Category Archives: Wondering

How That’s Done

I’ve kept my mouth relatively shut for the last few years on this topic, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this specific thing and I felt I should get it out and in writing before I either forget it or it becomes irrelevant.  Hopefully the latter happens first.

There’s this guy you have heard of, Donald Trump.  Without really saying how I feel about him, I just want to explain this thing he does that is so dangerous.  I know it’s way too late to change anyone’s minds for the upcoming election.  And I rather doubt anyone under his sway will actually have their eyes opened by this explanation, but it never hurts to try.

There are countless examples of people parodying a Trump response to a question.  A lot of them are spot on, usually rather funny, and also sad in their accuracy.  I think a lot of people focus on the rambling, delusional aspects of the responses, which is a mistake.  I don’t think Trump is stupid, like mentally stupid.  He does things very intentionally.

I’ve read some analysis of his verbalisms, but nothing that really focuses on what is really trying to be accomplished with them.  The best thing I have read is that he uses a long string of phrases that don’t really form a cohesive statement, but each one has a small nugget of something you want to hear and those pieces are what you focus on and ignore the rest.  That way, everyone gets something of what they want out of the spew.  That is probably accurate, but I have another observation, and I’ll provide a very simple, commonplace example.  It’s believable, for sure, and when you see that technique can be applied to just about any question, hopefully you’ll never listen to his answers the same way again.

Here’s the hypothetical journalist question and Trump’s answer:

"Meteorologists are saying it’s not going to rain tomorrow.  Do you think it’s going to rain?"

"Absolutely!  100%!  It absolutely will rain.  They say it’s not going to rain.  They went to school for years and years and have all these degrees and they say it’s not going to rain.  It should rain!  Don’t you think?  That would be beautiful.  We need the rain.  You know, all that school, all that, they don’t know.  They say it won’t rain.  Maybe it won’t.  But it should rain.  I’m sure it will.  And that will be great for everyone.  It would be a real shame if it didn’t.  It would be bad for everyone."

And what do people get out of this babble?  If it doesn’t rain, they get mad at the scientists because it should have rained.  That was the right answer even though science says it won’t happen.  The question was asking for a simple opinion and what we’re given is a statement on how we should feel about it.  "It" being one specific viewpoint.  In this case and in many cases, the viewpoint is in opposition to the scientific facts.

I have read many times that conservatives are not driven by logic, but by emotion.  Not only in political topics, but in their entire lives.  If it feels correct, it is correct.  The problem with that is it is much easier to make someone feel a certain way than it is to make them think and understand a certain way.  And that is what Trump (and many other con men) can exploit.

Let’s break down that long answer to the question.

  • "Absolutely!  100%!  It absolutely will rain." – Start off with complete confidence and speak in absolutes.  There is no place for disagreement here.
  • "They say it’s not going to rain.  They went to school for years and years and have all these degrees and they say it’s not going to rain." – Attack the opposition.  Even though they are correct, they need to be painted as the bad guys.  Vagueness – using They and Other People – is perfectly fine.  Be specific if you can, but an unknown enemy has advantages as well.
  • "It should rain!  Don’t you think?  That would be beautiful.  We need the rain." – Why should we hate the experts?  Explain it.  Exploit feelings.  You need to feel why you should be angry.
  • "You know, all that school, all that, they don’t know.  They say it won’t rain." – While people are agreeing with the good things you said, say something bad about your opponent.  Your mind is still saying "yes" and that "yes" will continue into the next statement.  This is actually a well-known sales tactic.  They get you to agree to anything ("It’s hot out today"), then carry that agreement into further conversation.
  • "Maybe it won’t." – This has two excellent benefits.  You get an out if you’re wrong, because you can say you never said absolutely, and you inject a feeling of disappointment if the experts are right.
  • "But it should rain.  I’m sure it will.  And that will be great for everyone.  It would be a real shame if it didn’t.  It would be bad for everyone." – Don’t focus on your backpedalling, focus on the benefits of your answer, despite the fact you are wrong.

To summarize: Make your claim, attack your opponent, appeal to your audience, use agreement against your opponent, suggest you might be wrong – but that would be bad, restate your claim with the benefits.

If you don’t want to absorb all of these bits, at least take this:  If you hear someone making a speech and they ask a question that sounds like it should be rhetorical, go on alert.  They are trying to create agreement between something obvious and something you need to be convinced of.

The Absurdity Of Auctions

eBay.  There’s nothing else quite like it.  Which is probably for the best.  Although monopolies are bad, it would actually be worse for everyone if there were multiple auction sites.  It benefits both the buyers and sellers to have consolidation and concentration.

But anyway, I do like auctions, both as a buyer and seller.  As a seller, I prefer to use an auction in cases where a) I don’t really care about the item being sold.  That is, the trash is just as good as selling it.  And b) when I don’t have any idea of what it’s worth.  I’m fine with letting the market decide.

As a buyer, I like auctions because I very rarely lose at them.  And that is where the focus of the absurdity in the title is from.  There are people, still, who do not know how to effectively win an auction.  It’s not that hard.  The only thing that should stop you is someone who is willing to pay more.  And that is the only time I lose, and I am not a sore loser at all in those cases, because I would not pay what the winner paid.

Here’s stage one of bidder dumbness.  Making the first bid and that’s it.  Or making one of the first bids and that’s it.  These happen early in the listing’s lifetime.  The auctions I participate in are for collector-grade CDs, so that’s going to be my references.  Apologies to those who don’t really understand.  So you have a lot of 10 CDs that’s ending in 6 days and you can generally assume each CD would fetch at least $5 individually.  So you can predict the final price is going to be north of $50.  These people who bid $1, $3, $4.45, and nudge the price up are doing themselves no favors.  They are helping the seller, though.  If the number of bids (albeit tiny) gets high enough, the listing is considered hot or popular and gets a little extra promotion.  But the fact they expect they are going to win and never do any follow-up bids is just dumb.

In reality, auctions really are 6 days of waiting and 1 minute of real bidding.  Today I was wondering if there could be a format that could exploit that design.  Maybe I’ll write something up later.  But yeah, everything leading up to that last minute is just play.  The people that really want the item are going to be lurking and will jump in at the end.  And most, if they are smart (like me), will not have made their presence known through "Watching" the listing or making a previous bid.

The second stage of bidder dumbness is not using eBay’s Max bid feature.  Ideally, you should only make one bid on an auction.  You should know exactly how much you are willing to pay and stick to it.  Why people don’t use this confuses me.  Maybe they think there’s a way to make your bid jump to the max right away?  I’ve seen this in live auctions with absentee bids and it infuriates me.  "We have an absentee bid of $10.  Who’ll start the bidding at $11?"  But eBay doesn’t work that way.

Let me explain my technique in opposition to how the other bidders operated.  In this most recent case, I returned to the auction with 15 minutes to go, and the current bid was $60.  So I was correct about the price ending north of $50.  I didn’t visit the listing at all since I found it and I put the listing close time in Outlook to be reminded instead of using eBay’s "Watch" feature.  As an aside, what I do use the Watch feature for is to get a better deal on Buy It Now items.  If you Watch an item, eBay will sometimes send an email to the seller saying someone is watching the item and you should try to close the deal by offering them a special price.  If the seller is motivated, then I get an email saying I can buy the item at this new, lower price, which in most every case, I accept.

Back to the auction.  It’s at $60, 15 mins left, and has 20 bids.  I scan the bids and I see the dumb initial bids that can be ignored.  Looking at the last bidders, there are 2 active, interested bidders that I will have to compete with.  I can see that one started at $40 and was currently the leader at $60.  He had clearly set a Max bid and was automatically outbidding the other person as they increased their bids.  Now, was $60 his actual max bid or was it higher?  No way to tell yet.

As time ticked down, the price changed to $61.  A new bidder has joined in.  This exposed that the previous high bidder’s max was $60 and exposed another dumb bidder move – bidding in round, even numbers.  I’ll explain that when I bid, but time is still ticking.  It’s silent until 20 seconds left to go.  That’s when I make my move.

I place a bid for $86.80.  The most I’m willing to pay for this lot is $85, and the extra $1.80 protects me from anyone who tries to bid (or had a max bid) right at $85, a fairly round, even number.  I’ll explain that here.  First, the new bidder is shown to have a max bid of $65.  I beat him with my max bid.  I’m leading at $66.  The former high bidder jumps in and shows his ignorance.  He makes a bid, which is outbid by my max, then bids again and is outbid again.  The new bidder tries to get in a bid in the final second, but is outbid by my max.  I win the auction.

So let’s review those final seconds.  Both of those bidders were not committed to their max price.  They kept upping it as they went.  This probably really hurt them to lose this auction because they kept making sacrifices to their commitment.  But also from a practical standpoint, every bid they fail to make, they have to make a new bid.  That is valuable time they are losing.  We’re in the final 20 seconds of the auction.  There’s no time to make mistakes like that.  That is why I bid odd amounts.  If I automatically outbid someone by 80 cents, they lose the same amount of time as if I outbid them by $20.  It’s just one extra delay for a small amount of insurance.

And the guy who bid in the last second?  Again, he didn’t have a max bid in mind.  There’s no time to evaluate, "Am I willing to pay more" when you’re down to seconds.  So he bid a max of $65 earlier, then made his last pitch at $77.  That last bid was smart, as the current bid at the time was $74.  If my max had been at $75 (a round number) and I was outbid, I might have rebid by the minimum $1 increment, which he would have automatically outbid and made me lose time.  But it wasn’t to be.  I won the auction at $78, a price under my max of $85 and only $1 more than the other bidder.

So my strategy boils down to only a few points.  Stay quiet, bid late, bid once, bid with enough buffer to delay minimum upbidders, and use an odd bid amount to possibly get one extra delay in.  Go win some shit now.

Is Isolationism Spreading?

In any other year, I would have simply rolled my eyes.  But in the current sociopolitical climate, the message raised my eyebrows.

I have had a hard time finding an online home.  Online forums are full of nothing but toxic and bitter people.  Everywhere you go, you  run into people who just can’t help themselves from cutting other people down for whatever reason.  The anonymity of the Internet gives them the power to do so without recourse.  I’ve wondered more and more lately if it was a good thing to make the internet accessible to all.

So, I had been settled into a new forum.  It had a very, very strict rule about not bringing up politics or religion in any way.  While that boundary was pushed occasionally, it was a line no one stepped over.  And the forum seemed to thrive for it.  There was some bickering over tastes and preferences, but that goes with my previous observation about general Internet usage.

This particular forum has no advertising and runs an annual donation drive for its expenses.  Maybe a little unusual, but it seems to have been working for a long time.  I did donate last year, maybe $20.  This year, I don’t know.  As ironic as it was, a pinned message was posted just above the pinned message for the donation drive with a new order from the owner.

The order was: if you are going to write a review for others to read, you must publish the review in the forum.  You may not link to a review posted on your personal blog.  If you do, the post will be flagged as spam and removed.  If you continue to do it, your account will be closed.

I can’t really express the feelings I got when I read that.  Maybe it doesn’t sound as bad here, where I’ve paraphrased it, but the literal words that punched me in the gut were, "directing us away from the forum".

Let me start on the positive.  I sort of understand.  This is a very popular forum.  I suppose the owner would not want people simply joining his site and taking advantage of a large audience to get some ad revenue and traffic to their own site.  Maybe that feeling is amplified because the owner doesn’t have advertising of his own, so why should others get the benefits of his site’s popularity?  And also, he didn’t specifically say you couldn’t copy your personal work into a post on his forum, because well, that’s what a forum is.  He’s not demanding exclusivity (unlike those fuckers at AlbumArtExchange).

So then, where’s my problem with it?  It’s that wording.  Posting a link isn’t taking any traffic away from you.  They have links set up properly where they always open in a new tab – you aren’t losing your place.  Second, this is the way of the Internet.  It’s how it was conceived and how it should be.  You link to related and relevant content.  You don’t try to be authoritative for everything.  Yahoo and AOL tried that and look how it worked for them.  The Internet is meant to be open and free and exploratory.  It’s not healthy to stay stuck in one place and get all your information from one site.  Some leaders are attempting that now and look how well it’s working for them.  Actually, don’t look at how well that’s working.  Look at the consequences of how well that’s working.

"Don’t leave" is never a good thing to hear from someone.  There’s the pleading, "don’t leave", then there’s the threatening, "don’t leave", and when you can’t tell the difference which one it is, that’s the worst of all.  And that’s unfortunately when you really should leave.

Change Comes Quickly

It was only a few days ago I had read about a new Postmaster General and the “improvements” he was implementing to mail delivery.  And for the first time ever, I see this message on a package I am expecting.

image

The clarify that image.  I had earlier gotten emails saying my package was due to be delivered Aug 7.  When it didn’t arrive, I checked the website and saw this message.  Ok, I figured it would be delivered the next day, Saturday.  Nope.  Monday?  Nope.  The fucking package was only 2 hours away from me 5 days ago!  What the hell is happening?

I want to say, I have never seen a message from USPS saying “Arriving Late”.  I also want to say that my experience with USPS has been rock solid for as long as I can remember.  When you read news stories about new management and their plan to improve profitability by reducing service levels, and immediately you are impacted, what kind of impression are you supposed to get?

I’ve tried to keep politics out of my blog for a long time, but I feel this gripe would be fair to make under any administration.  It would only seem biased because one party’s beliefs on the topic run counter to my own while the other party would agree.  And so goes politics in the black and white era of America.

Many, many years ago I had the belief that the government should be run like a business.  remember Ross Perot?  That was the era.  And I was in support of Perot for president for that very reason.  Make the government run efficiently like a business.  It was years later that I realized how wrong that perspective is.  And I’m sure there are many people now who felt like I did back then.  Although Perot didn’t get very far, we’re finally getting to test the idea of having a business-type government.  And boy are we going to pay for it.

Here is the reason is a nutshell so you don’t have to read at length:  Government is about helping people, business is about making money.  Those goals are incompatible.  A business will sacrifice anything, especially people, in its goal for profit.  Is that wrong?  No, it’s just its nature.  No hard feelings, it’s just business, ya know?

And at this point, I was going to lay out a bunch of differences, but it also came down to a single reason, one that is overwhelmingly obvious in these times, from the top to the bottom.  It’s all selfishness.

Is Being Old A Liability?

I’m not actually talking about people getting old and the risk that comes with that.  You know there’s plenty of risks for old people, health, financial, mental, and on and on.  Everything is dangerous.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I am talking about corporations.  Is it now a liability to be old?

Traditionally, it has been a great thing to have a business that’s been running for 50+ years.  Some running for over 100.  Amazing, isn’t it?  To be that ingrained the fabric of America, to have that sort of name recognition, to have seen it all and weathered everything that came along.  That last point: to have seen it all and weathered it.  That is the liability – to have been there.

This train of thought is fairly new for me and is obviously based on current events, but the idea I’m basing it on was actually born quite a while ago.  I was at a Dairy Queen, eating lunch one weekend.  Dairy Queen is one of those long-standing institutions I’m referring to.  I believe them to be generally well-loved, but every business has its detractors for some reason or another.  That’s not important for the moment.  What is important is having a history and being proud of it.

Yes, so Dairy Queen is an old company.  They are quite proud of their early beginnings and how they’ve grown to a massive corporation that is, if not the leader, then the most recognizable company in their field.  So, they want to highlight the humble beginnings of their company to, I don’t know, inspire others?  And I’m sitting there at lunch eating, and on the wall are old black and white photos of early Dairy Queens with the old cars and crowds of people lining up for ice cream.

And as I studied the pictures, my thought was, "That’s a whole lot of white people, there."

Now at the time, things weren’t as crazy as they are now, but race relations were growing tense.  They must have been for me to focus in on that aspect of the pictures.  And further studying showed, yes, no black people present.

Let’s not jump to conclusions here.  There’s lots of reasons why a bunch of photos just all happened to not show a single black person getting ice cream from an old Dairy Queen.  Local demographics is a perfectly valid reason.  BUT.  Racial tensions are not about reason, they are about emotion.  And anything that reinforces a perception… well, it’s not good, regardless of whether the perception can be explained or not.

To cut to the chase, I am wondering if it is worthy of consideration for a company that existed in the less-than-ideal era for black people to simply drop their company, drop their history, and start fresh with a new company.  Radical?  Yes.  Beneficial?  Maybe.  Harmful if not done?  Well, it is leaving an avenue of attack open.

I can foresee the arguments.  Attack?  That’s not fair.  This company did nothing to foster divide or hatred back then and that nonwithstanding, this company is a diverse, fresh, modern company that is committed to blah, blah, blah.  Right.  And you can see how effective a defense that is.  Compare that to:  This company was formed and created in 2020, the year of social change, established right from the beginning with equality, inclusiveness, and equal representation in every level of management and policy.  Blah blah blah.  Both are corporate non-speak, but one has the distinct advantage of no historical baggage.

A company that was around in the 50’s, even if they weren’t actively employing racist policies, was still operating in the norms of the time, which is to say, likely racist.  You would have to be considered extremely progressive, even radical, to have a company back then like companies are today.  If you want a real eye-opener, watch the old movie 9 to 5, from 1980.  At the climax of the movie, the old boss returns to the office and sees handicapped people working there and learns of many employee benefits that have been implemented in his absence.  He’s furious, of course, insisting he will undo everything right away.  Watching the movie now, those major advancements are like the bare minimum today.

So, if you were operating in the 50’s, you were a part of the problem.  Your only excuse is that the social norms at the time didn’t consider it a problem.  And that’s a problem for your company.  You can say how committed you are and how changed and all that happy stuff your company is, but your company has old bones.  And an old brain.  And memories, posted in black and white photos on your walls.  You can’t escape that past, without completely starting over.

The Way The Cookie Crumbles

Ah, youth.  A time of growth and exploration.  And a time to test limits and boundaries.  A time to express yourself in all sorts of unproductive and unhealthy ways.  A chance to act without any fear of consequence or concern of others.

I wax poetic about what I assume is youthful indiscretion at my local convenience store.  Framing the behavior in flowery prose is about the best I can do in the situation.  Certainly can’t catch them in the act; certainly couldn’t smack them in the head if I did.  And in some ways, I even hesitate to address the problem.  Not that my post is going to raise awareness of the problem and cause a rash of copycat actors, but sometimes it seems that just giving thought to problems seems to make them multiply.

So what’s the big, huge problem likely instigated by young hooligans upon my poor, local convenience store?  Well, there’s these cookies, you probably know of them, Fudge Stripes.  Shortbread cookies with chocolate stripes on one side and a chocolate back.  I like them.  I buy them every once in a while for breakfast.  Don’t judge me.  Tell me how cookies for breakfast is any worse than donuts.  It’s the same thing.

Anyway, these cookies.  At my local store, the cookies in the Fudge Stripes packages are always crushed.  Crushed into tiny crumbs, so eating them is an experience more like eating cereal than eating cookies.  And it’s not just a random thing.  It’s also not attributable to shipping problems.  Every pack is crushed.  Once I came in and the box was brand new and full.  I checked the lower layer.  All broken.

As maddening as this is, I do actually get it.  Breaking a shortbread cookie does have a measure of satisfaction.  It has a nice firm, but silent, snap to it.  I can understand why an ignorant child would be attracted, and maybe addicted, to doing something like that.  It still doesn’t make it right, or good.  And as an older person, I feel it’s my duty to express that these miscreants are going to be the future anarchists of the world.  The "Jokers" of their generation.  And I also have to comment on how bad the world has gotten compared to how it was when I was a kid, shoplifting candy from my local drug store.  Wait – scratch that last irrelevant (although true) comment.

Is the world worse?  Hell, yes it is.  But it’s only worse because there’s more of it.  More people, more opportunity, more stores, more products, more cookies.  The suck grows in proportion to the size of our environment.  And it’s this expansion that also feeds the proportional movement to create small, insular communities that attempt to keep out what is perceived as bad.  A poor solution – completely unsustainable.

So again, I reach the conclusion I’ve held for ever so long.  We need less people.  Sorry, fewer people.  We need to conserve everything we have – resources, sanity, cookies.

Banks Still Gonna Bank

I’m personally sitting pretty well when it comes to my financial house.  I’ve mentioned changes I’ve made here and there and for quite some time, I’ve been satisfied with what I’ve got.  In summary, where I’m at right now is: Ally handles all my savings accounts needs.  They pay 1.6% interest (right now.  It’s been slowly dropping again.)  T-Mobile (through Customers Bank) handles my checking.  They pay 4% interest on up to $3k in my account and 1% on the rest.  That’s a pretty nice deal, especially as rates keep dropping elsewhere.  Looking at the interest rate history, we’re back where we were two years ago, after peaking in December, 2018.

So, it’s always good to be vigilant and keep an eye open for what may be better for you in your current situation.  Although this hasn’t affected me, it’s still an irrational issue for me that I don’t have a presence at a physical bank.  To repeat, I haven’t needed the services of a physical bank in many, many, years, but I still feel like I should have an account at one.  So every once in a while, I give it consideration.

An offer came in the mail from TD Bank, which opened a branch nearby me recently.  Recently – in bank years – is like in the last decade.  I’ve always been intrigued by them, and I do have a IRA account with TD Ameritrade (although I’m not sure they’re actually related), so when I saw the offer, I figured I’d investigate.  After all, they’re offering a signing bonus of $150 or $300, and who doesn’t want free money?

Let’s start with their top-tier account and see if I can get in.  No minimum deposit to open an account (I don’t even know what that means – how do you open an account with no funds?).  Monthly maintenance fee: $25.  in the old days,  that actually meant something, but now it just means you need to see if you can meet the criteria to get it waived.  It’s almost a pointless charge.  If you don’t meet the waiver criteria, you don’t get that account.  Duh.

So, to waive the fee, I need either: $5k in direct deposits a month.  Oh.  Well, that’s quite a number.  What else you got?  Keep a $2,500 daily balance.  Well, you know I had that at my last bank and it is doable, but are you going to pay me 4% interest on it like T-Mobile is?  Not likely.  Finally, I can have $25k in accounts with TD.  They didn’t mention TD Ameritrade, only loans and deposit accounts, so that could be my ticket in, if that’s the case.

I visited their "Contact" section and their immediate response options were limited to social media or calling.  I wasn’t going to call for a 5 second question, so I sucked it up and used Facebook Messenger to ping them for an answer.

While I wait, let’s see what benefits I get for my account.  No ATM fees, free money orders, cashiers checks, blah, blah.  It looks like I could have a free account…  And now "Marie" has messaged me back, with essentially a copy/paste of the text I already read.  So I have to be more specific in my question.  Is a brokerage account with TD Ameritrade considered a "deposit account"?  And the answer is: no.  TD Bank and TD Ameritrade are separate and their accounts don’t count towards each other.  So TD Bank is not for me.  And it didn’t offer anything compelling anyway.

But, let me jump back just a little bit.  When the TD Bank first opened in my area, I remember being impressed with their choice to have banking independent from investment.  I thought it was the proper thing to do, unlike what, say, Wells Fargo does (as if WF does anything properly).  I still do think that.  But, after looking into their service offerings, I’m just not their target audience.  There are better deals from online banks and the benefits of being physical just aren’t there.  And maybe, maybe… I could be convinced that having my banking under the same umbrella as my retirement investment account is a good thing, then maybe things would be different.  But right now, I think keeping things apart is best, especially in the growing swell of deregulation and financial insanity.

Breadcrumbs

On an online forum where I browse, someone had posted a gripe suggesting that everyone that posts should have to provide a minimum amount of information in their post.  The gripe was directed at people who were posting pictures of 2 or 3 CDs with a title like "What I bought today".  To the griper, posts like these were useless and added nothing to the community.  Many of the replies to the gripe were of the mindset, "let people do what they want", which I agree with.

Although I didn’t reply with my comments, I did try to understand and consider the problem without simply thinking, "let them be".  I mean, if they’re being stupid, why are they being stupid?  Is there a valid reason for them to make such a minimal post?  The rationale I came up with is that the post isn’t for everyone, it’s just for them.

The community I am referring to is Reddit, which can certainly be classified as "social media".  As is my standard for anything social media, I don’t participate much.  But this isn’t about me.  Most people have made their primary choice for social media, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, WordPress, or many others.  Their chosen platform is where they document their life, at least the parts they want to share publicly.  Basically, it’s where they leave their breadcrumbs to look back on later to see how their life was in a specific time period.

So these posts that people are making with their recent purchases, they’re nothing more than a status update or a tweet.  And in Reddit, they can use subreddits as categories, to classify and group their different activities.  It’s a different application of the platform, and one that probably differs from those that want Reddit to be a discussion forum.  That difference leads to griping that the majority of posts are uninteresting to some people.  It’s probably not a surprise to observe that these are younger people making these status posts, where it’s older Reddit users complaining about the lack of discussion.

But yeah, look at me.  I could have put all this explanation in a reply on that thread, which would have spurred discussion and conversation.  Instead, I make a post in my little private-public journal, where no one can respond to me and start any conversations.  Am I any better?  Well, I’d never suggest something like that.

Help Us Help Them

I’m fighting a pretty tough bout of cynicism right now.  I got an email from a hotel chain of which I am a rewards member.  The email subject was about supporting the Australian relief efforts.  The big type pleaded for me to donate my rewards points for the cause. 

I have a long-standing issue with companies that ask their customers to help in disasters by giving them money.  Primarily because I am very, very certain that the company will use all the money collected in the drive as their own donation, and then they will take the tax write-off for that donation.  Don’t you think?  They’re not a non-profit.  You don’t get a receipt for your donation to them.  You can’t claim it as a tax deduction yourself.  Are they going to let that go to waste?  Hell, no.  Plus, they are the ones that get to say, "We donated $550,000 to the relief effort!"  And not all of it was their money, for sure.

This email plea irked me in another way.  They are asking you to give back something they gave to you to give to someone else.  That statement says what I mean it to say, but it doesn’t seem to capture the full audacity of the premise.  On the surface, it sounds legit.  The company has a liability on their books with all those outstanding rewards.  That’s value.  You’re donating something that has value.  But really, it’s nothing.  It’s all fake, virtual value.  You paid them for those points.  You redeem those rewards for empty rooms.  The empty rooms are there for offer regardless of any points balance.  What I’m saying is the hotel can just as easily make those rooms available for disaster relief regardless of any points donations.  All the donation does is reduce their future liability to their customers.

And here’s the final nagging thought.  Yes, charity is good.  Corporate charity should be good as well.  If no email had come in today, I wouldn’t have had anything to bitch about, so the fact they’re doing anything is better than nothing – I acknowledge that.  Regardless, if an offer evokes cynicism, it just doesn’t have the level of altruism that makes you proud of a company.

So when the offer from the company says they "will match up to $25,000" of donations, that’s really saying they are willing to donate $0.  As long as no one donates anything, that’s all they’re on the hook for.  And it’s also saying that if their customers are super-generous, they’ll personally stop at $25k.

I feel bad for criticizing a relief drive effort, but this offer just has a bad vibe to it.  I think they should have done it right or not done it at all.

Losing For Winning

There are some people who are professional sweepstakes players, believe it or not.  They spend an unnatural amount of time researching and entering sweepstakes.  And they can actually make money at this, too.  Or at least get a lot of stuff.  You might wonder how you can actually “win” at this.  It would just seem to be a numbers game where you enter as many sweepstakes as you can and eventually you’re bound to win something.  But there’s actually a somewhat unknown rule that the pros use to get an advantage. (one weird trick!)

Most sweepstakes have some sort of condition for getting an entry.  Buy a bottle of this, visit such and such place, every order you place on this website, etc.  But, in all sweepstakes, there is a way to get an entry without making a purchase or performing some action – it’s legally required.  If you read the rules, they will tell you how to get a free entry.  Always read the rules.  In most cases, you have to send a 3×5 card with your name and address printed on it and they will return you an “entry”.  Some sweepstakes limit the number of entries an individual may make, most don’t.

I’ve attempted this technique once a few years ago.  A local charity was selling tickets for your choice of two cars.  The tickets were expensive, like $150, and the total number of entries was limited – a rare situation and very valuable because you knew your maximum odds of winning.  And like all sweepstakes, you could get free entries if you read and followed the rules.

I bought two tickets, to keep up appearances, but I then deluged them with something like 100 requests for entry tickets.  They did fulfill my requests, sending thick bundles of tickets in the mail with their drawing receipts torn off.  In the end, I estimated I had a 20-25% chance of winning.  Does that sound bad?  Does it sound better than a 1:2000 chance? (these numbers are all estimated, BTW, don’t try to math them out)

Well, I didn’t win, even with my extraordinary chances.  Whatever, it was kind of a fun exercise.  The local charity has never tried a car sweepstakes since, so I think I really pissed them off.

So anyway, I got a flyer for another car raffle.  $20 tickets, and the rules do say no purchase necessary (as they must), however, they don’t specify how to get those entries.  You have to mail the administrator for information.  This sounds pretty good, too, because that extra step might turn off casual players.  But when I look at the effort vs reward, I’m going to pass on it.  Would you pass on a elevated chance to win a $60k truck?

So, first of all, it’s a truck.  It’s a stupid, jacked-up, fully customized pickup truck.  Not my style, at all.  So what!  Sell it!  Ok, let’s consider that.  First, winning the prize is a taxable event.  The IRS is going to want their share of your $60k windfall.  Let’s generalize at a 30% bracket.  So that’s $18k out of pocket right away.  You need to have that to claim the truck.  Then there’s tax and title.  That’s about another $5k.  Probably you need to insure it for at least a month until you can sell it.  Maybe that’s $100 at most.  So in order to get the $60k truck, you need to spend $23k. 

So then, your new $60k truck rolls off the dealer lot and immediately becomes a used truck.  And it’s worthwhile to note that this is a 2019 model and the drawing is in 2020, making it last year’s model.  Everyone knows a vehicle loses an immediate percentage of its value when it leaves the dealer lot.  Considering this is also last year’s model, shall we say 25%?  Now your truck is worth $45k and you’ve spent $23k to acquire it.

Your truck is worth $45k, but that is not exactly what it would sell for.  You’re in a hurry to sell this so you don’t have to keep paying for insurance on it.  Will it sell for $40k?  Let’s say yes, so we can wrap this up.  So you’ve now made a $17k profit on a $60k vehicle.  That’s quite a discrepancy.

“You suck.  I’d be more than happy with an extra $17k!”  Maybe you would.  But you also need to consider that you added $60k to your gross income this year with that win.  That might push you into a higher tax bracket.  That means the money you earn this year is going to be taxed at a higher rate, more than it would have been had you not won.  17k worth of higher taxes?  Probably not, but your withholding from your paycheck is probably not going to compensate for that extra, so you better save some of that $17k to cover your tax bill next year.

There’s something to be said for thinking things fully through.  In the case of the first drawing for the car, I would have kept and driven that car (not a $60k car, either) and could have absorbed the taxes easily.  This $60k truck has a lot of BS accessories on it that are inflating the value that would never make back their cost if it were to be sold.  It’s a bad deal all around.