Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Ithaca Wedding Invite

Political Correctness doesn't really create real change, and just makes the Left look ridiculous.

The far-right likes to make fun of Ithaca, New York as a bastion of political correctness and left-wing thinking.  And to some extent, they are right.  Folks in Ithaca are well-meaning, but they tend to go to extremes when it comes to political thought.  And as I noted before, sometimes it results in ridiculous outcomes.

For example, I recalled how the local paper published an editorial arguing that wind farms were actually worse for the environment than coal as once the wind stopped blowing twice as much coal would have to be burned.  This was, of course, a nonsensical argument, and it would have helped if the editor had snipped the coal lobbying group logo from the accompanying graphs and illustrations before publishing his article.

One of the more humorous examples of the politically correct thought in Ithaca occurred when we received an invitation to a wedding reception for some friends of ours we knew from Washington.  I don't have a copy of the invitation anymore, so I will try to remember what it said from memory:

Come join us for a celebration of the life and love of Mary and Richard at Lakeside Park in Ithaca, New York!
Our reception will be a potluck supper.  You should bring at least an entree and your own beverages.   Bring your own libation, however please serve it in opaque containers as Steve is going through rehab and doesn't need to be tempted with alcohol.
The reception will, however, be 420-friendly.
Also please note that Nancy is Vegan, so any entree you bring should be vegan compatible.  Consult Nancy if in doubt.

Please bear in mind that Jim is allergic to peanuts and Susan is allergic to chocolate, so both of those are no-no's.
And please, no glutens!  We want this to be a gluten-free reception.
In addition, we want to have an environmentally-friendly, zero-carbon footprint, recyclable wedding reception.  So we ask that you do not bring disposable dinnerware, paper plates, napkins, or any other items they will add to our landfill crisis.  Reusable and washable plates, glasses, pots, and pans are a must, or if necessary they should at least be recyclable.  The Park is carry-in, carry-out, so please bring your own recycling containers!
 Dress is casual, however we request that you wear only natural fibers.  Please, no spandex, that is made by the Koch brothers!
 Henry has a list of foods that are currently subject to boycott.  Please do not embarrass the other guests by bringing anything on the boycott list.  Consult Henry for details.
We plan on having live music and will provide an interpreter for the hearing impaired, although I'm not certain we have any hearing impaired attendees on our invitation list.  If you know someone who is hearing impaired, please invite them - we want to be inclusive and diverse!  Speaking of which, if you know any people of color, please invite them as well, as we need to balance out the guest list.
We hope you appreciate these guidelines in the spirit and which they are given. We want everyone to have a relaxing and enjoyable time without any incidences of microaggression or oppression.

Hope to see you there! RSVP regrets only.
* * * 

Needless to say, we didn't attend the wedding reception.  The list of requirements was so daunting that we nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to conjure up what we could bring with us that would not offend one or more people in attendance.  When we realized that nothing more than a head of lettuce would be acceptable, served on it handmade clay platter we decided to tell them we were out of town that weekend.

Alas, even the head of lettuce was on the boycott list.

It is commendable that people want to be friendly and engaging and accommodating of other people's needs.  However, it can be taken to extremes.  If you are person who has special dietary requirements or allergies or other special needs, you can't expect the entire planet to accommodate your every whim desire or requirement.  To some extent we all have to accommodate to the needs of the majority, rather than expect them to accommodate to us as individuals.

Sadly, this wedding invitation, which I swear to God is largely verbatim (perhaps with one or two embellishments) is typical of the sort of nonsense we saw in Ithaca.  And unfortunately this tends to discredit the Left and provide much ammunition and fodder for the far right to mock and ridicule liberal thinking.

When a simple wedding invitation contains pages of do's and don'ts and approbations as to what a horrible peanut-eating gluten-consuming non-vegan person you are, it has simply gotten out of hand.   We didn't want to go to this reception because we knew that no matter how scrupulously we followed these instructions to the letter, someone would call us out and chastise us for some perceived error, even if it was unintentional.   Who is guilty of micro-aggression then?

It struck us that all of these requirements by a few people in the crowd were, in fact, the real aggression, not that of the remainder who were merely behaving to society's norms.   It's OK to be different and you should be who you want to be.   However, to expect others to alter their behaviors to accommodate you is, past a certain point, ridiculous.

Yes, we shouldn't discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or gender.   No, the rest of us don't have to stop eating peanuts in public because your kid has an allergy.   Nor should we feel guilty of having a hamburger just because you choose to be Vegan.    And if we throw out a paper plate, it is not an assault on your cultural values.   In fact, it likely is less of an impact on the environment than the hot water and soap used in washing your eco-dishes.

But of course, all of that would be lost on the PC crowd in Ithaca.    So the only real choice we had was to not go to the reception, which of course meant that the people who did go were all of the same mind and mindset, and never met, talked to, or had an earnest discussion with anyone whose world-view was different than theirs.

Call me old-fashioned, or merely polite, but when I was raised, if you went to someone's home or party and they served food you didn't like, you merely politely refused to eat it, rather than demand they serve something to your liking.   If you wanted to be Vegetarian or Vegan, this meant you had to make sacrifices in life - and not expect others to make them for you.   If you want to make political statements, you have to make them yourself, and not dragoon your friends into making them for you.

And of course, if you are going to invite people to a wedding reception, usually it is a good idea to have it catered, than to expect your guests to bring their own food.   It is a funny thing, too, as the couple in question certainly had enough money to pay for a reception, even if it was a modest one.

It was the most left-handed invite (in every sense of the word) I have ever received.   You know, I really don't miss Ithaca all that much!

Holocaust Clown Movies

Can you make a movie about clowns and the Holocaust?  How about three of them?

One of the oddest aspects of the 20th century was the production of Holocaust Clown Movies.  They are at least three that I know of, one that went on to become a box office success.  The third was pulled from release and every copy destroyed as it was an embarrassment to its writer, actor, and director, Jerry Lewis.

At first, the Holocaust would seem like an odd topic for a clown movie. But not only has such a movie been made, but has become an actual genre.

Most people will remember the movie Life is Beautiful, which was written by, directed by, and starred Italian comedian Roberto Benigni.  In that movie, Benigni acted the clown in order to alleviate the fears of his young son as the Nazis systematically exterminated Jews in Italy.  To try to protect his son, he tried to convince him that it was all some sort of joke or act going on.

Sounds like an appalling theme for a movie, but it was handled deftly and tastefully and became a major box-office and critical success, as well as winning a number of awards.

Hollywood has a long history of copying films and genres. One studio comes out with a movie called Tornado and another will copy it with a movie called Twister - or maybe the other way around.    So shortly after Life is Beautiful won several Academy Awards, Robin Williams was drafted into a very similar Hollywood production called Jakob the Liar.  Not only did this film attempt to ride the coattails of Life is Beautiful, but itself was a remake of an earlier film (bringing the number of Holocaust Clown movies to at least four - five if you count Adam Resurrected starring Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe).

Again, we have a clown-like character who lies to deceive other people to assuage their fears about the coming Holocaust.  Although set in Poland and not Italy, the plots are very similar in nature.  This movie was not as successful, even though it was very similar to the earlier Life is Beautiful.   Maybe imitation isn't the sincerest form of flattery.

The original Holocaust Clown movie, was even more poorly received.  Jerry Lewis decided to star, direct, and ultimately produce a movie known as The Day the Clown Cried, which has taken on legendary status. Lewis has tried to bury the movie, although some outtakes are available on the internet. The few people who have seen the movie have decried it not only as horribly done but wildly insensitive to Holocaust victims.

While Life is Beautiful and Jakob the Liar have clown-like characters, they are not actual clowns in clown makeup.  And maybe that's where Jerry Lewis went too far, juxtaposing an actual clown into the Holocaust, which provided a jarring disconnect.

Perhaps we'll never know exactly how bad The Day the Clown Cried was, as it seems that Lewis has successfully been able to suppress it.  Apparently it wasn't even well-received in France, where Lewis is revered.

Although Life is Beautiful saw box office success and was critically well received, I doubt there will be many more movies in the Holocaust Clown genre.  As Jerry Lewis' experience has shown, it's a difficult fine line to walk when addressing such serious subject matter with humor.

That hasn't stopped Hollywood from trying, though.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Quality of Mercy is Strange

Should the punishment meted out for a crime be determined by the criminal's ability to rehabilitate?

We often criticize our judiciary for producing uneven sentencing outcomes for similar crimes.  For example, a young black man gets drunk and gets behind the wheel of a car and kills a pedestrian.  He is sentenced to decades in prison.  Meanwhile, a young affluent white suburban teenager gets drunk behind the wheel of a pickup truck and kills several people, but is given probation because of "affluenza."  People are naturally outraged.

Similar crimes, disparate outcomes.  People rightly cry "foul" when such things happen - and they happen with depressing regularity.

But what if  two people commit the exact same crime together?  If they are equally culpable shouldn't they receive the exact same sentence?  Of course, we live in the real world, and in the real world things are not always even-Steven of course.  Often prosecutors will cut a deal with one defendant if he will testify against the other.  Thus, the criminal who rats out his compatriot often ends up with a lighter sentence.

But should the sentence that a criminal receive be based on their ability to rehabilitate themselves? And if so, how would we determine that?

As you have no doubt heard, in a recent case in Colorado, two young men were sentenced to 98 years in jail for a series of armed robberies and kidnappings.   Seems like a long sentence, until you realize that they literally were putting a gun to people's heads and then robbing their stores.   Also, with good behavior and parole, they might be out in far less than 98 years.

In fact, a lot less than 98 years, in one case.   Due to a clerical error, one of them was let out in eight years.   He quietly walked away and started a new life, getting a job and raising a family.   Years pass - well six years, anyway.  His cohort still in prison is now up for parole and the government discovers the clerical error that let the other man out decades early.

What to do?   Under the law, the first man has to go back to jail and serve the rest of his 98-year sentence, which may be the rest of his life, since he took a six-year break.   But many people feel sorry for him as he "rehabilitated" himself and now is an upstanding member of the community.  For six whole years.  So a judge commutes his sentence and lets him go free.

But it gets stranger.  Since he was a Cuban refugee at age 2, he is at risk for deportation, even though he had permanent residence status.  In fact, once he committed armed robbery,  his permanent residency was revoked.   Upon conviction, a final deportation order was entered, and technically, once he was released from prison, he was supposed to go back to Cuba.  (Why he never applied for Citizenship is not stated in the stories). 

Again, people are outraged.   They feel sorry for him because he "turned his life around" and it doesn't seem "fair" to toss him back in jail or send him back to a country he doesn't even remember, just because he robbed some Blockbuster stores at gun point.

It is a fascinating scenario.  The Governor of Colorado has now issued a full pardon to the man, hoping to negate the deportation order.  The new unsympathetic Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency isn't buying it - a final deportation order is a final deportation order.  We'll see how this plays out in the next few weeks or months.

Do I feel sorry for the guy?   Not so much, as he did commit a crime.   The guy I feel sorry for is the guy who had a gun shoved in his face and was told to "open the safe or I blow your fucking brains out, asshole!"    That guy is likely still affected by the event.  

The other person who is getting a raw deal - in comparison - is his cohort in crime who is still in jail and serving his 98-year sentence.   I mean, you have to wonder what he is thinking.   He sits there and rots in jail for nearly two decades for the exact same crime while his friend is out having a good time, getting laid and raising a family.   It doesn't even appear he bothered to visit his co-defendant on visitor's day! 

Two criminals.  The same crime.   One gets all our sympathy, from legislators on both sides of the aisle, the governor, the press, a judge, and the general public.  The other can rot in jail for all we care.   And the difference is...... what?    Would the other guy currently rotting in jail have rehabilitated himself and thus be worthy of our sympathy?   How exactly does this public sympathy thing work, anyway?

I mentioned before that feeling sorry for people is often a dead-end game.   But folks do it all the time, usually in response to carefully orchestrated PR plans to get folks to feel sorry for a certain person, group, or even an entire country or race.   Once a person is anointed with this mantle of "feel sorry for me" they can get a free ticket to ride - and skate away from a host of responsibilities.

What irks me about the "feel sorry" movement is that it produces even more wildly disparate results that our justice system does.   If you have that certain emotional "hook" that the press latches onto and Facebook Freaks will "like" - then you are in.   Of course, you have to be careful, as the same mob that elevates you to victim status can turn on you just as quickly.   If there are any discrepancies in your background story - watch out!  The mob does not like to be deceived or believe they are deceived.

And as you might expect, in the United States of Feel Sorry, more than one person has tried to build a victimhood scenario out of whole cloth.   There are documented instances of people spray-painting racist or homophobic graffiti on their own houses or apartments and then claiming to be victims of bigotry - and starting a gofundme page.    Like I said, the mob does not like to be deceived, and some of these folks went from hero to villain overnight.

I guess the other problem I have with the feel sorry movement is that I know that if I was placed into similar circumstances as this guy in Colorado, no one would feel sorry for me.   I don't know what it is, but some folks have that "feel sorry for me" vibe and others do not.   Maybe if I had a small body and a big head with huge eyes, like Japanese anime characters, I could generate this sympathy - it is an instinctive thing.    All I know is, this "feel sorry for me" system would not work out in my favor.

And that is the problem right there - it is an uneven system, haphazardly applied.   Some benefit, some do not.  It all depends on how sympathetic you appear and how good your PR is.   I can imagine this same story in Colorado being reduced to two paragraphs in News of the Weird, with everyone laughing at this guy as he goes back to prison.    Other prisoners have been released by mistake before - most of them go back to jail without fanfare.   This guy has a better press agent - or at least friends in the media.

So what is the solution?  Well, as in anything, mob rule is probably the worst possible idea.   And just as a mob of people with pitchforks and torches (or in America, a lynching mob) is never a good thing, I am not sure that a mob of people trying to elevate one of our own as a "victim" who should get special treatment is ever a good idea, either.

While it is nice that this fellow appears to have rehabilitated himself and "turned his life around" when given a break, he still is on the hook for his original criminal sentencing - or at least was until the Governor pardoned him.   And if we use this determanitive outcome model of jurisprudence, then what happens if we let this guy go, and down the road he commits another crime or runs over a kid while drunk-driving?   What if it turns out that his squeaky-clean post-prison life was anything but?   Suppose you find out later he was a wife-beater?

All tough questions.   Do you then lose sympathy for him?   Does he get a greater sentence for his newer crimes (no, not after he has been pardoned for the earlier ones).   A lot of people jumping on the "feel sorry for this guy" bandwagon will feel pretty foolish later on if that happens - and elected officials should take note.  These politicians are placing their careers in the hands of a convicted felon, and are dependent on his continued good behavior to stay in office.  Remember Willy Horton.

Sadly, this sort of thing does happen routinely.    And by that I mean both things.   First, we grant leniency for people who "turn their life around" often after living years on the lam after having escaped from prison or having avoided capture in the first place - Roman Polanski notwithstanding.   Second, it has happened before that people elevate on a pedestal some criminal who was "rehabilitated" but later on turned out to be, well, less than rehabbed.   Everyone thought O.J. was innocent, and then he pretty much showed the world his true self.

If by some chance, this guy is let go and his deportation order rescinded (in Trump's America?  Don't count on it!) we have to hope that his six years of rehabilitated life is the model for the rest of his life.   But we'll all feel pretty foolish for jumping on the bandwagon if it turns out he is just a jerk.

And meanwhile, in a prison somewhere in Colorado, his co-defendant is sitting in a cell, grinding his teeth, and wondering why he doesn't generate an ounce of sympathy from anyone.

And frankly, I have the same question.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Indian Troll Farms?

I do get e-mails from readers.  Sadly, I cannot answer them all, as it is physically impossible for me to do so - sorry!

I get a lot of e-mails from readers.  Thanks for reading.  Before, I didn't care, but now that I get paid to bloviate, I appreciate the clicks.  And let me be honest about this - I am just bloviating, and never claimed to do otherwise.  So being "outraged" about what I say is pointless - I never claimed to be an expert, and your outrage put another ten cents into my bank account (no, really, it does).  And if you forward your "outrage" to some discussion group and they all click on my site in outrage, it puts about $10 in my bank account.

What can I say that will outrage you today?  I am glad to be of service - and now you know how "fake news" actually works.   Free education for you, and I get paid to educate you on how the internets really works..

But getting back to topic.  I've received a number of e-mails from countries other than the US of A.  This is interesting to me as I expect that a few idiots from America (and we have a lot - including me!) will read my drivel.   Canadians?  OK, they have half a clue.  Australians?   Kind of a Canadian vibe, but not sure why they hate the gays so much (a little overcompensating for the sheep thing, methinks).  But the subcontinent?  Hard to parse.

By the way, my grandfather, who died before I was born and was apparently a chronic alcoholic, was stationed there during World War II.  A "retread" (from World War I) he was involved somehow in managing the transport of materials from ships docking in Bombay (as we called it then) to be flown "over the hump" or so the family folklore claims.   Most families have such folklore, such as Elizabeth Warren's family claiming they were descendant from Indians.  My family had a similar lore, claiming descent from John Smith and Pocahontas - and I am sure that is not true at all.  But a lot of WASP families do this - claiming Scottish heritage when it is convenient, and Irish on St. Patrick's day.

And the irony is of course, that we are talking about India, the country, and we call our "native Americans" (which is ironic, as I am native to America) "Indians" because Columbus had his head up his ass and committed genocide as well.  It's a fucked-up world.  So now we have two sets of Indians in the world, and we in the West tend to take a piss on both of them, or at least did at one time or another.

Even more fucked-up is that our friends the British, who are oh-so-politically-correct these days, were once the rulers of the world, and their brutal form of government and homophobia made quite an impression on China, India, and most of Africa, as well as the Middle-East, who today are imprisoning and murdering gay men and women as a result of Britian's messed-up political and religious views from the 1800's.  Good old Queen Victoria.  She really needed a good topping is what.   Withholding sex has been the number one way of controlling people since time began.

But I digress.

Anyway, I have gotten some e-mails from anonymous sources in India.   I have little time to respond to people who use their real names much less people who use fake ones.  So sorry if I don't respond, but I literally cannot respond to all e-mails (I would have to stop blogging if I did!) and I don't see the need to respond to someone who hides behind a fake identity.  I mean, you know where I fucking live, right?  I don't even know your name!  Who's the real coward here?

What I find odd, is that someone from such a beautiful and yet messed-up country as India would take me to task about the United States of America.   We all love India here in America, although our government, apparently, is pissed off than India made the pragmatic decision to make nice with their nearby neighbors - namely Russia.  Maybe also after years of British rule, India didn't feel that America - sort of Britain, part deux, was really going to be their friend.  It probably doesn't help that we inexplicable prop up the military of their arch-enemy Pakistan, who at the same time harbors Al Qaeda and ISIS.  Would you trust us under similar circumstances?

So, I get that.  India has to go its own way.   Part of that is providing a service industry to the United States of America, online, in the form of call centers and computer support, as well as fraudulent call centers that steal millions from Americans in phony IRS scams, Microsoft scams, and whatnot.   This latter sort of leaves a bad taste in most American's mouths, as we tend to view "In-Ja" as a source of scam and frauds.

It doesn't help that the news is rife with stories about how India is home to gang-rapes, honor killings (take that, Pakistan!) and spousal abuse.   Hard to get a warm feeling about a country which has so little regard for human life.  The carnage on India's railroads alone makes our roadways look relatively safe.

Yet, Americans still love India and Indian people.  Why?  Well their charming accents are a good start. The fact that Indian men are by and large very handsome and Indian women are very, very beautiful doesn't hurt.   What seals the deal is the cuisine - all of it from every region, and there is so much.  Americans, like their British counterparts, have a romantic view of the subcontinent, a view that is probably at odds with reality.

My advice to India:  Milk this.   Movies like "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and "The Darjeeling Limited" are the best propaganda you have.  We'd all like to visit India, ride (inside) the trains, have the wonderful exotic food, ride a tuk-tuk, and have a spiritual moment.  And maybe a little hashish in Goa, if you know what I mean.   Like I said, it is a fantasy.   Friends of mine who have gone have said it is magical, but have other stories to tell as well.   I hope to go someday before I die.  Everyone should.

But it irks me that someone from India with an anonymous e-mail address feels he has the right to lecture me on the merits of socialism over capitalism.   I mean, when it comes to fucked-up democracies, even with President Trump, we are still a notch or two above India.  While we-all would like to visit India, not many of us want to live there.  Meanwhile a host of very talented and skilled Indian Engineers (and they are some of the best!) are living here on H-8 visas.   More people want to go to America than leave.  Can you say the same for India?

I get it that someone from Sweden could lecture me on the merits of a socialist economy, or that someone from Great Britain (or whatever they are calling themselves these days) can lecture me on the merits of single-payer socialized medicine.   But India?  I mean, no offense, get your shit together before you have the balls to criticize the largest economy for its flaws.

Yes, we have the world's largest military - larger than the next eight combined.   How do you think this happened?  By being socialist?  Hell, no, we make a lot of money, because we have an economy that is unfettered by socialism.   And as a result, we can spend about 3.3% of our GDP and it dwarfs that of China and Russia and six other countries combined because we have a fucking huge GDP.

Yea, sorry about that - being successful and all.   And that is exactly why the rest of the world wants to tear us down.   It is not like the USA wants to be "world police" but it is a job we were dragooned into after two world wars and the collapse of the British Empire.   We became world leader by default - sorry again about that.  And frankly, it is a job that most Americans wished we didn't have to do.  The penchant for isolationism in this country is very strong and long-felt.  We had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into World War I and World War II, and not many people in America today feel really keen about our decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And yet, if we turned isolationist - as many on the Left and Right both want to do - the rest of the world would then pile on about how we are not living up to our responsibilities as a "world power".   You can see that being #1 is a lose-lose situation.   Sometimes, I think a lot of people in the United States would love it if China, or Russia, or even India, became the next dominate superpower, so we could sit on the sidelines and make snide comments and take pot-shots.   Because, let's face it, that's a whole lot more fun to do!

But if China, Russia, or India are to become the predominate world superpowers, they are not going to achieve this with their current forms of government or current economic models.  What drives America to be predominate over the rest of the world is the freedom we have here to become fabulously wealthy, as unfair as it is.  This in turn drives our industry and business.  And it creates a population who, by and large, is committed to the system we have.   And that right there is why Russian Troll Farms - and now Indian Troll Farms want to tear us down by promoting socialistic and communist ideals such as doubling the minimum wage, forgiving student loan debt, guaranteed minimum income, and socialized medicine. 

They have largely succeeded in Europe already, which has turned many European countries inward-looking.   No longer the home of big ideas and big goals, it seems that to many in Europe, the main issue these days is how to best treat their bums - and by that, I don't mean their derriere's.    When government devolves into how to best slice up the pie, government fails, as the pie will get smaller and smaller when people merely wait for their piece of it, rather than make their own.

India is a powerhouse economy waiting to be unleashed.  I have said this all along - that the US auto industry has had a respite from its troubles, but as soon as Chinese and Indian-made cars arrive on our soil, we will be right back where we started, with major US car companies going bankrupt - first Fiat-Chrysler, perhaps next Ford.   And already Chinese and Indian-made cars are being imported by the big-3, just as the big-3 first imported Japanese and later Korean cars and re-badged them.

But long-term, creating a robust economy requires that a system be in place that not only allows people the opportunity to succeed, but punishes those who fail or who choose not to make the effort.   The carrot of wealth is only half of the motivation, the stick of poverty is the other half.

As harsh as that sounds, though, people still flock to this country to find work or to settle down and raise a family.   As "unfair" as Capitalism is, it still remains better than other systems tried in other countries.  And the evidence is in the huge number of people immigrating to this country, and the very few migrating away.

So, no sale.  Socialism and Communism sucks.  And if anything is keeping India back, it is the idea that these tired old policies are workable solutions.   Even China seems to have figured that out!

Another Day, Another Airline Outrage Story!

What has the world come to when a man can't get drunk, open an emergency exit at the airport, get on an airplane, mumble incoherently and then try to charge the flight deck?  Airlines are assholes, man!

Another day, another airline outrage story.   People have chastised me for not "seeing the light" and feeling sorry for some guy who refused to get off a plane when asked to and was dragged off and injured himself and made a big issue of it - and of course sued the airline and got a ton of money.   And he was a stand-up guy, too, apparently a "doctor" who was only slightly disbarred for trading sex for prescription drugs in motel rooms.  I mean, come on, we've all done that at one time in our lives, right?

This latest outrage involves a man from Turkey, who apparently was pretty wasted when he opened an emergency exit at the airport in LA that lead out to the tarmac.   He got away with that, perhaps because TSA is now sensitive to accusations of abuse and profiling.  Hey a Muslim guy from Turkey, trying to get out onto the tarmac?  Let's not profile here, right?

So they let him on the plane, and he goes back to the lav and leaves a laptop on someone else's seat.   Now, if you even glanced at the papers these days, you know that laptops are now paranoia level seven with the TSA.  But no worries, they give it back to him as he goes up to first class and tries to cadge a seat there - near the cockpit - before he is escorted back to row 35.

Did I mention he looks as disheveled as Steve Bannon (now there's a guy who should be on the no-fly list!)?

So anyway, during the flight, he tries to rush the cockpit, and a nervous stewardess - excuse me, flight attendant blocks the aisle with a drink cart and passengers subdue him and duct tape him to the seat!

The outrage!  Treating someone like that!   How cruel and unusual!  All he did was disregard the instructions of cabin attendants, and as we all know after the United incident, we don't have to pay attention to those sky-waitresses anymore.  Fuck 'em!  I paid for a ticket, I can do what I want!

What is odd is the lack of outrage over this latest incident.   People are all up in arms about one scenario but not another.   But I fail to see the difference between the two.  Both people were acting irrationally and oddly, who refused to obey the orders of the cabin crew.   Both deserve what they got.

But the general public are idiots.  They see "outrage" on Facebook and rush to judgement, without considering the consequences of taking sides until both sides are known.  And in both cases, we have people who were behaving oddly and should have been removed from the flights just on that basis.   But instead, we project all of our frustration and pain in dealing with airlines onto a situation and give the guy a pass - at least in the first scenario.

In the second scenario, the cabin crew are heroes, because we are all paranoid about terrorism and Muslims - even so-called liberals who secretly harbor fears of Islam.   And you know what?  The cabin crews in both scenarios had difficult jobs to do, and it doesn't help when people behave badly on airplanes.

I have no truck with the airlines.  I have a BIG problem with the traveling public, who act as if their $99 ticket entitles them to own the airplane, or at least the luggage space over my head.   Flying today isn't fun, to be sure, but the general public makes it less fun.  And by taking sides in these silly incidents, we aren't helping matters any.  We are encouraging and promoting bad behavior.   Hey, start an incident on an airplane and you might win litigation lottery!

We already have seen this - a guy who is a "YouTube Prankster" starts shouting in Arabic on a plane and then makes a big fuss when he is thrown off the plane.   No one felt sorry for him - although he clearly tried to make this into a "religious discrimination" incident.

What is the solution to all of this?   Here is my proposal.   From now on, the FAA should mandate that at least one random passenger is thrown off the plane before each flight.   No reason need be given, other than you don't own the plane and get the fuck off.   Every airline should do this, so people can't use the lame argument, "I'll show you, I'll fly the other airline" (because there are basically only two now anyway).

This policy will drive home the fact that it ain't your fucking plane, and your "rights" end the minute you walk down the jetway.   Yes, your rights - all of them.  Free speech, right to bear arms, search and seizure, etc.  You get on someone else's plane, you are fucking cargo and should be treated as such.   Shut the fuck up, sit the fuck down, eat your fucking peanuts, and God willing, we'll get you to Tulsa in about 2 hours.  And if not, too fucking bad.  Read the contract of carriage - it is a "best efforts" contract.

No more of this shit about dead rabbits or whatever.  Here's a fucking clue: pets die on airplanes all the time.   When you ship your pet by air, you take a risk the cargo compartment may depressurize, be unheated, or whatever.   Pets die all the time, but we get all weepy about one rabbit because it happens right after an event popularized on Facebook.

Fuck Facebook and fuck people on Facebook.  These are the same morons who gave us President Trump and now want to protest President Trump.  They get all up in arms over incidents without bothering even a moment to reflect, and they forward crap and start the pitchfork and torch parade without even thinking where it is going.   Facebook people are the scared ninnies that gave us fake news.   These are the people bringing down civilization.

In the meantime, I am starting a "go fund me" page for this Turkish dude so he can sue the airlines, as he rightly should.  After all, we know that everyone from Turkey is peaceful and loving, from the President, right on down to his security detail!  How dare they profile!

Low Risk, Low Return is Sometimes a Good Thing!

Investing in high-yield investments is fine and all, so long as they generate high yields and not high losses.

A reader writes that I am too conservative in my investments.   This statement is right and wrong.  I try to diversify my investments so that any one thing won't bankrupt me.   So about one third of my portfolio is in real estate, maybe one third in stocks and mutual funds, and one third in life insurance, government and corporate bonds, CDs, money market accounts and even cash (in the bank).

As I get older, I transfer more and more into safer harbors.  Less stocks and speculative investment which can have high yields, and more into low-yield safer investments.

Why is this?  There are two reasons.  First, making 10% a year and beating the market is fine and all, and if you can do this for a number of years on end, you can make a lot of money.   But at my age, where I am already spending the money in my retirement, there is little "gain" to be had, as the number of years I have left to invest decreases every year.

Second - and this is the more important part - is that I cannot afford to lose a lot and start over at this point.  If I invested in some risky venture at age 30, and lost $100,000, I could recover from this over time by cutting expenses, working harder, and making more money and hoping other investments will make up the difference over time.

But at age 60, your time horizon is a lot shorter, so you can't afford that risk.

It is odd, but a lot of people fail to see this.  They look at a set of investments and say, "Well, why not take the one that has the best rate of return?   This stock or bond has a higher rate or return!  Why would anyone take the lower rate of return investment?  That's just dumb!"

And I have to stop myself from thinking that way sometimes myself.  It is all too easy to get greedy and think, "Gee, this bond has a 240% rate of return, what could possibly go wrong?"

Then you pull back and think about it and realize that the huge rate of return is due to the fact that other people who are likely smarter than you and me looked at this and said, "this looks to be a sure loser!"

And in some cases they are wrong, but in most cases they are right.   High-risk investments can have high yields, but they also can wipe out your entire investment.   A CD might not pay much interest, but at least you know you'll have your investment back at the end of the deal, rather than nothing at all.

It is tempting to invest in "junk bonds" and things of that nature - as people did in the 1980's when interest rates were high.  Many people ended up getting wiped out as a result, when the junk bond market tanked.   For some reason, the term "junk bond" was not enough to deter them from buying these things.   I mean, how far do you have to go to point out the folly in this?  Call them "give me all your money you ain't getting it back" bonds?

The amount of risk you are willing to take depends on your life station and situation.   Professional investors take huge risks - with other people's money.  And today, we are seeing the downside to this model, as one hedge fund after another closes - unable to even beat a simple index fund.

For the small investor,  the equation is much simpler - we don't have much to lose, but we can't afford to lose much.  The bitter angry people in America are often the same folks who thought they would make it big in real estate, gold, or IPO stocks.   They took huge foolish risks and now want a government bailout. 

It likely won't happen. 

Diversify, diversify, diversify! 

Friday, May 19, 2017

People Who Went Crazy: Michael Crichton, Scott Adams, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

What makes some people just go off their rocker?

Sometimes it is disheartening to learn that your heroes have feet made of clay.   You read someone's book or cartoon, or follow their political career, and later on find out they are basically bat-shit crazy and you wonder what the hell happened.   Well, humanity happened is what, and people are fallible and prone to, well craziness.   In fact, crazy is the new norm these days, and a lot of people are trying it out.   I don't suggest you try it.

Michael Crichton, you may recall, made quite a splash with his novel about alien life run amok, Andromeda Strain, which was made into a pretty decent movie.   He repeated the play with a number of novels which started to sound suspiciously alike.   In every novel, there is some sort of super computer that everyone has placed all their faith in, and of course it goes "haywire" and tries to kill everyone.   The hero unplugs the computer at the last second and saves the day.  It is a great premise for a novel, maybe two or three, but like Clive Cussler or even Ian Fleming, they start to get repetitive after a while.  I mean, you know what is going to happen next, but you keep reading anyway.

But Crichton let loose his crazy side with one of his later novels, State of Fear, which set forth the argument that global warming was a hoax put forth by a cabal of scientists in some weird conspiracy.  I guess they were going to put the planet into a panic just so they could get more research grants.  Makes a lot of sense if you think about it - and are paranoid schizophrenic.   I am not sure where a haywire computer fits into the picture, but you can bet there is one, or it ain't a Crichton novel!

Not content with that, Crichton went on the offensive, giving lectures to "prove" global warming was a hoax.   One of his arguments was that belief in extraterrestrials was behind the global warming "hoax" - as science has degraded into pseudo-science over the years:
"My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming."
He goes on to argue that SETI - the search for extra-terrestrial intelligent life, is an example of such pseudo-science, putting  wild theories that cannot be proved or disproved in place of real science.   It is an interesting argument but a false analogy.

Regardless of whether you think SETI is "science" or not, the whole point of the Scientific Method is to produce a theory and then run experiments and collect data to either prove or disprove the theory.  You then modify the theory to fit the data and run experiments again.   This is the foundation of all science and engineering.

In Engineering we build mathematical models to describe the operation of everything from a semiconductor transistor to a bridge beam.  We can design bridges and build them and know they will hold up to a certain weight load, without having to first build a bridge and test it to failure, as our models for bridge beams are pretty exact.   When they are not - well, we learn painful lessons from that and re-work our models.  That is how science works, period and it really cannot work any other way.  You cannot design a bridge based on faith, for example.

People who believe in UFOs or aliens hidden in Area 51 are not "scientists" or even "UFO Researchers" as they are often called in the fake news press.  They are just people making shit up and passing the same old tired stories among one another and then conjecturing what blurry photographs or "eyewitness accounts" from drunk people really mean.   This is NOT Science.  It cannot be tested or verified, because every piece of evidence that contradicts their theories is simply disregarded or ignored.

The irony here is that Crichton is using pseudo-Science to discredit Science, while at the same time claiming that Science is guilty of being pseudo-Science.

I have worked with a number of scientists who are studying global warming as well as other affects on our atmosphere from various pollutants.   They don't sit around and tweet or text or facebook rumors or wild-assed theories about global warming and then debate which one sounds the best.   Rather, they have been painstakingly taking measurements - the Scientific Method - using satellites, ground stations, air sampling via aircraft, and a whole host of other techniques - to measure how the Earth's atmosphere is behaving.  They have girded the globe with a network of sensors and computers than monitor the atmosphere and collect hard data.  And they do this not to prove global warming exists but because they are charged with the job of studying the Earth's atmosphere as well as oceans.  Hence the term, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - that is their job.

In other words, global warming wasn't some cockeyed idea that someone just came up with, like the "Aliens in Area 51" conspiracy theory.   Rather, it was driven by the data, from the bottom up.   You see global temperatures rising, and CO2 emissions rising, and you start to think maybe something is up.   And one theory is that maybe our emissions of so much stored carbon in a short period of time might have something to do with this.   You go back to work, collect more data, and prove or disprove the theory - it is an ongoing thing.  The Scientific Method is never finished.

Crichton's approach, however, is nothing more than a conspiracy theory.  Global warming is a hoax because it just is, and maybe there are other explanations for the data we are seeing.   But Crichton isn't studying the data, coming up with theories, then running tests and then confirming or modifying the theories.  He - and all the other global warming hoax people - just sit in an armchair like the Alien conspiracy theory people, and pick at the edges of the data and argue, "Well, I found one inconsistency, the whole thing must be hooey!"

So it is wholly ironic to me that Crichton uses the idea of belief in extraterrestrials to argue that it paved the way for the "global warming hoax" when in fact, that sort of belief system is more akin to what the global warming deniers are doing - namely practicing pseudo-science to debunk the theory.  

But what about all the real scientists who are evaluating the data, running experiments of their own and proving global warming doesn't exist?   Well, that's the problem.  There really aren't any - just conspiracy-theory nut-jobs and politicians in the pockets of polluters who, like Crichton, just argue that science is some sort of conspiracy, without doing any real "science" to back up their claims.

In retrospect, we should have seen this coming from Crichton.   If you look at Andromeda Strain or indeed any of his books, technology is always the bad guy and governments are either corrupt or inept and playing with forces far beyond their control.   In the end, the computers, the scientists, and the government officials all get their comeuppance, with the hero saving the day by dismantling their evil technology and schemes.   These are novels that play right into the post-apocalypse libertarian narrative that is so popular in Sci Fi today.

You know what?  Michal Crichton was batshit crazy.  Fuck Michael Crichton.

But what is the deal with Scott Adams?  The author of the Dilbert cartoons at first would seem like a rational guy, an Engineer - one of us - who wryly pointed out the foibles of the tech world.  But if you dig into his past, he isn't even an Engineer, really, but rather someone who sort of fell bass-ackwards into the programming world, sort of at its periphery, early on in the game.  In other words, he is the donut-eating slacker IT guy who loads a virus into the company network while downloading Russian porn.

But his cartoons were funny - for a while.  The problem with the Dilbert series is that they are depressing after a while, and when you see some young coder or Engineer with Dilbert cartoons posted on the wall of his cubicle, you know you are dealing with a depressed person who will be unemployed shortly.

In the Dilbert world, everything is awful, vile, venal, and corrupt.  Management is clueless, fellow employees are duplicitous and lazy.  Everyone is out for himself it seems, except poor Dilbert.  But then again, in later strips, he too, apparently gives up and just tries to do as little as possible and still collect a paycheck.

But somewhere along the way, Adams snapped.   Or maybe he was always that way?  In his blog he professes bizarre opinions (OK, so do I, but I'm not a famous cartoonist!) and sounds rather paranoid.  He endorsed Trump for President, surprising many, as Trump would appear to be the model of the "pointy-haired" inept manager that Adams lampooned in his strip.

Well, OK, he's a closet conservative.  Nothing wrong with having a political opinion just because I don't agree with it.  And if that was all there was to it, I would let it lie.   But then he started posting bizarre shit about how he was endorsing Hillary, but then later retracted this, claiming that he only did it because people would be out to get him, if he "came out" for Trump.
“So I’ve decided to endorse Hillary Clinton for president, for my personal safety,” Adams adds, arguing that if Trump is in danger from the supposedly murderous Clinton crew, then so is anyone that doesn’t support Clinton.
Freaking bizarre.   And just a trifle narcissistic.  Just a wee bit!  He's so fucking important that the "Clinton Death Squads" will knock-off a third-rate cartoonist, just to be on the safe side.

I was sad to hear about this sort of stuff, as I liked the old Dilbert cartoons back in the 1990's when I was going to out to Silicon Valley on a regular basis.  Maybe there should be a law that cartoonists need to retire their creations after X number of years.  Bill Watterson had the right idea - and was a class act.  It didn't hurt that he had a Patent Attorney as a main character in his strip!  Perpetual cartoons are a bad, bad idea - and I'm looking at you, Peanuts, Blondie, and all these other comic strips that have been around for 30 years or more.

 OK, a writer and a cartoonist - arty types who are not well-connected with reality.   You'd expect them to be a little unhinged, right?   Well, what about the scion of the nation's premier political family - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.?

Well, apparently he too, has gone batshit crazy, or perhaps was always so.  And sadly, his antics are enough to turn the most ardent Democrat into a Kennedy-hater.  He joined the Riverkeeper organization, and apparently pissed a lot of people off, with a large number resigning in protest.  The organization is in decline, and when he resigned this month to apparently take up a position in Trump's anti-vax committee, the founder of the Riverkeeper organization said "good riddance!" as Kennedy was apparently claiming to be a "founder" of the organization and taking credit for the work of others.  Hmmm.... sounds familiar.

Oh, right, drugs.   Kennedy was a heroin addict and busted for possession.  Whether he still is or not we'll never know.   His life is sort of the antithesis of his Father and Uncle's lives, which were devoted to public service.  RFK, Jr. seems devoted to himself.  What a sad ending to the Kennedy legacy!  Not only do we have RFK, Jr. but nephews and cousins accused of everything from date-rape to beating a girl to death with a golf club.   Even John-John was a fuckup, flying into a dark night sky without any IFR training or certificate.

It sort of is depressing.   And maybe that's one reason public people should keep their private lives, private.   Not long ago in this country, people had private lives, and journalists didn't pop out of the bushes to shove microphones in people's faces and paparazzi didn't snap photos of you skinny-dipping in your own pool.   And if you had an affair - even if you were President of the United States, the press pool considered that sort of stuff tawdry and off-limits.   Your public persona and actions were what counted, not your private foibles.

Today, we have celebrity journalism, and we have Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger.   Everyone knows what everyone else is thinking and doing, and it isn't pretty.   Maybe this is more "honest" than our society in the past, where people lived closeted lives.   But on the other hand, maybe we lost something as well - the ability to do great things and not be judged by what we said or did in private.

If you want to be a politician or public person today, it is best not to have an opinion on anything or at least not express anything that hasn't been vetted by your advisors and lawyers first.  You had better not have a sex life at all, much less a kinky one.  And it goes without saying that you shouldn't even have a drink, much less ever touch drugs.

The sorts of people we are grooming for government and public life would be limited to Mormons and Nazis, and perhaps vegetarians.  Sometimes it is best not to know the back story on celebrities, politicians, and other famous people.   All I can say is, Scott Adams really destroyed Dilbert for me - I can't ever look at his cartoons again without looking for some hidden right-wing agenda.   Michael Crichton ruined his novels with State of Fear.  I can never read one of his books or watch a movie without thinking of his far-out right-wing views.

And RFK, Jr.?   Well, he pretty much wrecked the legacy of his family for all of history.   No small thing, really, when you think about it.   But then again, not unexpected - heirs often dissipate the wealth of their ancestors rather rapidly.  And little Bobby has done a bang-up job of that!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Failed Promise of LEDs & The Bright Future of LEDs

The big problem with implementing LED technology is that we are still at a stage where we are replacing "bulbs" with LED lighting, and it doesn't work very well.

When my Swiss ancestors came to America, they went to work for the Steinway family on their Long Island estate.  So the story goes, my Great-Grandfather was the gardener, and my Great-Grandmother the upstairs maid.  They met and married and moved to Little Silver, New Jersey, bought 100 acres of farmland, built a mansard-roofed house and settled down.  The Steinways gave them a piano as a wedding gift.  How nice.

The house was originally plumbed for gas lamps.  And when I say Great-Grandfather built the house, I mean he built it, by hand.  So all those gas lines he ran by himself, not hiring someone to run them for him.

But the gaslight era was drawing to a close, and soon electricity came into the fore.  He converted the gas light fixtures to electrical ones by running the wires through the old gas pipes, which was easier than trying to snake them through existing walls.   Old fixtures were "updated" as electric ones, with mixed results.   But the job was done and they were electrified.

The same thing is happening today as we switch from incandescent bulbs to LEDs, with a brief detour through CFLs.   The problem today was the same problem for my Great-Grandfather - we are converting existing lighting systems to a new technology that does not lend itself well to old configurations.

The "light bulb" produces a bright light from a single point source.  Perhaps this is a throwback to the gas lamp flame or the flame of kerosene or whale-oil lanterns, and before that, candles.   LEDs, individually, produce little light, so to create a "light bulb" effect, you have to gang several together into a small housing, along with driver electronics.   Yes, even the voltage and current types used for incandescents are really useless for LEDs which usually run on DC power.  Sometimes the heat from concentrating several such LEDs into a bulb housing can cause the electronics to fail.  Some "bulbs" cannot be put into enclosed fixtures, or they overheat.

So we are trying to force a square peg into a round hole here.  Instead of using the LED to its best natural advantage, we are trying to make it into a "light bulb" doppelgänger with very mixed results.

Some new types of LED lighting abandon the pretense of the "light bulb" entirely and take advantage of the inherent characteristics of LEDs.  Strips of LEDs can be bought inexpensively and literally stuck up with adhesive and run with a 12V DC power supply.  They can be made to change color, or you can adjust color - even with an RF remote control.  Since they are spread out, what little heat is generated dissipates.   And you can create entirely new kinds of indirect lighting effects.   No longer are we chained to the tyranny of the "bulb" and the "lampshade".  We can make light come from anywhere.

In one of our condos in Florida, we had crown molding installed in the bedroom.  We had the installer lower the molding by about 2" so it was 2" below the ceiling.  We installed rope lighting in the V-shaped channel behind the crown molding.  The result was an eerie and soothing indirect lighting as the light from the rope lighting illuminated the ceiling, which in turn indirectly lit the room.   We did a similar thing on our screen porches, installing LED rope lighting behind a plastic channel used on the wainscoting.  It illuminates indirectly and creates a warm low-key glow.

THIS is where LED lighting can really shine (sorry!) in the future - by creating new types of lighting that are more indirect and less point-sourced.   The "lamp fixture" or "floor lamp" may go by the wayside in favor of whole-room lighting - entire ceilings that are studded with LEDS and light in an even manner and provide a shadow-less lighting effect.

But in order to do this, we first have to let go of the past and put the "lamp" to rest.   I think the next generation won't even know what a "light bulb" is and look at "lamps" as some sort of weird curiosity you find in an antique shop.   Lighting will be different and take advantage of the inherent features of LEDs.

For example, even if you had a "lamp" with concentrated lighting, it likely would not have a "bulb" but LEDs hard-wired in place, as there would be no reason to replace the LEDs, as they can last a decades.   When the LEDs burn out, you throw the lamp away.   The cost of a screw base and socket are just unnecessary expenses.

But to reach this next level of lighting technology, we have to let go of the past and let go of "conversion" bulbs that convert exisiting fixtures to LED technology using ersatz "bulbs" shaped like something hand-blown from yore.  The LED "light bulb" is holding back LED technology, even if it is a bridge to conversion.

Maybe in the future, light bulbs will be artisnal!


Less News is Good News

One problem with the smart phone is that using it can become compulsive.  Checking the "news" apps every day doesn't necessarily make you more well-informed, but rather more anxious and depressed.

If you read nothing but the New York Times OpEd page, you would assume that Donald Trump was going to be impeached next week.  However, this may be a little overstated.   In order to come up with an "obstruction of justice" charge, they would have to prove that President Trump did more than ask Comey to drop the Flynn investigation - he would have to actually obstruct it.   And since we have not heard from Mr. Comey yet, or read his infamous memos, the Left-wing press is getting a little ahead of the story.

I'm not saying there isn't malfeasance here, but it has yet to be proven.  Yet.   Also, people are not "doing the math" on this and figuring out that a Republican Congress might not be willing to impeach a Republican President.   You'd have to win the mid-terms first and then have a Democratic Congress go at him.

But maybe the GOP wants Donald gone, too.   Why?   Vice-President Pence.   The far-Left is whining about Trump and wringing their hands, shouting at town hall meetings, and writing letters to the editor and op-ed pieces.   Any day now, this will bring down the administration!   Talk about delusional.

But the Left hasn't done the math on this, either.   Who takes over when Trump is gone?   A homophobic right-to-life right-wing nutjub from Indiana.   If you thought Trump was bad, Pence will be far, far worse.   This guy will be able to align the far-right in Congress and steamroll through drastic legislation that Trump has had trouble enacting.

The Donald is at least a populist in name only - and a former Democrat and Pro-Choice guy.   He claims to be friends to the gays.   Maybe these are thin credentials, but they are better than Pence's.   Of course, there is the crazy part and the tweeting and whatnot.   But if you look at what Trump has actually accomplished, other than turning ICE into the most asshole of law enforcement agencies and appointing a Supreme Court Justice, he has accomplished nothing.   

NAFTA is still intact.  NATO is still intact.  Even the Iran nuclear deal has been extended.   The guy is like a crazier version of Hillary.

But that's not the point.  The point is, whether Trump is impeached (a long-shot until the mid-term elections, at the very least) or not, it will happen without my intervention.  I don't need to read the news and get depressed.  I don't need to go to a town hall meeting and scream at people and make an ass of myself.  This shit happens without our input.

Oh, right, you think your opinion counts.   Well, it did, last November.  How many of these people wearing pussy hats, screaming at town hall meetings or being ejected from Senate hearings actually voted for Jill Stein?  I suspect a whole helluva lot.   And I suspect these are the same people who let  The Bernie Sanders Show run into syndication - tearing the Hillary campaign to pieces while Trump sat on the sidelines and ate it all up.

Your personal opinions mean nothing.  Polls are fine and all, but Trump doesn't give a shit about them - he makes up his own.   And most GOP districts are so gerrymandered as to be bulletproof.  You can say such-and-such politician is "unpopular" but he likely will be re-elected anyway - unless you do something other than scream at him (which only makes him look like the rational guy in the room).

What we need is less Bernie Sanders, less pussy hats, less screaming and protesting, and more moderate centrist Democratic candidates who actually could win some swing districts.   That is, if you want to change things from the way they are and are not content with the status quo (the latter being a shrinking demographic to be sure!).

Sadly, the Democratic Party, like the GOP before it, when it lost the White House, has lost its collective mind and seriously thinks that more radical politics is what we need.  Socialize medicine! double the minimum wage!  Pay everyone a "guaranteed minimum income!"  You  may think some of these ideas are sound - I have demonstrated that most of them are not.  The  point is, the vast majority of Americans don't agree with far-left politics, no matter how "bad" things are now.  And so far, they aren't so bad.

So far.

Convert Your Garage to a Bedroom? Probably Not!

Should you convert your garage to living space?  Probably not.

Converting a garage into living space often can detract from the value of the home.   A lot of people do this and yet don't really need the space.   Why bother spending money to convert a perfectly good garage into a bedroom, living room, or dining room, when you already have rooms you don't use?

It is tempting to covert a garage into living space, and I have to say, as a disclaimer, that I did it once, myself.  Our house in New York had a garage in the basement, which was made redundant by the previous owner adding a 2-1/2 car garage (really with room for four cars!) to the side of the house.   We didn't really need a 5th parking space, so we converted the garage into a bar.

Did we need the space?  No.   Did it "add value" to the home?  No again.  Did it cost money?  Yes.  Did it look like a garage that was converted to living space?  Yes, most do, which is part of the problem.

It is hard to convert a garage to living space without people immediately thinking, "Oh, I'm in the garage now" because of the nature of garages and their architecture.   Also, people tend to "go cheap" on conversions and thus make the conversion painfully apparent.

To begin with, there are levels.  Due to codes, most garages step down from the main level of the house, so right off the bat, you realize you are in a garage, because of the stepdown.   Fixing this isn't cheap - you'd have to frame up a new floor or pour a lot of concrete.   It is a lot cheaper to just lay down carpet over the concrete and live with the stepdown.

The other problem is the "phantom driveway" which occurs when people leave the existing driveway intact - going right up to the wall of the house which is now a picture window or bay window (a common choice) and letting everyone know the "room" was clearly a former garage.  It costs money to jackhammer up a driveway - or at least the last 3-4 feet between the former garage and the driveway.  And maybe one reason people do this is they harbor ideas of converting back to a garage later on the future.

(Some folks think they are clever and put a brick or stone planter in front of the old garage, thinking this will hide the phantom driveway.  It does not, but rather draws attention to it).

This is exacerbated when the brickwork or siding clearly outlines where the garage door was.   Again, it is more expensive to re-brick the entire wall or match the siding to the new windows or openings.  It is a lot cheaper to just install sliding doors or some other window feature to fit the opening (more or less) making the conversion more painfully obvious.

The main problem, of course, is that unless you build a new garage, you have no garage on your house, and often garages add value to a house - more value than the new "playroom"or "den" or "home theater room" that is now where your garage was.

Garages are useful because they make your car last longer.  The are also good places to store things, have a workshop, keep the garbage cans, the litter box, or whatever.   They can also be a laundry room, as is the case in our house.  Once you remove your garage and replace it with living space, you lose this useful feature of your home.  Your cars sit outside, getting acid-rained on and stained with leaves and pollen - and baked by the sun.   Your house looks less attractive as it now looks like a used car lot.   And now you have no place to store your bicycles, kayak, tools, and camping gear.

And the space you gain - did you really need it?   That is the big question.   Some friends of mine bought a house with a garage converted to a "playroom."  A new garage was built out back, but since you have to drive on the lawn to use it, they rarely put their cars back there.   But they do use it for other garage-y purposes.

He decided to use the converted garage space as an office.   But since it was adjacent the kitchen, it was quite noisy when the grandkids or guests visited.   It was kind of a useless space, not really used for much of anything, but a junk collector.   He decided to move his office to a guest bedroom, which they have three of.   Was the garage conversion really necessary?   Did it improve the value of the home?   Did it result it real usable living space?    The answer to all three questions was "probably not."

If you have a garage and are thinking about converting it to living space, think hard about it first.  It will cost you money and not add value to the house, but likely detract.   Are there other rooms in the house you are not using that might provide that same space you "need"?   And do you really need the space?    There are a lot of houses here on the island that are three or four-bedroom houses with only two people living in them.   Yet people board up their garages, convinced they need the "space" for one reason or another, when two or three bedrooms sit empty, collecting dust.

Just something to think about before you get out that credit card to "improve" your home!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Walmart versus Amazon - Advantage WalMart? Perhaps!

The advantage WalMart has over Amazon is that there is a WalMart in every town.  This could make a big difference in terms of customer service.

I have ordered a lot of things on Amazon lately.  A new water heater for my camper.   A set of tires for my truck.   Hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of things over the last year or so, that cost far less on Amazon than at the local stores.  They are good bargains, and for the most part, the process is painless.

There have been glitches.  I ordered something online once and received a toilet instead.  The item arrived the next day, but I was curious as to why they shipped me a toilet.  I called and told them and they told me to keep the toilet.  But it was the base only, with no tank, so I had to use for it.  I sold it at a garage sale for $5.

There are chinks in the armor - and no that is not racist anymore than the word niggardly is.   Grow up.

Yesterday I received an order - actually two orders.  I had ordered some LED bulbs to replace incandescents, as they old-style bulbs get hot and also burn out over time.  LEDs save energy, if you can get ones that don't look like florescents.  A week later, I ordered some drip irrigation items.  Amazon waited a week to fill both orders, combined them, added some LED bulbs I do not recall ordering, and forgot to include an RCA video cable I ordered for a portable DVD player I have in the camper.

More chinks in the armor.  My order sat for seven days and then they combined it with my second order, put stuff in I didn't order and forgot stuff I did.   On their online "help" section there is no "help" other than to call them and tell your life story to someone who can't help you, get transferred to India and then tell your life story again, and then have a return authorization made and then manually re-order the missing cable with a promise that the shipping charge will be refunded.  We'll see how that works out!  I am guessing the shipping charge won't be refunded and Amazon will rely on the wear you down technique to get me to eat shit and grin about it.

More chinks in the armor.

But as I noted in an earlier posting, WalMart is hot on their heels and has a website just like Amazon's but with the option of direct shipping to the store - with an associated discount.   WalMart is thriving while Sears and other retailers are failing because WalMart has a grocery store and thus there is a compelling reason to visit this "brick and mortar" store on a weekly basis.  Some folks make an outing of it - Dad gets new tires, Mom has her hair done, the kids get new glasses, they all sign up for Obamacare, get their taxes done, eat lunch at McDonald's and buy new clothes for school, as well as load up on groceries and that new big-screen TV Dad wanted (as well as a new shotgun).

Who says the mall is dead?  It was just renamed "WalMart" and doesn't have a fountain.

I bought the truck tires from Amazon because I felt they had a higher trust factor.  After two messed-up orders, the trust factor is eroding.   Combining two separate orders smacks of cost-cutting, and since Amazon isn't making much money, I suspect that is the reason behind the orders being combined.

Now, with shipping to store and the associated discount, I think I would have ordered the tires from Wal-Mart, if the discount had been offered, as the retail prices were identical down to the penny.  It would have been less hassle, too, not having to schlep the tires to the store from home.

But there is another window of opportunity here for Walmart - customer service.   When my order was shipped wrong, the only recourse was to call Amazon and be transferred to a telephone operator in India.  Walmart has stores in every State and nearly every County.   It might be a selling point to offer customer returns at the store rather than have customers have to schlep things to the UPS hub with return labels and all that nonsense.

Just an idea, Walmart.  I'm a shareholder here, and would like to see you kick a little Amazon butt!

Go for it.

UPDATE:   Ordering online is based on TRUST, and one thing WalMart doesn't try to do to me is trick me into joining Walmart Prime as they don't have such a thing.   Amazon is always trying to trick me into joining "Amazon Prime" by saying it is "free shipping" and when I say no, they say, "you are sure you don't want free shipping?"   But the deal is, you can get free shipping without Amazon Prime, so they are lying a bit here.

And what did I say about entering into any business transaction based on a lie, no matter how trivial it is?  The relationship can only go downhill from there.

Amazon, I think, I will keep at arm's length from now on.   They've shown their colors with their Prime promotions, and I should have taken that as a sign.  That and the toilet.