Susan's Musings

This section of my web site is for unstructured self-expression. Sort of a blog. Your comments are appreciated. In any case, I get to vent. Essays, monographs, poems, book reviews, and comments.

Please visit my separate economics blog.

Prior years: 2106 2105 2104 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
The future of retail stores
Retailers have been closing stores in great numbers, to the point where some prognosticators claim that bricks-and-mortar retail is dead. Really? When was Amazon ridiculed for an online store? I am not impressed with the track record of the media.
Now, stores are losing money. Why?
1) A business may have too many stores. Perhaps they got overexcited by the perceived attraction of opening stores — without understanding when and where they had a business advantage over their competitors.
2) The quality of the merchandise in many stories is poor and unattractive to customers.
3) Stores are hard to get to, especially in locations with no public transportation.
4) The variety of stores, i.e., the variety of their merchandise, in malls is inadequate. When 80% of the stores in a mall carry the same kind of merchandise, the overall attraction of the mall to potential customers is less.
5) Retailers do not compete well with each other. They may not really know what their possible customer base want. They may not staff stores to adequately interact with and attract customers. The "race to the bottom" is noticed by customers, who do not want to participate, and so stay away from such stores.
6) Management of retail firms has likely declined in quality and effect. They have likely fallen for the "I can manage anything, I really do not need to understand the unique features of my business or product" mentality which is having such a terrible effect on other industries. (6-23-2017)
Foreign "hacking" of American elections
Is this real? Very likely. Can this be prevented? Yes, but not in the way that "experts" will lecture us, in particular about "hardening" computer security. The ONLY way to prevent foreign hacking is to return to paper ballots and abandon electronic voting. We can do this! (6-23-2017)
The problems we have with our voting system are increasing:
1) qualified people are not allowed to register to vote
2) people who have registered to vote are dropped from the voting roles without their consent or knowledge
3) it is difficult for people to vote
4) votes are not counted
5) votes are miscounted
How can we call ourselves a democracy if we do not solve these problems? (6-13-2017)
Privatizing air traffic control
A bad idea from hell. The American taxpayers and air travellers paid for the air traffic control system. If it is privatized, meaning sold to some for-profit private corporation, several things will happen: (1) the income from the sale will never accrue to the taxpayers, (2) the operation costs will increase and be submitted to air travelers for payment, (3) quality of work product will diminish (increasing the risk of air accidents), (4) employees will be screwed paywise and benefit-wise. What will happen to their retirement funds? Who will steal those? Who will be liable for flight accidents caused by bad air traffic control? (6-12-2017)
Sidetracked, bored, and tired
Trump has created a new industry. Some, comedians, mine his behavior for its comedic potential; these people are kept very busy. Certainly his reliable attention-grabbing continues to entertain us, when it does not horrify. Why can't he speak in whole sentences? Is he unwilling or unable? Others are trying to figure out Trump's game. He is clearly a political novice, and perhaps trading on that to fool some political opponents and voters. As his behavior rolls on, some of us grow weary. Some suspect they have been deliberately side-tracked by Trump's antics. Complaining with your friends about Trump's latest misbehavior no longer satisfies, it's getting to be a broken record. We grow bored. (6-11-2017)
Racketeering in politics
A racket is a service that is fraudulently offered to solve a problem, in particular a problem that has no causal relationship with the racket. Conducting a racket is racketeering. I suggest that the "trickle-down" theory of tax cuts for the wealthy eventually and partially benefitting the poor can also be viewed as racketeering.

Why do we fall for these scams? Perhaps it is too easy to accept the claims that experts have supported the scheme. Perhaps we think racketeering only happens in organized crime. Perhaps we think that our government is free of organized crime. Perhaps we are weary of the continual promotion of these claims. Perhaps it is just too demanding to consider at all.

But guess what. Just because when you stand on a train track looking west does not mean a train will not approach you from the east, and run over you. Closing your eyes does not prevent others from seeing you. It just makes it easy for others to victimize you. (5-19-2017)

Computer security
The news today is a ransomware attack on at least 74 countries, it began as an attack on the UK's NHS computers.

I hope some are reconsidering the notion that computer security can be adequately implemented on each computer's OS with perhaps the addition of one or move malware protection programs. This aproach just is not working. It's not enough for users to apply OS security patches as soon as they are available, the reliance on the OS is not enough — there is always another security risk (aka vulnerability) that can be exploited by crooks.

I think we need to reconsider the architecture of individual computers and networks. At this moment all networked computers are at risk. Plan B is to limit network connections, to isolate important business databases and personal software, to maintain a history of local network messages so they can be monitored, analyzed, and protections put in service. Yes, some computer processes will take longer while safe connections can be made, but that may be a fair tradeoff.

Protecting a population from contagious disease involves quarantine. Perhaps this should also be a feature of a new model of networking and security. (5-17-2017)

Republicans vs. public health insurance
The Republican Party doesn't think the federal government should be involved with the medical care and costs of its citizens. They rarely admit this, especially in public. But it is the basis for their fanatical desire to repeal the ACA. They are content that health insurance premiums be based on your health, in other words pre-existing conditions warrant higher premiums. Some Congressman was filmed stating that sick people should pay more, because they are clearly just not taking care of themselves. It is right that they should be penalized.

Oh yeah, another blame the victim.

And the other sad aspect to this is the age of the people making these declarations. They are older than 55. There is no way a government employee who has to do a lot of traveling and keep irregular hours is going to be completely healthy at age 55. Hence we have hypocrisy in living color. Clearly these speakers have no intention of being held personally to such a policy. They cling determinedly to their own health insurance package.

We can widen our analysis here. Politicans, especially Republicans, have nothing in common with their constituents. Which is fine by them. (5-4-2017)

The founders of America defined a democratic republic
Today's Guardian has an article about Trump: "He blamed the constitutional checks and balances built in to US governance [for his poor achievements]. 'Itís a very rough system,' he said. 'Itís an archaic system — Itís really a bad thing for the country.'" Hmm. What he means is that the Constitution is bad for him. It has certainly proved good for the country, and will hopefully allow us to survive the Trump presidency. (5-1-2017)
The H-1B Visa Story
Trump is expected to sign an order making it harder for American firms to hire H-1B visa workers. Some Americans think this is a poor idea, that American firms should simply hire the best worker. Well, that thought ignores the truth that for many American employers, the best worker is the cheapest worker. The other side of the dilemma is that too many American managers know nothing about the nature of their business and consequently do not know how to recognize a qualified worker. Hence it is easy for them to fall back on cost as the best criterion. (4-18-2017)
War with Korea?
Why are we threatening war with North Korea? What possible benefit can this be to the American people?

Americans withdrew from the Korean War in 1953 (they ran for their lives), after which an armistice between the two Koreas was ratified. No peace treaty was ever signed. But North Korea claimed, in 2013, that they had invalidated that armistice and had entered a state of war with South Korea. They also pursued a nuclear weapons program.

It was through the UN that America entered the fray between the two Koreas. Actually, that Korea had been subdivided into north and south in 1948 was a result of the cold war we had with the USSR.

America must bear some of the blame for the current state of Korea. We allowed our horror of communism to force our intervention into what was primarily a private squabble. Millions of Koreans died in that squabble and our intervention. How can we say that their deaths were warranted? That Korea benefitted?

The man who would be president bragged about his negotiation skills. Where are they now? We need cool heads with sound negotiating skills to calm the waters. We DO NOT NEED braggadocio and threats.

Please stop the madness. (4-18-2017)

Korea and America
I could not not write about this. My dad served in the Korean War, so it bothers me that it is not talked about today. So I wrote a mini essay about Korea and America.
(4-17-2017)
Is Our Government Unaware of International Law?
On April 7, 2017, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from a US warship based in the Mediterranean Sea, directed towards the Shayrat airbase in Syria. This act of military aggression was done solely at the direction of President Trump. Syria is a sovereign nation and a UN Member State. The American attack is a violation of international law. It is also violation of the Charter of the United Nations.

Such a violation of international law gives Syria the right to react in self-defense or a legal justification for the use of force. It also gives any other UN Member State the right to act in collective self-defense and to support Syrian action against the US.

And yet the American Congress has not risen up and condemned the strike. All too many seem to have approved of it, if only privately. What were Trump's advisors thinking? Do they know nothing of international law? Or were they just going along? If the answer to either of these questions is "yes," then these people lack critical qualifications for their jobs. Ditto for Congress.

This illegal act has endangered the people of the US.

"America First" is a shifty slogan, but must never be interpreted as denying allegiance to international law.
(4-16-2017)

Privacy and security for home computer users
Recently the federal government acted to rescind rules that limit the security that telecoms must exercise on the transmissions of their customers. Worse, telecoms may now sell any and all data transmitted by their customers. As revealed by the Snowden NSA surveillance documents, HTTP web traffic can also be collected and searched by government agencies without notice to users or webmasters.

So, just for you, I wrote an article about what computer privacy and security are and how to protect yourself. It is written for the home computer user and, in particular, for the non-technical user Computer Privacy and Security.

BE SAFE!
(4-13-2017)

Outrage in the Skies — Not So Friendly
On April 9, 2017 United Airlines in Chicago forceably removed a passenger from his seat on Flight 3411. The explanation was that while the plane was full, four seats were needed for UAL employees; the airline invoked its right to remove passengers.

A video was taken of the passenger being dragged, screaming, from the plane; it went "viral" and UAL has received much public condemnation. The CEO offered a weak apology.

Why did this happen?

About 30 years ago the notion that an effective manager could manage any group in any business emerged, probably from business schools and consultants. Over the years many managers have felt this applied to them. I have personally worked for too many such "managers" and found they made a lot of mistakes because they did not understand the unique requirements of their business; and what annoyed me the most is that they leaned on their staff to save their butts, and then never issued a thank you.

Today senior and executive managers, whose previous employers enjoyed big success, think they can manage anything. And boards of directors hire them, regardless of their knowledge of the particular business.

It is my theory that the UAL's CEO is one such man. He was seen as successful in prior positions, was hired at UAL with no airline experience, and then proceeded to hire more managers like him, and now no senior UAL manager knows anything about the airline business.

The CEO of UAL is Oscar Munoz. He has been the CEO and President since September 2015, when the previous CEO quit, effectively immediately. His alma maters are University of Southern California (B.S., 1982) and Pepperdine University (M.B.A., 1986). [I earned a MBA from Pepperdine University in 1979.] From 2010 to 2015 he had been a member of the Board of Directors of parent company United Continental Holdings; that parent company was founded in 2010 in the United-Continental merger. From 2004, Munoz had been a member of the Continental Board of Directors. Munoz previously served as President and Chief Operating Officer of CSX Corporation, a company he joined in 2003 and left for UAL; CSX is an international and intermodal transportation company. From 2001 to 2003, Munoz served as the Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Consumer Services at AT&T. Munoz had also worked for Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc.

So, was Munoz qualified to run UAL? His only airline experience was as a board member. I doubt that gave him a sufficient operational understanding of airlines. Let's say his understanding of the public perception of air travel is insufficient. As is his direction of the operational staff to handle passenger conflicts.

Ironically, Munoz claimed in a September 2015 interview that he planned to focus on innovation, earnings growth, and most important an improved customer experience; he cited his consumer-based background as helpful for those changes.

At 3pm on April 10th, Munoz issued a much better apology.

And then a second occurrence of abuse to a paying passenger, on April 11 in Kauai. In that case, a paying passenger seated in first class was told to leave the plane because the seat was needed for someone else with more importance. He was threatened with handcuffs if he refused. Again, UAL refused to apologize or refund the price of the ticket.
(4-10-2017)

Metamorphosis
"Why Silicon Valley wants to thwart the grim reaper" by John Naughton on 4-9-2017 is an article about how some Silicon Valley wealthy are pursuing a software solution to cheating death.

These men have likely reached the pinnacle of their younger self's dreams, and find themselves in need of a new dream. But, instead of turning to a completely different practice, they seek to continue as they have. They see no value in the possibilities and gifts of middle age and older, to explore different dimensions and develop different skills. Instead, they are afraid. And cling to what they know.

In their devotion to electronics, they have failed to develop substantial appreciation for completely different, non-technological, ideas. At the least, they could enroll in a liberal arts program focused on the Great Books at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, or a program studying esoteric subjects. (4-10-2017)

How can the FDA do what it was created to do?
I think the FDA has been compromised for some time by a perceived need to pander to corporations and by underfunding. I think the idea behind the FDA is good, but perhaps it was not organized in such a way as to give it a position of authority AND a way to overcome disagreements with corporations. It has been reported for some time that the FDA employs people making at best $200K a year to oppose people making $1M a year. And with the promise of leaving the FDA for a high-paying corporate job. I do not think raising FDA salaries to astronomical levels is the solution, but they need a way to stand up to and prevail against their high-paid corporate opponents. I do not know what that might be, nor have I read anything about it. It's as of no one has noticed the real, underlying problem. It's easy to bitch and moan about FDA rulings, like their embrace of statins and glyphosate. We would be well served by looking for the underlying structural deficiences and correcting them. (3-28-2017)
Dietary advice on cholesterol et al
I recommend the following article with two mebedded videos. The Cholesterol Lowering Statin Drugs Increase Progression of Coronary Artery Calcification which addresses cholesterol, heart disease, dietary saturated fat, and statins. You probably know I do not spend time on this blog addressing diet and health. But I found these videos so well done, and the subject matter so relevant, I had to share. Be well! (3-26-2017)
Shift in Consumer Habits
Brantano, a UK chain of shoe stores, has moved into bankruptcy. Because this is the UK, they call it "administration." What went wrong? "Like many other retailers, Brantano has also been hit hard by the sharp decline in sterling, the ongoing shift in consumer shopping habits and the evolution of the UK retail environment."

Oh, the real explanation is the shift in consumer habits. There is some discussion in The Guardian article about how Brantano fits, or tried to fit, into "shopping habits." The Guardian goes on to say:

"All retailers are under pressure from rising costs because of increases in business rates, the introduction of a minimum wage for over-25s and the fall in the value of the pound against the dollar, the currency in which many products are bought on the wholesale market. Hinton said it was harder for footwear specialists to cut employee costs because floor staff were required to fetch stock and explain shoe sizes to customers."

BS. That is blaming everyone except the executives who are supposed to be steering the ship.

The reality is that their business model and the quality of their product failed, and the willingness of consumers to buy it — changed.

And so we see the power of consumer actions: quit buying a brand of shoe, and down they go. (3-22-2017)

Death of a friend and co-worker: Lynda Shiratori
I met Lynda in 1983 when we worked on the same project at Charles Schwab in San Francisco; we were both software developers. Over the years I learned about how her Japanese parents had immigrated to Idaho, where they raised 12 children; Lynda was the last and the youngest.

She loved to travel. She told me about trips to Egypt and India, where she returned several times. She studied spirituality. She helped the needy; I'm reminded of a crippled man (whom I never met) who lived in Mill Valley, she used to bring him groceries, prepare meals for him, and massage him with essential oils. She liked to dance, and took dance lessons with much younger people who were amazed at her energy and determination.

I last saw Lynda on Friday, November 4th of last year. She visited me, we went out to dinner, and had a nice catch-up chat. She was ill then.

According to her obituary, she died in Idaho on February 9, just a few days ago. She had been ill. I am sad to lose her. (2-16-2017)

Civics classes
I took a Civics class one semester in high school. I thought everyone still took civic classes. Today I learned how wrong I am. Americans! Teach your children civics if their school will not. Adults, study civics on your own if you did not take a high school class. How in the world can we be informed about what our government should be doing, how it is supposed to do it, if all we have to rely on is the commercial media with their self-interest? We desperately need an informed population. Please do your part! (1-18-2017)
Trump and the Power of Fear
Carolos Maza of Media Matters has narrated a video that provides an invaluable explanation of how the American government has come to its current condition and how Trump convinced people to vote for him. High recommended. (1-18-2017)
Video: The west was built on racism
This video appeared in the 1-18-2017 issue of The Guardian. (1-18-2017)
Sexuality and Politics
My remarks constitute a two-page PDF document.. (1-7-2017)
Leadership or misery
I am reading Winston Churchill's The Birth of Britain. In a discussion of Canute, who reigned over England from 1016 to 1035, Churchill wrote something that seems particularly poignant in January 2017 as America faces four years of a Trump presidency:
"Here again we see the power of a great man to bring order out of ceaseless broils and command harmony and unity to be his servants, and how the lack of such men has to be paid for by the inestimable suffering of the many." (1-4-2017)
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Revision: 1-4-2017.