Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The power of advertising

Somewhere outside Detroit, 1990:  "Hey Maury, we've got 500 acres out back filled with station wagons that we can't give away.  We need to move 'em or the boss is gonna have us inventorying radiator hoses in Fargo for the rest of our careers."

"I hear 'ya Ralph."  *long pause*  "OK, how 'bout we try this:  Why don't we pry off those little chrome stick-on things that say 'Vista Wagon Family Truckster' and re-badge them 'Sport Utility Vehicle'?  Sounds sexy, huh?  What....too long?  OK then, SUV." 

And thus was born the runaway bestseller Ford Explorer, the original SUV.

Never mind that Land Rover....

....and Jeep had them 40 years earlier.  The difference?  By the 1990's Ford was a master marketer and advertiser, while Jeep and Land Rover were still hawking theirs in Field and Stream and The Sheep Rancher's Gazette.

Yesterday I was sitting on my balcony watching the cars go by on Warren Parkway below me.  What I noticed was a few soccer mom's in their minivans with the little stick figure window decals....you know, dad and mom, some old guy in a wheelchair, two kids, and a couple of pets....along with the bumper sticker that says "My child is an honor student at Betty Sue Shnurtner Middle School".

Then there were a few pickup trucks, the beds still holding a bunch of empty beer cans and a turned over cooler from the weekend, with their bumper stickers proudly proclaiming "My kid won early release from the Texas Department of Corrections".

Then aside from a few sedans, all the rest were Sport Utility Vehicles, or as they like to call them today, "crossover" vehicles.  Seems like everyone wants a crossover, which I find odd as they're nothing more than old fashioned station wagons.

The car companies can't seem to make them fast enough.  The funny thing to me is these same car companies have been telling us for years that they can't bring their cool European "hatchbacks" to the US because Americans won't buy hatchbacks.  Oh really?  Lemme think....hatchbacks have doors at the back that open up.  Crossovers have doors at the back that open up.  Hmmmm... 

I think someone forgot to give Rolls Royce....

....and Bentley

....and even Lamborghini, the bad news.

You think maybe we could convince them to call them "station wagons" again?  Then the back pasture would fill up with them all over again and we could buy them at fire-sale prices.  *Interest free financing for 200 months!  But wait....there's more!  The first 50 callers will get absolutely free....*  

That's about the only way I could ever afford a Lambo.  No, probably not even then.  :(

Damn you Maury and Ralph!


Thursday, September 24, 2015

This doesn't pass my "smellz" test

Call me the perpetual skeptic.  Do you ever have that nagging feeling that something isn't as it seems?  Like when you see a commercial on TV showing the ideal family....picture-perfect mom, dad, darling little boy and girl, and of course a cute puppy....moving into their new home.  Their "DREAM HOME" the voice-over guy says, all financed by "The Lender You Can Trust, Acme Bank."    *ahhh...warm fuzzy*  

Then, sure enough, the next day the news shows Acme Bank CEO Guido Gambino being hauled out of his office in handcuffs by Federal Marshal's.

The national news about the 14-year-old super-kid, Ahmed Mohamed, who was arrested in his high school in Irving, Tx for bringing his home-made clock to school, seems to be quieting down, but not so here in North Texas. What we're hearing now is becoming more and more "smelly".  Here is the latest:

Now there is considerable question about whether Ahmed's clock was home-made at all.  It seems it may have just been an old Radio Shack model that he (or someone) took out of its case and installed in a briefcase to look as if it was home-made.  But why?

From YouTube

Then it was reported by Irving Mayor Beth Duyne that the city was to meet with Mr. & Mrs. Mohamed (the parents) the day of the "incident", but the family cancelled.  Instead, "at the exact time they were to be meeting with us" said Mayor Duyne, "they were on their front lawn with a news conference."  And the parents won't allow the police account of what happened that day at school to be released to the public, which they can prohibit since Ahmed is a minor.  Why not, if it will bolster their claim of profiling?

And a nice little shindig their news conference was, too.  It seems the family served pizza and refreshments to the assembled news media beforehand.  Hmmmm....

I find it hard to believe that geeky, innocent looking 14-year-old kid could perpetrate such an elaborate hoax, if that's what it turns out to be (assuming anyone digs deep enough, long enough to find out one way or the other).  So who might?  His dad, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, an ambitious, one-time candidate for President of Sudan, today the director of the Islamic Sufi Center in Texas?

"It was Islamophobia", they protested.   May be.  But something just has my bullshit guard on high alert.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Common sense

Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by ("common to") nearly all people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.

Question....why are there so many "mouth breathers" walking around these days devoid of common sense to one degree or another?

Example:  The World Rally Championship (WRC) is a car racing series against a clock, along often-unpaved rural roads.  Cars can go 80+ mph and slide sideways around corners, kicking up clouds of dirt and rocks in the process.  The crazy part is that spectators often stand literally a few feet away as the cars go whizzing past.

Should anyone be surprised when sadly, on occasion, a driver loses control and crashes into the spectators with the "ring side seats"?

Do the spectators have a right to stand that close?  Yes, I suppose they do.  But wouldn't common sense suggest it wasn't a smart thing to do?


Many years ago my ex and I traveled to Chicago together to show our support for our daughter who was graduating from Naval Basic Training.  It was in December, and while we were there, my ex did some Christmas shopping.


As we were going through airport security on our way back to Dallas, the screener said she would need to see inside the wrapped packages.  When my ex protested, considering she had paid to have them professionally gift wrapped, the screener asked what was inside, and with more than a little sarcasm, my ex replied, "a bomb".  (NOTE:  This was prior to 9/11)

Of course I took three steps back and was prepared to swear I had never seen this woman before in my life.  But the screener correctly deduced that the ex at times (usually those requiring common sense) had an elevator that stopped a few floors shy of the penthouse, and waved her/us through. 

(For the record my ex is definitely NOT a mouth breather, but is in fact extremely smart.)

Did my ex have a right to say that?  I suppose so.  (Remember, this was before 9/11.)  But wouldn't common sense suggest it wasn't a smart thing to do?


And just this week, a student at an Irving, TX high school built a digital clock from assorted electronic parts and took it to school in a briefcase to show his science teacher.

Even after his science teacher cautioned him that he probably shouldn't be taking it around school, he did anyway, which eventually got him pulled from class, briefly arrested, and expelled from school for three days.  

Now I understand this was just a 14-year-old kid, and his "common sense" gene probably hadn't yet fully developed, but shouldn't his parents have had enough common sense to see how his contraption might...just might...be confused for a bomb?  Without the usual tell-tale signs such a digital readout, it wasn't readily apparent to a layman that it was a clock.

Of course, the fact that the student was Muslim has made his situation a viral sensation, many saying that it was all just a blatant case of Islamophobia. 

So did this student have the right to take his project to school?  I suppose so.  After all, it was just a clock.  But wouldn't it have been wise for him to leave it in his locker, or in the science class?  Wouldn't common sense suggest this wasn't a smart thing to do, carrying it to other classes, considering the shell-shocked, violence-filled world we live in today? 

Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you SHOULD.  Just sayin'. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

So is it a bomb, a bagel, or a Breitling?

The setting:  You're a high school English teacher, and one of your students brings this small briefcase to your class, opens it, and this ^ is what you see.

You go tell your principal what you saw (he/she may have come to personally see it, I don't know), and concerned that it was a homemade bomb, called the police.  Erring on the side of caution the police arrested the student, and the school suspended him for three days.

A justified, reasonably cautious reaction?  Discuss.


What if the student's name was David Carson.  Would it make any difference?

What if the student's name was Mahatma Patel.  Would it make any difference?

What if the student's name was Ahmed Mohamad.  Would it make any difference?


It turned out the "device" was a homemade clock that the student made and proudly brought to school to impress his teacher.  He was obviously a super smart kid, and after checking out his story and his project, the police said no charges would be filed.  They said they had simply erred on the side of student safety, considering the times we live in.

Do you see a clock in that briefcase?  I'm not an electrical engineer, and I have no idea what all those wires and that circuit board are for, but I would never have guessed this was a clock. 

For the record, the student's name was Ahmed Mohamad, and his parents are now enjoying their 15 minutes of fame, angrily claiming before TV cameras their son was the victim of Islamophobia.  The social media is on fire, praising the student for his ingenuity (agreed), the President has invited him to the White House, and because of this one-sided response, I'm guessing the police are in effect being accused of overreacting.

Is this much ado about nothing....overreacting....or a play of the race / religion card?

Your opinions would be appreciated, but please, BE NICE.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Me? I thought YOU were driving?

Here I am once again with your weekly dose of boredom, unless you're a geopolitical junkie like me. Then you might find this interesting....scary even.  Based on all I've seen, heard, and read, we're on the very edge of a perfect storm, and not a good one.

Over the next few years things are going to happen all around the globe that could change us dramatically.  I base this on my world-wide reputation as a preeminent....OK, I couldn't sleep, so it was post this Stephen King-like horror story or eat ice cream.

Our world is now more inter-dependent than ever.  What happens in Vegas, or Beijing, or Tehran doesn't stay there anymore.  Here's what we could soon be seeing:

1.  The Mid East is in mid-collapse....fact.  Iraq, Syria, and a few other so called "sovereign nations" *snort* in the region will never be reconstructed.  They are fragmented beyond repair.  A working alliance is developing between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey (all predominately Sunni Muslim) as well as....shhhh....Israel.  Their goal is to counter, take down even, Shia Muslim Iran.  Except Iran soon might have nukes, and may or may not be afraid to use them.  *gulp*
When the implosion finally comes, in whatever form it comes, some of us might be giddy happy....until we realize the real world consequences.  The global oil supply will be forever changed, and radical Muslims will scurry from there like rats fleeing a flooded sewer.  

As Europe gets 70-80% (?) of their energy from Russia and the Mid East combined (more on Russia later), they will be devastated.  The US, thanks to its newly energized oil production (fracking), will be somewhat spared....until the Europeans start bidding up the price of the rest of the world's oil.  Then it will impact us here, too.  We currently think we're swimming in oil world-wide, but if production tanks in the Mid East, that changes big time!  (You might think twice about the long-term wisdom of buying that giant gas guzzling truck/SUV.)

2.  Europe is screwed.  REALLY screwed!  In addition to their energy dilemma, the European Union (EU) is in its death throe.  The Euro as a monetary unit is not long for this world.  It is fatally flawed.  A common currency where each Euro zone country is counting on the others collectively to bail them out in a pinch (see Greece), yet has no say in how their errant cousins spend their money, is crazy.  If one stumbles, the others can motor along just fine, but if several go over the edge at the same time....YIKES!  (Would you give your kid a credit card, and guarantee their debts, with no strings attached?)

The wealthy northern Europeans resent the spendthrift southern Europeans, and if / when their economies hit the fan, it will be taps for the EU.  And the Biggest Loser will be Germany, and Germany pulls Europe's strings.  Dependent on others for most of their energy, and with 50% of their GNP derived from high-value exports, Germany will take a huge hit.  Europe will be "every man for himself", and we've seen how that often turns out.  

And do I even have to mention what is likely to happen when the social cost of taking in a million or more Middle Eastern refugees becomes apparent?  And since the Europeans have a rather dismal record of assimilating immigrants from other cultures, these new arrivals are likely to become restive and even violent, egged on by the embedded Muslim extremists / terrorists streaming in, too.  (But give the Europeans credit....most have their hearts in the right place at least.)

3.  China will wonder what hit them, too.  China's huge appetite for energy will see them dramatically retrench when the oil market wretches.  We tend to think of China as an economic behemoth, and it sorta is, but it's also a house of cards.  Their "stock market" is laughable.  It is HUGELY overvalued.  

Most of their companies (literally) are money losers kept afloat by their Sugar Daddy government, yet have P/E multiples in the stratosphere.  The Chinese right now are burning through their vault-full of surplus cash at an alarming rate, trying to buy time until they can fix things.  Which are they going to run out of first....time, or cash?  The ripples spreading out around the globe due to a stumbling China will be tough to contain.

And there are really two (Mainland) China's:  The industrial, gleaming, new, prosperous coastal China, and the still relatively backward interior.  The former gets much more generous treatment from their government, while their country cousins get short changed.  How long do you think THAT inequality will last when faced with a substantial economic meltdown?  Ouch!

4.  Russia....they're in denial.  They (their leadership at least) still like to think of themselves as a world power, but they aren't.  They're broke, and their economy is pretty much a one-trick pony (oil & gas).  If the collapse of the Mid East makes Russian oil suddenly more valuable....here's the scary part....they could be even MORE delusional.  The drunk bull will once again be stumbling around in the china closet.  And if they, for whatever reason, remain economically sickly, remember the old saying...."desperate people do desperate things."  Don't take your eye off them!

5.  South/Latin America is constantly on the verge of breaking out, but whenever they get close, they shoot themselves in the foot. There is no sign of anything changing there any time soon.  Same old same old.

6.  Africa is still resource rich....and still (likely forever?) dysfunctional.  No change there, either.

7.  North America (which includes the USA, for those who are geographically challenged :) will come through in much better shape, though we're not invulnerable.  We're both envied and scorned now for our often excessive / bully ways, and we will be even more so if we keep to our "my way or the highway" Tea Party / conservative attitude.  I am heartened, though, by the fact that many of our current crop of political candidates, D & R alike, are NOT the same old party hacks that we keep recycling, but genuinely new faces, even if one is Donald Trump's.  :)

We are much more energy sufficient than we were just a decade ago, yet if the rest of the world retrenches due to a Mid East in permanent collapse, we'll have foreigners wanting to buy OUR oil at prices that will hit us consumers hard in our wallets.  And with the world in a prolonged economic squeeze, we'll have fewer markets for our super-productive businesses to sell to.  We simply can't consume internally all we are capable of producing.  We'll likely see business closures, rising unemployment, and maybe even social unrest.  Then throw in a stagnant middle class, deteriorating race relations, etc....

8.  The environment is a changing.  We can argue about whether this change is man-made or just nature's natural cycle, but regardless, it's changing.  Colder winters, hotter summers, more severe droughts and floods....Mother Nature is pissed!  Her PMS may well change world-wide agricultural patterns.  Remember, hungry people are dangerous people.

When you put all the jigsaw puzzle pieces together, this is the picture on the box top.  If this scenario is correct, or even partially correct, we could be in for a rough ride.  Even if we get our house in order, we can still be blindsided by others around the world who are likely to be fighting for their lives.  Sometimes it seems like "globalism" is coming full circle to bite us, huh?

And if this scenario proves NOT to be correct, then it means all those think tanks, fancy-pants PhD analysts, and other assorted soothsayers I subscribe to were full of crap, so never mind.  ;)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The three worst jobs you could imagine?

As I was walking the dog earlier this morning I saw some things around me that got me to thinking, "Dang, I would HATE to do THAT all day!"

Landscape maintenance:  I HATE yard work.  Big shock!  That's the number one reason I'm so happy living in a nice apartment instead of owning my own home, as I did for 35+ years.  Watching those guys mow and edge and rake the grounds, all sweating and dirty, brought me flashbacks of the bad old days.  Yuck!

Movers:  I would just fall on my sword Hari Kari-style if I knew that every morning when I woke up I was going to have to pick up 50 tons of furniture, a hundred pounds at a time.  All day.  In the Texas heat, or during a New England winter.  (Wonder what their back-doctor bills are?) 

OK, this one is going to get me sliced, diced, and filleted:  Stay-at-home mom.  I know, I know....it's far-and-away the best environment for a child to be raised in.  But for someone used to reading, thinking, trying to solve problems, or better yet, recognizing and remedying small things before they become big problems, playing patty-cake and imitating pig and cow sounds all day just sounds brain atrophying.  (Have you seen that nasty stuff that goes in, and comes out*, of little kids?  Ewwww!)   That "mommy hormone" must be some powerful stuff! 

All this said....a big thank you to the guys that make my neighborhood a nicer place to live in, the movers who spare me my one-and-only back, and the moms who are raising our next generation of thinkers, leaders, problem solvers, and just plain nice people.

You're up....what are some of your worst nightmare jobs?


*Yes, helping with three daughters, I've changed a mountain of dirty diapers and cleaned up gallons of pre-mushed green-pea baby food puke.  It's a trauma I still can't shake.  But they turned out to be awesome ladies, so it was worth it.  ;)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

And where they'll land, noooooobody knows....

Wait for the $64,000 Question at the end

The mass exodus of desperate refugees from the war torn regions of the Mid East (which is most of it) continues.  Men, women, and little children are running for their lives, carrying with them little more than the clothes on their back.  Over a million are expected to make it to Europe this year, but exactly where they will eventually call home is still up in the air.

Our Western sense of decency and compassion, at least mine, says we must help them.  We can't simply sit idly by when people are exhausted, hungry, homeless, and desperate.  To do nothing would be absolutely heartless.

But now we're told it's almost guaranteed that embedded within these migrants are terrorists.  The jihadists are certainly cruel and brutal, but they are NOT stupid.  I doubt many of the fearful refugees making the trek are carrying official paperwork, so it would be easy for a few hundred....thousand?....ISIS/Al Qaeda-types to sneak through, too, where they could link-up later with cells already in place in Europe or elsewhere.

Let's back up and review for a second.  What is the ultimate root-cause of all this mess?  IMO, it's Islam.  Have you seen a religion, in the modern era at least, that condones killing to this degree in the name of their Supreme Being?  That seems to be one bitter religion.  Shia vs Sunni....Wahhabi....Salafist....they're just out of control!  My understanding is they aren't fighting for economic gain, or territorial gain, but to conquer others in order to please Allah.

Sure, Christianity has had their dark periods, too....think The Crusades, and more recently in Northern Ireland and the Balkans and a few other places as well.  (I don't think you could include the Nazi era, Stalin's reign of terror, the Japanese atrocities in the Orient, or the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, etc, as they were NOT about religion.)  But looking at the big picture of modern world history, the brutality of Islam seems to be in a religious class by itself.

Of course not ALL Muslims are terrorists, far from it.  But the crazies are gaining momentum, and the rest seem to be becoming more marginalized.   Now ordinary, middle class, educated, (mainly young and impressionable) Muslims are drinking the jihadist Kool Aid, too.  The European Union is right now trying to decide how many refugees each member country should take in, and the US is also weighing in on how many should be admitted here as well.

The $64,000 Question

Considering the horrendous death, destruction, and panic that could be inflicted on the general population today by a terrorist attack, is it time to revisit "profiling"?  I know it's wrong to profile kids just because they're wearing hoodies, or because a minority drives through an affluent white suburb after dark, but the consequences of missing a jihadist plot as it's being hatched are quite different.  It's a tough question, and definitely a slippery slope.  How do you balance the rights of the many vs the potential harm that could be caused by the few?

Let's apply this to a scenario closer to home:  You're taking your son to begin his freshman year at college.  Due to a dorm SNAFU he's been assigned to a new room at the last minute.  You get the key and go to room 234 and find his new roommate already there.  

As you enter he and several friends abruptly cease their rather animated conversation, and you notice a scene on a laptop of an explosion or maybe a hooded man holding a huge bloody knife, before it's snapped shut.  The friends leave without making eye contact, and after Mohammad introduces himself, leaves as well.  He has no room decorations, no pictures or posters on the bulletin board, and the textbooks on his shelf suggest he's a chemical or maybe electrical engineering major.

Do you give your son a good luck handshake, slip him a couple hundred dollars extra "fun money" and remind him to behave himself, then mosey back home?  Or do you consider that maybe a semester back at the local junior college might not be such a bad place for little Timmy after all?

What would you do?  


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I'm not feelin' the love

Remember my recent post about the creeping anarchy I saw around the world?  I'm not so sure it's "creeping".  Seems to me it's about to break into a jog, if not a sprint.  Consider this:

Mid East meets West

Unless you live under a rock you'll know that the Mid East is currently in turmoil.  Really, really deep doo-doo, actually.  It's their normal state of affairs.  Literally millions of refugees have fled the wars in Syria and Iraq, and now are trying to escape the barbarism of ISIS, too.  Many hundreds of thousands have made their way to Europe, looking for a better, or at least safer, life.

According to EU rules, open borders theoretically allow those in any EU country to move freely around and into any other EU country.  This is now being challenged, and strained.  It's really a sad situation.  All these migrants want is to not be shot at, to work, to provide food for their families and a roof over their heads.  It's something we can all sympathize with. 

Here's the problem:  Germans, possibly because of their lingering national guilt due to their dark WWII-years, have been surprisingly accommodating to these refugees, while many other countries have not been.  Germany expects 900,000 to arrive just this year.  (To put this into context, it would be like 3,000,000 refugees arriving in the US in just one year.)  That's quite a social burden to take on.  Most of the rest of Europe can't or won't, and it's threatening the cohesion of Europe, such as it is. Yet the migrants keep coming.

Things are getting more tense and desperate by the day, which historically will lead to an eventual breaking point.  And every terrorist attack, such as the French train shooting a few weeks ago, strengthens the case of the anti-immigrant factions who see in every refugee a latent terrorist. 

So when is this breaking point going to be reached, and when it happens, what form will it take?   Beats me.  All I know is that the Europeans are being re-active, and not pro-active.  They fell behind the curve early and will probably never make up the lost ground....a situation that anarchists dream of.

Remember reading of those days when having big 'ol oceans around us kept us isolated from all those pesky foreign problems?  No more.  We're no longer immune from the wars in the Mid East, the stock market crash in China, or pollution originating anywhere in the world.  All those problems will find us, too, probably sooner rather than later. 

In retrospect, do you think maybe we should have left Iraq, and Libya, and Syria, and all the rest of that blighted region alone?  They were in a bad situation for sure, but are things any better today after all our meddling?  We were told the goal was to get the bad guys over there before they could get to us here, but I fear the opposite....we've only accelerated the process.  

Yes, I'm a political science nerd.  It's gonna be interesting (for me at least) to see how all this eventually shakes out.  Keep your powder dry.