Saturday, August 31, 2019

Got lucky that time

I nearly squished my brother yesterday.

In retrospect, the risk was obvious and easily mitigated.

We were taking a dryer out of my parent's basement. One of my nieces had need of it and mom and dad now have a laundry upstairs.

The original plan was to use an appliance dolly to hump it up the stairs.

Unfortunately, the dryer plus the dolly did not fit at the landing at the bottom of the stairs.

A decision was made to deviate from the original plan. The risks were not reassessed.

Youngest brother volunteered for the bottom. I took the top.

Three-quarters of the way up the stairs my sweaty fingers started to slip.

I mentioned the fact that we needed to speed up before I lost my grip completely.

THEN....the top panel of the dryer, which is clipped into place...popped off.

My sweaty fingers had drifted up the unit until I was both pressing in, and lifting up on the top panel.

Heroic, youngest brother arrested the downward motion in three steps distance. The issue was exacerbated by the fact that I had removed one hand rail for clearance. It could have been a very bad outcome for youngest brother, but we got lucky.

Next time...reassess before taking off. It would have been twenty seconds work to use one of the ratchet straps to create a strap-handle for me to grip, one that would be resistant to sweat-induced slippage and one that would not disassemble at the worst possible time.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Shrewd King 6.5: Buying Grain


La-Loyd and Wesley felt like they were getting the old run-around.

Denny directed them to find a farmer anywhere in Kates Store and buy a load of grain.

They followed Bunker Highway to Canal and then turned north. Wesley was driving and La-Loyd was reading maps and riding shotgun.

It became apparent, in a half hour, that they had guessed wrong.

They turned south and hit the eastern corner of Kates Store.

Asking questions, they finally found Farmer Don who refused to sell them grain.

“You will have to talk to Kate. She holds my account.” Farmer Don said.

“Are there any other farmers who have grain?” La-Loyd stuttered.

“Well, there is Farmer Ken who lives just a bit up-yonder.” Farmer Don admitted.

Farmer Don did not feel compelled to point out that Farmer Ken and his wife were visiting family in Pray Church.

After waiting in the shade of a big silver maple for two hours, La-Loyd and Wesley stopped some kids walking down the gravel road. That is when they learned about Farmer Earl.

Farmer Earl told La-Loyd and Wesley that the three farmers in Kates Store all kept accounts with Kate. If they wanted grain they had to go to her. Make their best deal with her. She would write out a bill-of-lading which they would present to the farmer who would gladly supply the product and amounts specified.

Kate drove a hard bargain. She demanded collateral and she laughed out loud when they asserted that the horse they were putting up for collateral was worth 36,000 ounces of silver. She counter-offered 400 ounces of silver. They bid 30,000. She announced her final counter-offer of 500 ounces of silver or 500 bushel of corn and gave them twenty seconds to think it over. Otherwise she was done negotiating for the day.

They took the offer. Kate whipped out a couple of pre-printed contracts and filled in the blanks. "What is the name of the horse?" she asked, pointing at the mare that was closest to her. Wesley said "Her name is Suzie" and Kate filled that in.

Suzie was not in the first blush of youth but was straight of back, sleekly muscled and  had a glossy, chestnut coat.

Wesley signed the contract and Kate had Rick and Mz. Sheridan witness it.

La-Loyd took notes on how Kate did things. La-Loyd’s best guess was that she collected a 30% skim on the transaction and he fully intended to copy that model once Blastic’s fields started producing.

It took them nine hours the first day. La-Loyd estimated that it would take three hours once they got settled in.

Blastic was livid when he learned that Kate "Jew-ed him down" to 500 bushel of corn. With nobody to buy hay from, his horses had eaten down the pasture to nubbins and he was feeding them two bushel of corn a day. That did not even start to count the "residents" he was collecting. In all likelihood, he would have to put several of his horses up for collateral before his corn crop came in.

It also put the pressure on Blastic to put up a really large hay crop, to reduce his dependency on corn from Kates Store to feed his horses.

Blastic’s idea was to kill two birds with one stone. He intended to drive the Shah brothers out of business and keep his indentured servants in debt. He opted for the “Owe my soul to the company store” model. In lieu of currency, Denny paid his workers with common washers. Quarter-inch washers were worth an hour’s work. Three-eights inch washers were worth a half day’s labor and a half-inch washer was worth a ten-hour workday.

The families barely made enough money working six days a week to pay for seven days’ worth of food. Blastic docked them pay for countless infractions from broken tools to taking too long to get a drink of water.

Blastic directed La-Loyd to take over the Satish Shah’s original store. It was well placed and had large buildings.

***

Satish and Prakash were exquisitely aware of Blastic’s every move.

Blastic could subsidize the freight and undercut them on price but they did not have to make it easy for him.

Prakash was currently insulated from Blastic’s predations because nobody was going to carry a hundred pound bag of grain three miles to save a few pennies when they could buy it right next door for just a little more. The handwriting was on the wall. If Blastic was successful at putting Satish out of business, there was nothing to stop him from opening another store right next to Prakash.

Prakash took inventory of the skills and talents available to him. He found that one of his customers, one who had a balance on his books, was a printer and commercial artist. The artist was apologetic that he only had red, black white paint to work with.

Prakash made some executive decisions. He heard through back-channels that Blastic was making an issue of their immigrant status and their religion.

Prakash was a pragmatic person. He decided that it was time to officially change his name to “Pete” and that Satish should henceforth be known as “Steve”.

Nobody would ever mistake them for native born Americans, so Prakash decided that what cannot be hidden should be highlighted.

The artist made two, four-feet-by-eight-feet signs. The signs were almost identical: White background, the silhouette of the Taj Mah in pink and “Pete’s Store” or “Steve’s Store” in large, crimson letters that could be read from a hundred yards away. There was an arrow at the bottom pointing up the drive to the actual store.

“Steve” noticed an instant up-tick in traffic the day he leaned the sign against the tree in front of Warren Wood’s place. Folks new there was a store in the neighborhood but couldn’t figure out if it was La-Loyd’s place or somewhere else.

La-Loyd did not work very hard at selling. He knew he had a captive audience in Blastic’s workers. Nobody else took washers as currency, for instance. He also undercut Steve’s prices by 20% but he did not grind the grain. He picked up about a third of the non-Blastic business because of his prices. Most of what he sold was fed to animals.

La-Loyd’s business model was to throw a long shadow. La-Loyd’s store was seen as selling animal food...or food for people in the most dire of straights. Steve’s store was seen as more up-scale and had a much larger range of products available. Steve sold fish hooks, charged batteries and distributed news letters.

The two businesses settled into a quasi-equalibrium. Neither had enough business or pricing power to be profitable. La-Loyd was subsidized by Blastic and Steve’s store was subsidized by Pete’s store.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

San Francisco, where dogs step in human poop

First, a quick quiz:

How many homeless people live in San Francisco as a percentage of the base population? Any guesses?

20%?
10%?
5%, 3%, 2%...?

How about 0.8%?

As a percentage of California's 1930 population, how many people left Oklahoma (one state) and migrated to California during the dust-bowl?

8% is the correct answer.

What percentage of mortgages were "underwater" during the depths of the Great Recession?

9.1%. Bear in mind that some people think that the "Great Recession" was a warm-up act for the next one since inefficient businesses and cities were not allowed to fail, debt increased and there is still an enormous overhang of derivatives.

As a rhetorical question: How would your community handle 8% homelessness? Would your community tolerate humans squatting in the streets (pun intended).

Around here, most houses are large enough that families could double-up. In San Francisco, one-bedroom apartments rent for an average of $3600 a month and two-bedroom apartments rent for $4600 a month. Not much of a buffer, there.

Additionally, there are countless travel-trailers parked beside garages and behind barns throughout the Rust Belt. All it would take to turn them into temporary apartments would be LP in the tanks and an extension cord.

Yes, I know some homeless are mentally ill and "want" to live on the streets. For a while we shared a "homeless" girl with the town of Charlotte. Frankly, she had a home but her parents said she could not live there as long as she did illegal drugs (opioids, in her case) and hooked for a living. I haven't seen her for a while and heard a rumor that she had O.D.ed in the restroom of a fast food restaurant.

Seriously, in your estimation, would your community be able to handle 8% of the residents being turned out of their homes more gracefully than San Francisco is handling their 0.8%?

The Shrewd King 6.4: What is a horse worth?


“If what you are saying is true, that no help will be coming, then we better be planning on reverting back to an 1880s economy.” Salazar said.

“Yup.” Wilder said without qualification or elaboration.

“Then I could use some of your expertise, starting now.” Salazar said.

“What is on your mind?” Wilder said.

“We have an ally on our eastern flank who wants to buy corn...lots of corn.” Salazar said.

“He wants to buy it on credit and he is offering a horse as collateral.” Salazar said.

“I don’t have a good way to put a value on that horse. The ally claims it is worth 36,000 ounces of silver but that seems ridiculously high. That is the equivalent of 120 man-years of labor or 36,000 bushels of corn.” Salazar said.

Wilder twisted around on the large round of firewood he was using as a seat next to the dying bonfire. Seeing who he was looking for, he called out “Phil, can you spare us a moment of your time.” just loudly enough for the young man to hear.

A man in his early/mid-twenties joined the two men. He was clearly John Wilder’s son.

“What can I do for you?” the young man asked politely.

“Phil is a Certified Public Accountant. Best person to ask when you want to calculate the value of something.” John Wilder said.

Salazar repeated his dilemma.

Phil Wilder had heard about the contact between the Amish and Kate so he asked, “Did you ask the Amish? They use horses every day and ought to have a pretty good handle on what one is worth.”

“I tried.” Salazar said. “He asked a bunch of details about age, whether it was a gelding or a mare, breeding and the like. As soon as he heard where it was coming from he said ‘No Bid’ and clammed right up.”

“No Bid?” Phil said.

“Yup. Amish are big on auctions. ‘No Bid’ means they don’t want it at any price.” Salazar said.

“That’s odd, but, whatever.” Phil said.

“Did the man requesting credit tell you how he figured the horse was worth 36,000 ounces of silver?” Phil asked.

“Yup. He said a horse can do the work of ten men pulling. He said a horse has a working life of at least ten years. By his figuring at an ounce of silver for a man’s full day of work, that came to 36,500 ounces of silver.” Salazar said.

“He can say anything he wants, but I doubt that a horse can work that hard every day of the year. More to the point, is that kind of work available year-round?” Phil mused.

“Is there anybody we can ask how they would use a horse?” Phil asked.

It just so happened that Farmer Don was nearby and pressed into service as an expert.

“I really don’t know.” Don demurred.

“You know a heck of a lot more than we do.” Salazar said. “At least you can get us into the neighborhood.”

Phil asked Farmer Don, “If you had a horse...think of it as a very small tractor...how many months out of the year would you have work for it?”

Don said, “June...I would use it for haying and cultivating. July, August and September would be light. October harvesting and November harvesting and to start plowing. January wood hauling. February and March would be light. April and May would be pedal-to-the-metal plowin' and plantin'.”

Counting on his fingers he said “That is four months out of the year.”

Phil pulled out his smart phone and pulled up an app. He tapped in a little bit of information.

“Horses have expenses. How much do they eat?” Phil asked.

“They eat a lot!” Salazar said.

“The equivalent of one man-day for a day’s food?” Phil asked.

“Maybe not that much. Maybe a half bale of hay and some grain every day.” Salazar said.

“How about equipment?” Phil said. “Harnesses and shoes and saddles and such.”

Having heard “horses” mentioned, Di Carnie (Kelly’s wife) had edged up and had been following the conversation.

“Those are expensive.” she said “and they wear out and need replacing.”

“The equivalent of another half man-year per year?” Phil asked.

“Maybe if you include the grooming and hoof-care.” Di allowed. “I really don’t know what we are going to do as they need to be re-shoed and new harnesses made. I suppose somebody will have to teach themselves how to do that.”

“And that won’t be very efficient, will it.” Phil finished for her. "My job as an accountant is to protect my client. In the absence of solid data I work from safe, conservative estimates."

Looking over the numbers, Phil asked “Even if a horse can do the work of ten men, can it do it alone or does a person have to be with them?”

“A person has to drive them, of course.” Di said.

“Then it is really the net work of 9 men, right?” Phil asked.

“Not if you have a team of horses. One person can drive a four horse team just as easily as a single horse.” Di responded.

Phil looked up. “Is he putting up one horse for collateral or a team of four horses?”

Rick Salazar answered. “A single horse.”

Looking down at his spreadsheet, Phil said, “That puts the value of a horse pretty much on-par with a human working full time.”

“So 3600 ounces of silver, not 36,000 ounces.” Salazar concluded.

“Not so fast.” Phil said. “We haven’t discounted for the time value of money.”

“I am familiar with the concept but don’t see how it applies here.” Salazar said.

John Wilder was content to sit back and let the conversation flow between his son and Salazar. It was a side of his son he had not seen much of.

“A working horse today is worth more than that same horse next year.” Phil said. “Since there is no way to insure the horse, you have to discount the work it MIGHT do next year.”

“What do you mean ‘might do’?” Di asked.

Phil shrugged. “What if it gets stolen? It is not like we have police. If it is stolen then it is gone. What if it slips and is lamed up? What if it eats something and gets sick. It is not like we have a vet we can call.”

Salazar asked “How do you pick a discount rate for something like that?”

Phil said, “We make educated guesses. The prime interest rate was 20% before they stopped reporting it. Most of society was still functioning at that point. The cops still showed up for work, kids went to school and convicts were in prison and trucks could still make deliveries.”

“I would double that number to start with. 40% for a proven borrower and 50% or 60% for an unproven one.” Phil said.

Rick scratched his head. “That is more than I can keep in my head after a few mugs of beer. What does that work out to?”

Phil tapped a few numbers into his smart-phone. “That comes to 400 ounces of silver for the 60% discount rate and 600 for 40%.

“So splitting the difference is 500 ounces of silver or bushels of corn.” Rick said.

“Yup.” Phil said.

John Wilder interjected at this point. “Another thing you can do is to spread the risk around. I, for one, am willing to go halfsies if the horse is a mare. That way you would only be risking 250 bushels of corn or ounces of silver if you have to collect on the collateral.”

"Let me add to that" Phil said. "From a macro standpoint, the local economy is going to lock-up if loans are pegged at 40% interest rates. One way to minimize the risk, which will lower the interest rate that has to be charged, is to spread the risk around. That is, to let other parties buy a piece of the action. That way if one venture goes belly up...it might sting but it won't be fatal to any one family."

“Let me talk to Kate, but I think she will go for that. We ARE getting stretched a little bit thin.” Rick said.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A few pictures

One of the views of our "usual" walk.

Blackberries

As bright as a roll of new dimes
A little bit of eye candy for when it hurts to read the news.

Psycho-chick or Loonie Lefty?

Note the damage to the siding and that most of the fire damage on the bike is aft of the fuel tank.
My nephew was awakened by violent pounding on his door at 2:00 AM this morning.

It was a neighbor informing him that his motorcycle was on fire.

My nephew is a proud American. He proudly flies the American flag from his bike on weekends. He is vastly outnumbered by socialists in the dense-pack, city neighborhood where he lives.

Arson
It would have been more than sporty if the gas tank on the Jeep had been breached.

Arson used to be treated as the full equivalent of Second Degree Homicide.

The person setting the fire has limited ability to know if the structure they are setting on fire is vacant. Further, fires frequently spread in urban areas where structures are close together, such as in the Chicago fire of 1871.

Psycho-chick or Loonie Lefty?
Normally, I would give the nod to the psycho-chick but the odds of one of them carrying enough accelerant to do-the-deed isn't very high. Nor is she likely to have the equipment or know-how to rob some from the gas tank.

Because of the accelerant issue, it seems more likely it was a neighbor having a bad day who sloshed some gasoline from the can he keeps for the lawn-mower and touched it off.

The Shrewd King 6.3: We are on our own


The party was over for most folks. They had gone home. They rose with the sun. Worked all day. And then during the long days before the Solstice they hit the rack with the setting sun.

John Wilder intended to stay up as long as possible. He was an extrovert and was energized when he was with people. He also realized he had exactly one chance to make a good first impression.

The bonfire was down to embers with a few gentle tongues of flame licking at the charred logs. Wilder was talking with Rick Salazar and trying to get a feel for him as a person.

At first, Wilder was put off by the fact that Salazar fancied himself to be a know-it-all. After listening longer, Wilder noticed that Salazar was careful to separate what he believed to be true, what might be true and what other’s said they believed to be true.

As they covered more topics, Wilder found that Salazar shared many of his own opinions. Perhaps that should not be a surprise. After all, both had seen the Ebola epidemic coming before almost everybody else. Both had prepared for it and both valued productive land above all else.

“What are your thoughts about “help” coming?” Salazar asked.

Wilder risked a quick glance in his direction to see if it was a serious question. “I rate the chances to be about zero.” Wilder said.

Salazar grunted. “Makes a difference in how we manage things.” he said.

“Why do you think that?” Salazar asked.

“There is a good chance that the Ebola epidemic was not an accident.” Wilder said.

“Funny” Salazar said. “I never took you for the tinfoil hat kind of guy. Why would you think that?”

“Let me tell you a story first” Wilder said. “Thirty years ago there was a rash of product tampering cases in a city of over a million people. Seven people were poisoned and died. The investigators recalled all of that product in the city.”

“The product was a very common pain killer. They probably collected five million bottles of that medicine. They found four more contaminated bottles. Most of the bottles were from a couple of lot numbers and one of the four additional contaminated bottles came from a person whose wife had been fatally poisoned” Wilder said.

“What does that tell you?” Wilder asked.

Salazar thought about that for a minute and then said, “The guy who had two contaminated bottles was pretty unlucky.”

“Actually, the guy with the two bottles was convicted of murdering his wife and six other people.” Wilder said.

“The odds of him having one bottle was eleven-in-five-million. The odds of him having two bottles that were contaminated were one-in-twenty-five followed by 11 zeros.” Wilder said."Twenty-five followed by eleven zeros is more than three hundred times the population of the earth."

“Consider the fact that the first evidence of Ebola occurred in Minnesota and San Diego at exactly the same time. Coincidence or enemy action?” Wilder asked.

“We just weren’t bringing in that many refugees from areas with active Ebola. I can’t be very precise because I don’t have access to data, but my gut feel is that the odds of it being enemy action are somewhere north of 80%” Wilder said.

“China?” Salazar asked, aghast.

“They got monkey-hammered too, economically and population wise. I would bet money that it wasn’t China.” Wilder said.

“The Norks? Radical Muslims?” Salazar guessed.

“We may never know. It could have been some of our own ‘greenies’” Wilder said.

That made Salazar shiver. “Who would benefit from the US and most of the civilized world being hit with Ebola?”

Wilder shrugged. “Maybe somebody who was not as smart as he thought he was and he couldn't outrun the genie he let out of the bottle. Maybe somebody who was losing his grip on power and insanely decided that if he lost power nobody would have some."

"The point is that we got Pearl Harbored times a thousand." Wilder said. "I am not holding my breath waiting for the United Nations to show up to help us. More likely, any foreign forces that show up will be to divide up the corpse."