Thursday, September 22, 2016

People say (and do) the dumbest things

People are saying and doing the dumbest things these days.  Case in point, the tragic recent shootings of black men by police in Tulsa, OK and Charlotte, NC.

Last week a Tulsa man was shot by a police officer who claims that the victim didn't comply with her commands to stop.  He kept walking away, and at one point he lowered one of his hands, leading the officer to fear he was going for a gun. (He was not.)

The video shown on TV over and over was from a police helicopter circling several hundred feet overhead.  The audio from the helicopter said, "He looks like a bad dude."  Really?  From 200(?) feet overhead what does a "bad dude" look like?  How can you tell?  DUMB!

Then yesterday Presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaking to a largely black audience, said of the victim, "He looked like a nice guy."  Really?  How can you tell what a nice guy looks like from 500(?) miles away?  DUMB!  

Oh, and how about that Don King soliloquy/introduction?  Isn't he a piece of work?  DUMB!

Some in the minority community immediately called for the arrest of Officer Betty Shelby, the shooter.  Doesn't Officer Shelby get a hearing to determine if she acted appropriately or not?  These people say no, just arrest her.  Now.  DUMB!

It seems the Tulsa police received (at least some) body cameras in July, but hadn't yet issued them to patrol officers.  Why?  I would fast-track their implementation....I can't think of one piece of equipment that would be more likely to determine the facts in a police shooting than body cameras.  They may not always be conclusive, but they would be better than the "he said, she said" we have now.  

I would think every honest cop would welcome body cams as a way to show their professionalism and exonerate them after a shooting.  I would think every bad cop would be looking for a new line of work if they thought their body cam would show them doing something likely to send them to prison.  (Good riddance!)  Not using body cams....DUMB!

Then in Charlotte, NC, where police DO have body cams, they aren't releasing the footage of their fatal shooting.  They said they couldn't because they were prohibited from doing so by state law.  Why would legislators pass a law prohibting release of video that could possibly quell protestors if the video showed it to be a justified shooting?  DUMB!

Why do protestors show their outrage by looting a Walmart?  Because it was Walmart's fault?  Why do they destroy a downtown souvenir shop?  Because it was the souvenir shop's fault?  DUMB! 

At least the protestors shown above were venting their anger toward the police.  It still wasn't right, but at least it was focused.

One frustrated Charlotte minority leader went on TV telling blacks to "keep their money in their pockets" and not spend it with white-owned businesses.  Umm....don't those businesses have black employees?  Is putting even more blacks out of work a good thing?  Was this boycott well thought out?  DUMB!

But then it turns out that the new state video law doesn't go into effect until October 1.  So if they can, why haven't the cops released it if it proves their case and stops the rioting now going on?  DUMB!

And if the video doesn't prove their case, if it shows an unjustified shooting, then why are they protecting a guilty cop?  DUMB!

Then on one of the TV news roundtables, when it was pointed out that the Charlotte police shooter was himself black, one of the commentators said it didn't matter.  She said the police were institutionally bigoted, regardless of the race of the officer.  So if you wear a badge you're automatically bigoted?  DUMB!

By inference would that mean that the commentator (the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus) didn't want any police, black, white, Asian, or anyone else to patrol minority neighborhoods?  Then who you gonna call when someone kicks in your back door?  Is it then every man for himself....vigilante justice?  DUMB!

What is wrong with us?  Why are we saying and doing such DUMB things?


EDIT:  "Why are we saying and doing such DUMB things?"  I think I've answered my own question.  It's because we only hear what we want to hear, we only see what we want to see, and we only believe what we want to believe.  Now that's DUMB!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Too big to give a damn

There is a reason that liberal Democrat Elizabeth Warren was elected Senator from Massachusetts, and liberal Independent Bernie Sanders came thaaaat close to being the Democratic nominee for President.  That reason is they exposed the massive hanky-panky going on in America's corporate suites, and it struck a nerve with voters.  Here's the latest scam just made public:  

Wells Fargo Bank, considered by many investors to be the Gold Standard for banks *a rather low bar* because of their great management, was fined $185,000,000 by the Federales for securities fraud.  It seems Wells Fargo regional managers gave their branch offices daily quotas to “cross-sell” financial products to existing customers. If someone had a checking account, they would sign them up for a savings account. Or a credit or debit card. Or online banking services.  Former CEO Dick Kovacevich invented this target for each customer, calling it the “Gr-eight initiative” — eight add-on products per household.

When some employees couldn't meet their quota, they would just forge signatures and open up accounts without their customer's knowledge or approval.  These 1.5M unauthorized accounts only netted Wells Fargo about $2.5M, so the $185M fine might seem rather punitive, right?

Umm, no.  Here was the real scam:  Wells Fargo constantly bragged in its earnings statements that their "cross-sell results are proof of their superior customer satisfaction."  Investors loved it, thinking the sky was the limit.  Yeah, right.  (The average Wells Fargo retail banking customer had 6.11 products by the end of 2015.)

The fake accounts goosed the stock price....Wells Fargo stock doubled from 2011 to mid-August 2015, the period described in the fraud complaint.   And just coincidentally, John Stumpf, the CEO of Wells, received $155M in stock options between 2012 and 2015 as the share price soared, in part based on the successful cross-selling strategy.  (This is why it was "securities fraud" and not simple "consumer fraud". The investors, not consumers, were the big losers.)

Wanna give 'ol Liz and Bernie heartburn?  Remind them that the executive who oversaw the WF banking unit the entire time those millions of fake accounts were opened is now “retiring” with a $124.6M Golden Parachute, and the 5000 employees who did bad were fired.  Sound fair to you?

I'm a staunch capitalist.  I believe those who work the hardest and come up with the best ideas benefiting both investors and consumers should do very well.  When Fred Smith turned his doctoral project into the reality we know today as FedEx, I think he deserved to get filthy rich.  When Steve Jobs and friends invented a revolutionary new iWorld, I think they deserved to get filthy rich.  The same for Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos and a few others, too.  

But the financial services industry has proven time and again they are all about smoke and mirrors, and little else.  They seem to be masters of just fleecing those who actually do contribute to the creation of real wealth.  They deserve our contempt.  Liz and Bernie just saw the truth before most of the rest of us did.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"You, you, and you....under the bus!"

Back in June I spoke up when I heard of the "coincidental" overlap between The Clinton Foundation's list of prominent benefactors and the list of those who were approved for coveted international trade and arms purchase deals by Hillary Clinton's State Department.  No concrete proof of impropriety, no paper trail...a nod by Bill, a wink by Hillary...and things just happened.  RED FLAG!

Now it's Donald Trump's turn.  Today there was a story released by Newsweek that showed the potential conflicts of interest that might exist between Donald Trump the businessman and Donald Trump the President of the United States. 

To his credit, Trump is an exceptionally astute businessman.  He seeks out opportunities worldwide where he can partner with powerful, plugged-in foreign business interests to expand his brand.  These foreign interests are often chummy with the leadership in their respect countries, such as Russia, China, India, Turkey, various Middle Eastern countries, etc.  He is also a staunch believer in leverage, which means using borrowed money to grow his business.  And as the owner of a privately held corporation Mr. Trump keeps these partnerships in the shadows as much as possible, which is understandable.  Nothing wrong with any of this.

But now he just might become the President of the United States.  Can you imagine a situation where a country, where Mr Trump the businessman has interests, might do something detrimental to the interests of the US?  What would happen if the wayward foreign leader threatened quietly through channels to call a massive Trump loan due, or perhaps even nationalize a Trump interest in that country?  

Would President Trump cave, or compromise, and possibly agree to things that were not in the best interest of the United States?  We can't take that chance.  This would be an obvious conflict of interest between Trump the businessman and Trump the President.  RED FLAG!

Mr Trump says if elected he would put his assets in a "blind trust"....he would turn over all operations of The Trump Organization to his kids for them to run.  Oh pah-leeze!

The only way a blind trust would work would be if all the assets of The Trump Organization were liquidated and the proceeds put in the hands of a third party to be invested in ways and places that left President Trump completely clueless where his fortune was.  I doubt THAT is something Mr. Trump would be willing to do.

Now our combined candidates are 0 for 2, which explains their dismal "trust" poll numbers.  


Tuesday, September 13, 2016 fortune for a STEAK!

Wow, have I bitten off more than I expected with this "prepping" thing!  I knew of course it existed, but I had no idea of its breadth.  My plans were to bring some of this to your attention with my short posts, and I still will, but know that if you want more info, there are websites everywhere that can advise you in intricate detail if you want to actually prepare further.  Here are just the highlights:

Immediately following a massive power failure (see my previous two posts for some background) your primary concern should be having enough food and water to outlast the emergency.   The experts advise having enough food on hand for you and your family for at least two weeks, and preferably three or four weeks.  Eat your refrigerated foods ASAP as they will ruin within a half day or so, depending on the ambient temperature outside 

They say a 200 lb male will need somewhere between 2700-3400 calories per day, perhaps more if he's very active.  A 140 lb female will need between1900-2400, and more if she's very active.  Or you could take the opportunity to lose some weight.  *wink*  You should also allow 1-2 gallons of water per person per day. 

It seems to me people living in rural areas would have an advantage here.  They can have large gardens to provide veggies for canning, and chickens to provide eggs and such.  Fishing is always an option, too.  But even they would have trouble processing a hog or a cow as they would have no freezers to keep the meat in.  They might could smoke it or salt cure it, but those are almost lost arts today.  The vast majority of us living in cities have even fewer options.

The hard core "preppers" often prefer pre-packaged foods in easy-storage buckets.  They have a long shelf life, are stackable, and readily available and affordable, but IMO don't look too appetizing.  Military-style MRE's (Meals, Ready to Eat) are also a possibility, but I think I'd rather take a bullet that eat those for several weeks straight.

More appealing to the palate (mine at least) are freeze dried foods, the kind you take on backpacking trips.   They're available at outdoor shops like REI, have a long shelf life, and are easy to store, but can become VERY pricey.

Most of us would probably opt for simple canned goods.  They can be purchased in case lots from Costco and Sams, or any grocery store.  The variety is almost endless, and can include canned vegetables, soups, meats, and fish.  Other non-perishables like peanut butter, nuts, crackers, etc. should also be included.  

Canned goods have a limited shelf life (preferably stored at around 65 degrees), so be sure and keep an eye on their expiration dates. Regardless of your preferred style of emergency food, and I'm now thinking a variety of all the above might be the best choice, keep in mind the caloric content you will need

Don't forget to have an old fashioned can opener on hand, and collect in advance all the small packets of condiments, Tabasco, etc that you can.  They can make an otherwise  'meh' meal actually tasty

And also don't forget to have adequate food for your pets, too.  Changing their diet abruptly to your human food can cause them serious problems.  Don't!

Storage is an issue, particularly with water.  At, say 1.5 gallons per person per day, and a family of 3, for three weeks, that would be 94 gallons!  A couple of cases of bottled water won't cut it.  All these options need space, like a dedicated closet.  I've advocated "living small" for some time now, but in this case it just might just come back to bite me.

Regarding water, experts say at the first sign of something amiss you should fill up your bathtub and any storage bottles you can find for future use.  Also, your water heater can be drained for potable water in a pinch.  No water treatment is needed (so they say) if you are storing chlorinated water from a public water supply, but if it isn't chlorinated, you should add a few drops of bleach per gallon of water.  (Look online for instructions.)  

Now think of this moral issue:  What would you do if you were all settled in, enjoying plenty to eat, but you knew your neighbors next door, including their children, were hungryWould you share?  I would.  If you agree, you might plan ahead and put away some extra for others, too.

That's enough for now.  More some other time.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Turn out the lights, the party's over....

I've been reading up on the "suggestion" being put out there by some well known, respected sources that it would be wise for us to prepare for a serious protracted interruption to our daily lives.  That interruption could be caused by many different things, but all the various possible scenarios seem to culminate with a major, region-wide power failure.  That is what they say we should be most concerned about.

Remember the major blackout that occurred in the north central and north eastern US and Ontario, Canada back in 2003? That was all due to a fairly simple alarm system failure that caused an overloaded line in Ohio to fail, which quickly cascaded downhill to other nearby systems, and eventually affected 45 million Americans and 10 million Canadians before service was restored several days later.

That was kids play compared to what could happen if "bad guys" learn how to sabotage our electrical grid and knock it out for a few weeks or months.  And by sabotage I mean hackers using a simple computer, from a part of the world where we couldn't trace its origin, to zap key pieces of our electrical infrastructure.  It would be the "perfect crime".  We know it's possible because we've done it ourselves in controlled tests.

This was an early test in 2008.  Since then the dark science of cyber warfare has become exponentially more sophisticated.

Hit the right spots and it could quickly spread and become a region-wide system failure, frying all sorts of electrical choke points, generators, etc.

Imagine this:  If our power went out it wouldn't take people long to realize they didn't have enough food at home to last for more than a few days, so they'd all hit the grocery stores. But how would they pay for what they grabbed up in the dark?  Debit card terminals require electricity.  Cash?  Again, with no electricity, stores couldn't ring up your purchase.  Then it just becomes plain 'ol looting.  Before long cars would be low on gas, but since gas pumps are electric, you'd be screwed there, too.  Soon we'd all be afoot.  

Back home the food in your refrigerator will begin to spoil within half a day.  Your cell phone battery will likely run down pretty fast, and the cell towers, if they have any back-up power at all, will be overloaded.  If it's winter many will begin freezing.  Even homes with natural gas or oil heat still need electricity to power heating system fans.

Most of us have on hand enough non-perishable food to last our family 3-5 days without restocking, and remember, store shelves would have long-since been emptied.  Trucks can't bring in new stock because they're likely out of fuel, too, and besides, traffic will be gridlocked with abandoned cars and inoperable traffic signals the norm.

Assuming you could find someone to accept cash for a purchase, how much cash do you have on hand at any given time?  Fifty dollars?  A few hundred?  When you run out, then what?  You can't go to the bank for a top off, or to an ATM machine, because they're blacked out, too.  About this time desperate people will begin doing desperate things.  First responders will be totally overwhelmed (or back home tending to their own frightened families).  Anarchy will rule.

This is what the experts say could happen if we're not individually prepared to take care of ourselves.  A large power outage of a few days duration could be controlled, but not for a few weeks or months.  And by the time we began to get our affected systems back on line, the bad guys could do it all over again to the same or another region.  (FYI, there are three major US independent regional power grids: Eastern, Western, and Texas.)

This is why our civil authorities are so adamant that we find some way to protect our electric grids.  But with so many different independent electric producers, with thousands (?) of distribution centers, and with a million (?) miles of lines, etc, it's been hard to get everyone on board a common security system.  And it would be expensive....who would pay for it?  If the developed world has an Achilles heel, they say this is probably it.

I'll keep digging and find out what we can reasonably do to prepare ourselves in case of a prolonged electrical failure.  Relax.  I don't mean to scare you, but to prepare you.  Later....


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Praise the Lord and pass the MRE's

There was a cable TV show a few years ago about "preppers", people who thought "the gubment is gonna come get us", or a meteor will strike Earth, probably somewhere near Des Moines, or both.  I watched it simply because it was good for a laugh.  (Remember, this was long before the Donald and Hillary Show.)  But now I'm reading things in major, respected journals and newspapers that are advocating essentially what those nut-cases preppers were doing back then that we poo-pooed as goofy.  Seriously?

Yeah, seriously.  They started out reminding us that climate change is doing some weird things these days.  Like Hurricane Sandy tearing up the northeast a few years ago, and more recently flooding in Louisiana, and in central Texas a few months before that.  And how about those killer winters storms that don't let up for weeks, or those tornadoes we're seeing in "the alley" almost year-round?  I don't even want to think about a west-coast earthquake.  Yikes!

Those showed us that "shit happens" "feces occurs", and that until help arrives, you're on your own.  FEMA might bring you a bag of ice, and the nice church people will pass out sandwiches as fast as they can, but hour-to-hour, day-to-day, you are all you'll have. 

More recently the experts are warning that evil people, be they foreign governments or terrorists, are working overtime to learn how to shut down our financial system, or our electrical grid(s), or our transportation system, and it's only a matter of time before they successfully cyber-attack us.  Lovely.

Now, to add insult to injury, they're saying we shouldn't be surprised by civil unrest after an election that didn't go the way the well-armed losing side wanted, or after a police-minority incident escalates out of control.  Too much mayhem, too few police.  Too many fires, too few firefighters.  DOH! 

OK, fine.  I'll look into it further and report back all the things you need to know to make it to 2017, like the shelf life of Hostess Ding Dongs, or where to buy the most accurate long-range sling-shot.  Stand by.  ;)


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The end of the McMansion?

I read an interesting story today that said in many parts of the country "McMansions", those 3,000-5,000+/- square foot homes that have been all the rage for the past several decades, are losing their appeal.

The report went on to say that many buyers in their prime home-buying years are opting for new, smaller homes or older homes with "character".  It said that today McMansions are often looked at as large-but-poorly-built examples of excess consumption, paid for with debt that owners can't afford.  (This in contrast to those families of actual means who can afford nice quality large homes.)  They say in many locations (but not here in Dallas) McMansion prices are stagnant or even falling vs year ago values, while less expensive homes are seeing nice appreciation.

What they're finding is that many of those large, relatively inexpensive homes (based on the price-per-square-foot) will begin falling apart long before they should.  Yes, eventually all homes need maintenance, but it shouldn't be as soon as the warranty expires.  Does anyone ever stop and wonder how they can sell those large homes for that cheap of a price?  Do people actually think they're getting a Bentley for the price of a Chevy? 

Here's a dirty little homebuilder secret for you:   Building codes generally aren't that tough.  In fact, the purpose of building codes is to set a baseline "minimum property standard", key word there being MINIMUM. 

At the exact opposite end of the housing spectrum from McMansions are these "tiny houses".  They're becoming so popular they now even have their own tiny house show on HGTV.  They're usually about 150 square feet and built on a trailer "foundation", which explains the wheels.  

They're meant to be somewhat mobile, which I guess has appeal to some people, and because of their mobility they are not subject to even the minimum building codes mentioned above.  There is usually only one door, and the windows don't meet the minimum size required for exit in case of fire.  The bed is usually in a low loft over the kitchen and requires a vertical ladder to get up to it.  

If you have a habit of getting up in the night to visit the loo, you'd better make damn sure you're awake before you try and navigate that ladder!  The bathroom usually consists of a toilet seat on top of a glorified bucket, and to shower you stand in a slightly bigger bucket with a shower spray overhead.  The kitchen can accommodate a microwave and a plate, glass, knife, fork, and spoon (one each) and not much else, and the closet is usually about the size of a gym locker.  While I was an early proponent of downsizing, this is even too extreme for me.

Not too big...not too small...but juuuust right!  And the view isn't too shabby, either. 

My personal preference would be to live in a small house....not too much to keep up or clean, just perfect for my lazy side.  But unfortunately most towns (around here anyway) have zoned out building small houses.   They only want those big 'ol McMansions.  Why?  Tax revenue for them, screw what we want.  Yet another example of the tail wagging the dog.

Maybe in another few years when some of those early McMansions have completely disintegrated they'll let me bulldoze one and build what I want.  I just wish they'd hurry up and see things my way.  I'm not getting any younger, you know.  :)