Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Surge Wages?

If fast food workers have to "hump" during the lunch rush, shouldn't they be paid more?

The CEO of Wendy's tried to quell the very bad press they received when they announced they were going to institute "surge pricing" on their electronic menus.  They weren't going to raise prices during rush times, no sirree!  They are just going to offer lower prices during slack times.  And that's an entirely different thing and donchuforgetit!

I am, oddly enough, quite at peace with this, provided of course, that their employee's wages track this "surge" in prices. No doubt, fast-food workers have to work twice as hard between 11:30AM and 1:30PM.  So why not pay them twice as much per hour, during busy times?

I mean, fair is fair.  Merely charging more money during the lunch rush is just generating windfall profits, with no real benefit to the customers or workers - only shareholders.

But all that being said, I doubt it will happen as the coming recession will force fast-food places to revisit the dollar menu again.  We drove by the Chrysler overflow lot today.  Not long ago, weeds were growing through the cracks in the pavement and an actual tree was growing between the beams of a parked car-carrier.

No more.  The place filled up in the last week, first with "Pacifica" minivans, and now with Jeep Grand Cherokees - once a hot seller.  This "Banking" lot was full back in 2019. The pandemic cleaned this place out for a couple of years, but in recent months, we have seen sporadic amounts of vehicles on the site - mostly minivans which are slow-sellers in the era of the SUV (and likely good bargains as a result).  But now the lot is FULL - and with "hot" SUVs to boot!

Jerking customers around over the price of a cheeseburger may sound like the latest gag in money-making - or the last gasp of an industry that has made record profits in recent years and is struggling to find ways to keep the line going up.  But the consumer has the last word in things like this, particularly when they finally run out of money (most already have) and credit (most are about to) and are forced to cut back, not out of principle, but sheer necessity.

So good luck with surge pricing and $100,000 pickup trucks.  When everyone is broke, who will buy?

P.S. - drove by the Chik-Fil-A today at 1:00PM and there was ONE CAR in the drive-through.  Granted this is at the end of the lunch rush on a Wednesday, but here in the Bible Belt, they usually have two lines at the drive through, 20 cars deep.  At the Wendy's?  No one at the drive-through and only employee's cars in the lot.  We went to our favorite Mexican dive and had two tacos al pastor and two chorizo tacos (both with soft corn tortillas, cilantro, and onions, salsa roja - that's it) and two Dos Equis Amber.  Total cost?  $15.  I left a five-dollar tip.  Beats the crap out of American fast food (cheaper, too!) and if it is bad for me, well, I'd rather die eating that that Wendy's shit.

Fuck Wendy's!

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Free Toasters

At one time in this country, your dishes and glassware came from the gas station and your toaster came from the bank.  I kid you not.

I mentioned the term "free toaster" before and realize now that it is a term that might not resonate with the younger generation.  When I was a kid, the local banks would advertise free gifts if you opened a savings or checking account (and deposited a certain amount of money into it).  Often, the gift proffered was a toaster. Buying in bulk, the bank got these for cheap, but in an era where everything went through a convoluted distribution chain (and everything was made in America) such "trivial" items were staggeringly expensive.  So offering a "free toaster" was a "deal" to your average consumer.

It didn't end there. In the era of 35 cent gasoline (equivalent of over $3 today), gas stations would have "price wars" - competing against the station across the street for the lowest possible price - often selling at a loss, trying to drive the other guy out of business.  Bear in mind this was long before the era of gas station mini-marts selling beer, cigarettes and snack foods.  The gas station had little else to sell you to make up for the loss-leader in fuel.  One promotion was to offer a free drinking glass or dish after so many gallons were bought.  Over time, you could accumulate an entire set of glassware or dishware - my family ate off such things during my whole childhood.

Or they offered "S&H Green Stamps" or competing "Plaid Stamps" which as a kid, I happily pasted into the little paper "book" they gave you.  You mailed in so many books and you got..... a free toaster. We ended up with two Proctor-Silex toasters this way (we got rid of one in a garage sale after my Dad found a dead mouse, lightly toasted, in it, hence the need for the second one).  It was the "cheapest" reward you could get with the stamps at the time.

Our local IGA grocery store had a dishware promotion as well - you got one dish for every X dollars spent on groceries (and could buy additional dishes to complete the collection).  When the gas-station dishes wore out, we moved on to IGA dishes.  We were not poor, either, but solidly upper-middle-class. Yet back then, simple things were staggeringly expensive compared to today. My Dad bought his first color TV in 1975 and that 25" RCA Colortrak cost a staggering $500 (about $2800 today!).  We were not poor, but the world was a poorer place, at least in terms of consumer goods.

You see a lot less of this sort of free toaster nonsense these days - people are more fixated on raw cash than on free gifts.  Some companies still do this, of course, just to get publicity - like the car dealer who offered a "free" AR-15 with every car purchase.  That sort of thing can backfire (no pun intended) of course, as most folks are interested in the best possible price and may not be interested in (or already have) a firearm.

Airline miles - proving to be worthless - are giving way to cash-back bonuses. Of course, that doesn't stop them from trying - offering appliances or meals or concert tickets in place of raw cash.  But in nearly every instance, the cash ends up being a better deal, as the "price" (in terms of points) of the toaster is far more than what they charge at Walmart in terms of equivalent cash.

I doubt the era of free toasters will return again anytime soon, thanks to cheap Chinese imports of most consumer products.  You can hate on China all you want to, but you and I are the ones buying all this stuff, because quite frankly, the prices are so low and really no one makes these things anymore in America or Europe, other than boutique manufacturers.

And who wants a $375 boutique toaster?  Famous British Quality, too!

Monday, February 26, 2024

Mint Mobile? No Thanks!

Almost everything advertised as a raw deal.

I've been seeing a lot of advertisements for Mint Mobile on the television.  They're advertising on every single streaming channel that allows advertising. And the ads are all about the same. This actor guy, Ryan Reynolds (who he?*) appears on screen claiming to have bought Mint Mobile, and he promotes how the cost of the service is only $15 per month with "unlimited" data.

There are a few misrepresentations here.  First of all, Ryan Reynolds doesn't "own" Mint Mobile, nor did he "buy" it, but rather is a part owner (20-25% according to some sources) and as of March of 2023, T-Mobile "bought" the company (pending regulatory approval) and Reynolds will remain on as a "spokesperson."

Second, "unlimited" data is a lie that all telcoms engage in.  You get "unlimited" data, but only at normal speeds for the first XX GB of data, then it slows to a crawl, effectively rendering the service unusable.  Granted, in this case, the cap is set at a respectable 40GB, but this lie of "unlimited" data needs to be put to rest by all telcoms, period. Reynolds is selling this "Shucks, we're honest folks" nonsense, so "his" company should be the first to start.

Third, well, it ain't $15 a month, except for a brief promotional period, after which it jumps to $30 a month, paid a year in advance. Mint Mobile does have a $15 a month plan ($45 to sign up, $15 a month after that, provided you pay for a full year in advance) but it only has a paltry 5GB of data a month - enough to send and receive texts, but not enough to stream videos every night.

At the same time Reynolds makes this pitch, at the bottom of the screen is a plethora of fine print that is flashed up so quickly you can barely read it in time. In fact you cannot read the entire thing unless you pause the video. Of course, that's not deceptive - right? Putting the real deal in fine print and not letting you have enough time to read it is deception number four. And I'm supposed to trust this guy as some sort of down-to-earth aw-shucks dude who's trying to give us a good deal.

Right. Whenever you enter into a business arrangement predicated on a lie, no matter how trivial the lie, expect it to go downhill from there.  So down the road, how do you think Mint Mobile T-Mobile is going to treat you?  And who do you have to blame?  They have telegraphed in advance what sort of people they are.  Caveat Emptor.

What the fine print says and what he doesn't want to say out loud is that the $15 per month service is just a promotional gimmick that expires within a few months and the price reverts to a regular $30 per month or about what I pay for my AT&T prepaid service. In other words there's no advantage for me to switch to Mint Mobile.

And yes, there's not a lot to like about AT&T and Verizon, although AT&T's prepaid service is pretty upfront about the pricing. They've never tried to pull this scheme on me where they offer some promotional price and then change it to another number later on. Maybe they do that with new customers now, but it wasn't the case when I first signed up with the service when it was called GoPhone.

This got me to thinking about the other ads I've seen on streaming services. And they're all for pretty raw deals or just shitty deals or stuff designed to cater to your fears. There are a huge number of ads for laundry detergents, and apparently a lot of people are afraid that their laundry smells bad. The funny thing about these ads is that a lot of black people appear in them. In fact, hardly any white people appear in them, if any. Are they trying to send the message to black people that their laundry stinks? If so it's kind of racist.

The "great replacement theory" is a load of horseshit, except perhaps in television advertising. While I welcome the representation of minorities in advertising, it seems like they've gone overboard in this regard. Based on the advertisements I see on streaming services you would think that the population of the United States was pretty much evenly divided between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. You would never guess that white people make up 70% of the population based on their representation in internet streaming ads.

Is this another example of so-called "wokeness?" I don't think so. Rather I think it's because  marginalized groups are easier to snag with clever advertising. Racial minorities are over-represented  in poverty statistics, and poor people tend to spend more money on things like brand-name detergents and status items.   Maybe also, they are more likely to be watching "free" streaming services and over-the-air television.

It is interesting to watch how people shop in the stores. We go to the Wholesale Club and carefully look at the price of various detergents and usually end up buying the store-brand which is the cheapest in terms of price per ounce and price per load.

Others just grab the most expensive name brand off the shelf and throw it in their cart without even looking. It's not like we can't afford to buy the name-brand, just that we choose not to.

And maybe that's why the name-brand laundry detergents aren't aimed at us. We're not paranoid about our laundry smelling bad nor do we believe the mythology that a certain brand of detergent cleans better than another one.

In a way, all advertising is predicated on a lie - the lie that one product is superior to another, or that there are scandalously advantageous "deals" available with one company, but not another - as if half the marketplace is paying double for the same service or product, because they are too stupid to listen to television ads.

Streaming ads, of course, get even weirder, particularly on YouTube.  Apparently, people are obsessed about their health and by that, I don't mean the ads for "legitimate" prescription drugs, but the wild-eyed screamers who hawk their quack cures which were outlawed back in the early 1900s.  The snake-oil salesman is alive and well in modern America.  We just call poison a "nutritional supplement" these days.

FOMO abounds as well - you can have "fun" gambling away your last penny on a sports betting site!  Everyone is winning and no one is losing!  Or buy "Crypto!"  This "Crypto Bro" is willing to share his insider secrets out of the goodness of his heart - for a small fee, of course.  Your life's savings, to be exact.

Or maybe you can save "thousands of dollars" on your heating bill (that would be more than an entire season's worth for me!) by heating your home with some sort of "insider secret" that involves an inverted plant pot.  WTF?  People actually fall for this shit?

The world is full of idiots - look around you.

I guess there are people who look at advertisements as legitimate sources of data.  They must think these ads are vetted and approved by the networks or streaming services that host them.  Myself, I look at an advertisement like Police Tape - roping off a bad deal with "Warning!  Ripoff Ahead!"  Because no matter what is advertised on television, odds are, it isn't the great deal they make it out to be.

And today, well, it seems almost all ads are for shitty deals, particularly on the Internet.

* I guess I am officially old.  I Googled his name and read his Wikipedia page and can safely say I have never seen any movie or show he was in.  It is all comic-book explosion movies, which are aimed at the prime demographic - young men aged 15-35.  That's no longer me.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Rather That Fight Change, Guide It!

Change will happen in the world, whether you like it or not.  We can't "go back" to simpler times.  The best you can do is to guide change, not fight it.

I saw a posting online that was humorous.  "Conservatives are always wrong!" they said, and pointed out how, over the years, Conservatives have been on the wrong side of nearly every issue.  I suppose it started in 1776 with the Loyalists.  We don't talk about them much, but they thought things were OK the way they were and saw no reason to change by fomenting revolution.  They were on the wrong side of history.  Like I said, we don't talk about it much, but we put them in internment camps after the war and then shipped them out of the country.  Today, we call them Canadians.

Oddly enough, conservatives today fashion themselves as "revolutionaries" like back in 1776, claiming that only 3% of the population actually fought in or supported the revolutionary war.  But of course, they have it backwards - if anything, Conservatives today are more akin to the Loyalists of 1776, wanting to "go back" to the "good old days" of King and Country.

The Civil War was the same deal.  Conservatives fought to protect the status quo - slavery.  And they lost because they were wrong.  Even the revolutionary "forefathers" of our country foresaw that slavery would eventually have to go away - the only question to them was when and how, and in American tradition, merely kicked the can down the road nearly a century to 1865.

Conservatives today try to glorify the Confederacy and "The Lost Cause" - forgetting that the cause was lost.  Progressives won, because they were right and slavery was wrong.  And no, this is not up for discussion.

Since those days, other issues have come and gone, and in every case, Conservatives have been wrong and always lost.  The suffragette movement - getting the right for women to vote - was opposed by Conservatives, but they were wrong and they lost.  Jim Crow, Segregation, the KKK - all wrong and the lost (and continue to lose) on all fronts.  Conservatives fought the US's entry into both World Wars.  They were wrong and lost.

The few wars that Conservatives promoted ended up being disasters. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan - we lost in all three cases, even as Conservatives fought to spend yet more money and send more "suckers" (as Trump calls them) to die.  And yes, I think we can now safely call Iraq and Afghanistan losses.  Iran won in Iraq, and the Taliban won in Afghanistan.  And no, it was not Obama's fault, but Bush's.

In the few instances where Conservatives have "won" their victory was short-lived.  Prohibition, for example, was a victory for the far-Christian right, but ended up as a disaster and was quickly overturned.  But hey, Conservatives, thanks for creating the Mafia as a result.  You guys really have your heads up your asses.

Desperately fighting change is just stupid, because change always occurs - it is like trying to fight the tides or the winds.  We can't "go back" to the "good old days" because it is physically impossible and the "good old days" sucked, frankly, compared to today.  Yet today, Conservatives are pining for the days of slavery and 40-year lifespans.  Not only are they against equal rights for minorities and women, they are actively campaigning against basic healthcare!  Measles?  It doesn't exist, right?  Just part of a scam perpetrated by the government!

Thank you, but I enjoy not having polio.  And will continue to do so.

Conservatives were not always so consistently wrong, however.  There was a time when being Conservative didn't mean shouting down change entirely, but embracing it, managing it, and guiding it.  And in that last regard, this is where Conservatives really fail. By refusing to embrace and guide change, they let it happen willy-nilly with disastrous results.

In the last two decades, we have seen the rise of social media and the smart phone - things that have had little positive impact on our society and much negative impact.  Yet no one took the helm to manage these things and guide them to a better future.  Any attempts at managing these things was met with cries of "government over-reach" and "first amendment rights!"   Too late, the GOP is realizing that social media is harmful to children, but their only solution is to ban it outright.

Allowing social media sites to ban hate speech and neo-nazis?  Can't have that - that's our voting base!  They really have backed themselves into a corner.

Time was, there was a "Liberal" wing of the Republican Party - a philosophy that government did have legitimate functions and that a properly managed government could be efficient and useful to all of the people.  Believe it or not, New York State had a Republican governor - Nelson Rockefeller - when I was growing up.  Today, the GOP has thrown those sort of folks out of the party in favor of religious "Let's go back to the good old days of stoning" fundamentalists, leaving the Liberal Republicans as stateless individuals.

And no, Nikki Haley isn't really a moderate or liberal Republican.  She is just hoping Trump has a massive coronary and she becomes the nominee by default.  It is a pretty even-odds bet.

We see change all around us.  On our little island, things have changed dramatically in the last few years, as we are no longer "Georgia's Abandoned Island" but instead morphing into an upscale vacation resort.  From sleepy retirement community for displaced Yankees, to weekend retreat for wealthy Atlantans, it has changed.  Dramatically.

A small group of people, who I call the Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island tried to stop this change, and they failed miserably at it, like most Conservatives do.  And by the way, people who fight change often consider themselves "Liberal" or even "Progressive" but the reality is, if you are fighting change, you are, by definition, Conservative, no matter how many "Free Palestine" bumper stickers you have on you Subaru.

Change was going to happen here.  We are a State Park and live under the benevolent dictatorship of the "Jekyll Island Authority" who, in real terms, has been quite generous to residents - so far.  But the reality is, they own the island, not us, and they can pretty much do at they please with it, and we could not expect the taxpayers of the State of Georgia to subsidize our private retreat (for Yankees, no less!) forever and ever.  Something had to give.

So they invested millions - tens of millions - on island improvements, on the premise that more people would come (and they did) and they could at least break even on the deal.  I am not sure that has happened just yet, but it is turning around slowly.

Change was inevitable, but the only option presented by the opponents was "no change at all."  And when the original company slated to do most of this development went bankrupt in 2008 due to the recession, the anti-change people claimed victory - as if they somehow caused the worldwide recession of that era, just to thwart the redevelopment plans.

But then again, delusional thinking is the hallmark of Conservatives.

It is like a guy I know who refuses to use the bike path - not because he is one of these Lance Armstrong wanna-bes who rides his $5000 bicycle in the road, but because he says - and I am not kidding about this - that the bicycle path is destroying the environment and by not riding on it as a protest, eventually it will force the Island authorities to tear up the bike path.

Dementia's a bitch, ain't it?

But that brings up another point.  A lot of old people get more and more Conservative as they get older, which is a natural thing.  You set up your life a certain way and change can ruin your plans.  You retire on a fixed income and see it wiped out by inflation.  You have a computer you like to use and one day you are told none of your programs will work anymore because you machine is "obsolete" and you need to fork over money to "upgrade."  No one likes change, it seems, particularly as you get older.

But young people - what's up with that?  Well, that is where it gets interesting, as many young people agitate for change, even so-called "Conservatives."  A new generation of young Conservatives, mostly male, are pining for the days when "traditional wives" stayed at home, because then women were much easier to control - and their dating prospects seemed greater (or so they thought).  They want change - to "go back" to a mythical era that may never have existed.  The problem is, once you give people freedom, they tend not to want to give it up.  There isn't a lot of support to repeal the 19th Amendment.

Sadly, there are a plethora of equally delusional young people who want to "go back" to the "good old days" of Soviet Russia, thinking they will get "guaranteed annual income" and a free rent in a brutalist concrete apartment block.  That isn't going to happen, either and those "good old days" were horrific in reality.

A better approach, I think, is to realize that change is inevitable and rather than blindly fight it or pine for non-existent earlier eras, to be part of the force of change and help guide that change, realizing that you are not going to get exactly what you want, every time, but getting something is far better that getting nothing (and pouting about it like a small child).

So how do you go about directing change?  Well, you can vote, or better yet, send money to the political candidate of your choice.  Choose the candidate who is proposing the most rational form of change, whether or not it ticks off all the items on your list of demands.  But part of this also is realizing that change is inevitable and in some instances, merely railing against it is not only futile, but a waste of your own energy and time and makes you look ridiculous.

Choose your battles wisely.  Spend that energy where you can actually help direct change.  Don't bother trying to fight things that are inevitable, or worse yet, trying to deny change entirely.

When you look at the world's economic winners and losers, the losers are usually the ones who spend all their energy on "causes" that they never win at - while at the same time, neglecting causes (like their own personal finances) they could easily win at.

Friday, February 23, 2024

The Weibull Curve and Buying New Stuff

Eventually, everything has to be replaced.

In response to some previous postings, I got some pushback from some readers who thought I was an idiot for coveting my old computers.  So long as they still work, why replace them?  But that being said, eventually they will go in the trash - the Weibull curve cannot be denied.

When I was younger, I fell into the mythology that you could keep any piece of equipment forever, such as a car, for example.  If you "properly maintained it" and took care of it, there was no reason a car can't last forever! Well, except that over time, you'll spend more money fixing an older car than it is worth.  And cars have gotten better over time.  My cousin had a 1972 BMW 2002tii and I thought that was a pretty cool car.  I was shocked when he sold it and bought a Nissan Maxima back in the 1990s.  As he put it, he liked having working air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control leather seats and all the features more modern cars had at the time.

The 2002 was a fun car to bomb around it (I had a 1974 model) but not fun in heavy traffic on a hot summer day.  It turned into a sweatbox quickly - and the aftermarket A/C left much to be desired.  It's OK to move on, after a while.

But there is a matter of timing.  If you are constantly jumping from one new product to another, it is a sure way to go broke - just as putting new (or even used) tires on an end-of-life vehicle is a waste of money.  A lot of people think nothing of trading in cars or phones or computers every few years, so they can have the "latest and greatest" thing (for status purposes) without ever even familiarizing themselves with the product they traded in.  I know more than one person who realized their car had some cool feature only on the way to the dealer to hand over the keys.

The good news is, a lot of technology today does last a lot longer than the "good old days" despite what the old-timers around the cracker-barrel might say.  You can keep a car for well over 100,000 miles these days, without breaking a sweat.  Sounds pretty benign, but back in the "good old days" most cars went to the junkyard long before that.  And smart phones have reached a plateau in terms of features and functionality - there is little point in upgrading to the "latest and greatest" smart phone, other than to impress people you don't know.

But thank God for those trade-in maniacs - they leave behind nearly-new cars and electronics that can be had for half the price new.  Our truck had 20,000 miles on it and was two years old when we bought it - largely indistinguishable from brand-new.  It has 70K on it now, six years later, and should easily last us another six to ten years, with ordinary care.

We paid $99 for our Galaxy 4 phones and $199 when we upgraded years later to Galaxy 7's.  They still work fine, although a few apps are not supported.  Today, AT&T crashed and my phone will not register.  I think it is either AT&T or my SIM chip, as I tried swapping the SIM chip with two other phones and no joy.  But it may be time, in the not-too-distant future, to look for another used phone on eBay.

Of course, there are things we preserve and "keep forever" but even then, they either are entirely rebuilt, or are mere talismans of the objects they once were.   Many a collector car becomes a "garage queen" that is rarely driven, as driving the vehicle ruins the "value" and moreover, such vehicles end up being pretty delicate as they age, as many parts are no longer available (NLA) and used parts have a limited usable life.  And like my cousin's 2002, well, they just aren't as fun to drive as we thought they were.

So no, I am not advocating the "buy it for life" or "keep it forever" mindset, because things eventually wear out over time - even anvils.  And even if they don't wear out, keeping an anvil when you have no use for one isn't being frugal, it is just plain hoarding.

All that being said, by the time I am ready to replace my old laptops, I probably will be dead or no longer blogging.  Some AI program will have taken my place by then!

Brave new world?  You know, I'm kind of glad I won't live to see it.