Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Obsessing About Religion

People have been willing to kill one another in the name of peace for millennia.  When will it ever end?  Only when people wise up - which is to say, never.

A reader writes, in response to my last posting, that it is acceptable to wish ill-health and death on Barbara Bush, because of all the people in Iraq who died as a result of the Bush-lead invasion.   It is an interesting argument, but ironically, proves my point.

While the Iraq invasion was a strategic mistake and we did kill thousands of people there during the war, far more were killed and continue to be killed, all across the Arab world.... by other Arabs.   Yes, they may burn our flag and call us the "great satan" (or at least Iran does) but in fact, they spend less time fighting the US of A than they do each other.   We are just an annoyance that gets in the way of their cross-religious slaughter.  The image above is of a car-bombing in Iraq - not aimed at US forces, but aimed at Sunnis by Shiites.

Yes, the old Sunni-Shia rift has been a meat grinder for generations.   And it has been an effective tool for various governments (including our own) to manipulate people to do things against their own self-interest, such as strapping on a suicide vest.   It is all-too-easy to recruit young people online and convince them they will be "martyrs" for their branch of Islam if they will only just kill themselves - and maybe a few other people in the process.  This does little to advance the cause of the individual, or indeed the people or the religion he (or she) is nominally dying for.  It does, however, help the causes of governments and other people in power.

Islam isn't alone in this - although in recent times, they have been the most effective.   The Catholic v. Protestant divide in Christianity has been exploited by political powers for hundreds of years - and thousands have been slaughtered as a result.   It is only in recent decades that the "troubles" in Northern Ireland - the last gasp of this religious warfare - has tamped down.   But even then, it threatens to explode any minute now, as each side starts posturing again.

Our reader argues that a widow in Iraq whose husband was killed during the Iraq war, would want to kill either of the Bush Presidents or Barbara Bush, and that this would be "understandable" given the circumstances.   But oddly enough, if you look at history, the opposite is often true.  We dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan, and they are one of our strongest allies.  We flattened Berlin, and yet Germany stands by our side.  We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than in all of World War II, and yet Americans are welcome there and we have good relations with that country.  Of course, those wars weren't about religion - but the religion of nationalism.

Again, we get back to do-or-die politics.   Nazism brainwashed an entire generation of Germans to fight to the death for a "cause".   When they lost that war, some die-hard Nazis still held out and murdered those who cooperated with the occupying forces - at least for a time.   But I suspect that a lot more Germans felt betrayed by the false God of Nazism than they did by U.S. forces.   They realized that their real enemy was from within - which is why today, it is verboten to display Nazi symbols or give speeches promoting fascist values in Germany (but ironically, legal in the US).

The bloodletting that is going on today across the Arab world is not in response to any US-lead invasion, but is part of a power struggle between various countries and power centers.  The Iranians want to take control, and will use their version of Islam to convince people that they should die for a cause that is not their own - by fighting and killing their fellow Arabs.   Meanwhile, our Saudi friends want a different outcome - and use a different brand of Islam to program people to kill their own kind.

Maybe the Iraq invasion was the trigger for all of this - although from the quick rate of surrender of the Iraqi forces, it doesn't seem many in Iraq had an ideological allegiance to Saddam Hussein.  They weren't willing to die for his cause, it seems.  But once the dust settled, most people wanted to get back to life as normal.  And we naively thought they would embrace democracy.   But given a chance, such as in Egypt, people in that part of the world often vote for dictatorship.   And then outside forces, such as Iran, started to try to manipulate things.   We were in over our heads, in a situation that was not so simple or black-and-white.   We assumed that people in Iraq would act in their own best interests, and embrace a new government free of the tyranny and secret police of the old government (a government that we also installed).

But we were wrong.   Too many people are easily persuaded, particularly these days, to give up their own lives for a "cause" while neglecting what is in their own best interests.  And no, it isn't because many of these folks have "nothing left to lose"- many suicide bombers and ISIS fighters come from fairly wealthy (by world standards) backgrounds, and have many opportunities available to them.  The Boston Marathon bombers were hardly starving, but rather had a fairly well-off middle-class existence in the wealthiest country in the world.  They were convinced otherwise - by online websites.

Which brings us full circle back to the original point - it profits you not to become obsessed about politics.  It makes you a toxic person to be around, it turns away friends and business contacts who may have been helpful to you later on.  It turns away potential spouses - because no one likes creepy.

"But Bob!" you say, "What about causes worth fighting and dying for?  What about the American Revolution?   The Civil War?  World War II?   Aren't those instances where it would be better to sacrifice your life for the greater good?"

Perhaps.   But all I can say is, you had better vet these causes carefully before you forfeit your life, either literally, or by wasting it away by obsessing about politics.

As for the revolutionary war, I guess you'd have a point.   If we had not fought the British in 1776, we would have ended up like.... Canada.   Um, I guess that isn't a good point.   Alternative history is hard to parse, but if Canada is any example, I guess we would have ended up as a quasi-independent country eventually.  Or did the American revolution force Britain to give Canada more sovereignty?  Would we have expanded Westward with the Louisiana purchase if still under British rule?  It is hard to say.

The Brits outlawed slavery years before we did - and even enforced a blockade along the African coast to tamp down the slave trade.   It is possible the entire Civil War may have been avoided if we had remained a member of the British Commonwealth.   Possible!   Or maybe that is why the Southern States were eager to join the "revolution" -  to preserve their "peculiar institution."  Who knows?

What historians can agree on, though, is that the American revolution was fought to preserve economic interests - often that of the landed gentry and the upper classes.   If they could get some farmers to join in on the grounds of "patriotism" so much the better.   And the same is true of the Civil War - they dragooned thousands of dirt-poor white-trash Southern farmers to fight for a cause - slavery - that was not their cause, as most never owned slaves.   Oh, and the Civil War was all about slavery - so let's not even go down that road.  Nice try, though.

Of course, we honor and cherish our heroes - brave souls who gave their all for their country.   But you talk to a lot of returning veterans - from World War II onward, and you find they have no such romantic views about war or sacrifice.  Maybe they have seen the horrors firsthand, and seen friends die in order to obtain an objective that, the next day, was irrelevant.   Or maybe they are just tired of the idea of going to war and dying simply because a bunch of other people have gotten it into their head that killing people is the only way to resolve a dispute.  It is hard to say.

All I can say is, I am not sure I would be willing to sacrifice my life for the current crop of politics.  I am not willing to go to war or die for the likes of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or indeed, Barack Obama.  Nor am I willing to obsess about any of them - to the detriment of my own mental, physical, and fiscal health.

Maybe - and this is a crazy idea, I know - if fewer people obsessed about politics and religion and didn't make it a life-or-death matter, than maybe we'd have less wars in the world.  Every time someone straps on a suicide vest - literally or metaphorically - the world is a slightly darker place.

As as for Barbara Bush, may she rest in peace.   No doubt she and I would not have gotten along.   But I could at least be civil to her!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Obsessing About Politics

People take politics too seriously.  When you wish ill-will on a sick old woman, it is time to step back and take stock of where you are going.

In two recent items in the news, news celebrities were taken to task for insulting comments they made about a young man from Parkland High School who is advocating for gun control.  These celebrity newscasters, among others, have gone beyond really debating the pros and cons of gun control, but have made it their job to personally attack this young man and say horrible and sometimes vicious things about him - suggesting violence or even death.

Sadly, this is the level of discourse in our country today with regard to politics.  People on both sides of the political spectrum take politics far too seriously.  And oddly enough, their political viewpoints are rather shallow - the "hooray for our side, too bad for the other guy!" kind of mentality that is only ankle-deep in thought.

It was reported in the news that Barbara Bush is seriously ill and is refusing further treatment.  It is likely that she will pass away soon.  A friend of mine who is on the far left said, when she heard this news, "Good!  She deserves to die!"  I was a bit taken aback by this as it seems rather harsh. Whatever the faults of her husband or her son as Presidents were,  I'm not sure that they are transferable to the elder Mrs. Bush.

Indeed, I don't think it would be proper to be wishing ill-health or death upon even either of the Bush Presidents.  Regardless of how you feel about their political views in their actions in office, I don't think wishing death upon them is appropriate.

But it is not a Left or Right thing.  Ted Nugent made headlines (and got a visit from the Secret Service) after he went on a rant and threatened to machine-gun President Obama and Hillary Clinton to death.   This is not deep political thought - just partisan nonsense.  Dangerous partisan nonsense.

Today, however, it seems this is the new norm.  Politics has become a contact sport.  And in contact sports it is an all-out effort to win at all cost, regardless of the damage to your opponents.

There was a time in this country when people had political opinions but didn't take them so seriously.  People would talk about politics and they would vote and there was about the extent of it.  They wouldn't hate their neighbor for having different political views, much less wanting to cause them harm or taking joy in their misfortunes.

Somewhere along the line - by design - we have been coached into this mentality where we not only disagree with our fellow citizens, but wish them ill will if they disagree with our political opinions. It's not enough that we want them to lose elections, but we want them to crawl into the grave and die.

And sadly, a few deranged minds act upon this mentality and take potshots at elected officials, sometimes scoring direct hits.  When we create an environment where politics are so highly charged and we view our opponents not as human beings but as mere objects, this is the inevitable outcome.

I'm quite certain that if I were to sit down with Barbara Bush, I would have a nice conversation with her, provided we didn't talk too much about politics.  But even then, I think we could have a civil discussion and I could respect her viewpoints and she likely would respect mine.  I may disagree with her, but I don't hate her for being who she is or having the experiences that she's had in her life that lead her to have the opinions that she does have.

Because that's all political opinions are - a result of our experiences and values that we develop as human beings.  And often these are based on our upbringing, our education, where we live, and who we interact with.  We may think our political opinions are deeply held personal values, but it is quite startling how people can change their mind about politics - often 180 degree turns, and often on more than one occasion.

The hippie that wants to burn down the system in 1968 and says "stick it to the man!" ends up becoming a yuppie in 1980 and votes for Ronald Reagan.  It is the same person with two diametrically opposed views.  And neither their views nor the person are abhorrent but rather quite normal.  Does the hippie of 1968 really want to murder the yuppie he becomes in 1980 or vice-versa?  I think not.  Yet today, people think nothing of wishing death on those who disagree with them - even if they may have disagreed with the themselves of a few short years ago.

We should debate the views, but not the person.  We need to stop turning politics into a series of personal attacks.  Because personal attacks don't address the underlying issues. And if the issues stand on their own, they don't need to rely on personal attacks.  One sure way to tell if someone is wrong in a political debate is if they resort to personal attacks.  Because that means they have nothing really to say to defend their viewpoint.

From a personal perspective, taking such extreme political views and obsessing about politics in general does absolutely nothing for your own personal bottom line.  It does not make you wealthier, or happier, or more productive.   On the contrary, it distracts you (again, by design) from your own life and your own business.  It alienates you from co-workers, friends, spouses, and potential clients and employers.  And such simmering anger can make you unhappy, mentally imbalanced, and even affect your physical health.

It's just bad for you, so don't do it.  All you are doing is giving up your own life to be a pawn in someone else's game.

* * *

HINT:  If you are talking with someone who has rabid political views diametrically opposed to your own, don't try to argue with them - it simply won't work, and you will just make an enemy out of a friend.   What I try to do is say, "Well, you might be right about that!" and change the subject.  They think you are agreeing with them, when in fact, you aren't.  Trying to "convert" people to your political point-of-view, I have learned, the hard way, is pointless.

The only thing more pointless, is getting into a political discussion with someone who agrees with you.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Devil Came Down To Georgia

The devil came down to Georgia in the form of ICE raids.

We drove into town today to get a massage.  As I noted in an earlier posting a massage can be very good for your health and helping straighten out your joints and bones and relaxing your muscles.

Afterwards we thought we drop by our favorite Mexican restaurant, La Salsa, to have some tacos al pastore and maybe a couple of cold Dos Equis beers.  But when we got there, the parking lot was empty.  I went to the restaurant and pulled on the door handle and founded firmly locked.  I went next door to the Tienda - the small Mexican market that does wire transfers and sells various sundries - but that was also locked.  What was really strange was that the park benches normally up in front of both businesses were placed inside, on their sides.  Apparently they were going to be closed for some time but also apparently closed in a real hurry.

I asked the neighboring businesspeople what happened to the restaurant, but they had no idea what was going on.  I had a sneaking suspicion - and an increasing dread - as to what was happening.  If I want to find out anything that's going on in the Mexican community in our town, I knew who to call - Pope Juan.

Our friend Juan works for the local Catholic Diocese.  He has his hand on the pulse of everything that's going on in the Latino community in Southeast Georgia.  We texted him and he responded that there's been a major ICE raid on our town and that things are "pretty bad."

I got to thinking about our favorite waiter at the restaurant.  We called him Clark Kent because he wore thick glasses like Superman's alter ego.  He was a handsome young lad who came here as a child - one of those "dreamers" that you hear about.  He hardly spoke any Spanish as he was raised in America.  And in fact our attempts at Spanglish fell on deaf ears as he was more proficient in English.

I worried about him and the other employees of the restaurant.  Would they be sent back to their own country?  Where was that Home Country exactly?  If they were sent back to El Salvador or some other crime-ridden country, it could be a death sentence.  Not only that, with all of their contacts and family in the United States, what would they do in a country that was foreign to them?  Our friend Clark barely spoke Spanish - how would he survive in a country where he had no family, no contacts, and could barely speak the lingo?

The irony, to me, was that we have a training center here in Brunswick call the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which  people refer to as "Flea-tech" or "Fletsie."  And every day, during the lunch hour, the FLETC trainees would come to this Mexican restaurant for lunch - many of them wearing ICE uniforms.  I wonder how many of the same people were involved in this roundup were arresting the very same people who are serving them tacos the day before.

Now granted, some of the folks they're rounding up came to United States illegally.  They did not have their proper citizenship papers or residency permits.  And under the law, they have no recourse other than to be sent back to their home country.  But it seems like there's something wrong when somebody is here for 10, 15, or 20 years only to be sent back at that later date.  Why, suddenly, do we feel these folks are a threat and need to be deported?

Under the law (actually, equity), we have concepts known as laches and estoppel as well as in real estate law something called "squatter's rights."   Basically, if you have legal rights to something and you "sit on your hands" for a decade or more, you are deemed to have voided your rights.

For example, if you get into a contract dispute with someone and you write them a letter telling them they are in violation of the contract and they need to cease and desist at once, and then you fail to follow up on that for a decade or more, your rights to sue might be voided.  The opponent could argue that your silence was an asset to their breach of the contract and your failure to take action over a long period of time voided their right to sue later on.  People have a right to rely on things being settled.

Similarly, if you occupy a dwelling or property openly and notoriously for a decade or more, in many states you may end up owning that propertyI wrote a blog entry on this before and noted that it's very hard to do.  If you occupy a house, pay the property taxes, and put your name on the mailbox make everybody aware that you live there, after 20 years the homeowner can't come back and say, "Hey, you have to leave! I own this place!"   He had 20 years to throw you out and he can't claim ignorance of the matter if your occupancy was open and notorious.

It seems to me that these legal concepts are analogous to the immigration situation.  We have allowed people to cross the border with a wink and a nod and have hired them in our economy to do essential jobs that no one else will take.  We haven't deported these people or in fact made any effort to track them down until now.  They have lived here openly and notoriously, often paying taxes at the jobs they work at.  And they have acted in reliance on the silence of the government as an asset to their living here.

Now, decades later, we say, "Gee, you're breaking the law!  You have to leave!" even though we've known about this for years and years and taken no action - and in fact benefited from their hard work in our society.

There's something else that disturbs me about this, at an emotional level as well. The idea of policemen rounding up people and hauling them off to detention camps - for-profit prisons run by friends of the President in fact - and holding them there for months at a time before shipping them off to these foreign countries seems somewhat Orwellian. Or perhaps even Naziesque.

When we have raids like this where the police swoop down and start hauling people away en mass, it makes me wonder how long it will be before they start hauling me away as well.

The devil has come down to Georgia.  And he walks the Earth in an ICE uniform.

I wonder if the folks from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center will have the balls to show up at this restaurant ever again.

What Is Attorney-Client Privilege? Not What You Think!

Many people misunderstand Attorney-Client privilege - even attorneys - and Presidents!

What is Attorney-Client privilege?  Simply stated, it is a right that may be asserted by a client to exclude evidence at trial, on the grounds that the evidence comprises confidential information communicated between a client and his attorney.  It is not the ability to keep things "secret" but rather to have them held inadmissible in court as evidence.  It cannot be used to further a criminal enterprise, nor can it be asserted by an attorney to shield himself from criminal liability.

Thus, for example, the FBI can raid the offices of your lawyer, if they suspect he is a corrupt lawyer or doing something illegal.  If attorney-client privilege prevented this, being a lawyer would be a license to unlimited criminality - or at least more than it is already.   You can't break the law and hide behind "privilege".   Oh, yea, I know, they do this all the time on television.   That's television, not reality.  Stop watching television!  It is rotting your mind!

Now, in some matters, it may be possible to keep documents "secret" up to a point, by claiming attorney-client privilege.   For example, in a civil suit, maybe there are some documents that include letters or memos to and from your attorney, that you claim privilege to.  During the "discovery" phase, your opponent makes a document request for a certain document.  You demur, claiming attorney-client privilege.  Your opponent challenges this in a hearing in court.  The judge may ask to see the document and review it in camera to determine whether it truly is privileged or not.   If he does not believe so, then the document may be provided to your opponent and perhaps admitted as evidence.

For example, during a patent case I was working on, we found a memo from the opponent's attorney saying that the Patent may be invalid because they filed it too late.  A disgruntled former employee of the company had a carbon copy of the memo.   For some reason, it was not on the opponent's privilege list - they claimed not to have a copy in their files!   We were aware of the document and it could have torpedoed their case as it was an admission that the patent was filed too late.   But, the opponent claimed the memo was protected by attorney-client privilege, and thus was inadmissible as evidence.  We had a hearing, and the judge reviewed the memo and agreed with our opponent.  If we were to prove the patent was invalid, we would have to do so through other means.  This did not mean the memo was kept secret form us or that we instantly forgot that it existed.  Of course, we could not disclose the contents to others.

The idea that you can keep things "secret" using privilege is thus flawed.   At the very least, a judge can review these documents, and your grounds for claiming privilege have to be pretty strong.   It is not a blanket proscription - you can't just take all the corporate records of your criminal enterprise, ship them to your attorney's office and claim "privilege."

My criminal law professor, Professor Starrs, used to tell us this, with regard to privilege.  "I tell my client, 'before you say anything, that if you tell me you are guilty, I will then fight to get you the most lenient sentence.  But if you don't tell me one way or another, then I will fight to make the prosecution prove its case.   Now, is there anything you want to tell me?'"   And usually, his clients would shut up at that point, rather than confess to him their crime.  As a lawyer, he could not argue his client was "innocent" when he knew him to be guilty.   But if he didn't know.... such is the fine line of legal ethics - at least for some lawyers.  Others simply don't care.

In other words, he can't be an accomplice to the crime, if he knows that a crime  has been committed or an ongoing criminal enterprise is functioning.   Obviously, other lawyers have different ethical standards than Professor Starrs.

But the idea that you can use a lawyer as a means of shielding your activities from public view or from the view of the police or the courts, is flawed.   You cannot avoid prosecution from crimes simply by claiming attorney-client privilege, if you and your attorney are in fact, partners in crime.

But again, a lot of people misunderstand this.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Pollen and Dust (and Home Pollen Filters)

It's that time of year again - pollen season!

Pollen season is just starting to wind down here in Georgia.  This year was really bad.  First the pine trees, which wasn't so bad, but then the oak trees, which laid me out for several days.   After a while, I was so angry about it, I wanted to murder an oak tree - take a chainsaw to the neighbor's oak and chop it into itty, bitty pieces.   But that would be illegal on our island, so I have to grin and bear it.

Pollen is an interesting beast.  It is basically the trees performing Bukakke on you (if you don't know what that means, Google it.  On second thought, better not!).  It is breeding season for the trees (and other plants) and they need to spread some DNA - all over you and your car.  Speaking of which, I use my car as a pollen level detector.  Since the truck has been outside during the garage makeover, it gets covered with yellow pollen.  Every day, I blast it with the hose, to clean it off.  The next day, I can see how much pollen fell in 24 hours.  Some days, it's like snow!

Pollen is basically tree sperm.  Your body reacts to it, thinking it is being invaded by foreign DNA (which, in a way, it is) and your immune system goes berserk, and you end up with a runny nose, clogged nasal passages, clogged ears, and post-nasal drip, and a nasty cough.  Throw in watery eyes and a feeling like you've been hit by a truck - what's not to like?

Some are more susceptible than others.  I never had a problem until I move to Washington - it is worse in the South.  And your reaction can change when you get older.  The use of antibiotics, some say, can make you more sensitive to allergens.

Of course, maybe I was sensitive to it before, but just didn't realize it.  Many people get a "spring cold" and a "fall cold" and think it is a virus - when it could be pollen or other allergens clogging you up. I take an antihistamine to tamp down the allergic reaction, and if I get clogged up, a decongestant.  It can be serious stuff.  When I moved to Virginia, I got a series of nasal infections and ear infections (the latter of which damaged my hearing).  You let that fester long enough, and it could kill you.

Every year, too late into the game, we realize we should be running our HEPA filters.  We have three of them, and they do really help get rid of dust in the air.   If you have a forced-air furnace or A/C, then you have such a filter built-in to your house.  Instead of those lame fiberglass filters, you can install a HEPA type filter in your furnace and it will take out an amazing amount of particulates from the air.  Just set the unit to "Fan: ON" so the fan runs all the time, until pollen season is over.  You should change the filter at least monthly, if you are using the fan a lot.

It reduces dust and pollen throughout the house.  And that's why I get a laugh when the shills on the "Hydronic Heating is a Gift from God" discussion group, gripe about forced air systems.  "It blows around all that dust!" they say.   But it does just the opposite - it sucks it all up.   I never had such a dusty house as we did when we had a hydronic heating system - there was no air movement, so dust just accumulated - and accumulated.

Most dust is you.  Literally, you are living in your own filth.  As you walk and talk and eat and sleep, you eject millions - maybe billions - of dead skin cells like a porcupine ejecting quills.   All over the house.  Little microscopic mites eat them.  Ugh.  If you use a HEPA filter, you will find grey dust in it (the same dust as in your vacuum cleaner bag).  That's you.  That's your dead skin.   Disgusting, but there you have it.  Quentin Crisp once remarked that after four years the amount of dirt in his apartment would just even out.  He later admitted he was wrong.  And who wants to live like that?

One of the filters we have is a fancy Bionaire model BAP-1175.  It works OK - Mark bought it at Linen's N Things about 20 years ago.   Lately, they have been getting very bad reviews - arriving broken.  The real problem is, it takes special cartridges which cost almost as much as the machine. And you can't wash them - or at least they say not to.  I do anyway.   It is quiet, though.  We have two "Quietflow" models from Hunter, model 30215, which isn't as fancy, but seems to work as well.  The nice thing is, it takes a standard 16x14x1 furnace filter, which I can buy online for cheap - and then throw them away on a monthly basis.  Maybe they aren't the recommended filter and maybe they aren't as effective, but they seem to catch a lot of particulate!

Do they make a difference?  Between the three filters and the furnace filter (with the furnace fan running all the time) the dust level in the house is cut down dramatically.  We also sleep better and feel better, during pollen season - until we go outside, that is.

I think also, after a few days or weeks, your body does adjust to the environment.  Your immune system figures out that the pollen isn't a threat and basically gives up or at least calms down a bit.

Pollen - what's not to like?

Cheat on Your Taxes?

Cheat on your taxes, don't be a fool - What's that you said about a golden rule?

A reader asks whether people cheat on their taxes a lot, and if so, how - and what are "audit bait" types of things that the IRS looks for.   I am not sure what the reader is asking for - a roadmap to tax evasion?   If so, look elsewhere!

But it is a valid question.  One reason people hate our existing tax system is that it can be complicated and leave you with a FOMO situation - where you think other people are cheating and maybe you should be, too.  Or that you are trying to be as honest as possible, but will be caught by the IRS for making some stupid math error, and then crucified in the public square as an example to others.

The reality is, of course, that for most of us, cheating on taxes, in any big way, is nearly impossible to do.   And under the new tax law, there is even less incentive to do so.

But in order to understand this, you have to understand how it is possible (and nearly impossible) to cheat on your taxes.   There are basically two ways - under-report income, or over-report deductions (or tax credits, or dependents).  In both cases, the IRS can easily check this, so it makes no sense to attempt it.

For us salary-slaves in the middle-class, our income is reported to the IRS on a form W-2.   Income from investments and the like is reported on a form 1099.   Even for self-employed people, income gets reported by the people who pay you, on a form 1099-MISC.   So, for example, in my law practice, about 3/4ths of my income gets reported by my clients to the IRS by 1099-MISC forms they file.  And they file these forms, as they want to claim my fees as a business expense, and they can't do that unless they report these on a 1099!  So it is a closed ecosystem - not much income doesn't get reported.

But what about that other 1/4 of my income?   Well, I get paid by check or direct deposit or credit card - all of which leave a paper trail.   And since I want to track my clients' invoices and make sure I am getting paid, I have my own records of these payments on Quickbooks.   So even though this isn't reported to the IRS, there are records which can be easily obtained by the IRS during an audit.   So there is little point in trying to "hide" this income - you are just setting yourself up for a fall.

You see, there are two levels of penalty for cheating the government.  If you make a mistake on your taxes and forget to carry the three or slip a decimal point, they can assess a penalty for late payment of your taxes - plus interest.  That hurts, but it's just money.   But if you intentionally try to cheat the government, then you may face criminal charges and go off to jail, like Leona Helmsley did.   So it makes no sense to intentionally try to cheat the government - although a lot of people try, every year, and fail.

People with cash businesses - like small corner convenience stores - often keep cash from transactions and fail to report it.  These are the folks whose homes get broken into and are held hostage until they open the home safe and give the thieves tens of thousands of dollars.  Sort of a Karma thing there - ain't it?   But it goes beyond that.  Even if you could hoard this money and not report it to the IRS, it would be hard to spend.   Any transaction over $10,000 has to be reported to the IRS - and trying to avoid this rule by making deposits for $9,999 is called "structuring" and is also illegal.  You can't win at cheating, so why bother?

This is why I say, even if you "found" a million dollars in a sack by the side of the road, it would be damn hard to spend any of it - without declaring it as income and paying the IRS first.  And organized crime does this - using retail businesses as money-laundering venues, passing cash into the business and then declaring it as legitimate income.  Casinos work the same way - you take cash in, buy some chips, then cash out.  They give you a check, and you declare it as "gambling winnings" and pay taxes on it.   These are the "whales" the Casinos talk about - not real winners, but likely money launderers.   But the government is cracking down on even that.

So not declaring income is really problematic.  And in terms of audit-bait, the number one sure way to be audited is to file a return that does not declare income that the IRS has already received a 1099 on.  The computer will simply spit it out.   If it is a small amount (like $150 you got in interest payments and forgot to claim) they may simply amend your return for you and adjust your refund - as happened to me once.   Again, they IRS understands the difference between "honest mistake" and "outright fraud" - but the fear of the IRS is something that is useful to them, so they don't go out of their way to tamp down stories about the big, mean, IRS taking away people's money.

And by the way, most of the stories you read along those lines are about people who intentionally tried to hide income or take bogus deductions and really had it coming to them.  When you cheat on your taxes, big time, for ten years in a row, well, why should we feel sorry for you?

But getting back to cheating - deductions are the far more common way of "cheating" and a little harder for the IRS to detect.  But the new tax law, which doubles the standard deduction, may make this a moot point.  What's the point of claiming bogus charity deductions if your standard deduction is so much higher?

Again, there are "red flags" that can trigger an audit if you make too many of the wrong kind of deductions.   For example, if you make donations to charity under a certain limit (I believe $500 - check with your accountant, as tax law is fluid) you are not required to show a receipt to prove this.  So a lot of people who itemize will put down $450 in clothing donations or whatnot.   And I suspect the IRS knows this is bogus but doesn't care.  Because in the greater scheme of things, it means an adjustment to your taxes of maybe a couple hundred bucks, tops.   And if you can make the person filing taxes feel nervous that somehow they cheated - even a little bit that helps keep them in line.

But even a lot of deductions are reported to the IRS or are part of your bank records.  Your mortgage interest, for example, is reported on a form.   Your Obamacare subsidies and payments are reported on a form.   So the big deductions are hard to fake.   And even smaller ones - you should be able to produce a cancelled check, bank record, or receipt, should you be audited.

Of course, there are really stupid ways of cheating, such as trying to claim your dog as a dependent.  This sort of nonsense will land you in a world of woe, as if you are ever audited, it is a pretty simple matter to prove you cheated and moreover did it intentionally.  Again, intent is the key.  The tax code isn't simple.   I've taken several semesters of Calculus and even Number Theory, and still the numbers seem to float off the page if I tried to do taxes myself.  In previous years, I used TurboTax.  This year, I hired my late Dad's accountant, as she handled the taxes on my Mother's small trust.  Her fees were not much more than TurboTax charged - and a lot less hassle.  And I felt better having a "second set of eyes" on my taxes.

For people who are self-employed or run small businesses, there are more temptations.   Leona Helmsley went to jail in part because she did stupid things like try to claim her girdle as a "uniform" expense.   And she said out loud, in front of her maid, that she knew this was wrong.  Again, making an honest mistake might result in a penalty and interest, intentionally defrauding the IRS can result in jail time.

I've always been pretty conservative in taking deductions for business expenses.  Others are not.  My accountant always nags me to find more deductions.   The IRS uses certain ratios of expenses to deductions to flag returns for audit (in addition to random returns that are flagged).   So if you claim a huge amount of deductions relative to income, you may be audited.

A friend of mine who was a real estate agent was also an auditor for the IRS.  And the deductions he took, scared me to death.  But he wasn't worried - not because he had an "in" with the agency (indeed, I suspect they are hardest on their own) but because he knew the rules and the trip-wires that would trigger an audit.

So, for example, he leased a brand-new Range Rover and deducted the entire cost as an expense of his Real Estate business - he needed the car to show prospective clients around.  And this is a legitimate expense, too.   But it does illustrate the fallacy of chasing deductions in the tax code.  He still had to pay for that overwrought POS British-made car (whose air suspension never worked right - the car would go down the road tilted sideways).   The tax code is not an investment guide and you can't deduct your way to wealth.   I suspect he would have been better off buying a more plebian car and putting the difference into an IRA or 401(k) - both of which, by the way, are deductions also.

But it is expected that if you have your own business, you may deduct telephone and internet expenses - which may be personal expenses otherwise.  And a home office is no longer "audit bait" in this modern era of people who work from home.   Unless, of course, you are not self-employed.  If you have a W-2 and a home office deduction, you may be in trouble - consult your accountant!

Similarly, setting up a "hobby business" for the purposes of deducting your life expenses is sure audit-bait, no matter what some click-bait sites claim.  My Mother fell into this trap with her bookstore, which lost money nearly every year.  After five years or so, the IRS audited her (again, another tripwire - a business that loses money for several years and never shows a profit).   She was incensed when the auditor mentioned "hobby business".   Mother thought this was a personal attack on her store, not a term of art used in the tax business.   Lesson learned - show a profit every few years and avoid an audit.  And you can do this by not claiming some deductions you are entitled to.

But even that will not protect you from audit if you have a real "hobby business" - that is to say, taking a personal hobby and trying to use it for the purposes of deductions.  For example, Clem likes old cars. He has '57 Chevy in the garage.  He claims to have a "business" in old cars, and claims deductions for travel expenses to car shows and auctions, as well the cost of gas, insurance, and parts for his car (which he depreciates as an asset).  This offsets his income as a Dentist, so it reduces his taxes.   But unless he actually sells something and makes money at this, it really is just a "hobby business" for tax purposes - taking a personal hobby and trying to claim it as a deduction.  This is illegal and I would not suggest it!

On the other hand, if he makes replica trim pieces for '57 Chevies and sells them at car shows and online, and occasionally makes a profit at this, he may be able to legitimately claim this as a business.  Again, consult your tax adviser - there is a fine line here you can cross between legitimate and hobby business.

Now that I am retired, I don't have to worry much about taxes.  With no mortgage interest to pay and a huge standard deduction (Thank you President Trump?) I no longer have to itemize my taxes.  And indeed, since I am living largely on after-tax income, I have little income on which to pay taxes.  The net result is, there is little incentive for me to "hide" income - and indeed, I cannot realistically hide it, as every investment firm I am with reports everything on 1099 forms.   And since I take the standard deduction, I have no incentive to be "creative" in taking deductions.

And maybe that was the point of the new tax law - to make taxes simpler for the masses, and also so they didn't feel they were "cheating" with deductions or that they were "missing out" by not taking some sketchy deduction.  If so, it was a clever law.   You no longer have to feel guilty about something when you file your tax return!

California Cancer Warning and The Boy Who Cried Wolf

When absolutely everything is labeled a carcinogen, then nothing is a carcinogen.

I ordered a new hall-tree and hat rack for the garage makeover.  It gives us a place to sit down and put on our shoes, and a place to store hats and jackets.   It's OK, I guess - sort of an IKEA-style particle-board POS that you assemble with barrel nuts.   It's fine for the garage, but I would not put it in the house, of course.  By the way, Wayfair seems to change prices in real-time.   The listed price for this item is nearly $100 more than I paid for it!

It came with about six "California Proposition 65" cancer warnings, which we all end up seeing these days, as if you want to sell product in California, you have to put these stupid labels on everything - and they are seen by people who don't even live in California.  And indeed, they are on everythingThe latest victim is coffee. A "non-profit" citizens advocate group (did the citizens vote for them?) sued the coffee roasters and won a "settlement" (I wonder who gets the money?).  So now coffee is labeled a carcinogen.

The problem with this well-intentioned law, is that it has backfired.   It is a classic example of the boy who cried wolf - so many things are now labeled as carcinogens, that no one will take the warnings seriously.  And there are a lot of things that can cause cancer.  The sun.  The air (when polluted).  The water (ditto).  And of course, the biggies - smoking, asbestos, and toxic chemicals - in large concentrations.   But coffee?   Furniture?   It is hard to parse.

The problem with this law is multifold.  First of all, it was a voter-initiative proposition, which are damn hard to get rid of, once they are enacted.  California's experiment with direct democracy has resulted in insanity, in some instances.  Cut our taxes!  Make corporations pay!  Mark everything as cancerous!  It gives liberalism a bad name.  Come election time - in the rest of the country - the Republicans need only point to California and say, "Is this really how you want to live?  Paying $1.5 Million to live in a ghetto and pay 70% of your income in taxes?  Really?"

And it doesn't matter if it is true or not - if the President tweets it, his followers believe it.   And they've seen enough of these bogus "cancer warning" stickers to validate the issue.

The second thing is, it negates real science and gives people the impression that real cancer warnings are bogus.   "Smoking is bad for you?  HA!  They said the same thing about coffee!  You can't trust those scientists - they don't know what they are talking about!"

The idea behind the law was valid - give people the opportunity to look at a product and determine whether it has carcinogens in it or not - and then make a judgement as to whether to buy and consume that product.   In theory, it would result in a more well-informed consumer and a better marketplace. Vendors would seek to eliminate carcinogens in their products, as it would help sales.   But the reality is, of course, it is nearly impossible to eliminate every single carcinogen from every product. Because every single thing in the world has the potential to cause cancer.

And when every single thing is marked as cancerous, then the law no longer has any valid effect. The consumer cannot make an "informed choice" other than to simply not consume at all, starve to death, and crawl into the grave - the exact outcome the law was designed to avoid.  So the marketplace is not better informed by these warnings, it simply creates a useless regulation that is complied with by slapping stickers on everything.  In fact, as a manufacturer or vendor, it is simply safer to put these stickers on, rather than try to determine whether the chemicals in your products actually do cause cancer - and to try to eliminate them.  No one cares anyway, and since everything has such a label, no one is the wiser.

Cancer is not some abnormality or "disease" that you catch like a cold.  It is the background noise of life.  Your DNA comes unraveled over time, and occasionally some cell will go berserk and take over your body - killing it in the process.  This is why God (or Darwin, or both) decided that it would be a better idea if each generation produced new, fresh offspring, untainted by cosmic rays, excessive sunshine, and exposure to an environment that is constantly trying to kill them (and eventually succeeding, in all cases).  The model of making people live forever, just doesn't jive with survival of the fittest.

So, if you live long enough, you get cancer.  Period.  For men, this means prostate cancer - we all get it, eventually.  But something else kills us long before it does.  And by the time "something else" kills us, we've all had a chance to sneak one by the goalie and produce a little carbon-copy (so we believe) of ourselves.  The replicator lives!

The problem is, it is getting harder and harder to take California seriously.  And sadly, this nonsense isn't dampening down, but accelerating.  As the far-right moves further right, the far-left moves even further to wackier left.  Guaranteed Annual Income!  Tax the 1%'ers!  Outlaw firearms!  The message on both sides resonates with fewer and fewer people.  And the last time the world was this polarized - in the 1930's - bad, bad, bad things happened.

The entire Magic Kingdom is apparently a big toxic waste dump.  Or is it?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Place for Everything...

"A place for everything and everything in its place"

My Dad used to say that - that you need to be organized.  Something he learned in the military - but maybe not too well.  Our house growing up was fairly cluttered, and our family tended to save weird things.  For example, in the laundry room, we had a "light bulb shelf" and my parents would replace a light bulb and put the old blown bulb back in the packaging.   I never understood this until I read somewhere that back in their day, Con Edison would give you free lightbulbs if you brought in your old ones.   So maybe it was an old habit.

But they had lots of "junk drawers" in the kitchen, and crap piled up in cabinets and closets, and on shelves in the garage.  Dried up cans of car wax from 1956 (My Dad was not a car detailer!) and broken down lawn chairs - that sort of thing.   Why did they save it?  Why?

I recently uploaded a video of our laundry room makeover, which involved stripping the place down to the studs and replacing all the plumbing and wiring.   Next to the video on Youtube is a "recommended" video of a lady doing a laundry room makeover of her own - which consisted of her throwing away a lot of junk and buying a few organizers.


Because if you own something and you can't put your hand on it readily, it is like not owning it at all, in which case, you might as well throw it out.   Yes, a place for everything and everything in its place, but sometimes that place is the garbage can.

I was going to say, "Makeover?  Come on!" and then I realized she had a harder job than I did.  The hardest part of my makeover wasn't the plumbing or electrical or even holding sheets of sheetrock over my head to screw them into the ceiling - it was the organizing and sorting of junk that had accumulated in our garage.   It is exhausting work, mentally and physically.   You have to figure out if you want to keep something (and wonder why you kept it this long in the first place) and then put it somewhere where you can find it in the future.

Because if you own something and you can't put your hand on it readily, it is like not owning it at all, in which case, you might as well throw it out.   Yes, a place for everything and everything in its place, but sometimes that place is the garbage can.

So my hat is off to laundry room lady.  She had a nice laundry room, too.  Roomy with cabinets and lots of space to work in.  Her complaint was that it was cluttered with junk - junk that she had put there.  And it is not hard to see how that happens.  When we are working 40+ hours a week, one simply doesn't have time to sort through things and put them away in an orderly manner.  Company is coming over, and things get shoved into closets or under beds.  "I'll deal with that later," we say, but later never comes.

Of course, when you retire, you have all the time in the world to organize things - but it is a futile task.  My tools are now neatly organized - now that I am less likely than ever before to actually use them.   As you get older, you need fewer things - and you have the time to keep them organized.  A casket is the ultimate organizer tote.  Very tidy and well-arranged!

But it is interesting, as we get older, we want less.  And one reason is, we realize we don't have room for everything we would like.  We see something in the store and think, "That's neat" but then think again, "Where would I put that?" and we put it back on the shelf.   If you acquire some object, it usually means you have to get rid of another - and getting rid of is the hardest thing to do.  "I paid money for that!" we think, even though "that" is worth nothing at this point.

The garage sale is one way to relieve ourselves of these burdens.  Charity organizations are another.  The garbage can and the curb is yet another.

We are finishing up the last pieces of sheetrock on the ceiling of the garage, and I think for the time being, my organizing binge will stop.   After all, it is a never-ending task, once you set out to do it, and there actually will be time later to organize things.   Sometime, in the middle of all this, you actually have to live life.

NOTE:  The image above is a stock image from Redfin (Bill Gates' real estate agency that is stirring up the business!).  It is a stock photo, not a real garage, from what I can see.   No one actually lives like that!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Telltale Signs of Embezzlement

In retrospect, everyone should have known....

I have read a number of stories about lawyers (or company managers) who find out that, after years of loyal service, their secretary or accountant was embezzling from them - often to the tune of millions of dollars.   And usually the money is gone, too - to the casino or drugs or other money-drains.   So they can't get it back.

How does this happen, and how do they miss the warning signs?   Because there are many.

They usually find out about the stealing when good old loyal Suzie (and it is more often a woman than a man) goes on vacation at long last, or is hospitalized.  They hire a temporary replacement and after a few days, the replacement comes into the boss's office and says, "You need to take a look at this!"   The fraud unravels at that point.

What are the signs that these folks should have looked for?  There are many.   Suzie was a hard worker, alright - she never took a vacation in 20 years!   And the reason she never took vacation was that she knew if she left, someone else would look at the books and recoil in horror.   For this reason, many companies now require that people in fiduciary positions take their vacations.   No excuses!   If someone refuses to take vacation, year after year, that should be a warning sign.

Suzie also had excuses and reasons why financial reports were late or not available.   She would come to a partnership meeting, deflect demands for financial statements, and instead give an oral report of the firm's finances.   She would not disclose bank statements, balance sheets, or other financial documents.  And if pressed, she would promise to do so, and then waffle on that promise.

Again, most companies have learned - often the hard way - that this is a sign of embezzlement in progress.   Many partners overlook Suzie's tardiness or inability to provide financial statements, as they are all making so much money (they think) and let it slide.   A strict policy on this - having quarterly or even monthly financial statements for all the principals to review - is essential.   Also essential is an "open books" policy, so any of the partners can review financial records at any time.

If you have an accountant or secretary that balks at this, ask yourself why.  They will claim it is a disruption to their work flow, or some such nonsense.  Or that partnership financial information should be kept secret (from the partners?) or is privileged.   This is, of course, nonsense.

The Partners once proposed that Suzie hire an assistant.  After all, she was getting up there in age, and maybe she needed some help.   For example, in getting out those financial statements that never seem to materialize on time - if at all.  Suzie refuses.   She keeps all records under lock and key, and she has the only key.   Again, this should be a warning sign.  Whenever someone is an information hoarder, something is wrong.   At the very least, such people are an impediment to productivity.

How do they steal the money?   There are a number of ways.  If you don't have a mechanism for tracking your vendors (and vetting and approving them), it is a simple matter to commit invoice fraud.  The accountant simply pays an "invoice" for non-existent office supplies or some other supply or service.  They might also work in cahoots with an actual vendor, to have them over-inflate their invoices and then split the proceeds.   Or vendors may pay the accountant or other person who approves invoices for payment, in exchange for having business sent their way - business at a higher price, of course.

In cash businesses, it is very simple to simply pocket cash from purchases and not record the transaction.  That's why so many stores have cameras in them - not to take pictures of the customers, but to catch the action at the register.

Some embezzlers are just dumb enough to write checks to themselves - or to "cash".  They usually get caught pretty quickly, though.

What got me thinking about this was a friend was complaining that the volunteer organization they work for is having trouble getting financial statements from their volunteer accountant.  They get a lot of verbal reports, but no one is allowed to look at the books, and quarterly financial statements are delayed or demurred.   When the board has meetings, the accounting person can't attend "for personal reasons."

All of these things set off alarm bells in my head.   To me, not knowing the balance in my bank account is, well heresy.  And vague and contradictory financial information is, well, like having a ship without a rudder or compass.   You will end up on the rocks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Why Jekyll?

Why we live where we live is an interesting question.

I was riding home the other day and thought about a question I get a lot, from visitors, friends, and people online - "Why do you live on Jekyll Island?"   And when I got home, there was an e-mail in my inbox from a reader with the same question.   So it is kizmet.  I have to write a blog posting about this.

To begin with, why do we live where we live?  It is a question - a fundamental one - that few of us choose to ask ourselves.  We live with our parents - as I did - for the first 18 years of our lives.   And then many of us live in "our hometowns" - which is to say, where our parents lived, or in the immediate environs, at least for a while - or for the rest of our lives.  And, again, this is a pattern I followed - living near or around my hometown until I was about 25 years old.

For some people, the story ends there.  They live where their Mother squirted them out as a squalling baby and never move more than 30 miles from that spot.  A bank manager in Ithaca, New York confided to me that he had never left Ithaca in his 35 years of living, other than to fly once to Orlando, which he didn't think much of.   In fact, he rarely left the county he was born in.   Places like Rochester or Buffalo were deemed to be exotic, far-off places that one could never visit.   And growing up in that area, I can attest to this myself.  It is very easy to become insular and comfortable with one single spot - and never want to leave.

For others, they leave home to go off to college at age 18, and then move somewhere for that first job at age 22, and end up living somewhere based on job opportunity more than anything else.   And for many, the story ends there - they live in the same place they got their first job, and never leave.   They forget the reason why they moved there, and just assume it is where they should live.   And again, my life followed this pattern in part, as I moved to the Washington, DC area to go to work for the Patent Office - and spent 20 years there in the rat race, chasing the dream.

I realized, after a while, that places like that were a place to make money, but not necessarily where you would want to settle full-time.   Yet, I know a lot of retirees who live in Fairfax County, after doing their 20-30 years with the government.   It's all they know, and they have no inclination to leave, even though the cost of living is high, the traffic is insane, and in the summer, there are "code red" days where the air is deemed unsafe to breath, particularly for elderly people.   I mean, what's not to like?   Perfect place to retire and get old, right?

But a funny thing happened in the 1990's.   The Internet.   And yes, to the dear reader who sent me a writing style guide, that is a sentence fragment.   For God's sake, don't ever apply a writing style guide to any of the "great authors" - you'd go insane.   I'm not saying I'm a great author, of course, but sometimes you have to bend the rules of grammar to make a point.  And that's the point.  And you should never start a sentence with "And" - one of my worst habits.  Or But.

Anyway, the internet allowed me to work from anywhere.   From my spare bedroom, or my camper, or from a cabin in the woods - so long as we had internet service, which you can get via satellite from the old Hughes Aircraft Corporation and its successors.  After an airplane crashed into the Pentagon, some "sniper" dude started gunning down people at gas stations or the parking lot of the Home Depot, and then another nutjob started sending anthrax through the mail, we decided to Escape from Fairfax County and find somewhere else to live.

We already had a condo in Florida, so that seemed like a logical place to go, at least part-time.  We bought an elaborate house on a lake in New York - forgetting about the high cost of living there and the primitive mindset of most Central New Yorkers.   On the way back from Florida, we stopped at Jekyll - a vacation waypoint we had been coming to for over 20 years at that point.  We had even made an offer on a house ten years' previous, but it never went through.   This time, almost on impulse, we bought.  And that was over a decade ago.

In retrospect, it was kind of a rash decision, but we have no regrets.   We bought at the height of the market, and today our house is worth.... what we paid for it.   But it is hard to make money on your personal residence anyway - and besides we really cleaned up on other properties we owned.   So I can't complain too much - not when others have been foreclosed upon in other parts of the country.

But the question remains, Why Jekyll?  Why here?   And the answer is complex.   It certainly is not a place for most people - and in fact, many people dislike it strongly.   When we made the unsuccessful offer on a neighboring house 20 years ago, Mark was still unsure about the place.  "I don't know," he said, "This place is kind of creepy and quiet!"

"Ain't it GREAT?" I replied.   It took him another decade to appreciate the "creepy and quiet" thing - again the sniper, anthrax, and crashing airliner made him appreciate it more.

But others, it seems, need noise to drown out the deafening silence in their lives.  They want a busy place with lots of traffic to fight.  Some folks just love to drive in traffic, it seems, zoning out and weaving between cars like they are pylons.  I realized later in life that it is kind of a white trash thing to enjoy - like most motorized sports.   The sensation of movement and speed is fascinating to babies and small children.   You get older and driving a car seems more of a chore than a treat - particularly when you are boxed in on all side by other cars.

And still others want to be near "shops" and restaurants - which we have, but not in the plethora that other locations have.  We don't have miles of divided four-lane highways, with the Flintstone's-like repeating scenery of car dealers, chain restaurants, fast-food joints, big-box stores, and condominium developments.   Some people apparently like that sort of thing.  Someone must - most of America has turned into that.   To me, it is frustrating annoyance, driving 1/4-mile at a time between stoplights, awash in a sea of angry SUV drivers.   Why on Earth would anyone choose that?

And again, most people never think of where they live as a choice.   In fact, when they retire, many people make the first choice in their entire lives as to where to live, and it scares the shit out of them. Many choose to stay put where they are - they know their way around, and all of their friends and family are there.   And I guess that is a logical choice for those reasons.   A lot of people who live here, for example, keep one foot in their "hometown" by being snowbirds.   Still others will eventually "go back home" up North when they become infirm, so they can be close to the "grandbabies" and whatnot - which again, can be a logical choice, particularly when you need someone to look after you.

Many folks like the idea of the planned retirement community - safety in numbers.   The Villages is a case in point.   And it is nice there - you can buy a house for under $200,000 - and there is a lot to do, to be sure.  But it is a huge place, and getting huger by the minute.   Eventually, it will encompass all of Florida, at the current growth rates, in about 100 years.

So why Jekyll and not all these other places which have ready access to big-box stores and casual dining emporia?   Well, it is quiet here.  It is a State Park, but not in the sense that we have smokey-the-bear-hat rangers in green uniforms.   The island is run by a benevelent dictatorship known as "The Authority."

Respect My Authority!

As such, it is a hybrid between a State Park, an environmental preserve, a vacation beach resort, an historical site, and a housing development.   The island was taken over by the State after the war, when the Jekyll Island Club - the Millionaires' retreat - foundered.  I could go into all of the history about that, but it would take volumes.  Just read one of the June Cash books or go online.  But please, avoid all these weird "Creature from Jekyll Island" paranoid conspiracy sites that blather on about how the Federal Reserve "took all their money away".  One of the greatest things J.P. Morgan did, was force the government to form the Federal Reserve.  He was simply tired of being the go-to guy whenever the government needed a bailout.   Imagine the alternative if we had no Federal Reserve - we'd be asking Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos to bail out the economy every time it tanked!   But I digress.

For some reason, the island Authority decided to rent out building lots and encourage people to build homes on the island.  It stared as early as the 1950's, I believe, but it didn't take off until the late 1960's and early 1970's when most of the houses on the island were built.   Only 1/3 of the island can be developed, by State Law (this has changed a little bit, as the island has changed dimensions over time, but the thrust is the same - no mega high-rises are going to be built, despite the paranoid rantings of the "Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island" - please ignore them as well!).  So there are a limited number of homes on the island - about 600-700 by most counts.

As a result, the architecture on the island is "challenged".  Oh, sure, there are a few unique houses, a few "mid-century modern" classics (scary when things from your childhood are in antique shops, eh?) and a few oceanfront beach houses.  But for the most part, the houses on the island, particularly on the marsh side, are all of the same or similar designs, all from the same South Georgia Builder's Planbook.   Boring brick ranches.

When Mark's brother first came to visit, he called from the toll booth (yes, you have to pay to get onto the island, and this does keep out the riff-raff).   "How do I find your house?" he asked.   "Just take a left at the gate and drive down Riverview - it's the brick rambler on the right!"  we replied, and hung up, giggling.

He called back ten minutes later.  "They're ALL brick ramblers, Goddammit!" he said, "and they're all on the right!" - and we had a good laugh at his expense.

The houses are pretty well-built, but there are some things to look for.  They are built on a slab, which is fine - no basements or crawl spaces to deal with.  But since the water pipes are buried in the slab, and about 60 years old, they may need to be replaced, eventually.   If you are looking at one of these older homes, it is a plus if the homeowner replaced the pipes - usually by running them through the attic.

Similarly, the older electric panels, made by "Federal Pacific" are deemed by some insurance companies to be a fire hazard.   If the house you are looking at has a new Square-D panel, that is a plus.  Neither of these things is a deal-killer, in my opinion, just something to look for - a plus.

A reader asks why so many houses are for sale in some sections of the island.   "So many" being like, four.   And the answer is, people are dying.  An older generation - mostly retired New York State school teachers (you know, those underpaid ones) have passed on, and a new generation of younger people (meaning people in their 50's and 60's) are moving in.   And a lot of these older homes are in "original" condition - original appliances, windows, roofs, wiring, plumbing, etc.  The heirs of the owners want top dollar for them - and aren't getting it because of the condition.   If you love green appliances from 1970's, I suppose you could call it kitschy mid-century modern.  Most other people call it outdated and worn out.

A friend of mine bought one of those houses and has gutted it and redone it.  Yes, plumbing is now in the attic, not the slab, and a new Square-D box was installed.  Since the houses were well-built, all the interior walls can be moved and removed, freshening up the look and making the house feel more modern and open.

We bought our house after it had been renovated.  Sadly, they did not do the plumbing or electric.  Two chores still on my list!

There is new construction on the island, of course.   When we moved here, there was a row of motels and hotels on the beach - all tired and worn out.   In the next few years, five hotels were torn down (by my count) and only three were built in their place.   Two hotel sites were turned into housing sites.   "The cottages at Jekyll" has a number of townhomes, some on the beach.  "Ocean Oaks" doesn't have a view of the water, but ready beach access, and custom-built single family homes and duplexes.

The hotels were replaced by houses, as people today rent houses for weeks at a time, when they go on vacation.  So houses made more sense than building more hotels - they would end up empty.

Attendance peaked on Jekyll in the late 1970's - until Disney World opened up.   Since then, it has gotten quieter and quieter - which old-time Jekyll residents were quite happy about.   But the island was losing money and costing the State of Georgia more and more each year.  So it was decided to tear down the dated hotels, the outmoded convention center, and the moldering shopping plaza and put something new and better in its place.   And this has meant more visitors to the island and "new people" - who are not retired Yankees, but rather more Southern in nature.  So the "Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island" was born - three couples meeting in someone's living room and starting scandalous rumors and generally saying negative things about the island and trying to shout down each improvement.

Crazy?  You bet.  One couple refuses to use the bike path, because they believe (without any logical foundation based on fact) that it is "ruining the ecology of the island!"   So they ride in the street instead, and will likely be run over, someday.    It is pretty sad to me, that someone so comfortable in life, living in such an idyllic place, can be so unhappy and run down the very place they live.  But again, it is this obsession with politics and conspiracy theories.  Oh, and the messiah complex - they are going to "save the island" for the rest of us.   I had one of these nutjobs tell me that I should be kissing his ass, because he and he alone "saved the island" from a proposal by Linger Longer Communities to build a medium-rise building on the beach.  What "saved the island" was the recession of 2008 which nearly bankrupted that company.   Talk about narcissism!

It is best not to get drawn into groups like that.  I mention this nonsense only that I realized that I finally understood what Genesis was all about.   The story of Adam and Eve isn't about original sin, or sex, or the shame of nudity or serpents and apples.   It is about two people living in paradise and then getting so used to paradise that they start finding fault with it.   God gets fed up and says, "OK, you two, go live in the real world!  See how much fun that is!"  And he tosses them out of paradise.

And I think these "Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island" people are the same way.  They are bored and don't have enough to do, and forgot how hard everyone else has it in the world.   So they pick apart paradise and look for flaws, real and imagined.  They pull at threads in the sweater until it is unwound and then say, "See?  I told you this sweater was no good!"

I am sure there are people like this everywhere - telling you how rotten Hawaii is, or whatever.   Just ignore them and make your own opinions on things.  And don't listen to wild and unfounded rumors - they never end up being true, and just get people riled up.

In the last decade or so, the island has undergone a transformation - for the better.  We have new hotels, a new convention center, and a new retail "downtown" - and a new gas station.   The place looks better and is attracting more visitors.   Nothing like Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head, of course - the island simply doesn't have the capacity for that many people.  Even during the "busy" season (in the summer when we usually go away) the island is hardly crowded.   Remember, 2/3rds is undeveloped.  So it is not row after row of beach houses like in places such as Duck, NC.

The renovation has been an amazing thing to watch - and is still ongoing.

Today, we have a critical mass of people to really support the number of restaurants we have here on the island.  And we have a variety of venues to choose from, from the upscale Club Hotel, to the Westin, to the Holiday Inn and Hampton.   Again, the "Coalition" - Yankees every one of them - claimed that they were going to "save Jekyll Island for the average Georgian".   I found that attitude condescending.   The "Average Georgian" might not drive a brand-new Mercedes (unless they are from Atlanta) but odds are, he has a pickup truck that cost even more.   The idea that people want to go on vacation to some run-down poverty resort is just nonsense.  People go on vacation to spend money.  And there is nothing wrong with aiming higher in life.

Now of course, this means that we can't afford to eat at the Westin every night - or at the Club.   But every Wednesday, the Hampton has a happy hour with special appetizers for locals.  And the Bistro at the Villas-by-the-Sea has affordable entrees and a bottle of wine is only $10-$12 with any entree.  That's pretty affordable, even for the below-average Georgian.   So it is possible to go out and have a good time - but going out all the time?   Just not healthy anyway.   You eat out every night and pretty soon, well, you're picking apart paradise, because you are so used to being waited on.

Will I live here the rest of my life?  Probably not.   Eventually, we will sell our house and downsize to a condo or apartment with less room and less "stuff" to deal with, as we get older.   Something near a hospital and shopping - preferably within walking distance.  Something in a safe and affordable neighborhood.   We haven't found it yet.

The reality is, of course, you can buy a much nicer house on the mainland for half as much as here on Jekyll.   Maybe even with a marsh view or even a dock.   If you live here you have to want to live here, and that sort of becomes an interesting filtering criteria.

Last week, we were coming home from the Hampton Inn, after having a few drinks and some appetizers, and seeing a number of friends.  We took the golf cart the "long way" around the island, and the evening breeze off the ocean was lovely.   At times like that, you realize why you live here - because really, there is no other place quite like it.

But people are different, and some folks just don't get it.   And sometimes you see those folks here on the island - doing 50 in a 25 zone, because they're in a "hurry" to get somewhere on a 7-mile long island.   They'd be happier in Myrtle Beach, I think!