Saturday, June 15, 2019

Stop Limiting My Potential

From BBC news-
"A ban on adverts featuring "harmful gender stereotypes" or those which are likely to cause "serious or widespread offence" has come into force.
The ban covers scenarios such as a man with his feet up while a woman cleans, or a woman failing to park a car.

The UK's advertising watchdog introduced the ban because it found some portrayals could play a part in "limiting people's potential".

“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us. Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential,” says Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority)."

At the risk of being stereotyped as an older, white, conservative male this seems to me to be just one more crazy attempt by progressives to brute force the round peg of equality into the square hole of reality.

People are different, genders are different. Why people are who they are is complicated and we still don’t fully understand it. But the scientific evidence for real differences between the sexes is undeniable. Gender matters. And there is substantial evidence that other factors matter, they matter a lot. Personality type matters. Where you grow up matters? Race matters. Money matters. Health matters. Education matters. Your decisions and the decisions of others matter. The weather matters. IQ matters. Physical appearance matters. Age matters. Like it or not, fair or not…differences matter.

To be clear, I am all for equal opportunity for everyone. But equal outcomes are not possible. Over the past 100 years most of the modern, industrialized world has made tremendous progress toward creating equal opportunity for all. Yet, we still see unequal outcomes among people of different genders, races, places of origin, etc.

Some of this will take time to work through. Ever since we started walking upright, discovered fire and began telling our stories on cave walls, human civilization hasn’t been all that big on equal opportunity. Rulers and subjects have been the norm. The fortunate few selected by the gods to run things. On the timeline of human history we are still new at this equal opportunity idea. We are very much a work in process. And, going forward things will get incrementally better for more people. But not for all and never the same for all. This is a hard pill to swallow for social scientists. So they spend their time and someone else’s grant money doing studies that show where and how society does these awful things to perpetuate inequality.

As I grow older, I resent the assumptions that many people have about aging and ability. I am still in good shape, the mind is sharp and I’m not all that different than I was 20 years ago. But, the reality is that I am different. My hearing isn’t as good as it used to be. I’m not as strong and don’t recover from a hard workout or heavy physical labor the way I used to. I tend to be more forgetful. I have to pee more frequently. I watch Blue Bloods and most of the music I listen to is from the last century. So I fit a lot of older adult stereotypes.

But I don’t want to watch catheter commercials. I don’t need a reverse mortgage. I’m not moving to an “active senior” community. I don’t much like seeing older people portrayed in movies and television as incompetent, sad and helpless.

All of this stereotyping could be limiting my potential. But, it’s not. If anything, it motivates me to keep going as well as I can for as long as I can. While I am not the man I used to be, in many ways that’s a good thing. I’m kinder and gentler and don’t take life as seriously. I have gained the perspective that comes with age. That is a difference and an advantage that I gladly embrace.

My potential is limited by many things. Now, most of all, by time. I don’t need a well-meaning social scientist to ban advertisements that I don’t like or want to watch. But, if they could come up with a Time Machine that actually worked, I’d take a spin.

"It would be interesting to find out what goes on in that moment when someone looks at you and draws all sorts of conclusions.”
― Malcolm Gladwell

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What Was, What Is and What Will Be

If you want to know how someone is likely to vote ask them how they feel about the Past, the Present and the Future. If they are honest with their answers, you can predict with a fair degree of accuracy how they are likely to vote. There will always be special circumstances that override attitudes toward past, present and future. Race and gender perhaps being the most likely to override all other voter attitudes, opinions and interests.

But for the most part, how people vote depends on how they feel about the Past, the Present and the Future. Those who think the Past was better will pretty much tend toward voting conservatively; including those within a left-leaning party such as the Democrats. Those Democrats who like the “old Democratic Party” will tend toward someone more conservative or as they prefer to call in, centrist. (Joe Biden’s current status is a prime example). But clearly, most of the “past was better” crowd is going to vote Republican, even if it means voting for Trump again.

Those with a positive view about the Present are definitely more inclined to vote for the incumbent. But then it gets interesting. When it comes to those having a negative view of the Present, they tend to fall into two camps. One camp thinks The Present would be better IF it were more like the Past. The other has a Future vision of a new and improved way of life that will be much better than the Present. Those unhappy with the Present and looking for a return to the Past will tend toward conservatism and vote Republican. (This was a key factor in Trump’s win). The other unhappy camp is all about fixing those things that are broken and have been broken for a long-time and are likely to get worse if we don’t change and become more “progressive”.

And then lastly, how one feels about the Future will tend to impact ones vote. In 2008, even people who thought America was or had been a great place for them and their families, were scared and confused. The Future did not look all that great and a lot people went with Hope and Change because they didn’t know what else to do. So even people who pretty much wanted their good old familiar, reliable country back voted for a guy who had a much more progressive agenda which, under normal circumstances, would have made them very uncomfortable.

The problem Republicans are facing in 2020 is that a growing number of voters under the age of 35 have not lived in an America that made them long for the good old days. And a good number of them aren’t doing all that great in the here and now either. These folks will be inclined to vote Democrat (or not at all.) Some might even go for a far-left third party candidate if such an option were available. Most all of the “identity” politics crowd will vote Democrat because the Democrats have done a great job of appealing to that audience. They started doing it in 60’s, eventually forming the Rainbow coalition and other groups of progressive activists. It probably cost them a lot of elections over the past 40 years, but now it’s ready to bear fruit. Older white, males who pretty much loved the America they grew up in, are a dying breed…literally.

Increasingly we are now told that the Past was only great for certain people. The Present works great for The One Percent, but everyone else is worse off and losing ground. The Future looks like melting ice caps and rising sea levels, a bad moon rising. All of this resonates with millions of people in this country. So does the narrative shape the people or do the people shape the narrative? Or is it a bit of both? And “What Will Be” ultimately comes down to one question….who actually shows up and votes.

When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Protect This House and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves

“The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you”- David Foster Wallace

Three years ago, Art Briles was removed from his position as head football coach of the Baylor University Bears. From a lawsuit filed on behalf of 17 women, it is alleged that over a period of five years 19 of Briles’ players committed sexual and/or physical assaults. The victims claim that Briles and his staff knew about most, if not all, of these attacks and did nothing. Took no action to report these complaints to the police or the university authorities and, for the most part, worked to protect the players and the program.

This whole terrible event is now back on the front page because Art Briles just got hired to coach a football team here in Texas. A nice Sunday drive to the southeast of where I live is the hometown of Don Meredith, Mount Vernon. Dandy Don the almost great and much beloved QB of the early days Dallas Cowboys; and the good ol’ boy star of Monday Night Football back when Monday Night Football was a thing. The fine folks of Mount Vernon and Franklin County, Texas are now the talk of the football world. A handful of their fellow citizens decided that Art Briles would be the right man to lead their Mount Vernon Tigers to football glory. They spoke to several of his references, most notably Grant Teaff, Baylor coaching legend and former head of the American Football Coaches Association. Grant Teaff is a devout Christian and a man of impeccable character. If he endorses someone, it’s like gold in the state of Texas. And he gave Briles his golden thumbs up.

Much has been written about the Baylor/Briles mess. Regardless of who knew what, when did they know and what did they do or not do about it; the big question is WHY? Why do people and institutions allow bad things, or even alleged bad things, to go on without being addressed and resolved, one way or the other?

What is behind the bad judgment and poor decision-making that goes on to create outcomes like the Baylor mess, or the Penn State/Paterno/Sandusky thing, or going to war over non-existent WMDs, or Watergate, or the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal…or, or, or….?

The core issue is one of morality. Either their moral compass is broken or they simply rationalize their decision to fit the situation. In most cases, including the ones mentioned above, people made decisions which they thought were “right”. So how does one see “right” in something that is so “wrong”. Or at least wrong when viewed objectively in the clear light that tends to shine after the damage has been done.

When ones first priority is “Protecting This House”, or position, or company, or reputation, or fortune…or anything we place great value upon…we simply lie to ourselves and then to others. We cast doubt on the “wrong” that has been done or will be done. Maybe it’s not that bad or it didn’t happen at all or nothing will happen. Maybe what we are doing is for the greater good and what has happened or will happen to innocent people is just collateral damage. Or maybe they aren’t all that innocent in the first place. Maybe we are doing what we really believe to be the right thing, but we take the easy way out and make up stories that sound better (if they actually turn out to be true…WMDs were there…yes they really were…no matter what the facts are.)

In the end, the truth and doing the right thing may get you nailed to a cross. But the truth and the doing the wrong thing leaves you hanging up there….or seeking redemption too late in a place like Mount Vernon.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Woke or Broke?

In recent years “Woke” has become THE word with progressives. It originated as a way of expressing how people should “wake up” to the social injustice in our society, especially when it comes to issues of race. It’s now being used to describe the appropriate level of awareness one should have about all social justice issues and just about everything else on the progressive agenda including climate change.

But I have some bad news for the Woke and the Un-Woke….”We Broke”. At this moment in history, when millions of people are “Woke” and demanding that we “make things right” and get about it immediately, we are broke. Just consider:

_Our national debt is over $22 Trillion…that’s more than our annual GDP and it doesn’t include all of the unfunded liabilities which are now approaching or may exceed $200 Trillion !!!

_We are still adding to our debt at the rate of over $1 Trillion per year.

_Federal government spending represents over 20% of our GDP, state and local spending adds an additional 5 to 7 %.

_Household debt is at a record level, $13.3 trillion.

_Our national savings rate is only around 3% of income.

So we have a math problem when the “Woke” demand that we spend:

_$8-10 Trillion per year over the next ten years for a Green New Deal
_$3-4 Trillion per year for universal healthcare
_$5-10 Trillion for slavery reparations
_$1.5 Trillion to pay off student loans
_$75 Billion per year for free college

And, oh by the way, this is before we even talk about something most all of us can agree on which is fixing our infrastructure. Depending on how “Green” we go and what sort of commitments we were to make toward mass transit systems, upgrading our infrastructure could be the most expensive endeavor of all; perhaps $5-10 trillion per year over the next 20 years. And that doesn't include what we need to spend just to patch and maintain what we already have.

So how do you pay for it? Where do you come up with this much money in a $21 Trillion dollar economy that is already drowning in debt? Raise taxes? How much and on whom? You could double the taxes on those making over $1M per year and not even come close.

We all better wake up and come to terms with the fact that it will take us at least 50 years to dig out of this hole. And, I'm not even suggesting that we get totally out of debt. A national debt at 50-60% of GDP is manageable. And some level of household debt is to be expected. But remember, we have over $200 Trillion in unfunded liabilities that is not even on the books.

So what do we do? First of all, everyone who can work, needs to get to work. We need production. Secondly, we have to increase taxes and reduce spending wherever possible. (We all know there are government agencies and programs that could vanish tomorrow and no one would notice, other than those people who've been getting paid to ride that gravy train.) And yes, we will have to spend money on infrastructure, healthcare and education. We are at a tipping point in this nation. Too much wealth at the top and too many struggling to make ends meet. We have a lot of angry people on the Left and the Right. History tells us that when you get enough people fed up with the status quo, change will occur. The real question is what will that change looks like and who has the guts and grit to lead us out of this mess?

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Disintermediation or Predatory Pricing?

Disintermediation: removal of intermediaries in economics from a supply chain, or cutting out the middlemen in connection with a transaction or a series of transactions.

Amazon recently announced the start up of their digital freight brokerage. They move a lot of freight. They have massive technological capability. So why not get into the truckload brokerage business. Show C.H. Robinson and the rest of them how it’s done. And how serious is Amazon about this venture? They are running blue light specials offering rates 25-30% below average contract rates and even less than the lowest spot market rates.

Transportation Intermediaries meet the Amazon Flywheel and prepare for some “dis-ing” which is just one part of Amazon’s “disintermediation strategy”.

A former Amazon executive summarized the e-commerce giant’s disintermediation strategy:

“The advantages that then come from disintermediation and the monetization of those capabilities are secondary to the immediate need of self-preservation, but then serve to feed very critical needs of Amazon’s ability to continue to succeed. This innovation and growth then manifests as continuously evolving towards the ability to sell everything and anything that is or can be sold. That’s the true Amazon flywheel: disintermediate to survive; monetize to fund innovation; innovate to grow; disintermediate to survive…”

Say what?

I’m just a simple country boy, but I think the Amazon flywheel is spinning some major bullshit. At some point, “disintermediation” crosses a line and becomes predatory pricing which is illegal, although the Federal Trade Commission can’t seem to figure out when or how to enforce the law against it.

I get the concept when it comes to e-commerce retail. Eliminate brick and motar, take out a couple of links in the supply chain, buy in bulk and sell direct to the consumer. Reduce cost, make it convenient and boom. It’s still not very profitable, but I get it. And I use the heck out of it. There are probably other industries that could use a little disintermediation, such as insurance. Maybe even headhunting….gulp.

But I don’t understand how actually becoming an intermediary and a “marginal-less”, (a.k.a. non-profit) one at that, creates long-term value if the strategy is to ultimately “monetize” (a.k.a. increase prices) once you’ve captured a large enough share of the market. Amazon’s entry into truckload freight brokerage does not appear to have much to do with “disintermediation” and a whole lot to do with predatory pricing by a giant company that can afford to lose billions of dollars in order to effectively gain control of the nation’s truckload network to the extent that they can influence pricing and capacity availability to their advantage. How is that not predatory?

Pricing below your own costs is also not a violation of the law unless it is part of a strategy to eliminate competitors, and when that strategy has a dangerous probability of creating a monopoly for the discounting firm so that it can raise prices far into the future and recoup its losses. –

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Tiger Bet

Those of you who have read my blog over years know that I always make predictions each December for the coming year. Starting in December 2011, one of my annual predictions was that Tiger Woods would not win another major. After three straight years of being correct, I got bored with the Tiger Woods slam-dunk prediction. It was just too easy. Tiger Woods would never win another major. So I stopped even mentioning him. Predicting that he even had a chance would have been akin to predicting that Donald Trump would become President. And there you have it… always expect the unexpected.

The 2019 Masters was one of the greatest sporting events I’ve ever watched. I recorded it and my wife and I watched it in the evening, going to great lengths to avoid knowing the outcome each day. My wife has always predicted that Tiger would win another major and when he was in contention after two days, I still predicted he would fail. So we made a bet. If Tiger won the 2019 Masters, I would take my wife to Spain this year. She upped the ante and convinced me to throw in Italy. Modesty prevents me from saying what I would get if Tiger failed to win the Masters. I certainly felt that that the odds were in my favor and it was a good bet.

I’ve never been a huge Tiger fan. I certainly respected his game, but he just seemed like someone with whom I’d never want to play a round of golf. The fans thought he was bigger than the game. He seemed to agree with them and acted like it. He was just “that guy” and that’s not the guy I tend to root for. Granted, he was the best golfer I ever saw, period EOD. Better even that Jack Nicklaus. But, I tended to always root for the other guy…even if they weren’t from the good old U.S.A. Anyone but Tiger, #ABT.

Tiger was a golfing machine and, for me, that was the real problem. Golf is too hard for anyone to play that well. However, when his personal life went off the rails and his body started breaking down, he became human. And when Tiger Woods became human, I became a fan. For sure, some people turned on Tiger and ripped him for being such an awful person. The injuries and the collapse of his golf game were just part of Karma coming to collect. Good-bye Tiger and good riddance.

Even though I became a fan, I never thought he would win another major. He might win another tournament or two, maybe. But, to win a major against a field of great young golfers from all over the world, guys who could hit the ball higher and farther than Tiger ever could, even in his prime, much less now? No, Tiger would never win another major. Bad knee, bad back, bad thoughts…too much competition...too much to overcome.

But, on Palm Sunday in April in the year 2019, Tiger Woods found some magic, or maybe it was more a case of the magic finding Tiger. If there was a course where Tiger had a chance of winning another major it was Augusta. Jack did it back in ’86 when most thought his major win days were over. But, it’s a course where experience can be the great equalizer. Tiger hung around while younger, better golfers couldn’t keep the ball out the water on Number 12. Where the pressure cracked everyone but the old Tiger who still found enough game to be one shot better than anyone else when it all ended early on a Sunday as the clouds rolled in and the rain began to fall.

Later that evening my wife and I spent some time joking about the correct way to pronounce Barcelona, concluding with me betting her that my way was the best, most correct. She laughed and said it sounded more like the way Daffy Duck would pronounce it.

I replied, “Bet I’m right and furthermore Tiger Woods has won his last major.”

She just smiled and said, “Wanna bet on it?”

Thursday, April 11, 2019

What's The Question?

“How do I achieve success and happiness?”. That was the question asked by one of the students.

My little church is part of a campus ministry at a local junior college. If you’ve seen the Netflix documentary Last Chance U about football players, then think of our little JUCO as First Chance U for these kids. A chance to get a couple of years on the cheap before going off to a nearby state university or maybe just a two-year degree in the culinary arts and then a good job at one of the Indian casinos across the river. Or a nursing degree with a ticket to a better life down in the Metroplex.

Some local churches are part of a Tuesday night rotation where do-gooders and bible-thumpers show up for supper with the students. The churches bring pizza, hamburgers and hotdogs or that holiest of holies, Chick-Fi-Let. The kids consume mass quantities. For some it’s grab and go, some stay and eat while studying their smart phones. A few act as if they are paying attention while someone tries to tell them why their church is cool and just knowing Jesus makes life better. Try it, you’ll like it, that sort of thing.

If I sound cynical about such “ministries” it’s because I am. Kids come for free food and leave. No strings attached. Over the years, churches haven’t seen much fruit from all of this effort. But I am told that a couple of kids have become Christians, making a profession of faith and being baptized. That being the case, then it is worth it.

And if it’s worth it, it’s worth doing better. So I suggested that we ask the kids to submit questions (anonymously). I sort of put our pastor on the spot. So now he has to prepare for these suppers and respond to some tough questions about God, good and evil, heaven and hell or just life in general.

I haven’t been going to these events because I thought they were a waste of time plus I don’t want to be the resident Granddad. I also have a tendency to commit 100% or not at all, and I knew that if I got involved, I would take it all too seriously and too personally. Some of these kids would end up breaking my heart or I would break theirs. Valid excuses or me just being chicken---t?

But since the questions were my idea, I decided that I better show up, at least once, and survey the damage. It was interesting and some of the kids actually listened and responded to the answers. When the pastor got to the “success and happiness” question he gave a solid response including the true joys of being a Christian and what really matters in the grand eternal scheme of things. That’s what he gets paid to say.

However, there is such a thing as giving the right answer to the wrong question. If I had been answering the question I would have started by asking this question: “What do you mean by ‘success and happiness’?” If success and happiness for you means financial success and the happiness money can buy (because money actually can buy happiness of a certain sort for a period of time); then that requires a different answer. If success and happiness means getting to do just what you want to do for a living and having as much personal freedom as possible, even if it means sacrificing wealth and security and perhaps even relationships, then it’s a different answer.

Words have meaning and they mean different things to different people. Success and happiness? What that means to 19 or 20 year olds living on campus at a little old Texas JUCO is a mystery to me and probably a mystery to most of them. And what it means to them today isn’t what it will likely mean a year from now, or five years from now, or twenty-five years from now.

At some point in life, if one is lucky enough or blessed enough, one learns that success and happiness are not all they are cracked up to be. We are all going to die and someone else will end up playing with our toys. There’s nothing wrong with success and happiness as long as you know what those words truly mean. And if you know what they mean, live like it. I’ve always known that true success and happiness had more to do with the soul and eternity than ones net worth. But, that never stopped me from counting my chips and figuring that “more” was better than “less”. These days I’m not so sure.

As we draw near the end of the Lenten season and prepare for Easter, I think about the questions Jesus asked. He always asked the right questions and often answered a question with a question. If He were asked “How do I achieve success and happiness?”, I think His response would have been something like this:

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” –Mark 8:36