Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The History of Kotex

Here's something I'll bet you didn't know (which is another way of saying, “I just learned this myself”): Sanitary napkins (more specifically the first such – Kotex) are a by-product of World War I.

The story goes as follows: Because Egypt grew most of the world's cotton at the time and Egypt was cut off from Europe and North America by the war, there was a shortage of cotton. There was also a great need for bandages, which were, of course, made from cotton.

Kimberley-Clark came to the rescue with a product it called cellucotton, made from wood fiber (which, amazingly, they patriotically sold to the US government at cost). Red Cross nurses at the front didn't take long to figure out another use for cellucotton, which was highly absorbent.

After the war, Kimberley-Clark introduced Kotex. The product took a while to catch on, though, since magazines refused to accept ads for it.

First Look at 2016

I put little faith in political polls far out from elections. Until the general public begins paying attention to politics (to the extent that most people pay any attention at all, it is only in the last few months of the campaigns) ... until then, the polls are mostly just a test of name recognition.

Nonetheless, I thought this poll on the 2016 Republican nomination was interesting. Not because it tells us who the Republican nominee might be, but because it tells us that we don't have a clue. Here are the top five:
  • Chris Christie 13% 
  • Rand Paul 12% 
  • Mike Huckabee 12% 
  • Rick Perry 11% 
  • Paul Ryan 11%
For all my adult life, the Republicans have almost always had a clear frontrunner far in advance, and that frontrunner has ended up being the nominee (the only exception I can think of is '08, when Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain were running neck-and-neck in the polls, with Giuliani slightly ahead; Giuliani's campaign imploded and McCain got the nomination).

This time the race is wide open. I didn't even bother to check the margin of error on the poll, since clearly all of these are well within whatever it is. As a matter of fact, all the other candidates, including 'somebody else', 'none of the above', and 'no opinion' are probably within MoE, too.

This coming nomination battle should be a lot more fun than Republicans have had in decades.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Impeachment? Why Bother?

The Democrats are doing a good job of using the (very remote) possibility of an impeachment move against Obama as a fundraising gimmick. In this effort they are getting help from a few Republican wackos (I'm looking at you, Sarah Palin).

I yield to few in my contempt for Obama, but any attempt to impeach him would be an utter fiasco. Not only would it fail miserably, but do these people not remember how much the Democrats profited from the Clinton impeachment mess in the 1998 elections? The Republicans are looking likely to win the Senate in November -- why do something to stir the Democrats up?

Besides that, what's the point of impeaching him? I often wonder whether he resigned last year and forgot to tell anybody.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Ecuador as a Retirement Locale

Ecuador, where I intermittently live, is a wonderful country. Like all places, however, it is not perfect and it is not for everyone.

Ecuador is often touted as one of the best places in the world for Americans (and Canadians and Europeans) to retire. Although some of the touting is mere puffery by a much-quoted magazine/website called International Living (I'll tell you what I think of IL in another post – but the short version is this: don't trust them), there's still a great deal of truth to it. Ecuador is beautiful, with a wide variety of delightful environments – the Andes, beaches, the Amazon, Galapagos – as places to live and/or explore; it also has a relatively low cost of living (though not as low as IL might lead you to believe), and decent infrastructure (quite good, in fact, by third-world standards).

Anyone considering Ecuador as a retirement site, though, should give thought to the country's long-term prospects for stability. Much of Ecuador's current attractiveness is because it is enjoying the fruits of an oil boom. However, Ecuador had two major booms in the twentieth century – cacao in the early part of the century and bananas in mid-century. Both, as booms usually do, brought about periods of stability, but both also ended (again, as booms generally do) and when they ended, they were followed by considerable social/political turmoil and military coups.

Now we see Ecuador, having spent the proceeds of the oil boom, turning to currency manipulation. Having imposed (relative) fiscal restraint on itself by adopting the US dollar as its currency fifteen or so years ago, the country is now going to adopt a parallel digital currency.

Any currency (unless fully backed by something) is of course only as good as the faith it inspires in the international community (currency values fluctuate in large part because the amount of faith fluctuates based on each country's situation). Anything issued by Ecuador is likely to be greeted with some degree of skepticism, because of:
  1. Ecuador's past history of multiple defaults (the most recent default was in 2008);
  2. The history of defaults and/or runaway inflation of other Latin American countries (it may not be fair, but the reality is that we all take into account similar cases when making judgments about individual cases);
  3. The similarity of Ecuador's spending and fiscal policies to those of Venezuela and Argentina, and the current shaky conditions of those countries' economies (see #2 for whether this is fair or realistic);
  4. The unwillingness of the congress to back the new currency with dollars.
Point #4 bears further comment. The congress specifically rejected the idea of using dollars to back the new currency and said it would be backed by the assets of the country's Central Bank.
Oswaldo Larriva, a member of Correa’s political party and president of the congressional commission that studied the proposal, questioned attempts by lobbyists to require backing the new electronic money with hard currency. He said the government had expressed its commitment to using the central bank to guarantee any issuance. 
“To keep repeating the same thing, that dollarization is at risk, isn’t an issue that goes against the president, it’s against the nation,” Larriva said to reporters July 15 in Quito. “Don’t repeat those things.”
(By the way, the second paragraph is not an empty threat – in Ecuador, criticizing the president can lead to jail).

As the Bloomberg article notes, it's unclear what assets the Central Bank might use to back the new currency. Ecuador's oil is pledged for the foreseeable future to pay off debts to China, and most of the country's gold was recently turned over to Goldman Sachs in return for a temporary boost in liquidity.
“It does raise a red flag,” Bianca Taylor, a sovereign analyst who helps oversee $210 billion at Loomis Sayles, said yesterday in a phone interview from Boston. “Whenever a country needs to sell or monetize its gold reserves, it’s definitely a signal that the sovereign is strapped for cash.” 
President Rafael Correa is stepping up his search for financing at home and abroad after borrowing more than $11 billion from China since defaulting on $3.2 billion of foreign debt five years ago. Ecuador’s use of the dollar means it can’t finance deficits by printing money like other countries.
Adopting the 'digital currency' is a twenty-first century way to allow the country to effectively print money to cover its deficits. Bloomberg (the first link) also suggests that it might be easy to coerce some people, meaning those without the ability to say no, to accept the digital currency in lieu of dollars:
While the government says it won’t force anyone to accept electronic money as payment, public employees and contractors who want work may have little choice, Aguilar said.
Government contractors will just factor the discounted value of the new currency into their bids (e.g., if the new currency's street price is 91c on the dollar, they'll just add 10% to their bids). Government employees and pension recipients will just have to take the hit.

I make no claim to expertise in such matters, and even if I am right about the direction I think things are going, it could be a long time before the stuff hits the fan; but I think people should take these developments and their possible ramifications into account if planning on Ecuador as a long-term home.

On the bright side, even if my suspicions are right and Ecuador's economy is heading for the toilet, a prudent expat would be unlikely to be hurt (the people of Ecuador would be another matter, of course), because collapses of the sort I expect to see generally have many warning flags, allowing for a timely exit, if needed. A few of those flags, as noted, are already waving, but there will be more as the end nears. My advice – go to Ecuador if you want (I moved to Quito at the first of this year and plan to return as soon as I deal with some matters in the States), but keep your eyes open for further flags, and rent rather than buy.

ADDENDUM: The point of this post is about the effects I expect from this new currency, and what it likely means in light of the government's current policies. It's worth noting, though that the law also gives the government "the power to decide who gets loans and how lenders invest their reserves." Gee , what could possibly go wrong with that?

Friday, July 25, 2014

FIFA Engages in Its Usual BS re 2018 Cup

FIFA has decided to not move the 2018 World Cup out of Russia. Some European politicians have advocated withdrawing the games because of Russia's recent behavior in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

I have mixed feelings on this – I hate to see major world events of this type lending credibility to rogue states, a category that surely includes Russia. At the same time, I'm opposed to the politicization of sport. Or, I should say, increased politicization of sport.

However, in announcing their their decision, FIFA was as silly as usual:
FIFA ... said a World Cup in the country ''can be a force for good.'' 
''FIFA believes this will be the case for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia,'' the governing body said.
Right – because the idea of sports events as a force for good was so recently proven by the Winter Olympics in Russia.

Actually, I imagine the FIFA board was grateful for the political calls to move the Cup out of Russia, because it gave them an opportunity to go demand another round of bribes from Putin.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Place Your Bets Now

Michele Bachmann says she may run for President again.

I'm putting the over/under on the percentage of support she'll get at 2.

Not that I want her to stay out of the race -- we always need some comic relief (though I thought the 2012 Republican field may have had a bit too much).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thank You, Phoenix, for the Math Help

Near my sister's place (where I'm living temporarily) is a small city park called Los Olivos (I think this area was once an olive grove before being developed). I often go to the park to walk, run, or do a light workout, as do a fair number of others.

It's a nice park with a pleasant family environment.

There is a sidewalk looping through the central part of the park with markers indicating distances. There's a sign near the starting point (shown at right) with a map of the park and the following helpful information (I've enlarged the central portion of the sign below).

How very kind it is of the City Parks Department to help us with calculating that 3 x 1/3 = 1.

This leaves us wondering, however, whether the people of Phoenix are really that dumb. Or perhaps the problem is with the folks at the Parks Department who think higher-order math of this sort requires explanation (did they bring in consultants to help them with it?)

Don't get me started on the exclamation points.

Could We Get an Update on This?

Here's a picture of Hillary Clinton presenting the Russian Foreign Minister with a 'reset' button in 2009, intended to signify the new era in US-Russian relations that she and President Obama were going to institute.

I wonder how that's been going?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Kind of Marketing That Makes Me Ashamed of My Career

I spent almost my entire working life in marketing, and I am pleased to say that I, and most of the people I worked with, behaved ethically at (almost) all times.

Sometimes, though, I get embarrassed, as a marketer, by the actions of some practicioners. Today's example: AARP. I got a mailer today that starts:
Dear Friend, 
"We regret to inform you that your AARP membership has been cancelled. Unfortunately, because we didn't receive your renewal instructions, we had no choice.
It then goes on to pitch me on the benefits of AARP membership and to offer me an opportunity to reverse my error. There are two problems with this.
1. I'm not their friend, and
2. I've never been a member of AARP and never will be.
A common complaint about people of my age (I'm 67) is that we are a bunch of greedy bastards trying to grab every government freebie we can and passing the bills on to our children and grandchildren.

It's an ugly stereotype, but unfortunately there's some truth to it. And AARP exists for the purpose of making it totally true.

And a mailing of this type, that tries to trick people into buying a service, rather than trying to sell it on its merits, does nothing to change my opinion of AARP.

Great Moments in BS

I think I may make this a regular feature. As I mentioned in a previous post about Gwyneth Paltrow announcing that she and her husband were getting a divorce undertaking a 'conscious uncoupling', I love really good bullshit.

That may be because I'm interested in politics and government, which could not exist without BS (where else would we get such gems as 'enhanced interrogation' for torture, 'police action' for war, or 'undocumented persons' for illegal aliens).

I should point out that I could have titled this something like “Great Euphemisms”, but I don't think euphemism is the right word for this sort of thing. To me a euphemism is saying “I need to go to the bathroom” when I mean “I need to piss.” The sort of thing I'm discussing takes the practice to a higher level, at which point 'euphemism' itself becomes a euphemism for bullshit.

OK, that was a long lead-in to a short item. I was out walking today and passed an apartment complex on Indian School Road (aside: I wonder when they'll rename it 'Native American Road'). The apartment management had put out banners advertising various features of their apartments, such as WiFi.

And then there was this one. I guess the marketing folks decided that advertising their security guards might cause potential tenants to think, “Why do they need guards? There must be a lot of security problems.” So therefore, the complex doesn't have guards, it has a 'Courtesy Patrol'.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Starting Over

Yeah, I've been gone for a while (if you call almost three months 'a while'). I'll probably explain things at some point soon.

I think I'll start posting again, but a word of warning ... I think I'll probably get more political than I've been in the past, I'm in Arizona and there's an election going on and, as usual, I'm am dumbfounded by the politicians.