Monday, November 20, 2017
Alma Boykin came down to stay with Miss D. and I over the weekend. Old NFO, Lawdog and the lovely Phlegmmy joined us for the festivities, accompanied by aepilotjim when he wasn't working. Much fun was had eating at local restaurants, shooting at a local range, and working late assembling (or starting to assemble) a large jigsaw puzzle. Alma's good company.
Our cats enjoyed the visitor, too. Kili largely took it in her stride, as befits the senior cat, but Ashbutt's still in kitten mode when it comes to playing (and will be for several years yet - he's part Maine Coon, after all, and that's a characteristic of the breed). He dogged Alma's footsteps, tried to sneak into the guest room with her to sleep on her bed (she was wise to that, having her own feline companion, and fended him off at the door), and bugged her whenever possible to play with him using his favorite toy, a string on a stick.
This is how he looked this afternoon after she'd left. (Clickit to biggit.)
That's one worn-out cat!
Aaron Clarey, a.k.a. Captain Capitalism, has written a very useful, easily understandable primer on why it's necessary for businesses to make a profit. Here's a brief excerpt.
The simplest way to understand why profits are necessary is to understand it from a perspective of providing goods and services. This is an oft forgotten or ignored aspect of economics because everybody seems to focus on MONEY and not the things that actually matter - GOODS AND SERVICES.
I cannot eat a dollar.
A Yen will not provide you surgery.
A pound will not feed your dog.
And a Euro will not fuel your car.
However, these currencies WILL buy us the goods and services that provide ultimate value and utility in life. A dollar will buy me an apple that I can eat. A Yen will buy me some gas that will fuel my car. A Euro will buy a dentist's services to repair your teeth. And a pound will buy some dental floss after your dentists lectures you for not flossing. So the whole point and purpose of an economy is to produce the stuff, not the money nor necessarily profits in the process of doing so.
Since it is the stuff that needs producing that ultimately matters you need to ask how stuff gets produced, and the answer is "not charitably."
In order for things to get produced, somebody has to inevitably forfeit some of their time to produce them. This can be done on an individual level as per subsistence type craphole economies like Africa, or in the awesome 1st world through organizations, namely, corporations and companies. Large and complex systems organizing capital and labor to produce an amazing plethora of things all on the cheap. But regardless of the size of the company, it has to ultimately be started. And since time is ultimately the ONLY resource that matters to humans, any sane and self-respecting human is going to demand he or she be compensated for it.
Thus introducing profit.
This is the problem most people who have a problem with profit face. They look at it backwards. The issue isn't whether somebody deserves profit or whether profit should exist. NOTHING would exist unless it was for profit. And the insurance industry explains this incredibly well.
There's more at the link.
This is the sort of thing that socialists can never seem to understand. Without the incentive of profit to motivate them, why should individuals or businesses work for the common good? They won't, of course, as the history of applied socialism makes dismally clear . . . but somehow a lot of young people are taken in by this false argument and fake philosophy.
If you have such people among your friends and/or acquaintances and/or colleagues, let them have a copy of Aaron Clarey's article. It might make them think - for once.
Doofi have been popping up all over the place lately. I wonder if we'll hit #1,000 by the end of the year? Be that as it may, today's winner comes from Germany.
A man with an oversized Christmas tree has left a trail of destruction in his wake after blundering through a small town in southern Germany with it hanging off the back of his truck.
The hapless driver, who had apparently completely underestimated the size of the tree, towed it on his trailer through the picturesque town of Kandern, in Baden-Württemberg, on Saturday morning.
Unaware of the size of his truck’s large backside, the man bashed into several road signs and damaged a bridge as he swerved round corners and made his way through town.
His reckless driving meant oncoming motorists had to slam on the emergency brakes to avoid smashing into the tree, local police said.
Meanwhile, those driving behind him were forced to swerve to avoid branches that had broken away en route.
. . .
One shocked motorist contacted the police, who tracked the driver by simply following the trail of branches.
There's more at the link.
I wonder if they'll charge him with high tree-son?
I received the link to this video from several readers. Thanks to all of you! The military veterans among my readers, irrespective of their branch of service, will recognize the truth in this exchange.
I think I've met that Second Lieutenant a few times . . . although I hope and pray I never acted like that during my "salad days, when I was green in judgment"!
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Saturday, November 18, 2017
In all the accounts of the Sutherland Springs church shooting a couple of weeks ago, one element stood out for me.
Stephen Willeford ... responded to the sound of gunfire by grabbing an AR-15 with an EOTech red dot sight out of his safe. But he didn’t have a magazine loaded. So he grabbed a handful of ammo and started loading a single magazine and headed for the crime scene.
God bless Mr. Willeford for being willing to put his own life on the line to protect the lives of others. I've no doubt those who survived the massacre did so in large part thanks to his intervention. However, his story highlights a conundrum that affects many gun owners.
We hear advice from many sources that one should never store a firearm in a loaded condition. Many owners manuals for firearms specifically state that. We hear advice that one should store ammunition separately from firearms. Some jurisdictions make that official. For example, here's the sixth rule of gun safety from the office of California's Attorney General.
Store your gun safely and securely to prevent unauthorized use. Guns and ammunition should be stored separately. When the gun is not in your hands, you must still think of safety. Use a California-approved firearms safety device on the gun, such as a trigger lock or cable lock, so it cannot be fired. Store it unloaded in a locked container, such as a California-approved lock box or a gun safe. Store your gun in a different location than the ammunition. For maximum safety you should use both a locking device and a storage container.
In other countries, for example Australia, it's actually illegal to store firearms and ammunition together. Police may make unannounced visits at "reasonable times", without a search warrant, to ensure that gun owners are in compliance with the law; if they're not, they face confiscation of their firearms on the spot, and the permanent loss of their gun license(s).
The trouble is, such policies prevent any reasonably quick armed response to a crime. Of course, that's the point in such jurisdictions: police don't want citizens stopping crimes using their firearms. That's a very important reason for avoiding such jurisdictions if you can! However, if he'd been living under such legal restrictions, Mr. Willeford would not have been able to stop the church massacre as he did.
Safety considerations are important, particularly if you have small children and/or untrained persons who might get their hands on your guns. (You should, of course, store them in such a way that they can't . . . but accidents happen.) Nevertheless, you also need to be able to respond to crime in order to defend yourself, your loved ones, and your property, where that's legally permitted. To do so, you'll need a loaded gun. Ideally, you should have it on your person, where it's always under your supervision and control. However, for many of us, that's not possible; which means storing at least one firearm in a loaded condition, and/or with a magazine or other ammunition supply near it and available for instant access.
If Mr. Willeford had had a loaded magazine already available, instead of having to load one, he might have been able to intervene more quickly, and save even more lives. That's a thought I'm sure he's had since the tragedy. It's one we need to think about, too. If you rely on a firearm for self-defense and the protection of your family, you need to have ammunition ready to go, accessible with the firearm.
The military refers to a soldier's ammo loadout as a "basic load". It's carried over and above his other necessities. Here's what that looked like for a Vietnam-era soldier; modern troops carry even more.
Police have a similar concept, although they don't necessarily call it the same thing. As civilians, we don't need anything like a full "basic load", and we almost certainly will never need that much ammunition. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend having available at least three loaded magazines per weapon, one in the gun, the other two as backups, carried on one's belt, in pockets, or in a so-called "tactical" vest. If carrying two guns (e.g. a rifle and a pistol), I'd recommend three magazines for each weapon.
It's all very well being safety conscious; but too much safety consciousness can get you killed, or prevent you from responding to an emergency as you'd otherwise do. I daresay Mr. Willeford regrets his lack of a loaded magazine. I hope and pray none of us ever have cause to do the same.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the compete stories about Conan the Barbarian, written by Robert E. Howard, are now out of copyright. They've been compiled as an e-book - for just 99 cents!
The stories inspired two well-known movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Conan the Barbarian" and "Conan the Destroyer", which have attracted a cult following. For the benefit of those who may not have seen them, here are two of the theatrical trailers for the first movie.
Conan was a literary phenomenon. The stories inspired countless successors, and most modern sword-and-sorcery fantasy owes Robert E. Howard a debt of gratitude (not to mention acknowledgement for all the details borrowed from his work!). Personally, I find his Conan stories somewhat repetitive and "same old, same old": but I doff my hat to him for having, in a very real sense, founded the sword-and-sorcery genre with the character and his adventures.
If you're at all interested in modern sword-and-sorcery fantasy, whether as a reader or as a writer, this is an essential collection; and, at just under a dollar, it's unbeatable value. Highly recommended for its historical value (and for some good stories in the collection).
(A final note: some of the early reviews on Amazon.com complain about missing chapters in some stories. That problem appears to have been fixed - at least, the copy I've bought has no missing chapters.)
Friday, November 17, 2017
I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. A group of Blogorado attendees, including yours truly, have come together to raise funds for our friend Andi. She's had a stroke, and is facing massive medical bills for her treatment and rehabilitation therapy. Details are in my first post, and you can read more about Andi in Jennifer's blog post about the fund-raiser.
We've contributed guns, jewelry and other things from our respective collections, and some very generous "outside" friends have also added prizes to the pot. Old NFO has details and pictures of most of them in three blog posts, here, here and here. For every $10 you donate, you get a chance at a prize; for every $50, six chances; for every $100, 12 chances; etc. The first winner drawn will take his or her pick of the prizes; the second will choose out of what's left, and so on.
As I write these words, the fundraiser stands at $12,692 out of a goal of $25,000. In other words, we've raised just under 51% of what we hope to get. There's still a long way to go, so may I appeal to you, please, dear readers, to support this fundraiser? Andi's good people, and she's facing a need that might come to any of us one day. If it does, I know you'll agree that it'd be desirable to have good people trying to help you pay for it. On the basis of "do unto others", let's "do unto Andi" in a good cause.
I'm giggling at some of the reactions to a British bakery's Christmas advertisement.
A British bakery chain has apologized after creating a Nativity scene in which Baby Jesus, surrounded by three wise men, was replaced with a sausage roll.
And not just any sausage roll, but one that had been bitten into.
Greggs, the largest bakery chain in Britain, released the image of the sausage roll nestled in a straw-filled manger to help promote its $32 advent calendar.
But no sooner had the image of the sausage roll savior been published than consumers of all faiths took to Twitter to express moral indignation — and more than a few snickers.
One woman observed that Jesus was Jewish and that pork was not kosher.
“Out of interest do you think the people at Greggs understand that Jesus was Jewish and serving up a pork sausage roll in the manger is unbelievably inappropriate?” the woman identifying herself as Beth Rosenberg, wrote on Twitter.
. . .
While many people said they were offended by the image, it also prompted whimsy, delight, a poem and more than a few bad puns. “I never thought I would see the sentence ‘Greggs sorry for replacing Jesus with sausage roll’. One of those moments that makes you glad to be alive,” Emma Weinbren, an editor at The Grocer, wrote on Twitter.
There's more at the link.
Well . . . it was in bad taste, certainly, but (almost by definition) one can hardly call a sausage roll "tasteless", can one?
Thursday, November 16, 2017
From Borepatch, concerning the sex scandals surrounding current and prospective members of Congress and the Senate:
Pretty wild - every time I think that my assessment of Congress can't be any lower than it is, they up and say "hold my beer".
Today's award goes to a particularly dumb criminal in Colorado. A tip o' the hat to reader Jim H. for sending me the link.
When you're in court before the judge, and you doff your cap in deference, make sure your cocaine does not fall out of your hat and onto the floor where both the judge and the cops can see it.
And it would help if you weren't in court on a separate felony drug charge in the first place.
. . .
Juan Jose Vidrio Bibriesca, 43 ... now faces two more charges: narcotics possession and bond violation, both felonies.
Bibriesca was born in Mexico and is reportedly in the country illegally, which means Immigration and Customs Enforcement will also want a word with him.
There's more at the link.
He didn't even need to say anything to convict himself - his actions spoke louder than his words!
I recently stumbled upon the Web site of Bill Shipman, a rifle-maker in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He produces reproductions of 17th- and 18th-century muzzle-loading weapons. I was stunned by his attention to detail, careful selection of wood, and the level of ornamentation in the fittings.
Here are just four examples of his work, taken from his gallery. Click each image for a larger view.
Isn't that great workmanship? There are dozens more images, particularly in the detailed galleries for each weapon. Highly recommended viewing.
If I could afford one of Mr. Shipman's rifles, I'd already have my order in! I can't, I'm afraid . . . but a man can dream, can't he?
Yes, I'm going to talk about debt yet again, because it's such a critical issue right now that our economy is teetering on the brink of what's been called a "debt tsunami". Unfortunately, far too few consumers are aware of the extent of the problem, and even those that are tend to downplay its likely impact on their lives. That's a critical error.
Let's begin by looking at US government debt. It's a foundational issue, because every US taxpayer is on the hook for his or her "share" of that debt. David Stockman calls it "The Black Swan In Plain Sight---Debt Out The Wazoo". (If you don't understand his reference to 'the black swan', see here.)
Washington has suspended it[s] way into a $5.7 trillion increase in the public debt in just six years since October 2011. That is, during a period which supposedly constitutes the third longest business expansion in US history.
Indeed, when viewed in cyclical context the latest spike screams out a severe warning. To wit, in the 12 months since the election shock of November 8, 2016, the net public debt--- after giving effect to the fluctuations in the cash balance----has risen by $870 billion to the current total of nearly $20.28 trillion.
. . .
In short, the Dems have never cared about the deficit and are now just harrumphing about it because the Brady bill does not benefit their constituencies and because it being pursued on a strictly partisan basis. And now that the Donald has left the Congressional GOP crazed and desperate for a "win," they, too, have thrown fiscal sanity to the winds and, instead, are signing up for a double catastrophe.
That is, they are embracing a giant, politically-stupid "trickle down" tax cut that will not make it to the legislative finish line, but will be a huge loser in the 2018 campaigns.
At the same time, they have punted completely on the spending side of the equation by using the FY 2018 budget resolution as a phony vehicle for parliamentary maneuver (i.e. 51-vote reconciliation in the Senate), thereby guaranteeing that the automatic spending machine for entitlements and debt service---70% of the total---will roll forward unmolested.
. . .
At the end of the day, you can't borrow your way to prosperity. That's the oldest rule in the book of sound money and sustainable finance.
And it's about ready to be learned all over again.
There's more at the link. Note that Mr. Stockman blames both political parties for the current situation, as do I. Both of them have gotten us into this mess through profligate spending. Neither is willing to change that - yet.
That's the situation on the government side of the debt equation. What about you and I, the private citizens who make up this nation? Robert Gore points out that government debt has been used to fund benefits for current voters - setting up a disaster for future voters.
In the US, the increase in government debt has been larger than the increase in GDP every year since the 2008 financial crisis. Under the accounting standards the government mandates for the private sector, the US is going backward, getting poorer. Future generations will carry an ever-expanding debt load with a shrinking ability to repay it. The aging population and unfunded pension and medical liabilities—promises made by governments, but not technically debt—exacerbates this bleak scenario.
. . .
Across the developed world, the younger generation faces a future already mortgaged by a kleptocratic oligarchy ... Debt initially dazzles and deceives, then it disappoints, disillusions, devastates, and destroys. The oldsters got the first two, the youngsters will get the last four. The former reassure themselves: we vote, the kids don’t, we’ll protect our benefits. Debt deceives. Mounting public pension problems are a harbinger: you can’t squeeze blood from stone, not matter how many vote for it.
A collapse of the debt skyscraper of cards is inevitable, the issue is who bears the losses. Amidst the devastation and destruction, the young may cast a gimlet eye on the benefits their elders have voted themselves, and decide they’re less than willing to fund them. They may decide a generational uprising is in order—perhaps outside the boundaries of the normal political process—and a reshuffling of the remaining assets.
Again, more at the link.
So, we've seen how the growth in government debt has continued unabated since the 2007/08 financial crisis. Voters have demanded government handouts, and our elected politicians have obliged; but they've had to fund those handouts by borrowing, because there wasn't enough tax revenue coming in to pay for them all. Those who've received those benefits (and demand to continue receiving them) are doing so at the expense of those who will have to repay the borrowed money in future - namely, the young(er) people and voters of today. Will they consent to repay it? Or will they default on it, wipe the slate clean - and wipe out the inflated benefits still being paid to older voters? I know what I'd do, in their shoes. If you're relying on government money to fund your retirement in the style to which you'd like to be accustomed . . . I'd think again, if I were you.
The plight of younger voters isn't made any easier by the financial stresses and strains on them as wage-earners and consumers. Market Watch reported this week, "Household debt rises by $116 billion as credit-card delinquencies pile up". People are finding that their income simply can't fund even what they consider to be essential spending: so they're borrowing more and more money to pay those bills. It's worse in high-cost-of-living states such as California.
Homeless advocates and city officials say it's outrageous that in the shadow of a booming tech economy - where young millionaires dine on $15 wood-grilled avocado and think nothing of paying $1,000 for an iPhone X - thousands of families can't afford a home. Many of the homeless work regular jobs, in some cases serving the very people whose sky-high net worth is the reason housing has become unaffordable for so many.
Across the street from Saldana's camper, for example, two-bedroom units in the apartment complex start at $3,840, including concierge service. That's more than she brings home, even in a good month ... She cooks and serves food at two hotels in nearby Palo Alto, jobs that keep her going most days from 5 in the morning until 10 at night. Two of her sons, all in their 20s, work at a bakery and pay $700 toward the RV each month. They're all very much aware of the economic disparity in Silicon Valley.
"How about for us people who are serving these tech people?" Saldana said. "We don't get the same paycheck that they do."
It's all part of a growing crisis along the West Coast, where many cities and counties have seen a surge in the number of people living on the streets over the past two years. Counts taken earlier this year show 168,000 homeless people in California, Oregon and Washington - 20,000 more than were counted just two years ago.
The booming economy, fueled by the tech sector, and decades of under-building have led to an historic shortage of affordable housing. It has upended the stereotypical view of people out on the streets as unemployed: They are retail clerks, plumbers, janitors - even teachers - who go to work, sleep where they can and buy gym memberships for a place to shower.
. . .
The median rent in the San Jose metro area is $3,500 a month, yet the median wage is $12 an hour in food service and $19 an hour in health care support, an amount that won't even cover housing costs. The minimum annual salary needed to live comfortably in San Jose is $87,000, according to a study by personal finance website GoBankingRates.
. . .
On a recent evening, Benito Hernandez returned to a crammed RV in Mountain View after laying flagstones for a home in Atherton, where Zillow pegs the median value of a house at $6.5 million. He rents the RV for $1,000 a month and lives there with his pregnant wife and children.
The family was evicted two years ago from an apartment where the rent kept going up, nearing $3,000 a month.
"After that, I lost everything," said Hernandez, 33, who works as a landscaper and roofer.
He says his wife "is a little bit sad because she says, 'You're working very hard but don't have credit to get an apartment.' I tell her, 'Just wait, maybe a half-year more, and I'll get my credit back'."
More at the link.
Lower-cost-of-living areas don't have such exorbitant rents and other costs, of course, but then, salaries and wages in such areas are also lower, so the burden is proportionately just as bad. In my area of Texas, well-paid work is scarce; many people have to travel to the oil fields to get good-paying jobs, leaving their families behind and sending them money every month. The stress of separation adds to their economic anxieties.
Ray Dalio speaks of "The Two Economies: The Top 40% and the Bottom 60%". John Mauldin analyzes his views, and adds his own insights, in an article titled "The Distribution of Pain".
[Dalio] believes it is a serious mistake to think you can analyze or understand “the” economy because we now have two of them. The wealth and income levels are so skewed between top and bottom that “average” indicators no longer reflect the average person’s experience or living conditions.
. . .
Dalio ... goes on to quantify the 60/40 split with some startling numbers. Just a sampling:
• The average household in the top 40% earns four times more than the average household in the bottom 60%.. . .
• Real incomes for the bottom 60% have been either flat or down slightly since 1980.
• In 1980, the average top 40% household had six times more wealth than the average bottom-60% household. Now it is 10 times as much.
• Only about a third of the bottom 60% saves any of their income.
One source of considerable stress ... is household debt. I talk a lot about government debt and pension debt, but for most people the more immediate concern is probably their mortgage, auto, credit-card, and student loan debt. There is a mountain of it.
. . .
We have had this notion of the “working class.” These are the people who do not own the businesses and are not professionals in the sense of being doctors or lawyers or accountants ... there is a distinction between what we have seen as the working class and what I am coming to see as the service class. A working-class person is somebody who has a trade, and because of their skill, they can generally command a decent income.
Then there is the service class – bar and restaurant workers, retail salespeople, general manual laborers, and so on. These jobs are almost plug-and-play. It is not that the greedy restaurant owner doesn’t want to pay his staff more; it’s that competition generally won’t let him do so and still make a profit. So he holds his labor costs down; and he can do so, because in today’s market there are typically more people available for jobs than there are jobs. And because of the Obamacare mandate, if you are a business with more than 50 employees, you simply cannot afford to have full-time employees; so you resort more and more to part-time positions, which do not allow a worker to earn an adequate wage.
Health care being number one of the worry list? I think a large part of that is the fact that young people are required to buy ridiculously expensive health insurance packages in order to subsidize a sick elderly population. And if you’re making $10–$12 an hour working two part-time jobs, trying to figure out how to hold onto a place to live, eat, have adequate clothing, and a bit for entertainment, you’re just not able to spend $400–$600 a month on health care. And then you find out that your taxes are much higher than you thought they would be because now you have to pay the penalty for not having health insurance. Yes, that might stress me out, too.
. . .
We are a nation that is increasingly under stress. Dalio talks about it in terms of the bottom 60% versus the top 40%, but he could have made the same case using an 80–20 model or even a 90–10 model. I am reminded of Pareto’s 80/20 principle, which states that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of causes ... Unless we somehow figure out how to help people deal with their stress and better manage the yawning differences in incomes and outcomes, we’re going to see increasing tension and fragmentation in our society.
More at the link. Bold, underlined text in the last sentence is my emphasis.
Follow the chain of thought expressed in the articles I've cited.
- The US government borrows profligately to fund expenditure it can't otherwise afford.
- Every US taxpayer is on the hook for those borrowings, whether we like it or not. Sooner or later, they're going to have to be repaid - or repudiated, which would trash this country's credit rating for years, if not decades, to come.
- State and local governments have overwhelmingly followed the lead of the federal government, and borrowed out the wazoo to fund their expenditure (which they often used to bribe local interest groups such as trades unions, community organizations, etc. into voting for the party distributing the borrowed largesse).
- In their turn, US consumers, unable to make ends meet on their ever-diminishing (in real, after-actual-inflation terms) salaries and wages, have also turned to borrowing to fund their everyday needs. (Some are not "needs" so much as aspirations or desires, of course. Anyone borrowing a six-figure sum to study for a degree or degrees that offer(s) little hope of earning enough money to repay the loan(s), while leaving enough over to live on, is . . . that's just nuts.)
- Added to all of the above, we've seen a growing dichotomy in society between the "haves" and the "have-nots", where most of us (the bottom 80%-odd of the population) have seen the real purchasing power of our earnings diminish steadily over time, while the top quintile have seen theirs increase. An economic gulf has developed, and it's getting worse. Effectively, those who could do so, have controlled the government to spend money where they wanted it spent, thereby generating better returns for themselves. The debt incurred by governments has very often been used for their advantage. The rest of us have been browbeaten into accepting, or at least tolerating, the situation . . . but that's changing fast.
- The root of all these issues, if you take it back to first causes, is debt.
The absolutely staggering scale of debt in the world, dwarfing all the assets in existence and the productivity of the entire global economy, is mind-boggling. Visual Capitalist has laid it out in a graphic that will amaze you. It's far too big to reproduce here in its original form. Click over there and scroll down to view the various categories, and read the explanations of each in the sidebar. It's worth your time.
Debt is killing us, as a nation, as states, as cities and towns, and as individuals. There's no other way to put it. It's a noose around our necks, and it's getting tighter by the day. The only solution, on an individual basis, is to get rid of it by paying off our debts, and living - as far as possible - debt free from now on. What's more, we should stop using debt to pay for everyday living expenses. It should be reserved for high-value items that are too expensive to buy for cash, and that will give us a long-term return on our investment, either by the increasing value of the asset (e.g. a home), or by the utility we'll get out of it (e.g. a vehicle).
Food for thought.