Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Mental Illness And Guns Are A Bad Mix!

No real mystery as to what happened.

I have noted before, time and time again, that trying to get "the latest news" is not only pointless, but bound to be wildly inaccurate.  No one knows what is going on or what went on, during a mass shooting or a three-alarm-fire or an earthquake or hurricane or whatever.  Wild unsubstantiated reports abound and are amplified by a news media hungry to be "first with the news" and have an "exclusive."

Sadly, it has been shown that first impressions tend to dominate people's minds - and the news cycle.  So the "Atlanta Bomber" is misidentified as a security guard and his life is ruined.  The same thing happened with the Boston Marathon bomber - the wrong guy was fingered and it is only a  miracle that some online nut job didn't lynch him.

A day later, a week later, a month later, a year later - a decade later - we find out the truth.  The two kids who shot up Columbine High School were mentally ill with access to guns.  That's it.  No compelling backstory or "manifesto" or motive.  No "trench coat mafia" or hunt for Christian students - but today if you ask most people, they will say it was one or both.

Mentally ill people plus guns - it pretty much explains most, if not all, mass shootings and murders and other forms of mayhem.

In this most recent example, some on the Right were quick to capitalize on it - including Trump's now-VP pick - that Biden somehow "ordered" an assassination through violent rhetoric.  But of course, Trump has never advocated for violence against his enemies, rather he has promised it.  Other Republican operatives speculated it was a Chinese agent, an illegal immigrant, an "Antifa" activist (thank you very much, MTG!) or a transgender person.  All of course, were wrong.

In the days since the shooting, which left a fireman and father dead, it has emerged that the shooter wasn't some expert marksman, but rather a troubled young man whose Dad decided to buy him a gun (or at the very least, leave it unsecured) in an echo of the Sandy Hook shootings.  The kid started out as a Democrat in 2017, but quickly jumped on the Trump train, often making himself a target of bullying by espousing conservative views.  He followed a YouTube channel of a "second amendment" promoter and even bought "merch" from him - and was wearing it when the shooting happened.  Ironically, he was not allowed to join the rifle club at school because of his poor aim.  I suspect there is a real reason he wasn't allowed to join.  After all, don't you join something like that to get better at aiming?

But what is puzzling is why a registered Republican and avowed conservative would shoot at the party's nominee.  And the answer is simple: Mental Illness and Guns.  They don't mix well.

UPDATE: The Wikipedia page linked above has been recently edited to say that there are "conflicting accounts" as to his political views.  Let the spin-cycle begin!  By the end of the week, he will be listed as a BLM and Antifa member.  Truth is elastic these days!

Our "founding fathers" put the second amendment in the Constitution so that an "well-regulated militia" could be forms.  Note the word, "regulated."

I don't think the authors of the Bill of Rights envisioned that this clause would encompass the "right" of an insane neighbor to own a cannon and take pot-shots at people he didn't like.  Only those eligible for the "well-regulated militia" would have the right to own reasonable firearms.  And in that era, well, the eligible didn't include minorities or women - and certainly not the insane.

Organizations like the NRA have pushed for lax restrictions - or no restrictions - on gun ownership, going so far as to advocate for gun ownership for the mentally ill or those who have a history of violence.  The Supreme Court seems to have cleared the way for this, other than to comment that someone with a history of domestic violence might be restricted from owning a gun.  No problem - he just buys one at a gun show!

The problem, of course, is to determine who is and isn't mentally ill - and how to track them in this era of HIPPPA where patient's rights trump everything else.  And even in situations where people clearly should not have been allowed to buy firearms, these folks somehow fell through the cracks, resulting in many deaths.

But why would a Republican shoot a Republican?   As some have pointed out, the man who shot John Lennon was a fan of his - at one time - before finding Jesus (and losing his mind).  What motivated this young man to go after Trump is anyone's guess and in the long run it doesn't matter what the specific motivation was.

Because the actual cause was mentally ill with guns.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Free Money Samples At The Bank!

Are banks giving away free money?  Sometimes - but with a catch!

I wrote before how Capital One offered us a deal if we opened a money market account and deposited $10,000 into it.  If we left the money there for a few months, they would give us $200.  Since we have to take money from our 401(k) every year to live on, it was an easy matter to deposit $10,000 each into these money market accounts and score $200 in free cheese.

Recently, Capital One was at it again - offering me $250 if I would set up a checking account with them and direct deposit at least $1000 within 75 days.   Again, since I have to transfer money from my IRA to my spending accounts anyway, it was a simple matter to set up the checking account and make two $500 transfers.  At the end of 75 days, well, I had $125 plus some change (interest) in the account. Free money samples at the bank!

Well, I thought that was pretty swell.  After all, what has Bank of America done for me lately, other than funneling about $75 a month back to me in "rewards" for using the credit card.  Oh, right, Capital One has the same deal.  Competition in the marketplace - to score the better customers, that is.

So I was a little surprised at Capital One's latest gag.  They offered me $250 $350 (upgraded!) if I would get a Capitol One Quicksilver card and charge at least $500 on it in 60 days.  A few trips to the gas station and our health insurance premiums should about cover $500 in 60 days, so, why not?

It was a bit of a PITA to unlock my credit score with the three agencies (I wish lenders would just tell you which one they use!).  If you don't log in regularly, well, your password may have expired and the reset mechanisms are clunky.  Nevertheless, within a half-hour or so, I was approved for the card.

Why is Capital One doing this?  Well, in a way it is like encouraging a compulsive gambler to gamble.  The credit card has a trap associated with it - 25% interest or more!  And no interest until 2025 on new purchases!  For a gambler, this is pure uncut cocaine.  For me, it is a chance to score $350 if I am careful.

Like I said, I plan on spending the money anyway - but not carrying a balance, of course.  So the deadly trap of compound interest should be avoided.  Nevertheless, it is a trap and it can bite almost anyone.  For the salary slave, it is temping to run up charges and pay them off later.   Zero interest?  Play the float, right?  Then they get laid off and that 25% interest (as high as 29.8% depending on your credit score!) kicks in and you can never pay it back - well, you can, but it may take years.

They count on you being weak - the cater to your weaknesses.  They market to your weaknesses.  I mentioned before - more than once - that they are not giving out free money samples at the bank, now or ever.  What they are doing here is baiting me to spend.  And while "stealing the cheese" is tempting to do, one has to be very, very astute about such things, or you could end up like a rat in a trap.

Of course, many of these better offers are only offered to better customers.  With a credit score of over 800, I don't need or want credit - so they offer me these deals.  The working single Mom who is behind on her bills and paying bounce fees to the bank really needs a deal like the ones they offer me but rarely get them.  Or, if they do, it is just a shovel with which to bury themselves.

I read all the time online, pleas from young people who distrust and hate banks.  And I understand that sentiment from when I was young as well, and banks were always trying to fuck me over - or so it seemed.  They had all the money - they had all the cards.  I was a mere supplicant, begging for scraps and crumbs.  And many young people (as well as immigrants) have an unnatural fear of banks which causes them to make even worse financial decisions, such as being un-banked or using payday loan outlets.

When you don't need or want the good deals, that is when they offer them to you - they know that you need to be enticed financially to engage.  The poor and middle-class have no choice - so why offer them anything?  The system rewards the rewarded and punishes the punished.

Yea, it sucks.  But from the bank's point of view, the poorer the borrower, the more likely they are to default, so rates and charges are figured accordingly.  On the other hand, someone like Trump can walk away from paying anything to anybody and for some reason the banks accept this and do a workout.

Again, the system is unfair - the richest should be held accountable more than the poorest.  But it works the opposite way, and since bankruptcy reform was enacted, well, it is darn hard to weasel out of debts anymore - if you are poor.

But of course, I will snag the free money if I can.  It is a simple matter of using this new card for our trip this summer and then paying it off with the money I put in their checking account - and then closing all of the accounts!

That, of course, is not what they were hoping I would do!

UPDATE: Or maybe they don't care - but were hoping I would write about it in my blog!

Saturday, July 6, 2024

AI Invades Real Estate!

Why is this condo badly photo-shopped with AI to make it look like a Dentist's waiting room?

I get these mailings from Real Estate Agents all the time, hinting that they want to sell my condo.  I may take them up on this, too little, too late. We hung onto the condo because three developers promised to buy us out and demolish the place and build anew, paying us what was, at the time, a premium price for our units.

But then the real estate market took off and "premium price" became reasonable price and then the developers got cold feet because interest rates went up and financing got sketchy and all three of the developers decided to put the project on hold for the time being.  Now I see prices have started to drop - slightly - for some of these units.  The time to sell was last year.  And this is in the hot DC market, too!

But what tickled my fancy was a mailing for a unit just sold with the above photo.  I am not sure what Indian Photo-shopping farm or AI did this, but other than the ceiling, the rest of the photo is made up - badly.  Check out the Escher-esque laptop on the right side.  Salvador Dali couldn't do better!

The artwork on the walls in all photos is a variation on the same generic theme.  The furniture appears to be all faked-in.  It makes the place look nicer than it is. And apparently this is all legal.

Mark tells me that inserting furniture into an empty property through "virtual staging" is no different than putting in actual rented furniture - at least according to the Real Estate association.  Some agents even photoshop a fire in the fireplace to make it look more homey - which I guess is all right if the fireplace is actually functional.  Otherwise that would be misrepresentation.

But I think this is a slippery slope.  Putting actual furniture in a room and taking a photo is one thing, photo-shopping or using AI to insert furniture might make the place seem bigger than it is (as these photos seem to do) and hide defects like stains in the carpet, holes in the walls, etc.

Then you have photos like this - where chairs seem to come with their own square of carpet, and what appears to have once been a dining area or den is turned into some sort of ersatz office, complete with diagonal laptops.

Having owned in this development for over 25 years, and having been in at last a dozen or more of these units (that either friends lived in or Mark sold) I can say with authority that these pictures exaggerate the size of the units and their layout a bit.  Granted, if you actually inspect the unit, you would see reality and be aware of what you are buying.  But while not common, some homes are bought "sight unseen"  as our present residence was, by the original owners, when it was still under construction in 1970.

Buyer beware. Caveat Emptor.  What you see on the Internet has nothing to do with reality and with AI, well, it is getting more unreal every day.

Maybe it is time to get rid of doctored photos, punched-up colors, personal "filters", and AI-voices.  At the very least there should be a prominent disclaimer that what you are seeing is not real.

And I suspect that will never happen in my lifetime!

UPDATE:  The listing includes "real" pictures (no word on camera angle and lens - it looks distorted) which illustrate why they photo-shopped.  Gray walls do not photograph well!

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Lower Prices Are Here - But You Have To Choose Them!

People can't complain about high prices and them pay them without looking into alternatives.

Economists are an odd bunch.  In their perfect theoretical world, everyone pays the most they are willing to pay for an item.  The poor man buys a stripped Chevy Biscayne, while the wealthier man buys a nice Oldsmobile.  Both are essentially the same car and cost about the same to make (and are often made on the same assembly line).  One has a nicer "trimmed" interior, which costs a lot less than you imagine.

Consider the 1972 Olds Regency.  The story goes that for Oldsmobile's anniversary, they wanted to make a special edition.  They gave the designers a budget of a few hundred dollars per car (some say as little as $100!) to gussy it up.  Simply by choosing different fabrics and trim materials, they made the inside of the car look on par with a Cadillac.  And it worked, too - and the model became a regular part of the product line in subsequent years.

Cars, computers, food, housing, clothing, music - you name it - if there is a consumer product (and those are all consumer products) there is a wide range in pricing.  There are also less expensive "alternatives" to most goods, if they are deemed too expensive.  If enough people seek out alternatives, prices of the more expensive goods may come down.  Supply and demand.

And sometimes this results in ridiculous outcomes.  During the late 1970's and early 1980's, inflation was running 10% or more and interest rates for mortgages topped 14%.  I was there.  People turned to cheaper alternatives for food - the mac-and-cheese box was popular, as was peanut butter.  The whole "generic" product craze took off (see above photo) and then fizzled within a couple of years.

So many people bought peanut butter that a shortage developed and the price went up as a result (supply and demand, right?).  People took to hoarding it and bought even more, driving the price up further.  It got so ridiculous that you could buy hamburger for less money.  Well, maybe not exactly, but people lost sight of why they were buying peanut butter in the first place.

It reminds me, in a way, of the chicken wing craze.  It was a part of the chicken often thrown away, so you deep fry it and douse it in a 50:50 mixture of butter (substitute) and hot sauce and wa-la, you have the perfect bar food - so cheap you could give it away and make back your money in beer sales.  The fad took off and eventually the cost-per-pound for chicken wings exceeded that of breast meat, at least for a time.  Supply and demand!

Even things that seem inelastic, like housing or health care, have alternatives.  If you can't afford an apartment by yourself, get a roommate (or better yet, a life partner) and split the cost in half.  Worked for me, for 36 years!  (There are other benefits as well, of course).  Younger people live with parents and save up for housing.  There are alternatives to the "two bedroom, two bath" apartment that the Antifarts claim a person working at McDonald's should be able to afford (I guess the second bedroom becomes the gaming room).

Or health care.  If you are poor or just don't like to spend money, you may look for cheaper or free alternatives, such as your local health department, which may provide free or low-cost care.  Or, like an optician's assistant I once met, who flew his wife to South America for a two-week vacation and gall bladder operation.  It cost $5000 or about 1/10th the cost of the procedure in America.

Of course, when the Ambulance arrives, you can't opt for a South American vacation.  There are limits to economic theory.

But getting back to McDonald's I mentioned earlier, I experienced elastic or marginal pricing firsthand today.  We were working on the camper in the storage shed and it was only 95 degrees out and 95% humidity.  It was awful. So we took a break and thought, "let's grab something to eat!"  We had a lot of choices.  We could have had the foresight to make food ahead of time.  Mark makes a chicken (or tuna) salad-salad by mixing a can of the meat with a pre-made salad mix, in the Cuisinart, with a little mayo.  Serve it as a sandwich or spread on a cracker - less than $2 per person.

But we didn't have the foresight to do that.  We could have gone to the Winn-Dixie for something, but their "grab-n-go" items are no real bargain.  Mark suggested the Burger King located at a nearby Truck Stop.  I walked in and was appalled to see that a medium french fries was $5.  There were no "value menu" items or the two-for-$5 Whopper Juniors.  So I left.  Down the street was McDonald's.

A sandwich and fries and drink there was over $10 as a "meal" - but on the Kiosk under the "deals" were "McBundles" which included a double cheeseburger or chicken sandwich and a small fries and a four-piece McNugget and a small drink, for five dollars even.  I ordered two, not realizing it included the McNuggets.  Lunch for two for $10.70 or about what the people in the drive-thru were paying for one meal for one person.

50% off and all you have to do is take the time to explore the menu and look at alternative choices.  When I walked out of Burger King (where there was quite a line and I suspect I would have been there for a half-hour as it was a dysfunctional BK) people were just standing there like deer in the headlights, with their wallets out, paying $15 for a fast-food meal.  I just don't get it.

These are the same people bitching about high prices and saying "It's all Biden's fault!"  No, it is not.  So long as you pay top dollar for things you don't really need (and fast-food is not a need, but a want) then they will keep charging higher and higher prices until you stop buying.  There is nothing in the economy that is causing these prices to go up - any longer, at least.  Corporations are raking in record profits and CEOs are paying themselves staggering bonuses and stock options.

Because they can.  So long as you go along with this, they keep making more money - at your expense.

Once again, it is the conspiracy of 330 Million people, just like back in 2008.  No one put a gun to anyone's head back then and said, "buy this overpriced mini-mansion on a toxic payment-optional liar's loan!"  No, people did this voluntarily and then laughed at me for having a modest "paid-for" house.  When it all blew up in their face, they cried for government bailouts - and some even got them.  Most did not.

As "consumers" we have more power than we think we do.  Our spending choices on a daily basis drive the market, not vice-versa.  That's why companies pay so much to put advertising in front of our faces - hoping to drive us to spend on things we don't need or want, that are overpriced.

I digress, but for some reason on all the streaming channels that show commercials,  I am seeing ads for laundry detergents and air fresheners, all starring minorities, usually black folks.  Am I missing something?  Is there some fear they are tapping into in the black community that people are afraid they stank?  Or are these soap companies being blatantly racist by implying they are?  All I know is, the selling point is your house stinks and they never show white folks in the ads.

Then again, my router shows my location as "Atlanta, GA" so maybe the algorithm assumes I am black.  Half the ads I get are on Spanish, and I think that is because I listen to Latin music on occasion.  Great work, AI!  You have me pegged as a Black/Hispanic man living in Atlanta, who fears his laundry smells bad.  Companies are paying dearly for this accurate demographic information!

I am also seeing ads (again, usually with minorities, this time, Asians) touting the idea of using underarm deodorants all over your body, even in your private parts!  They show you how!  While I am eating dinner!  Worse yet are ads for shavers for private parts, again with demonstrations on how to use!  When did this become acceptable?

But I digress.  Screw the algorithm!

It is possible to live with less. When the X5 hit 150,000 miles or so, we started looking for a replacement. And we bought a Nissan Frontier SV ("Special Value!") model, which was their mid-range model.  It wasn't "trimmed" as fancy as the SX range, or indeed, our old X5, but it got us to Alaska and back and was (and is) a sturdy little truck.  I still see it on the road from time to time, as a neighbor bought it.

The point is, we have choices.  And while the King Ranch is nice and all, we could have spent less money on a more plebeian Lariat and been just as content. Today, I would be looking at a lesser-optioned model.  At least we bought it used and before the prices skyrocketed during the pandemic.

Ah, yes, the pandemic - where all this "shortage" and "inflation" nonsense started. People panicked and started hoarding toilet paper and bottled water for some reason, and - supply and demand - prices went up.  This did not go unnoticed by other industries.  Creating a fake "shortage" or piggy-backing off a real one allowed companies to raise prices on everything from food to clothing to automobiles to - whatever.  They even claimed there was a shortage of french fries!  But I think that was made-up.

Prices are elastic and so is consumption.  At Sam's Club, they had beautiful cherries for sale for $5.99 for two quarts.  Mark bought some.  We went back a week later and they were now $10.99!   I guess they were hoping we would not notice.  So he bought strawberries instead, for $5.99.  There are alternatives, if you shop around and check prices and keep an idea of what is a "fair" price for various items, in your head.  Today, with your cell phone, you can check competitor's prices (and availability) online. Few choose to do so.

Oddly enough (or not so oddly) we have a regular shopping routine that involves visiting a number of stores.  We go to, say, Sam's Club for cheap coffee (whole bean) which you just can't get at Walmart (which sells only ground coffee or "Keurig" cartridges - ugh!).  The local liquor store has a great price on Juame Sera Christalino (even the pink kind!) for $6.99 a bottle.  Sam's Club only has sweet wines and $20-and-up decent wines.  Walmart's "Winemaker's Select" is $5 and less for some pretty decent table wines, including a lightly sweet Cava. Dollar Tree has low prices on cleaning supplies and napkins - but not paper towels or toilet paper (Sam's Club for that).  Walmart simply doesn't have seltzer, or if they do, at a staggering price.  Winn-Dixie usually has it for far less - if you buy it by the case. We've learned, over time, where to buy what, where, and when.  Not checking prices is simply not an option.

And sure, it is fun to splurge once in a while.  We live in a resort community and they charge resort prices here.  I was chagrined the other day when we stopped for an ice cream cone at the Jekyll Island Club and it was $9 a cone (!!).  That is still better than the frozen yogurt place that charged by the pound, self-serve.  You fill a bowl with this goo and put it on the scale and realize you just spent $20 on frozen sugar.  We went once with out-of-town guests.  It's for the tourists.

But we find fun things that others do not.  They re-opened the beach pavilion, a run-down shack by the beach that just oozes Old Key West vibes.  You can get peel-and-eat wild Georgia shrimp (caught right off the beach - you can see 'em do it!) and a cold beer for not too much money,  And it ain't crowded, either.  That's our new favorite dive, after they closed the Martini bar at the Holiday Inn.  Gotta change with the times!

All that being said, I suspect the economy will take a turn in the coming months - and people will finally start looking more closely at prices, if they not already are.  The fact that McDonald's offers these "deals" and Burger King has a two-for-five (at participating locations only!) is one proof that people are indeed, looking for bargains.  But you have to look for them.  They don't advertise them much!

And that is the point of elastic or marginal pricing schemes - a product priced for every purse and purpose!

If you want prices to come down, spend less!


Monday, July 1, 2024

Sometimes, Getting What You Want Isn't What You Want.

The buggy can go 27 MPH now.  It is frightening!

When we bought our golf cart for $299, it was about 23 years old.  It had no roof or windshield and ran on 36 volts on some fairly well-used batteries.  It had the standard 11" wheels and 18" tires, and the only "accessory" was a pair of K-Mart fog lights bolted to the hood, operated by a household light switch screw-gunned to the dashboard by the previous owner.

Like most stock golf carts, it topped out at 11 MPH which is not only tedious, but dangerously slow.  We added an inexpensive lift kit and some larger wheels and got it up to nearly 14 MPH.  The previous owner called me and said he "found" the roof and hardware buried in his backyard and after pressure-washing it, we installed it, along with a tinted windshield.  It was a start, anyway.

But 14-15 MPH in even a 25 MPH zone can be dangerous as people will tailgate you. So my next upgrade was to 48V which involved buying two new batteries and a new Curtis 48V controller.  I tried a haphazard "upgrade" that I read about online, using a power diode, but it didn't work well.  A new 48V controller can be had for $250 back then or as little as $120 these days, so we went with that.  We were up to 17 MPH now!  Whoo-whee!  We added turn signals and brake lights too - just like the big city!

I built a buggy barn to store it, although these days we park it in the garage.  A neighbor was throwing away a collapsible yard cart and I made that into a pickup bed which is handy for hauling things around.

But that was not enough.  The "new" tires (stamped, "not for highway use") went nearly bald after a few years and I replaced them with a set of slightly larger tires from Amazon.  They sent me eight for some reason and when I called Amazon, they said, "keep 'em!" so I did, selling the extras and my old set for more than I paid for the new.  The buggy would go nearly 19 MPH now - sometimes topping 20!  I had installed a rooftop strobe light and a set of Italian air horns, as well as a built-in Karaoke machine and undercarriage lighting.  The eight six-volt batteries were replaced with six eight-volt batteries.

It ran for a few years with no complaints, until last year when a bearing blew out.  I think we overloaded it carrying home shutters that the club hotel was throwing away.  But it was a cheap if not easy fix, and each "project" on the buggy teaches me more about how it is put together.  I bought a service manual (fills a 3" binder!) and Curtis controller programming tool (knock-off).  Prices have actually dropped for a lot of this stuff!  Programmers used to cost nearly $500 but today you can get one for about $150.  Controllers themselves used to be over $500 and are now $120 on eBay.

The second set of "12 month" batteries went South after five years and I pulled the plug and bought a Lithium-Ion battery pack.  This upped the speed slightly (we now were getting a consistent 53 Volts) and the new battery pack weighed less as well.  I had upgraded our cables from 6 gauge to 4 gauge years ago, with a partial set from eBay (some 6-gauge, particularly the motor wires, were still intact).

We added a rear seat (finally) and new LED taillights (four of 'em!) and turn signal indicator LEDs on the dashboard to remind me the turn signal is on.  A neighbor was throwing away a roof rack, so I added that - great for carrying chairs and umbrellas to the beach!  The new upholstery on the rear seat shamed me into reupholstering the front seat (cheap, again, eBay) to match and install the original dual back rests that for some reason, the previous owner had removed.  We were livin' large!

On the way home one night about a month ago, the buggy stopped.  Turns out, one of the motor wires - the A2 - had melted as the connection came loose because there was not a sufficient "drip loop" where it attached to the motor.  I was able to fix this, but it was a wake-up call that the now 30-year-old motor was ready to retire.

So off to D&D of Syracuse for a new high-torque motor (15% more torque) shown above, and rated 23 mph speed (with stock tires, I guess).  I ordered a complete set of 2 gauge welding cables.  It was a PITA to install (I had to remove the entire rear axle assembly) but with the new wires and motor, we were hitting a staggering 27 MPH.  Scary.

The problem is, at that speed, the brakes (rear only, cable actuated) are not enough to stop the thing in a hurry.  Not only that, the steering (30-year-old steering box) is a little loose.  At lower speeds, it is merely annoying.  At higher speeds, it is frightening.  It feels like the whole thing is going to tip over!

So, this fall, we will rebuild the steering box and perhaps replace some tie-rod ends.  Maybe get one of those fancy new front axle assemblies?  Because the front "king pins" are no doubt worn as well.  One thing leads to another - and I have about as much "invested" in this thing as it would cost to buy a newer buggy or half of one of these fancy newer carts.

On the other hand, we've gotten eight years of use out of it.  So there's that.  She's all decked out with bunting and flags for the 4th of July.  Maybe it will run another 30 years - longer than I will need it!

Sunday, June 30, 2024

What's On The Menu

You can't order Kung Pao Chicken at an Italian Bistro!

I had a dream last night I was at a restaurant with some of my old friends.  It was an Italian bistro and they had the usual pasta dishes and the veal cutlets - good hearty food.  But one friend, who was younger, and believed "The customer is always right!" said, "I'll have Kung Pao Chicken, I'm in the mood for Chinese food!"

The waiter responded, "Ma'am, this is an Italian restaurant, we serve Italian food.  What we have to offer is on the menu in front of you.  What can I get for you?"

But she was having none of it.  "Kung Pao Chicken, like I said!  I'm the customer and I get to have exactly what I want!  No excuses!"

I woke up in a cold sweat and realized why I don't go out to dinner with old friends like that.   But it got me to thinking about the election and the complaints I read online (which are likely from Russian troll-bots) along the lines of "Is this the best we can do with Presidential candidates?  Maybe Biden or Trump should step aside and let someone else run!"

Andrew Yang, the ersatz billionaire (even moreso that Trump) has been beating this drum - Biden should "step aside" and let someone else run!  Yea, someone else!  Maybe Andrew Yang?  Talk about a self-serving argument!

The reality of politics is that you have a menu in front of you and you can only order off the menu.  There are no secret "off-menu" choices that the kitchen can make for you.  And while you can stamp your feet and hold your breath until you turn blue in the face, the kitchen can't make you Kung Pao chicken without the proper ingredients and expertise.

But this does not mean you don't have a choice or that your choices don't matter or that they are poor choices.

The media is having an orgasm over the "debate" as the media likes to generate controversy and drama because they make money this way.  I generally don't watch these "debates" as I am not an idiotic "undecided voter" who thinks "both sides are the same, so why bother?" and other attention-getting statements.  While both political parties are indebted to corporate sponsors and big-money donors (act shocked, and then grow up and grow a pair) they do have markedly different philosophies.

And bear in mind, we are not anointing a king, but electing an administration, which includes twenty-five cabinet members.  Not only that, there are appointments to various administrative agencies, from the Patent Office to the Post Office to the Pentagon - and yes, who is appointed and their philosophies makes a huge difference in how our government is run.

Then there are judicial appointments, which, as we saw during the Trump years, makes a huge, huge difference in how our lives work out.  People are upset at the Supreme Court, but fail to realize it was Trump and a Republican Congress that put the conservative majority there - a majority that is engaging in "judicial activism" in redefining the separation of powers itself.  According to the Supremes, unless Congress specifically authorizes a regulation in excruciating detail, the administration is powerless to interpret and enforce the laws.  This reduces the role of the Executive Branch to little more than an HR office.  Might as well toss the C.F.R. in the trash - promulgating regulations is so last-year!

So yes, it makes a difference who you choose, and you can only choose what is on the menu.  That is still one helluva choice and bear in mind in many parts of the world (e.g., China, Russia) you have no choices.  And one "choice" on the menu this year is to eliminate all future choices and let the waiter order for you, in perpetuity.  One bowl of gruel, coming right up!

But what about third-party candidates?  Why not have a system like in Europe?  Well, taking aside the problem our European friends are having right now, they have Parliamentary Democracies which are structurally different from ours.  Their system is designed to have a plurality of parties and as a result form coalitions of power - which often fall apart.  I am not saying one system is better or worse than the other, only that the odds of completely re-writing our Constitution to move to that system is about as likely as the EU moving toward our two-party system.

It just isn't going to happen.  It isn't on the menu.  So stop trying to order it and having a hissy-fit when they tell you it is not available. That isn't a practical solution to anything.  But yea, when I was younger, I thought I was a genius for pining for pie-in-the-sky ideas.  Then I grew up.

Third party candidates are spoilers, plain and simple. And in a way, they are like the obscure menu items that some restaurants offer on the back pages of the menu that no one in their right mind orders because the kitchen rarely makes it and as a result, it sucks.  It is akin, as I noted before, to my friend ordering an obscure pasta dish at a pier-side shrimp shack.  It not only sucked, it arrived after everyone else had finished eating.  Trying to "get what you want" often backfires.

Crazy Kennedy à la Brain Worm is a poor menu choice.

I mentioned earlier that "debates" are sort of pointless as most people make up their minds early on, based on their political views.  A die-hard MAGA fan isn't going to suddenly change their mind because Biden made a good argument.  Similarly, a pro-choice liberal Democrat isn't going to suddenly become a Trumper because "He didn't seem so bad" in the debates.

The whole political debate thing goes back more than a century.  One of the most famous debates was the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858Lincoln lost.  But the main issue - slavery - was eventually decided against Douglas' position.  I would not place too much weight on debates.

The Nixon-Kennedy debate of 1960 was another famous debate, this time televised. Perhaps the candidates back then were closer together in terms of political spectrum. Kennedy expanded the Vietnam War, as did Nixon, before the latter finally ended it when it was apparent it would never be won and it was draining the coffers of the Treasury. Supposedly, people who watched the debate on television thought Kennedy "won" while those who listened on radio thought Nixon the winner.  I suspect that rural voters with radios tended to vote Republican and city-dwellers with their newfangled tee-vee sets, tended Democratic.  Again, I doubt the debate changed many minds.

The Sarah Palin debate was interesting only in that it sealed the fate of the McCain campaign.  And I guess that is one reason why debates can be important. Elections in the US are close (despite the lopsided appearances of the Electoral College).  And those people who vote based on personality or "which candidate you'd like to have a beer with" or "which candidate eats his pizza with a fork" and other trivial bullshit, can sway an election one way or another.

Trump won because Hillary lost. Biden won, in 2020, the States that Trump beat Hillary in, in 2016 simply because he wasn't Hillary.  I am not taking a dig at the former First Lady, just recognizing that two decades of Hillary-hate on right-wing media seeped into American culture.  Particularly among blue-collar workers, admitted support for Hillary would be akin to announcing you were gay. Now Trump, that's a guy who grabs 'em by the pussy!

Hence why Democracy fails sometimes.

Obama, of course, famously "lost" his first debate (who decides who is the "winner" - the media?) and went on to rout Romney in the second and win re-election.  Maybe Biden is playing the long game here - setting exceptions low, so even a mediocre performance later on is seen as a "win."  It's a trap, Donnie, run!

Myself, picking a candidate is a very simple proposition.  I choose the candidate who is least likely to set up a death camp and have me exterminated.  I know, that is selfish, but that's just me.  And in the past, that seemed like a bit of a long-shot proposition, of course.  But this time around, we have a candidate who has promised to make himself dictator-for-life and extract revenge on his enemies and surrender the country to Russia.

I mean, gee, it is a tough choice!  After all, Biden is old.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Denial - A Powerful And Dangerous Emotion!

When tragedies occur, the first thing people do is deny they happened.

When the Titanic hit the iceberg, the first thing most people did was deny anything was wrong.  After all, it was the largest ship in the world and what could happen hitting some chunk of ice?  And when a steward said there was nothing to worry about, this validated their lack of concern.  Have another glass of champagne!  Thinking about a freezing death in the icy Atlantic certainly was not fun, right?

Others, seeing the danger, took action.  And if more people did the same, perhaps more passengers and crew could have been saved.  Myself, I would be trying to cook up some sort of raft made of deck chairs, life preservers, and whatever wood I could find (doors, bed frames, furniture).  Beats standing around denying it is happening!

What got me started about this was the tragic story of Christine Maggiore, who was diagnosed with HIV back in the 1990s.   She was seeking treatment when she ran into some hokum holistic "doctor" who claimed that AIDS was not caused by the HIV virus and the whole thing was a hoax or conspiracy.

She went on to found an AIDS-denial organization which actually convinced the President of South Africa of this nonsense - causing untold thousands to die needlessly.

And Ms. Maggiore?  Yea, she died, too - of AIDS, but not before her daughter did - who went untreated.

Why did she go down this horrific road?  Denial, plain and simple.  When people are confronted with horrific things, it is comforting to live in denial and pretend they are not happening.  If you had HIV back in the 1990's, it was largely a death sentence.  So to avoid confronting the horror, why not say it doesn't exist?  Problem was, before she died, treatments did become available - working treatments - that would have saved her life and that of her child.

We saw the same thing with school shootings.  The horror of grade-school children being blasted by some armed nut-job is too much to bear.  So isn't it comforting to pretend it didn't happen?  And while you are at it, go and mock those who insist on the truth - as Ms. Maggiore did with AIDS activists.  By shouting down the truth, you can live in a comfortable insulated igloo cooler of denial.  "I can't hear you! La! La! La!"

Or take anti-vaxxers.  Please.  The prospect of a pandemic killing millions of Americans (and millions more worldwide) was too grim to bear.  So people reached out to the life-ring of anti-vaxxer denialism.  CoVid didn't exist!  Or if it did, it was no worse than the flu.  I know I felt the latter - at first.  And if you want to stay in your denial comfort zone, then attack those who are telling you the truth!  The vaccines are the problem, not the solution!

Right? Wrong.

The list goes on and on.  Trumpism is a major form of denialism.  Trump famously said he could shoot someone in broad daylight on 5th Avenue and get away with it.  And over the years, he has done one horrific thing after another and yet his simps refuse to see it.  They retreat into denial - latching on to far-right news outlets that tell them that anything bad Trump did never happened or if it did, it was part of some conspiracy to get him.

Denial is a powerful and dangerous emotion.  There is a lot of sunk cost fallacy involved.  If you engage in denial early on ("The Titanic isn't sinking!") it gets harder and harder as time goes by to change your mind ("Get in a lifeboat! Now!").  You have to admit you were wrong and that is hard for most of us - perhaps all of us - to do.

So people double-down on conspiracy theories, alternate facts, and fake news.  They long ago forgot what the point was, other than to "own the libs!" whatever that means.  I don't think they even know, anymore.

And since people attach such personal feelings to denial, it is hard to convince them otherwise.  In fact, a head-on approach often backfires, as the person you are confronting will say you are just an alarmist and that your attempts to convince them otherwise are evidence that they are correct and you are wrong. "But I was just down in the orlop deck and it was knee-deep in water!" you say. "But of course!" they counter, "The orlop deck is below the waterline.  They were probably just washing the floors and you misunderstood the situation!  Don't you think the Captain would say something if we were sinking?" (The old appeal-to-authority gag).

You can't convince them of anything so don't try.  Your trying to convince them otherwise only serves to push them into a corner.  They feel they are being personally attacked and will lash out and entrench their denial even further.  Just do your own thing and hope they come around eventually.  When they come to the truth by themselves, they don't feel they are "wrong" just changing their mind. And of course, it pays to lead by example - they see you getting in the lifeboat and they might start to wonder.

But confronting denial is pointless - like trying to deprogram a cult member (which is, in fact, the same exact thing - a cult member denies they are in a cult until the Kool-Aid comes out). The harder you try, the more they cling to it.  After all, the cult leader told them you would try to convince them to leave the cult!  And here you are, making the very arguments the cult leader said you would make.  You are doing more harm that good by trying to convince them to leave.

I felt sad reading about Ms. Maggiore and her child.  I had never heard of her or her organization.  Apparently the "Foo-Fighers" were big promoters of her organization and AIDS-deniers themselves.  They quietly took down their postings when it became clear they were an embarrassment to the band. Quite frankly, I cannot name a single one of their songs and I doubt I missed much from that brain trust!

But that is probably another good reason celebrities should keep their political views to themselves.  No profit in alienating a portion of you fan base!

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Red Lobster Redux

Red Lobster is in trouble - again.  This time, by design.

I wrote about Red Lobster a decade ago, shortly before Darden group spun it off to private investors.  If you read (or watch) the history of many of these restaurant chains, you realize they are bought, sold, and spun-off many times in their history, before sputtering out over time - which they all seem to do.

Joe Chef comes up with a restaurant idea, "Joe's Burger Shack" and pours his life's blood into it.  It makes a little money and he expands it into a three-restaurant chain.  He is doing OK and a large corporate owner of several chains, "GoodFoodCo," buys him out for a few million dollars, which is good for him, as he had no capital to expand further, and he was running out of energy and would have gone bankrupt eventually if he kept trying to "go it alone."

GoodFoodCo quickly expands the chain to 25 States and three overseas locations, both by franchising and through company-owned "stores".  Before long, it has restaurants in every state - hundreds nationwide - and has expanded into 25 foreign countrues.  You can go to a Joe's Burger Shack in Beijing or Tel Aviv.  They are everywhere.  They even selll Joe's signature burger sauce at Walmart!

Over time, the novelty of smashed burgers dies off and the franchisees get antsy.  GoodFoodCo cuts back on advertising and raises the prices of supplies - which captive franchisees must buy from GoodFoodCo.  As franchisees go bust (including some that are chains themselves!) GoodFoodCo buys them back - for cheap.  Once they own a majority of the "stores" the advertising budget suddenly increases (magically!) and GoodFoodCo shows a healthy profit.

Then, for whatever reason, GoodFoodCo spins off Joe's Burger Shack to Rayleon, Inc., a manufacturer of nuclear missiles or whatever, who wants to "diversify" their portfolio away from the defense industry.  I guess they think they can apply their business practices to the restaurant world.  The results are predictable, and the new menu items ("Joe's Atomic Burger!") flop.  More franchisees go bust and company-owned stores close, one after another.  The abandoned hulks of Joe's Burger Shacks dot the landscape.  Even the original location has closed!

Rayleon then spins-off the remains of Joe's Burger Shack to Kraven, Krakhed & Klegal ("KKK"), a group of "private equity" investors, who load up the chain with massive amounts of debt and come up with a "turnaround" plan for the chain.  KKK then sells off the land that the Burger Shacks are located on, to another company, LandCo, that the principals of KKK own a large part of.  The Burger Shack chain then pays an exorbitant rent to LandCo.  They do the same with the "intellectual property" of Joe's Burger Shack.  Joe, now retired in Florida, is chagrined to discover his likeness has been sold off - he gets a cease-and-desist letter from the law firm of  Dewey, Screwem, & Howe, after he tries to open a restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, using his smiling face as a logo.

Of course, none of this is sustainable.  The principals of KKK are making money through their land leases and intellectual property royalties.  They are also raking in huge salaries they get for "managing" this demolition-derby.

Where they go from there depends on the market and timing.  Generally, it is a good idea to pump up the numbers (and hype them with a "roadshow" as well as online) and then do an IPO.  This allows the principals of KKK to sell their interest in Burger Shack (or "BS" as the kids call it) to "retail investors" on Reddit, who believe, beyond all logical reasoning, that this "meme stonk" is going places.

The dumpster is indeed a place.  But thanks to the Internet, you can keep these geeky incels buying the junk stock forever - convincing them that a dying restaurant chain will suddenly turn around and make billions overnight.  Float rumors of a Burger Shack Meme Coin and watch them wet themselves with excitement.  When it all goes horribly wrong, simply blame Joe Biden and the Democrats for their pesky SEC regulations -  that's what ended the party - right?

Now, I am not saying this is what happened to Redneck Lobster, but the word on the street is that what is driving the chain towards bankruptcy isn't "endless shrimp" or anything like that, but the fact they cannot service their debts. It is Sears all over again, with the death spiral of lack of foot traffic compounded by cost-cutting to try to break even - which leads to a loss of foot traffic.

I remember visiting a Sears in Ithaca, New York and feeling like I was in an abandoned bus station.  Stained ceiling tiles were falling to the floor and whole empty sections of the store were cordoned-off with Police tape (crime scene?).  I did buy a weed-wacker, one of five available (open box) for what I presume was below cost.  It was a sad sight.

But you can make money this way - in a "bust out."  Like the movie The Producers (and Broadway musical, which then became a movie again), you can make more money from a flop than from a hit.   When the musical fails, no one demands forensic accounting as to where the money all went (and thus discover that the musical was "oversold" by 1000%).  It is only when you make a profit that people demand an accounting!  Mel Brooks is to blame for modern Corporate practices, it seems.

So we are seeing the final death throes of Red Lobster.  Or not.  They may sell the tattered remains to some other operator, or the remnants will emerge from bankruptcy court, only to be bought out by another "private equity" firm, who will close stores, revamp the menu, show three quarters of increasing profits, and then do an IPO.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

E-Bikes? Cool New Toy? Illegal Motorcycles? E-Assist For The Elderly? Spawn of Satan Himself? (You Decide)

E-Bikes are here to stay,  This gives me mixed feelings.

We like to ride our "beach cruiser" bikes on the 20+ miles of bucolic bike paths here on our island.  When we first moved here, I rode a lot - making cheesy videos along the way.  But as I get older, I find myself riding less and less.  Perhaps we need to ride more.

In the last 10 years or so, we've seen the rise of the e-bike, from primitive early models to bicycles-with-e-assist, to full-blown roadworthy motorcycles or at least mopeds, with DOT-spec lighting and brakes and whatnot.

I had mixed feelings about them.  They can go fast, and on a bucolic winding bike path, a mini-motorcycle going 25 MPH or more doesn't mix well with children on sidewalk bikes or elderly pedestrians walking their dogs.  On the other hand, so many of our friends gave up on bicycling as they got older, as they no longer had the muscle mass they had in their 40s or 50s.  Past age 50, you body gives up and slowly starts dying.  You can delay the process, but not avoid it entirely.

A friend of ours had two spanking new e-bikes with zero miles on them.  They bought them, but due to balance issues, decided instead to go with three-wheelers (also popular with our age group).  So he says, "I'll let you have 'em - cheap!"

I didn't want to take advantage of a friend, but he insisted on the price and we went to look at them.  Mark always had the idea in the back of his mind that someday, maybe at age 70, an e-bike might be the ticket to continued mobility.  And that makes sense - we see a lot of older folks riding e-bikes, keeping up with their children and grandchildren on conventional bikes.  If not for the e-bike, grandma would have stayed home.

On the other hand, is this another sign of the end times - where we rely more and more on electronic assists to the point where we become fat blobs with no muscle strength?  It is a disturbing thought, as so much of research and technology today is directed at artificial means of enhancing our strength, from muscle assists to entire suits of electronic servos that do everything for you.  Good news for the paralyzed or those with muscular dystrophy.  But eventually these things trickle down to the fit and able, much as the electric shopping carts at Walmart have become fat-mobiles.

The above video is an excerpt from the Pixar movie Wall-E.  In a not-so-distant future, the planet becomes overwhelmed by consumer product trash from the wholesale club, that humans leave for a perpetual space cruise.  Hoverchairs are provided - according to an archived advertisement - as a way for "granny" to join the fun.  But as years go by, everyone ends up in a hoverchair, so obese as to be unable to even walk or get up, if they fall down.  The "Otto-Pilot" a form of AI, merely wants to keep the humans anesthetized and wallowing in a sea of consumerism - perpetually.

People end up spending all their lives in the hoverchair, drinking their meals from "big gulp" cups and staring into virtual screens, wondering what new amusement might distract them for yet another day.  It was all-too-frighteningly-real sixteen years ago.  Since then, this behavior has become normalized.  We wallow in fast-food and sit and watch My 600-lb life and think nothing of 250-lb children or 350-lb teens.  And "screen time"?  It has taken over our lives.

Although maybe this too, shall pass.  I find myself turning away from the false friend that is the phone.  So much of the "content" to day is click-bait and AI-generated.  A recent posting purports to show "rare pink dolphins" which according to Snopes.com actually exist, although they are albino dolphins with a very light pink hue.  The posting - which was quickly taken down - showed shocking pink dolphins which looked like a bad photoshop job.  Clearly AI content. And text content? Almost all AI these days.

The only ones "reading", liking, and commenting on these AI posts are other AI-bots.  You guys go ahead and have an AI-party with each other.  We humans are not really intrigued.  That is the weird thing about AI is that it is really boring and maybe that is one way to spot AI content - the boredom factor.

But getting back to e-bikes, I was hesitant to buy them as I wasn't really in the market even if the price was such a bargain.  I felt like I was one step closer to the hoverchair.  And quite frankly, our regular bikes have been gathering dust as of late.  No point in even keeping them, now.

What's next?  e-Kayaks? We used to call those motorboats.  And yea, they do exist, too!

Pretty soon, I'll be just a brain-in-a-beaker!

Friday, June 21, 2024

EV Market Crashing or Booming? Or Neither? (Bureau of Specious Statistics Strikes Again!)

EV sales are down - or up - depending on how you look at it.

I saw this chart online and it was accompanied by text proclaiming that Tesla sales are "cratering."  Even if we assume the data is correct (and nothing on the Internet is ever a lie or just AI-generated crap!) the "meme" overstates the case quit a bit.

The first thing to notice is that they are comparing sales from the first quarter of 2024 with the first quarter of 2023.  This is a common gag in the auto-journalist business as they argue that car sales are seasonal (which they can be) and thus comparing the same quarter to that of the year prior is valid.  However, this technique doesn't take into account other things, such as the overall economy slowing down (or speeding up) - factors out of the control of any one company.

Funny thing, too, as "Auto Journalists" (which are now auto-mated, apparently) are all-too-willing to compare, say, the fourth quarter of 2023 with the third, if it makes Tesla look bad - or good - depending on what they set out to prove in the first place.

The second thing to notice is that while Tesla sales may be "cratering" they still sell (in America) more EVs than all other makers combined.  If that's a "crater" it's one helluva nice one.  They are still Number 1 in the EV market, by a wide margin.

The third thing is that Ford sold over a half-million vehicles in Q1 2024, and that is just one company.  The EV market is still a tiny slice of the overall car and truck market in the US.  Teslas seem to be "everwhere" only because, like VW Beetles in the early 1960s, they were so noticeable compared to the rest of the vehicle population.  I  was passed by a "Cybertruck" on the causeway the other day (he was doing 50 in a 25 zone and cut me off - Tesla drivers are the new BMW drivers!) and the only reason I remember it was that I was temporarily blinded by the sheer ugliness of the damn thing.  If it had been a Ford or Chevy or Ram, I would have forgotten about it in five minutes.

So, we are talking about a tiny market share here when talking about EVs. Yet the incel simping neckbeard stans have bid up the price of the Tesla "meme stonk" to the point where it's "market cap" is greater than companies making five times more vehicles and greater profits.  But as we know, "market cap" only reflects what the chumps paid for the last share sold, and doesn't reflect the real value of the company - or indeed, anything.

Tesla is due for a reckoning in its share price and place in the auto world.  The cars have not been updated for many years and newer designs from mainstream automakers look and feel more modern.  Tesla's latest creation, the "cybertruck" is the butt of jokes - and has been compared (unfavorably) to the Pontiac Aztec, which in its defense, had a hatchback tent that actually worked and sold for a few hundred dollars, as compared to a few thousand.

Musk's "pay package" has basically gutted Tesla like a fish - taking away billions of dollars in capital that could have been used to fund new R&D but instead is being set ablaze on the dumpster fire that is Twitter.

But that's just the sideshow.  EV sales were destined to tank after a while, once the "early adopters" who were willing to pay top-dollar for a Tesla already bought one.  To make EVs work, in a real-life sense, you need a charging station near your home or in your home or at your place of work.  While the charging network has expanded considerably, the average middle-class or lower-middle-class person living in an apartment doesn't have access to a charging station or, in many cases, even a guaranteed parking space.

People have noted before that the idea of home solar and home charging stations (once the backbone idea behind Tesla, with its acquisition of Solar City) only works for people who own their own home, plan on staying there for quite a while, and have disposable income to spend on these things.  A friend of mine (recently deceased) put a set of leased solar panels on his house.  He also cooked up his own diesel fuel in his back yard.  He was a tinkerer and hobbyist and could afford these things.

He sold the house long before he died and the word is, the new owner wasn't too keen on the solar panels.  Something went awry with the system (most likely the inverter circuitry) and the quoted cost to repair is was far, far more than the benefit of charging back into the grid, particularly now that Georgia Power only pays wholesale rates to home solar users, for surplus electricity.  I wonder if this is an isolated incident or a trend.  Already, home solar installs have fallen off a cliff due to higher interest rates and decreased rates for buying back excess power.

Could the same happen to EV sales?  Overall, as the chart above shows, EV sales are up (except for Tesla).  There are reports that some EV owners (as many as 46%?) trade-in their EVs - for one reason or another - for an IC-engine car.  Hertz dumped 20,000 EVs - mostly Teslas - in favor of IC engine cars.  For the rental market, you want a mid-level Camry which any idiot can drive without a half-hour of training.  Hertz's sale of 20,000 Teslas may explain the dip in Tesla sales.

No matter how you slice it, though, the EV is a product of left-wing thinking.  You can't be a global-warming denier and sell EVs.  You can't decry government subsidies on your social media site and then rake them in with your EV factory.  It makes no sense at all to be right-wing and the largest maker of EVs in the world (at least for a time).  Could that explain why Musk is apparently trying to destroy his own company?  He is like a teenage alt-right follower tearing down his Bernie Sanders poster from his bedroom wall, only to replace it with a MAGA sign.  Go far enough left, you end up right.

All that being said, the chart above hardly shows a "cratering" in Tesla sales. It could, however, be a foreshadowing of things to come, both for Tesla and the EV market as a whole,

My take?  The car market in the USA circa 1910 was dominated by super-expensive automobiles for the very wealthy. The "Three P's" - Peerless, Packard, and Pierce-Arrow were the epitome of automobile luxury and technology. Then came the Model T, Chevrolet, and then the model A - inexpensive cars not designed to last a lifetime, but a few scant years. Only Packard survived the depression and even then, just barely,  By the end of the 1950's, it was gone as well.  The lifespan of many a company is measured only in a scant few decades - and pioneers are often kicked under the bus.

I suspect there will be a shakeout in the EV business in short order.  In order to expand to a greater market, EVs need to not only meet gas engine cars in price, but beat them.  If government mandates for fuel economy and emissions are to be met, the mainstream automakers will have to sell a lot of EVs, and that means expanding the market beyond the stans and simps.  When an EV costs less than a IC engine car, the middle-class will be more likely to buy them.

And there is no reason why an EV can't cost less  - just take away stupid screen shit that no one wants or needs, or blindingly fast 0-60 times that just waste range.  When you get down to it, an EV is not more complicated than an IC-engine car, it is simpler.

It should be cheaper, too!

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Windows 10 Was Not An Upgrade!

Forcing upgrades on older machines can render them effectively useless.

I bought yet another Toshiba C655 laptop on eBay for $30.  It had all its components, even the power supply.  The right hand hinge is broken, but that can be fixed with superglue and baking soda.   It is a nice machine and now I have four working and one as a box of spare parts.

The only downside, in addition to the hinge - is that it was loaded with Windows 10.  Running Windows 7 Ultimate, these are usable machines.  But with Windows 10, well, they are slow and clunky.  So I "upgraded" it back to Windows 7.

When Windows 10 came out, Microsoft "forced" the install of this operating system through Windows Update.  I got wind of this and disabled Windows Update on all my machines (there are no more updates for Windows 7 anyway) and dodged that bullet.

Microsoft perhaps remembers what happened when Windows 95 came out.  Before then, we were using things like Windows 3.1 (as I recall) and the latter worked pretty well on the old 486 machines we had back then.  The computer industry was abuzz with excitement over Windows 95 as it had many new features - features (and bloatware) that would require users to buy new computers to run it.  Sure, you could install it on an older machine, but it wouldn't work very well.

At the time, half the country was using WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft had yet to dominate the PC market, outside of operating systems.  People were content with what they had - which worked - and saw no need to throw out perfectly good computers that they had bought only a few years prior, just to get the "latest and greatest."  Bear in mind these PCs cost thousands of dollars back then (figure that out in today's dollars) and if you had a firm of say, 50 employees, that was hundreds of thousands of dollars you'd have to spend to upgrade, plus the disruption of training and learning.

"Yea, we'll upgrade - next time!" more than one Senior Partner told me.  And they did, three years later, going from 3.1 to Win98 or even Windows 2000.  Skipping a generation proved to be a smart move, financially.  It never pays to be on the "bleeding edge" of technology.

Problem was, the chip-makers and PC-makers had ramped up to sell new machines loaded with Windows 95 and.... no one showed up to buy them.  One of Silicon Valley's periodic recessions kicked in, and in fact, that was the start of the trend away from silicon to bullshit.  We used to make chips, now we make apps.

So Windows 10 was a genius move.  Force it onto people's machines and watch them slow to a crawl.  Users would get frustrated and buy new machines - each coming with a spanking new copy of Windows 10 (and pay for it as part of the purchase price!).  Imagine other industries doing this - forcing an upgrade to your car that makes it run 50% slower!   Well, I am sure Tesla is thinking about it.  And apparently Mercedes already has done it - making users pay $100 a month to unlock "speed" levels as if it were some sort of video game item.

Pretty soon, they'll be giving cars away for free - but charging you for micro-transactions and forcing you to watch ads as you drive.  There I go again, giving them ideas!  Back in the 1980s, we started putting computers (microprocessors) into cars.  Today, we are putting cars into computers. Musk was right - Tesla is a technology company, not a car company.

But I digress...

I guess that is why I am fond of obsolete tech.  Sure, everyone has moved on to streaming.   But I can still get DVDs for free at the campground or check them out at the library.  And there are no ads, either. And no ads in the operating system of my computer. We are losing something when the personal computer is no longer personal but merely a pipeline for corporations to shill and grift us.

Well that and our cell phones...

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Obsessing About Insurance

Sometimes insurance blinds us to the obvious.

I tried to make an appointment with the eye doctor to have my eyes checked as it's been a couple of years since I had my last prescription done. I called the doctor's number and receptionist answered and immediately asked me what my insurance was. Although we have Ambetter (Obamacare) I don't think we have eyeglass or eye doctor coverage. She immediately told me that they don't take Ambetter and even suggested I go to a different doctor for my prescription.

What?

I kept trying to make the appointment and she kept going around and around about insurance. Finally, I asked her how much it costs to have the eye exam and she said "$95". I said, "I think we can swing that."

People get so obsessed with the covering trivial expenses with insurance and forget the big picture. This receptionist was actually turning patients away from the practice.  Crazy!

Ambetter offers plans in three basic levels, gold, silver and bronze. We opted for the low-cost "zinc" plan which provides very little other than some basic services and 50% of medical costs once you reach your $9,000 deductible. After you reach the max out-of-pocket they cover 100% of expenses and I believe the max out-of-pocket is $16,000. In other words, we are interested in catastrophic coverage not nickel and dime bullshit. I'd rather pay a smaller annual premium than cover scraped knees and infected toenails.

And we're not talking about a small difference in premiums, either. The difference between our plan and the gold plan is about a thousand dollars more per month – and not covered by any Obamacare subsidy, either. So I could get rid of my $9000 deductible if I paid only $12,000 more per year.  Thanks, but no thanks!

Of course come I'm in the minority with this opinion.  Others want cradle-to-grave coverage and they're willing to pay exorbitant sums to get it.

Just to be sure, I logged onto the Ambetter site and checked my coverage and indeed ophthalmology and optometry are not covered under the plan other than for pediatric optical care and emergency care (such as getting your eye poked out). But for routine eye doctor appointments, it's not covered - nor are eyeglasses.

I mean, sure, it would be nice to get a lot of free stuff - but it doesn't work that way with insurance in America. You have to pay a monthly premium and you get what you pay for. If we had signed up for the gold or diamond or platinum plans or whatever, I'm sure they would cover this stuff.  But the premiums would be $500 to $1000 to thousand dollars more per month. I can buy a lot of glasses online and have many eye doctor appointments for that much money. 

What I thought was interesting was the receptionist at the doctor's office looked at everything through the prison of insurance. She wanted to know immediately what insurance we had and whether they accepted it. She warned me direly that they would not accept my policy and therefore I should shop elsewhere!  I wonder if the doctor knows that she is turning away customers?

But her attitude is very common among people who are obsessed with trivial expenses - and not seeing the big picture.  Before we had Obamacare - before Obamacare existed - we had a high deductible Blue Cross plan that cost very little per month but had a ten thousand dollar deductible. A friend of mine were shocked at this, asking me where I would get the ten thousand dollars if I ever got sick. I asked about the policy he had for him and his wife and they had a very low deductible, but were paying $10,000 more per year than I was, in premiums. "To answer your question," I said, "I would get the $10,000 from the same place you're getting the $10,000 you pay every year for your health insurance premiums!  And if I'm not sick that year, I'll bank that money for next year."

He still look flummoxed.  His wife made him buy an expensive plan because, "what if something happened?"  They were spending their way into the poor house based on what-ifs rather than what-is.  Obsessed with the thought of routine medical costs, they insured themselves to the hilt.  The only way to win that  game is to hope you have a chronic, expensive, illness,  Even then, though, I could afford ten grand a year - easily.

And I can afford to pay $95 for an optician, without insurance!

So far, I have gone over 30 years paying for my own insurance and not having a major medical issue.  My friend who spends $10,000 more per year has spent $300,000 in the same time period.  Imagine that invested over 30 years at even 5%.

More than enough to offset the cost of deductibles later on...

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Sovereign Citizens and Tax Deniers (Same Shit, Different Day)

 


What do the Constitution and the Bible have in common?  Conservatives claim to have read both but never actually have- or understand either.

The latest trend in YouTube videos is 100MPH car chases by the Police, often ending in horrific accidents or even death.  I had to turn one off the other night as a young man committed "suicide by cop" by leading Police on a long chase and the emerging from his car with a gun. They played the 911 call he made where he basically spelled out his intention to die. "I want to call my daughter first to say goodbye" he says.

What a waste. How can you have children and be so irresponsible?  Granted, his life was a mess.  But you can bounce back from even two DUIs and all he had to do was surrender.  But mental illness is never rational, I guess.

If you watch enough of these videos, YouTube will "suggest" Sovereign Citizen videos, where idiots are taken down by the Police - or Judges - when they try to pull that "laws don't apply to me" crapola. How people end up believing this shit is beyond me, other than, again, mental illness and also I think meth use.

It got me to thinking about the "tax denier" craze of a few years back and how the arguments (if you can call them that) for that scam were about the same as for this "Sovereign Citizen" grift.  Someone sells a seminar or kit online, telling people things they want to hear - you don't have to pay taxes, you don't have to obey laws.  Of course, these are lies, but the grifter makes a few hundred from each victim, selling them the "kit."  And since the victims end up in jail, you never have to worry about them coming after you.

How does this work?  Well, it is like the Bible - a large book that has a lot of stories in it that contradict each other.  Whatever it is you want to believe, you can find it in the Bible - or find the exact opposite!  It is just a matter of where you look and how you interpret it.  If you want a lot of right-wing nonsense, try the Old Testament, which has a lot of pissed-off God, smiting people.  You want left-wing?  Try the New Testament, where Jesus goes all woke and commie, handing out free fish and bread like he's a walking EBT card.

And if you still can't find what you want, take something that means the opposite and twist it around.  I recounted more than once how I heard an AM radio preacher once argue that "Judge not lest ye be judged" was a call to Christians to go around judging everyone all the time as Christians were prepared to be judged themselves (and after all, they are perfect in God's eyes!).  It was a perversion of Bible verse but in a weird way, it could be deemed as making sense - to those of limited intellect who don't understand "context."

Tax denial works the same way.  And in a way it is like any other conspiracy theory.  In a conspiracy theory, the theorist doesn't address the obvious issues but instead picks away at trivial details.  If some document is dated wrong due to a clerical error, that is prima facie proof, in their minds, that the conspiracy exists.  In the mind of the theorist, all details are of equal merit, so one minor inconsistency outweighs a mountain of evidence.  In their minds, anyway.

So, for example, our tax system relies on you voluntarily reporting your income every year on a form 1040. The tax deniers twist this around to mean that the entire tax system is voluntary and if you get audited all you need to to is repeat some secret incantations and the IRS agent will let you go, scot-free. Of course, this is just nonsense - you have to voluntary report your income, and if you don't and owe taxes, well, you can end up paying those taxes, plus penalties and interest, or like Wesley Snipes, end up in jail.

Which brings up why people do this.  I started this blog over a decade ago when I was socked with an unexpected (but expected) capital gains bill of $40,000.  I noted before how a friend of mine at the IRS once remarked that their two greatest assets were (a) withholding and (b) the unnatural fear people have of the agency.  Without withholding, which takes a portion of each paycheck, taxpayers would get a huge bill at the end of the year and have no realistic way to pay it.

Hence why some rich people are upset about taxes - they have huge tax bills, often because they used tax dodges in earlier years - and no way to pay it.  In my case, it was "depreciating" my office building down to zero and then having to pay capital gains tax on the entire sales price as a result, years later.  I expected the bill, but I didn't expect it to be so high.  Elon Musk's problem was using loans to avoid paying any taxes in one year, but failing to appreciate that those loans would have to be paid back, eventually, which means selling stock and paying capital gains taxes.  And no one likes paying taxes.

So the "tax denial" scheme is appealing to folks who end up socked with tax bills or who are audited by the IRS because the small business they were running was showing fraudulent losses for ten years running.  They have no way out and the tax denial sounds appealing.

The same effect is true for this "Sovereign Citizen" movement.  You get a couple of DUIs and they take away your license.  In America, this is tantamount to being imprisoned as you have to rely on rides from friends and family just to get to work or get your groceries.  In fact, courts recognize this and often allow those so convicted to drive - but just to and from work or the store or church.  I recounted before how I met a young man - swinging a fifth of cheap booze - lamenting how he can't afford the rental on his car breathalyzer.  The system is trying to work for him, but he's not cooperating.

And no, there is no taxi, bus, or "uber" in many rural places in America.  For someone living on the side of a mountain in West Virginia, there are no other options than to drive.  So naturally, "Sovereign Citizen" nonsense sounds appealing.  All your problems solved at once!  Just print your own license plates and if you are stopped, just recite the mystical incantations ("I am not driving, I am travelling") and Officer Friendly will let you go free!

Well, not exactly.  He will bust the window out ya car and then taser you. And the fun is just beginning!  But even in court or in their jail cells, the "Sov Cits" don't give up.  They may be serving a year in jail, but the entire justice system is just an illusion.  They are here voluntarily!  It's in the Constitution - somewhere!  Or maybe the Bible - is there a difference?

How do you avoid falling into traps like this?  Well, for me, it is easy - and not because I am smarter than anyone or anything.  Rather, I was brought up to believe (correctly) that life is hard and anything worthwhile takes effort - and even then, you are likely to fail half the time. I expect my toast to land butter-side-down.  So I tend to be distrustful of anything that sounds too convenient to me.

Go to a casino?  I would expect to lose - not just because I took a course in probability, but because I understand these businesses are not a charity and far, far more people will lose than win.  And given how life works, I know which side of the coin I will end up on.

70% off sale?  I assume there is a catch.  Great lease deal?  Of course there is a catch, or two, or a baited bear trap.   Maybe you can call me a pessimist, but realist is more accurate.  Why indeed does the Catholic church teach that life is all about suffering (and finding meaning from it)?

The sort of folks who fall for these scams - or indeed, any con - tend to believe in something-for-nothing and that they can get ahead not through hard work (or dumb luck or inherited wealth) but by knowing the secret inside tips 'n tricks that only the wealthy know about - and you can know, too!  Just send three Urethium to the following wallet for our special "Sov Cit" kit!  Buy now and you get this laminated copy of the US Constitution - valid in all countries!  And, for the next five callers, you'll also get our tax denier kit to boot!

With all of this, how can you afford not to buy?

You know, funny thing, but you never see these  "Sov Cit" home-made license plates on a Rolls Royce parked at the country club.  You'd think the very rich would be on to this!