Friday, December 15, 2017

Them that's got, shall get (God bless the child that's got his own)

Them that's got, shall get
Them that's not, shall lose
So the Bible said, and it still is news
Mama may have, and papa may have
God bless' the child,
That's got his own
That's got his own
Yes the strong seem to get more
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don't
Ever make the grade
As mama may have
And papa may have
God bless' the child
That's got his own
That's got his own.
Billie Holiday said it best - them that's got, shall get.   In the mail today a letter from Capital One.  I have a credit card with them - actually two, one for Mark and one for myself.  It has a low interest rate of 8.15% and no "perks" other than if you travel overseas (or even to Canada) they don't charge a currency conversion fee, unlike Bank of America.
But the pitch today was for a "Money Market 360" account with a paltry 1.3% interest rate (annual yield).  Not very exciting, but if you deposit $10,000 by the end of the year, they will give you a $200 bonus, after 60 days.  No need to maintain a balance after that.   $200 for parking $10,000 for 60 days - that works out to an annualized rate of 12%.  Of course, you can only sign up once for this deal - but hey, I don't plan on using that money for 60 days, so sure, give me $200.  The money was sitting in a non-interest-bearing account anyway.
This is not a bad deal, provided you have $10,000 laying around.   I have $10,000 laying around, now that I am off the money train.
These types of deals are nice and all.  It is like when Merrill Edge offered $600 if I moved some IRA accounts to their platform.   This didn't cost me anything, and in fact, saved me money, as I was paying $9.99 a trade with eTrade at the time - and Merrill has free trades.
If you have money, you can make money.   If you don't have money (which means you need a deal like this more than I do!) then go fuck yourself.  Not only will you not get cash bonuses and preferred interest rates and so forth and so on, odds are you will be socked with banking fees, late fees, bounced check fees, and so forth.
The snowball effect works in both directions.   Once you start saving up money and "own money" and acquire wealth, the best deals in the world are offered to you.   Once you start circling the drain, however, they accelerate the process of your demise in every way imaginable.
And I've been on both ends of this deal, and can tell you it is better to be on the upside.   Once you start missing payments, your credit is shot and you get the worst offers and highest interest rates.   Late fees accumulate, bounced check fees occur.  If you are late on your taxes (payroll, personal, property, whatever) penalties and interest accrue.  If you have a commercial loan, your banker may call it and run you out of business.  Circling the drain sucks.
And for some folks, it is not a matter of choice.  According to a recent CBS article, 1/3 of Americans are delinquent on their debts, and 1/5 have medical debt in collections.  Now in many cases, these folks are not "at fault" for their situation.   In other cases, well, they decided buying a new motorcycle was a better bet than buying health insurance.   Hard to feel sorry for that group - particularly when the rest of us end up paying their medical bills.

But in other situations - such as mine, and maybe yours - my debts were not a result of some unforeseen circumstance or string of bad "luck" but rather just the plain old boring spending more than I made.  I bought a lot of "stuff" that I thought I could afford, and over time, my income went down (thanks to the recession and a general decline in the business).  But the debt load remained the same.

And that is the problem with debt - and something I wish someone explained to me when I was younger.   When you sign papers obligating yourself to a string of debt payments for 5, 10, 20, 30 years or a lifetime, you create this constant drag on your finances that simply will not go away until paid off or you declare bankruptcy.   In the case of student loan debt, even bankruptcy isn't always an option.

It is sad that the system works this way.   If you think about it, in a just world, it would work the other way - the rich would pay the highest rates and the highest fees, while the poor would be offered all sorts of decent bargains.   But alas, the world isn't that way, and probably for very good reasons - we want to encourage thrift and savings and discourage poor financial practices.

But "fair" or not, it is how the world works.   You can rail against it, or work with it.   I found the latter to be far more profitable in the long run.

UPDATE:  I told Mark about this offer, and his reaction was, "Cool, can I do one, too?"  Smart man!

Wishy-Washy Thinking

Companies often destroy excess inventory for very good business reasons.

A recent article in Snopes highlights how some folks are weak thinkers.   The story in question is nothing new.   A young person decries a major store chain for destroying excess clothing inventory when "homeless people are freezing to death!"   Of course, some "homeless" people are less freezing than others, including the guy with no shoes, who has shoes - and an apartment - but begs with no shoes on, because it is good for business.

Like I said, the story is nothing new, as I recall reading a similar story a decade ago about a shoe company that slashed unsold shoes before throwing them in a dumpster.   "Homeless people could have used those shoes!" people cried.   And indeed they could have - by returning them for a full refund and then spending the money on drugs.

And that is the reality of it.   In the case of Eddie Bauer, they offer a lifetime warranty on their clothing.   Now suppose you fish a jacket out of the dumpster behind Eddie Bauer that is in perfect condition.   You've got a free jacket - for life - and you paid nothing for it.   Not only did Eddie Bauer not make any money on this deal, they lost money, as they paid to have the jacket made and shipped to the store, as well as paid for store overhead and employee salaries.

When you throw away "perfectly good" product, be it clothing, shoes, food, or whatever, people end up taking it and often trying to return it for a refund or store credit.   And since stores today have generous refund policies, one could empty a dumpster behind a Shoe-Max or whatever, and then walk into the store (or another branch) and demand a refund or store credit for 100 pairs of shoes.

Now, arguably, maybe there are other ways they could donate these clothes and avoid the return problem.   Removing the labels from the clothes might be one way - cutting of the neck tag and requiring the neck tag to be there for a refund to be given - is one way around it.   And donating clothing might give the company a tax write-off as well as favorable publicity, so it might be better than slashing and throwing in a dumpster.

But getting back to weak thinking, the young lady in the story decries this as an example of "the excesses of capitalism" - which I think was really more of her lament that she couldn't score free dumpster clothing.   But her thinking is flawed and weak in a number of ways.

To begin with, there is no clothing shortage in this country, even among the homeless.  Go to any Salvation Army, Goodwill, or other type of thrift store, and you will see racks and racks of clothing there at prices that are beyond cheap.   I go there all the time - the money they raise is used for charity, so you are doing good by saving money.

Have no money?  Most thrift stores will give you clothing and other things if you ask.   In fact, that is often their mission, to help the homeless, hungry, and whatnot.   As I have noted before, you really have to work at it, in this country, to be unclothed or malnourished.  We have so many programs available to help people.   You would have to intentionally not take advantage of them to starve.   As the "shoeless" man example illustrates, even a "homeless" man can get food stamps, a government stipend, and an apartment to live in.   Begging on the street provides him with extra cash, of course.

The reality of homelessness in America is that those folks living under the bridge and defecating on your lawn are not "poor" but mentally ill and drug addicts or alcoholics,  They don't need money, or shoes, or blankets or designer jackets, they need mental health facilities, drug rehab centers, and someone to manage their lives for them.   Since we choose not to do this for a number of reasons - the costs involved and our ideas about "freedom" (for some, not for the people cleaning up their messes, of course) we end up with homelessness.    Not long ago in this country, we had institutions to help the mentally ill.  Then we decided that cost too much and giving them pills was a better idea.   It did not end well.

The other side of the coin is, in a free country, people are free to do with their possessions as they wish.   If I want to buy 500 containers of cheaply made Chinese clothing and blankets and then put it all in a pile and set it on fire, that is my right to do so, provided I am not violating any environmental laws, of course.   It is a scary road we go down if some college kid gets to decide what people can and cannot do with their personal property - regardless if those people work for a corporation or are disposing of their personal trash.   It is not up to some college kid to judge the rest of us by what we throw away.

If we go down this road, it will only be a matter of time before the dumpster police start checking on what we are throwing away and whether we can or not.   And this is already starting to happen in this country, with recycling laws and deposit laws, and overseas.   In Paris, they passed a well-meaning but ill-informed law that restaurants cannot throw away food.  As a result, if you order a meal in Paris, and don't finish it, they hand the remains to you in a Styrofoam clamshell and make you take it home.   No homeless were fed, and now we have more landfill waste.   Great intentions lead to bad outcomes, in many cases.

Mark ran into this with the food store he ran.   As I noted in another posting, giving away the day-old bread has a lot of issues.   The shelters wanted a guaranteed delivery of X loaves of identical bread or pastries.   If a mixed-lot of items was sent, the "clients" of the shelter (homeless bums) would start a knife fight, because one bum got an apple danish, and the other got cheese.   Beggars can be choosers, in America!

The other problem, of course, was liability.   You give away food that is expired or about to expire, you run the risk of someone claiming food poisoning.   So you end up being sued for something that you were not only doing for free, but at a loss, when you consider all the manpower it takes to "give away" things.

And then there is the issue of homeless people lining up behind your store, expecting a handout.   If they handed out "leftover" food to homeless people in the neighborhood, you would end up with a homeless encampment next to the store - and homeless people sleeping in the parking garage, begging for money and harassing the customers.   Again, these are mostly mentally ill people or folks with drug habits, or both.   Not the sort of neighbors you want to have.   It is nice to be sympathetic to such folks, but self-preservation has a place as well.   Talk to anyone who works with the homeless and they will tell you they can be very dangerous.   This ain't a place for amateur hour.

But again, just as there is no clothing shortage in this country, there is hardly a food shortage either.  In fact, we are the most obese country on the planet, maybe outside of Tonga.   We have the fattest poor people in the world - and the fattest homeless as well.   And please, don't bore me with "well, they eat poor quality food!" arguments.   They eat, which is more than a poor person in Africa can expect.   We need to put our "problems" in perspective.

There are other reasons companies destroy products.   The French pottery company Quimper, makes a line of upscale unique pottery.  And outside of the factory, is an area where they smash the defective plates and bowls.   Smashing "perfectly good" china that could be used for the homeless to eat from!  Such a scandal!   But there is a method to this madness.   If they allowed "factory seconds" onto the marketplace, it would create the return problem that the shoe and clothing companies have.   People would return pieces for new ones, effectively getting a perfect product for the cost of a defective one.   And not only that, the "factory second" product would bring down the reputation of the primary product.   So, like most china producers, they smash the plates and bowls with minor defects in the glazing.

And in fact, every industry does this - the scrap rate in some production lines can be alarming.   For every LCD panel made, back in the day, maybe four or five had to be scrapped - which is why they were so expensive.   LCD televisions are cheaper today because this scrap rate has dropped down.  Defective and unpopular products and products past their "sell by" date often have to be disposed of, whether it is the infamous "E.T." video game, a pair of ugly shoes, a loaf of bread, or a designer jacket.  And the decision to dispose of the item rests with the owner of it, in a free country.

Will Eddie Bauer change its disposal policies as a result of this kid's activism?   Maybe, but really not.   They realize that they need to do damage control on a situation with poor optics.   And giving away a bunch of clothes to a homeless shelter on Christmas eve (with the neck labels removed, to prevent instant returns, of course) would be one solution.

But that beggars another problem.   Eddie Bauer is a designer label - albeit one whose time in the sun has come and gone.   You don't sell upscale clothing brands by putting your clothes on homeless bums.   One reason Pontiac went out of business is that they made the colossal blunder of giving away dozes of the cars on Oprah to homeless people - which backfired in a big way as the homeless could not afford to pay the income taxes, sales taxes, registration fees, or insurance, much less the cost of maintenance and fuel on a brand-new car.

But worse yet, Pontiac was now tagged as "the car of homeless moms" which is not really going to sell well to the general public, who you are trying to convince that the car is nicer and costs more than the Chevy hiding underneath the plastic cladding.   When you give something away for free, people don't perceive it as having value.   Why pay $15,000 for a car that others get for free?   In marketing, you want people to covet your product, not think of it as cheap.

So there are probably very good reasons why Eddie Bauer won't be making a huge donation of unsold jackets to the homeless this year, even if some college kid complains after dumpster-diving that all the clothes were slashed.  No one has a "right" to tell other people how to dispose of their property.  We go down that road, we subject ourselves to tyranny.

Sorry, but no sale.  There are legitimate and rational reasons why companies destroy products, no matter if it doesn't make sense to college kids.

Brexit Regret And Representative Democracy

Is direct democracy a good idea?

One of the worst ideas of the 20th century was the public referendum. The idea of a representative democracy is not that each person gets to vote on every damn thing that comes down the pike, but that the people vote for Representatives who then in turn craft legislation and decide what's best for all of us, even if it would not necessarily be something that we would vote for ourselves.

Representative democracy acts as a handbrake on Mob Rule.  And our bicameral legislative branch provides particular stops to prevent democracy for running away with itself. Our House of Representatives, like the British House of Commons, provides more direct representation of the people.  As they are elected every two years, they could be quickly voted out of office for making unpopular choices.  This is the voice of the rabble.

Our Senate, which was originally made up of wealthy landowners who were appointed by their States, provided a more long-term and balanced view of government.   The Senate was considered the more grown-up deliberative body, akin to the British House of Lords.  Since they were only elected or appointed every six years, they could take the long view on things, and make choices that might not be popular in the moment, but were the right thing to do for the country.

And for both legislative bodies, it was true that representatives and senators could vote against the popular will of their people, if they felt strongly enough that what they were voting for was best for the country overall, even if it meant sacrificing their political careers.  And in a few heroic instances, some members of Congress have done just that.  Whether or not we agree with their decisions, they should be lauded for taking a stand.

Sadly, many people believe we should have a more direct representative government.  However experiments with this sort of thing has brought out the flaws of the idea.  California, for example has this crazy proposition system where people can petition to have propositions put on the ballot and people vote their own laws into existence.

The problem with these propositions, is that things that seem popular at one moment might turn out to be bad ideas later on and they are awfully hard to undo.  While it may seem to some that this is the best way to enact direct democratic government, with one man and one vote, it also means that whatever the mob finds interesting or popular at one moment can end be end up being enacted into law fairly permanently.

Given the chance to vote down any taxes, taxpayers will do so, even to their own detriment.

There are basically two scenarios that play out with this proposition system.  For people paying taxes, the gut instinct is to vote down any kind of spending whatsoever, even spending on things they may need, like infrastructure or schools.  It is like this scene from The Simpsons where the school board meets to vote on various pending items and the attending members shout down every piece of spending as they don't want to spend any money or raise their property taxes.

The second scenario that plays out is it when people believe that you can get free stuff from the government and not have to pay for it.  If enough people are convinced they can get free money and someone else will pay for it, they will vote for this. And democracy fails when everyone starts to believe they can vote themselves a raise.

Of course, the worst scenario is the combination of the two - where voters shout down taxes and then vote themselves free stuff, the cognitive dissonance apparently not affecting them much.

Our founding fathers foresaw this, having seen various types of governments struggle for centuries. They knew that direct democracy was unworkable as it would devolve into mob rule.  In fact, what many people laud as our "great democracy" really was not very democratic in its origins.  As I noted earlier, Senators were usually wealthy property owners who were appointed by the States and not directly elected by the people.  And in the early days of our country it was only property holders that were allowed to vote -  and a course those were white male property owners.

Our founding fathers worried about entrusting unemployed people or hobos or ne'er-do-wells to steer our ship of State.  They feared - and rightfully so - that the lower classes, if given a chance to vote, would vote to take money away from the upper classes.  And it was those upper classes - the landowners and the slave owners - who instigated and fought our revolution to be independent from Britain, to be free to make even more money.  They weren't about to give this up for the rabble.

It is interesting to watch what is going on in Britain right now with the Brexit disaster.  Britain seems to be dragging its feet on Brexit negotiations, and I get the impression that maybe a lot of people are having a Brexit hangover and wondering what the hell it is they voted for.  They held a nationwide referendum which, oddly enough, was non-binding and after the Brexit vote won by a very narrow majority, they decided to go ahead and separate from the European Union.

I think a lot of people in the UK are starting to realize the folly of putting national identity up to a vote.  If the British Monarchy were put up to a vote, right after Princess Diana was killed in that car accident, would Queen Elizabeth be on the throne today?  Or would she be on the dole today?  The problem with a referendum, is that it can be based on popular opinion, and popular opinions change over time, which is why people do opinion polls in the first place.  What seems like a good idea one day, might be a shitty idea the next.

As I noted, our condominium is voting to dissolve itself and have the entire 22-acre complex torn down and sold to a developer and made into high rise apartments, condos, and offices.  This is a pretty major decision for the property owners and the condominium documents require an 80% vote in order to dissolve the condominium - a very high threshold to achieve.

Thus, I'm appalled that it requires an 80% vote to dissolve our Condominium Association, but Britain requires only a simple majority to dissolve itself from the European Union.  What on earth were the British people thinking, particularly since it was a non-binding referendum?  It seems that once the voters indicated - by a bare majority - that they wanted to drive the car off the cliff, British politicians felt duty-bound to take the wheel and steer toward the Grand Canyon.  "Give the voters what they want!"  Jolly good fun.

Democracy was never intended to be real-time, one-man, one-vote democracy where we each are polled on our opinions on topics of the day.  The reasons for this, even our founding fathers in the 1700's knew.  They knew that we could be swayed buy events or propaganda or trends.  They knew that we, as a whole, could act like a mob and be stampeded in one direction or another, and regret it later on. They knew also that government should be a deliberative process, where people take the time to figure things out and not just rashly jump on some bandwagon and impulsively pass laws.

And as it turns out, it's a pretty well-designed little clockwork they made for us.  As we see today, president Trump struggles to get his legislative agenda through, as the proposals he is making are often not very well thought out.  We are discovering that legislation requires compromise and accommodation as well as contemplation.  While a President can make bold promises, Congress realizes they have to be reelected every two (or six) years and are more accountable to their voters.

It is a system that works pretty well, even with all its flaws.  Maybe it can't always spring into action on a moment's notice, but perhaps that is a good thing.  Radical change in any society is usually detrimental to the majority of members of that society.

The entire Brexit fiasco should be fair warning to the rest of the world.  Representative democracy is just that, democracy by representation, not by direct vote.  When you let people vote directly on law-making, the results you may later regret.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Monetization Experiment - Final Chapter

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My experiment with monetization was interesting, but hardly profitable.  I could make it more profitable by turning this blog into something different.

After year of monetizing my blog, I am now $2585.79 wealthier than I was before.  This works out to about $215 a month, on average, or about $7 a day.   With an average of one blog posting a day, each taking maybe an hour to write (maybe - some readers have taken me to task for my plethora of typos and hurried writing lately) this works out to minimum wage.   I could make more money working down at the Circle-K.

And although I had a lot of hits early on (during the campaign season) where some months the lucre was over $300, the payoff has been less and less lately, dropping down to under $200, with last month's take being a paltry $149.

One reason my blog doesn't make money is the click-through rate is shitty.  And this is probably because I routinely decry the sort of "bargains" advertised on the Internet, if I do not in fact say outright not to click on the ads on my site.   I could make a lot more money blogging, if I promoted things like payday loans, leasing cars, airline miles cards, Bitcoin, or refinancing your house.  If I suggested shitty financial practices, my click-rate would soar, as only idiots would read my blog.

Bitcoin - don't get me started.  So many of the ads on my site were for Bitcoin.  Anything advertised on the Internet is a raw deal.  Bitcoin is heavily advertised on the Internet (or companies wanting to "train" you on how to use it, or whatever).  Do the math - it's all a scam!

A reader opines that I could make serious coin at blogging - a hundred grand a year or more.   Maybe that is true, maybe not.  It was not what I set out to do.  I just wanted to write about personal finances, at a time when the economy was in peril and my own financial situation was, if not in peril, at least pretty screwed up.

And I have been able to turn my own financial life around.   When I started this blog, I had two mortgages, six cars, two boats, and a need to stay on The Money Train to keep it all going.   And I had this sense that the money train was going to stop pretty soon.   My job skills were rapidly becoming obsolete and my brain and body were aging.   In Patent Law, you have to keep up on the latest changes and developments - which is why law firms competed to hire me after I had two years experience at the USPTO and why I was a hot property after graduation.

The law business in general is staffed by alarmingly young people.  Supreme Court decisions aren't written by the Justices, but by the law clerks - many of whom are fresh from law school.   Once you get older, you either end up as a Partner, supervising those young associates who make all the money for the firm, or you find something else to do.  But I digress.

I was able to re-structure my finances and learn to live with less (but still a very comfortable lifestyle) and retire early with enough money in the bank to live comfortably, but not extravagantly, for at least 30 years.  Not a bad "happily ever after" to be sure.

I never thought that others would read my blog, and indeed, today even blogging is sort of quaint and obsolete, like my legal education.   The hot thing now is to tweet bullshit at 140 characters-per-second.  What people want is outrage and controversy.   What they want is simple, pat answers to complex problems.  What they want is for me to say, "You're Approved!" to lease a new Buick. 

And I can't do that.

Sure, I could gin up the numbers in a number of ways.   I could SEO (Search Engine Optimize) my blog entries by putting in more keywords, putting links to my site on other people's sites.   You go to other sites and enter the URL in the comments section, for example.   I could enable comments, which would allow for more user interaction and thus more "engagement" as the evil marketers like to call it.

I could start shilling for products.    Yes, people will actually be more attracted to a blog that gushes over how such-and-such a product is really keen and how you really need to buy it.   I don't do that, and my numbers are down as a result.

I could also start censoring myself.

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As stated in our program policies, we may not show Google ads on pages with content that is sexually suggestive or intended to sexually arouse. This includes, but is not limited to:
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I have received a number of threatening e-mails from Google, claiming that my blog will be taken down or something, because of an innocuous post I made which argues (correctly) that the sex drive is the one primal urge or program in our brain that drives all out other urges.   Understanding this, and you understand yourself.   It was hardly "porn" in any sense, other than the R-rated photo at the top of the page. 

But Google threatened me, so I put the posting into "draft" mode.   I found myself censoring myself.   And I also found myself thinking about what posts would generate more clicks and thus more money, even on a subliminal level.

With monetization comes corruption.   Readers accused me of shilling for Wal-Mart or various products I had used and talked about.   It is not hard to understand why they think this - every other site out there does it.

It isn't that I am better than others, just that I'm too damn tired to do all of that, and it literally smacks of effort.   For example the "Mr. Money Beard" guy claims to have "retired" at 30 or some such nonsense, and he gets quoted in the paper now and then.   But he runs a blogsite with ads and a curated comments section.   That has to take more than an hour a day to do, right?   So he really isn't retired, is he?

When you engage in any pastime in exchange for money, you are, by definition, not retired.   But that doesn't sell blog views and click-through revenue as much as "I retired at 30!  Read my blog and see how you can, too!"

Not interested.   Retirement is retirement, and anything else is working.   This blog is a hobby not a job, and the monetization experiment was just that - an experiment to see how monetization affected how I wrote things and what it lead to.

And experiment, I am happy to say, is over.

This is not to say that ads won't appear with my content - that is another bugaboo about this whole thing.   You see, others simply copy my content and then throw up shitblogs with my postings.   Trying to get these taken down is like playing whack-a-mole, as for each blogsite taken down, ten more pop up.   And Google doesn't give a shit, as they get a cut of the ad revenue for each of those sites.

And taking down copycat sites is an arduous process.   Google requires you send them the URL for every single blog posting, which means having to cut and past over 3000 URLs, if you want the whole copycat site taken down.   I suppose if I was making serious coin on this blog, that might be worthwhile.   But then again, it would be a full-time job, and I would have to hire someone to do this - and that is what the big-money bloggers do, too.

They have whole staffs of editors and researchers and "copy writers".   One reader suggested I hire an "editor" to review my postings.   At $149 a month, I can see that is a distinct possibility!   I just write stuff that comes into my head.  I am not interested in being the next Sooze Orman or Mr. Money Beard or whatever.

Besides, that sort of shit has already been done.   And I'm retired.  Not fake-retired, real-retired.  Shuffleboard and all!

* * *

If ads still appear on this site, please let me know.   For some "funny" reason, Google AdSense, like any good Casino, makes it easy as falling off a log to get in, but obfuscates how you get out.   It appears the ads are no longer appearing on my site, but then again, maybe Adblocker plus is just blocking them (as it should, and you should use it, or another ad blocker program!).  So, please let me know.

UPDATE:  When I try to remove ads from my site, the following message appears:

We apologize for the inconvenience, but we are unable to process your request at this time. Our engineers have been notified of this problem and will work to resolve it.

When I use the "layout" page to remove AdSense "gadgets" the gadgets do not appear on the layout (but do appear on the "preview") so I can't remove them there, either!

Google AdSense is very, very tricky - and sticky!

UPDATE:  Removing Google AdSense "gadgets" isn't intuitive.  They do not appear on the layout screen as Google's Help page suggests.  However, if you click on "view blog" the ads appear with a little toolbox logo next to them.  Click on the logo and then scroll down to "remove" the gadget.   Google's adsense "help" pages are all woefully out of date.  The page that comes up with the Number 1 hit on "how do I remove ads" gives advice that is flat-out wrong and instead leads you to a page to ADD MORE ADS!

I also cancelled my AdSense account.   The fact that it was so fucking hard to remove AdSense (it is like a virus!) just confirmed in my mind that I needed to remove it.  I can say "fucking" now, too, without harsh words from Google.

You watch, now, they will simply close down my blog.   That's how the system works!

Never fear, though, some Indian copycat site will keep my stolen content alive.....  :(

P.S. - sidebar and banner ads are just fucking annoying, don't you agree?  Mom's hate them!  Click here for this one simple trick!

Victim America

Should you send money to a "gofundme" page for someone who appears to be a victim?  Probably not.

In the recent news, a "controversy" about an online video about an appealing kid who describes being bullied.  The controversy was that someone started a gofundme page and raised $60,000 for the kid, and a professional wrestler claims that he called the mother of the boy and she asked for money.  There are also claims she posed with a confederate flag - I guess our sympathy for boys whose mothers pose with confederate flags is less or something.

Of course, this is amateur hour here.   Think back to the bullied school bus monitor case near Rochester, NY, where a bus monitor, whose job was to keep a lid on bullies was in turn, bullied and people raised money for her - $650,000 in fact, plus a free trip to Disney.   Hey, bully the fuck out of me, willya?  For nearly 3/4 mil, I'll put up with all the mocking you can dish out.

It is gratifying to see that people care about their fellow citizens enough to send money to them over the internet.   On the other hand, it strikes me as one of those meaningless gestures that people make - like donating old shoes to hurricane victims, which end up in a landfill somewhere, after the Red Cross spends $75 shipping them to Puerto Rico.   People mean well, but they often are not very efficient in their largess.

There is also something disturbing about this victim mentality.   Bullying sucks, lets be frank about that, and as someone who was bullied, I get that.   The nice thing is, 30 years later, the bullies turned out to be losers - stuck in dead-end jobs, dead-end marriages, or working for low wages and generally having a sucking life.   Some committed suicide.   One fellow who used to taunt me, drove his car out onto the lake in March - and fell right though the ice and died.   This didn't make me happy, it made me sad.

But time heals all wounds, and the perspective of time has taught me why bullies bully.   They came from broken homes, or are beaten by their parents.  They weren't very bright and struggled in school.  They have no future - or a bleak future, if any.  Most never left my hometown.  In fact, none did.   They pick on people they perceive as "different" or happy or successful or going somewhere.   They are envious.  They are sad, sad people.

What is sad to me is that kids kill themselves over bullying.   They cannot see beyond the four years of high school to a different world where all the things that make them "different" now, make them valuable later.   Being a science geek in high school marks you for abuse.  But in college and the job market, it marks you for success.   Meanwhile, the jock who bullied you in high school, breaks his knee in his freshman year at college, and his dreams of an NFL career are dashed (if they ever had a realistic expectation in the first place - many try, few are chosen).

But getting back to victimhood, there is something going on here that I can't quite put my finger on, but seems to be a trend.   And while the Mom in the case in the news doesn't seem to be intentionally whoring for money, there have been others in the past who have concocted scenarios of bullying or racial  or other hate incidents (spraying graffiti on their own car, for example) apparently to get sympathy.  Or some do it to get money.   The world is a strange place and people do strange things.

And I guess that is where I am going with this.   If we elevate victimhood as the new paradigm, then maybe more and more people will posit themselves as victims.   Hey, it certainly was profitable for that bus monitor lady in Rochester, right?   $650,000 isn't chump change - and certainly a good days pay for a half-hour of being called "fatty."

I am not sure that posting YouTube videos or starting gofundme pages is the right answer.  The right answer would be for schools to start taking this sort of stuff seriously - because it can escalate into deadly violence, particularly if gang-related.  Maybe all that energy should be concentrated on eliminating bullying in schools, rather than showering money on selected individuals.

Don't Get Too Excited Just Yet....

The most odious candidate in the history of U.S. Politics was defeated by only about 1% point difference in the vote.  This is hardly a cause for celebration.

The left-wing media, such as National People's Radio is crowing the victory in Alabama.   But was this really a victory of any significance?   Doug Jones will serve about two years before having to run again to defend his seat in 2020.   If the GOP cleans up the primary process and prevents another Roy Moore from running, they will likely reclaim this seat.

In the meantime, the Republicans still hold a majority in the Senate - at least until the 2018 elections.  A lot can happen between now and then, including this half-assed tax "reform" legislation being passed.

The media has been calling this a watershed moment, claiming that Alabama has turned into a blue State.  They have been saying this vote was a referendum on Donald Trump and a sign that the country is turning against Trumpism.

We could hope that, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Our primary process tends to amplify the voices of extremists - which is why Bernie Sanders, a candidate who should never have come as close to being nominated as he was, generated such interest.   Primaries bring out the far left and far right, but the centrists seem to stay home.   If Luther Strange had won the primary, the end result would have been far different.

Roy Moore was a toxic candidate.   You could not image a worse person to run for office.  While not quite Hitler, his awfulness credentials run pretty long:
1.  He was thrown off the Supreme Court of Alabama for putting a statue of the ten commandments in the courthouse - and then refusing to remove it under court order. 
2.  He was thrown off the Supreme Court of Alabama again for refusing to recognize the Supreme Court (of the US) decision about gay marriage.   He went on record saying that States do not have to follow Federal law. 
3.  He stated in an interview on a conspiracy theory website that every amendment of the Constitution past the 10th was a mistake.   This is to say the right to vote for women and abolishing slavery were mistakes. 
4.  On that same interview, he expressed his belief that 9/11 was an "inside job" as well as his belief in other conspiracy theories. 
5.  He dated and had sex with girls half his age - most barely of legal age, and one age 14 - which would be considered statutory rape in most States. 
6.  He told a black audience member at a recent political rally that the world was a better place when we had slavery.
The list goes on and on.   This guy is a nutjob.

That people didn't turn out to vote for him, and that others wrote in other candidates' names isn't all that surprising.

What is surprising is exactly how much outrage a GOP candidate has to generate before black voters become energized enough to vote.  And how much outrage a GOP candidate has to generate before Republicans - even in small numbers - turn against him.  What exactly does it take to get peoples attention these days?

Oh, and this election isn't over by a long shot.   I would not be surprised if a poll worker suddenly "finds" a box of ballots in the trunk of his car - all for Roy Moore, of course.   Or the absentee ballots all trend Moore (Absentee ballots tend to be overwhelmingly Republican for many reasons - many are cast by military members.   Also, the GOP has been accused of ballot-box stuffing with absentee ballots).   Or they may have a drawn-out recount.   Whatever.   This is Alabama we're talking about.

And this presumes some redneck doesn't take a potshot at Doug Jones.

The GOP wins elections through chicanery.   We just passed the anniversary of Bush v. Gore, where Gore won the popular vote, but lost in the electoral college (as did Trump).  And of course, the GOP maintains a majority in the House and Senate by gerrymandering districts into tortured shapes such that Democratic and minority votes are under-represented.   While a lot of Americans are indeed conservative, in both the House and Senate, they are arguably over-represented.

In 2018, we will have a mid-term election.   Whether the Democrats will win back a majority in the House or Senate is up for debate.  If you read the electoral blogs, you come away with the impression that more Democrats are at risk for losing their seats than Republicans.   And I strongly doubt the GOP will let Alabama go blue a second time around, even if it means banishing Roy Moore to Antarctica - with a bevy of young girls.

Oh, and Roy Moore doesn't seem to have any plans of going away - in fact, he seems to relish this sort of "controversy" and nurtures it, as he knows it keeps him in the media spotlight.   In fact, this pattern of behavior reminds me of another politician - one who courts controversy, knowing full well that is what the media loves.  It sells clicks, it sells eyeballs.

Be prepared for a whole lot more Roy Moore's in the future!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Why You Need A Key Fob Protector

Key fobs which lock and unlock your car doors, or in some cases are the key to the car can be incredibly expensive to replace.  A protective cover can save you hundreds of dollars in replacement costs.

Last year, Mark asked me to give a ride in the golf cart to an older lady who had parked far away from the arts festival.   I gladly complied, and when we got to her car, she pulled out her keys, only to find that the key fob - which was also the key that starts the car - was only part of the outer case.

She explained that she had dropped the keys on the floor in the galley, and that the fob must have come apart there.   We went back to the galley and she showed me where she dropped it.  My heart sank as it was right above a large grate for the HVAC system.   But fortunately, I spotted three parts of the fob - the other half of the case, the battery, and the printed circuit board.   And fortunately, no one had stepped on them.

I carefully re-assembled the fob, which basically snaps together, and we went back to her car.  It started and ran.   The next day, I ordered her a key fob protector - they are only a few dollars - and it arrived by China Post a week later.   It even had the car company logo on it.   These protectors, which are usually rubber, act like cell phone protectors.   Not only do they absorb shock, they keep the fobs from flying apart if they are dropped from any height.

If you do break a fob, you might be in for a rude surprise.  As I noted in my posting try the other key, I found out the hard way that car keys today are an expensive nightmare.   On the 2002 X5, a replacement key was over $250, available only from the dealer, and what's more, the car would only support 11 keys in its lifetime, without having to replace the expensive immobilizer.   That was a pretty basic electronic key, too.

Today, we have near-field communication key fobs.  The hamster has one - why, I don't know.   You put the key in your pocket or on the dashboard and press a button to start the car.  Such progress.  Maybe in the future, they will have a button the floor next to the gas pedal - the old "toe starter" of the 1930's.   Back to the future!

The problem with these near-field pushbutton dealies is that instead of costing $250 to replace, they can be $500 or more.   A friend of mine just bought a used Porsche, and it came with only one "key".  He managed to find a replacement key online for less than what the dealer wanted, but it was still pricey.  He nearly had a stroke when he programmed the new key and nothing on the car would work, not even the old key.   Fortunately, it turned out to be a blown fuse - on the engine management computer circuit board, no less, and it was an easy fix.  But for a while there, he was worried he was now the proud owner of a 3,500-pound brick.

There are other issues with these keys as well.   For example, if the battery goes dead on the "fob" the car won't start - leaving you stranded somewhere.   The hamster has already gone through two fob batteries (which fortunately are cheap enough to find online and easy to replace) in two years.   The dashboard does warn you - "key battery running low" so you have time to replace it.   But this is not a time to be a procrastinator.   You put off replacing the battery and when it finally goes dead, you have no way of starting the car.

Again, progress!

It might not be a bad idea to keep an extra fob battery in the glove box.

The Nissan has an "old school" key which is made of metal and has no chip or electronics in it.  I think you could start that with a sharp screwdriver, frankly, or just reach under the dashboard and jumper some wires together.   But it does have a remote fob for the door locks, and they do sell fob protectors for those as well.   The irony here is, the fob protector costs nearly as much as a replacement (aftermarket) fob!   But I bought the protectors anyway.

For the hamster, they have a nice leather one on eBay for only a few bucks.  I ordered two and we'll see where that goes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Another Day, Another Invoice Scam

This letter arrives in the mail offering to "list" my website.  I wonder how many people pay this without realizing it means nothing.  Click to enlarge.

I wrote about invoicing scams before.  They are a pretty neat scams, too.  You just mass-mail invoices to companies and hope that some of them pay them.   If you send out 1,000 invoices, at least 10-100 people will pay them, and the amount is so small they won't bother suing you to get their money back.  Better yet, whoever paid the invoice will be so embarrassed and worried about losing their job, they will "bury" the mistake so no one finds out.  Embarrassment is the con man's best friend.

Even better, it's not really a scam.  The scam artists have realized that if you put language in the invoice that "this is not an invoice but a solicitation" that they have covered themselves.   It's right there in large print, on the front page.   If someone pays the "invoice" they have voluntarily responded to a solicitation to have their website "listed" (whatever that means) by the company.   So even if they wanted to sue this company, they would have no grounds to do so - people are presumed to read invoices carefully before paying them, right?

But a lot of people don't read the fine print.   In fact, some people pay off non-existent debts, when a debt collector calls.   They just assume they must have taken out a loan somewhere in the past that they forgot about - sort of like winning the "Microsoft Lottery" - they assume they forgot they entered that as well.  In that regard, this sort of scam does victimize those in the early stages of dementia or those whose intellect or cognitive ability is lacking.   In other words, they prey on the weak.

This sort of letter is one reason I am glad I am retiring.   I do have a registered domain name, and it is paid up for another decade or so, with Network Solutions, which I registered with a long time ago before they became, well, more on the dark side.   Today, I get countless e-mails from them exhorting me to "renew" domain names I don't have, such as the .xyz domain name I never registered for.

They prey upon anxiety - that you will "lose" your domain name through negligence - and this does happen on occasion, and some smarty-pants snaps up your domain name and you are out on the street.   But the e-mails I get from Network Solutions - and others - are usually offers to Search Engine Optimize my domain, which I don't really need to do, as I am retired.   And like I said, I am glad to be retired and out of the game, because lately it is a game not worth playing.   Everything, it seems, is some sort of scam or con.

I recounted before how Al Gore said we were morphing from a manufacturing based economy to an information based economy and he was right about that.  But I think we have taken it one step further - going to a fraud-based economy.   In the future - if not today - we will spend all day long defrauding each other, using cons and scams of various types.  I defraud you, you defraud me, we all go home happy.  A lot less messy than actually making and doing things.

And today, we have the scammer-in-chief, who used to run his own "for profit" universities, and left Atlantic City a ghost town of closed and bankrupted casinos.  In fact, he has left nothing but wreckage in his wake.   He is the king of cons, and we are all being conned.

So today, we don't invest in things, we invest in nothing.   And that is what Bitcoin is - investing in nothing.   It is the Seinfeld of investments, a show about nothing.  An idea of a currency, but not really actually anything.   It perfectly describes our era like nothing else.   Why bother with old-school "products" and "services" when you can cut to the chase and just create an investment which is just, well, nothing at all, but something you invest in and watch the price go up and down?  Why not?   A lot less messy than actually having to deliver on promises for cab rides or electric cars, which are so hard to make or do.

It is a strange new world we live in.   Sometimes I wonder why we chose it.   Because we did choose this, somewhere along the line.