The Government You Paid For

Number 15

Somebody posted this on Facebook, and I thought it was kind of cute, so I stole a copy.

The subject came up yesterday after our house received a campaign email from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who plans to run for re-election next year. See the link above.

Of course you never receive a single campaign email. These are like bosons, whose quantum mechanical properties increase the likelihood of other  bosons. To demonstrate we do live in a boson world, Greg Abbott’s campaign mail continues to populate our inbox. So, here’s the latest:

Barbara,

Our Texas economy is thriving under Governor Abbott’s leadership.

According to Forbes’ list of Best States For Business 2017, Texas’ economic climate ranks #1 due to our strong employment numbers and rapid growth. Companies are continually relocating to our state, creating jobs and spurring economic expansion.

During Governor Abbott’s first term, Texas has added more than 500,000 jobs and experienced its lowest unemployment rate in the past 40 years—and he’s just getting started!

Number 1! And from Forbes no less. That is impressive, but not the complete story:

Forbes Lists

Hey! Number 1 in economic climate, number 2 in best states for business and growth prospects. Number 1, number 2. Who’s keeping score? Forbes is, and there is more:

Profile

The $1.6 trillion Texas economy is the second biggest in the U.S., behind only California. Texas ranks first for current economic climate thanks to strong employment and gross state product growth over the past five years. In addition, there are 100 of the 1,000 largest public and private companies in the U.S. based in Texas, including giants like AT&T, ExxonMobil and Dell. Startup activity is also tops in the nation among larger states per the Kauffman Foundation. One of the only things holding Texas back is the education rate among its labor supply. Only 83% of adults have a high school degree, which is second lowest among the states.

[Emphasis added]

Besides ranking number 1 in economic climate, Texas also ranks number 21 in regulatory environment and number 30 in quality of life. Those measures might need some study. Start with quality of life, for which Texas does poorly. A quick reading indicates Forbes relies on “Mercer , the global human resources consulting firm.” Here is what Forbes has to say on it:

To determine the rankings, Mercer evaluates local living conditions according to 39 factors including political and social environment (such as political stability), economic environment (currency exchange regulations and banking services), sociocultural environment (media availability and censorship), medical and health considerations, schools and education, public services and transportation, housing and consumer goods.

Additionally from Forbes:

Western European cities dominate the list, with Vienna topping it for the seventh year in a row, followed by Zürich, Auckland, Munich and Vancouver, making the last one the top-ranking North American city. Seven Western European cities filled out the top 10. Düsseldorf came in sixth, Frankfurt seventh, Geneva eighth and Copenhagen ninth.

No North American city makes the top ten. Here is how North American cities fare:

In North America, Canadian cities ranked highly, with Toronto coming in at 15, Ottawa 17, Montréal 23, and then the first United States city, San Francisco, ringing in at 28.

All right, now, we are getting close. How about cities in the U.S.A.?”

In the U.S., the City by the Bay was followed by Boston (34), Honolulu  (35), Chicago (43), New York City (44), Los Angeles at (49), and Washington DC (51).

No Texas city makes the cut in the revealed rankings. You will be heartened to know that Baghdad and Damascus round out the bottom of Mercer’s list.

But Texas is number 21 in regulatory environment. I performed a quick search to determine which numbers are best, high numbers or low numbers. Forbes seems to say that compliance with government regulations is a burden on businesses, so does that mean Texas ranks close to the middle in state-imposed regulations?

We do know this. Texas is a major center for the petrochemical industry, and the hazards related to these operations are acknowledged. Anybody who lives near an oil refinery or has driven past one on a good day will know these operations make their presence known. Government regulations dictate what must be done to minimize the risk of catastrophic events, and they also place restrictions on the amount and type of pollutants refineries can emit.

Enough said about that. Governor Abbott’s letter concludes:

Governor Abbott knows that small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we must create an environment that encourages more Texas entrepreneurs to start and grow their enterprises.
Texas deserves a champion of economic liberty—that’s Governor Abbott.

We are glad to learn this comes with the added bonus of an undereducated workforce and a less than standard quality of life.

Keep reading. The Governor will have more to say.

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Amazon Adventure

This should get the conversation started:

Late 14c., via Old French (13c.) or Latin, from Greek Amazon (mostly in plural Amazones) “one of a race of female warriors in Scythia,” probably from an unknown non-Indo-European word, or possibly from an Iranian compound *ha-maz-an- “(one) fighting together” [Watkins], but in folk etymology long derived from a- “without” + mazos, variant of mastos “breast;” hence the story that the Amazons cut or burned off one breast so they could draw bowstrings more efficiently. Also used generally in early Modern English of female warriors; strong, tall, or masculine women; and the queen in chess.

I don’t know if that’s what Jeff Bezos had in mind when he founded the company, but I have been doing business with the concern for over two decades. Sometimes the adventure is beyond comprehension. Here’s the latest.

I purchased my Canon Rebel digital SLR 13 years ago from Amazon and quickly expanded my lens set by ordering a 28-90 zoom lens, which since then I have been using as my standard lens. When I upgraded the camera body to a Canon 5D, I kept the lens. It earned its keep, making me hundreds of dollars in image sales. And it is a cheap lens. A drawback is the top focal ration: f/5.0. That’s not so good for low light levels. For example, shooting (figuratively) Congressman Beto O’Roarke at VFW Post 76 Sunday night I had to crank the ISO up to 64,000. Makes for grainy images. I decided it was time to spring for a better lens.

Christmas is approaching, and I am sure Barbara Jean mentioned something about what I wanted for Christmas. When I suggested I was going to get the lens, she said OK. This was the same day she was suggesting we get a divorce. And here is where the fun with Amazon started.

I searched Amazon’s inventory, and this had the makings of an ideal choice. $329 plus tax. Shipping is free and also very quick for Amazon Prime members.

Barbara Jean and I were scheduled for lunch with the Free Thinkers on Tuesday, so I waited until Tuesday morning before ordering the lens. I did not want the lens sitting on my front porch while we were off having lunch in Boerne. Amazon promised the order would be delivered by 8 p.m. on Thursday—that’s tomorrow. I suspected it might come sooner, so this morning I checked the order status. Sure enough, the shipment was already in San Antonio and would be delivered by 8 p.m. today.

Some background. I was born in a small town somewhere out west of Fort Worth—even farther west than that. And that was a long time ago, and things were primitive, even for the mid-20th century. Technological progress continued to amaze me decade after decade. And one feature of modern technology I so much appreciate is the ability to track a shipment from beginning to end.

I logged onto Amazon a few minutes ago and noticed my order was out for delivery. Not only was my order out for deliver, but there were two deliveries ahead of mine. If the photo below were large enough you would be able to read the fine print near the top.

That was great news. There was no need for me to take a nap. My order would arrive within a few minutes. I refreshed the page, and the message said the driver had been re-routed, but my order would still arrive by 8 p.m. Isn’t modern technology wonderful?

I was about to check the status again, when the door chime informed me of the good news. I rushed down one flight of stairs and received the Amazon package from the delivery guy. Oh joy!

Of course I hustled back upstairs and unpacked the Christmas package. I pulled the Canon 5D out of its bag and unhitched the 28-90mm zoom. I clicked in the new lens and prepared to see f/1.4 come up on the display. I put a finger on the action wheel and cranked it all the way down. It stopped at 1.8. WTF? Then I gave the lens a closer look. WTF!

My confidence in modern technology was tragically shattered. Despite all the best Amazon has going for it, they managed to ship me the wrong lens.

However, Amazon has recourse for such eventualities. I opened the order page and clicked on the link to return the item, which Amazon will do for free. And I printed out a return label. Then I performed the next logical step. I checked on the specs of the item I had received. Amazon is selling it for $20 more than what they shipped me. So I thought, “Why not?” Some additional digging, and I found the appropriate link and clicked on it. Almost immediately my phone chimed. It was the nice lady at Amazon. I explained the situation. I was willing to accept the lens they shipped and let the matter drop.

Amazon was agreeable, and they kicked in a $30 credit on top. What’s not to like? I may in the future apply the $30 toward the purchase of the f/1.4 lens if the day comes I find I cannot live without it.

Isn’t modern technology just beyond belief?

Schlemiel-in-Chief

Number 11 in a series

politics-trumpdenigrate

Do I have to do one of these every day? Apparently so. I should have known before I got started down this path.

I usually avoid commenting on published opinion pieces. That’s because opinion pieces are just that, somebody’s opinion. And this blog is titled Skeptical Analysis. That’s what I do here. I do analysis of stuff, and analyzing somebody’s opinion is sort of like slicing Jello. OK. Bad metaphor. But you get the idea.

The reason I’m commenting on this opinion piece is where it appeared. Yes, it’s from The Wall Street Journal. You know, The Wall Street Journal, currently under the protective wing of arch conservative Rupert Murdoch. That’s cool. Murdoch’s World is a safe place for a pro-business, anti-liberal news outlet. Which is what makes this piece interesting:

President Trump meets with Shinzo Abe on Friday, and one subject is sure to be trade. The Japanese Prime Minister may be too diplomatic to say it, but someone should tell Mr. Trump the damage that his trade policies are already doing to the rural and farm-state voters who put him in the White House.

Yes, President Trump, recently elected in broad conservative victories last November, is catching flak from possibly the most conservative print outlet in the country. So, what gives?

I’m guessing what happened is Donald Trump, the darling of the far right, is not viewed as a true conservative by America’s conservative base. American conservatives have a number of deeply-etched policies, including:

  • Small government
  • Fewer government restrictions on business
  • A strong military
  • Fiscal responsibility
  • Low taxes

Add to that fewer restrictions on gun ownership, anti-abortion, promotion of Judeo-Christian religious teachings, and you have a winning strategy with conservative voters. The problem is, although Donald Trump mouthed all of these in his campaign, he added a bit of crazy not seen in American politics since Joseph McCarthy, over 60 years ago. For Trump, the Republican headwind was fierce. One by one conservative Republican candidates denounced him, save one, and one by one he demolished them. In November the crazies won, and now mainstream Republicans are frightened. Here is a President who, while spouting the party line, is lurching dangerously close to the brink of catastrophe. American business is going to be hurt.

What the WSJ piece says [there is no by-line, this is apparently from the WSJ editorial board] is that Donald Trump’s protectionist policies are bound to do something similar to what the American protectionist policies 90 years ago did. In those days trade dried up, factory output went unsold, workers were fired and could no longer purchase factory goods, factories closed in a cycle that culminated in the worst ever economic distress in this country’s history.

In this case the issue is not factory output, but farm  products. The United States is a major agricultural exporter of food. The WSJ item provides a pair of graphics to illustrate.

First is a short list of farm exports. The table indicates 77.3% of American cotton production is exported, not consumed in this country.  Add to that 71.9 % of the tree nut (especially walnuts and almonds), 52.4% of rice (eat your heart out, PRC), 50.6 of wheat, and more. Farm products are definitely a significant contribution to this country’s balance of trade.

politics-economicswsjfarmersexports

So, whom do we not want to piss off? Who are the people gobbling up our farm products and who could possibly retaliate by doing their shopping elsewhere? The table shows Canada is our biggest customer. Hey, they are just beyond a border almost without bridges, and their short growing season is not amenable to many of the farm products they require. Next comes the PRC. This is the most populous nation on the planet, and they are unable to feed themselves. The PRC is a major exporters of manufactured products to the United States, and their agricultural imports, again, help ameliorate the current trade imbalance we have with them. And Mexico! Mexico, close behind Canada and the PRC, is a major customer, which Donald Trump’s planned policies will likely piss off to the tune of $17.7 billion a year.

politics-economicswsjconsumersofamericanfood

The WSJ concludes, in the face of the Schlemiel-in-Chief’s wildest expectations, free-trade is a boon to American business.

The bigger political picture for the Trump White House is that U.S. agriculture is already struggling amid a strong dollar and declining export volumes. Net farm income dropped 15% to about $68 billion last year, the lowest since 2009, according to the Agriculture Department. Unless Mr. Trump wants to compensate with more taxpayer subsidies, the best way to boost incomes is to let farmers sell in more markets, not fewer.

One reason the U.S. benefits from free-trade deals is that America has among the lowest import barriers on earth (5% average for agriculture), so new agreements tear down levies abroad and open new markets. President Trump should consider that reality before escalating on trade—and betraying the Farm Belt voters who are relying on him to bring growth and opportunity.

Is Trump about to renegotiate NAFTA, even strangle it? Despite what many of his supporters have screamed for, and he has repeatedly promised, President Trump is likely to incur less than gentle opposition from a Congress that has to face angry voters every few  months. Farmers, who rallied for Trump all last year, who joined in on shouts of “Lock Her Up!” may soon be shouting “Shut Him Down!”

The drama is not over. Keep reading.

Hello, I’m the 21st century, and I’m here to take your job.

technology-trace-01

TRACE, a machine that reads bank checks

I spent nearly 50 years of my life as an engineer, and I think I know when it first started. It was in 1971 that I begin to work in earnest to eliminate people’s jobs.

There was a small engineering consulting company in Austin, and we received a contract from a concern called Autotronic Systems, Inc. Ignoring the name, the company was headquartered in Houston, and they had a chain of self-service gas stations about the country. That was an innovation in 1971, pumping your own gas. It eliminated the job of the smiley attendant, who also checked your oil and wiped your windshield. Our job was to design equipment that fit inside the gas pump and recorded the amount of fuel pumped and the amount charged. The data were transmitted to another device we designed that would store daily sales data and at night phone the home office and transmit the information. Wayne van Citters and I did the software for the home office computer. People lost their jobs.

Two years later  I was working for a company in Irving, Texas, and what they did was build machinery that read the sales receipts from gas stations and did all the sales computation. Their machinery would also read bank checks, printed forms, and mail addresses on envelopes. We eliminated the jobs of the people who previously did this data entry.

In  particular, the company worked on a program to eliminate Post Office workers who eyed addresses and typed them in, or just entered the ZIP code if that was available. Twelve such work stations fed huge machines by Pitney-Bowes that then sorted the mail to the appropriate collection bins. The huge machine was appropriately call a Letter Sorter Machine (LSM). Jobs were eliminated.

I worked a few weeks at a test operation at the Post Office on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, across the street from Madison Square Garden. Postal workers did not like us. There was back room talk of workers sabotaging the machines. Eventually the company I worked for lost the contract to IBM, and I was fired. But the next day I went back  to work for them and did more mischief, eliminating jobs for several more years.

My first patent was for a machine that wrapped a band around a stack of dollar bills. It didn’t have to be one-dollar bills, it would put the strap around 100 bills of any denomination. We sold this system to the Federal Reserve Bank, and my invention eliminated the job of the person who used to put the strap on. Who wanted that job, anyway?

The same company was also a leader in the development of the ATM (automated teller machine). These machines are still around, and they have eliminated thousands of jobs in the banking industry. Docutel was the company that developed ATMs, and it was acquired by Olivetti.

Next I worked on weapons systems for the United States military. You could say I eliminated soldiers’ jobs by automating the work of killing people. My first project involved automating the location of submarines by sonar. I did the software.

My life of developing computer software aimed at eliminating the human element from all manner of tasks. My wife worked for an engineering company, and she was the business manager. She hired me to develop computer software to automate the repetitious accounting tasks. This was before the days of Quick Books.

I finally quit the business of killing jobs four years ago. It’s now the 21st century, and those jobs are not coming back. People are looking for things to do.

Donald Trump campaigned on the basis of a multitude of promises. One promise was to bring back jobs that have been lost in the coal industry. Disinterested parties have looked at this and wondered aloud who would want to go back to working in a coal mine. Nevertheless, idle miners are now looking ahead to going back underground and chewing at the coal seams, or else, sawing off the tops of mountains and scooping up the exposed coal.

But it’s not just safety and environmental concerns that are killing the coal jobs. The 21st century is killing coal jobs. Nuclear power, natural gas-fired power plants, and finally solar and wind power are killing coal jobs. These jobs are not coming back.

Progressive politicians bring us good news. Green power, they promise, will bring back the jobs lost at the coal mines. There is an enormous industry being created to produce wind turbines and solar farms. The new industry will create in the order of 100,000 new jobs, far exceeding the 30,000 lost at the mines.

Not so fast. These green power jobs are not permanent. Once the solar and wind farms are constructed and brought on-line, the industry will only need people to maintain these facilities and to expand them as power needs increase. Unlike coal, wind blows when you are not looking, and the sun comes up every morning. There is no need for the man to shovel sunshine onto a solar panel.

It’s much the same with the automobile industry. Teams of workers who used to assemble automobiles in the United States and in other countries have been replaced by robots. The major industries of electronics and computers would be impossible without the complete automation of just about all processes involved. Watch a video of computer disk drives being manufactured, and you will get an appreciation of the minuscule degree of direct human involvement.

It’s coming to be much the same in all major industries. Retail is eliminating the sales clerk who spends 30 minutes with a customer looking at a $30 pair of shoes without buying. Amazon started it with books, but the trend continues upward. The elimination of human-driven retail drives customer costs down, making it better for the economy all around, but at the cost of out-of-work sales staff.

Will there ever come a time when people will no longer need to be directly involved in producing goods and services? It’s hard to say. Many jobs I (and others) predicted would never go away are now gone for good. Economics, like nature, seeks the steady state. Eliminating jobs reduces the cost of products, but it also eliminates the customer who is supposed to pay for the products. Eventually a balance will be obtained, but at what level? In the meantime, workers are shuffling and trying to adjust, or not. The coal miners of West Virginia just defeated a candidate who promised to eliminate their jobs.

Will workers be able to vote their jobs back? Not likely. When it has been tried it has failed. Communism was a political approach to managing the economy, and it resulted in near 100% employment at the cost of dismal standards of living. This reality killed communism and the Soviet Union, but communism still thrives in the PRC, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba. I am not mentioning North Korea, which seems to be a special case.

In conclusion, if you recently, or a long time ago, lost your job because of me, don’t bother trying to find me. First, it would not be worth your effort, and second you would be chasing the wrong perpetrator. It was the 21st century that took your job.

Don’t Bump The Trump

One of a series

A warning for those who chance to meet a wild Trump coming home late at night, past a graveyard, all alone in a storm: Don’t bump the Trump. [With apologies to Shel Silverstein.]

I started this thing about presidential candidate Donald Trump four weeks ago with no idea where it was heading. Now I find I will be able to post a new item every day from now until November without repeating myself. Thank you, Mr. Trump. It’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever done for me. Thank you very, very, very much!

Self-obsessed billionaire Donald Trump earlier snatched the campaign torch from the Republican Party by scooping up conservative America’s low-hanging fruit. Full disclosure: it’s something I proclaimed over a year ago could not be done. I was wrong! How wrong? Very wrong. I completely failed to take into account Donald Trump’s sterling business reputation:

Even before Donald Trump won the Republican presidential primary on a shoestring budget, the billionaire has been an innovator when it comes to his finances. The real-estate mogul, who has declared bankruptcy four times, has a long history of refusing to pay contractors, lawyers, and employees who work for him if he finds their work unsatisfactory. So it is perhaps unsurprising that several members of Trump’s neglected policy shop in Washington, D.C., quit last month when they found themselves the latest victims of the candidate’s unorthodox budgetary discipline.

Most of the people working at the campaign’s Beltway outpost walked out the door in August when the paychecks they say they were promised never arrived, according to a new report by The Washington Post. “It’s a complete disaster,” one former adviser told the Post. “They use and abuse people. The policy office fell apart in August when the promised checks weren’t delivered.”

But, come on. These people were, themselves, hucksters of the first order. Shouldn’t it be declared justice of the poetic kind to see them stiffed in classic form? It’s not as though the Trump campaign screwed over some school children:

Within hours of their performance at a Donald Trump rally in Pensacola, Fla., last January, the U.S.A. Freedom Kids were a sensation.

You remember the video: Three preteen girls in star-spangled outfits crisply working through simple choreography as they lip-synced an upbeat update to “Over There.”

That infectious performance kicked off a flurry of media appearances. The Freedom Kids told “Inside Edition” that Trump told them that he planned to listen to their CD all night. The group, which had been around for about 2½ years by that point, was a viral sensation largely inextricable from Trump himself.

Yes, the little girls were great. A scintillating performance. And was the Trump campaign ever grateful. Thank you very, very, very much. And not much more. In fact, nothing at all more. The kids, rather their promoter, got nothing that was promised for their appearance. Time and again it was the classic Trump run-around.

Now, though, the relationship is different. Jeff Popick, father of the smallest Freedom Kid and author of “Freedom’s Call” (the song performed at the Trump rally), told The Washington Post by phone on Monday that he planned to file a lawsuit against the campaign for violating its agreement with the group.

“This is not a billion-dollar lawsuit,” Popick said. “I’m doing this because I think they have to do the right thing. And if this means having to go through the court system to enforce them doing the right thing, then that’s what I have to do. I’m not looking to do battle with the Trump campaign, but I have to show my girls that this is the right thing.”

A Trump representative phoned Popick and asked for the kids to perform at an event in Iowa. The kids and their parents caught a flight and then drove the rest of the way to the event, only to be told they weren’t to perform. They could attend the event, but they were directed to not talk to the press. They never received any compensation for their expenses. Mr. Popick picked up the tab. A former Trump fan, his ardor has now cooled.

Thank you, Mr. Trump. Thank you very, very, very much.

Yeah, it’s game on. We are going to have more fun between now and November. We can be assured Donald Trump will never fail to entertain us.

Continue reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Don’t Bump The Trump

One of a series

Politics-TrumpFailed

A warning for those who chance to meet a wild Trump coming home late at night, past a graveyard, all alone in a storm: Don’t bump the Trump. [With apologies to Shel Silverstein.]

It’s game on. Self-professed billionaire Donald Trump earlier snatched the campaign torch from the Republican Party by drawing in conservative America’s low-hanging fruit. Full disclosure: it’s something I proclaimed over a year ago could not be done. I was wrong! How wrong? Very, very wrong. I completely failed to take into account Donald Trump’s fantastic business acumen:

Donald Trump often boasts on the presidential campaign trail that hardball tactics helped make him a successful businessman, an approach many voters say they admire. Those tactics have also left behind bitter tales among business owners who say he shortchanged them.

A review of court filings from jurisdictions in 33 states, along with interviews with business people, real-estate executives and others, shows a pattern over Mr. Trump’s 40-year career of his sometimes refusing to pay what some business owners said Trump companies owed them.

A chandelier shop, a curtain maker, a lawyer and others have said Mr. Trump’s companies agreed to buy goods and services, then reneged when some or all were delivered.

Larry Walters, whose Las Vegas drapery factory supplied Mr. Trump’s hotel there eight years ago, said the developer, Trump Ruffin, wouldn’t pay for additional work it demanded beyond the original contract. When Mr. Walters then refused to turn over some fabric, sheriff’s deputies burst into his factory after Trump Ruffin sued him. Trucks took the fabric away.

All right! So much for a bunch of sore losers. What does the real record show? Start with the silly meme at the top of this post. To enable search engines to find it I’m providing a transcript:

Trump Airlines……..Failed

Trump Casinos……..Failed

Trump Marriages….Failed

Trump Mortgage……Failed

Trump University….Failed

Trump Vodka……….Failed

China Connection….Failed

Bankruptcies………..Four

So remind me again, what makes him such a winner?

Since this blog is titled Skeptical Analysis, let’s dissect each of these points:

Trump Airlines: failed

Echoes of Trump Shuttle reverberate in the Trump presidential campaign. He bashed his rivals with scant justification, grabbed media attention with flash and dazzle, and relied on gut instinct to pursue strategies that flouted industry norms.

But while Trump broke into the shuttle business with typical bravado and brand mastery, he was brought low by a series of missteps and a softening economy. His lack of expertise in East Coast skies took a toll, and he was forced to give up the airline after less than three years.

Trump Casinos: failed

ATLANTIC CITY — The Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel is now closed, its windows clouded over by sea salt. Only a faint outline of the gold letters spelling out T-R-U-M-P remains visible on the exterior of what was once this city’s premier casino.

Not far away, the long-failing Trump Marina Hotel Casino was sold at a major loss five years ago and is now known as the Golden Nugget.

At the nearly deserted eastern end of the boardwalk, the Trump Taj Mahal, now under new ownership, is all that remains of the casino empire Donald J. Trump assembled here more than a quarter-century ago. Years of neglect show: The carpets are frayed and dust-coated chandeliers dangle above the few customers there to play the penny slot machines.

Trump marriages: failed

Donald Trump married the Czechoslovakia-native Ivana in 1977. A former model, the new Mrs. Trump joined her husband in his real estate development business and eventually held executive positions at the Plaza Hotel and Trump’s Castle Hotel and Casino. The couple became prominent in New York society and had three children: Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric.

In the 1990s, rumors began to swirl that Donald Trump was having an affair with model Marla Maples, a Georgia native. Ivana separated from her husband in 1990 and eventually won a $20 million divorce settlement. She went on to become an author, fashion designer and has married – and divorced – two more times.

Trump married Maples in a lavish New York ceremony in December 1993, two months after daughter Tiffany was born. The marriage was short-lived; the couple separated in 1997 and divorced in 1999 with Maples receiving about $1 million. She has not remarried and was a recent contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-01-21/news/0501220056_1_donald-trump-marla-maples-prenup

Trump married the former Melania Knauss in January 2005, after dating the Slovenia-born model for several years. In 2006, the couple’s son, Barron William Trump was born. Melania Trump later launched a jewelry collection and skin care line.

Trump Mortgage: failed

In the spring of 2006, the tycoon hosted a glitzy event at Trump Tower to introduce Trump Mortgage LLC, a new firm that specialized in selling residential and commercial real estate loans. He devoted a floor of the Trump Organization headquarters at 40 Wall Street to the new business. And his picture appeared atop the company website with the instruction: “Talk to My Mortgage Professionals now!”

“I think it’s a great time to start a mortgage company,”  Trump told a CNBC interviewer in April 2006, adding that “the real estate market is going to be very strong for a long time to come.”

Within 18 months, as the experts’ worst fears began to pan out and home prices began to dip, Trump Mortgage closed, leaving some bills unpaid and a spotty sales record that fell short of Trump’s lofty predictions. Trump distanced himself from the firm’s demise, saying at the time that he had not been involved in the company’s management and that its executives had performed poorly.

Trump University: failed

In blunt testimony revealed on Tuesday, former managers of Trump University, the for-profit school started by Donald J. Trump, portray it as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.

One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.

Trump Vodka: failed

“Trump steaks,” said Donald Trump. “Where are the steaks? Do we have steaks? We have Trump steaks.” The billionaire Republican presidential candidate was giving avictory speech in Florida in early March, after the Michigan primary. Behind him were American flags; beside him, a display table piled high with Trump-branded merchandise for sale. “We make the finest wine, as good a wine as you can get,” Trump said of the dozens of bottles of Trump wine. “I supply the water for all my places, and it’s good—but it’s very good,” he said about the shrink-wrapped cases of Trump water. Trump mentioned Trump Vodka, too. But there’s no Trump Vodka on the table for the TV cameras to zoom in on.

One week later, on St. Patrick’s Day, J. Patrick Kenny, the creator of Trump Vodka, is sitting in his New York office, sipping a Diet Coke and explaining what had gone wrong. Not even he has a bottle of the stuff left. “There used to be one here, but it’s gone,” Kenny says. “The company cratered.” Trump Vodka had problems, from distillery to bottling to finance. Even so, it would be just another celebrity’s doomed foray into liquor if it weren’t the project of a potential president. With no political résumé to speak of, the only way to evaluate the capabilities of Trump is by once again poking around in his exploits in commerce. Like his bankrupt casinos, closed college, and other dead-end brand journeys, Trump Vodka was a flamboyant exercise in failure. Trump, naturally, insists it was a triumph, though good luck finding a bottle today. Its slogan was “Success Distilled.”

China connection: failed

“The problem with our country is we don’t manufacture anything anymore,” Donald Trump told Fox News a year ago. “The stuff that’s been sent over from China,” he complained, “falls apart after a year and a half. It’s crap.” That very same Donald Trump has his own line of clothing, and it’s made in … China. (O.K., O.K. — not all of it. Salon, which reported this intriguing, head-scratching fact, notes that some of his apparel is from Mexico and Bangladesh.)

Bankruptcies: four

Hillary Clinton mocked Donald Trump’s business failings in a major speech arguing that the presumptive Republican nominee would be disastrous for the economy.

“He’s written a lot of books about business. They all seem to end at Chapter 11,” Clinton quipped, adding. “He bankrupted his companies not once, not twice, but four times.”

We rated a similarly worded claim from Trump’s former primary rival Carly FiorinaMostly True, because it’s not accurate to say Trump is solely to blame. (For the record, Trump doesn’t deny the charge and instead argues it was a smart business decision.) At the time, we found four bankruptcies, but since then, we’ve found two more for a total of six. So Clinton was right that Trump bankrupted companies four times, and she could have offered a higher count as well.

Let’s go through them one by one.

And, indeed, the Politifact article does describe six bankruptcies of Trump businesses. All this puts the meme at the top of this post out of the touch-and-go company of Internet memes, which means that all this Skeptical Analysis has been just for show, and these past few lines of print I’ve been flogging a dead horse. As I remind readers, that may be true, but I am not the one who slew the animal in the first place.

Yeah, it’s game on. We are going to have more fun between now and November. We can be assured Donald Trump will never fail to entertain us.

Continue reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Don’t Bump The Trump

One of a series

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A warning for those who chance to meet a wild Trump coming home late at night, past a graveyard, all alone in a storm: Don’t bump the Trump. [With apologies to Shel Silverstein.]

It’s game on. Self-professed billionaire Donald Trump earlier snatched the campaign torch from the Republican Party by drawing in conservative America’s low-hanging fruit. Full disclosure: it’s something I proclaimed over a year ago could not be done. I was wrong! How wrong? Very, very wrong. I completely forgot to take into account Donald Trump’s tremendous business successes:

Trump has a track record of piling up his businesses with unsustainable debt, and then having them file for bankruptcy. Per CNN Money, “no major US company has filed for Chapter 11 more than Trump’s casino empire in the last 30 years.” Under Trump’s leadership, just a few years ago, his company missed a $53.1 million bond interest payment—kind of a big deal. And lest Trump try to delude anyone into thinking that these bankruptcies were all just clever corporate maneuverings with no effects for him personally, note that to pay off creditors, he has had to offload huge shareholdings, yachts, and airlines.

Can’t be true. How could Donald Trump possibly amass his celebrated fortune if he were such a failure at business? Good question:

The emerging picture is an ugly one. In Atlantic City, Mr. Trump’s casinos failed even when the rest of the town continued to thrive. Along the way, Mr. Trump used company money to pay off personally guaranteed loans, and — after the 1995 creation of the public company Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts — publicly traded funds to bail out privately held casinos. The company has filed for bankruptcy five times.

Ouch! That has got to hurt. It would appear Donald Trump is the victim of rumors spread by a bunch of losers:

But a survey of Mr. Trump’s four decades of wheeling and dealing also reveals an equally operatic record of dissembling and deception, some of it unabashedly confirmed by Mr. Trump himself, who nearly 30 years ago first extolled the business advantages of “truthful hyperbole.” Indeed, based on the mountain of court records churned out over the span of Mr. Trump’s career, it is hard to find a project he touched that did not produce allegations of broken promises, blatant lies or outright fraud.

See? “Broken promises.” “Blatant lies.” “Outright fraud.” Losers, losers. Losers everywhere.

Yeah, it’s game on. We are going to have more fun between now and November. We can be assured Donald Trump will continue to keep us entertained.

Continue reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Je n’ai pas la clé

Now I really don’t have the key.

The correct key for the correct lock.

See the previous post:

OK, now I really do have the key. But it is an interesting story.

In the previous post I poked fun at business that do not really have a handle on day to day operations. The state of business-customer relations also came up. I noted that when my new house was completed in 2010 the builder gave me the keys to the garage door, said keys having been given to him by the company that installed the garage door. Said company being Parrish & Company, Inc., 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas, (830-980-9595). I also mentioned that Parrish and Company had provided a lock for the garage door and had provided keys to yet a different lock. I also mentioned that when I informed Parrish and Company of their error more than two and a half years after the fact they graciously offered to make good on their error. They, at no expense to me, offered to provide me with the correct key. They would hold the key for me at the front desk of their offices at 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas, and would exchange the correct key for the wrong keys when I arrived. It was the kind of customer outreach that traditionally warms the cockles of my heart. I guarantee you that on this occasion their generosity did just that.

And now the key is gone. Not only is the key gone, but the lock is gone, as well. And not only the lock, but the entire garage door. It happened this way.

On a Tuesday night last month came a terrible pounding on the roof. I was upstairs at the time, and I was sure it was the fist of God. Turned out to be only the fist of hail, but that was enough. The roof is history, according to my insurance adjuster. Likewise the garage door. Hail dimples reduced the door’s real estate value to zero, and today they replaced it.

But not the lock. And not the key. The new door came without a key lock—the man said they don’t do that anymore. I’m guessing they don’t do that anymore when the insurance company is paying for a new door and not me.

Hey! Mike phoned a little after nine this morning. Said the crew would be there within 15 minutes. Just time for me to park the cars down the street. They came. They had the door panels loaded on the truck, already the proper color. See the photo. And no lock. And no key. The key I drove twice on 281 to the northern limits of San Antonio is now surplus.

The good part is, these people appear to do this sort of thing for a living. In and out in 30 minutes while I watched. They’re Mission Overhead Door Service, contracted by Blackmon Mooring, contracted by USAA insurance.

And now I’m wondering what I’m going to lose when the contractors come next week to do the roof. Stay tuned.

Structural Defficiency

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From Wikipedia

I started my working career as an engineer right out of college, working for the university from which I had just graduated. And quickly I began to hear engineering horror stories. One was the case of the reversed viewport.

The University of Texas Austin campus had a new accelerator building where they intended to do research in (relatively) high-energy physics. It was a linear accelerator where charged particles were shot down an evacuated tube under the force some very high voltage differences. In order to do something with these high-speed particles you have to insert something in their path inside the evacuated tube, and to do that you have to work with a port, an engineered hole, in the side of the tube. That’s where the problem came in.

The carefully designed port was essentially a hole in the tube wall, and there was a vacuum flange built into the port. The vacuum flange allowed researchers to bolt a matching flange to the port, tighten the bolts, and obtain a vacuum-tight seal.

Came the time the researchers needed to add a new device to the port, and that device needed to have a matching vacuum flange. No problem. They sent over engineering drawings of the vacuum flange to the office where I worked in the Physics building. This was before I came to work, so others told me the story later, and it was funny. Sort of.

The engineers in the physics building designed the required device with the matching flange. Then somebody had the whole business constructed in the machine shop and sent it over to the accelerator lab. It did not fit. The bolt holes did not line up. You wanted to say WTF?

An investigation ensued. Yes, the engineers received the correct drawings of the vacuum flange. Yes, the new device was designed correctly according to the engineering drawings. Yes, the flange was constructed according to the engineering drawings. No, the damn thing did not fit. And then they revealed the source of the problem.

When the accelerator was constructed the machinist who produced the vacuum flange reversed the drawing. He constructed a mirror image of the port design.

No problem. The accelerator lab guys figured they could just make the matching flanges to conform to the as-built. And they did. And everything worked just fine, because it really didn’t matter whether the flange was left-handed or right-handed.

But they never changed the drawings. When they asked the engineers in the physics building to build a new device they never told them about the change. Nobody talked to nobody, and everybody just went along doing their work and drawing their pay.

A few years later lightening struck again. This time I was working for an engineering company, and we got the job to design and build a bracket to hold a gold-coated mirror for the McDonald Observatory. No problem. My boss had done this before. He had the drawings from the previous bracket he had designed. He gave me the drawings and told me to make a new design, only use a 45-degree angle.

I did that, and we had it built, and we shipped the finished product out to the observatory. There was a tight schedule. The astronomer had reserved only a small window of time on the telescope. The astronomer came out from Langley to the observatory in West Texas. We got a phone call. The damn thing did not fit.

My boss was non-plussed. What was the problem? We built the first one, and there was no problem. There should be no problem with the new one.

Actually, there was a problem with the first one. Only, at the observatory the engineers had spotted the problem immediately and had their machinists produce a correct version of the bracket. And they never told anybody. They didn’t tell the NASA guy from Langley when he came out the first time to use the telescope, and they never told my boss. And we spent government research bucks building yet another wrong bracket. And it was not cheap.

And this kind of stuff can be deadly:

The Hyatt Regency hotel walkway collapse occurred at the Hyatt Regency Kansas City in Kansas City, Missouri, United States on Friday, July 17, 1981. Two vertically contiguous walkways collapsed onto a tea dance being held in the hotel’s lobby. The falling walkways killed 114 and injured a further 216 people. At the time, it was the deadliest structural collapse in U.S. history, not surpassed until the collapse of the south tower of the World Trade Center in 2001.

This was another of those situations. The original designer, Gillum-Colaco International Inc., produced a workable design. You may need to visualize this:

  • There was a second-floor walkway, a third-floor walkway and a fourth-floor walkway, all suspended from the lobby ceiling structure by steel rods.
  • The forth-floor walkway was suspended directly by steel rods attached to the building structure above.
  • The second-floor walkway was suspended directly below the fourth-floor walkway, on the same rods. See the drawing.

kc_walk_proposed

The rods attached to the upper building structure ran straight down, passing through the supports for the fourth-floor walkway to the second-floor walkway. The rods were designed to hold the load of both walkways. The fourth-floor walkway was supported by the rods by threaded nuts, seen in the drawing. To install the nuts, the rods had to be threaded their length up to the fourth-floor walkway.

First some notes about the strength of threaded fasteners. An SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) machine screw will, under tensile load, pull in two before the threads will strip, provided at least six threads are engaged. If the nut engages at least six threads there would be no danger of the threads stripping under any load the screw will sustain. Threading a load-bearing bar, like a screw, produces some weaknesses over an unthreaded bar. Strengths of threaded fasteners are ultimately determined by putting samples in a testing machine and pulling until the rod separates.

The problem came when the builder, Havens Steel Company, did not want to thread all this much steel rod. They proposed an alternative.

kc_walk_actual

Now Havens needed to thread only a few inches of steel rod. Everything should work the same, right? No. Look at the drawing at the top of the page, and follow along with this explanation:

Due to the addition of another rod, the load on the nut connecting the fourth floor segment was increased. The original load for each hangar rod was to be 90kN, but the alteration increased the load to 181kN. The box beams were welded horizontally and therefore could not hold the weight of two walkways. During the collapse, the box beam split and the bottom rod pulled through the box beam resulting in the collapse.

For non-engineers out there, 90kN is 90,000 Newtons, about 20,183 pounds. Multiple rods supported each section of the walkway, so the design was safe for the expected load.

Look at the drawing at the top of the page again. There is something else wrong with the altered design. Offsetting the down rod and the up rod produces a shear force on the beam that was not intended by the original designers. GCI, Inc. surrendered their professional engineering expertise to Havens, a company lacking any such credentials. And people died.

All this came to mind a few days ago when a former college roommate sent me this photo from Jakarta.

IndonesianArchitecture

Here is what Byron Black had to say in his note:

Daddy makes enquiries. An architect friend hollers out laughing down the telephone line. “Oh that place! They hired these whiz-bang architects from Paris; the geniuses decided they’d go for a supple, light structure. Cut back on the reinforcing rods.
“Then the owner changed her cute little mind and added fifteen more floors to the original design. Wanted to sell more units.
“Nobody thought to tell these guys that the buildings they’d drawn up, and the precise angle they’d set them at, were going to pick up the wind and sail back and forth. Even when the contractor was building them, the workers all bundled up and scared shitless from the swaying, the architects never found out.
The owner added 15 additional floors. And never told the architects. And never changed the design to strengthen the lower structure to support the additional load.
I’m thinking there must be a Take An Engineer Out To Lunch Day sometime soon. Do that. And have a good talk.

Institutional Advertising

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I believe this has come around before:

So now I’m watching the news on cable TV, and I see a lot of ads by Norfolk Southern. And these are really glitzy productions. There’s a cute jingle playing over the video (“Helping this here country move ahead as one”), and there are beautifully choreographed sequences of products being moved and trains and powerful locomotives moving in perfect harmony. Steven Spielberg, you need to watch this.

I considered it so odd that Norfolk Southern, a railroad company that doesn’t provide service into the region where I live, would be advertising themselves to me. Again this morning, as they have been for weeks, Norfolk Southern is showing all the stuff they haul. It’s impressive.

Cargo containers filled with manufactured goodies from across the Pacific.

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Train loads of coal to fire my power plant. And steel products. New automobiles.

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Would that I had that much stuff to ship.

But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the company is trying to build brand loyalty. If it wasn’t shipped by Norfolk Southern, then you don’t want it.

I’m telling you, it’s an impressive ad. There are these two train engineers talking over things in the yard, discussing what they’ve been hauling. They seem like earnest, committed railroad men. I’m sold. From here on out it’s Norfolk Southern for me and my family. Before Barbara Jean and I make the next purchase at the H-E-B store we’re going to ask, “Can you verify these carrots were shipped on Norfolk Southern?

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Keep reading.