COVID-19’s impact on auto industry

“15 days to flatten the curve” is approaching its first anniversary. The impact of COVID-19 on the auto industry is far-reaching. The primary consequences are barely understood, let alone the ones further downstream. Restrictions from governments at the local, state, and federal level, around the globe, have made the predictability of assuring manufacturing operations at pre-COVID daily capacity impossible. Capacity restrictions, hourly restrictions, and closures are random, severe, and often based on PCR tests that are bordering on meaningless. Furthermore, these restrictions are based on “re-open criteria” that is ever-shifting and ill defined, if defined at all.

Lets say a customer wants you to quote a part. This part is required to pass both DV and PV testing before it can be approved for production. Traditionally, these tests are based on rigidly defined test procedures and explicit acceptance criteria.

Would you quote a part to a customer whose test acceptance criteria is:

“Pass is whatever I say it is, my criteria can and will change at any time, and full acceptance will never actually be granted. Additionally, there are other people just like me. Pass is whatever they say it is, their criteria can and will change at any time, and full acceptance will never actually be granted by them either. You must satisfy me, plus all the other people just like me, before full approval shall be granted. Furthermore, if you dare to question any aspect of this plan, you will be demonized publicly for literally wanting grandma to die.”

“Following the science” is a phrase completely devoid of meaning. “Following the science” is what people who are utterly clueless about science say about science.

Nobody in their right mind would even think about quoting a part with the test acceptance criteria mentioned above. Why are you so willing to accept that it’s your fault you can’t meet the manufacturing capacity you initially quoted? Your quote was made before governments around the world added the exact same “manufacturing reopen criteria” above to every link in your global supply chain.

Primary impacts are legion: Manufacturing plant closures with non-firm re-open dates. Permanent manufacturing plant closures. Random border restrictions and closures. Flight restrictions. Mandatory quarantines for personnel. Mandatory quarantines for parts in some cases. Social distancing with no correspondingly larger manufacturing areas. Less $ earned per square foot of manufacturing space. These primary impacts are hard enough to model themselves. Add in downstream consequences at the Tier 1, 2, 3, and higher levels, and it becomes a near impossibility to predict the train-wreck headed our general direction.

Secondary and tertiary impacts are even more convoluted. OK – so maybe the miner of the raw materials you need is still able to work at pre-COVID capacity. They just gave you the thumbs up. However, they just learned that the firm that makes the equipment they need had restrictions placed on them, leading to reduced raw material output. Again – this kind of thing is impossible to predict. These are anything but obvious connections.

We can make educated guesses. Anybody who says they know how this all plays out is lying.

All is not lost. To use a popular phrase, we’re all in this together.

Commodity and asset prices

As if the variables above could be accurately modeled (and they can’t), there is also a grand economic experiment being tested – globally.

U.S. M1 Money Stock

It took more than 15 years, from June 15, 2004, to February 3, 2020 to create the last 2.73 trillion dollars. It took only one year, from February 3, 2020 to January 25, 2021, to create the next 2.73 trillion.

Again – anybody who says they know how this all plays out is lying. Unprecedented does not even begin to describe what’s going on.

There are those arguing this may lead to inflation. I disagree. Technically, this is the very definition of monetary inflation. Will it lead to price inflation? I argue it already has.

Many, if not most, people associate inflation with the consumer price index, or CPI. Are your groceries getting more expensive? Is your rent getting more expensive? Gasoline? Clothes?

What is happening with the prices of assets lately? Anybody who is invested in the stock market is seeing a lot of “inflation” in broad categories of asset prices. Anybody who’s sold a house recently is pleasantly surprised at the “inflation” in real estate values. Anyone who’s just bought a house is shocked at how expensive they’ve become.

1 Year Case Shiller National Home price index beats 5 year performance by 63%

I do some remodeling work on my home. I use an outfit called Garvin Industries for some of my electrical work. They overwhelmingly sell galvanized steel electrical boxes, conduit, and fittings to commercial electricians. Here’s the notice I just received:

Garvin notice dated February 15, 2021

Good thing steel or shipping isn’t used in very many things, or this could get serious.

Anybody who already knows the overall size of the molds they might need should be buying the steel now. Speaker baskets? Same instructions. Engine blocks? Heck yes. Body panels: You betcha! Rotors: Certainly.

At least it’s only steel we have to worry about right? There are gold bugs and there are silver bugs. The copper bugs have slightly edged out both this past year, even with the short squeeze on silver in recent headlines.

Well, how much of our BOM cost is actually comprised of steel and copper? Not much really. At least what we use most of isn’t increasing in price – right?

I will spare everyone the rest of the commodities, but unless you consider hotel rooms and luxury cruises commodities, they are either doing awesome or terrifying, depending on which side of the transaction you’re on The increase in the PPI will lead the increase in the CPI, at least for the things people are most interested in buying.

Cube farms are so Pre-COVID

From every one of our competitors, to every one of our customers, there will be some firms that lose and others that win. We’ve been forced into a year long experiment we could have attempted at least a decade ago, but didn’t have the nerve to try: Work From Home (WFH): All day. Every day. It turns out we really can work from home efficiently. Knowing this, why on God’s green earth are so many companies holding on to cube farms? What benefit do they provide over WFH? I’m listening. Crickets.

  • Why are you paying rent, or a lease, or a mortgage on that many empty square feet?
  • Why are you heating and cooling that many square feet?
  • Why are you paying property taxes on it?
  • Why are you paying maintenance on it?
  • Why are you paying liability insurance on it?
  • Why are you just asking for a lawsuit over an employee or customer that catches COVID at your facility and later dies? It wouldn’t even need to be proven.
  • Why even bother with this headache? It’s totally self inflicted at this point.

Some companies see the WFH writing on the wall. They refer to it as WFHF (Work From Home Forever). Others (the ones who will lose) think things are going back to normal real soon. May I remind you: 15 days to flatten the curve. Sure it will. Any day now. Right around the corner. Keep telling yourself that. Your competitors will ditch their cube farms and fund only lab space, a few conference rooms, and some flexible work areas. If you want to survive, you must do this as well. The sooner the better. Those that didn’t will be competitively quoting against those that did. You think competition is intense now? Just wait. Sell those cube farms before everybody understands their true value: Approaching zero. Heck – you could convert the spaces to residential or expand your testing facilities if you’re absolutely stuck with the space. Just stop paying for empty cube farms – please. Hear that sound? It’s your valuation slipping away.

I bet your employees would overwhelmingly support this plan. So much so they’d be willing to pay for their own high speed internet and telephones in exchange for potentially never having to commute to the office again. I surely would – and I only had a 13 minute commute. In fact, I have been using my own high speed internet service. I have been using my own monitors. My monitors at home provide me 65% more total pixels than those I had at the office. The bathroom is closer. Less distractions from chatterboxes. More convenient and healthy lunches. Better lighting. No shoes required. I could go on. What are we waiting for? This is a win-win. Employers save overhead cost. Employees are happier and more productive. What – exactly – is not to like about this?

The only downside to this plan is a selfish one: How many million annual vehicle miles are driven by cube-dwelling employees on their daily commutes to the cube farm? This will put some amount of downward demand on new car sales as current vehicles will not rack up as many miles and require replacement as quickly. However, your competitors will do it, if they aren’t actively planning it already. Your choice. Should be an easy one.

Shipping

The overwhelming majority of previous cube dwellers are now working form home, at least some of the time. The overwhelming majority of the office working planet has been forced to spend a lot more time at home. Many are now there both during work hours and afterwards, whether they like it or not.

Disclaimer: I was a borderline recluse before this whole thing started. This has not impacted my life much.

The amount of shipments going to homes all over the world has increased. Many of these shipments are air freight.

Air freight once reserved for things that were relatively urgent (like late car parts) are now used to deliver everything under the sun to every person under the sun. This has resulted in a surge in demand for air freight, with the resulting pricing and availability pressures. Now – the parts keeping 5,000 people from being able to build a car are competing for airplane space with OLED TVs or other electronic gadgets being demanded by adults bored out of their skulls by the lock downs and going crazy from the social isolation.

Speaking of electronic gadgets and OLED TVs, your suppliers of microprocessors and electrical components are now flush with the new customers mentioned above. These electronic gadgets have much less stringent specs than the automotive industry, as well as much shorter production and service support requirements. Your X-box and iPhone don’t need to operate from-40°C to 85 °C and survive thermal shock, vibration, humidity endurance, or any of that nonsense. Furthermore, as long as the device doesn’t literally catch on fire, there are no real high severity failure modes for consumer electronics. Annoyed customer is about the worst it gets.

If I were a microprocessor manufacturer, I would prefer to supply consumer electronics over automotive – all day – every day. Now we’re competing for micros from that fast growing segment as well.

And you thought your troubles were limited to raw material prices and unpredictability of manufacturing operations.

Mitigating risk?

Again – we are all in this together, It’s not in our interest to bankrupt our suppliers any more than it’s in our customer’s interest to bankrupt us. Nobody wins when that happens.

Expect and prepare for cost increases and margin squeezes. From the furthest tier suppliers to your customers to their customers, everything that there is a strong demand for is going up in price. Hedge what you can with your finance team. Work to improve receivables so the cash can be put to use hedging downstream material and process prices. If there ever was a Force Majeure moment – this is it. Hire legal representation skilled in this law. Pre-COVID contracts are obsolete. If you aren’t even referencing raw material pricing in your latest contracts, how are you still promising year over year cost reductions? Are you nuts? If you are paying to fly parts to your customer because your supplier was facing restrictions illegal to avoid, how exactly is this your problem? If your customer is saying everything that was promised pre-COVID is still in force because we’re “back to normal,” remind them to get their head examined – just do it politely. These are late car parts. Nobody is going to die if they can’t get their car on the same date predicted 20 months ago. 8 months before the entire international supply chain was mangled beyond all recognition by force of law.

Everybody is somewhat lost right now. The smart people with impressive credentials from name-brand universities don’t know. If anything is obvious this past year – it’s that the downside of arbitrary lock downs is supply chain gyrations that will resonate for years to come. This is OK. You don’t need to be the smartest. You do need to understand that it is never going back to normal. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can address it. You definitely want to be making bold decisions now, since they’ll only be forced on you later, and on much less favorable terms.

Conclusion

The precedent has been set. The public has accepted it with barely a whimper. It is foolish to think this is ever going away. Things are never gong back to normal in the office environment. The new normal is a command from a single local, state, or federal official declaring your production capacity and profitability “nonessential.” It is declaring your office at full capacity illegal. Why expose at least that part of your business to this risk at all? Ditch the cubes. Stick a fork in them. They are done. You have quite enough challenges and risks to voluntarily accept that one.

Things are anything but predictable in the global supply chains. Ditto for commodity prices.

There is global experiment in monetary policy ongoing and how it plays out is anyone’s guess. If you truly believe that more dollars chasing assets, materials and and labor will lead to decreases in prices of these things – ignore everything I’ve said about hedging and buying commodities now. Short them if you truly believe they are already overvalued.

Hire global supply chain experts. Hire expert legal counsel regarding contracts. Force Majeure escape clauses may be buried 3,4,5,6 tiers down the supply chain and you just haven’t unearthed them yet. Anybody arguing things are “back to normal” is ignorant, lying, or posturing. Call their bluff.

You don’t need to be the best and fastest, but you also can’t just close your eyes and make believe some nebulous”back to normal” criteria will ever actually arrive. The dinosaurs clinging to the hope that the all clear siren will soon wail will go bankrupt. Don’t be one of these.

Since intense competition for raw materials, labor, and shipping will only accelerate, you need to take a good hard look at any and all of your internal processes. Streamline these processes now. Reexamine anything that is putting you at a competitive disadvantage since there’s going to be a lot more of these coming your way. Can your competitors do high value add processes in house that you are forced to outsource? Consider looking at what it takes to bring these processes in house. Outsourcing high value added processes is especially risky in this brave new world. You barely understand your local government’s edicts. Concede that you are utterly clueless about forthcoming edicts coming your way halfway around the world, at a supplier whose facility you’re not even allowed to visit in person anymore.. Any link in your supply chain is at risk. Repair the weak links now.

You have 2 choices: Either fight the lock-downers, or fight the customers who pretend the lock-downers don’t exist while forcing you to pay for the consequences of their actions. The lock-downers are here to stay. They will be here as long as we put up with them. They’ve gotten a taste of power and are not about to give it up willingly. You can’t concede to both the lock downers and the customers who pretend they don’t exist and actually stay in business.

Bottom line: Stop conceding to everyone.

Prices are merely signals. Mess with them at your peril.

Prices are signals.  Prices are not good, bad, high, low, right, wrong, inhumane, or incorrect.

Prices are merely prices.

A temperature or pressure gage conveys information about the temperature or pressure of the device or system it is measuring.

If your pressure gage says your tire pressure is low (say 15 psi), and you trust this pressure gage is accurate, you wouldn’t make a rule saying tire pressure shall never fall below 30 psi or grave consequences will ensue.

Instead, you’d find out why the pressure is low.  Then you’d fix it.

People generally accept that prices can be constrained, propped up, kept “affordable,” made “more humane,” or generally adjusted and tweaked by the smart people in the room.

They can’t.

People can (and very often do) mess with prices.  They may mask the downstream consequences for a short time.  Sometimes they get away with it for a while.  But prices always win in the end.

Price Floors

Price floors punish prices that are deemed “too low.”  Bad prices!  Too low!  Honestly, who has ever said that after they have purchased anything, anywhere, at any time in human history?

Well, nobody that buys anything has said that, but plenty of people who are selling something have said it.

Here’s a hint:  Labor is also a price.  Price floors are rampant.  They’re just called minimum wage laws.

Except when it’s labor calling for a price floor, they are forgetting basic economics.  Consider this:

Supply of unskilled labor and demand for unskilled labor is the same as it was yesterday.  Price of unskilled labor increases today.  Less unskilled labor is demanded today.  Supply and demand have not changed.  The quality or productivity of the labor has not changed since yesterday, but the price has increased today.  The very act of increasing the price has decreased the demand.

Another way of saying that the demand for unskilled labor is reduced is to say the unemployment rate of unskilled laborers is increased.

Probably not the intention – but definitely the result.

This can’t be repealed.  You can’t escape it.  You can delay it at best, but prices always win.  You might not like it, but prices, like pressure gages, don’t care what you like.

Prices merely report what they see.

I understand the intentions are noble, but all that happens by increasing the wage an employer must pay their employee is making them at much higher risk of getting no wage at all.  Robotic burger flipping machines don’t just flip burgers:  At a certain wage, they also flip from unaffordable to affordable.

Don’t believe me, ask all the “bottle boys” that now have robots doing their jobs.  Those automated bottle return machines were once the “too expensive” burger flipping robots of their day.

How about the full service gas station attendants?  What about the ushers in movie theaters?  Where did they all go?  Same place.

Price Ceilings

Price controls and “anti-gouging” laws put a ceiling on prices.  Well, at least they try anyway.

Let’s look at when prices get “too high.”

This is often referred to as price “gouging.”  Let’s say a natural disaster strikes some populous area.  Power is out for miles and miles and miles.  Those greedy gas stations then hike their prices up 1000% of what they were before the disaster stuck.  How inhumane!  Let’s make a law against this insidious behavior.  Let’s make it a felony to charge more than (whatever arbitrary number some bureaucrat comes up with) – say 15%.  So instead of gas prices going up 1000% they only go up 15%.

We’re saved!  Hurray!  Gas is still “affordable.”

Except you’re not saved.  You are in fact in very sorry shape – if you need gas that is.  All of the gas is now gone on the very first night and you aren’t getting any gas, for any price, until God knows when.

The high price of gas during a disaster is sending a signal.  This is the signal:   The supply of gas has been cut – indefinitely.  In other words:  We don’t know when we’re going to get any more gas, at any price.  When supply is cut and demand remains the same, the price rises.  Except during a massive power outage, demand has not remained the same.  People still need gas for their cars and their whatnots.  They also need it – and a lot more of it – for their generators.  Demand has in fact increased – substantially.

The high price of gas is sending customers this message.  This – signal – if you will:  Unless you really, really, really need this gas, you might want to wait to buy it.  It encourages say, boat owners to think about a different day to filler’ up for the weekend joyride.  Maybe wait a few days to mow that lawn.  It encourages exactly what should be encouraged during a gas shortage:  Extreme thrift of gas.

Just like when the temperature gage is high on your car, maybe you shouldn’t be racing around like you normally would.  When prices are high, maybe you shouldn’t be buying unless you really, really, really need it.

Here is the other side of the signal this high gas price is sending.  This is the part of the price signal it seems everybody forgets when they want to punish the “gougers.”  This outrageously high price signal is also received by another group:  Gas suppliers.  Here is the signal the gas suppliers see:

Anybody that can get a tanker truck through this nightmarish landscape to my gas station is also going to get paid a LOT of money for the gasoline inside it.  Word of this gets out, and a lot of people suddenly get motived for the daunting task of piloting a tanker truck through downed trees, standing water, washed out roads, downed power lines, or a dozen other things that can easily kill them.  That is exactly what you do what to happen.  As supply is restored – price comes back down.

Risking your very life and limb doesn’t sound like a smart plan for 15% bonus.  Would you do it?  I sure wouldn’t.  Hence no gas at any price.

This is why price ceilings, on any good or service, always and everywhere lead to shortages.  Price floors on any good or service, always and everywhere, lead to surpluses.  It matters not how useful, necessary, life-sustaining or even life-saving you think the good or service is.

You mess with prices, bad things happen.  Push them down – bad things happen.  Prop them up – bad things happen.  There are thousands of ways people try to make prices bend to their will.

To reiterate:  Prices are not good, bad, high, low, right, wrong, inhumane, or incorrect.

Prices are merely prices.  Don’t mess with them.

Prices are merely signals.  Interpret them.  They are telling you a story if you’d bother to look past the headline.

When looking at any price, consider both sides of it.  What signal is it sending to consumers?  What signal is it sending to suppliers?

Prices are smarter than you.  Prices are smarter than me.  Prices are smarter than dozens of economists with impressive credentials from name brand colleges.  Prices are smarter than everybody.

 

Why banning “hate speech” may be the worst idea ever conceived

Let’s start with a premise few in this discussion seem to grasp:

Words can, should, and do have consequences.  I’m not arguing that anybody should like disgusting speech.  Nor am I arguing that anybody should be forced to listen to some whack job.  Note the key word:  Forced.

If someone has paid for a platform, and others have paid to listen, you have no right to keep them from spewing whatever nonsense you believe they are spewing.

No matter how rank, rancid, or repulsive someone’s words seem (to you), that person has every right to say them.  If someone’s beliefs are twisted, psychopathic, or just plain wrong, the only way they are ever going to find out how far off base they are is to share that lunacy with others.

The problem with calling anything “hate speech” is precisely this:  Who decides what is “hate?”

Some of those calling for banning “hate speech” are likely not fans of the current president.  That last sentence is almost certainly a gross understatement.  Do they want him deciding what constitutes hate speech?  Are you going to tell me that with a straight face?

The people calling for these bans obviously haven’t thought this through very far.

Who decides?

I’ll tell you who decides:  The last person you’d ever want deciding will decide.  The biggest bully on the planet will decide.  Your mortal enemy will decide.  Your crazy ex-spouse will decide.  Every time.  Count on it.

Nobody has any right to not be offended.  I’m offended every day by things I read.  I want to maintain my right to be offended.  This allows me to either:

A:  Try to persuade the offensive / “hateful” / crazy person why their views are incorrect, or if that fails:

B:  Stay very far away from the offensive / “hateful” / crazy person and warn my friends and family about them.

There are crazies everywhere.

By banning the crazies from speaking, as some people think a swell idea, we wont know who the crazies are.  We also wont know how many people actually believe the craziness.

Your good intentions have now made it impossible for me to know who might actually be dangerous.  Now – the person I should know to stay away from is invisible to me.

Bravo.

If you haven’t read my previuos articles, know that I don’t care – at all – about your intentions.

Banning “hate speech” (however impossible to define) in some misguided effort to prevent violent actions would work about as well as removing the rattle from a rattlesnake to prevent it from biting you.

It would work about as well as disabling the temperature gauge from your car to prevent your engine from overheating.

It would work about as well as destroying the emergency alert sirens to prevent a nuclear strike.

Speech is a window into what someone believes.  Even if you theoretically could ban speech (hint:  you can’t), the belief remains.  In fact, the belief might grow even stronger by preventing it from being put into words.

When any group, organization, political party, or person wants to limit my access to information, I ask why.  Why do they not want me seeing other information?  Might this other information contradict the information they’d have me believe?  What – their sources are superior to the ones they’re trying to keep me from seeing?  Says who?  Says you?  Who the heck are you?

If you think I can’t handle what some whack job is saying, then that’s your problem.  It is not mine.  If you can’t immediately refute the speech of the person you want to ban me from hearing (without shouting over them), then perhaps you need to reconsider your position.

Maybe, just maybe, you are the whack job.

Telling adults:  “Never listen to this person” will work about as well as telling kids:  “Never look in this drawer.”  Good luck with that.

The aura and mystique of the speech you’re trying to prevent from being heard will be amplified by the very fact that you are trying to prevent people from hearing it.

Actions have consequences.  Think things through past what feel good for a couple hours.

The best remedy for “hate speech” is a well-reasoned critique on why the person writing it is wrong.

Not a personal attack on how ugly they are.

Not a threat to their kids.

Not marching like an idiot while screaming 5 syllable chants that have nothing to do with refuting the position you find incorrect.

Not making fun of their apostrophe misplacement.

Not calling them names that don’t even remotely apply to their position (Antifa – I’m talking to you.  Please look up the actual definition of fascism.)

Not typing in size 96 red font all caps quadruple exclamation point.

Not building up a giant but extremely weak straw-man and slaying it in front of all your adoring fans.

A well-reasoned critique.

Banning “hate speech” will not eliminate the monsters.  It will only make the monsters invisible.

The only thing more dangerous than a monster is an invisible monster.

 

Why most people get more stubborn as they grow older

Being “set in your ways” isn’t just a cliché.  It’s a pretty accurate observation.

The same thing that applies to business applies to long held personal beliefs:

This is the idea of sunk cost.

In business, a project that exposes itself as a money loser will take much longer to be cancelled if a large sum of time and money had already been spent in development and support of it.

Once a project proves irredeemable unprofitable, the amount of money sunk thus far into it should have zero influence on to the decision to cancel it.  None.

This is not how it works in the real world.

There are egos at stake.  People are hesitant to accept responsibility for bad outcomes.  The more money wasted, the less likely people will be willing to accept this responsibility.  Bad projects then become zombies, feasting on, and often killing, the good projects supporting them.

The amount of money spent should not matter.  If you’re 3 years and $10,000,000 in the hole for development and now losing $60,000 per week selling it, you’re losing $60,000 a week.  If you spent nothing and are now losing $60,000 per week selling it, you’re losing $60,000 a week.

The former project is likely to drag on for years.  The latter would be cancelled immediately.

It should not be this way – but it is.

The same goes for why old people are so obstinate:

If you’ve believed something for a few minutes or a few days, your opinion could easily be changed by even plausible evidence to the contrary.

However, if you’ve believed something for years, for decades, or even large fractions of a century, your mind may (and often does) ignore even overwhelming evidence to the contrary because of what this means to your ego:

It means you believed something that was (in retrospect) really stupid, for the majority of your pathetic life.  Yes – I’ve been there.  It is a painful realization.

Many egos can’t take this – so they don’t.  Evidence is ignored.  Rationalizations take hold.  Circles of friends shrink if the newly excluded friends hold the opinion you can’t accept.  Your mind says it can’t be right – so you mind makes sure that it isn’t.  You’ve got enough problems without also having been a sucker for decades, right?

Kids will believe anything you tell them.  If you’re not nice, Santa will not bring you presents.

However, when kids hear there is no Santa Claus, they do eventually accept this.  There is, after all, plenty of plausible evidence to the contrary.

However, when candidate A says candidate B is going to raid your Social Security trust fund, the oldsters will come out in droves to crucify candidate B.

Team red and team blue don’t dare touch this subject.  This is not the elephant in the room.  It is the monster that snacks on elephants in the room.

Kids:  There is no Santa Claus.  No link necessary I trust.

Oldsters:  There is no Social Security trust fund.  There never has been.  The FICA withholdings from your kids’ and grandkids’ paychecks are actually financing your retirement.

I’ve been wrong about more stuff that I’ve been right about.   Also – almost everybody knows something I don’t.

If you think you are so smart you can’t learn anything from anybody, you will die bitter and lonely.  I don’t recommend it.

The likelihood of you changing your mind when presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary should not be inversely proportional to how long you’ve believed the specific falsehood.

The amount of time and energy you’ve sunk into a belief should have no bearing on your willingness to change it.  However, this is almost never true.

See also:  What you want to believe should have no bearing on what you should believe.

The monster is real, and it still plans to eat you.  This is still true no matter how tightly you close your eyes.

 

 

Who are “they,” who is “we,” and why would all “communities” think exactly the same way?

The pronouns “they’ and “we” need to take a vacation from rational conversation.

I find myself grouped into “we” and “they” far more often than I’m comfortable with.

This is particularly true when reading stories about political issues.

Last I checked, the only person that speaks for me is me.  Count me out of your we, whatever it is.  We don’t need to do anything.  If it’s so important to you, then why don’t you do something about it.  I never agreed to be part of your we.

Just be careful about fixing it, because you might just make it worse.

Good intentions mean nothing.  How you feel about it means nothing.  How hard you work on it means nothing.  If you make it worse – it’s still your fault.  Be careful “fixing” things you know very little to nothing about.

We and they are divisive terms when applied against those who did not agree to be included.

Here’s the scam, some article says:

“As (insert generic large population group here), we feel …”

See what happened there?  The author is suddenly a spokesman for everybody  in a large population group.  Except he’s not.  At all.  Nobody elected this person spokesman for the entire group.  I sure as heck didn’t.  In fact, I bet not a single person in that group gave this person permission to speak for them.

Starting out statements like that means intellectual dishonesty is approaching.  If you continue reading, you’re wasting your time.

Many people are fooled into thinking that because so many people (the generic large population group) feel this way, the author’s point must be valid.

Except “so many people” don’t feel this way.  Only one person feels this way:  The author.  You’ve been duped.

Even if so many people feel this way – it still doesn’t make it right.  There’s that too.

“They” is most often used with a negative connotation:  Who’s responsible for the latest atrocity?  They are!  Who needs to die?  They do!  Who is taking advantage of you?  Them!  Who doesn’t care?  They don’t!

Demand precision:  First and last names of those responsible, and incontrovertible proof of the compromising or illegal action being alleged.  Motive, means, opportunity, and hard evidence.

The Black community.  The Latino community.  The Irish community.  The White community. The Asian community.  The Arabic community.  The Indian community.  The gay community.  The trans community.

Please stop using the word community as if it means that all people who belong to it think the same way.  If you don’t use it yourself, stop reading articles that pretend to tell you that all “communities” think this way.  They don’t.

Read some history.   Actual books.  Several of them, written by people with differing viewpoints.  Not just an article, or worse, the headline from an article.

Every community has disputes with its own members as much or more than it does with other “communities.”  Heck, more than half the marriages can’t even stay together.  Why would you expect entire communities to come to agreement?

Have you ever heard of a civil war?  Local crime?  Local violent crime?  There is no community.  There never was.  There never will be.

If people within a single community routinely kill each-other over irreconcilable differences, and have throughout the pages of history, how can anyone possibly be a spokesman for an entire “community?”

There are jerks in every community.  This is why I associate myself with none of them.  I am responsible for my actions and mine alone, not those of however you randomly define my “community.”

Common language naturally means you’ll have more in common.  Customs too.  It sure doesn’t mean you agree with everyone that speaks your language.  Nor does it mean you agree with everyone that shares your customs.  That is insane.

As a longstanding member of the white community, I must have missed the invitation to the annual “White guy top priorities” meeting for the last 48 years.

I am not a member of your we, the subject of your they, or member of your community.

My priorities are not yours, nor yours mine.  Stop presuming you have any capacity to speak for me.  I never granted it – so you don’t.

 

 

 

 

Why (besides horrific depreciation) I will never buy another new car

For those that haven’t read the rest of my posts, I work in the automotive industry.  If you all take my advice, I’ll be unemployed (just kidding – nobody actually reads this site).  I’m not so sure that would be a bad thing right now.  There are financial reasons why brand new cars can be a bad idea for some people.  They are a bad financial move for anybody, but some people can afford to make bad financial decisions.

This article is not about that.  It is about the massive and expensive mandatory content of new cars I can’t deal with.

I went into mechanical engineering as a “gearhead” who loved cars.  Past tense intentional.  That was 25 years ago.  They’ve slowly evolved into bloated, disconnected safety cages on wheels and I’m having none of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how good new cars are in terms of quality and reliability.  Even power is better than ever.  The lowest cost ones have more options than the loaded ones did 25 years ago.

They are all also very “safe,” compared to cars 25 years ago.  “Safe” in scare quotes since they are only safer in the event of a collision.  I will argue they are less safe from the point of view that you are more likely to experience a collision in a new car than in a car 25 years ago.

Again, don’t get me wrong:  I have no problem, at all, with “safe” cars.

My problem is this:  All of them have to be safe.

That used to be Volvo’s thing.  Volvo made the cars for people whose primary concern was vehicle safety.  Now – every car has to be a Volvo.  Says who?  Says NHTSA.  Says FMVSS.  You can’t say no to NHTSA.  You can’t say no to FMVSS.  Funny:  I can’t seem to recall when we had the vote to make all new cars just as safe as Volvos or face the death penalty.

Think I exaggerate?

Try building and selling a new car in the United States that doesn’t meet NHTSA’s and FMVSS’ volumes of rules and regulations (again – that nobody voted for) and see what happens next:

If you don’t turn yourself in – men with guns will come for you.  These men will be trained killers.  If you fail to comply with these men – they will kill you.  These men will feel no remorse.  These men will be lauded as heroes by a disconcertingly significant percentage of the population.  I don’t recommend it.

This mandatory “safety” comes at a price:  Weight and cost – enforced at gunpoint.

How much weight you ask?

This much weight:

Fat Cars

You can’t buy a new car without all this expensive, heavy, vision blocking, and almost never actually utilized safety equipment.  But you can:

  • Buy a ’34 Ford with daggers sticking out of the dashboard and drive it on the same roads.
  • Buy one of several 200 mph capable motorcycles and ride it on the same roads.
  • Climb up 3000 ft. sheer rock cliffs with no harness.
  • Cross the street not only without looking both ways, but without looking either way.
  • Drink until you blackout every night.
  • Skydive not only without any backup chute, but with just a piece of junk primary chute.

I could go on – forever.  And ever.  And ever.  You get the point.

If you think the things listed above also need to be banned, then you are the problem.

You are the reason cars cost so much.  You are the reason cars weigh so much.  You are the reason cars don’t get any better gas mileage than they did 25 years ago – despite major efficiency breakthroughs since.  You are the reason for 8 year new car loans.  You are the reason why you can barely see if there is anybody in the crosswalk while making a left turn in any new car.

You are reason why I’ll never buy a new car again.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Na-na-na-na-na!

 

Why “just do what you love” is almost always horrible career advice

Parents, don’t lie to your kids.  There are several factors that come into play when deciding a career path:

  1. Do what people are willing to pay for
  2. Do what you are competent at doing
  3. Do what you love

Doing what you love only makes sense if you are competent and people are wiling to pay for it.

Let’s say you are not only competent, but the very best in the world at whatever skill you have. You aren’t, but let’s assume that you are for now.   Let’s further assume you love performing this skill.

It still doesn’t guarantee success.  Life is rough.

If you are doing what you love, but are incompetent,  you are going to go broke by doing what you love.  Stop trying.  Do something else.  It’s OK.  We all stink at almost everything.  Find the thing you don’t stink at.  Start there.

Nobody cares what you love.  Nobody cares what you are competent at doing.  They only care what you can do for them.  Nobody owes you anything – stop thinking they do.

Almost everybody has unlimited wants, but only enough money to satisfy a very small fraction of them.  You are competing with every other thing people want or need.  You’ve got some stiff competition.

Ask yourself:  Do I owe some harebrained business that just opened up down the block for God only knows what reason my hard earned dollars?  When you answer honestly, you answer no.  No.  You don’t owe them anything.

Then why to you think they owe you?  “They” owe you nothing.  By purchasing from you, they are foregoing all the rest of their unlimited wants or needs and instead buying from you.

When you have a skill that relatively few people (or increasingly, robots) can do, and people are willing to pay for it, you are in decent shape.  Even if you hate it, don’t dismiss it.  Be careful hating your job too much.  There’s a reason you get a paycheck.  It’s not supposed to be rainbows and unicorns all the time.

That’s why they’re called colleagues, not necessarily friends.

Your employer thinks hiring you will add more money to their bottom line.  That’s why they hired you.  If they are a smart employer, it’s the only reason they hired you.  They’d like to pay you nothing, but have to pay you about what people who can do what you can do are being paid.  Otherwise – you’d go down the street to their competition and be paid more.

You think the amount of money you are being paid by your employer is better than what you could get from their competition down the street.  That’s why you work there.  If you are a smart employee, it’s the only reason you work there. You’d like to paid a lot more, but you have to settle for about what people who do what you can do are being paid.  Otherwise – you’d go down the street to their competition and be paid more.

Notice the common theme here:  The business and the employee side of the story both end in the same sentence.

The biggest mistake people make is thinking that this relationship is employer vs. employee.  This is absolutely wrong.  It is employee vs. employee and employer vs. employer.

Employees dream about an interview where they are the only applicant.

Employers dream about a business where they are the only employer in town.

Both your greedy dreams are squashed by competition.

Deal with it.

Company A is not at war with Joe in accounting.  Company A is at war with company B.

Joe in accounting is not at war with company A.  Joe, who holds a degree in accounting,  is at war with Janice, who holds a degree in accounting.

If you actually find something that people are willing to pay for, that you are competent at doing, and you love doing, you’ve hit the lottery.  Almost nobody gets this.  It is sad but true.

Nobody should plan on hitting the lottery.  Hence the title of this blog.

 

 

Beware of charts that are trying to make you outraged, afraid, or sell you something

We’ve all seen them:  Articles with charts expressing how “We really need to do something about A!”  Any moron looking at this chart can tell you that A causes B.  Case closed.  Double burned.  Owned.  Fact-checked.

To use an example from the link:  We really need to eliminate U.S. spending on science, space, and technology!  Any moron can tell you that U.S. spending on science, space, and technology causes suicides by hanging, strangling, and suffocation.

Or maybe it’s suicides by hanging, strangling, and suffocation causing increased U.S. spending on science, space, and technology?

For a decade, these were correlated over 99.7%.  That correlation level is unheard of – even for stuff we know for certain is correlated 100%.

Correlation does not equal causality.  To prove causality, you absolutely need correlation.  This is true.  However, just because you have correlation doesn’t mean anything at all.  You have correlation eh?  Good for you.  You want a cookie with that correlation?

To believe correlation = causality is to believe everyone with the opportunity to murder someone must have murdered them.  They all did it:  The coworker,  The FedEx driver.  The spouse.  The gas station clerk.  Colonel Mustard.  All of ’em.

The media loves to play this trick on people.  Just because someone is on TV, wears nice clothes, speaks well, is passionate, and may even be attractive, doesn’t mean they understand statistics – at all.  Every reporter should have to learn this, but I’m afraid almost none do.

It may be too harsh saying they are “playing tricks,” because many truly believe what they are reporting.  Many are even passionate about it.  When people believe the lie they are propagating, that makes it all the more convincing for the rest of us.

You don’t have to be a good actor when you actually believe the lie you are reporting.

Most charts are trying to make you angry, afraid, or sell you something.  This correlation and causality can fool you – especially when they seem somehow related.

I read this somewhere but can’t remember who to credit, but here is the paraphrase:

Lets say you see a shocking graph showing a high correlation of people who live near high power transmission lines with cancer.  Therefore:  Power lines cause cancer.  Sorry – not so simple:

High power transmission lines are considered an eyesore.  This is not controversial.  Therefore, houses near high power transmission lines sell for less that those without them.  Lower income people generally buy lower cost houses.  This is also not controversial.  Lower income people, on average, also have more unhealthy habits that higher income people, on average.  I’m not saying all, person about to “burn” me with the all caps quadruple exclamation point comment.  Take it easy:  Step away from the caps lock button.

So is it the unhealthy habits or the power lines (or something completely unrelated to either) that’s giving them cancer?

You need more data to know anything.  You need to look at multiple variables to know anything.  A single variable “study” is for suckers.  Your one, single variable chart doesn’t prove a darn thing.

If your variable is people, then it gets even tougher.  Each person has a unique history.  Say you are measuring the impact of (for example) drug A on health characteristic B.  Group C is on placebo and group D is on drug A.

Group C has many people with unhealthy habits.  Group D has few people with unhealthy habits.  The people running the studies ask about health habits though questionnaires, but can’t possibly cover them all.  The people answering the questionnaires may be honest or they may lie.  The people answering may not remember.  Each person has a unique, little known  genetic history and lives in unique, little known environmental conditions as well.

In the end, the group on drug A (group D) had 3x as many favorable results as group C, on placebo.  Therefore:  Drug A is 300% as effective as placebo at improving health characteristic B.  “Ask your doctor about expensive drug A!”

Lunacy.

Comparing one person to the next to try to predict what effect A has on their health, behavior, or other trait is challenging to put it mildly.  If a human study is not also double blind, then it is utterly useless.

I’m not saying all medical studies are useless, but you need to look at far more than a single variable to determine anything at all.  Show me a dozen different variables.  They better all point the same direction.  The variables studied on one should ideally have financial interests opposite the financial interests of the variables studied on the other.

When that happens, and they’re both pointing the same direction, then you’ve got my interest.  Then I might consider investigating further.  Until you show me this, I don’t care what your study says.

Also – You must be able to document, for each data point:

  • Where was it gathered?
  • Was the instrumentation collecting each data point the same as the rest?
  • Was the instrumentation calibrated?
  • Did the environment around the instrumentation change over time?
  • If the environment around the instrumentation changed over time, does it impact the data?
  • What is the error band around each data point?
  • Are you are looking at raw data or smoothed data?
  • If smoothed data, how was smoothing applied?
  • Were there any “adjustments” performed?
  • If so, why was the data “adjusted?”

And in general:

  • Who paid for the data to be collected?
  • Does the data collector have a vested interest in the data pointing a certain direction?
  • Is the data collector employed by someone who has a vested interest in the data pointing a certain direction?
  • Who benefits (or is harmed) if I believe this?
  • Who benefits (or is harmed) if I don’t?
  • Why was the starting date chosen (for data changes over time)?
  • Why was the end date chosen (for data changes over time)?

Until you know all these things, you really don’t know anything about that chart.  You have absolutely no business being outraged by it, let alone protesting about it.

You don’t know anything and neither do I.  Quit being a sucker who believes you actually do.

Do you know who’s smarter than you?  You – 5 years from today.  Do you know who gets it wrong more often than not?  Most people.  Even most “smart” people.

See:  Salem witch trials.  Bloodletting.  Leeches.  Cocaine as a miracle drug.  The Nazi party.  All manner of religious persecutions over time.

The cool kids are stupid.  Stay away from them.  Don’t even let the smart kids tell you what to think.  They get it wrong an awful lot.  Think for yourself.

Don’t buy stuff you don’t need

Social media is serving a higher purpose:  Trying to sell you things.  Most of these things you don’t need.

Social media knows the sites you visit, what you buy, what you “like,” what you “hate,” where you go, who you know, what you read, what they read, where you live, what you drive, what you wear, what you order, and 1001 other things about you.  It then targets ads trying to sell you things based on all these factors.

Since it knows this much about you, it has very high success rate showing you ads for stuff you’re interested in.  It’s not magic.  It’s also not serving some higher noble purpose trying to “connect” you to people.  It is trying to empty your pockets by making you compete with everybody else on the planet in some global “who has the most stuff they don’t need” competition.

Here’s something else:  Those “friends” on your Facebook page know about as much about you as a random HR administrator reading your resume knows.

Most people don’t post the stuff they’re not proud of, let alone ashamed of.  They don’t post all of it.  Many don’t post any of it.  All this bling, fancy vacations, nice cars, expensive clothes, beautiful people, and impressive stuff is just that.  It is likely the very best of these people’s lives – which is really kind of sad.

If you are feeling inferior to your “friends,” ask yourself these questions:  Do you know the most embarrassing moment in their lives?  Do you know their actual habits?  If you ask them for a favor, can you count on them to help you out?  Are they polite?  Are they respectful in public?  Would they have your back if you were in an unpopular position?

Knowing these things makes a friend.

Knowing what kind of car they just bought doesn’t tell you anything useful.   Neither does the fact that you both “hate mean people.”

You are almost certainly putting too much weight in the opinions of strangers.  If you care one bit about what your Facebook “friend” thinks about what you just bought, then you are the mark.  Congratulations on being duped.  Facebook saw you coming a mile away.

If you really want to experience a “high,” get out of debt.

This will make your life better in so many ways.  Drive the slightly older car.  The shiny new one is sweet, but wouldn’t being able to tell your job “no thanks, I’m done with you” a few years sooner feel better?  Wouldn’t being able to pay your bills (even a year after you unexpectedly lost your job) feel better?

If you get a better job, don’t feel the need to get a better car.  Keep the same car you had and pocket the rest.  You don’t “deserve” a better car.  You just want one because you make more money now.  And let’s face it:  new cars are cool.  If you get an unexpected bonus, don’t spend any of it.  Pack your lunch.  Don’t buy bottled water – ever.  If you must smoke, stuff your own.  If you drink, don’t do it at a bar.  Do it at home instead.

Or do none of this:  Just don’t come crying to me when you find yourself perpetually broke.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not some anti-capitalist advocate wanting to ban private property.  Buy what you want.  If it makes your life truly more efficient and better, then buy it.  If it really makes you happy, and you can actually afford it, then by all means buy it.  There are more products available to the masses today at lower prices than ever before.  This is a good thing.  It is a miracle.  I’m no luddite wanting to go back to the days of the Sears catalog – believe me.

There also just so happens to be a bunch more stuff nobody actually needs that a billion people are being targeted to buy via ads on social media.  Ignore these ads.

The problem comes when you think that some thing you buy is going to turn you from sad to happy.  It won’t.  Talk to real people if you feel sad.  We all feel sad from time to time.  Talking to real people in real time will make you feel better.

Stop comparing yourself to that other guy.  Stop competing.   You can’t win.  That’s the scam.  You will never win.  Compete instead with yourself.  Try to beat you today in one week.  Make yourself better.  That’s the only way you can win.

 

 

 

 

Cougar kills man – Bo and James engage in a battle of wits.

Some articles have nothing whatsoever to do with politics.  For example:  This one is about a man being killed by a cougar in Washington state.

It happens every time.  Has anyone else noticed that there is no subject that escapes the gravity of national politics today?

Seems poor Bo couldn’t help himself.  Bo sees politics in everything.  James fired back.

Bo Comment

Bo hopes that somebody, anybody, from a political party he disagrees with, died a horrifically painful death that day.  He is so proud about his wish that he thought it appropriate to share with the world.

James could have took the high road and said something like “Seek help Bo,” but instead decided to take the bait and go low himself.

I’m not quite sure why James decided to add quotes around “dimwitted, shallow, uneducated, ignorant, frightened little Trumptard,” except that perhaps he took that quote from somebody else.  James:  If this is the case, is that really the best insult you could think to borrow?  I’ve personally heard much, much better.

James couldn’t stop there though.  Had to bring abortion into the discussion.  Way to win friends and influence people.

Bo is definitely sick and twisted for wishing painful death on his political adversaries.  He might even be a violent psychopath.  However, I’m not sure how James deduced those insults.  There are plenty of violent psychopaths who are quick witted, deep, educated, and brave.  Perhaps he’s one of those types of Trumptards.

Uneducated and ignorant?  And this is the quote James decided to borrow?

If James was just taking a page from the standard Trump supporter insult book, then he totally forgot to add racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, transphobic, islamaphobic, and misogynistic.  And orange.

Bo got 4 thumbs up, but 9 thumbs down (3 thumbs down I’m sure are James’ and the 2 people who thumbs upped James’ comment).

James got 2 thumbs up.

And the winner is:  Nobody

Bo thinks he “totally burned” all the liberals while James thinks that Bo “got owned.”

What is clear from this exchange is that both Bo and James need to stop paying attention to national politics completely, drop the smartphones, and walk away slowly with their hands in the air.  Do something productive.

Fix the 20% of the things in your life that you do actually have the slightest bit of control over.

Bo and James could expend 756,000 cycles of “burns” and “owns” and be neither more burned nor owned that they were this morning.  If you truly believe that once “your person” sits in the white house, your life will be that much better, I’m afraid you’re going to be very disappointed when they actually do.

And that jerk that cut you off this morning:  I bet they were totally a member of your team.  Bo’s team stinks.  James’ team stinks as well.  Its just that one stinks like skunk and the other stinks like body odor.  They all stink.