Friday, March 18, 2016

Get a Stupid Answer. Or a Lie.

I’ve rewritten this post a couple of times, partly because my focus has shifted as to what the real issue is, and partly because of the changing political scene.  This was to be “Part Two” on “Asking Stupid Questions” and I was going to hold the media’s feet to the fire for letting this year’s crop of Presidential candidates to hold forth without much critique and account.

I will do that, and much more.

I’ve long learned that good questions get good answers, and bad questions don’t deliver.  Sure, the media is dealing with complex issues and many positions are “nuanced,” but there are times when a simple “yes or no” question can be asked AND answered.  In this year’s Presidential debates, some of the moderators did well while others were gawd-awful.  Certainly I see it that the Democratic debates contained more structure, policy, and informative dialogue than the Jerry Springer-like Republican bouts.  But as time went on the debates got worse, not better, and that’s when the media should have stepped up their game, and they failed.  And continue to do so.

However, I recognize that they are dealing with politicians, who, as we all know, lie.  All of ‘em.  It was in the New York Times, so it must be true.  It is true, but there is a difference between a professional liar and a politician who exaggerates a bit.  The latter does so because the story he/she is telling isn’t quite as compelling as the story it COULD be, and it we weren’t all so distracted with our iPhones and Twitter and SnapChat and such we might pay a bit more attention and they wouldn’t have to exaggerate or stretch the truth so much.

I get that.

A professional liar has more on their plate.  They have agendas and goals, and often the only way to obtain those objectives is to tell a story that in no way resembles reality.  And they do this so often with such “skill” that they accomplish those goals and fulfill those agendas, often with the approval of the very people whose eyes they have pulled the wool over.

You can recognize a professional liar when you ask them a question, and they give you a response that (a) is completely true, and (b) does NOT answer the question, although if you weren’t really paying attention it might seem as if it does.  This skill was aptly displayed at the debates, and many in the media called the candidates on it, and…they continued to do it.  Because it works.

Lotsa Lies
Personal example:  I’ve had one employee over the years who stole from me (and just the one – I am thankful for that).  Catching her was easy – she stole money at a time when the only people in the store were me, my wife, and her.  Pretty sure my wife didn’t take money from the tip jar and her own purse.  When I confronted her, I asked her if she took the money.  Her response was a pro-job:  “Search me – you won’t find it on me.”  True that (it was in her coat in the back).  A “true” response yet it did NOT answer the question.  So I repeated the question.  “I would not do such a thing, and you can search me all you want.”  Again, not an answer.  So I asked a third time.  “I cannot believe you are accusing me of this – search me!”  A true pro.  And a thief (who, I am sad to report, moved up in the crime world to drugs, drug running, and it currently occupying a federal building somewhere).

You can debate among yourselves which candidate lies more often, though I wanted to provide a handy chart so that you could see who Politifact thinks lies the most.  And truthfully, Politifact has been known to be full of shit on occasion, so there’s that.  Still, everyone lies, and no one cares.

At least, they don’t seem to care if it’s THEIR candidate who lies.  There is a psychological reason for that, and that’s the reason that exposing the lies doesn’t seem to have any affect on a candidate’s popularity.  If you spend some time on Facebook responding to an every steady stream of political bullshit with facts, exposure, and stuff from Snopes, you’ll see exactly what affect all that truthiness has on your political friends who inhabit a different side of the fence than you.  Nothing.

This does NOT include Fox or CNN.  Scary, huh?
The ironic facts are these – currently, the two candidates who lead their parties are also the candidates who lead their respective parties in “lack of truthiness.”  They also lead their respective parties in one other measure – exposure.

The more the public sees and hears a candidate: good, bad, truth, lies, pundited, speechified, whatever…the higher their position.  Here again the networks are at fault.  See chart.

And finally, the media is starting to examine their role in creating this.  Whether they do something about it remains to be seen.  I am not holding my breath, since CBS CEO Les Moonves quipped that the current front-runner of coverage and lies, "may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS, that's all I got to say."

Liberal media and journalistic credibility, my ass.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Ask a Stupid Question…

Well, sorta.
You know the rest, I assume.  As a former educator, I know the value in asking questions and seeking knowledge.  However, many tend to perform this task poorly. Like so many things, you get out of it what you put into it, and many folks just can’t form a good question to save themselves.

The reasons I know this and choose to write about it are twofold – it’s the start of our ice cream season (which I’ve written about previously), and Quora.  Let’s discuss Quora first.

I became involved in this question-and-answer “community” after seeing a post from a friend about it.  I was intrigued and he responded to my query about Quora with enough positiveness that I decided to join.  I claimed to be an “expert” in gambling and ice cream, and after a day or two, questions on those topics (sort of) appeared in my in-basket, waiting for my response.  After six weeks of activity, I can assure you that the old “Ask a Stupid Question…” cliché does NOT apply.  Rather, it’s this one:

“There is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid people with questions.”

Had I read the answer to this question in Quora, “How is Quora different from Wikipedia?I might not have been so eager to join.  The first two differences cited (of nine) were:
  • Quora is not an encyclopedia, and does not strive for objectivity.
  • Quora covers emerging knowledge, for which there are no published references yet.

The first part is certainly true.  Many answers are subjective as hell, and I can assure you that I have never seen a full-blown promotional piece on Wikipedia in describing a person, place, or thing.  On Quora, people feel no shame whatsoever to respond to a question and at the same time promote their book, blog, or other profit-making enterprise (especially true in the gambling questions).

The second part is funny, only because many of the answers seem to be culled from other online sources, including Wikipedia.  I must admit that I’veThere are some answers from true experts like Senator Elizabeth Warren and noted professors, teachers, professionals…and some from pseudo-experts (I fall somewhere in-between).  Then…there are the answers from everyday folk who try to be expert and share their knowledge.  But this isn’t Quora’s downfall.

No, the problem is with the questions.  Seriously, how would anyone, expert or not, answer this:

  • How can I become who I really am?
  • Is there a way to get Nigel Slater to come to my house and cook for me? If so, how much does he charge to cook for the evening?
  • What's this book called?
  • Who is the worst person to ever live on this planet?
  • Do you play online casino in your browser or on an app on you (sic) phone?
  • What were moments in life when one couldn't help but think, "I am so f**ked."?
  • What if everyone in the world yelled at the same time?
  • How are bad American Chinese buffet desserts different from regular restaurant desserts?
  • How do you know how much pulled pork to feed 50 people?
  • If I bet $800 on Exacta and won, how much do I actually win?

No, I am not making any of those up.

After a couple of weeks, I started responding to the really bad questions with “Good answers come from good questions.  I need much more information here in order to provide you with a decent answer.  Please try again.”  That worked once.  I also started to get fewer requests and hardly anyone upvoted my answers.  No surprise and little disappointment (from me).

I should have known better, of course.  At the ice cream parlor, this Q&A is all-too typical:

Customer: “How do you make your ice cream?”
Me:  “Well, we use a 20-gallon batch freeze…”
Customer:  “No, I mean, what’s in your ice cream?”
Me: “It’s a typical mix of cream, sugar, milk solids, egg yo…”
Customer:  “No, what I mean is do you have any sugar free ice cream?”

Now, why in the world didn’t they just ask THAT?  I have no idea.  I supposed I should ask someone.  Maybe on Quora.

By the way, there is no such thing as sugar-free ice cream.  If it’s ice cream, it has milk; if it has milk, it has lactose.  Lactose is a milk SUGAR.  There is no sugar added to the mix (which is why they call it “no-sugar-added ice cream”), but it is NOT free of sugar.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Hooray - The End is Near

Yup, that's us - two crabs with ice cream
In a few days (Friday) our ice cream shop, Zinger’s Homemade Ice Cream, will open up for our 16th Season.  I usually greet this time of year with a mixture of dread and anticipation.  Anticipation because it’s been five months since we’ve made any money and as the spousal unit says, “our balances are dropping dramatically.”  Dread in that I haven’t been actively working for five months…and I like that.  Really, I do.  But work we must.

I suppose this post is as much a pep talk to myself as anything.  The days that I truly worried about the upcoming season are long gone.  We’ve faced damn near everything in our time here, and whether it was increased competition, bad weather, slow tourism, power outages, or equipment malfunctions, we’ve survived and thrived.  Last year we joked that we finally wouldn’t have to worry about any equipment breakdowns because we had finally replaced everything with moving parts in the store at least once.  And then we learned that our one year old display freezer needed new moving parts.  Add in a freak city-wide power outage on Independence Day, our busiest day of the year, and 2015 was a year to “remember.”

But there is one additional aspect of this year (aside from not worrying about more breakdowns) that makes me giddy and eager to start:  I won’t have to do this much longer. The end is near.

We’ve joked about having five year plans to eventually put the business up for sale, find a piece of property, build the “dream home” and move on with our lives in what some folks call retirement, as we refer to as “progression.”  We truly mean to “progress” to some other aspect of our lives, but until now it’s been a hazy vision.  Over the last five months, however, we’ve “fixed target” and we’re headed to the promised land:

And the promised land is about 90 miles east of here, in Warren, Oregon. 

We have two perfect acres of land, suitable for a small house with solar, a small orchard, a large garden, room for dogs and us, close to groceries and services, yet far enough from everything to be considered rural, pastoral, quiet, and perfect.

I said perfect twice, didn’t I?  Well, it’s an apt description.

We had been looking for the right combination of land and home for more than five years.  Everything was either too big, too old, too sloped, too wooded, too far away, too close by, too…too much not what we wanted.  Or too expensive.  Finally, last year we found a property that could work, and the very next day we found an architectural firm that specializes in small, pre-fab homes that had everything we wanted, and needed, and at a price that was…perfect.

Then this winter we sat down and ran numbers on the business and figured out much it was worth, and it was better than we expected.  We’ve made arrangements (legal, broker, etc.) to move forward later this fall in putting all the information together to get ready to sell.  We already have people who have told us that they’d love to “take over” Zinger’s when we’re ready to let go.  And we’re about ready.  This year, then next year, and that’s it.

So the plan really is a plan, after all – a two year plan where we put the business up for sale, start working with the architect, find a buyer, clear the land, build the home, sell the biz, move and put the old home up for sale, and…by this time in 2018, we will be “progressed.”  That’s the plan.

So this year, as we head back to work, there’s dread, and anticipation, and a bit of “short timer’s” disease. If it seems I have a bit more spring in my step, it’s not the Geritol.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Political Fallout – It’s Zuckerberg’s Fault

So many undecideds.  So much time.
I have no idea if Mark Zuckerberg is a Republican or a Democrat or Libertarian or Green Party or even if he’s apolitical. I do know that it’s his fault the 2016 political season is what it is.

And what it is, is awful.

Now I don’t mean the candidates, although I could make a great case for it.  What I’m talking about is how we’re talking about it.  Almost everyone seems to have a fear-and-loathing about this particular political season.  It’s gone on for so long, it’s so negative, it’s so violent, it’s a clown car, it’s brother against brother, it’s a room full of idiots and that’s just the people talking about their favorite candidate.

And where they talk about them is on Facebook, which is why Zuckerberg is to blame.

Think about it.  In 2012, you were just getting your feet wet with Facebook, and the term “meme” was new to you.  Besides, it was a re-election year, with Obama against an uninspiring Mitt Romney.  In 2008 both parties offered fresh faces, but Facebook was the land of youth, more for posting pics of frat parties than political ones.

This is the first full-blown (in more ways than one) Presidential race where both parties have put forth “qualified” candidates for the office.  By qualified I mean “have gobs of money.”  Supporters on both sides are passionate about their man, unless he’s Hillary, in which case they are even more vehemently so.  On both sides there is name-calling, label-tossing, false-equivilancing, rumor-mongering, and everyone posts pics with the damnest memes.  And flaming?  No wonder this is the hottest year on record.  And all that mud slinging isn't on MySpace, and never was.  

I'd guess 70% of what I see on Facebook is political in nature.  Talk about a productivity suck.  
Every time I go online to check my wall, I am face to face with so much vitriol and bile that my alcohol consumption is on the rise.  I gotta stop that.

So do you.  Can I ask everyone to tone it down a notch?  Yes, you love your candidate, but do you really need to go on like you do?  And all that bullshit that you know is bullshit.  We also know it’s bullshit, and we’re tired of slogging through the bullshit to get to the one or two nuggets of information that makes wading through all that bullshit worthwhile.  Except then we find out that the nuggets are just smaller turds.

So stop.  Also, I have another favor, and this one is more genuine.  It’s about “National Polls” for one Presidential candidate vs. the-one-on-the-other-side.  These polls don’t mean shit.  Not because Candidate A can’t beat Candidate B, or the other way ‘round, but because we do not elect the President of the United States by popular vote.  We use the Electoral College, and you CAN win the popular vote and LOSE the Electoral College.

Ask Al Gore.

So I am asking if anyone out there has done a “national poll” that tries to calculate how the Electoral College will fall out based on that poll?  Clinton’s strong showing Tuesday night in the South – is that enough to win the Southern states against Trump, or would he get those votes?  Same thing for east coast/west coast/midwest – if Trump can’t win any of those states, and Bernie can…see where I am going with this? 

Stop the 53/47 crap, and tell me who gets to 270.  Thank you.

PS – remember that all my eBooks are on sale from 20-30% off (use the coupons here).   Follow that link (earlier blog post) for the info.  Thanks!