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Of course, right now we don’t have a real leader. We have Donald Trump, a man who can’t fathom empathy or express empathy, who can’t laugh or cry, love or be loved — a damaged narcissist who is unable to see the true existence of other human beings except insofar as they are good or bad for himself.

David Brooks in the New York Times

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40 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last three months.

1.7 million Americans are infected with the Covid-19 virus, and over 103,000 Americans have died of it.

There has been racial rioting in all the major cities in the country during the past week.

There is no end in sight to the violence, destruction, and the curve of the disease.

Is this the America that is “great again” that we were all promised?

Has anybody noticed that it’s not working? It looks more like dystopia to me.

I am tired of all this winning.

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Next Wednesday, May 27, 2020, is a big day. For the first time since July 8, 2011, American astronauts will be launched on an American spaceship from American soil.

When NASA grounded the space shuttle fleet in 2011, I didn’t think it was a good idea, and I never would have thought that for almost 10 years America would not have the capacity to launch humans into space. Of course, I also didn’t think in 1973 that we would not return to the moon for another at least 50 years.

On May 6, 2002, a 29-year-old South African immigrant named Elon Musk started a little company called SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. He wanted to make space travel cheaper so Mars could be colonized. I was a businessman in 2002, and if you had asked me if it was a good idea to start a rocket company I would have said you were insane. If you then had asked me if it was a good idea a year later to also start a car manufacturer in the United States, I would have said you’re insane squared. Musk did both of those things in 2002 and 2003 respectively, and has run both of those companies in parallel ever since. If you want to read a good biography of Musk, I can highly recommend Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk.

The rocket and the spaceship that will launch two American veteran astronauts next Wednesday are built by SpaceX. This will be the first time ever a private company launches humans into orbit. I would not have thought this was possible in 2002. If told it was, I would have bet that the company doing it would be Boeing, or McDonnell Douglas, or Lockheed, but certainly not a startup.

I have been a businessman all my life myself. I have had many product launches, and deployments of new things for the first time. I know what it’s like to bet your company on a single product or a single project, and then succeed. I also know what it’s like that last night before “go live” when a thousand things can go wrong and make the whole project come crashing down. I know that the CEO can’t sleep the night before an important launch. I know how it feels when the pulse races, and the circular thinking at 2:30am does not let you calm down. I know what it feels like when all is at stake.

But even knowing all this, I cannot imagine what it must be like in Elon Musk’s life right now, for the next few days, when all is at stake and all the world watches as two American astronauts sit on top of a stack of highly explosive fuel to go to orbit, something no private company has ever done before. If something goes wrong, people die.

The pressure must be enormous.

I will be watching, and I am rooting for SpaceX and Musk.

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Trump is messing with the postal service. There is a push to privatize it.

Germans started privatizing their “Deutsche Bundespost” in 1998, and went through several transactions. It’s generally considered a success.

I am not advocating that the United States Postal Service be privatized per se, but I have to criticize it.

In today’s world, and by that I mean the world in the last 15 years, there is no reason why the postal service is not wildly successful. We’re shipping more than ever. With the pandemic, that is even more accentuated.

Any organization in the business of shipping goods should be flourishing. The postal service is not. And it is not for the lack of a dedicated and experienced workforce. It’s because of mismanagement.

The postal service needs commercial leadership, not politicians or bureaucrats, to lead it. Do I sound like a privatization hawk? Yes, I do.

The postal service needs help and work. But now is not the time. We have enough problems on our hands. We need to unplug 2020, wait 10 seconds, and then plug it back in. Right now is not the time to mess with the United States Postal Service. That’s for another year.

I am going to the post office this week to buy a couple of rolls of stamps to boost its revenue.

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Trump looked sick. Not well. Nervous. He did not sound like a leader we should trust and follow.

Announcing cessation of trade with Europe was a mistake. He didn’t mean that.

Exempting the U.K. from the travel restriction with Europe makes no sense. There are more cases of infection in the U.K. than in many EU nations.

With more than 7,000 infections in the U.S., a travel restriction with Europe makes no more sense. Europe is not our problem. It is now our own infrastructure.

While deaths are still low, if they increase like in Iran, Italy and South Korea, they will overwhelm our hospital capacity. Trump didn’t even talk about that. A huge omission.

Trump didn’t talk about social distancing. A huge omission.

Trump didn’t talk about tests and testing capacity. This is now more important than anything.

This morning, the DOW is down another 2000 points since yesterday. It’s getting close to the level it was when Trump first took office. Obviously, the market didn’t believe Trump last night and he didn’t invoke the world’s confidence.

Trump’s juvenile tweets and schoolyard name calling tactics may work against political opponents, but a pandemic could not care less. It moves forward based on scientific reality, not wishful presidential thinking and propaganda.

Trump’s address was a lost opportunity and therefore an epic fail.

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Check out how Trump interrupts Azar and puts in his own comments. I really wonder what the people standing with him there are really thinking.

Our president has a natural ability for medicine, as we hear in the second video.

All of us should feel very comfortable now about our government’s ability to handle a potential pandemic crisis, since, as we just heard the president say: “The tests are beautiful.”

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Here is a real-life cartoon out of the Bismarck Daily Tribune of Feb 21, 1920:

[click to enlarge]

I guess some things don’t change in a hundred years. Today, I am worried about Taxes, the High Cost of Everything, Politics, Congress, Unrest, maybe not the Flu, but the Corona Virus, and definitely Profiteering, particularly by corrupt government leaders.

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Back on July 18, 1963, as the AFS [see below] students who had spent their high school year in the United States, were preparing to go back to their countries, they got to visit the White House. JFK talked to them.

It would be another 11 years before I had the privilege to be chosen as an AFS student. I arrived in the United States two weeks after Nixon’s resignation on August 20, 1974. Our group did not get to visit the White House when we went home in July of 1975.

All my life I have been proud to have been an AFS student and to carry the mission forward of spreading peace in the world, one person at a time.

It’s gotten a little more difficult in recent years.

[AFS stands for American Field Service, today the largest and most famed high school student exchange program in the world]

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We have all been the victims of impulse purchases. Sometimes it was at the checkout stand in the grocery store where we bought a nifty flashlight on a keychain. Or it was at Costco at the entry doors, and we now have a full and shiny new set of BBQ tools complete in a plastic case, even though we already have a totally adequate set at home that we use perhaps once a year.

Along comes Facebook where impulse buying it raised to an entirely new and much higher level.

On November 15, 2019, I saw a “survival tool product” on Facebook. The link went to www.captainswagger.com. I thought it would be a neat Christmas gift for my outdoor enthusiastic son, so I ordered it. I spent $69.00. I received an immediate email that my product was shipped and expected to get the product in the mail within a few days.

Weeks went by and nothing arrived. I contacted the company and got no response. After about a month, I gave up. I contacted PayPal and put in a claim for fraud. Over the next four weeks, the company sent emails to me and PayPal claiming first that the product was shipped with FedEx, but didn’t provide a tracking number. When that failed, a couple of weeks later, it provided a FedEx tracking number. When I checked on the status using that number, I learned that was bogus number that was never shipped and probably used for all claims. On the day the PayPal grace period expired in the middle of January 2020, I received a box via the United States Postal Service (note – not FedEx) with the product. It took them two months to get it to me, and during that time they send several emails with fraudulent claims of shipment that were obviously bogus.

Here are some reviews which echo my experience with Captainswagger.com. I am not the only customer who went through this. Captainswagger is definitely a fraud. I am not sure if I would have ever received the product had I not put in a formal claim with PayPal.

So now I have this “product” that I paid $69 for that never became a Christmas present.

Captainswagger Multifunctional Shovel – banana for scale

It came in a partially crushed box, and it’s not even close to the product being shown in the video above. Many of the pieces are not there, the versatility is not the same, the size seems different, and the carrying case is not included. Instead, it has these thin plastic camouflaged covers. To top it off, the version I bought was the upgraded one for $69.00, not the one for $39.95 on the website.

The real product is much smaller and way chintzier than it looks in the video, and I have absolutely no use for it. In 50 years of hiking and driving I have never come into a situation where I needed this tool, and I certainly won’t be putting it into my backpack when I go on hikes. I suspect my son would not have done so either. So why did I buy something from a company I knew nothing about, which turned out to be borderline fraudulent? Why did I buy “stuff” that is now in my house that I will never use?

It was easy, and it seemed like a neat thing I wanted. It reminds me of the exercise program I bought many years ago for $300 with a pull bar and a bunch of video disks. I had the good sense to send it back unopened when it arrived and I got my money back. That was before PayPal and Facebook.

With this “tool” I stand no chance. It was pulling teeth to get it in the first place. There is no way to get my money back without spending a lot more time and money without a guarantee of success.

Lessons learned:

  1. Never buy impulse products no matter how well they are advertised. You don’t need them.
  2. Never respond to ads on social media, no matter how slick they look. If you really needed the product, you would have googled for it and you would not have been on Facebook to get it. Trust your needs.
  3. Never buy a product from on online vendor that you don’t know. I have vetted Amazon over years for its integrity and good service. If you return a product, their response is rock solid. I am sure there are other online retailers with that quality. However, this was just some website and I gave them my money. The money was gone.
  4. Never buy with PayPal. PayPal is good to send money to a friend in Chile or Australia, or to pay for a product from a company you do business with all the time. However, in this case, PayPal’s mitigation against a fraudulent or even questionable vendor was completely inadequate. If I had paid with a credit card, the company would have refunded the money and come after the vendor. This vendor didn’t accept credit cards – for obvious reasons. Don’t buy online from strangers with PayPal.
  5. Before making any impulse purchase, mark it and wait 24 hours. If the product still looks as good 24 hours later and you still want it, by all means, buy it. Chances are, you won’t bother, since you really didn’t need or want the product in the first place.

And with that advice I swagger away.

 

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Salsa World Traveler has nominated me for this award. I am honored. This is the first time I have ever responded to a blogger award. I am not continuing with 11 more nominations, but I am going to answer his questions here.

His Questions for the Nominees:

1. Why do you blog

To figure out how I feel about the world. It makes me think about something of significance once a day – since I try to post once a day, but usually don’t succeed with that frequency.

2. In your view, what makes a truly great post?

Creative content or new information. A poem you wrote, a photograph you took that tells a story, a piece of information that I didn’t know but am interested in hearing about.

3. What is hardest about blogging for you?

Keeping the boundary of privacy and publicity. My blog is not about me, or my life, or my family, or my friends. It’s about the things I want to share. I try to keep the “me” out of it. It’s not about me, but about the subjects I write about. Much of the time, I do not succeed. It’s a constant battle. Because our lives are so consuming, and they come into it.

4. What airline, if any, is your favorite?

American Airlines is the only airline where I have the top tier elite status, so I travel with a lot of perks. However, I just read that American is on the bottom of the “best American airlines” scale. Delta is on the top, but I have traveled on Delta maybe five times in my life, versus probably 2,000 times on American.

5. Hotel, B & B, or AirB&B?

Hilton baby, always Hilton. I am a lifetime Diamond member. I don’t need flowered bed spreads, cute wash basins and creaky wood floors of a B & B. I don’t want to talk to the matron and I don’t want to meet other travelers. Hilton, baby!

6. Have you ever deleted a comment, and if so, why?

I can’t remember doing that ever. Even the harassers get their voice. 

7. How do you like to spend time when not blogging?

I have a very consuming job which takes all my time and energy. What little is left goes to my wife and sparing social activities, painting and art (much too little time) and I read at least an hour a day.

8. What type(s) of music do you like?

Traditional Hawaiian, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Cat Stevens, Elton John – I was coming of age in the 1970s obviously.

9. If you could pick three people to have lunch with, who would you choose?

Barack Obama

Bob Dylan

Salsa World Traveler

10. What sports team is your favorite, if any?

None. I have zero interest in organized sports – any sports. I hike, climb mountains, have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, but I do those things on my own. I don’t need to see others doing them.

11. Have you previously been nominated for a blogging award?  If so, which ones?

Many times, and I have ignored them all. I can’t remember which.

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1981 – I worked construction putting up houses in Fountain Hills, Arizona. On the way home, tired, hot, sunburned, I would stop at a Dairy Queen in Scottsdale and buy a medium vanilla chocolate-dipped ice cream cone. I loved those things after a long day of work building houses in the desert.

2020 – After sushi at Sushiya in Escondido, on the way to see a movie at Angelika, we stopped at a Dairy Queen. I had my favorite vanilla chocolate-dipped ice cream cone. It’s a little more expensive now than it was when I was 23. But then, I am 63 now, and I still buy the same cone at the same retail chain store. Dairy Queen forever!

This made me think about how the retail landscape in America has changed over the course of my life.

1970ies – There were waterbed stores all over the place. As I drove down Glendale Avenue in Glendale, Arizona, heading east, I am sure there were 10 waterbed stores within a few blocks. I had a waterbed in those years. It lasted for a few years, then it became impractical as I started moving more often during college years, and I gave it away. All the waterbed stores are now gone.

1970ies – Also in those years, unfinished furniture stores were ubiquitous. I remember browsing through those. I never really bought “proper” unfinished furniture, but I did buy a few shelves of particle board which I painted bright green, blue, yellow and red. We made throw pillows of crazy colors which were our “couch.” Good enough for 21-year-olds. All the unfinished furniture stores are now gone.

1980ies – When the VHS revolution took over and the thrill of being able to “rent” a movie that you could watch in the privacy of your home, video rental stores sprung up all over every neighborhood. You got a membership, kind of like a library card, and you could rent movies for a few days. If you forgot to bring them back in time, you were charged a late fee. I remember thinking I wanted to rent some of those girly movies they had in the backroom – oh the bliss – but I actually have no recollection ever following through with that. Eventually, Blockbuster replaced all the mom-and-pop video rental stores, but then, Blockbuster forgot to disrupt itself and Netflix came along. All the video rental stores are now gone.

1990ies – Those were the years when the cell phone stores arose. You chose expensive phones and expensive plans where you counted the minutes. I remember having 120 “minutes” was a large plan. We justified the expense that we’d use the cell phones “for emergencies only” but I remember it felt neat being able to make a call from a moving car on the I-15 for the first time. That was around 1993 or 1994. All the cell phone stores are now gone, and some have morphed to the smartphone outlets of Apple or Verizon.

1970ies through 2000 – Back in 1974, every mall in America had either a B. Dalton book store or a Waldenbooks. That’s when I still went to the mall. I cared little about any of the stores, except Dairy Queen and the bookstore. In the mid 1980ies I saw my first “super bookstore.” It was a “Bookstar” on Rosecrans in San Diego. The selection was immense. Shortly after that, Borders started appearing, along with Barnes & Noble. Now all we have left is Barnes & Noble, and the occasional bookstore in airports. There are a couple at Chicago O’Hare that I like. I don’t buy hard books to read anymore, so I have this policy that I buy “something” when I go to Barnes & Noble, like a coffee table book, an art book, or anything else that I don’t want just in digital format. You have to flip through art books in hardcopy. And my policy to buy something at Barnes & Noble is to help them stay in business. All the little bookstores in malls are now gone, but I can’t imagine a world without bookstores.

The retail changes over the decades are drastic, and with nostalgia I think about the days when I browsed around in unfinished furniture stores and breathed in that woodshop aroma.

I could use a chocolate-dipped cone right about now.

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When a decade changes, it makes me think more than just when a year changes.

Back on New Year’s Eve 1983 we had a party at our house and one of the guests was Terry. I remember him clearly. In front of everyone, during a toast for the new year 1984, he said:

“Do you realize that the year 2000 is as far away as 1968?”

That stunned me at the time. I grew up in the late sixties, and 1968 was very, very recent for me then. And 2000 was utopia. Heck, I’d be 43 years old in 2000, and I considered that an old man.

“Do you realize that the year 2000 is as far away as 1968” is something I have thought about on every New Year’s Eve since, and I have told this story to many a friend in the meantime.

It’s now 2020. I am in disbelief!

Do you realize that the year 2050 is as far away as 1990?

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Being from the United States, where we are currently governed by very old men and women, and the “new batch” of Democratic candidates more very old men and women for the most part, it is refreshing to see that the young are taking charge in other places of the world.

Here is a part of Finland’s new government:

From left to right:

  • Li Andersson, Minister of Education
  • Katri Kulmuni, Minister of Finance
  • Sanna Marin, Prime Minister, is currently the world’s youngest head of state, at age 34.
  • Maria Ohisalo, Minister of the Interior

The oldest if the above picture is 34.

These are just four of the 19 ministers of the government. Here is the site that shows the entire team. Some of them are a bit older. 12 out of 19 are female.

There is also one title that caught my attention: Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, held by Krista Mikkonen.

Finland is a country of 5.5 million people, which is about the size of any of these states:

  • Wisconsin
  • Colorado
  • Minnesota
  • South Carolina

Yes, Finland is a different kind of country compared to the U.S., but I’d venture to say we would benefit from some young people in our own government.

Bring in the young!

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The traditional meal in Japan for Christmas is KFC – Kentucky Fried Chicken. And not just fried chicken, but the brand, KFC? How did that happen?

メリークリスマス

The above says me-rii-ku-ri-su-ma-su written in katakana, the Japanese alphabet used to spell foreign words.

me-rii-ku-ri-su-ma-su, when you say it out loud, means Merry Christmas.

Japan is a nation where only about 1% of the population is Christian. So Christmas, historically, was fairly meaningless. In the post-war years in Japan, everything western became fashionable, and the country imitated the west wherever it could.

The first Kentucky Fried Chicken store opened in Japan in 1970. Shortly after it opened, the manager, Takeshi Okawara, overheard a couple of foreigners in his store talk about how they missed having turkey for Christmas. KFC didn’t have turkey, but it had chicken. What’s the difference, right? So Okawara thought fried chicken would work just fine and began marketing his Party Barrel as a way to celebrate Christmas.

Within a few years, the Japanese corporate office for KFC started advertising クリスマス に わ ケンタキイ (Kentucky for Christmas) and a tradition was born. Japanese now think that everyone in the west eats KFC for Christmas. It is huge in Japan. One third of the annual sales of any KFC store is done during the Christmas season. 3.6 million Japanese families treat themselves to a KFC meal during the Christmas season. To get a Christmas dinner at KFC, you have to reserve it weeks in advance.

Okawara went on to become the CEO of KFC Japan in 1984 and ran the company through 2002. 

So, as this example proves, if you want to get rich and famous, start a tradition based on a religion.

I wonder what the two customers who mentioned they missed turkey for Christmas in that store in 1970 would think if they knew what they started by that innocuous remark? What if they had been Jewish instead and asked for Gefilte Fish?

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Here is a video that illustrates what privilege is all about:

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