Archive for December, 2022

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2022

Let’s all count our blessings and do our part to make 2023 a joyous year…

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Merry Christmas … 45 Lessons in Life

December 24, 2022

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and HAPPY NEW YEAR to all !

This short video was sent to me by a friend a couple of years ago.

It really resonated with me, so continuing a holiday tradition, I like to share it at Christmas time.

back with you after the New Year

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click to view (best with audio on)
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Factoid: 1 of every 5 online purchases is returned.

December 22, 2022

…. and about 1 in 10 of them are fraudulent.
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Recently, I returned an item that I had I bought on Amazon.

That’s a rare event for me, so I was pleasantly surprised that the process was relatively hassle-free … it took a couple of minutes to get Amazon’s return authorization … it was a short drive to a UPS store … the transaction at the UPS store took about a minute … my credit card was credited within a couple of days.

A couple of things struck me during the process:

> Most of the people in the UPS store were making merchandise returns — apparently, that’s become a big business for UPS

> Most of the returns were literally thrown into a big box … unpackaged and without paperwork … what happens to that stuff

Hmm
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With that experience fresh in mind, I happened to come across a CNBC article channeling some data from a National Retail Federation report.

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> In 2021, the  US Retail Industry reported just over $1 Trillion in online sales

> Of the $1 Trillion, $218 Billion (20.8%) was returned for credit

> Of the $218 Billion, $23.2 Billion (10.6%)  were fraudulent returns

> The $23.2 Billion of fraudulent returns consisted mostly of:

  • “Wardrobing” … wearing or using an item for one occasion and then returning it
  • Returning items that had been shoplifted, stolen, purchased from another retailer or purchased fraudulently (e.g. on stolen credit cards)
  • Resulting from employee fraud or employee collusion with bad actors

Not surprising, a big issue for Amazon and other retailers is what to do with the returns.

The cost of transporting, receiving, sorting, inspecting, repackaging and restocking returns is a costly logistical nightmare … especially for relatively low value items.

So, except for higher priced merchandise, the returns are simply thrown into a big box (as I experienced at the UPS store) … and the box of miscellaneous stuff is sold to scavenger resellers at pennies on the dollar.

See the CNBC article for the story of one couple who scavenges and resells returns.

 

Presto: logistical problem solved…

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P.S. Don’t feel too sorry for Amazon and other retailers.  Based on my experience, the retailers just charge the cost of the returns back to the manufacturers who treat it as a cost of doing business.

It used to irk me when retailers would promote their “easy returns – no questions asked” policies, knowing that my company (not the retailer) would be funding the retailer’s largess.

So, which political campaigns did FTX bankroll?

December 16, 2022

That’s what I’ve been wondering.
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The MSM headlines say that FTX-SBF supported both Democratic and GOP political candidates and causes.

Really?

Bankman-Fried has claimed that he gave just as much to GOP causes. Source

Really?

Well. according to WaPo :

Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, was a prolific political donor, pumping about $40 million this cycle alone into campaign committees and other groups, mostly aligned with Democrats.

Hmm. Mostly to Democrats.

What constitutes “mostly”?

WaPo dug through Federal campaign filings, to catalog SBF’s political largesse.

Below are the entities that got more than $1 million.

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One PAC — Protect Our Future — got $27 million … 67% of the $40 million.

According to Politico:

Protect Our Future is a Democratic political action committee aiming to support “lawmakers who play the long game on policymaking in areas like pandemic preparedness and planning.”

OK, that alone blows SBF’s claim of statistically significant bipartisan giving.

Going down the list of big beneficiaries, the GMI PAC — which got $2 million — says it supports crypto-friendly candidates.

Maybe some of the GMI-supported candidates were Republicans…

The rest of the Top 5 list are clearly Dem-aligned.

And , in aggregate, the Top 5 account for $37.3 million… 93% of the $40 million.

Bottom line: Practically all of SBF’s donations went to Democrats.

Not exactly a shocker…

Biden takes another victory lap.

December 15, 2022

Says his economic policies tamed inflation.
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I guess it’s not as bad as when he declared inflation was down to zero, but…

According to WaPo: “Biden is now seeking to reframe the economic narrative ahead of announcing his own reelection plans early next year”.

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It’s cringe worthy when Joe declares that he’s got inflation under control.

Yep, the year over year rate of change has dropped from over 8% down to the mid 7s, but that’s hardly an end to the inflationary pressures that everybody is feeling.

The number to focus on is 13.8% … that’s how much prices have gone up since Biden was inaugurated.

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Diving into the numbers:

> When Biden was inaugurated, the CPI was 262.2 … in November, it was 298.3 … that’s a 13.8% increase over Biden’s 22-month term … on an annualized basis, that’s a 7.1% APR

> In comparison: When Trump was inaugurated, the CPI was 243.6 … when he left office in Jan. 2021, it was 262.2 … that’s a 7.6% increase over Trump’s 4-year term … on an annualized basis, that’s a 1.9% APR

> Cutting the numbers a different way: From Trump’s inauguration date to Nov. 2022 (almost 6 years), the CPI increased 21.3% … 1/3 of the increase occurred during Trump’s run (at a 1.85% APR, which is roughly what the Fed targets for the U.S. long term rate) … and 2/3s of the increase has hit during Biden’s reign (2 years at a 7.1% APR)

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Think about this:

> If inflation had continued at Trump’s APR ( a 1.85% APR), the CPI would be about 270 today … we’d be seeing prices about 10% lower than they are today.

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Ask yourself a variant of Ronald Reagan’s “cut to the chase” question:

Is your pantry, wallet, IRA, 401K or 529s better off today than they were 22 months ago?

A Star is Rising!

December 13, 2022

OK, I’m a doting grandfather and may be getting ahead of myself, but…

A couple of years ago, in grandfatherly fashion, I gushed with pride that our granddaughter Maddie (then 7 years old) debuted as a “Dancing Bee” in The Washington Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker.

See A Star is Born! to trace Maddie’s journey from toddler dancer to dancing with The Washington Ballet.

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Now, let’s fast forward to this year.

Maddie just celebrated her 10th birthday … and look at her now:

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Again, it’s The Washington Ballet’s Christmas presentation of the Nutcracker.

Maddie was on stage for most of the first act … and even got to dance a duet with one of the show’s adult stars.

Wow.

What’s next, a role dancing as the Sugar Plum Fairy?

Maybe someday…

Viva la diva…

We’re proud of you, Maddie!

Sinema declares independence … bolts from Democratic Party

December 9, 2022

Will Manchin be next?
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Headlining the NYT and WSJ today:

“Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent”

Her motivation: Her “centrist approach pitted her against parts of President Biden’s agenda and made her the target of Democratic activists.”

Her rationale: “Writing in The Arizona Republic, she said that she had “never fit perfectly in either national party” and that the “loudest, most extreme voices continue to drive each party toward the fringes.”

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Sinema ruled out caucusing with the GOP … and hasn’t decided whether or not she’ll caucus with the Dems.

My question: Is Sinema’s move an outlier or a trigger for a trend?

Will Manchin will follow suit and declare independence? Or, Tester?

From the GOP, will Romney, Murkowski and Collins declare their independence?

Maybe a separate Independent’s caucus will emerge.

That would make things interesting.

But, it’s way more likely that Sinema is just an outlier.

This will be interesting to watch…

More: If the earth is warming why isn’t Baltimore?

December 8, 2022

A reader offered up a simple explanation … and, prompted me to do some additional analysis.

My conclusion may surprise you.
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Previously, I challenged readers to square this circle:

  • If the data shows that my average   local temperatures in Baltimore have dropped about 3 degrees from 2 years ago (and one year ago) — why should I believe (with “settled science certainty”) that the earth will be a degree or two hotter 50 or 100 years from now if I keep driving my SUV?

A reader offered up a simple explanation: 2020 and 2021 were historically hot years … and, if I looked deeper back in history I’d see that 2022 temperatures are consistent with a warming trend.

So, I pulled some more historical data from the NWS web site going back 20 years (for the Baltimore area).

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Here’s what I found for the January to November periods in each year:

> Temperatures bounce around a lot from year to year …  within about a 5 degree range from 55.3 (in 2014) to 60.5 (in 2020)

> There have been a couple of notable temperature troughs …     55.4 in 2003 and 55.3 in 2014

> The peaks do seem to be getting higher …  from 58.7 in 2006 … to 60.1 in 2012 …. to 60.5 in 2020 … but they are well spaced (rather than coming in runs)

> 2020 was, in fact, the hottest of the 20 years (60.5 degrees) …  but only slightly hotter than the 60.1 degrees registered 10 years ago in 2012 … hmm

> 2021 was also hot (59.9 degrees) but that temp is down from 2020 … and colder than 2012.

> The past 7 years (including 2022) have been hotter than the 20 year average (58.1 degrees) … and the last 10 of the 20 years have been about 1/2 degree hotter than the first 10 years.

> Based on a simple linear regression, it would appear that Baltimore area temperature averages have been increasing about 1 degree every 10 years … but, again, with high year-to-year variability.

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Bottom line: The data suggests that it is getting hotter in Baltimore …. but I’m waiting for some more data to come in.

Maybe we’re in a cyclical cooling phase from the 2020 hot temperatures … or maybe this part of the earth really is warming.

Stay tuned…

Nov. Update: If the earth is warming why isn’t Baltimore?

December 6, 2022

That’s a question I’ve been asking over the past couple of months.
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Today, let’s update the analysis that I’ve been reporting …

Like much of the U.S., the Baltimore area (where I live) endured an apparent heatwave this summer.

It was hot enough that, even I, momentarily thought: “Maybe the earth really is warming.”

Then, I started looking harder at my monthly electricity bills from BGE (Baltimore Gas & Electric).

Besides usage info, BGE reports the average monthly temperature, for the current and prior years (the red boxes below).

We previously reported in the past couple of months that year-to-date temperatures in the Baltimore area have been a couple of degrees colder than those in the prior couple of years.

Well, I just got my November bill and guess what.

The 8 month run of colder average monthly temperatures (versus last year) was finally broken.….

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The average November temperature in Baltimore this year was 49 degrees …  3 degrees hotter than last year’s 46 degrees.

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But, the November temp this year (49 degrees)  was still 3 degrees  colder than November 2 years ago (52 degrees) … and, the 11 month average (January to November) for 2022 was still 2.4 degrees colder than 2021 …. and 3.1 degrees colder than 2020.

Hmmm.

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Previously, I challenged readers to square this circle:

  • If the data shows that my average   local temperatures have dropped about 3 degrees from 2 years ago (and one year ago) — why should I believe (with “settled science certainty”) that the earth will be a degree or two hotter 50 or 100 years from now if I keep driving my SUV?

A reader offered up a simple explanation: 2020 and 2021 were historically hot years … and, if I looked deeper in history I’d see that 2022 temperatures are consistent with a warming trend.

That prompted me to do some further digging.

I’ll present my findings in a subsequent post…

“The flight from merit continues across America”

December 1, 2022

That’s what the WSJ called the ABA’s pending move to eliminate the LSAT.
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Buried in the T-Day news was this tidbit…

The American Bar Association (ABA) — which accredits law schools — is planning to end the requirement that prospective law students take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

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Background

For decades, law schools considered an applicant’s LSAT score along with the standard law school application information,  GPA, letters of recommendation and an applicant’s personal statement.

The LSAT is administered in a controlled testing environment (to minimize the likelihood of cheating) and scores test takers quantitatively (i.e. a numerical score).

Some (many? most?) top law schools, weight the LSAT score just as heavily (or even more heavily than) than an applicant’s GPA (thanks to grade inflation and incomparability across UG schools) … and recommendation letters (which are selectively prone to one-sided puffery).

There are four main LSAT sections :

  • Logical Reasoning (also known as Arguments)
  • Analytical Reasoning (also known as Logic Games)
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Writing Sample (also known as “The Essay”)

Pretty basic competencies for law students and most lawyering, right?

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Well, the LSAT has been in the crosshairs for the past few years.

Why?

The legal profession has long been criticized for a lack of women and people of color in its top ranks.

So, the debate centers on whether the tests help or hurt diversity in admissions.

On one hand, LSAT opponents argue that the test disadvantages certain minority groups, is a tenuous predictor of law school success and ignores “soft“ personal skills t(that many lawyers seem to lack).

”Law incorporates a range of skills, from logical thinking to business development and effective presentation that can’t all be predicted on a test.” WSJ

“Detractors also object to the LSAT because affluent students often pay thousands of dollars to prepare for the test that is supposed to predict their first-year law school performance.” WSJ

Proponents argue that eliminating the test would increasing the influence of subjectivity (vs. objectivity) in the review process by placing greater emphasis on often incomparable GPAs and slanted recommendations.

To quell the debate, the ABA is intending to make the LSAT “optional” rather than “recommended” or “required”.

In a quick survey of law schools done by Kaplan (a test prep company), about half said that they would opt to keep requiring the test … about half said the were undecided and only a couple said that they would ditch the LSAT.

In other words, the ABA is simply tossing the hot potato to the individual schools, in effect, letting the market decide..

It’ll be interesting to watch how this one sorts out…


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