there isn't much you can do about that.

And as for Herman-the-German, we can pass laws to make workplaces more safe and less toxic. What that has done, in effect, is offshore dangerous industries to third world countries, where people are deemed expendable and the ruling classes see no problem with this.  Or, it means that third-world people who sneak into America become the new exploited class - forced to work at dangerous or toxic jobs, and threatened with deportation if they complain.

Sadly, that is how the world works.

The wealthy and the better-educated will always get a bigger slice of the pie - a better standard of living and a longer life.  The poor and less-educated will, by definition, get the short end of the stick.  What is odd to me - or perhaps not so odd - is that many of the poor and less educated will defend, literally to their death, their lifestyle and employment.  The coal miner pines for his job back, while puffing on a Camel cigarette.  Working in the coal mine - those were the good old days!

It is like my stinking hippie commie brother who talks at great lengths about "the workers" which are creatures he only knows about in theory.  Having worked in factories and having been a Teamster, I can tell you the "workers" would kick his commie hippie ass if he came around the plant passing out leaflets.

The poor working class - that's who voted for Trump.  You really can't fix stupid.  So why bother trying?

UPDATE:  In re-reading and editing this entry, I realize that some may think it comes across as elitist.  I beg to differ.  The authors of this ivory tower study are the elitists, I think, wondering what theoretical poor people they've never met, worked with, or been, behave.  Having been poor and working class at one time (and engaged in all the stupid self-destructive behaviors) I think I have some insight into the problem.

Freedom means freedom to make bad choices, and the people making bad choices are the first to tell you to fuck off when you try to "educate" them otherwise.  To the guy with the big-dually crew-cab jacked Ram pickup, the problem isn't that he is commuting to work in a 10 MPG vehicle, but that gas prices are too high because..... Democrats!

Fortunately, it is always possible to change your mind and make better choices in life - although the longer you wait, the harder it is to do and the smaller the benefits.

I guess that is where I digress from far-left liberalism in this country.  I realize from experience that the reason why I was "poor" had more to do with my own life choices than luck - although luck should not be discounted. I made better choices and my life improved.  I see no need to give "guaranteed annual income" to someone with a $1000-a-month drug habit or someone with $10,000 of tattoos on their body.  Poor choices should not be subsidized.  But they often are!

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Why Should I Have To Pay Taxes? - Conversation With A Millionaire.

No one ever wants to pay taxes, or if they do, they'd rather pay less.

I guess it was nearly 25 years ago, I was riding in a car with a friend of mine who had inherited many millions of dollars as part of a "Trust Fund" - enough money never to have to work again a day in their life, while still living quite well.  Quite well.  Oddly enough, she still worked, which says a lot about her character.  Also, as she put it, she didn't have to tap that trust fund as much.  Smart lady!

Anyway, she pulled out onto the Mt. Vernon Parkway and immediately got in the left lane.  It is a four-land road with no divider for much of its length and the left lane is the "suicide" lane as if an oncoming car crosses the center line, even by a few inches, a 100MPH impact is all but assured.  And it did happen with regularity on that road while we lived there.

"Why are you in the left lane?" I asked.  "Well, I want to go fast!" she replied.  "Yea, but there is no one in the right lane, so there is no need to ride the left!" I shot back.  I explained to her the danger of riding in the left lane on this particular road, and also that in general, it is disrespectful to "park" in the left lane, which is generally considered the passing lane and if you aren't passing, why ride in it?

She put on her turn signal and pulled into the right lane.  Smart Lady.

Somehow the discussion changed to taxes.  She was parroting her father's ruminations here, arguing that she saw no reason to pay any taxes, as all that money went to "foreign aid" and "people on welfare" the latter being a code-word for you-know-what.

"Well, what about this road?" I asked, "You drive on it, it costs a lot of money to build and maintain, shouldn't you pay for your fair share of it?"   

"Well, OK," she said, "I'd pay for the roads, but not those people who refuse to work!"  Again, code words.

A lot of this, she later revealed was from her father, who she revered and also feared a little, I think.  Her Dad was a "self-made man" in that he made the wise choice to marry an heiress and thus instantly become a multi-millionaire himself.  Smart man, but I am not sure marrying a rich girl is really a sign of sound business acumen so much as it is a sign of cleverness.

But of course, once he married money, he was horrified to find out that they had to pay taxes on it, and what's more, the inheritance tax on tens of millions of dollars, back in the day, was quite steep - although paid by the estate, not him.  As a result, much of the money was in a "generation-skipping trust" designed to cheat the tax-man and transfer wealth between the generations.  Hence my friend had a trust, set up by her Grandma, or at least her lawyers.  Yes, the money came from the matriarchal side of the family, for several generations.

Smart women!

Anyway, getting back to our discussion, I went down the list of government services she utilized and she agreed, that yes, she should pay for her share of defense spending (at least 1/3 of our budget!) and for schools and roads and maybe the library and a few other things.  She was still uncertain about Social Security and Medicare, until I pointed out that these things are self-funded by a separate payroll tax (or would be self-funded if a certain political party stopped defunding the program by cutting the payroll tax in a cheap stunt to buy votes!).  It was the "people on welfare" that stuck in her craw and again, this was agitprop from her Dad.

Of course, since the Clinton administration, there is a lifetime cap on the number of years you can collect "welfare" (four in Georgia) - so the myth of the multi-generational "welfare queens" is just that - a myth.  Similarly, she was convinced that "Foreign Aid" made up a huge chunk of our budget, when in reality, it makes up less than one percent of Federal spending.

Maybe I gave her something to think about. Maybe not.  Once she went back to the echo-chamber of the country club and the upscale parties in exclusive neighborhoods and of course, Fox News, she might disregard our conversation entirely.

But it illustrates how people think - how we all think.  Her Dad, who married into money, considers himself a "self-made man" and a "businessman and investor" when in fact, he fell ass-backward into a swimming pool of money.  No one ever wants to examine hard truths, particularly about themselves.  It is hard to do.

And I am not attacking her - she is a nice person.  And if you knew her and were in trouble, she would give you the shirt off her back.  Up to a point, of course.  Politically, we are not aligned and over the years, we have drifted apart.  She moved to a deep blue State and told me, "I hope you don't mind, but we're voting for Trump!"  I told her I didn't mind, but I didn't have the heart to tell her that her vote was largely meaningless - her State went overwhelmingly for Hillary (and later, Biden) and due to the electoral college, her vote meant nothing.

Does she pay a lot of taxes?  Well, you bet.  But in terms of tax rates, she is paying less as a percentage, as most of her income is in capital gains.  Once that inheritance tax (gifts and estates tax, we call it) was paid by the estate, the remainder went to her, tax-free.  She only owes taxes on capital gains and dividends and interest from the inherited money she invested.  She could really screw the tax man by putting it all in a zero-interest account and just living off the principal.  But that would be silly.  When you stand to make money, it doesn't really matter that you have to pay a small portion of it in taxes - despite what the GOP tries to tell us.

(I digress, but it is an old trope that if you cut a businessman's personal income tax, he will then hire more employees.  It makes no sense mathematically or financially.  If I run a law firm and can hire a young associate for $100K a year and he bills $300K (which is typical) and after overhead, I pocket $100K in profits, I am incentivized to hire him, regardless of whether my take-home pay is taxed at 25% or 35%.  But try explaining that to some Joe Paycheck who has never run a business!  He thinks the boss hires people as a favor to them using his "leftover money."  You hire people to make money, period.  What your tax bill is, or your cable bill, or any other personal expense is irrelevant).

It was an interesting conversation, but it made me realize that all of us self-justify our stations in life. Luck, we think, had nothing to do with it, unless of course, we had "bad luck."  It was all hard work on our part and "if only" we didn't have to pay those onerous taxes, the world would be a Shangri-La.

But of course, the tax code is slanted to favor the rich.  I found out, once I started making good money, that I could avoid a lot of taxes by purchasing investment properties and renting them out and taking the depreciation deduction - which would defer the taxes owed for many years or even forever, if I kept rolling over my "equity" in a Starker-type deferred exchange.  The rich get richer, the working class pays taxes.  Then again, the biggest chunk of taxes they pay is the payroll tax, which funds their retirement and medical care.

Hard work?  Yea, sure.  I also was lucky to have several opportunities thrown into my lap and was smart enough to take advantage of them.  Many other opportunities, I squandered.  But lady luck plays a big part in who gets ahead and who falls behind.

And inheriting millions of dollars is all 100% luck, period, despite what we may want to think.

Friday, October 27, 2023

If You Wait Long Enough, Everything is Free (Or At Least Cheap!)

Someone was throwing away a pressure washer. like this one.

I noted before that if you wait long enough, everything you want in life is free, or at least very cheap.  Of course, this means three things.  First, you have to be patient.  Second, you have to keep your eyes open for bargains.  Third, you have to let go of the "I gotta have it, right now, brand new, so I can impress our neighbors!"

I wrote before about our microwave.  We looked at replacements at the local lumberteria, and they were about $250.  But they were all in stainless steel.  If we are going that route, maybe we should replace all the appliances with stainless!  $250 is now $4000 or more.  And it makes sense to paint the cabinets white, if you are going that route.  Might was well paint the walls and replace the countertops. Oh, and that Engineered hardwood floor in the kitchen (bad idea!) should be replaced with tile.  Now our $250 microwave is over $30,000 and that would be a cheap kitchen makeover these days - with us doing most of the labor (other than the floor, I think).

I looked on Craigslist locally and there were two microwaves for sale, hours away, and the local bubbas wanted $200 for them - only seven years old!  You can buy new for not a lot more.  Meanwhile, in Jacksonville or Orlando, there are several listings in the $50 range, for used microwaves (built-in type, with mounting plates, thank you very much) that are only a year or two old - the owners switched to stainless and wanted to get ride of the white model.

We are travelling there in a couple of weeks, so I told Mr. See that maybe we can snag a microwave while we're down there.  We'll see.  We did this at our old house in Virginia - finding a dishwasher for $75 that a lady had just bought before converting her whole kitchen to stainless.  Good thing, too, as two years later, we sold the house and it was bulldozed.  Glad I didn't spend $250 on a new one, back then.

So, if you are willing to wait and look, bargains can be found.  And maybe this will keep our kitchen going for another few years - delaying the cost of an eventual renovation, or shifting the cost to the next owners - and there are always next owners.  We've seen, time and time again, people pour money into houses to "fix them up to sell them!" and the new owners tear out all the renovations and start over again.  A neighbor put in granite countertops and all new cabinets and appliances to sell her house.  The new owners tore it all out - smashing the brand-new granite and throwing it in a dumpster.

Only in America!

Another neighbor gave me a Honda mulching lawnmower.  It used to be self-propelled, but that part broke.  But the rest worked fine.  I put new mulching blades on it (there are two) and a new spark plug and air filter and changed the oil.  It works great for what it is.   I use it on a large pine-straw mulch bed in our back yard to grind up all the pine straw (that falls like rain from the trees here - can you believe some people pay for pine needles?  They can have mine!).  It also does a good job of grinding up all the weeds, too, leaving behind a fine mulch of shredded pine needles.  It is hard on the mower, sure, but it was free and I've been mulching with it for three years now.  I used the regular mower for the lawn, but I am doing that less and less lately and letting the "lawn guy" deal with that.

The same neighbor asked me if I wanted a pressure washer.  It is an old Craftsman model 580.752070 with an 8HP Briggs and Stratton Engine.  He said it stopped pumping as the shaft key connecting the engine to the pump broke.  I figured I'd give it a try.  I am not a big fan of IC-powered pressure washers, as the electric kind are usually all a homeowner needs and they last forever, provided you treat them like they are made of plastic (which they are) and don't let them freeze in the winter (which busts the internals).

I typed the model number into Google and found the owner's manual and parts diagram which I downloaded and printed out (60 pages) and put in a binder.  I found the part number for the shaft key and found several sources for it, for $10 including shipping.  The previous owner said he couldn't find the shaft key at any "store" but I suspect he was looking at brick-and-mortar, not online.

I started the engine and it runs great.  If it is just the shaft key, I've got a nice pressure washer for doing the driveway (where you need higher pressure than the Karcher can provide) or maybe even to sell at a garage sale later on.  If the pump is shot, there are rebuild kits for that, or a new pump can be found for $150 or so. I'll have to think about that, though.  Suddenly the free pressure washer is no longer free.

But a few hours of my time and ten bucks, what's not to like? Granted, appliances have a service life and I am realistic enough to know that this unit, even if I can repair it, will not last as long as a brand-new one.

But it's worth a shot!

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Waddle Walking - Trendelenburg Gait

What makes people walk this way?

Living on Old People Island, you see a lot of decrepitude.  But then again, when we leave the island to go to Walmart, well, you see a lot of young decrepitude.  One thing I have learned over 60 years is, well, two things.  First, you never get back all the time you wasted watching re-runs of sitcoms (or today, reality shows).  Second, every soda-pop you ever consumed never really leaves your body.  Over time, you will get heavier, unless you are proactive.  Look at the photos of older celebrities - unless they get really skinny like old cats, they puff up and get fat.

And that is tragic, but it happens by age 40 or so - the middle-aged middle-bulge.  But what is really tragic is when you see young people who are morbidly obese in their 20's - or even teens!  Or even in the single digits.  I mean, where are you going from here, if you are 300lbs by age 18?  Life will be a world of woe, loneliness and pain, particularly in the back and knees.

We see people doing this "Wobble Walk" or "Waddle Walk" these days, and it is painful to watch.  Rather than lift their legs and move them forward one after the other, these folks walk like infants just learning to walk.  Their legs are immobile pylons which they lift, one at a time, with their back.  This creates a slow, painful gait where they "Wobble" from side to side, as they use their upper body to lift each leg in sequence.

Turns out, there is a name for this - Trendelenburg gait.  Apparently it can be caused by a number of factors, including nerve issues and muscle deterioration.  Some argue it may be also caused by hip and knee joint degradation - and the waddle-walk is a way of avoiding pain.  All I know is, it seems to be getting more and more popular these days - legions of people walking like zombies.

In some instances, the person favors only one side, but in many cases I've seen, people seem to do this with both legs.  The legs stay straight, and the upper body tilts to one side, to raise the leg on the other side.  The person then swings the leg, like so much dead meat, forward, and then lets it down by tilting back.  The process is repeated for the other side.  It is sort of like how zombies are depicted walking on television and in the movies.

And this can happen to anyone.  My massage therapist noticed that I tended to "lean" to one side while standing, and when he pointed this out, I was sort of floored by it.  I try to do exercises and make a conscious effort when walking to not "wobble walk" but instead lift my legs and use my leg muscles to move the legs forward - not side-to-side.

Many folks, I think, don't realize they are doing this and once you go down the road of wobble-walking, well, it ain't gonna get better without some sort of intervention.

And of course, for some folks, it isn't possible to get better - if you have an injury for example, or some sort of muscle disease or deterioration.  Waddle-walking, for such folks, is better than no walking at all.

But I think for others, it results from lack of exercise and lack of walking - too much riding around in cars and such.  Most truckers seem to do this waddle-walk when you see them after climbing down from their cabs after a long drive.  The legs fall asleep, sort of, and it takes a while for the muscles to remember how to work again.

All I know is, I want to avoid the waddle-walk, for as long as I can!

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Reddit Goes All-AI


The real threat of AI isn't what we think it is.

I wrote before about my few experiments with ChatGTP.  It did a lousy job of mimicking my own blog, but did a spot-on impression of Donald Trump - getting the cadence and vocabulary just right in a bigly way.

A lot of people have sounded the alarm about AI - claiming it will take away jobs at the very least, or at worst, take over the world, nuke all the humans, and then keep the survivors as some sort of slaves.  Such folks have been reading too much science fiction.

I think the real threat is tied to "social media."  So many people spend hours every day looking at their phones, and much of what they look at is rage-bait or click-bait or some other form of bait.  Whether it is a YouTube channel, a Facebook page, or a Twitter feed, people spend hours on their phones looking at this stuff.  And I find it hard not to do so as well - you get curious as to what "people are saying" and go online to check things out.

And increasingly, it seems that what "people" are saying is what chatbots are saying.  I like to go on Reddit to read the comics page and skim the news page (which seems very selective these days - no new news in 48 hours?  Who are they kidding?).  The rest of the site is mostly gaming dreck - people arguing over the fine points of some video game, instead of playing it.  Boring!

But what is really interesting is the number of rage-bait postings that rise to the top of "popular" and seem to follow a similar format.  Whether it is "AITA?" (Am I The Asshole?) or "two hot takes" or "wedding shaming" subreddits, these rage-bait postings all follow a similar format.  I can sort of parse it out here:

I (35F) and my [partner/ husband/ friend] (37M) are going to [party/ wedding/ gender reveal/ vacation] and our [friend/ MIL/ bridesmaid/ coworker] decided to [do something improbably outrageous]. I called them out on this, and they said "[something incredibly stupid]" and claimed I ruined the [dinner/ wedding/ party/ vacation].  My [partner/ husband/ friend] said I should apologize for causing a scene, and his [family/ friends/ coworkers] seem to agree.  AITA?  I am beginning to doubt myself!

And following this will be thousands (literally) of comments, usually assuring the "OP" (original poster) that they are "NTA" and moreover should go "NC" (no contact) with their family and, of course, divorce their husbands.   "There are more red flags here than at a Communist parade!"


Sadly, I suspect many of the "comments" are also AI-generated, and thus it becomes a perfect feedback loop - AI generating content and then AI reacting to content.

If you think I am kidding about this, I went on ChatGTP and asked it, "Can you create an 'AITA?' entry for reddit - something to do with weddings and inlaws?"

ChatGPT instantly replied with this:
Title: AITA for Not Inviting My Mother-in-Law to My Wedding?

Hey, Reddit! I need your judgment on a recent wedding-related situation.

So, my partner and I were planning our dream wedding, and everything was going smoothly until we reached the guest list. We had always known that my mother-in-law (MIL) and I didn't exactly see eye to eye. She's been critical of our relationship since the beginning, and we've had numerous conflicts over the years. We decided that for the sake of our special day, it might be best not to invite her.

Here's the thing: my partner completely supported the decision. They acknowledged that the relationship with their mom had been strained for a long time and felt it was for the best not to have her at the wedding. We didn't want the day to be overshadowed by potential drama or tension.

Fast forward to our wedding day, and it was absolutely beautiful, filled with love and positivity. However, MIL found out about the wedding, and her reaction was explosive. She called us, accused us of betraying her, and made a scene, which left us feeling guilty and upset. She even went on social media, ranting about how we excluded her.

Now, my partner and I are facing backlash from some family and friends who think we should have invited her despite the past conflicts. They say that weddings are a time for reconciliation and forgiveness, and that by not inviting her, we were unnecessarily hurting her.

So, Reddit, AITA for not inviting my mother-in-law to our wedding? Should we have taken the high road and invited her, despite our complicated history, or was it right to prioritize our own happiness and peace on our big day?
That pretty much sums up your typical posting on Reddit, although it is a little generic.  I suppose I could use better "Prompt Engineering" to make it more believable or outrageous.  So I ask ChatGTP to make the main issue about the MIL wanting to bring her emotional support Llama.  Chat's response:
Title: AITA for Not Allowing My Mother-in-Law's Emotional Support Llama at My Wedding?

Hey, Reddit! I've got a wedding conundrum that's taking a strange turn, and I'm seeking your advice.

My partner and I were planning our dream wedding, and things were going well until we reached the guest list. It's no secret that my mother-in-law (MIL) and I have had our share of conflicts. We decided that it might be best not to invite her, as her presence could potentially overshadow our special day with drama and tension.

But here's where it gets tricky - my MIL informed us that she has an emotional support llama, which she insists must accompany her everywhere. She claimed that not having her beloved llama with her would be detrimental to her emotional well-being, and she fully expected to bring it to the wedding.

My partner supported my decision not to invite MIL, but they're torn about the llama situation. They understand that her relationship with the llama is important to her, but they're concerned that having it at the wedding could disrupt the event. We didn't want our special day to be remembered as "the wedding with the llama."

Despite our concerns, we reluctantly agreed to let her bring the llama to the ceremony, but not to the reception. However, it ended up causing quite a scene. The llama became agitated, and our wedding turned into a circus. It left us feeling guilty and embarrassed.

Now, we're facing backlash from some family and friends who say we should have just invited MIL without any restrictions, including her llama. They argue that weddings are a time for reconciliation and forgiveness, and that our refusal to accommodate the llama was unreasonable.

So, Reddit, AITA for not allowing my mother-in-law's emotional support llama at my wedding? Should we have been more accommodating and prioritized her emotional needs, or was it right to draw the line and protect the atmosphere of our big day?
This shit literally just writes itself!  With better prompts, you could create more and more scenarios, which would explain why "AITA?" postings flood Reddit.  I even asked ChatGTP to create a similar posting written by someone for whom English is a second language, complete with apologies for grammar and "I'm typing this on my phone" and Chat complied.  But can ChatGTP create comments as well?  Let's see!
Of course! Here are ten "top comments" responding to the AITA post about the emotional support llama at the wedding:
NTA (Not The Ahole)**: Your wedding, your rules. The llama wasn't on the guest list, and you tried to accommodate. MIL and the llama became the disruption, not you.

YTA (You're The Ahole)**: I get it, weddings are stressful, but you agreed to have the llama there, and you should've stuck to that agreement. Making a scene on your wedding day could've been avoided with better planning.

ESH (Everyone Sucks Here): Your MIL for not respecting the ceremony and you for not setting clearer boundaries about where the llama could be. Weddings are a time for reconciliation, but not at the expense of your special day.

NTA: You're not obligated to host a llama at your wedding. Emotional support animals are important, but there are situations where they may not be suitable, and a wedding is one of them.

YTA: You knew about the llama, and you let it be part of the ceremony. Changing your mind at the last minute just created unnecessary drama.

NTA: Emotional support animals are typically meant for individuals and their immediate needs. Having a llama at a wedding was bound to be disruptive, and you tried to compromise.

YTA: While the llama situation is bizarre, you should've stuck to your initial agreement. If you didn't want any potential drama, you shouldn't have invited MIL in the first place.

NAH (No Aholes Here)**: Emotional support animals are vital for some people, but it's also understandable that you didn't want a llama at your wedding. A better compromise could have been found, though.

NTA: Your MIL should've understood the potential disruptions and respected your wedding day. Emotional support animals have their place, but a wedding might not be the most suitable environment.

YTA: You agreed to let the llama be there, so it's on you that it disrupted the ceremony. Your MIL's emotional needs should've been considered, even if the situation was unconventional.
Scary.  I could post this "AITA?" posting and then create fake accounts to add comments - and create bots to do it all.  And maybe this is what is already happening.  Once you have a certain amount of "karma" (postings, likes, views, upvotes) on Reddit, you can sell your user account, or just use it to promote products and such, as it will rise to the top of the Reddit cesspool in short order, due to your "karma" level.

The same could be done with Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc.  The above video, done as a parody, was created with AI (the youtuber in question has a fetish, it seems with fat-people videos).  They are up-front that it is an AI video and the nature of AI videos (and photos) today is that they can be readily detected due to their primitive nature.  But the software is getting better all the time (and that is all it is, software).  Pretty soon, YouTube could be flooded with AI videos, created by AI using prompts created by AI based on what people seem to click on (that latter algorithm is already working).

You'll be able to watch videos about cars that never existed, history that never happened, dramas that never occurred.   You can watch an hour-long documentary about how Hitler won World War II and more than half the country would believe it, too.  No need to post a comment - AI will do that for you.  In fact, they probably already are, particularly the nasty comments you see on YouTube these days.

It would not take much coding to create a bot that, for example, scans the news and creates divisive comments online, and automatically posts them.  It would take troll farms to a whole new level.  Rather than create troll postings and laboriously post them online, you could just turn on your computer and watch while a million troll postings are created - in a minute.  Supposedly, 50% of Internet traffic is already bots (although, to be fair, this includes innocuous bots, such as two-level authentication bots and the like).

(And even television could go this way as well.  Why pay some expensive television personality to hawk conspiracy theories on Fox News, when you could have Max Headroom do it for free - or almost free?).

What happens to the Internet when 90% of the traffic is AI-generated and the rest of us become passive "lurkers" who just read or watch AI-generated shit?  Not hard to do, either.  If some real human has the audacity to actually post an opinion, AI attack-bots can slam them with negative comments, report their comment to moderators, send them nasty e-mails or "DMs" and even doxx them online.  People will quickly learn to keep their opinions to themselves.

And maybe, in a way, this is already happening.

So just shut up and eat your (AI-generated) media kibble!

* * * 

UPDATE:  I asked ChatGPT, "I wonder how much of Reddit is already AI generated?"

ChatGPT replied:
The extent to which Reddit content is AI-generated is not precisely quantifiable, as it varies across different subreddits and threads. However, AI-generated content, such as chatbots, bots posting automated responses, and generated text, can be found on Reddit.

Many subreddits have rules against AI-generated content and have active moderation to prevent spam and low-quality posts. However, some subreddits may use AI-generated content for specific purposes, such as in creative writing or automated data gathering.

AI is becoming increasingly integrated into various online platforms, including social media sites like Reddit. Moderators and administrators work to strike a balance between allowing AI-generated content for specific purposes and maintaining the quality and authenticity of the platform.

The use of AI in generating content and responses continues to evolve, and it's likely that we will see more AI-generated content on Reddit and other online platforms in the future. The key is to ensure that the use of AI remains within the boundaries of ethical and community guidelines.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Americans Protest for Cease-Fire with Nazi Germany

If only the Nazis had access to Social Media!  Today, they do!

AP NEWS, December 1943 - As Rabbi Joel Wise reads the newspaper, he reads article after article with photos of dead German children, parents holding their lifeless bodies with screams caught in their throats and eyes sunken with grief.

Like millions around the world, he has been haunted by the gruesome scenes flooding out of Nazi Germany, where civilians have endured more than two weeks of an Allied attack and bombing campaign that has collapsed homes, destroyed vital infrastructure and sparked a humanitarian crisis.

The bombing raids have killed more than 4,600 Germans so far, including an estimated 1,900 children, and wounded at least 14,000 others, according to Joseph Goebbels of the Ministry of Propaganda in Nazi Germany.  Another 1.4 million people have been internally displaced, according to the League of Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“It’s wretched. I wake up every single morning with tears in my eyes, rage in my heart and I channel it into action,” Wise, a rabbinical council member with Jewish Voice for Peace, told AP. “My coping mechanism is to yell into the void, yell into the halls of Congress.”

He feels the same grief and horror over the Nazi’s surprise attack on Poland, when the fascist dictatorship brutally killed more than 1,400 people, including civilians and military personnel, and abducted over 200 others, according to Allied Defense Forces.

The Allies say their mission in Nazi Germany is to root out and destroy Nazis, which govern the small country. But it is the 2.2 million Germans living there, unable to escape, who are bearing the brunt of the attacks.

It is these lives that Wise and other Jewish American peace activists are mobilizing to save with their calls for an urgent ceasefire.

On Wednesday, thousands of Jews and their allies marched on Capitol Hill, where they carried German flags and rallied in support of German rights, while Wise led a smaller sit-in with hundreds of activists inside one of the Capitol buildings. The action was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, two of the largest US Jewish groups calling for a just and peaceful resolution to the Allied-German conflict.

(c) 2023 Cut&Paste, Inc.

* * * 

The above article is taken, word-for-word from a CNN article, with a few words changed using global cut-and-replace.  When you look at it now, it makes no sense.  Who would vote for a "cease fire" with Nazi Germany just because "innocent Germans" are caught up in the conflict?

And make no doubt about it, a lot of innocent Germans were annihilated during World War II - probably even some working with underground groups to thwart Nazism.  Kurt Vonnegut, in his novel, Slaughterhouse Five, recounts the fire-bombing of Dresden, where American bombers reduced the city to rubble during the day, and British bombers set fire to the rubble with incendiary bombs at night.  As he put it, all the "Hansel's and Gretel's" were baked alive in their basement bomb shelters.

Dresden was an "open city" supposedly, and not involved with the war effort.  But like Hiroshima, we bombed it anyway.  We also firebombed Tokyo, which cause a higher death rate than Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as wood-and-paper houses lit up like torches.  Today, there is a lot of hand-wringing about these attacks, but back in the day, as V-1 and V-2 "vengeance weapons" rained down on London, few people thought it was "unfair" to go after "innocent civilians" in Germany.  And certainly Japan had no qualms about bombing civilians in China and the rest of Asia.

The reality is - or was - of course, that even "innocent civilians" had supported Hitler and the Nazi party and had voted Nazis into power.  Innocent civilians went to work every day and supported the Nazi war machine - or even worked directly in the armaments business.  It is hard to be an "innocent civilian" in a country that is annihilating millions and leveling cities.  Even if you are just a train conductor or a trash collector, you are helping the cause.

I had a client who, as a young man, was sent from France to Germany to work as a trash collector.  The Nazis needed labor, and my client's father felt he would be "safer" in Germany than in France.  When he returned to France after the war, he was accused of being a collaborateur! and shunned. He left France for Argentina, which did little to quell the rumors.  The point is, even collecting trash arguably helped the Nazi war effort, as that freed up one additional German to fight as a soldier at the front.

I am not saying there are no innocent civilians, only that it is damn hard to be one.  How many of us voted for politicians who voted for the Iraq war?  Are we innocents as well?

Hamas is a terrorist organization and a fascist dictatorship.  They were elected by the people in Gaza back in 2006 and haven't held an election since.  The "innocent civilians" chose this government, and they have paid a price for that mistake ever since. Their leader is now calling for a cease-fire, claiming that Hamas has "achieved all of its goals" in the recent attacks.  What goals?  Killing innocents and taking hostages?


You see, Hamas is a passive-aggressive bully, and bullies like to bait people into responding and then get the other person in trouble.  You've seen it before.  A kid throws spitballs at you in class, hoping you finally get fed up and say, "Hey, stop that!" or better yet, punch them in the face.  The teacher turns around, angry at you for "disrupting class" and you get sent to the Principal's office, while the bully smugly grins at you.

Hamas is doing just that - goading Israel into retaliatory attacks and then playing the victim.  Already forgotten are the over fourteen hundred Israelis - many women and children - innocent civilians - who were slaughtered.  No one seems to care about those innocents, not even one news cycle later.  Sadly, it seems Israel has a shitty social media presence, as stories of Hamas atrocities are muted while fake stories of a "hospital bombing" are amplified by the media - until days later, they are found to be false.

And no one calls out Hamas on this.  And most of these people protesting still believe Israel was to blame and that 1,000 people died in an 80-bed hospital that is still standing.

So, Hamas gets what it wants - it nails itself to the cross, and foreign aid money pours in, to numbered Swiss bank accounts. As a bonus, they now have hundreds of hostages to rape and abuse and eventually trade (or trade their corpses) for captured Hamas "fighters" in Israeli prisons.  The last time around, they traded one Israeli soldier for hundreds of Hamas terrorists.  Sounds like a rotten deal.

No one felt sorry for Nazis or the Germans who supported them.  We didn't feel sorry for the fascist Japanese government who brutally attacked and subjugated their neighbors - or the ordinary Japanese citizens who supported that government.  What brought those governments down wasn't just attacks on military targets, but the bombing of their entire countries - Germany and Japan.  Once the civilians realized that war would be their ruin, support for the war they started waned and sputtered out.

Hamas is doing a good job on social media, painting itself as the victim - while getting people to conveniently forget how this latest war got started.  It wasn't Israel that crossed the border en masse and took hostages and murdered children.  It wasn't Israel that invaded a music festival and raped women and mutilated their corpses and paraded the dead bodies around.  Hamas lit the fuse, fully knowing what kind of bomb would go off and now they are relishing their role as "victim of Israeli aggression."

It is passive-aggressive bullying and we should not fall for it.

There are protesters around the world, calling for a "cease fire" in this war, which is convenient for Hamas, now that they have "achieved their goals."  It would be akin to calling for a cease-fire after Hitler invaded Austria.  Oh, wait, they did that.  How did that work out?   Maybe give him Poland as well.  I mean, he must be tired of winning by now, right?

Some of the protesters are no doubt are being goaded on by social media which shows photos (some of which might actually be real) of Palestinians bombed by the IDF, but no photos of dead and tortured Israelis.  I am not sure why this is, but I suspect that Jewish religious traditions and common decency forbid the use of photos of bloodied bodies for sensationalism.   Buried by sundown - not paraded around for sympathy.  Hamas seems to have fewer of such concerns.

UPDATE:  Since I started writing this, the IDF has released some chilling videos of Hamas terrorists, dressed in IDF uniforms, flagging down motorists and then gunning them down.  No outcry about those innocent civilians.  Other videos have been shown to the media, but not published, as they are too gruesome to watch. And again, Jewish traditions about desecration of the body might be preventing release of such videos. Hamas seems less concerned in that regard.  Much of the video recovered was from Hamas "body cams" that the terrorists used to record their evil deeds.   It is just sickening.

Some of these "protesters" are blatantly celebrating Hamas terrorism and clearly showing their true colors.  In one protest in London, a misguided "useful idiot" raised a "trans" flag, only to be beaten down by Muslim fundamentalists.  Why anyone from a liberal Western country would support a group who has repeatedly and clearly called for the annihilation of liberal Western values is beyond me.

Liberals are decent people who care about the plight of others.  Perhaps it is the weakness of "turn the other cheek" Christianity, but we allow "refugees" into Western countries on humanitarian grounds. Often the reason they are refugees is that they are fleeing from religious conflicts (often one Muslim group fighting another) that have destroyed their home countries. Hamas certainly has done a job on Lebanon, hasn't it?  In fact, Muslim-on-Muslim violence has made a smoking ruin of much of the Middle East and beyond.

ISIS has called on its terrorists to attack the United States.  And no doubt, we will see some attacks soon - if they are not occurring already, as wind-up soldiers are set off by social media.

Has Israel done some bad things in the past?  Sure.  But the tit-for-tat cycle of terrorism and retaliation is never going to solve the problem, but rather force people to entrench their positions even further. We saw this in Northern Ireland, where a conflict for control was masked with religious overtones (The Catholic v. Protestant divide making about as much sense as the Sunni/Shi'ite schism).  Peace finally came to Northern Ireland, although there are still a few troublemakers about who prefer to make troubles.

And the end result? Nothing. The Protestants are still in Northern Ireland, having their obnoxious "Orange Parades" - trying to goad a response from the Catholic Irish.  Nothing has changed, really, other than people finally got tired of killing, which seems to be the end game for all wars.

Terrorism never seems to win, in the long run.  At least, I can't think of a single instance, in human history, where it has.  How did the 9/11 attacks work out?  Did Osama Bin-Ladle succeed in getting American air bases removed from his home country?  I didn't think so.  That was his goal, too. If anything, the 9/11 attacks only further cemented America's position in the Middle East, and caused untold misery in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Terrorism provides a justification or at least an excuse for asymmetrical retaliation.  That's why terrorism is, strategically, a bad idea.  But it does do a good job of distracting people from the miserable failures of the Palestinian "government."  When in doubt, start a war.

By the way, what did Italy's "Red Brigades" ever accomplish?  Just asking.  The only concrete thing I can think of as a result of terrorism is that we now have to take our shoes off before we get on an airplane.

If Palestinians want to advance their cause, terrorism isn't going to do it. In fact, each act of terror will set their cause back another decade - as it has today.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Your Magnatron And You

The Magnatron in your microwave is nothing to be trifled with.  If it starts to buzz, maybe it is time for a new Microwave.

When we bought our house in 2006, it had all new appliances.  They are now 18 years old and the design life is 15 years. So they are starting to fail, not by breaking down entirely, but by doing odd things.  The dishwasher started to leak and I found out it was a buildup of lime on the door seals.  The whole thing was a lime nightmare (we have fairly hard water) and I ran a load of lime-away through it (and wiped down the seals with it) and it seemed to solve the problem. That was a few years ago.

Since then, it has run OK, although I try to be gentle with it.  The white plastic is slowly turning orange and feels brittle.  It's days are numbered, but fortunately, dishwashers are pretty cheap.

The disposal - I wrote about that beforeMs. AOC should take note.  Again, a cheap appliance and easy to replace.

The refrigerator is working, but the "control board" loses its mind every so often.  The door seals (dutch door model) are wonky and you have to close it carefully or it goes ajar.  The "door alarm" sometimes works, but is very faint.  It cost over $900 in 2006, today they are close to $2000, although we saw some more spartan models for less than $1000.  And the good old two-box is still a few hundred bucks.  Counter-depth refrigerators always cost more!

The stove is a "slide-in" and most places only stock a couple of models.  We found one fairly cheap (Frigidaire) but only in stainless steel.  We'd either have to go all-stainless or do something else.  We will think about this.

The microwave broke in the first year and a technician from Sears Home Services came to fix it.  It wasn't from Sears, but one of Sears' bigger businesses was doing warranty work for all appliance manufacturers.  He replaced the Magnatron - the heart of any microwave - and that involved taking apart the entire thing down to the nuts and bolts. He scratched the stove doing this and then stole two of the stove knobs.   We called them out on the latter and he sheepishly came back the next day, claiming to have "found" the missing knobs in his toolbox (but originally claiming our stove was "like that" when he first came here.

The control panel on the microwave went nuts, turning the microwave on by itself.  I have an extra control panel as a result.  Not sure what I am going to do with that, now.  The stove panel also went nuts and frighteningly, started the oven on its own accord, more than once (!!).  Electronics - what's not to like?

So all four appliances should probably be replaced.  We already replaced the commercial ice maker, the most expensive appliance we own ($2000!).  But then again, it makes perfect Martini ice.  Priorities.

I looked online for diagnostics on the microwave.  Either the power diode is shot ($29) or the magnatron itself ($245). Either way, it involved a detailed teardown of an end-of-life appliance that, oh-by-the-way, has a giant capacitor in it, storing 5000 volts, even after the power is removed.  It is akin to tearing down an old television or CRT monitor - you can really hurt yourself.

If it is the magnatron, well, $245 nearly pays for, or actually buys, a brand-new microwave.

Did I mention the handle on the microwave broke off and I put it back together with superglue?  That was years ago, but in the interim, the plastic door is starting to crack in a few places.

No, it is beyond fixing.  The Weibull curve is about to jump up in my face. Time for new.  And maybe our local appliance place will offer us a deal if we buy all four appliances together.  And if we decide to switch to stainless (against my will - but it is oddly enough, cheaper than "white goods" these days!) it makes sense to change all at once.

And maybe time to paint the kitchen cabinets as well, with some new door knobs to go with.  Oh, shit, this starts to get expensive!

But it is inevitable.  A house is just a machine for living, and machines don't last forever, at least they don't anymore.

All that being said, this may have to wait until February or March.  Mark has a show coming up.

UPDATE:  We may try to find a used microwave in the meantime.  A lot of people get rid of working appliances when they decide to "go stainless."  Of course, it only makes sense to buy one of these used appliances if they are fairly new and also fairly cheap (under $100).  I have seen several on Craigslist, but a few of the sellers are clearly dreaming - you can buy a brand-new one for not a lot more than they are asking!

Sunday, October 22, 2023

How To Avoid Paying Taxes With This One Simple (Accounting) Trick! (Billionaires Only, Please!)

Intellectual Property is being abused in the name of tax evasion.

The IRS finally grew a pair and is going after Microsoft for $29B in tax evasion.  That's 29 BILLION dollars!  How did Microsoft do this, and is it illegal?

It is a common tactic amongst the big tech firms.  You open up a subsidiary in a "tax haven" country which has low corporate tax rates.  To the "tax haven" country, even a low tax rate rakes in millions, if not billions of dollars, and is essentially "found money" to them.  Ireland was a popular choice for a while.  Microsoft used Puerto Rico, which although not a country, is a "territory" of the United States.

The gag works like this:  You set up a subsidiary in this tax-haven country and then transfer all your "intellectual property" to that subsidiary - Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights.  You then license-back this IP to the main company, which then pays a "royalty" to the subsidiary.  Oddly enough (or not so oddly) this royalty ends up being equal to the profits made in the United States!

So the US division shows no profit (and thus pays no taxes) while the "subsidiary" in the tax-haven country shows huge profits - but pays little or no taxes on it.  Whoopee!

Now, to most people, this makes no sense.  You are taking money out of your left pocket and putting it in your right pocket - and then turning the left pocket inside-out and claiming to be broke!  It is such a thin reed that any idiot can see through.  It is an accounting "trick" and a pretty obvious one. As the IRS noted, transferring the IP to an off-short subsidiary and then licensing back served no real business purpose, but served only a tax purpose.

Sadly, so many "tricks" in tax law are based on illusory scenarios like this.  As my tax law professor once put it, the whole tax law business consisted of lawyers at cocktail parties having a few drinks and coming up with these schemes, which they would sketch out on a cocktail napkin.  They would then try these stunts, which the IRS would initially deny, and end up in court, and hope that a friendly judge would side with them. Better yet, they could get these schemes coded into the law by friendly Republicans!  Failing that, they could get the GOP to cut the IRS enforcement budget to the point where the IRS would just give up and go after people who can't afford white-shoe lawyers.

But maybe that is about to change.  The enforcement budget for the IRS has been ramped up and they are going after tax cheats.  The GOP is crying "foul" over this and trying to scare voters (who are always anxious about the IRS anyway - they might get audited and lose their trailer home!).

Of course, I have written before about corporate income tax and double-taxationIn many other countries, corporate taxes are very low or nonexistent.  The idea was that shareholders would pay tax on dividends or on capital gains (or both).  In the US, many companies - particularly "tech" companies, pay no dividends (and thus no taxes on dividends are paid).  Dividends are taxed as ordinary income. When shareholders sell, they pay capital gains taxes, but those are at a far lower rate than ordinary income taxes.  Even when taxes are paid, it is still a "win" for shareholders.

How odd is it that unearned income is taxed at a lower rate than actual manual labor?  Why aren't people more pissed-off about that?

Of course, numbers confuse people and the GOP is doing a good job of destroying schools so no one learns about numbers.  This makes it easier to say, "Well, Billionaires pay upteen billion in taxes every year!" which is technically true, but represents only 5% of their overall income, if that.  Meanwhile the janitor pays 25% of his income in taxes.  But that's fair because he pays less!

It is akin to the trope that the "1/3 pound burger" was discontinued because people thought it had less meat than the 1/4 pound burger.  Hey, I might be dumb, but I know that four is more than three!  I'm voting for Romney!  Duh.

This kind of stupidity is how Kansas ended up bankrupting itself when it abolished taxes on owners of pass-through corporations.  As the name implies, pass-thru or Subchapter-S corporations "pass-through" their profits to their shareholders (or holder, as most are owned by one person - we had three, at one time).  By eliminating personal income tax on owners of Subchapter-S corporations, Kansas eliminated any taxes on their shareholders.  Not surprisingly, everyone in Kansas suddenly decided to become a corporation!

But I just lost half the audience trying to explain that.  That's how this works - make things complicated so the plebes vote against their own self-interests.  "But cutting taxes creates jobs!" they cry.  No, it doesn't.  Cutting an individual's personal tax rate does nothing to create jobs.  You don't hire someone because you have money leftover and laying about. You hire someone to make more money and if you can make more money by hiring someone, then it really doesn't matter what your tax rate is.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, the W-2 laborer who voted for this nonsense is still paying State income tax.  His boss, however, is not.  "Hey Clem?  Wanna see my new Ferrari?  Great!  Now get back to work!"  Creating jobs - at the Ferrari dealer and the Yacht brokerage.  But not many jobs, to be sure.

And meanwhile, deficit spending and subsequent inflation act as a tax on everyone, but mostly the working class.

It remains to be seen if the IRS can follow through with this.  Can they hold corporation's feet to the fire and start collecting taxes?  Some companies have eschewed these schemes on the grounds that they are, in fact, tax evasion (and not tax avoidance, which is legal).  I think it was Warren Buffet who was poised to re-incorporate overseas and then pulled back at the last minute, realizing that it was somehow wrong.

Of course, a simpler tax structure might avoid some of these games.  But sadly, ideas like a "flat tax!" or "national sales tax!" (both always with an exclamation mark!) end up being a tax on the poor and a sop to the rich.  Simple answers to complex problems are always the wrong answers.

No, it is "hard" to go after corporations for tax evasion.  Hard, but not impossible.  It just takes the willpower and the money to slog through the documents, audit the parties and file the lawsuits.  It also takes political will, which means that voters have to educate themselves as to what is really going on and not the sideshow some want to present.

You decide what is important - twenty-nine billion dollars in tax evasion, or drag queen story hour?

Sadly, a large number of people think the latter is the burning issue of the day.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

"You Can Say Ye Did It!" Revisited

Mourning over the past is a dead-end proposition.  But so many do it!

I mentioned recently that there is a new Sheriff in town - a new director of the "Authority" that governs our island.  In the past, the Authority was a benevolent dictatorship, but it is not clear the new regime is benevolent as in the past.

By the way, I am told they have a member of staff who monitors "social media" for any negative postings about the Authority.  Sounds like North Korea!  They should have better things to do than be paranoid about what others think. Maybe we'll get voted off the island.

Times are a-changing, to be sure.  We now have a new "Code Enforcement" guy who is much more aggressive about permits and such.  If you want to put a "Garage Sale" sign in your front yard, you have to have a $20 permit, and if you don't, you pay a $100 fine.  Sounds like a Homeowner's Association!  But unlike a HOA, these are rules that didn't exist when we moved here almost 20 years ago, and were not voted on by the homeowners.  In fact, the "Authority" has made up a lot of rules lately, and unlike Federal rulemaking, there doesn't seem to be any kind of checks and balances in the rulemaking process.

In a way, it is like constructive eviction - they are making it harder and harder to live here (and more expensive as well) to the point where some may be forced to leave - priced out of their own homes.  Hmmmm..... sounds like a class-action lawsuit!  But we'll see where it goes - and how far they want to take things.  There are limits on power.

In the old days, the island was run on an ad hoc basis, and maybe that wasn't the best thing.  Many people with political connections came here and looted the historic buildings of furnishings.  The Governor's nephew got the contract to pave the island roads - using prison labor.  That was Georgia circa 1949.  It was the old-school Georgia.  Crazy times.  Now we have two Democratic Senators and the State went to Biden.  So I guess Trump did some good after all!

While it is sad that things are changing and the "good old days" are gone, we can't mourn for the past - there is no profit in it.

Back in the day,  you could drive your golf cart anywhere - on the fire roads, through the historic district, even on the beach (not me, but I've seen it done!).  The rules, what little there were, were not enforced too much.  Everything was done with the help of unpaid volunteers, who got a free round of golf as "payment."   That went away when someone got pissed off and called the labor board.  We lost something there.

But as my friend once said, "Ye can say ye did it!" and he had a point.  There is little to be gained by fighting change, particularly when change is inevitable.  "Georgia's Abandoned Island" could not stay abandoned for too long, what with property values going up and waterfront being snapped up everywhere else.  In fact, it took a long time, but people are finally realizing that living on an island 2/3rds undeveloped by State Law with a big gate up front and a $10 admission fee, has its advantages.  We live a pretty quiet life, even if "the good old days" are gone for good.

It is best to think about the past, but not dwell on it or mourn its loss.  Because quite frankly, when we look toward the past, we often fail to see the downside.  Gee, the 1950's were a swell time, right?  Well, unless you were black or Hispanic, or a woman or gay.  If a women got pregnant out-of-wedlock back then, "no decent man would marry her" and she would be forced to settle for a wife-beater, or become a prostitute.  The fabulous fifties!  We forget the downsides.

So yea, change is happening.  And much of it we may not like at first, while other parts we get used to or even like.  The new "beach village" is very nice, even if it really isn't designed with residents in mind, but tourists.  But the new beach pavilions are wonderful for picnics and are open to all.  Sadly, most residents rarely use them, but sit at home and watch television instead.  And we have 20 miles of bike trails, all newly paved.  The campground is expanding with all new sites.  There is a lot of good going on.  But the old days of good ole boys running things out of their back pockets are gone for good.

And as each good ole boy (and gal) shuffles off the mortal coil, more changes will occur.  When you have one guy in charge of a major asset, who has failed to appoint, train, and groom a successor, well, when he dies, things will no doubt be different.  But of course, no one thinks they will ever die - even as they turn 80.

It seems the average resident here stays only for five to ten years or so.  We've been here since 2006, so that makes 18 years, I guess.  Others decide they might not like it - too far away from family and friends.  Still others "age out" and leave feet first or move "back home" to be near children and assisted living.  Since most people move here in their 60s or 70s, their time on the island is circumscribed by nature.

And lately, well, we've lost a lot of friends and acquaintances - and made new ones along the way.  A lot of the "old guard" is fading away and it is sad, but we can say we knew them, back then.  You can't fight the inevitable.

We talk often about when we will leave - not because we want to or intend to do so soon, but because we like to have a plan in place for the inevitable.  Also, we want to explore our little planet more before we are no longer ambulatory.  When the right time to go is not clear, but it will become clear to us when it does.

Others, well, they stick in one place - a hometown or where they landed after college, not exactly sure why they stay or why they don't leave.  People hang on to hobby cars or boats or RVs long after they stopped using them - out of pride or fear of "giving up" for some reason.  If all the unused Harley-Davidsons sitting in garages or basements across the country hit the resale market at once, H-D would go broke!  They would have a five-year inventory hitting the market at once.  No wonder they promote the "never sell your bike!" mantra to owners - it's good for business!

We travel all over the US and quite frankly, haven't found a place as remote yet close, quiet but not isolated, inexpensive, but not cheap.  Sure, there are places in Florida, but the property taxes and insurance are a nightmare. Governor DeSantis touts "no income tax" but who is he kidding?  Property taxes can start in the five figures and go up from there.  No taxes, indeed!

Other places have snow half the year - no thanks!  Still others are wildly priced or have high crime rates or are not welcoming to Gays.  If there is a better place to live, we haven't found it - yet.

But we'll keep our eye out, in the meantime, and enjoy island life. And as for what has been lost over the years, well, Ye can say ye did it!