The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Dopey Government

I came across an opinion piece about drug legalization by Charles Lane at the Washington Post the other day. I am teased with such things on a daily basis because I elected to have the Post send me daily updates. I read the ones with interesting, attention-grabbing, headlines. And then I read (and often participate in) the comments which follow the op-ed.

The bulk of most comments in these stories/articles in the Post  (and, of course, the NY Times, the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, et al) are written by liberal minded people. People on the Left, so to speak. That is to be expected. They are often written by people who haven't thought out their positions fully but who tend to parrot trendy terms and ideas (for the fair-minded, this also happens in the more conservative venues but by those on the Right).

Let's take the article referenced above...

I smoked pot beginning in the the late 60's and for many years afterward. I also used a number of other illegal drugs during that period... even dealing them a time or two. I may not be an expert but I believe I have a perspective that many citizens do not. And, of course, I think that perspective is important to the public debate.

Let's look at one comment to the article:

The one thing that is absolutly [SIC] clear is that, while full legalization of all drugs is not a good idea, putting people in prison for using them is also not good. We need to shift focus to harm reduction, the whole idea of illegal drugs whose use can wreck lives and get people sent to prison is idiotic.

People in peru [SIC] have chewed coca leaves for centuries with very few side effects, making drugs illegal leads inexorably to making them stronger and more lethal.

So I don 't think crystal meth should be legal, except of course the drugs taken from it like Adderal if memory serves. But I don't think you should go to prison for using it either, the sentence should always be some form of community service or restitution, things that stand a chance at reforming people instead of discarding them into the prison system.

The above is a fine example of what I call "biased thinking." I took issue, at first, with the statement about people in Peru and coca leaves. This is essentially true, though there were more than just Peruvians chewing those leaves.
And I think the writer meant "social side effects." It was a way for the natives living and working at high altitudes in the Andes to deal with the problems of working efficiently at high altitudes. It was probably encouraged by the "governments" of those peoples in order to keep them happy and productive so they could support those governments (kings, "royal" families, etc.).

But the author of the comment then wanders off into his biased (and wrong) assumption that the prohibition of this substance caused it to become a problem. That's untrue , as history reveals.  What actually happened was that the Europeans discovered the plant when they invaded the New World (the Americas), eventually (after about 250 years) began to examine it and exploit it. Out of that experimentation came Cocaine. And it was legal and remained so for many years... sold over the counter... for its analgesic properties. 

At one time, Cocaine was even used as a treatment for Morphine addiction (Morphine was also legal at the time and used in a wide variety of OTC medications). Heroin was developed later and also used in the treatment of Morphine addiction, ironically. In other words, the stronger versions were developed during the licit periods of these drugs, not during the prohibition of them. Essentially, the prohibitions were a reaction to the problems that arose from the widespread legal use of them.

My problem with legalization of drugs is not the moral one (I have few morals myself), it's logistic. Let's take marijuana, for an example... Virtually anyone can grow their own. I have... many times. It's truly a weed and it will grow just about anywhere. Even in apartments in the winter. All you need do is to protect the plant from extremes of temperature, water it regularly, and trim it from time to time (this last quite an enjoyable and relaxing  endeavor). Since it can be grown easily (and from a seed), you cannot prevent its proliferation and, therefore, you cannot effectively control its production and distribution. And that means taxation will be a problem. Why would I want to pay a high (no pun intended) price from a licensed distributor that would be taxed (heavily, as alcohol is), adding to that cost when I could... with a little patience and minimal effort... grow plenty for my personal use? One plant could easily supply enough for me and a few others and a few plants can be grown in a small space. Sure, it wouldn't be the high-powered stuff you have been hearing about (though I think that is more myth than true and I don't wish, at this time, to reveal how I know that) but it would be adequate for most purposes.

Remember, laws will always be broken. They only function as long as people, in general, obey them. No law, as no system, is perfect... all have flaws which can be exploited.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What Does It All Mean?

Once again, I settled into  that recliner... that soft recliner so comfy... and I realized that I have no post for this morning. I am watching an analysis of the Battle of the Bulge on the Military History Channel. I am a sucker for anything WWII related. It is an amazing story. Not just the Battle of the Bulge but the entire war, in both theaters, and the lead up to it; the decade between 1930-1940, the geo-politics, the madness of nations, the struggle that would ultimately destroy the existing empires and create new ones.

If I were to suddenly find myself back in time, to when I was 19, and knew what I know now... I would go to college and I would major in History and then my post-grad would be about 1930-1945. It is of utter fascination to me.

There are interesting periods throughout the history of mankind but none seem to intrigue nearly as much as the one I described; that 15 years is one I just missed and one which so involved and so impacted events during my life.

And, sadly, few people of my generation seem anywhere near as interested as I am.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Observations of The Minimal Kind

I was sitting in my usual place, a recliner facing the TV, when it dawned on me that I had not yet authored a post for the blog. This is not all that unusual... I often forget. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and scramble to string a few words together for that day's post. But not this time... this time the realization of the lack came to me last evening after settling into that recliner after returning from our weekly dinner with friends. Yes, we do have friends. Actually, Faye has them and they are willing to tolerate me for an hour or so.

In any case, I was (obviously) watching the TV... in "real time"... which means I could not fast forward through the commercials.  One of them starts with a guy saying, "I have low testosterone. There, I said it." While I am wondering why that is such a big deal, he goes on to talk about how it can affect various things in his life. As I am thinking... "I really don't care about your testosterone levels" I began to muse...

It seems like some researcher for some pharmaceutical company either develops a medication or discovers one that already exists for the treatment of some condition can also treat some other condition and the company then markets it heavily. Soon, other pharmaceutical companies develop their own versions and they start marketing their versions of the same medication and, within a few days millions of people are being urged to ask their doctors about some possible condition they might have (but probably don't) and insisting he (or she... let's not be sexist now) prescribe this new wonder drug.

They have a name for what these companies are trying to turn us into.... hypochondriacs. I don't need the urging, thank you, I can do that on my own easily enough.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cynicism 101

It's not difficult to be a cynic, it just takes a lack of trust coupled with a dash of pragmatism and flavored a bit with skepticism. Being pessimistic helps, though I do not think it's mandatory. It's even easier if it runs in the family. My father was a cynic. My mother, on the other hand, was an optimist and also very trusting.

My natural tendency toward cynicism was greatly enhanced by the existence of an older brother. Over the years, he made sure to destroy any optimism I might try to nurture. I didn't have a prayer, as they say, of believing anything is what it appears to be if that appearance was in any way positive.

My mother tried very hard to infuse me with optimism and hope. It was a waste of time; genetics and family dynamics being what they were.

One of the things a cynic like myself believes in is agendas. Not our own, of course, but others'. I firmly believe that 99.99% of people act in their own best interests. If that helps someone, they are happy to take credit but the primary motivation is self interest. Now, before you start thinking of Mother Teresa and the various saints of history, remember that you can probably count them all without removing more than your shoes.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Plea For Civility

I would like to take a stab at analyzing the case of Michael Dunn, the killer of a black teenager in Jacksonville, FL. It is a story with which you may be familiar (it was, after all, a case the news media was intensely interested in for at least its ability to draw attention and so it was seemingly everywhere).

Let me recap the case as best I can:

Michael Dunn stopped at a convenience store in Jacksonville with his girlfriend to pick up some things on their way to their hotel after attending his (Dunn's) son's wedding. He pulled up next to a car with three teens in it (a fourth teen had gone into the store), loud music was playing in the car. Loud enough to be heard well away from the car. According to one report:

"Both Thompson and Brunson (two teens who were in the car with the victim) testified that the music playing in the Durango was loud enough that the car shook with the bass."

I am fairly sure you've experienced similar situations. I know I have. But this incident turned deadly for one of the teens. It wasn't just the music volume that triggered the shooting, it was more. And there are some things I would like to know that I cannot find reported anywhere. Was the window (where the victim, Jordan Davis, was sitting in the back seat) down or up, for example? Why is that important? Because the teens who testified said there was an exchange of angry words between Dunn and Davis just before the shots rang out. That implies the window was down.

In any case, the exchange of angry words was over the volume of the music. Dunn complained, Tevin Thompson (one of the passengers in the teens' car) turned it down. But Thompson turned it back up  when Davis said something to the effect (as testified to by Thompson) of, "F**k that, n*****r, turn it back up." And Thompson did.

Dunn claimed in his defense that he saw the barrel of a gun* and that is when he reached over, got his handgun (a semi-automatic) from the glove compartment, cocked it by pulling the slide back and releasing it, and began firing.

No one should lose his life over loud music. But (and here's where I am speculating) why did Davis feel he had to respond by having the music turned back up? Why couldn't he let it slide and leave it turned down? Perhaps he felt "dissed" and, perhaps, so did Dunn when the music volume went back up.

Neither treated the other with any respect at all.Each antagonized the other, each thought (apparently) he was the more important person. Shots ring out, a young man dies.

All because two people couldn't be civil. 

* I suspect, but do not know, that what Dunn saw was part of a pipe. Why do I say that? Because I carried one in my car as a teen... one end wrapped with friction tape for gripping securely, the other bare. A pipe could easily be mistaken for a gun barrel. Speculating again; Davis could have picked up the pipe to imply a threat to Dunn. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Bit of a Rant

The news this week was interesting, to say the least. Much of it revolved around the UAW certification vote at the VW plant in Tennessee. The story of that vote has many facets. It is a story about power, influence, politics, outside (and inside) interference, Right To Work laws, and regional attitudes.

The story of the vote came to the public eye well after the events that led to it.  One of these is the creation of the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) which is the agency regulates regulates labor relations. One section of the law which created that agency back in 1935 dictated that a union must be present in the workplace before a "works council" can be established. Volkswagen wanted to establish one of these at its plant in Chattanooga and, so, the UAW (a seemingly logical choice) came in to organize the plant.

VW took an unprecedented stance (at least in the U.S.) and basically encouraged the union. One commenter on a story about the vote claimed the company invited the UAW in. I don't believe that happened, I don't believe the UAW hadn't been trying to unionize that plant for some time already.... probably as soon as it hired its first employee, maybe earlier. But, if it did happen then I see that as yet another reason the vote did not go the UAW's way. Would you want a union that management wanted? I wouldn't.  It would reek of collusion between management and union.

I learned there is much confusion about Right To Work laws and the states who have them. Right To Work laws merely prevent the existence of what are called "union" and "agency" shops. That is, an employee cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. The laws do not outlaw unions, they do not dictate who can, or cannot, be hired. They do not prevent someone from joining a union. I live in a Right To Work state. When I was employed, I was (until a few years before I retired) a member of a union. There are many unions active in Florida and throughout the southern states (where Right To Work laws are common).

Much is being made about Senator Corker (R-Tennessee) making a "threat" that could have ("did" according to the left and the union) influenced the vote. It was not a threat, it was not a promise, it was a suggestion that he (Corker) had a "tip" that VW would probably build an upcoming SUV model at the plant if the employees rejected the UAW. Believing that this was an important factor (enough to nullify the vote and schedule a re-vote on the union) is, I think, grasping at straws to explain the outcome.

I believe that the average American worker is intelligent enough to make decisions in his own best interest. That he/she can separate the "wheat" from the "chaff" especially when it comes to marking a secret ballot. At least, I hope he/she can... because, otherwise, all elections are a sham and I do not just mean union certification votes. Can people be influenced? Certainly. Otherwise what would be the point of campaigns and advertising (political and commercial)?

The other day, I received an email from the guy I refer to as a "union thug" (I use the term affectionately, I assure you), it contained a link to a video that was not all that informative. To put it simply, it claimed to offer a way to bring jobs back to America. The email was forwarded to me by a couple of friends who were also obviously sent it by the "union thug."

In the video, the narrator said the outsourcing of jobs began about thirty years ago.

This is the response I have to that video:

I would have been more impressed if I could have seen the labels on his clothing. Many Toyotas, Hondas, Volkswagens, BMWs, and Mercedes are made in this country (incidentally, the Pinto engine was German while the gas tank design was American). While, at the same time, many American cars (or their parts) are produced outside this country. And the narrator was wrong about when the off-shoring of jobs began... it started in the 60's. The auto industry was hurt by (mostly) Japanese imports in the early 60's but was also hurt by the importation of VW's in the early 50's. The auto industry made poor decisions about economy cars or couldn't build high quality but inexpensive small cars that, obviously, were in demand by American consumers. The video is correct that we, the consumers, can change things... we began doing that many years ago when we began to accept foreign made goods. We chose something called "value" (a combination of price and quality) over blind loyalty to American products.  We won't likely change it back. Value still rules in the marketplace.
One of these two friends drives a Hyundai Genesis.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Is the U.S. an Empire?

There has been much speculation about the fall of the Roman Empire. But, as the adage goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day" and it did not fall in a day either. It collapsed slowly over hundreds of years. Perhaps the fall, at least the onset... the first bit of crumbling, was imperceptible to the Romans and to its enemies.

What I think caused Rome's collapse was its hubris, its people's unwillingness to believe it could fall. This was the idea that Rome was eternal and that all other peoples were there to serve it. Not as slaves, per se, but by being willing to send tribute, to feed its hunger. Certainly, to rebel against Rome at its height was to invite destruction. And the barbarians who are seen as its destroyers wanted to be Roman, wanted to be a part of the empire. A contradiction, you think? Maybe.

We have, within the U.S., people who seek its destruction. I am sure they do not see themselves in this way but, nevertheless, that is their goal. They will say they want to change it... for the better, improve it, make it something that its ideals say it should be. I have heard such words many times, I even voiced them myself at one time. I was wrong. But, of course, I didn't think so at the time.

A nation, a society, is a delicate and complex thing. It is obviously complex but it does not appear, to its constituents, to be delicate. It seems strong... in our case, as the preeminent world power... that may be when it is most vulnerable.

I have said it only takes 10% of a population to begin a revolution. It may take even less to trigger a nation's downfall. That, I think, can be done by far less than 10%. Has America's downfall already been triggered by some obscure faction we are not yet aware of?

We won't know until the signs of its destruction are too obvious to ignore...or to stop.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Must be British

I was in the local WalMart the other day. Tuesday, in fact. I am starting to refer to this as "WalMart Tuesdays" since it has become a weekly thing. Once a month, I fill up at the Love Buggs just a few blocks north of the WalMart (after I get a haircut) where I get cheap car washes ($3 on Tuesdays... "Customer Appreciation Day") but lately I have been going to the WalMart on a weekly basis. Mainly because I have become "hooked" on orange juice and they have the cheapest in town... outside of the roadside stands. I also pick up the golf results for the group I play with on Mondays so I can post them on the group's blog. The guy who runs the group lives near the WalMart. So I can kill a few "birds" with one "stone."

WalMart is a strange place here. In the summers, it is an easy-in, easy-out place. In the winters, not so much. The increase in bustle and time used is a direct result of living in a town that doubles its population during those winter months (referred to locally as "Snowbird Season"). I notice some things, as well as the increased traffic on US27 (our main artery), in WalMart... which also experiences a large increase in traffic.  A lot of Snowbirds do not understand shopping cart etiquette. Or they are from the British Isles, or Australia, or Japan, or Hong Kong... or some other place where they drive on the other side of the road.

WalMarts have wide aisles which have various displays of merchandise in what I like to refer to as the "median" since it divides the aisle and creates lanes on either side... just as you see on highways and some thoroughfares.  But, after driving on the right-hand side of the road to get to the store, many of these people abandon the the road rules and push their shopping carts down the left "lane" of the aisle in the wrong direction. Infuriating to me, of course.

Even way back in school, people followed the simple rule of traffic that says "keep right." But not these folks. I can no longer recall if we followed that rule in the Navy... starboard toward the bow, port toward the stern... we might have but it also might be the opposite. We pretty much ignored the rule in favor of expediency except when there was an emergency and a lot of people were moving about on deck... such as when General Quarters is sounded. You get no indication from the directionality of the ladders, they always face aft.

Parking lots have arrows which are routinely ignored, of course, so I do not know why this upsets me inside a store.

But it does.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Waiting on Delivery

No, I do not have  sloppy speech habits and am not waiting on a horse. I am waiting on the arrival of a package being shipped by UPS. The package is coming from a company called Rock Bottom Golf. I really like these guys. They are very customer-oriented and bend over backwards to keep them happy. The package coming is the result of my desire to purchase something which wasn't available at the time I found about the item(s) being on sale. So I, in my usual grumpy way, made them aware of my disappointment. I failed to take notice of the fact that it was an extended sale period and I couldn't expect the item to still be available. After my note to them, Adam (a guy who is in the customer happiness department, I think, and who is suffering the winter in upstate New York) called me on the phone to talk about it. We chatted, I realized my error and was willing to forego getting the item but Adam didn't seem willing to let me do that.

The result was that I got the same price for a similar product and that is what is in the package wending its way to my home.

It is due to arrive tomorrow. I know this because UPS provides a tracking service and emails the tracking number along with the scheduled arrival date. The package arrived in a distribution center in Raleigh, North Carolina in the wee hours of yesterday morning and is still expected to get here today. I could even get an estimate of what time of day it will appear at my door but I don't bother with that. I already know it will be delivered between 5 and 6 PM because that is when the UPS van regularly wends its way through my neighborhood.

UPS is very dependable. Rock Bottom is a gem. And I wanted to make sure that I spread the word.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

And Did I Mention I'm Lazy?

This will be a short post. Or, at least, it's intended to be. You see, I write "off the cuff" and do not plan out my posts. I never have, even back in school when I would get assigned some essay on some subject, few of which I was ever interested in at the time.

Oh, they taught me about outlining and how it would help me lay out  points in an orderly manner and let me properly frame my thoughts in a concise and clear manner. Which, I suppose, is how we should do it here in blogs. I am sure a number of bloggers do that. I don't. I just open a text editor and try to think of a subject. Then I try to write something about that subject.

I do not have a writer's discipline. I suspect I have no discipline at all except I know I do. I quit drinking completely... twice... I quit smoking hundreds of times before it "took." I found the secret to quitting smoking the night my son was born. The secret is simple: have a reason. An important one. One you cannot forget. After that, it isn't very difficult. Granted, I had been smoking for only 12 years. I started smoking when I was 12 years old. I quit when I was 24. I never let myself smoke too much during those 12 years. That made quitting much easier, I suspect.

But this isn't about smoking or kicking that habit. In fact, it isn't about anything at all. It's about putting some words on my blog.

And I did.... didn't I?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Slippery Slope... Or Compassion?

Belgium has passed a law allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children.

Belgium Close to Allowing Euthanasia for Ill Minors

This law, not yet signed by the king (yes, it's a monarchy), doesn't explicitly put the decision in the hands of the parents or guardians. Supposedly, the child has some input:

Under the measure, approved 86 to 44 by the lower house, euthanasia would be permissible for terminally ill children who are close to death, experiencing “constant and unbearable suffering” and can show a “capacity of discernment,” meaning they can demonstrate they understand the consequences of such a choice.

Which means, to me, that there are some tacit restrictions involving age. Could a toddler understand the consequences? Certainly, an infant cannot so at what age would this be an option for a parent? Five? Six? Ten?

I don't know about you but I find this law disturbing.


Saturday, February 15, 2014


You know, if you say the three letters in the title, it sounds a lot like "opium." Which is appropriate, I suppose, because using OPM is addictive. By "OPM", I mean "Other People's Money."

Margaret Thatcher once said,  "The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."

Our current president seems happily addicted to OPM. He doesn't seem concerned about the rapidly increasing debt and sees no problem with continued spending. His latest example of  largesse is his executive order increasing the minimum wage of those working for the federal government, and for government contractors, to $10.10 per hour.  Who could argue with that? Working people deserve a living wage, don't they? Except, of course, that isn't really one.

Who will pay for that increase? You, if you pay income tax. And your children and your grandchildren and their children. The contractors won't actually pay it, they will just bill the government for what are called "cost overruns" and the federal employees are, of course paid by you.

At some point, it will all fall apart. The debt will will destroy the country. Prior to that, it will trigger something called "hyperinflation." We have not seen this yet. Not even in those days of 16% VA loans. Remember? The "malaise" of Jimmy Carter? The high interest rates coupled with high unemployment? It is out there, on the horizon, and moving closer every day... only much, much, worse than the late 70's.

Our national credit card is beyond maxed out. We just raised the debt ceiling again. Debts eventually have to be paid, though, and when we can no longer even just pay the interest on our debt, the misery will truly begin.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Planning on Retiring?

That is both a question and advice, I think. It's a question one might think about after hitting the "Big Four Oh" but one shouldn't wait that long. Trust me, I waited a little longer than that and I am sorry for it.

In my old age and wisdom I have come to the conclusion that planning for retirement should begin around age 18. I regret not having set goals in my life, obviously. But, on reading what I just wrote about planning, it shocks me a little. I'll try to explain...

When you are fresh out of high school, the world and your life await you. Not all of us are blessed with coming from a wealthy family (oddly, those that are tend to plan their lives or have parents who do) or have innate talents that are in demand or will be in the future. The vast majority of us will have to struggle to achieve anything. You might say the odds are set against us. That may not seem fair but, as my dear old mother used to say, "Life ain't fair, quit yer snivelin'." Mom wasn't one to mince words... or tolerate whiny kids.

The other day, I came across this:
Seniors have brighter financial outlook in 2014

And it made me think. And, when I think, I tend to also muse... and, when I muse, I tend to bore you folks with what I come up with.

The first thing in the article was this:

She and her husband are from Wisconsin. They retired to Arizona, but now they're looking around Highlands County.

"We're visiting here for the winter months. We are kind of looking for something in Florida. We'd like some green space," Weidemann said.

I imagine so... Arizona (and I have been there many times) can only be described as "brown"... or maybe "beige." There is very little green until you get up in the northern areas (mostly the northwest part of the state) and there's precious little of that. But what struck me was that they had retired to someplace with mild winters and then spend the winter at someplace even more mild.  Poor planning, I'd say.  Why didn't they check out Florida before retiring to Arizona? Or maybe they did and thought it too humid at the time. I shouldn't second guess them, I suppose.

I can tell them now that they will be longing for that sparseness they once knew when they find that green space takes a lot of work; weeding, mowing, edging, trimming, etc. Not to mention the cost involved.

Living in a place where many people come to spend winters that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy (actually, I would wish them on even my nicest enemy... I am that kind of guy), I have come to realize that I definitely didn't plan well for retirement. Like most of my life, I just stumbled into it. These people all have houses in some miserable (in the winter) place and either can afford to rent for 4-5 months or own winter homes here. Homes that likely stay empty all the other months of the year.

I never could afford that. I have owned many homes over the years and, occasionally, owned more than one at a time. But I could never afford to leave any of the homes empty for any length of time. I had to rent them out. At one point, Faye and I owned three homes: two in San Diego and the one in which we lived. Both homes in San Diego were rented out. Eventually, we sold them.

But if you want to live a carefree life in retirement, you had better plan for it early in your life. Especially if you want to spend different seasons in different states.

Oh, today is Valentine's Day... A wholly owned subsidiary of Hallmark, I think. Have a happy one and hug (at least) your honey.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Board Giveth, The Board Taketh Away

As some of you know, I indulge in some board games on my computer. One such game is Monopoly(tm) wherein I play the part of a ruthless capitalist out to destroy my competition.  I usually succeed... mostly because I have figured out the weaknesses inherit in the way the computer players are coded in the game.

It does not work that way in real life, does it?

I was engaged in a little debate online with someone who brought up the issue of IPOs (Initial Public Offering, for those of you unfamiliar with the term) and how they were unfair.

He wasn't entirely wrong, the stock is valued by the company offering it and, I am sure, that price is subject to both SEC rules and other considerations. Wiki implies they are often under-priced. This is to ensure interest in the stock, I assume. But many companies, going public, do not need to generate interest beyond that of going public. There are any number of privately-held companies that investors are literally drooling to buy. Some not so much.

First, the person I was discussing this with pooh-poohed the price setting by claiming it was the result of manipulation of numbers. Maybe... maybe not. I suspect there is some of that involved but not to inflate the price but rather to lower it.

The next complaint was that the IPO is usually, if not always, restricted to certain potential buyers; he called them "select friends and family." That's not quite how it works. Family members are usually just awarded shares based on their interest in the company by virtue of being part of the founding family and/or position in the company. The "select friends" is also misleading since what happens usually is that there is a fixed number of shares and lots (batches of shares) are allocated to various brokerage houses based on some formula I am sure I would never understand. The brokerage houses then offer smaller lots from that to certain favored clients (I suspect these are selected on size of account and trading patterns).

The odd thing was that, after complaining about these things, he then offered that the stock price often went up quickly during the IPO period and then dropped to more rational prices when the rest of the investing public got access. I thought that pretty much negated his complaints.

Here's why I thought that: After the IPO, the stock usually falls to a rational price due to an unwillingness of the investors to pay an inflated price that was pushed up by speculation. If the IPO recipient neglected to dump the stock before it falls, they will likely see a loss... on paper at least. The advantage they had by being a "select friend" is negated.

Since no one is forced to buy stocks, I see no problem here. After the initial frenzy of buying, everyone is pretty much on equal footing. That, to me, is eminently fair.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

At Sea With The Navy

The other day, I happened upon "Mister Roberts" on TCM and, of course, watched it. It is, after all, a classic and one of my many favorite films. And one of the many films which likely influenced my decision to enlist in the Navy some years later. It painted a somewhat false picture of the Navy at war.

The cast of the film is filled with great actors, both headliners and character actors of great renown. In the film, Henry Fonda's character (the title role of Mister Roberts) wants desperately to get into the action, to fight, to be on a fighting ship (he is on a Navy cargo ship) and is being frustrated in his desire by the captain (played by Jimmy Cagney), a vain and foolish man the crew has come to despise.

Mister Roberts, toward the end of the movie, finally gets his wish and is transferred to a destroyer which ends up  headed to Okinawa just before the invasion of that island.

I know someone who was aboard a ship, an oiler I believe, in that battle. He says little about it except that it was incredibly frightening and loud and chaotic.

Mister Roberts, we learn at the end of the movie, is killed by a Kamikaze while having coffee with another officer in the wardroom. Not exactly the heroic death one might have expected. But, in war, you rarely get to choose the way you die.

I also watched a show that was about the Navy during WWII on the Military History Channel. It caused me to recall my time in the Navy and my war, one not so glorious or righteous. The nasty, seemingly endless, war called Vietnam.

I served on a destroyer, the Brinkley Bass DD-887, from July 1966 to October 1969. We made two WesPac tours during that time and we spent a total of 12 months in the Tonkin Gulf; 5 months on the first tour and 7 months on the second.

I realized something while watching the show about the Navy in WWII... I had it easy. We were never attacked, never shot at (though it was claimed at one point that we were), and faced no enemy action. I was as safe as I had ever been, safer than periods in my pre-Navy days, perhaps. To this day, I do not know how I would have behaved if I had had to face the kind of danger sailors faced during WWII. I can only hope that I would have done my job and not panicked and failed my shipmates.

I did not enlist so I could fight; I enlisted because I loved the sea, liked the uniform, feared the draft, and was bored and unhappy with my life at the time.

The vagaries of time and circumstance.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I Love This Town!

Just in case you might think I live in blissful peace and obscurity in this small city in southwest Florida, I want you to know we have no end to excitement here... though it may seem to be rare.

The other day, about a week ago, we had a major incident. A woman was arrested and, apparently, there was quite a tussle involved. Reading the article about her bond hearing might help explain.

She's a repeat offender, by the way, as our local newspaper reports...

"Musselman had been put on probation just two weeks ago after being charged with two counts of feeding black bears. In his order, Highlands County Circuit Court Judge Anthony Rittenour had ordered not to put any corn, birdseed or any type of food to feed bears or other wildlife fort a year. "

Mrs. Musselman (the 81-year-old wife of a local businessman) is obviously a danger to society and one can readily see that she is a tough one that causes the agents of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to likely tremble in her presence. After all, she did threaten to shoot them if they came on her property after she gets out of jail. And she got bond granted the other day.

Obviously, this dangerous bear-feeding criminal ought to be held without bail.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Just How Much is a Smidgen Anyway?

Mirriam-Webster defines it thusly...
 a small amount :  bit


 Not very definite. It's like a "tad", or maybe a "dash", or some such amount that we would recognize if we saw it.

But we now know that there is even less than that amount of corruption in the IRS. After all, the President declared that in the interview that aired just before the Super(yawn)bowl last Sunday.

And we believe that, don't we? After all, if you cannot trust the President and the IRS, who can you trust?

I am sure the IRS is staffed by friendly, helpful, public servants who are dedicated and trustworthy. Never mind those lavish conferences in Las Vegas or the upcoming bonuses (similar to the ones we denounce on Wall Street), they mean nothing. I am sure the "boneheads" in some "fly-over" city like Cincinnati who delayed (and continue to delay) the status of some non-profits that "just happen" to be politically opposed to the Democrats and the President won't be getting bonuses, aren't you? Or maybe they will get bonuses... After all, they just misinterpreted a directive (which, apparently, never existed even though it did) and got over zealous about screening non-profits. It's just a coincidence that 99% (or so) of the groups impacted were conservative and that 99% of liberal oriented groups sailed through the process.

But now that the investigation (which the President called for in a press conference where he expressed his outrage and denied any knowledge of the situation is over... Wait, it's not over and no group (or, apparently, member of said groups) who was impacted has been interviewed yet... the President can happily denounce the scandal as a "phony" one ginned up and blown out of proportion by Foxnews. Foxnews is behind all these phony scandals, don't you know?

And we trust our government and want it to grow bigger and bigger, don't we?

Bridge-gate anyone?

Power corrupts...


Friday, February 7, 2014

Thoughts on Drug Abuse

A few days ago Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his New York City apartment. Not so many months ago, I wrote of Cory Monteith who was found dead in a hotel room in Canada.. he reportedly died of an overdose of a mixture of heroin and alcohol. We are expecting that Mr. Hoffman's cause of death will turn out to be an overdose of heroin. After all, a needle was allegedly found in his arm and many packets of heroin were found in his apartment.

I won't go into why I think actors seem especially susceptible to drug abuse. I lived in Los Angeles for awhile in the late 60's and hung out occasionally in the Hollywood area. Drugs were readily available then and I have no reason to believe they have gotten scarce in the intervening years. And actors, as they become successful, have plenty of money to pay for them and enough arrogance to think they are able to handle addictive drugs.

What I would like to do is begin a dialogue about drugs. I think we are well on the way to legalizing marijuana for "recreational" use at the national level. Most people I know who support that legalization do not extend that viewpoint to heroin and Cocaine. Some of my more libertarian friends do, however, and I respect their arguments though I do not agree with them.

My brother was once hooked on heroin. He did not think, at the time, that he was addicted. He fancied himself a "user" and that he did not have a "monkey on his back".. until he ran out and could not get a fix for a couple of days and felt the "sickness." Fortunately for him, he got arrested which resulted in his getting clean and did not result in a prison term.  This might have saved his life.

Something I think is interesting is the fuss made (mostly by the media) over Mr. Hoffman's death. Thousands die every year of heroin overdoses. You do not hear of them. You hear about celebrities, though, as if they are more important than the rest of us. These thousands who lose their lives are also important, I think. And we shouldn't let the celebrities obscure them.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Idiocy That is Facebook

Here is the Word from Zuckerberg on the tenth anniversary of its launch.

Let me quote it in its entirety:

"    When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it.

    The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more.

Why is the world without Facebook a "problem?" I ask that sincerely because I no longer participate in Facebook. And that was an adventure in itself... getting out of Facebook once you created a page.  It was not simple and, apparently, not immediate (sign in within some time period I no longer know the length of and you are re-established). 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Or "Thoughts on being an idiot"...

I refer to myself as "The Brilliant Idiot" for a reason.  Growing up, it seemed as if almost everyone I came in contact with wanted to be my mentor. For much of my young life, I had no idea what that was and, being paranoid, I suspected the worst. I often think I could have been much more; successful, wealthy, maybe even important. I know, fantasies about what "could have been" for a mediocre personality, mostly to be dismissed in the more rational of us.

But I am an analytical type, I like to look back and delve into the why of things, especially the why I had the life I had instead of the one I think I could have had. Mostly, it was because of decisions I made along the way. Important decisions that I apparently did not think were important at the time mostly but some which were obvious even to me that could be life-changing.

For instance, after boot camp, I went to  BEEP (Basic Electricity and Electronics Preparation) school... it is now called NEETS and is probably administered online... where I was offered something which, in hindsight, I was a fool to reject. I was offered a couple of chances then to get a "free" college education. Nothing is actually free, of course, and the Navy wanted more of my precious youth in exchange. I do not know how many years I would have had added to my enlistment because I never asked, I just rejected the offers.

Yes, I was a bonehead. But, when I was 19, I did not think 30 (the likely earliest age I would be when I would get out of the Navy if I accepted) was young and I did not think I was officer material. In fact, I had absolutely no desire to be an officer, to be in charge of anything, to be responsible for anything... especially other sailors. And I did not want to try to land on, or take off from, aircraft carriers (the tacit offer of Naval Aviation Cadet was one of the offers). In hindsight, of course, I gave up opportunities that could have resulted in a much better life (financially at least) than I have enjoyed thus far.

And so, like Walter Mitty, I am left only with daydreams and fantasies about what might have been.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I have been a pedestrian longer than I have been a driver, we all have. After all, you learn to walk many years before you learn to drive.

In Florida, the legal age for driving was 16 (at the time I turned 16... which was many years ago). It is now 18 years of age for an unrestricted license.  We (those of my generation and living in Florida) could get a restricted license (AKA "learner's permit") at age 14 (now 15)... which allowed us to drive with an "adult" (any licensed driver 18 and older) between dawn and dusk. We could also operate any motor-driven bicycle or scooter that was rated at 5 Horsepower (HP) or less. Many of us in my crowd, and across the state, took advantage of that and "cheated" just a little on the 5 HP rule... the cops didn't enforce that too strongly so there were a lot of 8-10 HP scooters on the streets ridden by 14 and 15-year-olds. I picked up an 11 HP Allstate scooter from my then future brother-in-law, Van (my sister's eventual 4th husband), and rode it around... a lot.

Although I had plenty of time to learn to drive, I still failed my first driver license road test. But this isn't about driving.

It's about walking. We all learn to walk around 18 months of age (some earlier but a few much later) and walk we do. Actually, a mixture of mostly being carried and a little walking for a year or more until our legs are strong enough to keep up. And it is during this period when we start learning the unofficial rules of pedestrianism.

"Stay on the sidewalk!"

That's pretty much the primary rule, isn't it? All the others pale in comparison. It's a good rule... I know it was the first one I taught my son when he was first toddling. Follow that rule and your chances of being run over by a car or motorcycle are near zero.

Eventually, however, we must... like the proverbial chicken... cross the road.  And we begin learning a whole bunch of new rules.

"Cross at the corner."
"Cross with the (traffic) light."
"Look both ways before crossing."

"Watch for turning cars."

I bring this up because of an article I saw in the NY Times whose author seemed offended by the tendency of the authorities to target the pedestrian when there is a spike in pedestrian/car collisions.

I am not. Offended, that is. I think that is the correct way to go. Pedestrians have a greater chance of avoiding a collision than a car and driver do. They are more agile and can stop quicker. But they need to be aware of the danger around them as they enter the street. And, above all, be predictable in their actions by drivers.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Post Popularity

I was glancing through some stats about this blog the other day (1-30, Thursday) and decided I would share something...

Here are the top five posts of January (as of last Thursday):

1. Bang the Drum Slowly... (89 "hits")
2. Legal Killing (73)
3. Unburnt Offerings (68)
4. Sad... But True (60)
5. A New Dawning (58)

A lot of visitors to this blog get here because they are chasing images. They Google, they get hits, they click on one, it takes them to my blog.  This one is very popular for some reason. It had 7965 total hits (since it was first posted in 2009) as of last Thursday.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The System

How much do you know about how our system works (or is supposed to)?

I ask because, as I wrote earlier this week, many people do not seem to understand how it works or appreciate its adversarial nature.

To recap what you probably learned in school, we have three branches of government: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. Each of these have powers and responsibilities. And they are nominally equal. Each of them have limits and each are checked by the others. The history of the government in the United States is a history of each branch seeking more power while trying to restrict the other branches... in my opinion.

The latest attempt is the President's "threat" to use executive orders and veto power to accomplish his goals. Will he be successful? Do you support this or fear it? I believe these are important questions and ones which should be a part of a public debate.

In that post I mentioned above, I complained that too many people seemed to embrace the idea of a single party system. This is a real fear of mine. I have seen, up close, nations that were run by single parties or effectively single party systems. I was raised during the Cold War where the primary enemy was the Soviet Union. Much of what I was taught about the USSR was propaganda but much of it was not. It was a police state, make no mistake. On the other hand, I never thought it came even close to launching a nuclear strike on the U.S. I never thought its leaders were that stupid.

Many of the crises we experienced during the Cold War were overblown (probably for political reasons) by our political leaders and by our media.

I have often thought that a parliamentary system  is an ideal form of government. I am moving away from that. It is, in my opinion, more democratic than the one we now have but I also think it is less efficient and more unstable. Risking  someone invoking Godwin's Law, I believe that Hitler rose to power in a parliamentary system and could not have done so under the one we have.

Just something to think about over the next few years. I believe we are approaching a critical point in American history. I could be wrong, it's been known to happen.