30 May 2015

If I Had The Tools

One of my all-time favorite memories of my father and our jewelry store (my first life; the memories are not all good) was when an out-of-towner, visiting our charming and affluent New England shoreline village, would come into the store, place some precious personal item that needed attention on the counter, look down his or her faux-patrician nose at the olive-skinned, head loupe-wearing peasant and announce, in a derisive tone, "It's such a minor repair. If I had the tools, I'd do this myself." In other words, this is so simple you should drop everything you may be doing and tend to my needs so I can be on my important way, and there shouldn't be a charge. Treat me right, and I might just buy one of those emerald rings I'm pretending to be interested in.

My father would go into the shop, collect whatever tools were necessary to complete the task (including an acetylene tank and torch, if need be), walk back out to the front, place everything down on the counter and say, "Here. Now you have the tools."

There is great schadenfreude in watching people squirm after their bluff is called.

Another favorite was the visiting matron/yuppie who needed some "small repair or adjustment" to their priceless piece that they would "normally give to their own jeweler," "hate to let anyone else touch," are "worried about getting the same stone back," etc. The old man would take the piece, disappear into the shop, pick up a hammer, wail on a steel mandril or other handy noisemaker for a few seconds, then come out with a handful of random pieces collected from his bench. And she would be ignorant and self-centered enough to be blind to the fact that it was a joke.

And, lest I (or he, posthumously) be labeled sexist, the same game worked on visiting men, though their small repair or adjustment was typically on their precious Rolex or Patek. For them, my father would make somewhat softer noises, and grab a handful of watch parts to walk back out with.

Not all of the time I spent in retail was spent in misery, but few people were less suited for it than my old man and me.

19 May 2015

Don't Forget the Vet

My meager charitable donations are heavily weighted toward veterans and lightly toward the more popular suffering or starving animals, children, etc. I've nothing against animals and children (animals, anyway), but everybody likes animals and children, so they get their fair share of support thanks to heart-string-tugging commercial pleas drenched in Johann Pachelbel and Sarah McLachlan.

But we tend to forget the vet, from funding and solutions mired by gridlock in Washington, to apathy and ignorance from the general populace. It is shameful and sometimes criminal how we treat our soldiers after we've sent them off to die or be maimed (physically, psychologically, or both) for the arguably good or actual protection of the country. Whether one agrees with the wars they fight or not, let's don't forget that these men and women are following orders, not creating them.

 A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.
-Texas Guinan

16 May 2015

Ruining The Future

Declinist that I may be, I still take a lot of what I read in Economy In Crisis with a grain of salt. But this sentence, from a referenced 2012 article in the arguably even more salt-grain-worthy ETF Daily News, resonated:

We are ruining the future of this nation in order to make the present more pleasant for ourselves.

Sums it up beautifully, but all that "pleasant" is shifting more and more toward the top and away from the bottom.

We humanoids (worldwide) have created competitive, not cooperative, cultures, societies, economies. It may simply be in our nature, but it is beginning to look like we're about to find out how this all plays out in what is looking more and more like the endgame of a race to the bottom. The flow of money is opposite the flow of heat; money moves toward itself (despite everyone knowing this and what it's doing to us, and, unlike the laws of thermodynamics, this one we can actually change). Companies continue, through technology and shareholder demands, to do more stuff with fewer people. How can this ever create more than just low-level, unsecure jobs not yet replaced by machine while we continue to make more people who need jobs paying a decent wage and offering some financial security? It seems like simple math that just cannot add up, and yet we continue to run the same equation. How can this possibly end well for more than just a few, and for even those, how much time can their money buy before it all collapses?

The uber rich will have, for a while, amassed enough wealth to be able to purchase pleasantor at least shelter, food and health care—by spending liquid assets and jettisoning other equity as needed. (Provided there are still buyers. As of this writing, they're bidding fine art into the stratosphere.) You're in a very different world of "pain" when you can cut back 90% of your income/wealth and still have more remaining than 90% of the rest, who will experience misery like they never imagined in even their worst fever dreams or blockbuster apocalyptic films. But in time, the game will play out for even the super rich. Their future generations will come late to the party, but eventually get caught holding the bag.

We've gotten used to boom-and-bust, zero interest and "Quantitative Easing" as the acceptable norm, but what if the next crash is the one from which we cannot recover? What happens when the smoke clears, the mirrors crack, and the duct tape and bungee cords holding this charade together finally snap? What happens when the perfect storm of climate change, fuel/energy scarcity, food scarcity, water scarcity, collapsing infrastructure and collapsing economy all collide? Will our last ounce of strength and cent of fiat currency be put into war? It won't be the first Great Depression; it won't be the first World War; it won't be the first collapse of currency; it won't be the first collapse of civilization. But it will be the first time we run out of fuel and water, at least on a large scale.

Perhaps this income inequality is not by accident. Those at the controls are running this economic engine hard and over-speed; the exhaust manifolds are red hot, the oil is worn and dirty. They know damned well that it's going to blow apart, but worse, they know that this time, it could be a long time—generations—before it begins to recover, if it ever does. The rich are playing their own version of prepping. Only they're not stockpiling guns, ammo, food, water and fuel, they're simply stockpiling Cash and Other Assets. Because when you have enough Cash and Other Assets, you can buy all the guns, ammo, food, water and fuel you want. Or so you hope. And it will work, until it's truly Game Over, however and whenever the game finally ends.

The renaissance, after the Big Crash & Reboot, might be a beautiful time to live for whoever is around to experience it, until human nature eventually just repeats the same mistakes. A Tragedy of the Commons does not need fossil fuels, Washington, or Wall Street. But the period when we really begin to circle the drain, then go down same, will be both fascinating and terrifying, albeit not all at once, but like a tsunami moving inland as it makes its way up the income/worth ladder. Illness (and lack of health care), violence (with weakening or corrupt law enforcement), and suicide (just let me out of here) will assist with reduction of the population, at least, so what remains of resources will stretch a bit longer for those who can afford to purchase some pleasant.

It is possible that all this angst is for naught, and it won't be a slow and painful death; maybe one of those near-miss meteors won't miss. After all, it won't be the first time.

Tip of the tin-foil hat to ya.

11 May 2015

You Can't Catch Gay

I'm proof positive for all those bible-thumping right-wingnuts that exposure to homosexuals does not "rub off" and "infect" young "victims." With a fag-hag for a mother (the term learned from gay friends) and a tolerant father, few kids were exposed to more gays and lesbians than I from childhood onward. As a very young (male) child I wantedand receivedfor Christmas a toy kitchen set, much to my former Army Drill Sergeant father's Tonka truck or toy M-1 Carbine instead dismay. There's a picture of me having just set it up and, honestly, current me would have put a hundred bucks down on the me in the picture turning out gay. And it's not the present, it's the pose. I went through a stage of wearing my mother's beads and clip earrings. I worked on tractors and cars and boats with my father and his straight friends; I went to the theatre and museums and listened to show tunes with my mother and her gay friends. (The latter sometimes without the protection of mom or dad, and not once did any of them gays try to molest me or bring me over to the other side.) I wear purple shirts and pink ties. When I finally succumbed to carrying a cell phone, I insisted that it be a pink Razr.

I've enjoyed multiple friendships with, been influenced by, and loved many gay people throughout my life. Hell, my mother would have been thrilled were I to have cued "I Am What I Am" from La Cage au Folles and come bursting out of the closet, arm-in-arm with my boyfriend. (It would have been fabulous!)

Yet despite all this, and with no pressing reason coming from any cornerparents, family, friends, careerto pretend to be otherwise to either myself or others, when it comes to sex, I turned out plain old straight. Never once have I looked at another guy and thought (or suppressed), Man, I'd like to do that.

We The People have plenty to quarrel about that's a lot more important and valid to our future survival as a nation and a species. Can we just put this dumb argument to bed, and get into same withand marrywhomever we desire?

09 May 2015

A Dollar a Day

LogMeIn pulled the plug on their free subscriptions, forcing me to either go elsewhere (Teamviewer is nice for free, but it's no LogMeIn), or pay to play. My gamepared down from 10 to 5 computers which I maintain at no charge for friends and relativesis now costing me almost forty bucks per month.

This prompted me to think of it in terms of the old arguments, Marketeer pro and Suze Orman con, of just how littleor muchthat really is. The math does not require calculus or a spreadsheet, though the latter can help drive the point home (and be saved and updated).

Daily, it comes out to $1.36indeed, "less than a cup of coffee," and Dunkin' Donuts, not Starbucks. But annually, it's almost $500. For most of us, that's real moneynot a cup of coffee, but several weeks' worth of groceries. Or a car repair. Teamviewer is starting to look a lot better.

Go ahead, try it yourself. Pull all those recurring "small" monthly expenses you may haveOn-Star, Spotify, Netflix, SiriusXM, elevated or "premium" subscriptions, cable tiers and data plans, even charitable donations (it begins at home). It may not be easy, for most of these leeches have convinced you of the convenience of auto-debit; the charges are silently sucked out of your account, leaving a small void to magically be filled in by the next auto-deposited paycheck.

Now do the math, and revaluate the services rendered. There has to be at least one that, if you're honest with yourself, is not worth the expense based on current cash flow and return on investment. If you've never had the pleasure, canceling a low ROI subscription can be cathartic.

It's amazing how easy it is to trick our stupid minds. Hell, we've been falling for the same $9,999 being "less than ten thousand dollars" since the Marketeers discovered the trick, and we show no sign of grasping reality.

02 May 2015

You Prefer Chaos?

People tend to complain about "putting up" with those of us who exhibit mildly obsessive but not full-blown OCD tendencies (e. g., "ordering," with which I am afflicted). But what exactly is the problem with our tidy and precise quirks (clocks set and synchronized to the second, dishes washed promptly, shelved items alphabetical, labels forward) if we don't freak out when you don't comply with the demands of our little demons? If we admit that you're the "normal" ones and we're the freaks, and we truly don't mind - which is different from coping with - your normal behavior, where's the problem in your being able to know what time it is without a doubt, immediately locate the rosemary in the spice cabinet, or grab from the shelf the Huey Lewis (under Lewis, Huey of course) CD you want to listen to? Is it a problem that the spoons are all spooning in the drawer, and in the same direction as the spooning forks?