My earliest lesson in going the extra mile…. or miles.

I read recently that the Boy Scouts of America will no longer be just boys per se. Whatever the reasons for this inclusive mix of boys, girls and those who are confused about their gender, I will always be grateful for a lesson I learned at age 12. One of the final tasks set before me in my boy scout training was a hike that paralleled the Erie Canal in Pennsylvania. I don’t remember how long the hike was supposed to be. We had a map, we each had a canteen of water, we had hats, boots, and a little bit of food. And that was it. Then we got lost. There was definitely something to be desired in our map reading skills. The 4 of us argued about directions constantly, and while we were supposed to stick together, we finally separated into two pairs, going This way and That way (kind of like the “Boy” Scouts themselves).

I remember it was a hot and very dusty hike, and along the way, things just kept going wrong. We ran out of water and food too soon, and the soles of my boots detached, flapping with every step. Even more embarrassing, though not nearly as uncomfortable, the brim of my garrison cap suddenly just separated and fell off. I wanted to quit, I wanted to call for mommy, I wanted to just stop and sit and lament my lost brim.

Taking stock of my situation –flapping soles, no water or food, lost with a low probability of being found if we just sat there, not knowing how far we had to go or even that we were going the right way, we learned the virtue of the principle “keep putting one foot in front of the other.” By doing that we made it back to camp, flapping soles and missing brims and all. It helped that we could exhort one another. Without being conscious of it, the “one foot at a time” principle became a building block of my life, and in fact saved my life on more than one occasion.

One of those life saving occasions was in Florida, 1973, when I found myself swimming in Ichetucknee springs, unable to get out because of rafts of floating vegetation blocking the shore. You could only get out at one point, where the vegetation was sparse, and I had to swim for hours past the point of exhaustion. But it was either keep putting one arm in front of the other, or drown. Another time was 1979 in Yellowstone Park, during the coldest winter on record. It was 35F below zero and we had to ski 22 miles to find a backcountry cabin. Maybe 22 miles doesn’t sound like a lot, but we had 50 lb packs, had to break trail through deep new snow, had to climb down and then back up the banks of the trail where it was melted by hot springs runoff – – only in Yellowstone – – and finally reaching the cabin, had to dig through 5 feet of snow to find the door. For 8 or so hours, the mantra was “one foot in front of the other.”

Through all of these hard life lessons, I continued to remember how comical it looked when the brim of my hat fell off. Some things just stay with you. Too bad that doesn’t include the Boy Scouts of America continuing to be boys.

Is it worth it? A good deal or buyers remorse?

Yesterday, I bought a sandwich at a Subway store and really enjoyed it. Today I bought the same sandwich at a different Subway store just a mile away, and didn’t enjoy it at all. The reason I didn’t enjoy it was that the second sandwich cost me $2 more than the first, though they were the same sandwich, the only difference being where I bought it. Instead of just enjoying the taste, I felt cheated. That got me thinking about the idea of the economic value, or how much we are willing to pay for something, and what affects our enjoyment of something we spent money (a measure of our own economic value) on.

The variables I am going to introduce in this conversation are: utility, scarcity, satisfaction, convenience, sellers’ and buyers’ markets, buyer’s remorse. What determines how much you are willing to pay for something, or how much satisfaction you get out of owning or using that something, and whether or not buyer’s remorse sets in later? Another way of looking at the whole question is how are prices set. Rather than attempt to give an economics lesson, I will play with some familiar examples.

In my Subway example, the main factor that caused my disappointment was that my expectations were frustrated. Yesterday I paid a certain price, and today I expected to pay the same price for the same thing. But not only was the price $2 more, which in and of itself is a minor issue, rather that $2 represented a 40% increase in the price of the object, and I think I’m terms of percentage increase rather than flat dollar increase. If the object had cost $100 and somewhere else it was $102, I would barely have noticed that difference, but a 40% increase is like paying $140 for a $100 object. Even somebody wealthy would notice and be angry about that. Was it worth the price–to me–I paid today? It would have been if I had not expected it to be $5.01. But while I was tempted to refuse the sandwich, I paid, and then went to the other subway to make sure that I was not mistaken. (The clerk at the cheaper store told me that each owner has discretion to set their own price.) The opposite of this feeling is the satisfaction I get from remembering what I paid for a brand new Vizio 50″ 4K TV with Smartcast! It was advertised at the same price on Vizio’s and Best Buy’s website–$440. On Walmart.com, for only 1 day, it was advertised at $300, and that was what I paid, delivered to my door! The theory of Cognitive Dissonance might dictate that the more I paid for something, the more I should enjoy it, but economic reality declares “everyone loves a bargain.” Now, what if someone decided to upgrade their TV to 70″, and sells the exact 50″ model I have, on Craigslist for $150 just a week after they bought it? DON’T GO THERE.

In a capitalist system like the United States, the so-called Market–what buyers are willing to pay–sets the prices for most things. Sometimes that price is totally out of proportion for what the intrinsic value of the item is and yet if people were not willing to pay it, the price would have to be lowered, sometimes significantly. The best example I can think of is movie popcorn. When you think about the materials and even the labor that went into producing popcorn in the movies, and when you think of the price they charge you at the movies, for it it would have to be considered one of the most expensive per-capita items in the world. Why then are people willing to pay such a price? Because the scarcity of something, especially when that something is paired psychologically with the experience through smell or taste, people don’t care about the actual price as much as they care about the pleasure they’re going to get from enjoying the purchase.

The scarcity value of anything is related to both supply and demand. If the movie-going public decided to eat healthy all the time, and stopped buying popcorn, the theater owner would have to drop the price to some point which overcomes buyers’ health concerns. Lack of demand creates a “buyers’ market“–lowered prices. On the other hand, if health was not an issue, but some kind of fungus wiped out a year’s worth of popcorn, the drop in supply (with demand constant) would result in increased prices–a sellers’ market. So far, I’ve kept it simple, focusing on just the variables of supply and demand vs. price and satisfaction. It gets a lot more complicated when additional economic factors–like taxes, interest rates, availability of land and location–influence how much buyers are willing to pay.

When something is cheap enough to be bought with cash–like a TV or a sandwich– pricing is relatively simple. The opposite case is real estate. I moved from Wenatchee, WA. to Spokane, WA. in 2015, mainly because a house in Spokane cost about 60% of what an identical house in Wenatchee would cost. Why? The main reason was that Wenatchee was nestled between the Columbia River and mountains–they ran out of room to build, i.e. supply couldn’t keep up with demand. The Spokane area has vistas and huge tracts of undeveloped land. But prices also differ significantly within Spokane. Homes in the most desirable neighborhoods are far more expensive than in neighborhoods less desirable.

One of the biggest price factors in real estate is interest rates. That is because virtually no one buys a home for cash, virtually every homeowner has a mortgage and they are more concerned with what the monthly payment is then what the absolute cost of the home was. Because of the way mortgages work, which is too complicated to go into here, interest rates play a huge part in how much the monthly payments are. Income taxes and real estate taxes also play a part in the cost of a home but much less of a part that interest rates. The so-called mortgage interest tax deduction is wildly overrated. The vast majority of people can’t even claim it, though they assume they can, and the real estate industry has convinced buyers that somehow or other they’re saving money by buying a home over renting. That’s what’s known as marketing. The marketing in the real estate industry is very successful, but their success pales in comparison with the marketing of the so-called higher education industry. That’s a rant for another day.

Hey Sarah, how’d you get that white first name???

Her name is Sarah Jeong and she was born in South Korea. Last Wednesday The New York Times announced that it had hired the 30-year-old as their lead technology writer, praising her “verve and erudition”. The New York Times claimed it had been aware of Jeong’s tweets when it hired her and although they do not officially “condone” her statements, they must be understood in the context of her being a “young Asian woman” who faces constant racial harassment online and who was only imitating the racial abuse of she receives (she does??). After all, Jeong says her comments were “intended as satire” and all you butthurt white males really need to grow up and learn how to take a joke. Here is a sample of her pre-employment tweets (and my counter opinions), allowing her to demonstrate something, er., “verve and erudition”, if such words have been redefined in that “euphemism factory” somewhere, like the words gay, marriage, etc.

“Dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants (at least we don’t eat dogs like some Koreans); oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get from being cruel to old white men (when they aren’t harassing you?); Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins (you are even whiter, probably need am umbrella outside, so this applies even more to you); basically i’m just imagining waking up white every morning with a terrible existential dread that i have no culture (it’s called “western culture” Sarah, and white belief in it is the only reason you didn’t wake up in a communist paradise like your cousins in the North); I dare you to get on Wikipedia and play “Things white people can definitely take credit for,” it’s really hard (says more about your research skills, or were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates really Koreans passing for white?); #CancelWhitePeople (is this called erudition….or verve?); White people have stopped breeding. You’ll all go extinct soon. This was my plan all along. (Then you won’t have your NYT job for long).
To show just how much prejudice white Americans have against her, Asian Americans live eight years longer than white Americans and have a mean household income a cool $20K higher than that of white Americans. Being Sarah Jeong means graduating from Harvard and getting an editorial position at The New York Times and coming from a fiercely nationalistic and ethnically homogenous homeland to which you are free to return at any time, American dollars in hand. Perhaps Sarah is really a white, Jewish woman trying to pass for Asian? “And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations.” (Genesis 17:15). Was the Sarah of the Bible white? Probably, but the Bible rarely mentions ethnicity, considering melanin content insignificant compared to faith, honor, righteousness and “stuff” like that. Sarah is a Hebrew name, most commonly given by parents who tend to be relatively devout Christians and Jews (male sibling names are Jacob, Joshua, Matthew, Michael, Noah, Daniel, David, Andrew, James, Joseph, Caleb),and most common in North America and Western Europe–both of which happen to have a lot of white people. Maybe she should change her name.
As for Asian culture, Jim Goad said in Takimag.com jeongIt has been my observation that part of the general Asian temperament is a tendency toward conformity and fanaticism. Remember, this is the continent that gave us Unit 731 (covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) of World War II), the Great Leap Forward (agrarian “reform” under Mao Tse-tung in China that was the greatest mass starvation in history) and the Khmer Rouge (2 million deaths in Cambodia by political executions, starvation and forced labor). It has also been my personal experience that when Asians hop on the social-justice train, they are by FAR the most fanatically anti-white group of all. We would be wise to heed the rise of the Social Justice Dragon Lady. Not only does she hate us, she is being rewarded for doing so.” She also has a white first name!!

A Ukrainian genius wants Americans to know how fortunate we are.

In 2012, a boy named Artur Samarin came to the United States from the Ukraine on a J-1 Visa, and overstayed his welcome in a most creative way. Aided and abetted by an America couple who wanted to “help” him, he changed his name, faked a birth certificate showing him to be 5 years younger than he was, and enrolled in a high school in Harrisburg, PA. In 2016, the fake “parents” turned on him, and he went to prison, not so much for impersonating an American citizen, but really for “statutory rape” for sex with a teenager. It would have been okay if he were really 17 at the time, but he was indeed 22. After prison, he was deported back to the Ukraine. I read his story today, and reading it I once again appreciated how fortunate I am to have been born in the United States.

After he was deported back to Ukraine, he had this to say of his home there. “No opportunities, no money, no areas to realize it yourself. Coal doesn’t want to be a coal if he can be a diamond.” He also had this to say about his former temporary home, the United States. “There was so much opportunity, I could have thought about conquering the moon and going to Mars. But losing that, it’s the worst horror, it’s a nightmare.” Even after being deported he couldn’t stop dreaming about the United States. His view wasn’t entirely rosy though. He had very harsh words for the media. He said being under the glare of the media” was worse than being in hell.”

Be that as it may, please note my “fellow Americans” that the proposed fence for our southern border is meant TO KEEP CERTAIN IMMIGRANTS (who try to circumvent our legal processes for admission) OUT, while there’s virtually nothing to prevent U.S. citizens from leaving. I have crossed into Canada and Mexico from the U.S., with merely a cursory checkoff–in fact, a few times that I crossed into Canada, the U.S. side had no one in the booth! Hey, you want to go, bless you. It’s a somewhat harder trying to get back in to the U.S., or for that matter, into Canada. The point is, the proportional difficulty of getting in vs. leaving is directly related to the desirability of living in a country.

Yah, I know about all the problems: racism, Trump, white privilege, microaggressions, Trump, family separation, Trump, wealth disparity, did I mention Trump(?) of Amerika America. But if it’s easy to leave and hard to enter, and millions are clamoring for citizenship or some semblance of it, and only a few Hillary voters and CNN reporters want out, I guess it’s better here.

 

1959 was a great year for race relations…. in my neighborhood.

In 1959, I was 13 years old and I had just started working in my father’s gifts and toy shop. The shop was located in West Philadelphia, a neighborhood that was probably 90 to 95% minorities, mostly black. Virtually all of my father’s customers were black, as were most of his employees. My father and I on the other hand or white. And it was great, we have wonderful relationships with our customers, our employees and people in the neighborhood. Go on, admit it, when you read my title you assumed I was referring to a middle class majority white neighborhood with a few cowed, token minorities widely separated enough so that they couldn’t get together and pool grievances.

Be that as it may, the four white folks–my dad, two other merchants, and me, though I was a part -time–in this neighborhood seemed to like it okay. One incident in particular stands out. A black teenager came in the store, noticed that my dad was busy, then suddenly grabbed something and ran out with it. About half an hour later he was dragged back into the store, by his ear no less, by his next door neighbor who was the Auntie on the block. What I mean by the Auntie is, she was home during the day while a lot of other parents worked, so she was kind of deputized by people in the neighborhood to watch out for the neighborhood kids, and given permission to intervene if they were doing wrong.

How dare you steal from this man“, punctuated by a slap upside the head. “He’s always treated us right”, slap, “you apologize to him“, slap….Back in those days, we were too unwoke to realize that slapping a teenager upside the head will turn him into a violence-crazed drug addict, but not having easy access to either guns or drugs, he meekly apologized and eventually, my father hired him, and he became a reliable employee and very close to our family. We didn’t even recognize the microaggression in her use of the term “us” to denote people of her race, but maybe she’d get a pass today since her use of the word “us” is a microaggression against herself.

But not so for poor Aydene Militello of DeKalb. The 78-year-old Illinois woman is due in court on August 8 to face a hate-crime charge for allegedly telling a black woman during a road-rage argument that “You and your people need to take responsibility for your own actions.” It is punishable by one to three years in prison if she’s convicted. DeKalb County Chief Judge Robbin Stuckert signed a warrant Monday with $3,000 bond attached, and court records show that after Militello was arrested and booked into the jail, she promptly posted $300 bail to be released. “You people” is apparently more than a microaggression, it’s a “hate crime. Wow, no wonder race relations are so much better in 2018 than in 1959!

Where’s Karl?

I am a dedicated marxist, and my big conundrum is, which is funnier, Go West or Night at the Opera? Oops, I forgot to include Das Kapital. In it’s own way it might be the funniest Marx comedy…..no, on second thought, it doesn’t have Margaret Dumont, so it’s out. It does take a wrecking ball to Western civilization, but how can that compete for laughs with tearing apart the wooden train and feeding the boards to the engine to win a race? Yeah, I think Go West is the funniest!

Not to slight Das Kapital though, it actually was an important and carefully thought out book. Since it was written before the “Industrial Revolution”, most references to “labor” mean manual labor, but the economics “lessons” and theories are secondary to his political theories. For Marx, Karl that is, the abolition of ownership of private property is one of the central aspects to his theories as expressed in “The Communist Manifesto”. This is not simply meant in terms of owning a home or a piece of land, but more importantly it refers to the means of production. This is true in the case of a factory owner just as it is true for a large landholder who owns several acres that need worked.

To Marx, this was a timeless imbalance that harkens back to the feudal days and doing away with the whole notion could happen through revolution. Without an uprising the issue of private property and the associated inequities would only continue unchecked. In many ways it can be suggested that to Marx, private property was at the center of almost all problems he saw in human society since it contributed to and signaled unequal distribution of wealth.

Rather than dive into the intricacies of his theory–I would lose all my readers–I propose testing the idea that private property is the, or even a, problem. Take a trip with me to the year 1620, as 101 weary, sickly passengers of the Mayflower went ashore at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Plymouth Company investors initially invested about £1200 to £1600 in the colony before the Mayflower even sailed. The colonists had to pay this money back over seven years by harvesting supplies and shipping them back to the investors in England to be sold.

Each investor in the Plymouth Company was issued shares worth £10 and each adult colonist received one share and were given options to purchase more shares later on. For the first seven years, everything was to remain in the “common stock” which was owned by all the shareholders. The common stock helped supply the colonists with things like food, tools and clothing. At the end of the seven years, the shareholders would divide the profits and capital (which included houses, land and goods) equally.

Yet, in 1623, the common-stock plan was abandoned and the land and houses were divided so that each colonist could reap the rewards of their own labor. The colony had been barely producing enough food to survive and the Governor of the colony, William Bradford, felt that the communal aspect of the colony was discouraging many of the colonists from working hard because they felt they were working for others rather than themselves. When the common-stock plan was abandoned and the new plan put into place, the colony suddenly began to flourish and they soon had an abundance of food. Corn production dramatically increased and famine was averted.

So in this simplest of all examples, private ownership of the land with the incentive of earning the fruits of your own labor was the only consistent difference between famine or plenty. Sure, weather and Indian relations were factors, but those were more or less similar during the first 3 years of want and the subsequent years of plenty. The central problem with Marxism and it’s children, Communism and Socialism, is ignoring human nature and it’s desire for personal gain.

How do you implement a system that contravenes human nature? With force! Ultimately, Das Kapital and Marxism are funnier than Marx Brothers comedies because everywhere Marxism has been applied–with the goal always to reduce inequities–the gap between the wealthiest classes and the poorest classes has been greater than in capitalist societies. Why? Because the force required to implement Marxism necessarily leads to plunder, and the removal of the incentive of personal gain results in lowered production. What a yuck.

Talking about racism doesn’t go well.

Recently, I read an article from the LA Times, in which woman talked about having been invited to a dinner specifically for the idea of discussing racism. Her summary is, “it didn’t go well.” Why was that? It seems that everyone had a narrative depending upon the color of their skin or their country of origin and had difficulty seeing the validity of anyone else’s narrative. Well, that’s the thing about narratives. They represent our justifications or explanations or our excuses for our lives being the way they are. Is there any hope for improving race relations by discussing race relations?

No, I don’t think so, but there are models of decent race relations we can consider. But first, we need to define what good race relations look like. Is it the so called color-blindness? No, we see someone’s color and automatically and often subconsciously make judgments. I do, and I immediately question and challenge my judgment. That is a key–challenging our own judgments! Here are some excerpts from the writer of the article:

The other black woman in the room spoke next. She looked to be in her 20s, like me, with a similar dark complexion. I presumed we would have comparable stories, but she told the group she had never experienced any overt forms of racism. I almost choked on my food. I spoke last, touching on the overt and covert racism that I experience every day in this city: the looks and stares I get walking down the street in my predominantly white neighborhood; how I wake up self-aware that the color of my skin is going to make my daily tasks that much harder; how appearing too black can be dangerous. There is a difference between tolerating blackness and accepting it. As we went further around the table, I found myself growing annoyed. Not to discredit anyone’s experiences, but I was surprised that not one person at the table had used the word privilege; the privilege of being a white man, or the privilege of being a black woman who can racially pass. Instead of being open about the ways in which they benefit from systemic injustice, everyone took a turn playing the victim.”

Notice her attitude. How much of her narrative is self-fulfilled expectations and how much is objective reality regardless of attitudes? What if the statement of the other woman who looks similar to her is true? What if it’s wishful thinking or a lie for mixed company? The point is, we really don’t know. She doesn’t know. How can anyone separate their interpretation of the “looks and stares” from her expectation that “the color of my skin is going to make my daily tasks that much harder; how appearing too black can be dangerous.” Racism certainly exists, but whose experience is more objective? Whenever a black couple shows up at our church, I and many other  melanin-challenged folks want to welcome them, and often begin that process by trying to adopt a welcoming expression. But who knows what they are thinking about those expressions? Does it have more to do with their expectations than our ability to convey welcome?

As for privilege, well what about it? So I’m privileged to be born in the United States, to be a white man, to be more healthy than not (other than being disabled walking and hearing). So what? If you are a black person in the “racist” United States, aren’t you privileged to be here rather than anywhere in Africa or the Middle East? If you have all your limbs, aren’t you more privileged than an amputee? The whole privilege narrative is really a lack of gratitude for what you have and are. It is whining. Shut it already.

As far as models of race relations, there are some: ministries and private schools where the races work together to better the lives of the disadvantaged and “non-privileged; military units in combat and performing missions together; missionaries and NGO’s which are working side by side to minister to the downtrodden in foreign lands; disabled veterans seasonal sports clinics, during which vets and volunteers of all races serve and love each other (I wrote a blog post about my own experience). These positive examples all have something in common: People with a mission to serve others! They probably don’t have time to discuss race relations, being too busy modeling those relations.