Tiananmen OSINT

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” — Benjamin Franklin

[Readers are directed to the end of this post for an explanation of my timing and motivation.

UPDATE 6/5, 11 AM CDT: videos embedded!]

I. Anniversary Reconnoiter

At around nine in the morning local time on the thirtieth anniversary of the “June Fourth Incident,” I began a reconnoiter of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing to observe security measures and, if possible, witness any attempt at commemorating the massacre. I accompanied Dr. Andrew R. Cline, professor of media, journalism, and film at Missouri State University in Springfield. We were part of group of eleven people—four students, two faculty, and five others including me—comprising a “Study Away” program from MSU which had spent the previous twelve days in China, flying into Beijing and taking high-speed trains to Xi’an and Xining, then on via the Qinghai–Tibet railway to Lhasa before flying back to Beijing. Of all days, Tuesday 4 June 2019 was designated a free day for the group: no itinerary—and no guide. The remaining nine group members, as it turned out, had other ideas about what to do that day.

Andy’s motivation was broadly journalistic, garnished with a specific interest in whether any actual Marxists would show up. I went along out of a feeling that I had something of a reputation to uphold, and quickly decided during our approach that I would evaluate the security measures and write up a more quantitative report, although I will also pass along some thoughts about the organizational behaviors involved.

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Continuing Supply Chain Issues

I have been sharing supply chain woe stories over the past year plus, ever since the Chinese commie crud took over the headlines. I work in the world of industrial distribution.

Many of those supply chain issues remain to this very day, and some are getting worse. I have been in the industry for 35 years (HVAC distribution specifically, a subset of industrial distribution) and with a mature industry such as the one I am in, supply chain always had ebbs and flows, however these were easily predictable and looked like a very shallow sine wave. Over the past year and continuing to today, the supply chain is very spiky and extremely difficult to navigate.

Disasters such as the Suez Canal closure and plants getting damaged in Texas over the Winter added to an already miserable time. Many businesses are opening back up and demand is surging as equipment that was previously mothballed or otherwise inoperative is coming online (and breaking). We continue to have transportation issues with LTL (for those who don’t know, LTL stands for Less Than Load, or semi trailers that are making deliveries of many skids of product to different locations rather than a straight shot to one location) being a disaster right now. Labor is a problem as many that were laid off have either moved to other jobs, or simply refuse to come back to work due to overly generous federal and state unemployment benefits.

The whole enchilada is quite the mess. Oddly, when I go to work in the morning I am resigned at this point to just saying to myself “I wonder what insane thing I will have to deal with today” and just put my head down and deal with it. When you get used to adversity things don’t bother you as much, I suppose.

I made the decision to never cancel any orders and simply take on more inventory. This hurts in the short term as cash flow and inventory turns are adversely impacted, but mission number one is to smooth out these spiky curves to our customers, so they can continue to make money – it needs to be my job to bear the brunt of this and to make it virtually unnoticed for our contractors. It remains quite the challenge. There will be major issues this Summer with imported equipment such as ductless mini splits, window airs and dehumidifiers imported from over there due to the persistent port delays on the West Coast. These issues are already happening. As hard as I am trying, I can’t get every product for every customer in these conditions. Most have been understanding. If they aren’t, well, I can’t unload the containers so….

Here is an interesting story about a different industry, flowers. I always take my wife out to a nice brunch for Mother’s Day. In addition, I always get her a corsage with three spray roses, the white ones with the red tips. I called the florist to order it up yesterday and the person on the other end laughed and said that they hadn’t seen spray roses in a year. In fact, when I go to pick up my corsage, they couldn’t even tell me what type of flower it would be. The shipment of flowers shows up and they have to make do with what shows up. She said that it was probable that I could get a single white rose but no guarantees. I told her that I could completely relate as I have been living this hell for a while too. She was pleased to speak with someone who was sort of in the same boat and went on to tell me that the last year was full of enormous challenges in the flower industry – that a lot of flowers simply didn’t exist to purchase.

While that is an anecdote, it is still telling of how we will likely see supply chain issues for some time to come.

The Suez Canal and Industrial Distribution

As you all probably know, there is a ship stuck in the Suez Canal, which is blocking transit. You may not think this directly affects you, but it will. It’s just a matter of time.

I own an HVAC distributor, and HVAC is a subset of industrial distribution. Most manufacturers are still reeling from last year’s Covid issues. Commodities like copper, steel, aluminum and sliver were already spiking in price before this latest logistics issue.

I spoke with one of my major component suppliers this week. The cost of a container from Asia to the US was $5k last year. This year it is $15k. And there simply aren’t enough to go around.

While the Suez blockage doesn’t directly affect this trade route, it does affect the overall global logistical issues – and wreaks havoc on just in time producers.

I have one manufacturer of HVAC equipment that suspended all new orders a few months ago as they grapple with staffing issues.

When you combine all of this, I don’t think that there is any question that there will be finished good shortages again this Summer. First affected will be stuff made “over there”. We are already seeing shortages on things like ductless mini split systems because of the continuing port slowdowns on the west coast of the USA. It isn’t even Summer yet.

Here is where it affects you. The guys who have the stuff will win. Hands down. I made an enormous inventory investment this Winter and Spring, placing orders far in advance of what I normally would. I’m not going to let that investment go to waste – and I’m not spending basically every waking hour getting stuff in my barns to help my contractors get their jobs done for nothing. If I’m the only guy who has it (and trust me, on some things, I will be) – the price just went up. It’s nothing personal, just business.

Believe me when I say that I wish my life were easier and yours cheaper, but I won’t be alone in this. If you end up with an issue with anything from car parts to electrical to something as simple as a washer breaking down, you will be paying more in the very near future.

Sorry.

A (partially successful) attempt at a reasoned response

to Harris/Biden in Atlanta on Friday. Or an exercise explaining Why I swear at the tv. Mid-way to rational thought, it is at least better than ***!!!###. Aside: Posting here is a great gift. Writing – like speech with others – forces us to use words. Our founders would use the word deliberate, to move from gut response to reason. Let’s begin with them for perspective:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . “

“Hate crimes” violate not only our laws but our core belief that in each (and all) is a divine spark, that is one way we are truly equal. However, “hate” for an individual or a random act of pointless violence is also hate. Inchoate anger is hardly virtuous. Haters choose the weak, the dependent, the isolated, the outlier; they want neither consequences nor pricks of conscience. “Knock out” punches throw the weak, the elderly, the unprepared to the ground and are often too random to easily assign blame; knowing society identifies less with such victims makes quick punishment less likely; an important distance comes from convincing one’s self such a victim is not “equal”, is not human – that stills the conscience.

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Industrial Distribution One Year Into Covid

It was around a year ago now when we started to hear about this thing called Covid. My kneejerk at that time was “it’s just the f1cking flu”. Quite the year.

For those not acquainted, I own an HVAC distributor, and we are a subset of industrial distribution. I have written some updates along the way of this new Covidian world. Here are a few more thoughts of where we were, where we are, and where I think we are going.

1) I thought our AR was going to be ravaged. Boy was I wrong. AR is as healthy as it ever was. We probably have some PPP money being used improperly by some customers, but the fact of the matter really is that HVAC in general has been very, very strong. People had to stay at home and with extra money from not going on vacations decided to upgrade their HVAC systems. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) was obviously a very good driver for us in both residential and commercial segments.

2) I originally thought that replacement parts would be an issue. Nope. It was all about finished goods, and still is. Our main domestic provider of HVAC equipment is digging out of the hole that seemed infinite in nature, caused by all of the distributors cancelling everything during the original shutdowns, and then re-ordering everything x 2 or more when the weather got hot in Summer. It was brutal, but we worked through it. All of the favors were called in, and I scoured the USA for new trading partners to come up with some solutions. That work paid off and will pay off in the future as now I have more partners to rely on. I have never worked so hard to get product – one week I worked 100 hours. I have had one day off since last February that wasn’t a holiday. Not looking for sympathy – these are things that you do when you are the boss but I’m glad we have a bit more normalcy now.

3) Right now, the ports on the West Coast are a mess, and there is a major container shipping issue to/from Asia. This is already causing hella problems with items such as ductless mini split systems, PTAC units, window airs, dehumidifiers, and the like. We are going to see major issues in these segments when it warms up.

4) Inventory controls are out the window. Product comes in surges rather than the patterns we were used to that had been developed over decades. We are still getting orders in on some items from last July. It is very tough to manage. We don’t dare send anything back to the manufacturers for fear of not getting the items again, but our turns are a farce right now. There really isn’t a solution, and we hope that our normal buying/supply patterns return later this year. I have rarely used my line of credit in the past, but until this thing normalizes, I have no choice.

5) Competition isn’t working as hard as I am. I really am happy about this as I am seeing new customers and coming up with innovative solutions or new products/vendors, and a lot of my competitors have either given up or just aren’t that interested in trying new things. It has really opened some doors. Hard work does create luck.

6) I protected, and continue to protect, our long time, loyal customers when the availability sh1t hit the fan and shielded them fiercely when other contractors came calling as their distributors ran out of product. We immediately halted new dealer acquisition and allocated product to “our guys”. My customers were very thankful for very few product outages. This created some angst as these potential new customers were offended when I politely told them to “pound it”, but that’s too bad. We did the right thing.

7) The future is bright. If we can get a handle on the inventory, we feel that there will be a burst of commercial work coming as companies get fully back up and running. I think that residential won’t slow down any time soon either. This polar vortex we are currently experiencing pushed a lot of units over the edge.

8) Some items are still hopeless. MERV 13 filters are a complete joke, along with UV product. MERV 13 filter lead times still sit at 16-20 weeks. Want a backup generator for your house? 20 weeks minimum. Our Bipolar Ionizer manufacturer that we represent has done a fantastic job re-supplying so that fight is over for now.

There is a lot of work left to do, but in general, we are finally, mercifully seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

Your “It’s Gonna Be A While Before You Get Vaccinated” Banana Cherry Nut Bread Recipe

I have been rewarded with many correct calls so far while watching the botched and hilarious clownshow that is the vaccination rollout. Just about every single thing I predicted would come to pass, has. These predictions included:
1) Sensational tales of adverse reactions to a vanishingly tiny amount of people (I’m guessing these are the same communists that can’t eat peanuts)
2) Freezers “breaking down” and/or vaccines getting “misplaced” and heroic technicians vaccinating random people (Does anyone really believe these stories? Or at a minimum doesn’t everyone assume we are missing at least part of the story?). The media always, always has to have a hero.
3) Ridiculous systems and classifications of those supposed to receive the vaccine
4) Logistic and other failures
I have worked in industrial distribution all of my adult life, and know a thing or two about logistics. I also know a thing or two about government. I can’t think of too many worse combinations than logistics and government. Naturally, and predictably, the vaccination program is a total and complete farce. If we just would have left it to Walgreens and/or CVS and let them make some money at it, the whole shebang would probably be done by now, subject to availability of the vaccines of course. The whole debacle makes me sigh out loud, and creates hunger. I looked through grandmas recipe box and found a recipe that worked perfectly as I had exactly three bananas that were “on sale”, so to say, in my fruit basket.

This recipe is attributed to Alice Petersen, and is marked by my grandmother on the card as “very good”. I agree. It is very good.
Banana Cherry Nut Bread
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 10 oz jar cherries and juice – leave the cherries whole *I love ingredients like this. Upon going to the supermarket, it quickly becomes apparent that cherries are not sold in jars anymore, nor in 10 oz sizes. I saw a 15 oz can but was then faced with the choice of cherries in heavy syrup or water. I chose water and it worked out. I just cut the 15 oz can down to 2/3 (and naturally, began to snack down the other 1/3 of the can, before having to give some to my spousal unit, who threatened to burn my possessions in the street if I ate them all). I’m guessing back when grandma wrote this one up that the packaging for cherries was quite different than it is today.
1/2 cup butter or margarine
3 mashed bananas
2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1/2 cup walnuts

Cream the sugar and butter; add eggs; mix. Then add bananas and mix thoroughly. Blend in flour and soda. Add cherries, juice and nuts and stir until mixed. Pour into 2 small loaf pans and bake one hour at 350.

Super simple and rewarding. Enjoy!

Smashing the State

There won’t be any surprises in this one for anyone who knows me at all well, but I’ll try to at least make it entertaining.

My very first lasting memory of a news event with political content took place on the afternoon of Sunday 21 January 1968. A B-52 with four hydrogen bombs aboard took off from Thule AFB and crashed somewhere in the Arctic, location unknown.
Ten days later, the Tet Offensive began.
Nine weeks and one day after that, Dr King was assassinated.
Nine weeks less one day after that, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
Twelve weeks to the day after that, I first saw real human blood shed live on television via cameras above the intersection of Michigan and Balbo as the Chicago police attacked demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention.

I was eight years old.

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Things Politicians Like: Alternate Covid Care Facilities

When the books are written about Covid and 2020, I hope to buy the one that lists everything that was dumb and wrong. I feel that at the top of the list would be the lust for politicians to show that they are “doing something” with the alternate care facilities.

This whole thing started with Cuomo and the big ass boat that parked in New York harbor, that ended up treating a hilariously low total of 182 patients before (I assume) the Navy said “f this”. I think New York also did the Javits Center and that also shut down pretty quickly. I still remember laughing at Cuomo when he was all but crying “we need fohty tousand ventuhlatuhs”. Of course, we now know that most of the people on ventuhlatuhs were getting their lungs blown up, but I digress.

Governor “you all stay home but myself and my family can do whatever they want during Covid” Pritzker of Illinois and Chicago Mayor Lori “lockdown for you, unless you are blowing up the city or going to a Joe Biden rally” Lightfoot gave each other a high five (figuratively) when they opened up McCormick Place to see Covid patients. A cool $81 million to treat 38 patients. That’s $2,131,578.95 each.

Recently the governor of Wisconsin, “one term” Tony Evers opened up an Alternate Care Facility outside of Milwaukee, at the Wisconsin State Fair Park. I have been watching the patient count there – you can too, right here. From Saturday to Sunday, there was an insane increase of 20% (!!!) of patients. While this sounds menacing, we went from five to six in reality (see, I can do covid pOrn just as good as the media). Since then we have had a FIFTY percent reduction in patients at that facility, from six down to three. I would assume that this place will also shut down fairly soon. But good on the docs and nurses there, I am sure they are catching up on some reading, knitting and whatever else they haven’t been able to get to as of late.

Industrial Distribution – A Positive Update

I own an HVAC distributor – HVAC distribution is a subset of industrial distribution, at least in the US. I have been trying to give our readers some “boots on the ground” updates as we have been winding our way through a hectic 2020 with the virus.

All along the main problem for us has been finished goods. I thought when all of the shutdowns started happening that parts and pieces would be the main issue as a lot of that comes from “over there”. Not the case. Parts were never really a problem.

LTL and parcels were and continue to be an issue. The stuff shows up, but it is always late and we are seeing very poor quality work with damaged skids, missing boxes and the like. Not horrible, but everything is slow.

American factories, where most of the HVAC that is consumed in the USA is made, had immediate and lasting issues brought about by a few things. Covid safety procedures made people space out on assembly lines, slowing them down. People working from home and not able to go on vacation decided to invest that money into new HVAC systems (they also upgraded plumbing, roofing, electrical, etc). Add to this a relatively hot Summer and demand was quickly outstripping supply. All I did the past six months was work contacts, and try to source equipment from anyone who would sell it. I used many non-traditional partners (more on this in a minute) but it was job number one to keep our contractors moving. I have never worked so hard in my life trying to keep the barns full.

Over the last month or so, shipments have been much more freely arriving from the factories, taking a major load off of my shoulders. I don’t know if suppliers cancelled orders (I’m guessing some, but not a lot) or if the factories just said “to hell with this” and started crowding the assembly lines back to normal (maybe) or if everyone who was going to get the crud already had it (no clue). Probably some stuff I am missing too. I guess I don’t really care, but I know that my barns are full again, with just a few exceptions, which is normal for this time of year. Hooray!

MERV 13 filters, you can fuggedaboudit. 4-6 month lead time. I don’t expect that to change any time soon, but you never know. It was always a small portion of our volume anyways. Most people are moving to MERV 11 (lead times extending, naturally) or our stock MERV 10.

As far as the non traditional partners go, it was interesting to do business with different people and through different channels when I was sourcing product any way possible. I have made some new friends and business partners who I think will help me in my business plans over the next few years. I found some deals I didn’t know existed and met some knowledgeable people (virtually), one of whom I may start trying to recruit. These new business avenues were a pleasant surprise in the hell I was living in last Summer.

I am happy to report that coming to work, with the exception of me wearing a mask in my office, is just about what it was like in December of last year. We are very fortunate to be an essential business but yikes, what a ton of work 2020 has been. I need a vacation, but doubt that will be happening until we get the vaccines distributed as things are still pretty fluid with staffing and such but finally – finally – there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Vitamin D

When the ‘rona began here in the US, the first thought I had was that those with vitamin D deficiencies were going to get ‘rona easier and probably have a harder time if they do get it than those who are not vitamin D deficient. I’m not a doctor by any stretch, but I do know that Vitamin D helps the immune system. It appears that my original thoughts were correct.

I take a multi vitamin daily that has 1,000 IU of Vitamin D3, which according to the label is 250% of my recommended daily intake. The Mayo Clinic recommends 600 IU/day. Mr. Manifold in the post below is quoted thusly:

Essentially everyone in the population should take 4000 IU (100 mcg) of vitamin D₃ per day, and many people should take 10,000 IU (250 mcg).

No links are provided to support his recommendation, however I have heard of others in my immediate circle who are jacking their intake to 4,000 IU.

I surfed around a bit and of course found conflicting info. Does anyone reading this have concrete proof/evidence of how many IU/day a normal, healthy middle aged guy should have?

Reopening — III (Theory ∧ Practice)

“We should act incrementally as prudent risk minimizers and pursue any effective no-regrets options. We do not have to wait for the formulation and acceptance of grand strategies, for the emergence of global consensual understanding, or for the universal adoption of more rational approaches.”

— Vaclav Smil (Global Catastrophes and Trends: the Next Fifty Years)

This post is an attempt at synthesis; those just grazing in (Midwesterners don’t surf) are directed to Reopening — I (Practice) and Reopening — II (Theory) for accounts of my earlier action and contemplation, respectively. For my third installment, I can do no better than lead off with a quadrant diagram of my own devising:

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Port Congestion on the West Coast

For those not aware, I work in the world of industrial distribution. Today I received an interesting note from one of my vendors.

They are experiencing product shipment delays to their USA customers due to “congestion at the ports”. First one of these I have received.

This particular product (it is a finished good, not a part) is made in Korea, so I have to assume this is the West Coast.

So, let me try to understand this.

Covid isn’t a problem “over there”? They are making so much stuff that our ports are clogged? Or is it a problem and they just don’t care?

As I mentioned in a previous post, the mighty struggle right now is getting finished goods from factories in the USA due to covid related sick outs and factory slowdowns due to new safety procedures. If the rest of the world is working in a normal fashion and able to make enough stuff to clog our ports, why aren’t we?

Or are we getting so many sickouts at the ports that they can’t unload the ships? And why is this happening now instead of a few months ago?

I’ve been in business long enough to know that something smells. Bad.

Industrial Distribution 9 Months Into Covid

Around every three months or so I am trying to put up a post on how it is going in the always exciting world of industrial distribution. I own a HVAC distributor, which is a subset of industrial distribution.

Not too much has really changed as far as my job goes over the past three months, with a few notable exceptions.

The really big bugaboo is finished goods. Things like furnaces, condensing units, evaporator coils, etc. are still difficult to get and are being rationed. All of the favors are being called in, and it is all hardball, all the time. Very stressful. I have incurred freight costs like never before sourcing equipment from regions of the country that perhaps over ordered, or don’t need particular products. But it is job number one to keep my contractors busy and making money. Their success is our success. I have never worked so hard and so many hours – I am really, really tired. Basically all I do all day is go over my inventory reports and try to fill holes. Then in the evening or on weekends I do my “regular work”.

Parts and pieces are, remarkably, a much different story. There has never been any sort of real disruption in parts. I expected things in this area to go south rather quickly, as many components and parts are made “over there”, but it really never happened. Sure, there is an issue here and there, but nothing to really talk about.

I expected AR to be a complete and total mess but that never really happened either – yet. I don’t know if companies are using PPP money to pay their bills, or maybe we just have a more resilient industry than most but AR is really in damned good shape.

Covid in our company – we got our first positive a month or so ago and have had a few since and several spouses who were positive. All cases were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms. At first it was a huge deal, now we all know the procedure and just do it. We are doing everything we can at our facilities to stop the spread such as installing bipolar ionizers, staggering shifts and reducing hours, disinfecting common areas, along with mask wearing and distancing (and a number of other things). We are pretty proud that all of our cases were able to be tracked to events outside of our workplace thus far. But we aren’t counting any chickens.

HVAC is about as essential as an industry can get in the Winter months and we are hoping to keep as fully staffed as possible and keep things moving. This year has been exhausting with all of the changing rules between different states, different counties, and all the rest. I haven’t had a day off since February and don’t expect one any time soon, as we need a decision maker on hand at all times until sh1t calms down, just a bit. We will squeak out a single digit increase in volume through it all, and we are very thankful to the man upstairs that we are so fortunate to be in an essential industry, unlike so many others.

Don’t forget about all of the maintenance people and mechanics – they are heroes too, not just medical people in all of this.

MERV 13 Filters and Unrealistic Expectations

So here we are around nine months into this covid deal, and things are getting more unrealistic by the day.

We are hearing, but don’t have proof, that municipalities and other governmental orgs are requiring MERV 13 filters for buildings. Which brings us to a couple of problems.

I run an HVAC distributor and we are getting lots of calls for MERV 13 filters. We represent four filter companies. Two aren’t taking orders for MERV 13 product and of the other two, our best lead time is 4-6 months. For those who want to wait, we are encouraging them to buy a years supply and just store them.

We are even having trouble getting our standard pleated MERV 10 product due to factory production slowdowns because of covid. So we are getting some of the shooting of the messenger by our customers, but we can handle that OK.

Why the long lead times? Besides the crushing demand, the same companies that make media for masks, make media for MERV 13 filters. You can guess where priority is right now. Also, nobody has told me if the filters, presumably loaded with covid, will be someday declared a hazardous waste by OSHA, making their changeout completely ridiculous. Not to mention that MERV 13 filters create enormous amounts of static pressure, which will be terrible for a lot of systems, especially older ones. There are already rumblings of certain equipment manufacturers engineering departments getting ready to go to war with the authorities mandating these filters, and declaring “no warranty” on equipment failure due to lack of return air and MERV 13 filters putting their equipment out of engineering spec. This is super fun.

We have been recommending for a long time that people use standard pleats in combination with a bipolar ionizer or UV product, both of which in the past few months have received covid killing certification. We are hoping this MERV 13 train isn’t fully out of the station just yet and that everyone will start to get a bit more realistic. But since it is 2020 we aren’t expecting much.

Stopping the Insanity

On a recent fishing trip with a group of politically conservative friends, we found ourselves lamenting the societal insanity that has evolved around the covid-19 virus. The question was, how long will this massive over-reaction to a low-octane viral illness continue? Half of the group admitted to continuing to wear their masks when going into stores, simply to avoid being hassled. This struck me as rather sheep-like behavior. Most citizens are used to listening to, and following the advice of their local officials, a natural pattern of behavior which helps maintain the general order of society. This virus, which due to its occult origin, originally appeared potentially disastrous, is in reality, very pedestrian in its lethality. It has however, succeeded in bringing out the inner tyrant in many state and local officials. The demand that masks be worn, despite the fact that they are little more than a talisman against an invisible boogey man, has created a degree of compliance in the population unlike anything since the legitimate threats of polio or the Spanish flu.

It is a universal truth that tyrants never cede their power willingly. For most of us, ‘sic semper tyrannis’ is not a good solution if one wishes to continue the course of one’s life. One might rob the tyrant of his, but it’s likely to be accomplished at the cost of one’s own life or liberty. Simple civil disobedience has been shown to be effective when many participate, but it too is often injurious to one’s liberty.

Many years ago, I worked for one of the giant American corporations that inhaled management philosophies like hits from a bong. In the mind of upper management, each new inhalation was sure to provide magic visions to cure all the ills of the business. I took to calling it ‘panacea du jour’. One hot philosophy in the early 1980s was called ‘leadership by example’. In practice, it consisted of putting hard hats on the managers and making them pretend to be workers. Someone exhaled, and the vision was gone. But the core concept will work for us in our present circumstance.

When you go into a store or other enclosed area that demands you wear a mask, do not. Simply go in, go about your business not as if you were dancing naked in public, rather you are treating the mask-less condition as entirely normal (as it should be). Be courteous, be pleasant and smile. I even sing along to whatever background music is being played in the background. You will get a lot of ugly looks from the karens around you. But when they glower, smile back. You will notice something that you may not have anticipated. Some of the masked individuals will look at you with obvious jealousy. For those few who also choose to not wear a mask, give them a wink and thumbs up. You have now assumed the mantle of leadership. Will you be in trouble? Nope. You have a trump card, HIPAA. The tyrants of the 1990s planted the seeds of their own destruction by making it illegal to demand details of your medical condition. On the off chance of a real confrontation, you have two magic words, ‘medical exemption’. A medical exemption means that you don’t have to wear a mask. The nature of your medical condition cannot be demanded by local authorities. HIPAA is over-riding federal law. States may in fact add to HIPAA law provisions, but cannot subtract from it in a way that forces you to reveal information.

If you choose a leadership position as outlined here, there are no absolute guarantees of personal safety from rogue tyrants or the fists of the ultra-aggrieved. But the tiny tyrants’ taste of dictatorial powers has intoxicated them and they will not swear off its sweet succor without our help.

COVID 19:The Value of Lives Saved versus the Cost of the Shutdown

Economics is all about trade offs. In response to COVID 19 politicians have made these decisions. Ironically, the politician most directly responsible for well over 10,000 deaths, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, has argued that human life is’”priceless”’ But politicians always put lives at risk and imply a value. Had a national health care system existed as progressives like Gov Cuomo support, his defense may well have been that those deaths were justified as a matter of national health care policy.

The practical pending question is who should get the vaccine first. Ezekiel Emanuel, Obama Care designer and Biden COVID adviser, would give the over 65 group, which accounts for 80% of U.S. deaths, the lowest priority for the vaccine based on their age, whereas the CDC recommends the opposite based on risk.

Productivity Finances Health Care

In a purely private system, the population would save for lifetime health care expense directly or through insurance companies and decide to what extent they would do so. Individual “value of life” determinations would depend on income and wealth, both reflecting individual productivity. In a fully socialized system, all lives would be valued equally based on the country’s ability to pay, reflecting average national productivity, I.e., still subject to aggregate fiscal and actuarial constraints. Whereas about 10% of households in the French National Health System top it up with private insurance and care, the British NIH system operates more like the Soviet System, with the political elite leaving the country for private care beyond the standard.

Market based systems require a large life cycle accumulation of capital, for retirement and medical expenses, both back-ended and virtually indistinguishable. Socialized systems could – and arguably should – do the same.The U.S. has a hybrid (many would say Rube Goldberg) health care system, with Medicare, like Social Security, entirely pay-as-you-go with a faux Trust Fund. Social Security has relied on general tax revenues for over a decade and Medicare will as well in about four years.

National health care systems are funded entirely by progressive taxation. In the US. payroll taxes and progressive income taxes pay for about half of all insurance costs: Medicaid (20%) covers the poor, Medicare (15%) the elderly, Obama Care the working population (16%), the military (5%) and almost all the rest receive tax-subsidized employer insurance. Government also provides partial explicit unemployment insurance for lost productivity paid by taxing workers, with an occasional top-off in a pandemic.

Society benefits from the additional wealth accumulation of funded systems in the form of enhanced national productivity and economic growth, expanding the tax base. This allows the wealthy to opt out, but progressive politicians may find the increased longevity “unfair” and tax that wealth away, implicitly an advanced estate tax. Liquidating wealth has the same macro-consequence as increasing government debt to finance current health care, reducing future well being and potential tax revenues.

The Value of Life: to Whom?

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Plastic Pipe and You

Preface – I own an HVAC distributor – HVAC distribution is a subset of industrial distribution.

I received today an interesting letter from our supplier of PVC fittings. PVC is used in everything from plumbing to venting furnaces and a lot of applications in between. Every single contractor in the USA uses a PVC type product in their daily grind. The letter talked about several price increases from PVC resin suppliers – I have seen this before, and it isn’t too terribly unusual (any excuse to raise the price, right?). But also, there was this:

Hurricane Laura dealt a devastating blow to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana where a substantial amount of PVC resin and related plastic raw materials is produced. Hurricane Laura damaged many chemical plants, including those in the PVC supply chain, and left many without any electricity. Two of the four PVC resin manufacturers have declared force majeure. Hurricane Laura also severely damaged portions of the railway system used to transport PVC resin from the Gulf Coast to various locations across the country. Depending on the severity of the damage to these manufacturing plants, regional infrastructures and railway system, the time required for us to receive PVC resin could be negatively impacted.

Which is all to say that many building projects will see further delays, and the price just went up. Add to this the difficulty we are seeing with finished goods such as furnaces due to covid related production issues, and raw material price increases (silver) and it all makes for a miserable time to be an industrial distributor – although a time that has provided opportunity and rewards hustle and thinking outside of the box. I have never worked harder at keeping the barns full, but my contractors are very thankful and understand the challenges.

Energizer batteries is even having covid related production issues. I have never been out of batteries before, but I guess we have never seen a year like 2020.

“Follow the Science” on the Corona Virus Pandemic

The Lincoln – Douglas Debate Rematch

As House speaker Nancy Pelosi publically alleged, the Republicans are “domestic enemies of the (deep) state.”

The central campaign issue of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election has been the response to the Corona Virus pandemic, which roughly follows along party lines. Based on the administrative state’s scientific “consensus” Democratic politicians generally argued for a nationwide lockdown of most “non-critical” economic activity as a civic responsibility of all citizens, enforced by state police powers. Republican politicians generally question the “consensus,” reject a one size fits all statist solution, and (mildly) complain about the violation of constitutionally protected individual rights.

In the 1858 Lincoln Douglas debates, Douglas, the incumbent Democratic Senator and Committee Chairman who had extended slavery into Kansas and Nebraska based on majoritarian democracy, i.e., the majority of white male voters, believed in the scientific theory that slaves were inferior and hence property. Lincoln argued that slaves had the same inalienable individual rights as all Americans that “government of, by and for the people” could not take away.

Douglas maintained his incumbency, but a few years later Lincoln became POTUS and in defense of his principles engaged in a Civil War that sacrificed a tenth of his population and devastated the country. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments protecting former slaves were passed before Southern Democrats rejoined the Union, further enhanced by the Civil Rights Acts of the early 1960s proposed by a Democratic President but passed only with large Republican support. While the demographics have since shifted dramatically – the Democratic Party is now 40% people of color – the philosophical divide remains unchanged. Contemporary Democrats still argue the state is sovereign, subject to a majority coalition, but governed by an administrative state.

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Covid-19 Transmission Data

…an interesting study from China.  There is a discussion thread at Grim’s Hall.

The study indicates that the transmission rate to household members where there is an infected member was 10.3%, while the transmission rate to healthcare workers was 1.0%..and the transmission rate on public transportation was only 0.1%.  However, I think there is some ambiguity in how these numbers should be interpreted.

If you’re so inclined, read the paper, dig into the numbers and their meaning, and comment with your thoughts.

Industrial Distribution Six Months Into Covid

Back when the pandemic shutdowns started (let’s say late March, early April) I had to seriously think about what I was going to do with and for my small business. For those not familiar, I own an HVAC distributor, and that industry is a subset of industrial distribution. The media circus had driven everyone to the point of exhaustion with all of the dire reports and things were bleak. The local governments in my areas took draconian measures and this wasn’t helping. So, as I usually do when facing a big problem, into a quiet room I went to just sit and think for a bit. Below the fold are some results.

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Reopening — II (Theory)

That’s all very well in practice, but how does it work in theory?

— old University of Chicago joke

I expect this blog’s readership to demand the theoretical considerations, so here’s a (non-exhaustive) compilation, beginning with a setup anecdote:

In December of 2007 I was briefly—very briefly, as the work was interrupted by a blizzard—involved in rebuilding in Greensburg, Kansas, which had been practically erased from the map seven months earlier by an immense tornado. I had driven through a couple of months after the event and stumbled into a photo-op for Sen. Pat Roberts, who was doing a ribbon-cutting of sorts in a brand new convenience store. The devastation was more impressive than his speech; indeed, people who worked both New Orleans after Katrina and Greensburg after the tornado typically remarked that, allowing for scale, Greensburg was worse.

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Reopening — I (Practice)

For most Americans, the great day of realization of the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat—or more precisely, the seriousness of the official reaction to it—was Thursday, March 12th, when they woke to the news that the previous evening, the National Basketball Association had postponed an OKC Thunder-Utah Jazz game after a player’s test result came back positive, and then quickly canceled the remainder of the season. I was less concerned with the NBA, but coincidentally, also on Thursday the 12th, was informed that a certain institution of higher education that we all know and love was moving to remote learning for undergraduate and graduate classes for its entire Spring Quarter of 2020. Simultaneously, nearly all students were ordered to plan to vacate their on-campus housing by 5 PM CDT on Sunday, March 22nd.

I had also just returned home from a severely truncated trip to Italy which had gotten no farther than New York City. Had the Italy leg been undertaken, I would have been on one of the last flights out of that country before it was locked down entirely, and would have been a strong candidate for two weeks of quarantine upon arrival in the US. I was therefore necessarily concerned with pandemic response, and on the day after my return home, sent an e-mail to several leaders and volunteers in my church with a general offer of expertise and recommendations to pursue several of the items discussed below, especially a communications plan.

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Covid-19, Remote Work, and Offshoring

The general attitude toward working from home has certainly changed over the last several years.  In 2013, the then-CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, banned work-from-home at her company.  And in 2017, IBM established a similar ban. Both of these actions were based on perceived needs to improve productivity and collaboration at those companies

But in 2020, a lot of companies that moved to work-from home in the Covid-19 environment…because they had no choice if they wanted to continue operating at all…have apparently found it to be working to their satisfaction, and many though not all employees like it, too.  And there is starting to be significant impact on where people choose to live…see these comments from the governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu.  The term ‘zoomtowns’ has been applied to locations where people choose to live and work remotely, based on a locality’s attractive characteristics and good Internet connectivity.

I do think that a comprehensive work-from-home environment can result in losing something in terms of unplanned interactions…I’ve personally observed several significant product and business initiatives that resulted from such interactions, and there are also interesting historical cases. But such things are difficult to measure, and financial benefits and convenience of work-from-home are likely to prevail, perhaps excessively so in some cases.  In any event, the Yahoo! and IBM approach of broad-scale top-down corporate edicts is unlikely to be a good one.

Another kind of remote work involves the use of people at remote locations…though not necessarily at home…to perform machine-control tasks that would previously have had to be done on-site.  The robots being used by Federal Express at its Memphis facility sometimes encounter problems that they can’t solve…they can be ‘advised’ by humans located in San Antonio. There are projects underway to make municipal water treatment plants remotely operable, either for emergency backup (as in a pandemic) or for normal operations, and there are also initiatives focused on remote operation of other kinds of infrastructure, utility, and industrial facilities.

If something can be done by people who are remotely located within the United States, then in most cases it will also be doable by people who are remotely located in other parts of the world.  In my 2019 post telemigration, I wrote about the increasing feasibility of offshoring services work, not only manufacturing.  A lot of this has been going on for software development as well as for customer service.

It may turn out that, in many cases, remote work in the US turns out to be just a waystation on the road to remote work somewhere else.

Covid and HVAC Systems

Disclaimer:
I am not one of those guys with a lot of letters behind my name. All of what you are about to read are my own thoughts on the subject based on my thirty years of experience in the field of HVAC distribution and you are getting exactly what you are paying for. I have to generalize a bit so your particular HVAC system may not be described in full – the universe is simply too large. Even if you follow this advice, you still might get covid. Forward.

There have been a lot of articles recently about the virus and how it transmits and moves around in air currents, in particular the ones that are created by HVAC systems in your domicile or your place of work. Some of these articles have been pretty decent, and a lot of them pretty dismal. Below are my thoughts on the virus. A lot of this is based on our past experience in the industry when anthrax was all the rage.

There are three main ways to lower your chances of meeting the virus up close and personal, as relates to HVAC systems. These are in my order of preference:
1. Dilute it
2. Zap it
3. Trap it

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