Wednesday, March 31, 2021

4713 Bad Bets

 



What’s the difference between Wall Street and Vegas?  Vegas has better security. More cameras. More safeguards. More and tighter regulation. Fewer shady characters.  Less risk.

 

The fall of a few stocks lately has sent one of the megafunds into a tailspin after making what the financial journalists call “bad bets.” 

Earth to financial news media:  Bad bets? When you put two bucks on a horse that can barely make it out of the starting gate, that’s a bad bet.  When you bet against the UConn Women’s basketball team, that’s a bad bet.

 

When you bet on GameStop or Archegos Capital, that’s not a bad bet, it’s financial ruin waiting to happen.  And as both outfits have proved recently, things that are waiting to happen often do.  And with predictable results.

 

Not much point in beating the deadish horse of GameStop again. Everyone knows that story by now.  But here’s a good bet: you’d never heard of Archegos until now.  Except some people had and invested. A lame horse if ever there was one.

 

In a nutshell, here’s what happened.  Archegos went big on media companies like CBS/Viacom and Discovery Networks.  Money is so easy to borrow now that big banks lined up with shopping carts of cash to lend.

 

When media stocks tanked, that hit Archegos, and when Archegos got hit it fell over on giant banks which are today a little less skyscraper and a little more pancake than they were a short time ago.

 

The security cams weren’t working … or maybe the screen watchers were bored into slumber as those media stocks kept rising.  Maybe the downturn started during a security shift change and people were just opening their coffees and not watching for nefarious deeds as they are paid to do. But what goes up comes down, sometimes unpredictably.  Oops.

 

Two big banks mentioned in news releases that their dealings with an “American client” might cost them billions of dollars in earnings in their next reporting period.  They didn’t mention names.  They didn’t have to. The screen watchers had awakened too late to save their paper investments -- or their actual dollars.

 

Smart gamblers will limit the amount they’ll allow themselves to lose at the tables and the slots.  You’d think all those well-educated Wall Street Masters of the Universe would learn something similar.

 

Turning towers into pancakes is nothing new. That doesn’t mean stop building towers.  But not every one of them has to be this week’s entry in the world’s tallest building contest.

 

Maybe make some overlapping shifts for the security cam staff so when the new crew is unwrapping its coffee and doughnuts, someone will still be watching the monitor screens.

 

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®

Any Questions? wesrichards@gmail.com

© WR 2021

 


Monday, March 29, 2021

4712 The Future of Car Sales

Vending machines used to be for candy and snacks. Now you can buy a car from one.

 

Is this a passing fad or has there been a revolution in car sales?

 

First, move over insurance companies and pharmaceutical makers. A new and growing dominant force in automotives is starting to crowd you out of prime time TV ads.  Commercials for websites like “Carvana,” “CarMax,” “Vroom” and “Autotrader” are almost as numerous as Shaq’s 400 different endorsements and the Geico Gecko.

 

Decide what you want.  A few clicks later you get an offer for your trade-in and a choice of 800 makes and models ranging from new or near-new anythings to old beaters to vintage restored Second Childhood or Middle-Age-Crazies specials.

 

Some offer long test drives, drives measured in days not minutes.  Others offer buybacks at price paid if you’re unhappy. All offer delivery.

 

It’s not the same as when you go for a candy bar or a Pepsi, the machine jams and you shake it until your purchase rattles loose. But these are little more than giant vending machines.

 

Is there a reason to buy this way?  Sure.  The retail car industry has spent enormous efforts to make buying a vehicle as confusing and difficult as possible.  No one has a price. Everyone makes a potential buyer jump through hoops. 

 

There may be a secret handbook of ways to make the buying experience as unpleasant as possible.  It wouldn’t be surprising if there were training schools where ordinary and often decent human beings can learn magic phrases like “Let me talk to the sales manager. Maybe we can shave a few dollars off.” Or “Forget the price. Just tell me what you can pay per month.”

 

 Maybe there are contract writing classes that tell dealers how to slip unnecessary “extras” into payment agreements.

 

Maybe NuCar University, teachers of the “let me ask my manager” school of car selling should have continuing education courses for customers.

 

When the sales person asks you to buy a “special” undercoating you can learn to say either “the bottom’s already sealed why do I need a second coat?” An alternative answer: “No thank you. I like it when the floorboards rust out because that gives me extra ventilation.”

 

When asked if you want the windshield engraved with a number you can say “I don’t need the extra number, but can you engrave “Betty’s My Girl” in the lower right corner? Or a copy of the NRA logo?”

 

And when they ask you if you want Scotchguard on the seats you can say “No thank you, I can spill my own scotch.”

 

Still, it’s nice to see those car vending machines.  Even if it’s hard to insert enough quarters, dimes and nickels to buy the Kia or Chevy you want.  The problem comes only when you have to shake the vending machine if your choice gets stuck in the down-chute.

 

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them.  ®

Any Questions? wesrichards@gmail.com

© WR 2021

  

Friday, March 26, 2021

4711 The Ever Given

 

The containers may look like Legos. Don’t try to lift them.

 The ship says “Evergreen” on its side because that’s the name of the company that owns it.  But the ship herself is named “The MV Ever Given.” It is as long as the Empire State Building is high, and it is blocking the Suez Canal in Egypt. It also is longer than the canal is wide. And it is aground. It is blocking a backlog of watercraft longer than anything you’ve ever seen or will see on a highway or an airport in a snowstorm.

 

We’ve been hearing about the stuck ship, whipped by 40 knot winds and a sandstorm getting stuck sideways in the canal. Forty knots is about 46 miles an hour.  That’s a good stiff wind in a relatively confined space.  It’s not enough to topple a decent size oak tree.  It’s not enough to send cows flying as they do in tornadoes. But in these surroundings, it’s good enough.

 

About that traffic jam:  Fifty or so ships use the canal on any given day.  So in three days or so, that’s a lot of heavy metal waiting at the Cash Only line at the toll booth.

 

Why you may ask, don’t they place canal travel experts on board something that big? They did.  They’re as dumbfounded as anyone else.

 

And why, you may ask, don’t they start taking stuff off, loading it on smaller ships fore and aft, and sending it through? Well, consider the weight of the cargo: 200,000 tons.  That’s almost half a billion pounds of who knows what-all.

 

Eventually, they’ll get the thing out of the sand.  Bring in enough tugboats, a few hundred divers.  Or maybe they’ll have to take Ever Given apart.

 

That of course will cause a mass movement: “Save the Ever Given.”  There’ll be campaign buttons, street art, bumper stickers.  Demonstrations.  Court cases and the police festivals which seem to accompany certain gatherings these days.

 

Independent filmmakers will clamor for screen rights.  Conspiracy theorists will posit that it was the work of the CIA or the Mossad.  

 

They’ll call for an investigation of the captain, who it will have turned out, came to Egypt, and quit captaining lessons before they taught the navigate-the-canal part of the course. (He knew full well, he would never have to move this monolith out of the canal!)

 

The ship’s flag is Panamanian.  But its owners are from Taiwan. So the expected apologies came quickly.  Say at about 40 knots. But the knot on the waterway awaits Alexander the Great.

 

You want to undo this mess and Alexander the Great isn’t available, someone call the New York office of Moran Towing.

 

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®

Any Questions: wesrichards@gmail.com

© WR 2021

 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

4710 The Soundtrack of Your Sleep

 Woodpeckers are not usually a part of videos that feature bird songs.  But you never know when someone will record them anyway. The rhythm section of the Winged Symphonette.

 

Published studies say the sound of chirping birds can lift your spirits.  It’s in the current issue of Consumer Reports Magazine’s health and better living newsletter.

 

Sometimes CR is right on target.  But remember also, that they recommend Kenmore home appliances and certain brands of undesirable automobiles. So take the birds with a grain of salt on their tales.

 

Wessays (™) conducted informal research.  And there may be something to the case for the birds.  But personally, we still prefer leaving a radio tuned to NPR which can lull anyone to sleep. 

 

And we still like the sounds of ocean waves and tropical rains which you can hear by using one of the many white noise machines that are available.  The machines use no bandwidth and some even work on emergency battery backups when there’s a power outage in your aviary, your make-believe beachfront or your imitation rainforest.

 

Nevertheless, there are things you can’t get with a white noise machine.  So if you have gigabytes to burn by leaving your computer on all night, there’s plenty more to choose from.

 

Some recommendations:  The sound of NASCAR on one of the free music channels.  You get the roar of the engines as the cars make a turn, though sometimes they pause for a brief commercial for GEICO or Zzz-Quil.  That may sound a little off base.  But YouTube has to get in those ads. If you have sleep apnea, you can click on “skip ad” during one of your mini awakenings.

 

If you’re a city dweller living in the country, you can find the sound videos of fire trucks, police cars, subways, buses, and the pneumatic hammers construction workers use to dig up buried broken water mains.

 

If you grew up in the rurals but live in a city, there are videos of bears rummaging through garbage cans. You can even choose the type of can.  Those giant plastic trash cans make a different sound than cans made of metal.  There are reports of someone scouting for locations where cars often hit deer on highways.  We cannot confirm that.

 

If you grew up in the suburbs, there are no choices available since suburbs are silent except for the sound of an occasional speeding car or an amateur attempt at breaking into your kitchen door.

 

You can always make a loop of Paul Simon’s Sounds of Silence. Or maybe you can find and capture an out of work woodpecker and put it in a cage with a hollow log.

 

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®

Any Questions? wesrichards@gmail.com

© WR 2021


Monday, March 22, 2021

4709 A New College Exam

 Antioch College circa 1852

Grandpa used to say that college was a great idea.  It helps keep the unemployment rate lower.  These days, we need no special help in keeping anyone out of the workforce.  But that said, there's some truth here.

 

This may be part of the reason so many young people jump through the strangest of hoops to get into the school of their choice, although many will choose "Any school that'll have me."

 

They go through high school, sort of learning and sort of studying what they think or their teachers think will be on the Regents exams or other statewide tests.  They'll join the math club or the debate club or the football team and do community service.   They'll take those awful SATs.  But there's one test they all seem to ignore and it's one that might help them get into schools.

 

The Personality test.

 

At Antioch, most of the students -- graduate and undergrad -- seemed to have similar personality quirks.  It wasn't universal, and Antioch is a small school with a certain reputation.  It might be a good guess that most of the students at Bob Jones University have the same situation, only with different quirks.

 

Now living in a town that is home to a fairly large college, it's harder to spot these similarities.  There are 44-thousand students attending.  Maybe more.  And yet, most of those encountered seem to have, well, similar personality quirks.  It differs by major; it differs by age.  But it doesn't seem to differ among genders, ethnic groups or backgrounds.  Many many of those kids are remarkably similar in personality.

 

The king of this heap is NYU.  There is a distinctive NYU personality.  Once you recognize it, it's obvious.  You can spot 'em a mile away.  Old, young, recent, ancient, New Yorker, non-New Yorker.  Doesn't matter.  Never met anyone from there who didn't have it at least to some degree.

 

So now comes the hard part.  You have to figure out what your particular quirks are and where they'd be most welcome.  Not an easy task.  In fact, if you actually accomplish this two-parter, you're obviously well qualified for a higher education anywhere of your choosing.  But if you can do it and land the interview, chances are the admissions guy will at some level, possibly subconscious, believe you "fit" and invite you to become a student. “She’s one of us.”

 

So start those college visits early.  Don't go during a semester break.  Don't make appointments.  Just GO.  And see if you can find whether the random students you see, hear or meet are "just like me."  If they are, you're likely to get a "yes" on your application.  If they aren't, move on.

 

Shrapnel:

 

--Parkinson's Law says work expands to fill the time available.  Retirees and those virused out of work want to know if leisure activities expand to fill the time available. Seems doubtful.

 

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them. ®

Any Questions? wesrichards@gmail.com

©WR 2021

 

 


Friday, March 19, 2021

4708 He Had a Very Bad Day

The Anti-Asian hatewave can’t be stopped with sermons.  But the sermons can’t hurt.

As the weekend approaches, Asian-led churches are preparing to urge their communities to step up to the wave of violence. It came to a head this week when a man gunned down eight people, six of them Asian women, in three Atlanta-area massage spas.

One pastor put it this way: “I’m going to urge people with love and peace that we need to step up and address this issue.”  Rev. Beyond Han says, “it’s time for us to act.”

Georgia police say they haven’t yet determined whether the motive for the shootings was racial. The shooter said he killed to remove sexual temptation.

 One cop’s public explanation went viral.

Here’s the quotation from the Georgia Sheriff’s Captain that started the backlash against his agency. It’s from Jay Baker who said of the accused murderer:

 "…[he] was pretty much fed up and had been, kind of, at the end of his rope. And yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”

 It also was a “really bad day” for those who were shot, only the eight of them who died probably don’t know it.

Just the kind of cop you want on your side.  This wasn’t a sudden, off-the-cuff kind of remark one might make under pressure.  He’d been railing about “Asian-caused” COVID on his Facebook page, promoting the idea.

The company that made anti-Asian shirts featured on Captain Jay Baker’s Facebook page received a $15-thousand loan for Covid- related paycheck protection.

Meantime, the confessed shooter, Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been charged with four counts of murder with four counts still to come.

 Hate Crimes against Asians continue.

--Three people were arrested for beating and robbing an Asian man in a San Francisco laundromat.

--An older Asian woman attacked on a San Francisco street beat her attacker bloody before EMS arrived and handcuffed him to a stretcher.

--A church in Seattle was hit by anti-Asian graffiti written in hay for the fourth time this year.

Police in major cities with large Asian populations... New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, the District of Columbia, Atlanta, and others have stepped up patrols. 

It’s easy to blame the South, well known as a wellspring of racism, for the hatewave.  But it wouldn’t be completely fair. At least in the south, one knows what to expect.  It’s in the supposedly tolerant and welcoming cities of the North where the real work starts.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®

Any Questions? wesrichards@gmail.com

Do I really need a disclaimer about my adult Asian daughters here? Or my Asian spouse?

© WR 2021

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

4707 Can I Hear You Now?

Yes, Martha, I can hear you now.

Once, a “disc jockey” was someone who played records and talked on the radio, not someone with a turntable and an attitude in a nightclub.

 

And many, if not most of us cranked the earphone volume pretty high.  The loud music spurred us to the required magnitude of enthusiasm when the mic opened.

 

As a result, many of us now have at least some hearing loss.

 

Blame it on age.  Blame it on all those years of cheap high-volume headphones.

 

What now?  Get a hearing exam, the results of which you’ll probably know in advance.  Then get hearing aids, which cost more than you made in a year spinning Stacks of Wax for Jills and Jacks at WJFN in Poquott, New York.

 

Disc Jockeys aren’t the only ones. Operators of hydraulic hammers and other construction and musical equipment, motorcycle couriers and airport ground crews are also high on the list of the affected.

 

You go see an audiologist. You get fitted.  You leave the office five grand lighter. 

 

Audiologists, like chiropractors, foot doctors, homeopaths and other variations of faith healers and motivational speakers from pyramid schemes will want to upsell you.

 

Since the tests are generally covered by your health insurance there isn’t much upselling to do. 

 

The big money is in devices. And mostly they’re not covered.

 

Congress has long been considering allowing the FDA to recommend over the counter low-priced hearing aids.  The FDA can’t do that on its own.

 

But it can clear and has cleared personal sound amplification products, at least some of them.

 

These are gizmos that look like hearing aids, work more or less like hearing aids, and are widely advertised with the required “warning” THIS IS NOT A HEARING AID.

 

If it quacks like a duck…

 

It’s true that some people need those audiology tests and of them, some -- probably fewer -- need “real” or prescription hearing aids.

 

But for most of us, the PSAPs, as they’re called, do just fine.  The best advice around is to avoid the ones that are too cheap.  A little more money and you’ll get a device that’s programmed to emphasize the frequencies of the human voice and reject background noise.

 

But we’re talking $50 an ear here, not $2500.  And most of the PSAPs come with a 30 day trial period. It takes longer than that to tame the squeal they all make when you first try them.

 

Shrapnel:

--Okay, Daylight Saving Time has arrived.  One reason for having it is so 9-to-5-ers can go home before dark. Are there any 9-to-5-ers left?

 

--Speaking of which, it was a banner year. We found no instances of our pet peeve about the time change, pluralizing “saving.”  Congratulations, America!

 

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®

Any Questions? wesrichards@gmail.com

© WR 2021

  

Monday, March 15, 2021

4706 The President Next Door

 

I’m generally down on politicians. They tend to be a bunch of self-serving, low-functioning hypocrites who don’t like or can’t do real work, haven’t done well when they’ve tried and pay lip service to the needs of their constituents while keeping the highest possible public profile.

 

There are exceptions as Henry Kissinger pointed out when he said, “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.” So where does Joe Biden fit into this arithmetic?

 

I’ve taken to calling him The President Next Door.  That, after viewing and contemplating the State-of-the-Pandemic Address last Thursday evening.  It was the first anniversary of the Declaration of Pandemic by the UN’s World Health Organization which is always ready to move in on an issue before the lease is signed and stay too long after it expires.

 

There was Joe from Scranton, being the guy who knocks on your door on a Saturday morning -- but not too early, mind you -- and asks to borrow your lawnmower.  Judging by his demeanor, his words and his decision to walk up to the lectern without aids or fanfare, this question comes to mind:  Would you lend him the mower and expect him to be the kind of neighbor who’d return it in the same condition he borrowed it but refill the gas tank first?

 

My answer is “yes.” Well… it would be yes if I actually still owned a lawnmower and a lawn to mow.  Biden is, after all, still a politician.  In fact, he’s done scarce little else in what some might consider a pretty long working life.

 

Another politician, Joe Stalin, agreed on a few things with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at Yalta. But he also added “trust but verify,” a significant statement plagiarized by Ronald Reagan without attribution and to his credit. 

 

So for now, let’s give the green light to trusting Good Neighbor Biden.  Unless, of course, he has his eye on your spouse or your maid or manservant -- unlikely as that may be.

 

Trust does not require enthusiasm. It does not require complete agreement with practice or policy. It does not require ignoring what he says or does in the future.  But it does mean there’s a high probability that we as a country won’t be worse off when his lease on the White House expires in a little under four years. And it also means he’s unlikely to try and dominate the airwaves the newspapers or the social media as “the other guy” did and would like to again. 

 

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®

Any Questions: wesrichards@gmail.com

This post was grown on a small family farm and was not processed through Artificial Intelligence. But we DO use organic Spellcheck.

© WR 2021

 


Friday, March 12, 2021

4705 My Welfare Check

We’re expecting a few bucks from Washington to arrive soon. Another check from the White House.  No chance to collect another presidential signature though. President trump signed the original stimulus payouts.  Biden isn’t going to put his signature on the new ones.  Typical lazy Democrat. He’s got someone else to get writer’s cramp for this project.

 

But the problem isn’t the Presidential signature collection.  It’s what to do with the windfall.  We didn’t get one of those trump tax cuts, the ones that were designed to create jobs but created yacht sales.  (Is it legal to call an eight-foot rowboat with a two HP fishing motor a “Yacht?  No? Not even if it has a fancy name on the stern and a fake Coast Guard ID? Oh well.)

 

But this is America, land of opportunity.  So that $14-hundred welfare check will certainly be useful for doing some public spirited acts.

 

But which acts?  There are so many to choose from.

 

I’d better put away part of the stash for the future.  After all, they’re building a casino in a nearby abandoned former Macy’s.  What better public service is there than helping Bally’s bottom line?  

 

Be nice if they had some kind of tribal connection. They don’t. But throwing money into the slots is fun and there’s little hope of a windfall.  And it helps dealers and security people earn a living, so it’s almost as good.

 

OK. Public service. Let’s see.  Maybe get the house painted.  Or part of it left over from the aforementioned act of charity. Nah.  That’s only going to lead to an extended discussion of which color.

 

People who actually need the money will do basic things with it. Like:

--Buying groceries.

--Paying the back rent or mortgage.

--Getting the lights turned back on or…

--The water… or

--The furnace.

 

Some people will invest. GameStop closed at a recent $267 putting any quantity purchase out of range.  General electric goes for about 12 bucks a share, so if you believe in miraculous comebacks, this might be a time to buy.

 

You can get a lot of gasoline which now costs between two and four dollars a gallon depending on your location. But storing $1400 worth of gas in coffee cans is a lot of work.  Also, it’s messy. 

And storing it loose in the back yard probably is self-defeating, illegal and dangerous.

 

People who don’t need the money at all will end up turning it into cash and hiding it in the mattress which 



A.          Pays about the same interest as the bank and 

B.          Is risky if you live next door to someone with $1400 worth of gasoline stored in coffee cans and who smokes.

 

But one thing is certain: Everyone who receives a check will figure out some use for it. We Americans are nothing if not resourceful about things like that.

 

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®

This post is all Natural and Certified organic. No Artificial Intelligence was hurt in its construction.

Any Questions? wesrichards@gmail.com

© WR 2021

  

MINI 018 The Other Side of Mystery

We Know what the victim and the cops think when someone breaks into one of these.  But what about the safecracker? What goes on in her head...