In today’s news, we got lots of new numbers… see for yourself. It’s pretty-much what’s to be expected… a little better, if anything. Nothing drastically bad, at least.
What might be turning drastically bad… ok, not drastically, but just to point out… that in elections of the somewhat distant past, there have been some wild accusations thrown around… like the opposing candidate is a well-known to be an extrovert! His sister-in-law is a thespian! He’s engaged in nepotism with his sister in law! Not only that… but, before he was married, he practiced celibacy! And… when in college, he matriculated! Scandalous!
The voters of yester-year we suitably horrified and of course would never vote for such an awful person. You can almost see them crowded outside the balcony with torches and pitchforks, and the poor guy stammering, “But… but…”, but being drowned out by the crowd all chanting “Scoundrel! Scoundrel!”
Indeed, like that not-so-old joke says, waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay sounds like a lot of fun… unless you know what those two things actually are.
The problem with those amusing election allegations is that they’re all true, but of course, nowhere near as scandalous as they sound. Candidates have been hurling insults at each other forever, but I suppose it’s a bit of an art to do it powerfully, yet truthfully.
You might think this is all leading to a little Trump-bashing, but it’s not… other to mention that curious statement he served up recently… where, asked why he hadn’t implemented a nation-wide mandatory mask mandate, he accused Joe Biden of not doing it. It was puzzling to hear, because, of course, the only person who could mandate that is the president himself. But Trump knows what he’s doing, and loves it. He makes it up as he goes along, and his crowd doesn’t care. It doesn’t make sense to accuse Biden with something he couldn’t have done to begin with, but the Trump crowd couldn’t care less. It’s irrelevant. Trump good. Biden bad. Facts – whatever. It’s a bit of a contrast to the past, where as awful as the (non)-insults were, they sounded like they could destroy a career.
Ironically, Trump himself is an extrovert… and a thespian… and he’s been engaged in nepotism with most of his family for years. And, as he proudly mentions often, he matriculated at the Wharton School of Business. I’m almost tempted to post all of these facts on some Trump-supporting sites and watch me get attacked from every angle. How dare I say such outrageous, scandalous lies about a sitting president!
No new local numbers today or tomorrow (or Monday), so while we wait in limbo to collectively answer the question, “How are we doing?”, here’s a different sort of thing to do with numbers. I thought I’d mention this because it’s a good one to have when you’re bored or have nothing to do.
Actually, wait… there’s a big difference between being bored and having nothing to do… actually, it’s more like we all, always, have something to do – something we should be doing, something that’s been on the backburner for a while… something left to do for a rainy day or long weekend. Whether we actually feel like doing it is a different story, and sometimes we want (ie. need) something relatively mindless.
A few months ago, my friend Elaan pointed me towards such a thing… and I both thanked her and cursed her for it… because it was interesting, immersive, and I wasted hours – many hours – on it.
It’s very simple… there’s this website with a button that says [Make paperclip]. Click the button… your inventory of paperclips just went from 0 to 1. Bang on it a bit… each click produces one more. And you’ll notice there’s public demand for your paperclips, and by [lower] or [raise] the price, you can manage the inventory… perhaps find a good balance between price and demand. All along, keep clicking and making paperclips.
When you’ve saved up enough money, you can buy an autoclipper. Now you can worry about other things (the price, buying more wire… marketing upgrades which boost demand)… anyway, by virtue of a few clicks that create paperclips, you’re soon running a business.
How big can you grow it? Keep at it, though I’m warning you… you may end up wasting a lot more time on it than you intended.
That being said, I’m not sure it’s wasted time… you’ll engage your brain, you’ll learn a lot… and those 100 things that need doing… they all waited this long; they can wait a bit more. This is, after all, Thanksgiving Weekend… let’s not forget to thank ourselves too. We’ve earned it, and if that means a little bit of time put towards growing a virtual paperclip empire, so be it. And if you waste all weekend doing so, don’t blame me… it’s not entirely my fault. But do let us all know how far you got… and how long you kept at it…
Here you go:
Leona Helmsley was a wealthy hotelier, back in the 1980s. In discussing herself and her husband, she once famously said, “We don’t pay taxes; on the little people pay taxes.” Leona was ultimately sentenced to 16 years in prison for federal income tax evasion. And, as you may already know, Al Capone, guilty of every organized crime known to man (bootlegging, prostitution, racketeering, murder, etc.) was ultimately only charged and sentenced for one thing… income tax evasion… which landed him in prison for the rest of his life.
More recently, like a few months ago, I was staring at a math formula that I needed to plug into a spreadsheet. I needed the formula in terms of x, but unfortunately, x was an exponent in an expression that was under a square-root sign, and all of that was the numerator in a bigger expression. After staring at it for a minute, I asked my son, who was sitting nearby, if it he could figure it out… and he promptly did.
In hindsight, perhaps I could’ve paid him a consulting fee. What was that worth? Well, like the old joke… from the old “50 cents to push the button, and $999.50 to know which button to push” school-of-thought, $20 wouldn’t have been out of place. Even $100, since I needed it right away.
Wait… maybe I need a mathematician on payroll… I could hire him as a consultant on a monthly retainer. $1,000 a month? How about $10,000, because now I’m thinking tax benefits. How about $500,000,000 a year, and I get to deduct chunks of it for the rest of my life… and since I’m not paying him all of it, it’s of no tax consequence to him. And for me… some fancy accounting showing the liability due, and then claiming the annual credit of $10,000,000 – wow, I’ll never pay taxes again!!
Welcome to the slippery slope of how tax avoidance (totally legal) slides into tax evasion (totally not).
Setting aside the cushy job she got in her daddy’s organization, Ivanka Trump was paid an extra $750,000 in consulting fees. Giving your kids money is no crime. Claiming it as a business expense, however, is quite a different story. What’s slowly coming to light is how many tens of millions of dollars Donald Trump “consulted“ away… when actually, he was just keeping money in the family, but paying no tax on it.
As per emerging facts imply, as bad a businessman as Donald Trump may be, there’s still income from his numerous properties. The ones he didn’t already bankrupt (how do you bankrupt a casino) do generate some sort of revenue. That they’ve all lost money year after year probably means he doesn’t run them too efficiently… and whatever they do make is outweighed by the generous deductions he claims. Again, they either genuinely lose millions of dollars a year of his father’s hard-earned money that he’s slowly squandering… or, they make a bit, and he “cleanly” hides the profits.
As per above, you don’t mess around with the IRS. Around here, the CRA. Same thing… they want their cut, and they’re not happy when you try to hide it, or dance around it. They understand you’re allowed to pay as little tax as possible, as long as it’s legal… but there’s a line, and sometimes, its crossing is just way too blatant.
If Donald Trump doesn’t get re-elected, among the long list of lawsuits he’ll be slammed with… is likely to be the IRS, seeking what they feel is owed to them. Whether it’s criminal tax evasion, or a simple slashing of a bunch of bullshit deductions ($70,000 a year for hair care?)… remains to be seen. Taxes owed, interest, penalties… on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars of loans he has to repay in the not-too-distant future… to be clear, Donald Trump can’t ride off into the sunset, even if he wants to. He desperately needs the four years of presidential immunity that comes with the job.
I’m not sure where our family tradition came from… the one where you break this fast, after 24 hours of no food or drink… with a shot of liquor. Single-malt scotch in my case. Let me tell you, that’s one way to shock the system.
Anyway, it’s been a day… did… I… miss… anything?
Exactly a month ago, my closing paragraph was this:
“The President of the United States may not be aware that there are two things in life that are a certainty… death and taxes. You can’t escape either….and history will not be kind in exposing his attempts to cheat on both.”
The gist of that article was more to do with the fake numbers he was now controlling, to direct the C19 narrative… things aren’t so bad, things are getting better, numbers are going down… and so on. Sure they are, Mr. President… they can say whatever you want, when you’re managing it.
I haven’t dug into it yet, but a superficial read on these recent stories implies one of two things: Donald Trump is either among the world’s worst businessmen… or, he ruthlessly cheats on his taxes. I suspect it’s a bit of both, but I’m curious which version his die-hard supporters would prefer? That they were sold a pack of lies? Like the ones who like saying, “Yeah, ok, he’s an abrasive asshole, but at least he knows business and deal-making and all that.”
Or… how about this: “Hey, hardworking American labourer who’s single and made $18,000 last year…you paid more in taxes than your “billionaire” president.
Pick your poison, Trumpers… what do you prefer? The (brutally) inept businessman? Or the ruthless, uncaring tax evader? Tough decision… but, if you have any sort of critical thinking ability left, what shouldn’t be a tough choice is the one you face on November 3rd.
A bit of an interruption to pandemic news and personal anecdotes… because I wanted to touch on a story that’s a big deal around here.
The first thing I thought, when I heard that Mountain Equipment Co-op was being bought out by Kingswood Capital… was, wow, great, awesome… terrific and unexpected news… that the legendary Joe Segal and his crew would be taking it over… finally, it’ll be in good hands.
Joe Segal is indeed nothing short of a legend in this town… businessman, builder, community leader, philanthropist. A well-deserving recipient of both the Order of B.C. and the Order of Canada. And, to be honest, his business ingenuity might have been what could’ve saved MEC… but, unfortunately, it’s not Joe Segal’s Kingswood Capital that’s taking over… it’s a different one, an American private investment firm… and that’s not great news. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
At best, they will simply strip the company down to a form that makes money, and what might have been left (not much) at the heart and soul of MEC will be gone, and it will now just become another big-box retailer. And, at worst, they’ll just shut it all down and redevelop the significant real-estate assets they’ve now acquired. They’re promising to keep at least 17 stores open and 75% of the workforce. We shall see. Sounds good on paper, and those are good quotes to fall back on next year when they shut it all down anyway and say “We tried, but couldn’t survive the effects of the pandemic…” or whatever other excuse.
MEC will become a SFU Segal School of Business case-study on how to run a gloriously successful business into the ground, through awful mismanagement. There’s far too much to get into here, but it’s a long list of bad decisions, and it’s no surprise to anyone who’s been following MEC’s (mis)fortunes over the years. There has been a grassroots movement to remove the presiding board, for years.
Now that they’ve screwed it up completely, this is really the only course of action. They sold because they’re bleeding money and out of options. When he was young, Joe Segal lost his entire life’s saved-up fortune of $3,000 in one night of poker. He managed to dig himself out of that hole… but the close to $100M needed for these guys who don’t know (and haven’t known, for years) what they’re doing – is too much to ask.
It’s this, or bankruptcy and liquidation. And at least this gives it a tiny chance of saving what was once there.
I remember the first day I walked into that impressive place… I remember giving them my $5 and signing up and feeling like I was part of something. I didn’t even know what a co-op was until that day.
More importantly, I remember the last time I was there… and it’s also pretty telling with respect to how things had changed. It had already turned that corner… from co-operative, to… not. I’d gone in to get some hiking boots, and here’s what happened when I approached a salesperson on that elevated shoe area:
“Hi there… I’m looking for some hiking boots.”
“What sort of hiking will you be doing?”
“Hmm… nothing too crazy… like something good enough for the Grouse Grind.”
“Pfffft…. that’s not a hike.”
Heh… I chuckle about it, thinking about it now. But back then (this was more than 20 years ago), it pissed me off.
“Ohhhhh…. sorry. OK, well, if I were a self-righteous prick such as yourself, whose idea of what a hike is differs so much from the common man, what might I be looking for?”
He rolled his eyes and walked away. And I walked out of MEC and haven’t been back since. That was one small step (out the door) for a man. And this recent business decision is one giant leap for mankind… in an unfortunate but necessary direction.
Isn’t in fun when your credit card info gets compromised, and your card gets cancelled… and you have to notify all 38 different auto-billers of the new card number… such a great use of time. Kudos though, to VISA and MC, whose AI fraud-detection these days seem to work quite well. Instantly flagged were $1,000+ online purchases at a number of high-end fashion retailers. Not quite in character for me.
I got sort-of wrongly accused of credit card fraud one time… I was in Calgary, and just before flying home, I filled up the tank of the rental car at the airport gas station before returning it.
Upon landing in Vancouver, I picked up my car from the parking lot and filled it up with gas at that little gas station wedged between the entrance/exit roads to YVR. This was 20 years ago, before pay-at-the-pump was a thing. In fact, before pre-paying for gas was a thing.
I filled up my tank and went inside, and gave the guy my card. He ran it… and his expression changed.
“Uhh… it didn’t go through”.
“Oh, that’s weird… should be fine… I just used it.”
“I’ll call VISA.”
“Sure… actually, don’t bother… here, I’ll pay cash.”
“Yeah… umm… I’m going to call them.”
“Seriously, don’t bother… here’s the cash.”
But he wouldn’t take the cash, and he wouldn’t return the card. And then I started wondering what little message must have popped-up on his machine… Fraud alert? Destroy card? Call police?
It makes some sense… buying gas 2 hours apart with the same physical card… at two gas stations more than 1,000km apart… ok, that’s fair. We got it quickly resolved… but, in fairness, that should have set off some alarm bells.
You know what else sets off alarm bells, but doesn’t get resolved so easily? Disney World in Florida is opening up this weekend.
Trust me, I am well-aware of the financial problems this pandemic is causing. I’m very familiar with plenty of economic forecasts and cash-flow projections that, at present, have zeros for top-line revenue. Do you know how many companies have zeros up there when they’re planning their budgets? Zero. Because, without revenue, you don’t have a business.
Surviving to live another day has been a well-discussed topic, but I’m not going to write about government incentives or job losses… I’m just going to talk about Disney. Disney is a public company, so they have to disclose a bunch of information, and one of the things they disclose is how much cash they have in the bank… defined as cash, or highly-liquid investments that could be redeemed on short notice. Here’s how much cash they’ve had over the last few years:
2017: $4.0 billion
2018: $4.2 billion
2019: $5.4 billion
Up to March 31, 2020: $14.3 billion
I don’t have a clue where that new $9 billion came from. Maybe they bought lots of shares in Zoom. It doesn’t matter… what matters is… that there are a lot of struggling companies that can’t afford to take a hit, but Disney isn’t one of them. They could most certainly afford to sit tight for bit… especially when Florida is seeing record numbers. Like… scary record numbers. Florida has a little more than half the population of Canada. Since July 1st, Canada has had 2,500 new cases. Florida has had 60,000.
At the risk of sounding a little too socialist… hey Disney, pay your people to sit around for another month or two. You can afford it. But your local hospitals can’t afford what you’re about to impose upon them. They already can’t… 56 Florida ICUs are at capacity, 35 others are at less than 10% availability… as Dr. Henry would tell you, “This is not the time.”
It’s easy to ring alarm bells. But it’s seeming difficult to get the right people to hear them.
This is a personal taste issue…. but to be honest, I never feel more ripped off than when I go to bite into a chocolate-chip cookie, and it turns out to be oatmeal-raisin. I’m not bashing oatmeal-raisin cookies; I understand some people love them… possibly more than chocolate-chip cookies (inconceivable!)… but it’s not my thing. Oatmeal, meh. Raisins… nah. Put them together? Whatever. But… chocolate-chip cookies?! Man… that’s where it’s at. I really like chocolate-chip cookies. I don’t like oatmeal-raisin.
And let’s start with that… there’s a big difference… between… I like X, I don’t like X, I dislike X. All three mean very different things, but we often confuse the last two; “I don’t like something”… to most people means you dislike it. But it shouldn’t.
- I like chocolate-chip cookies (YAY)
I don’t like oatmeal-raisin cookies (WHATEVER)
I dislike raw liver (BOO)
The English language fails to address the neutrality of “I don’t like”, which really means the same thing as “I don’t dislike”, but I think it’s becoming more important to recognize it these days, especially because of the polarization that’s taken place with respect to opinions. Nobody seems to be neutral on anything… and this is especially relevant when it comes to associating things that shouldn’t be placed in the same cookie jar, but are. A good example is Trump supporters and masks. Those two things should have nothing to do with each other, but do. If you like Trump, you dislike masks. You don’t “not like” masks… you actually “dislike” them. And yeah yeah, I’m generalizing. It’s not everyone… just most. And by most, I mean like the bar owner in Texas who’s banned masks. While some business will allow you to walk in the door without a mask, this guy will prevent you from coming in if you have one. Similar to the gas station convenience store in Kentucky where masks are banned. Or, an L.A. flooring store where masks are banned, but handshakes and hugs are encouraged. These people don’t “not like” masks. They dislike them… a lot. You know how most people don’t like getting sick… as we’ve learned, that’s not accurate. They dislike it. Many of them will soon be able to make the distinction themselves.
Here is some U.S. data for new cases, averaged over 7-day periods. Up to yesterday, here are the new-cases per-day average for the last 6 weeks:
5/21 – 5/27: 22,059
5/28 – 6/03: 22,260
6/4 – 6/10: 23,426
6/11 – 6/17: 24,001
6/18 – 6/24: 32,747
6/25 – 7/01: 44,989
I was going to say I don’t like what’s going on south of the border, but that’s wrong. Let me be clear: I dislike it… very much.
My old high school calls me once a year… to sit on a sort-of Dragon’s Den panel thing… where all the students in business classes come up with business ideas and business plans, and the top 5 projects get presented to a panel of Dragons, much like the TV show of the same name. They do their business pitch, and the panel decides on the winner. Fun, interesting… and encouraging. There are some very bright, and soon-to-be successful kids coming down the pipe.
The winning pitch a few years ago was an App — ringtones that only young people could hear. Those higher frequencies, above 17.5KHz… most of us can hear them when we’re young… but by the time you hit 40, the ability goes away. The older you get, the farther down that number drops… below 15KHz and downwards. The presentation and demonstration were great; a bunch of blindfolded kids all putting their arms up in unison when the ringtone was activated; the rest of us unable to hear a thing. But the thing has other uses too — I used to use it to annoy my kids or get their attention. For those who can hear it, it’s loud and annoying, a super-high-pitched squeal that drives young people crazy. And nobody else can hear a thing.
It reminds me… a technology that didn’t exist when I was a kid… and has now cycled through to obsolescence… CDs, which were designed so that nobody would miss hearing a thing… 44.1KHz means 22,500Hz per stereo channel, more than enough frequency range for any human, and even more than enough for dogs to be able to hear that final note in “A Day in the Life”.
It’s also interesting that the standardized length of an audio CD, around 74-80 minutes (650-700MB)… was decided-upon because someone insisted that a full recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony must be able to fit. Recordings of that Symphony range from 70 to 79 minutes, so it’s all good.
And what’s further interesting is that by the time Beethoven wrote that symphony, he’d already lost most of his hearing. It’s beyond comprehension… perhaps the greatest piece of music ever written… by someone who never actually heard it. There are many stories about the premiere of that piece, in 1824… where Beethoven himself insisted on conducting, the equivalent of a blind air-traffic controller armed only with binoculars and a megaphone. Nevertheless, it was Beethoven, so he was given the podium, and threw himself into the role with great relish. The musicians ignored him and kept their eyes on someone else, who quietly conducted from elsewhere. The result of that was… that by the time the piece was finished, Beethoven was still a few bars behind, caught up in the version playing through his head… and he was still conducting while the audience was giving him the first of five full enthusiastic, jubilant standing ovations. At some point, one of the musicians stood up and turned him around, so he could see and appreciate the well-deserved cheers and applause. He couldn’t hear it, but he could see it, including hats and handkerchiefs being thrown in the air, arms waving wildly around… the whole thing was a tremendous success.
Indeed, it’s possible to have great success, even when the conductor doesn’t know what’s going on. Even when all he’s listening to are voices in his head.
There are too many examples… heads of state… governors… Swedish head epidemiologists, etc… a long list of conductors that are out of sync with their respective orchestras… and this is where the metaphor breaks down, because there’s no other conductor off to the side. Because the music isn’t so great. While the varying orchestras may be marching to a different beat, at the end of the day, they sound like one voice. And what does that voice sound like? In many cases, it’s numbers… not notes. And not great numbers when you start looking around at places that haven’t managed things well, or that have started opening up before they should’ve. Yesterday saw surges or record highs in Oregon, California, Arkansas, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, and Florida. Russia and India have seen surges. Also, Summer up here means Winter south of the equator. Brazil is a mess, and getting worse. Peru and Chile are seeing some pretty ugly numbers. Ugh.
Around here, some room for optimism… for Canada overall, over the last few weeks, a slow but steady decline in new cases. The Time To Double has gone from 53 days to around 130. Ontario’s TTD three weeks ago was around 39. Today it’s around 100. And both Quebec and B.C., over the last week, have averaged a TTD of around 175. All very far cries from the early days of this pandemic where TTDs of 3 were not uncommon.
Let’s just keep in mind… this symphony isn’t over. We may have reached the first pause, between the first and second movements. But let’s also remember the rules of classical music etiquette… you never applaud between movements. You wait until the whole thing is over before you stand up and give it the final applause of great success.