Friday, July 31, 2015

Planting persimmons and Friday menu

Planting persimmons

I have a seven gallon nursery container that I used to start persimmon seeds this year.  The seeds are from my best persimmon seedling.  One of the pollinators that is close is a branch of Szukis, a pollen parent noted for producing outstanding quality seedlings.

Persimmon seeds are slow germinaters.  They were bypassed in the rush of spring planting because nothing had popped up.

Persimmon seedlings are soaking so I can tease the roots apart.

They are a little bit crowded in that pot.  I wonder how many are in there.
This is where I had planted carrots almost a month ago.  I was not getting very good germination.  So I repurposed this row for tree seedlings.

The seedlings were teased out of the rootball.  The seedlings were laid in the ditch and then the dirt was scraped back over the roots with a hoe.
Persimmons are members of the Ebony family.  The heartwood used to be used for the heads of golf clubs.  Persimmon roots are black as night and they look dead, even when they are vibrantly alive.
There were ninety seedlings in that pot by my count.  Here they are in the row, watered in.  They will sulk for a while but I expect most of them to make it.

Friday Menu

We take dinner to my parents on Fridays.  Mom cannot tolerate cheese or mushrooms.  Dad struggles with sodium, spicy foods and fatty foods.  Finding foods that are nutritious, appealing and honors their restrictions can be a challenge.  I suspect that a few of my readers may also cook for people with similar restrictions.  I am posting the food we are taking to Mom and Dad as thought starter for those readers.

Note:  I have a summer cold and will not be dropping off the food. 

Main course:  Breakfast burritos made with eggs, onion, red and orange peppers.  Dad can add cheese if he wants.

Freshly baked dinner rolls. Honey.
Chopped veges before V8 was added.

Gazpacho made with Vidalia onions, red, orange and yellow peppers, de-seed cucumbers, ripe tomatoes, basil, low-sodium V8 juice and a squirt of lime juice and a moment of silence for the olive oil.

Cherry tomatoes from the garden.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Abandoning the Efficient Frontier

I have two tax deferred retirement accounts.  One of them is much larger than the other.  The larger fund gets more of my attention.  The smaller account has an asset allocation that was much more aggressive than the larger one.  In fact, it is surfing the crest of the "Efficient Frontier".

Like many investors, I fell into the trap of staying too long.  Two key pieces of advice are "Nobody every went broke selling too soon" and "Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered."

I decided that I had overstayed my position and am liquidating the 40% International (Pacific basin!) position in my smaller account.  My traded is programmed to reinvest in a short duration bond fund that is 65% US Govt securities and 35% high quality corporate bonds.  As of tomorrow at the closing bell my smaller account will be 60%  Domestic Equity Index and 40% short term bond fund.

It is not prudent to carry a lot of sail if you expect gale force winds and heavy seas.
Proponents of asset allocation are big cheerleaders for maintaining one's allocation regardless of perceived market conditions.  Their models assume risk/volatility that is symmetric, i.e. equal in both upward and downward directions regardless of market run-up.  The idea of symmetric volatility is difficult to defend when the market is at extreme valuations relative to the underlying fundamentals.

My gut feel is that there may actually be one or two more legs up in this bull market.  Further, my gut feel is those legs up will be on the backs of very few firms and the break downward will be unpredictable and brittle, that is, suddenly and precipitously downward.

I think I got lucky.  I accept the Chinese government's massive intervention in their equity markets as a gift.  It is like a Bugs Bunny cartoon where the falling piano freezes in mid-air, just long enough for Bugs to step to the side.  I may be leaving some money on the table but not enough to be worth losing sleep over. 

As always, I am not peddling advice.  I am merely sharing what I am doing inside my sandbox.  Call it entertainment.

Business Insurance: Small Business Report

---Note:  Names were withheld at the request of the agent that I interviewed.---

I had a conversation with Mr S. an agent at one of our local insurance companies.  I wanted to get a quick lesson on buying business insurance.

Mr S has been with his company for approximately 7 years and he is one of their top sellers of business insurance.

Like many small town insurance companies, Mr S's company has been in business for a long time.  It was started in 1946 after the founder mustered out of the military.  He was joined by a partner in 1955 after the parner was discharged from the military.  Both have since retired.  A third partner joined the firm in 1977. 

The first visit

I asked Mr S what information a business owner should bring to the first meeting in order to make it a productive use of the owner's time.

  • Bring something that looks like a balance sheet.  A list of assets.  When they were purchased? Approximate replacement value if it is readily available.
  • Something that looks like an income statement.  What was the business's revenues last year? What do you estimate it will be next year?  
  • What is the nature of the business?  A general contractor has a different risk profile than a roofer or a dry-wall guy or an electrician.
  • A list of employees, if any.  What do they do?  How many hours do they work?

Mr S will also go through a list of questions to ensure that he understands your business.  He will use that information to precisely tailor coverage to meet your needs without over insuring you.  It might not be possible to completely fill out the check-sheet on the first go around.  But being exposed to the questions will guide the business owner and give him/her a better idea of what to bring to the second meeting.

Local Agencies

I asked Mr S to elaborate on what he saw as the advantages of purchasing insurance from a local, independent insurance agent.

He said that as a local guy, he will usually come and personally check out any major claims.  Having a fire or a major theft is a traumatic event.  In general, he will stay out of the adjuster's way.  It has been his experience that things proceed more quickly when he lets the adjuster do his job and mostly stays out of the process.

But sometimes he is needed to act as a translator between the adjuster and the business owner.  He translates from trade jargon to "real English" to help his client understand what is happening.   That is not a service the client will get if he/she buys insurance over the internet from an boiler room in Hialeah, Florida.

Also, rarely, there are times when the adjuster does not see something or misinterpret something.  An example of this is when there is a clear outline of unbleached vinyl siding where a piece of equipment was parked but is now missing.  The local agent can help coordinate the interactions between the adjuster and the business owner and can help the business owner find documentation (pictures, sometimes) of the items to satisfy the adjuster's needs.

Independent agencies

According to Mr S, the primary advantage of taking one's custom to an independent agent is that the agent can shop several carriers to find the best deal.  Most of Mr S's business policies goes to one of four carriers but he has the ability to shop over 80 different carriers if the business owner has needs that are out of the ordinary.

---Side bar---
Insurance carriers price specific sectors based on the rate of claims/losses.  Some carriers are more heavily exposed in specific sectors or geographic regions than others.  A run of claims due to, say, the weather will likely result in an increase in the rates for all clients regardless of their region.

Additionally, as the pool of clients becomes larger, the "randomness" of the claims will smooth out.  In general, the "randomness" will decrease by 50% for every quadrupling of the size of the pool.

The actuaries, the statisticians who calculate potential loss rates, must add extra Kentucky Windage to their calculations when dealing with small pools.

The combination of pool size and recent claim history results in different insurance companies offering nearly identical coverage for rates that might vary by 40% or 50%.  That is, one insurance carrier might offer a business a monthly rate of $900 per month while a competitor might charge $1400 per month for identical coverage.

Purchasing insurance from a captive agent locks the purchaser into whatever rates the carrier chooses to charge.  The only pricing options a captive agent can offer to help meet budget is to reduce the coverage.
---End sidebar---

Beyond price

An additional benefit to purchasing from a local agent, according to Mr S, is that the local agent is likely to look beyond the out-of-pocket cost.  They will typically start with the broadest possible coverage and then, if necessary, remove coverage that the client does not see as "value added".

An example:
In Late October of 2001 a series of tornadoes hit Eaton Rapids, Michigan.  Many homeowners were dismayed to learn that their homes were not covered for wind damage.

The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) identified two of the six "tornadoes" as actual tornadoes.  According to their Doppler radar, there was not enough "recirculation" to meet the NOAA criteria of a tornado.  Rather, they were wind-shear embedded in 60 mph ambient winds.  The only claims that were paid off for "tornado" insurance were those buildings that were in the direct path of the events that the NOAA identified as tornadoes.  Unless, of course, your agent had written the policy for wind damage.

What else should a business owner know?

Insurance coverage will be audited at the end of the year.  Adjustments will be made if your revenue falls short of the estimate.  You will receive a refund if business slows down and your receipts fall.  The year end audit is also a good time to assess if you have added any significant assets that need to be added to the policy or if another carrier might be less expensive.

Expect to have several meetings.  Buying insurance is overwhelming and it is best taken in small bites so you don't feel like you are being sold coverage you do not need.  That is OK.  An experienced agent knows that business owners have a lot on their plate.  They need to take breaks so the can absorb what they are learning.

At some point you will have a discussion about liability insurance.  You may think that you do not need it because you have a great relationship with all of your customers.  But consider a mowing business:  The window that is broken by a rock might not be your customer's window, it may be the neighbor's.

Three pieces of advice

I asked Mr S what three pieces of advice he would give a niece or nephew who was considering starting, or buying, a business.

  1. Do it right.  Get your licenses.  Get your certifications. Have your ducks in a row for capitalization.   File your taxes....and buy insurance.  The cost may seem high at the start.  But it is better to start small and safely grow the business than to start big and roll the dice.
  2. Be honest.
  3. Know that you can always call him on the phone to talk problems through.  He is there to help you.
Index of  Small Business Reports

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Decriminalizing Marijuana

The libertarian side of me thinks decriminalizing marijuana (Cannabis) is a good idea.

Other parts of me are either on-the-fence or definite "No way!"

The "No Way" parts


Employers lose a very high percentage of candidates during "pre-screening" an the a basis of testing positive to cannabis.  Anecdotal data suggests that the fall-out rate varies between 70% and 90%.  Having tests that eliminate a large number of candidates is not a bad thing for the employer when the economy is bad.

Testing positive for cannabis is seen as a proxy for several things:
  • A willingness to disregard authority
  • A willingness to engage in illegal activities
  • A potential employee who will come to work with a broken Give-a-Golly
Decriminalizing  cannabis would eliminate the usefulness of the first two bullets but the last bullet remains problematic.  Would you want the mechanic rebuilding your car's engine to have a "Whatever (shrug)" attitude about using torque wrenches and properly cleaning and lubricating parts before assembling them?

Would employers be allowed to continue screening for cannabis use if it is decriminalized?

Mental illness

Cannabis reacts with neurons (brain cells) through a number of chemical pathways.  Many drugs used to treat the mentally ill also work through the same chemical pathways.  THC is able to block out many of those drugs because it can either out-competes the prescribed drug or it simply overwhelms it due to numbers of molecules in the system.

So, what happens when the depressed person's SSRI stops working?  Sometimes they commit suicide.


Decriminalizing cannabis will result in greater availability to kids.  Sure, laws will be passed that prohibit use by kids, but availability and the openness of use will increase and more kids will use it.

That libertarian thing:  it is about actions by adults.  If they choose to not be informed, that is their privilege.  Kids, however, need guard rails.  And the general belief is that kids who start using any kind of drug as a coping mechanism "freeze" in the development.  Do we really need any more 40 year old adults who are locked into a 7th grade outlook on the world?

The "On the Fence" parts

Criminalization results in a government subsidy to organizations that are willing to skirt the law.

Criminalization increases prices, nearly all of which falls to the bottom line as profit.

High incarceration rates feed linkages between prison culture and inner cities.  Perhaps the most toxic byproduct of prison culture is the certainty that "The Man" is out to screw you and he must be proactively screwed at any cost.  People carrying those ideas around in their heads rarely make good employees or citizens.

I could live with the negative consequences of decriminalizing cannabis if the links between prison culture and the inner city were broken.  I am dubious about decriminalization breaking that link, however.

Only 0.7 % of the people who are in state prison are there solely because of possessing marijuana. 

Three of these can hold 156 adult passengers.  1 person in 156 = 0.64%

To put that into perspective, a conventional "large" school bus has 13 rows of seats and can hold 52 adult sized passengers when packed.  0.7% is very close to one passenger among three packed school buses. 

Those who are in prison for that reason are typically there because the judicial system hung on to that charge through the plea-bargain process...or there is a vast amount of circumstantial evidence tying the defendant to a more serious crime(s) and the DA goes with the cannabis possession because it is the crime with the slam-dunk evidence.

Sometimes a broken "Give-a-Golly" is a good thing

A "Whatever (shrug)" attitude might pass for the peasant's stoic endurance of circumstances that cannot be changed.  In one place I worked, the "Whatever (shrug)" was known as the Pontiac salute.

Stoic endurance, or any reasonable facsimile is a commodity in high demand when there is little hope.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Michigan Steam Engine and Thresher Show

The 2015 show will be south of Mason, Michigan on July 31-through-August 2.


Daily Attractions
• Steam Threshing
• Antique Saw Mill
• Over 30 Steam Engines - Large and Small
• Antique Gas and Oil Tractors
• Stationary Engines
• Steam Crane
• Baker Fan
• Shingle Mill
• Plowing with Steam Engines
• Antique Tractor and Steam Engine Pull Demonstrations
• Flea Market
• Parade

Greenwood Approach Grafting apples

As reported earlier, we have a "wildlife orchard" and a "serious" orchard.  The serious orchard saw significant tree deaths over the last couple of winters.  Furthermore, I extended it into the vineyard because the grapes were not paying their rent.

I planted Bud-118 apple rootstock in the "holes" and in some of the vineyard annex.  They were puny things when I got them.  They were 3/16" in diameter which is slightly thicker than a wooden matchstick.

Today I attempted greenwood approach grafts on 8 of them.  This is a photo essay of that effort.  After some agonizing, I chose Novaspy as my "frame" variety.  It is supposedly coldhardy to -25F and the USDA reports that it is resistant to fire blight.  It is a good apple in its own right for quality although it has not been a heavy bearer for me.  That may be due to shortcomings in my management.

Ed Fackler, a commercial orchardist in Southern Indiana (a brutal environment for growing apple trees) rates Novaspy 14th on his "favorite" list.  This is high praise from a man who has trialed well over a thousand varieties.

Bud-118 rootstock was bred in Russia.  "Bud" is short for Budagovsky.  It has red leaves which is very useful to determine if the graft was successful or whether you are looking at shoots from the rootstock.  The red leaves make it difficult to photograph, however.
I typically make the bottom cut first.  I make it just above a "nurse" bud when I can.  I angle downward at 30 degrees from vertical (pointier rather than blunter).  Then I make similar cut about 5/8" above that, then angle downward so it intersects with the first cut.  My wedding band is .225" (5.7mm) wide to give you a size reference.  I use a Stanley utility knife.  I use the tip more than the base when making cuts on thin wood like this.
This is a really poor shot of the scion piece because the autofocus kept focusing on the background. You might get a better idea of the shape looking at the shadow. The end of the piece is cut into a "V".  One side is much longer and more gently sloping than the other.  The side with the shorter, blunter cut also has a "nurse" bud.

Another mediocre shot.  The scion piece is the lighter, vertical piece on the left.  the rootstock is the darker piece on the right.
Wrapped up all tight with a #33 rubber band.
These are intentionally very close to the ground.  I lie on my belly to make these grafts.  Bud-118 is not noted for being resistant to fire blight and I want to reduce the exposure.

Being an enthusiastic and proficient lier is almost mandatory when one is a horticultural blogger.  It helps if one can do it with style and panache.  There are, of course, reasons why Northerners are much better liers than folks from the southernmost states:  fire ants.  Some Southerners lie....but they don't so much as lie as levitate a short distance from the ground.  It is almost cheating.  I suspect highly developed arrectores pilorum may be the culprit.

After care

If you know anything about grafting you know that there is not a snowball's chance in hell of these things surviving unless I can ameliorate the sun loading and dehydrating effects of the wind.

That is right, yea old brown paper lunch bag.  I still use them....for grafting.
A little bit of masking tape is added to pinch the top slit shut.  Each approach graft has its own little tent.
With regard to dehydration, I have learned to appreciate how forgiving an actively growing rootstock is to a ham-handed  grafter.  With that in mind, I watered these rootstock yesterday with fertilizer enhanced water.  I watered them again today after grafting.  Rain is predicted for tomorrow.  The temperature is 85 F.  They will either knit together quickly or die quickly.

Expect another report in a couple of weeks.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Pole beans

Pole beans are twining plants.  They climb by wrapping around other plants, poles, brush, netting.  Lacking support, they clamber across the ground and are virtually impossible to pick.

I had been putting off supporting my two rows of pole beans as I kept looking for my fence post driver.

No joy.  I have three of them and could not find any of them.

I bought a new one.  The problem with fence post drivers, as purchased, is that they are painted the same shade of gray as a concrete, industrial basement floor.  Scuff it up a little bit.  Get some patches of rust on it.  And that rascal becomes invisible the second you put it down.

One of the keys to getting a vivid fluorescent paint job is to prime the piece with WHITE paint.
Kubota charged me $2 to do the paint job.  I went with pink.  Perhaps I can get some jobs doing pedicures with the paint the extra paint.
Here is a "Where's Waldo" shot.  Can you find the post driver?
Garden of Eden pole beans on the left, a row of Deadon savoy cabbage, a row of Diablo Brussel Sprouts, then a row of purple pole beans, a mix of Blauhilde and Burpee pole beans.  I see no difference in them and suspect Burpee simple renamed a European cultivar for marketing reasons.
Mrs ERJ favors the green "safety" fence over the orange.  It runs about $36/100 feet and I consider it a bargain as it is good for many years when used gently.

Working in the orchard. Too much fruit

We have a big crop of apples this year.  I was not paying attention.  The June drop was not sufficient to keep the fruit load from breaking branches.  This does not bode well as most of these apples will not be ripe for another fifty days, in which time they will easily double in weight.

Liberty apples.  Bird damage on two apples on left side of picture.  Broken limbs in upper right corner.
The fix is to thin the fruit via shaking, picking and pruning.

Compare the color of these apples to the color of the ones in the first picture.  These apples are about half the size of the red ones in the first picture.

The fruit that is inside the canopy is smaller and greener.  It will never have the quality of the apples on the outside of the canopy, the ones that are supported by leaves that have an uncontested "look" at the sun.

Bottom portion of picture shows branches that have been pruned from the tree.  Nearly all of these trimmings were from the bottom, i.e. the shady side, of the tree.

They are dead weight.  The easiest way to thin those apples is to prune the branches.

One flaw that Liberty has as a variety is short fruit stems.  There is not enough room for multiple fruit to ripen.  The expanding fruit will cause a significant amount of early drop.

Shaking the branches can help thin the fruit although it tends to dislodge the largest, most advantageously placed fruit.

This picture shows a couple of different ways to support branches.  One thing I like about the "X" frames is that I can drop lines from the top part of the X to support specific branches.  They also adjust well to the heights of the individual limbs, one simple scissors the legs together until the center of the X is at the desired height.
Another X frame.  If you look closely on the left arm, about eight inches from the top there is a line of baling twine dropping down to support another branch.
Modern apple orchards are getting away from "limbs".  They are training apple trees almost like gardeners train tomato vines.  The energy that would have gone into growing wood becomes available for fruit growth.

This man is Ron Perry.  He is a displaced California guy.  This is the rootstock guru at Michigan State University.
This system is capital intensive because of the number of trees per acre and the cost of the support structures.

I think most home orchardist will stick with traditional trees.

Trading Doomsday (Guest post by Remus)

Remus, proprietor of the now discontinued Woodpile Report presented me with a guest post to share with my readers.

Trading Doomsday
By ol' Remus

9-11, Boston and other mass murders say government can't defend us. 

By declining to inconvenience the criminal mobs which assaulted Ferguson and Baltimore, government showed they won't defend us. The attacks on military installations show government won't defend itself. The authorities have revealed themselves for what they are, gutless and spineless, promising what they can't, or won't, deliver and bullying the blameless for their failure. This is full-on "banana republic". The people have taken notice. Lesson learned. We'll rely on ourselves.

It's no mere coincidence gun sales routinely set new records, nearly doubling between 2010 - 2013 alone. Ammunition is in chronically short supply. Women, formerly reliable supporters of confiscatory gun laws, are arming themselves at a rate half again that of men, in fact, it's not unusual to see women at shooting ranges as instructors. Courses in self defense are increasingly popular, outright combat training isn't far behind, private ammo stockpiles are proliferating, reloading is becoming common and neighborhood alliances are forming. Survivalism is now mainstream. We're preparing for the worst.

As tensions increase any convenient division will serve as a fault line.  This is an image of ISIS violence

We pretty much know what the worst is too. Put in antiseptic terms it's economic and civil collapse, but it's really the murderous "can't happen here" bloody maelstroms we saw in Europe during much of the 1940s, again in the genocidal Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and currently in Syria and Ukraine. Some of us have seen the worst first hand, others in "viewer discretion is advised" video, in hi-def, at ground level where people actually live. Our 'worst' would be much the same, except without the subtitles.

So, what are all those guns and sweaty training exercises good for? Certainly not for taking on an armored division, say the hecklers, with a sneer. No indeed, nor for taking on any outfit with artillery or air support. They're good for what they've always been good for, taking out a bad guy with a gun. In case it needs saying, a good guy armed only with a first-rate argument for Jeffersonian self-rule will lose to a bad guy with a gun. That's what it comes down to. It always does. And there will be plenty of bad guys with guns.

The police will not respond to 911 calls because they have bigger issues to deal with.  Image of drug gang (cartel) violence.
Those who lived to tell about it say gangs are the main threat in a societal collapse, ethnic gangs being the worst. Think Crips and Bloods and MS13. Their competition won't be you, it will be gangs of opportunity made up of everyday criminals, perhaps some rogue military and police, all defending their turf and battling for more. Add fanatical partisans like ISIS. There's your basic bad guys with guns. It gets worse. Throw in freelance psychopaths—hobbyist torturers and recreational killers, mix with a steady influx of military grade weapons, RPGs and the like, then subtract any form of effective order. Everywhere outside your door, assuming you have a door, is a No Go Zone.

Arming yourself is necessary but not enough. The bad news is, you have to go into that zone because you still have to eat. There's no workaround. You won't buy your way out of it. Survivors of civil collapse tell us gold and silver are useful at the beginning, and for bribes in the short window of time when there are authorities to bribe. Afterward precious metals are wanted in quantities you're not likely to have, by people too far away to be relevant. It's not wanted by people who are picking at the cracks in their floors for every last crumb. Barter sets in quickly. The unvarying long-term demand is for high calorie food, especially canned meat. Rice and flavorings are popular as well. MREs are good as gold. Not far behind is comfort stuff, coffee in particular, and tobacco, cigarettes mainly, traded by ones and twos. Also near the top of the list are candles and batteries in common sizes. Oddly, medical supplies, guns and ammunition aren't often mentioned.

Not like this
The prudent trader doesn't go around in cammies and tactical gear, he becomes the "grey man", uninteresting, difficult to describe, easy to forget. He looks like a nobody with nothing of value. He presents himself as a guy who can get things, not as a guy who has things. He trades in small quantities as opportunities arise. His stuff is always as promised, the brand names middling-good. He prefers to meet at neutral locations and trades only a few times with the same person—the risk of ambush grows with each encounter. He may have a security partner shadowing him.

The survivalist may consider putting together a "grey man" kit. Such a kit would include plain, durable pants and shirts, in quiet browns or greens; a jacket, light but lined, with a rain hood and inside pockets, nondescript, in a subdued neutral color, with no graphics. Top it off with a plain baseball cap and a small backpack, the kind kids use for schoolbooks, in a dull color with no logo or gimmicks. Such a kit could get you in and out of a small town largely unnoticed, or a few blocks into a city and back, perhaps even past an unforeseen checkpoint.

The experiences of those who have survived the horrors and desperation of civil collapse are far more valuable than speculation by theorists and doomer novelists. Their best advice is worth keeping in mind: "don't be there when it happens." Going in, most were captivated by events and thought themselves merely observers. They stayed calm. They believed what they were told, it was just a rough spot, that the authorities would soon get things back to normal. Each new calamity seemed as bad as it could get. Then it got worse.

When they finally understood they were trapped in an unstoppable freefall, events moved faster than they could adapt. Absolute collapse overtook them. What they had—in their physical possession—was all they were going to have. There was no way out, and even if there were, they had nowhere safe to go. The lesson is to be prudent, be suspicious, trust your own senses, have a prepared bugout location and get there before self-evacuation becomes as dangerous as staying put—better a week too early than a minute too late. And stay away from crowds.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Wild Willie subscription update

As reported earlier, Wild Willie (Kubota's friend) never had a magazine subscription even though he is sixteen years old.

Based on feedback from my loyal readers, I was able to purchase a subscription to Guns and Ammo and a gift membership to the National Rifle Association and a subscription to National Rifleman while staying beneath my $50 budget.

Thank-you to my readers who took the time to provide feedback.

Minority Wars: Brand Value alpha minority, Second Example

The second example estimates the "Brand Value" of alpha-minority status in jobs more typical of non-college graduates.

A major component of getting a job as a Corrections Officers in many jurisdictions is to perform well on the Civil Service Exam.

Litigation resulted in many communities being "consent decree" communities.  Consent decree occurs when a community accepts certain conditions in order to terminate legal actions.

From Common Wealth magazine:

Preferential treatment

If test scores don’t determine rank on the hiring list, what does? The answer is “preferences.” Certain “absolute preferences,” determined by law and court order, allow some applicants with at least a passing grade of 70 to move ahead of everyone else. In fact, there are so many folks being ushered to the front of the line it actually requires an order of preferences to sort them all out. Here is a typical list of absolute preferences used to create a Civil Service hiring list in a Massachusetts city or town:
  • minority applicants (in consent decree communities only)
  • resident children of police officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty
  • non-resident children of police officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty
  • resident disabled veterans
  • resident children of police officers or firefighters injured in the line of duty
  • non-resident children of police officers or firefighters injured in the line of duty
  • resident veterans
  • resident widows or widowed mothers of veterans killed in the line of duty or dead from service-connected disabilities incurred in wartime service
  • resident non-veterans
  • non-resident disabled veterans
  • non-resident veterans
  • non-resident widows or widowed mothers of veterans killed in the line of duty or dead from service- connected disabilities incurred in wartime service
  • non-resident non-veterans
The average wages for a Corrections Officer is $35K/year while Corrections Officers working for the State can be paid +$50K/year.

The jobs many of these candidates are likely to be able to find, today, are $11/hour, 28 hours/week positions.

For the sake of this comparison, let's assume the candidate who is blocked by one of the "absolute preferences" is able to find two jobs that add up to 40 hours per week.  If they work 50 weeks a year they will make $22K.

Simply comparing wages over a 25 year time span, the difference in pay is $425K.

Comparing wages is only part of the difference.  Fringe benefits are non-existent for our $11/hour example but, according to the Mackinac Center,  fringe benefits for a State of Michigan employee are approximately 54% of base payroll.  That adds another $17K/year to the "absolute preference" bringing the Brand Value for an alpha minority to $850K for a non-college track job.


Analysis two two different scenarios suggests that the Brand Value of being an alpha minority is worth approximately $750K for that one individual.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Minority Wars: What is the "Brand Value" of a label?

From Breitbart

Minority Wars: Why The Next Ten Years Will Set Everyone Against Everyone

So guess what happens when you tell everyone that their worth, their ability, their right to speak on certain subjects and – shudder – their “privilege” is based on what they were born with, rather than any choices they’ve made or who they are?

This is what the future of progressivism looks like: blacks fighting gays fighting lesbians fighting trans fighting everyone else. It’s the iron law of victimhood-driven identity politics. Someone has to win, and everyone else has to lose.

If the observer can step back and gain a little bit of perspective,  one soon notices the same frantic braying that one hears over
  • Ford vs. Chevy
  • Nike vs. Adidas
  • Pespi vs. Coke
  • Android vs. IPhone
  • University of This vs That State University
  • Taco Bell vs. Subway vs. McDonalds vs. Burger King
The anger, virtol, destroyed careers and property are ultimately about defending Brand Value in a stagnating or declining market.

The value of Brand Value

Brand Value is why two otherwise similar articles of clothing (basketball shorts, for example) will vary in price from $12 to $120.

The calculation of Brand Value is a frequent exercise in Academia and in the financial world.  Anybody with access to a competent search engine can type in "Brand Value McDonalds" and in 0.36 seconds you will learn that it is valued at $37.4 Billion dollars (at least on 7/25/2015 at 10:35 EST).  Ford Corporation used it Brand Value as collateral for a $23.6 Billion loan in late 2006.

There is little stomach in Academia or the corporate world for discussion about the Brand Value of being a minority.  The topic is toxic.  It would destroy any tenure track scholar.  It would likely get any corporate minion fired.

What is the Brand Value of being the alpha minority?

The ERJ Think Tank lacks many of the resources available to larger think thanks.  Assumptions will be made and shortcuts will be taken.  The value that is calculated will be a couple of stakes in the ground, an estimate, a first order approximation.

Approximation one

Visualize a promotional situation.  Further visualize a pool of candidates with eight equally competent applicants.  One of the candidates is an alpha minority.  It is a foregone conclusion that the alpha minority candidate will receive the promotion.

The median starting salary for college graduates in 2014 was approximately $45K/year.  Assuming 3% annual raises, an amount that nullifies the effects of inflation but no gain in real bying power, that college graduate will earn $3.4M over a 40 year career.  This is a conservative estimate because it assumes there will be no "real" pay increases based on skill growth.

A typical "step" in midrange pay scale for a promotion is 25%.  Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the alpha minority will be one pay scale higher for nearly all of their career...that is, they will make 25% more than their cohorts who are blocked in one pay grade below them.

One statistical subtlety is that on a level playing field and a pool of eight qualified candidates there is a one-chance-in-eight that the alpha minority would have received the position based on random chance.  So that 12.5% "random chance" must be backed out of the Brand Value calculation.

Brand Value (alpha minority) = $3.5M*25%*(100%-12.5%) = $765K

What does America look like? 

Let's look at that pool of eight candidates.  If that pool is a representative cross section of America then half the candidates will be women.  One person will identify as African-American (14% is 1-in-7), one Hispanic (19% is one-in-six) of whom will be a woman.  There is about a fifty percent chance that one of the eight candidates will identify as LGBT et al.  The position of alpha minority will be highly contested.

Seven hundred, sixty-five thousand dollars is a substantial amount of money. I understand why the position of "alpha minority" is defended with great vigor.  The anger over Rachel Dozal was two-fold:  She was obviously a woman but then self-identified as an African-American to usurp the position of alpha minority....thus blocking another out of the.$765K identity.  The other thing she did is that she diluted the Brand Value of African-American minority status as surely as a container ship loaded with counterfeit Gucci handbags dilutes the value of the real thing.

But is eight the right number? Many corporations use a self-nomination system to avoid discrimination litigation based on claims of pre-screening.

Critique of analysis:
  • The $765K is not a net present value.
    • Rebuttal:  Conservative, off-setting assumption regarding wage growth was made.
  • Brand Value is typically an aggregate value.  Analysis looks at a very specific anecdote.
    • Rebuttal: Motivation is typically based on gains reasonably anticipated by the individual.  The scope of this essay was to put "a few stakes in the ground" with the hope of illuminating the motivation behind behaviors.
  • Basic premise is racist
    • Rebuttal: Basic premise was that all eight candidates were sufficiently qualified for the position.  No claims of "less qualified"  candidates being being in the pool or promoted were ever implied.
  • Not everybody is college track.  Analysis is not meaningful for vast majority of "alpha minority"
    • Rebuttal: Non-college track will be examined in a future essay.  The comparison will be between State Corrections Position (via performance on Civil Service Exam) vs. General Labor.  This analysis is analogous to sinking a single test bore to assay the extent of an ore body.
To be continued...

Friday, July 24, 2015

Obamacare: A Rhetorical Question

Taking the Democratic talking points at face value, that Obamacare is a huge leap forward in accessibility to quality medical care and is an unmitigated success:

Why has there been no effort, on the part of the Democrats, to extend those benefits to other professional services....most notably legal services?

At this point it must be noted that Congress and the White House are populated by attorneys, not doctors.

So why aren't attorneys eager to have their billing statements subject to review, revision and write-down by clerks, who might have an Associate's Degree?  Could it be the possibility of unilateral write-downs of as much as 90% for "services"?  Could it be a pride thing....  Or more likely the fact that review by conscientious clerks will reveal instances of (gasp) fraudulent billings; double billings, billings for services not rendered, billings that are "rounded-up".

Inquiring minds want to know.  Democrats treating ObamaLegalCare like the proverbial third-rail is de facto proof that they acknowledge Obama(medical)care as an abject failure or an admission of pervasive fraudulent legal billings by their practicing associates.  Which?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rational Expectations

Rational expectations theory holds that people will guide their actions to optimize outcomes for their personal gain  They become increasingly immune to manipulation as they lose their naivete.

This is a riff on Adam Smith's "invisible guiding hand".

Evidence that supports this theory is extremely vexing to central planners and socialists.

Story HERE:  Seattle sees fallout from $15/hr minimum wage

Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law is supposed to lift workers out of poverty and move them off public assistance. But there may be a hitch in the plan.

Despite a booming economy throughout western Washington, the state’s welfare caseload has dropped very little since the higher wage phase began in Seattle in April. In March 130,851 people were enrolled in the Basic Food program. In April, the caseload dropped to 130,376.

At the same time, prices appear to be going up on just about everything.

Full Life Care, a home nursing nonprofit, told KIRO-TV in Seattle that several workers want to work less.  “If they cut down their hours to stay on those (means tested) subsidies because the $15 per hour minimum wage didn’t actually help get them out of poverty, all you’ve done is put a (additional) burden on the business..."

Leaky toilet update

Operating on the premise that for certain subjects less information is better, I will skip right to the money shot.

My understanding is that it is illegal to attempt to pass defaced currency/coinage as legal tender.  These washers will never be used as currency again.
Brass bolt, chrome plate brass nut, steel washer:  Bad combination.

The washer (example on the left) corroded due to being the galvanic loser in the battery.  After it lost enough thickness, it simply pulled through the hole in the bottom of the stool.  The stool tipped when the user reached for the paper.  The seal was broken.  As Forrest Gump once said, "Shit happens."

The fix was to find some disks of a more suitable metal from a galvanic perspective.  I found some suitable washer blanks that were 24.2mm in diameter and approximately 1.7mm thick of an exotic cupronickle-copper laminate.  They cost twenty-five cents each.  The problem was that I needed to drill holes in them to accommodate the 1/4 inch bolt.

I was not able to find my Ni-MH battery powered drill motor, so I used my nitrocellulose powered drill.  The holes are approximately 7.92mm in diameter.

One of the watersheds between hoplophobes and people like me is that hoplophobes looks at a gun or a knife and sees a pile of corpses as the only inevitable outcome.   Folks like me look at a gun or a knife and see a tool for making holes or a tool for cutting a useable length of twine from a 3000 foot spool of baling twine.

I thank God that I live in a place where I can discharge a firearm a couple of times without generating 9-1-1 calls from my neighbors.

While the cat is away...

Mrs ERJ is visiting her friend Linda in the downriver, Detroit area.

Mrs ERJ met Linda back in 19-mumble-mumble at MSU.  Unbeknownst to them, they were both dating the same young man, a young man who felt no need to share that information.  Upon mutually learning of the others existence, they took a long walk to sort things out.  They both dumped the bounder and have been close friends ever since.

Linda's life has been more than chaotic.  She retired this year and moved from Central Ohio back to her hometown to care for her aging mother. Knowing her need for space, Linda bought her own home.  Mrs ERJ will be seeing it for the first time.  They will talk until their jaws cramp.  They will go to bed way too late.  They will wake up in the morning and start talking with their first breath.  They will go to a coffee shops that does not resemble assembly lines and where nobody is in a rush.  Ronald McDonald will be nowhere in sight.  They will buy dainty, sweet nothings and hot drinks.  And the sweet nothings and hot drinks will sit on the table and cool off while they talk, talk, talk.

Here on the home front

Here on the home front we put on a brave face.  We do all of those things we dare not do whilst Mrs ERJ is on duty.  Some of us will eat Froot Loops directly out of the box, a fistful at a time.  Others will put refined sugar on our bran flakes....and we will do it boldly, with no quick, darting, furtive glances over our shoulder.  We will drink 2% milk ---damned the skimmed!--- and go boldly in the sun without SPF!!!  We will order out pizza on a THURSDAY.  We will stride about like Colossus, like Masters of the Universe.

No, really

I have a list of chores to get done.  One of them is to reseat a toilet where the bolt that holds down the stool broke or pulled through the collar.  I need to get replacement bolts and a new wax ring....I am sure all home owners know the drill.

No salt, no spice, no cheese or mushrooms, low fat

I am also on the schedule to take may parents a meal.  Each of my siblings has a day to bring them dinner.  Our day is Friday.  Mrs ERJ and I take turns doing the planning and execution of the meal.  We bounce ideas off of each other.  The meals tend to be simple and repetitive due to the restrictions.

My dad cannot spices (upset stomach), fats (gall bladder) or salt (blood pressure, vertigo). He also dislikes corn bread and the taste of molasses, both of which he ate great quantities of during the Great Depression.

My mom has allergy issues with cheese, mushrooms and aged products.

Together, they do not eat enough to keep a small bird alive.  They are at a time in their life when they don't move as much as they used to.  They do not have the muscle mass that they used to.  It just does not take very many calories to keep them going.

Usually we make them a piece of broiled fish or chicken, some steamed vegetables...whatever is in season, a wee spot of carbs like boiled new potatoes and a tiny sweet something.  In all, about as much food as you might pack in a 4th grader's lunch.

Tomorrow I am flying solo on this project.

Don't worry.  I will wash my hands very, very thoroughly before preparing their dinner.