TIGEROWNER MINERALS

 

 

                        RANDOM THOUGHTS:

 

09/28/2017:  If you've managed to find this page, congratulations (or maybe, apologies....)!  It's my feeble attempt at a manual blog.  I am sick of being inundated by opinions on politics, religion, the state of the world, etc. from every quarter, but nonetheless wanted to put down on (virtual) paper a few of my own thoughts on the world in general (not rocks!).  So I've decided that rather than adding my voice to the cacophony of social media, I would throw an opinion or two (or more) of mine out to the vastness of the internet, and hope it sticks (warning - I tend to be long-winded, and I use long sentences at times)....

I may let a few friends and family in on this, but other than that, I'll let the internet do its thing, and whatever happens, happens.....  I'll add my opinions on whatever, whenever, so if you're interested, read on, and if not, sorry for wasting this much of your time!

Just one man's opinions (click on one of subjects in the list below to access it directly).....

ON BUYING A TIMESHARE (11/06/17):

ON HEALTHCARE INSURANCE (10/29/17):

ON GLOBAL WARMING (10/05/17):

ON GUN CONTROL (10/03/17): (UPDATE 11/07/17):

ON OUR ELECTION PROCESS (09/28/17):

BUYING A TIMESHARE (11/06/17):

In a word, DON'T! I can speak to this with some authority, having made the bonehead mistake of buying not one, but two timeshares.  And therein lies a tale:

Susan and I took a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, in Mexico, about 20 years ago. We got a great deal on the resort accommodations, due in part to the fact that we agreed to attend a one-hour presentation from a time-share company. We decided "What can it hurt? If it's a good deal, great; if it's not, we just don't buy...". So we attended that first presentation, and after 3 hours of non-stop sales pitches, we agreed to buy a 30-year deeded Red week of a one bedroom apartment at Playa Grande, a 5-star resort right on the beach, for a little less than $10000, which worked out to about $45/night, if you don't consider the annual maintenance fees - adding those, and assuming they would never go up, it worked out to about $75 night, still a pretty good deal (we thought).

What we didn't consider carefully enough was that while Cabo is a nice place to visit, the world has a whole lot of nice places to visit, and we wanted to see a bunch of them. Now a part of any timeshare sale is a free (at the time) membership in a service (ours was RCI) which is essentially a place for timeshare owners to "bank" their weeks, in order to exchange them for weeks in other exotic places; so we figured whenever we don't want to use the week in Cabo, we'll "bank" it, and exchange for a week in Bora Bora, or Tahiti, or some similar location. Further, we were told our resort was so great, and our week such good timing (whale-watching!), that we would probably be able to exchange for a much larger place, if we wanted....

Owning a week at a fancy resort every year for 30 years for a fraction of the present day cost does seem like a good deal - but (of course) the devil is in the details... The maintenance fees do go up, a little bit every year. And because you "own" that week, and are responsible for maintenance (the fees!), the only way you can get rid of it is to sell it!  And nobody buys a timeshare on the open market - timeshares have to be "sold", by a professional pitchman (check out eBay sometime - there are lots of timeshares up for sale - for $1!)...  But the real problem for us was, having visited Cabo twice in four years (we "banked" a week to use in Scottsdale two of those four - more on this later), we were looking forward to going somewhere else. What we found was that there are few available timeshare weeks in Bora Bora, or in Tahiti, or any place in the Caribbean or Hawaii; there are plenty available in Branson Missouri and Williamsburg Virginia - nice places which we might visit sometime, but definitely not what we had in mind when we signed up.

Now we have lots of family in the Phoenix area - and Susan and I at the time averaged 3-4 visits a year to that area to see them. We used our "banked" week to stay at a nice place in Scottsdale, the Villa Mirage, and were looking for a way to leverage our Cabo timeshare there (we used RCI as a timeshare exchange medium at the time). The ideal thing, we thought, would be if we could trade our Cabo week for a week in Scottsdale, without having to go through the "banking" process - and so we wound attending (wait for it) another timeshare presentation, at the Villa Mirage.

Long story short, we wound up shelling out another $10K, for another timeshare! But this time, we were smart (we thought!): instead of buying a specific week, at a specific resort, we bought 5000 points per year, which could be used to directly (on the internet) reserve time at a whole list of resorts. Several of their resorts (now Diamond Resorts) were in the Scottsdale area, where we knew we would often want to be in the upcoming years. They closed the deal by saying we could give them our Cabo week every year for another 6500 points! So this gave us 11500 points a year, which they demonstrated would get us from 4-5 weeks per year, in Scottsdale, a place we knew we would want to visit often. As a plus (they said), if you were internet savvy, you could wait until 30 days before your visit to reserve, and get the place you wanted for half the stated point rate. And of course they had access to other places, in Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii, you know, everywhere!

What's the catch? Nothing stays the same, and over a number of years, the maintenance fees on the points climbed twice as fast as those on the Cabo week, and of course we were still paying for those - we needed to, to get those 6500 points.... Also, the number of points needed to reserve a week at our favorite week started climbing, and the availability started falling - as their sales went up, our access went down. They accepted my Cabo week, but only grudgingly, and made it as complex and difficult as possible for me to exchange it for the promised points - we lost several years worth of points because of this...

Let me digress for a bit: at one point in my life I joined a gym, Spa Vita Nova, in King of Prussia. I paid an incredibly small monthly fee ($15!), and used it almost every day - they had a ton of exercise equipment, several pools, a sauna, a steam room, even an ice bath. Their bathroom looked like a Roman villa, and was fully equipped with shaving cream, aftershave, etc., so I made a trip there pretty much every morning before work - that is, until the lines started forming, every day, earlier and earlier! The catch was, they just continued to sell memberships, at $15/month, without any thought as to what would happen to the facilities as hordes of men and women joined up and started coming earlier and earlier to avoid the crowds. The system they set up was (for them) self-correcting: as the facilities got dirtier and more crowded, the sales and attendance slowed down. But for the customers, all of a sudden you were paying $15 a month for something you wouldn't (and couldn't) use any more. And so you - just - stopped - going, and paying. The place went out of business in a few years, and was replaced by a fast food outlet....

Now back to timeshare: the points-based timeshare system works like Spa Vita Nova - you just keep selling more and more points. Unlike weeks or rooms, there is no limit to the number of points you can sell in any given year - it's limited only by how good your sales team is, and they are very, very good. As the number of people with available points goes up, the room availability goes down, or at least gets further and further out. Remember what I said about getting a place for half the stated point rate by waiting until 30 days out before booking? Guess what - now they are suggesting booking a year in advance!  And the kicker is that they usually have availability at these resorts on the open market - even when there is no availability to points owners!  

BTW, because we only purchased the basic membership originally, and haven't purchased more points since, we have been moved down the pecking ladder of perks to the bottom rung: "valued member" status.  Unfortunately, your "value" goes down every year, at the same rate at the value of your points!  And the maintenance fees in the points-based system? They are now double what they were when we originally purchased....  One of the things they now tout is the ability of members to use their points for things such as airfare or renting cars - and if you do that, the value of your points is equal to less than half the cost of just your maintenance fees, at least at our paltry "valued member" level....

As your point's value goes down, you as a customer turn into something else - a prospect! Every year we are beset with repeated phone calls from Diamond Resorts, trying to get us to commit to a one-hour "Owner's Update", a euphemism for a two-hour (minimum) high pressure sales pitch/presentation. When you check in, you are directed to the "concierge", whose real job is make sure you attend the requisite sales pitch.  Both the phone rep and the "concierge" are engaging friendly, and very well-trained in getting people to say "yes" - you can say "no", which we do about half the time, but we always feel guilty about refusing their offer - they are trained to lull you into a state of well-being, before they go for the kill (OK, that's probably an exaggeration)....

Once you've agreed to attend, and show up, you do get a breakfast and arguably useful information on arcane changes they've made to the points system, the resorts, the user interface, etc.   But then you are always subjected to a sales harangue on why you need to buy more points. These sales pitches are formulaic - first the "good guy" gets to know you, shares how much he/she has in common with you, tells you he's not a salesman, and finally offers you a great deal, "only if you want to buy". When you say "no", the "bad guy" comes in, tries to bully you into buying, and when you say "NO", asks you pointedly why on earth you are so dumb as to not want the great deal.... Finally, when you stand up to leave, the closer comes in with a low-ball deal to try to get at least something out of the money they've just spent on you for breakfast and the "swag".  We've been through these pitches on average every other year for the past 10 years, and it is always painful. This year the "swag" was 1000 points (for this year only, of course) - based on our experience, those points are worth about 2 days at the smallest accommodation at their lowest demand facility, in July, in Arizona (OK, I made that last bit up)....

Finally, here's a tip for those who've already been trapped into buying into this type of situation: you can avoid the ongoing annual sales pitches with one simple trick. Show up at the appointed time, but without your wife - when you get there, just tell them she's ill. She will be grateful you didn't make her go, and they won't let you in! There must be some rule that sales must be made with both spouses present, because I used this gambit with success the trip before last. Despite the fact that this was billed as an "owner's update", and I was an owner willing to listen and then update my "ill" wife, they would not allow me to attend.... I (of course) protested, but to no avail....

 

 

10/29/2017:  HEALTHCARE INSURANCE:

I have always had insurance for healthcare costs; before I was on my own, my Dad had us covered through his employer, and since being out on my own, I've always had insurance through my various employers. When I retired, HP offered its retirees a group plan which looked good (they partially subsidized it), and I've taken advantage of that ever since - until this year....

A little digression: there has been a lot of discourse in the media on healthcare for the past several years. It's been clear for quite some time that a ton of people have had a tougher and tougher time paying their medical bills for essential medicines and medical procedures - this is because the cost of drugs, doctors, and hospitals and equipment has been growing at an astronomical rate for decades! That's not to say that these rates are unjustified - the cost of training medical personnel, research into the development of new medicines, and the manufacture and operation of new sophisticated medical equipment is staggeringly huge. But ask yourself this - what is the value of these things? What is the value of being able to walk rather than being bedridden? What is the value of living to 80 or even 100, rather than dying at 60? What is the value of being happy and pain-free, as opposed to depressed and in constant pain? It is my belief that the value of modern medicine to the welfare of mankind is well beyond any cost attached to its development....

That being said, how can the average person possibly pay for the kind of care they might need in the future? Well, the answer is through insurance, where the costs can be made individually reasonable by pooling the resources of a large group of people to deal with the large expenses of the (relatively) few in the group who are going to need them. It's a simple enough concept, but it is made complex by human weaknesses - both on the part of the providers and the receivers of care.  In the U.S., carelessness and/or bravado causes many people to forgo obtaining insurance - while simple greed causes some insurers to deny coverage or claims, or some providers to deny services. The end result is that our healthcare system works for some people, and doesn't for others - because it is a fragmented and complex system with holes and faulty patches which have accumulated for decades.

This year, as a result of a huge increase in my healthcare insurance bill (my HP retirement group costs have gone up 60% in the past 2 years), I decided to investigate the "Obamacare" health insurance exchange market, as an alternative to my group plan. And after at least 16 hours of intensive web and telephone research, I'm going with new insurance. I will potentially save $3-4K on my medical insurance costs this year, without giving up any of my coverage for catastrophic expenses. I say potentially, because I chose what is called a "high deductible" plan, where the insurance doesn't kick in until I've paid a fairly hefty chunk "out-of-pocket". If I need to pay out the whole deductible portion, the annual costs will wind up being close to the higher costs of my old group insurance plan.

Anyway, I think I'm set for next year.  But I now have 4 separate insurance policies for myself and my wife.  Plus, it took me a lot of time dealing with the arcane verbiage in the many insurance plan documents, phone calls to my benefits folks, the exchange people, and the insurers, and a fair amount of web research to finalize my coverage. And I'm pretty proud of my computer, phone, and analytical skills - I consider this effort a real achievement!  All of which leads me to believe that there are a lot of folks out there who are having a devil of a time figuring out where to even begin in their quest to get themselves and their families protected....   How can we make health insurance easier to get and less expensive?

I am convinced that the only answer is to have the federal government be the "single payer" for all health costs, for all people. Every U.S. citizen should have health insurance offered through the U.S. government, and the cost of the program should be a part of the federal budget, funded by Medicare (or something akin to it). The government should negotiate the best prices it can with all the healthcare providers - drug companies, hospitals, doctors, etc. - and pay them their fees directly. All U.S. citizens should need to get the medical care they need, is proof of their U.S. citizenship.

The list of countries who, like the U.S., do not currently provide free healthcare to their citizenry, includes an interesting and varied group of nations: Iran, Iraq, China, Syria, Pakistan, Cambodia, and about half of Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, to name a few... . But just as interesting is the varied list of countries who do provide free healthcare to all of their citizens: Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico and most of the rest of Central America, Nepal, India, the other half of Africa, virtually all of South America and Europe, and (surprisingly?) North Korea and Russia!  Having free healthcare doesn't mark a country as being all good, and not having it doesn't define them as all bad.  I'm not saying that those countries who provide free healthcare to all their citizens are better countries than we are - far from it - I'm just saying that they have the part about healthcare right, and we clearly don't....  

 

 

10/05/2017 - GLOBAL WARMING:  We (the U.S.A.) need to figure out this energy thing!  Currently most of the energy we use as a country is obtained by taking oil, natural gas, or coal out of the ground, and turning the carbon in it into heat and carbon dioxide, in power plants, cars, home furnaces, etc.  We ought to be thinking more long-term:  thinking solar, thinking wind, thinking tidal, thinking geothermal - thinking anything but continuing to burn fossil fuels which are slowly but surely turning our planet into a place we won't even recognize a hundred years from now.  The Earth is getting warmer, faster and faster, which is causing our climate to change in unpredictable and sometimes violent ways, and the cause is clearly - us!!  In addition, the techniques we use to get these fossil fuels, and then use to obtain the energy stored within them, pollute our air and water, scar our landscape, and even cause earthquakes (!). 

Why is that so many people in this country refuse to admit that burning fossil fuels is a bad thing for the Earth?  I understand coal miners, oil riggers, gas drillers, etc., being a bit hard to convince, but what about the rest of us?  OK, I forgot the billionaires who made their fortunes from fossil fuels....  Oh, and I forgot the politicians the billionaires pay for.....  But what about the other 95%+ of our population?  Why do a lot of them continue to deny the "inconvenient truth"?   Well, I think I have the answers:

1)  Our human life spans are too short.  Too short to worry about anything other than being comfortable, well-fed, entertained, and - alive!

2)  Science and mathematics are not highly regarded any more - they're just too damn hard....  It's easier to believe in a magical all-powerful being watching out for his "chosen ones" on our planet, no matter what they do, than what you see happening with your own eyes.

3) Many people like to take the opposite side of a question from that which is taken by people they don't like or with whom they don't identify (like Barack Obama, Al Gore, or Hillary Clinton) - this has nothing to do with racism, politics, or gender bias (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)....

4) Some people still watch Fox News, and believe that what NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, the BBC, and the NY Times are airing or publishing is nothing but "fake" news - after all, that's what our president thinks (at least that's what he says)....

5) Some people believe that global warming is happening, but it is just a natural perturbation in our planet's climate which has nothing to do with our burning fossil fuels.  These people probably also believe that it's just a coincidence that earthquakes are spiking in areas in the Eastern and Central U.S.A. in the same places that fracking and wastewater injection are currently being used heavily by oil and gas companies - WAKE UP PEOPLE!

 

 

10/03/2017 - GUN CONTROL:   The horror we just witnessed in Las Vegas is only the latest in a string of incidents which were made possible only because people had access to guns.  I understand the attraction that firearms have for many people - I have several guns myself, for no good reason, other than that they are interesting pieces of hardware.   I grew up on a farm, and learned how to shoot there.  My Dad had an 8mm German Mauser bolt action rifle with open sights which was amazingly accurate - we used to shoot groundhogs at over 150 yds. away with it, and used it to occasionally take a deer for meat.  We grew up with a healthy respect for firearms - there were 2 cardinal rules: A) assume every gun is always loaded, and B) never let the business end of any gun ever point at any part of any person, even momentarily.  I'm amazed at how many gun owners I've known who totally ignore those simple rules.... 

As for gun control, we already have it: we have decided as a country that guns should be controlled by anyone who wants one, and who can beg, borrow, or steal the money to get one.  That goes for soldiers, policemen, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, accountants, priests, burglars, murderers, terrorists, crazy people, basically anyone....  We have done this by allowing gun manufacturers, salesmen, criminals, and gun fanatics to hide behind the second amendment, which was created at a time when guns could only fire one shot at a time, with a minimum of approximately 30 seconds between shots, and was accurate out to maybe 100 feet.  Gee, how times have changed: just yesterday a single nut job managed in 10 minutes to kill 59 people and wound several hundred more, from a range of 500 yards!  You think maybe it's time to change the laws concerning who has access to that kind of firepower?

Here's an idea - all automatic weapons not in the hands of the police or the military should be ILLEGAL, and possessing one should be a FELONY.  Same for all parts and accessories for them (like receivers and high-capacity magazines).  Same for all items like silencers , "bump" stocks, and other items designed to circumvent detection or laws about automatic weapons.  If anyone is caught modifying a semi-automatic weapon to full-auto, same felony penalty....  Now I know there are a lot of these weapons out there, and the people who bought them just because they thought they ought to have a couple, should not be penalized financially - so the government should buy them back!  Give them to the cops, beat them into plowshares, whatever.  Firing ranges should be allowed to rent (on-site only) fully automatic weapons to those folks who simply can't do without firing off a few hundred rounds a minute once in a while.... 

As for gun manufacturers, they are really good at manufacturing intricate mechanisms, so put them to work manufacturing prosthetic limbs for those folks who've lost their originals to war or crime - there is some kind of justice to be had there....

Finally, a word for the NRA - WANKERS!!

UPDATE 11/07/2017:  Shortly after the Las Vegas incident, the media (both sides) leaped into action by glomming onto the issue of gun control as more fuel for our current political bonfire; and now we've had another loon use an assault weapon to kill 26 innocent people in Texas.  This time a ordinary gun-toting citizen was able to help end the incident by shooting the perp, and then (with another ordinary citizen's help) chased him away and tailed him until he crashed and apparently committed suicide.  And apparently this loon was able to buy his assault weapon because of a clerical error committed by the U.S. Air Force.  This whole story has been turned into more media fodder, again on both sides of the issue.  Meanwhile, the politicians (both democrats and republicans) on the NRA payroll, and also our President, have decried politicizing the issue, saying this is not the time (immediately after another shooting), and further, that new laws wouldn't have prevented this because of the clerical error.  

Well, guess what Einstein:  the only new law that makes sense is to ban all assault weapons in private hands!!  And unfortunately, if we honor some arbitrary "mourning" or "consoling" period whenever one of these assault weapon attacks occurs, we run the risk that with them increasing in frequency and severity, we will NEVER act on this issue - and this is exactly the result the NRA and their minions want!  Another argument presented by some politicians living in the deep pockets of the NRA is that if we ban assault weapons, we must also ban trucks and airplanes, since they too have been used to kill people.  I think there's another solution: how about if we ban idiots from holding office?  And I mean all idiots, on both sides of the aisle....

 

 

09/28/2017 -  THE STATE OF THE UNION (ELECTIONS):  I, like many of you (on both sides of the aisle), was stunned when Donald Trump was elected.  I don't know him personally, but from what I've heard him say on TV, he appears to be a moneyed, self-serving, unintelligent bullshit artist.  And he's the president of the United States!  But this is only one disturbing facet of the current mess that is our present government:

1) The U.S. presidential election has devolved into a TV reality show.  There are a number of reasons for this, but first and foremost is that the majority of the American electorate are more interested in being entertained than in the future of the country.  And Trump is entertaining, simply because he's willing, on camera, to spout bald-faced lies, insults, and vaguely racist or misogynist crap, and to make grand promises which any 5-year-old knows make no sense at all.

2) Getting elected to office in this country has become a full-time job; this means that our senators, representatives, governors, etc. spend the majority of their time worrying about the next election, rather than the position to which they were elected!  Our current president started running for a second term the minute he knew he'd been elected for the first....

3) Our founding fathers had no way to envision TV and the internet, and the effect that they could have on our nation's elections, when fueled by vast amounts of money from a relatively few rich people and foreign governments.  This means that many (not all) of the elections in this country are now simply a report on who had the most money to spend on advertising.  However, this was not the case in our most recent presidential election (Hillary spent more money than Donald); that was simply a referendum on who the American public disliked least....  The voters in that election could be put into three main categories: those who wanted Hillary to be president, those who wanted Donald to be president, and those who disliked Hillary so much that they were willing to vote for anyone (i.e., Donald or a minor party candidate) who simply wasn't her....

4) Speaking of the founding fathers, they did a really good job of designing checks and balances into the three branches of our government - and that worked well, at the time they designed it.  Unfortunately, over the past 250 odd years, exploitable flaws in this design have surfaced as the result of the passage of time, the march of technology, and the perversion of our electoral process through gerrymandering and voter suppression.   Many of our elected officials and large corporations have been using those flaws for many years, for their own benefit.

5) Our current political environment discourages good people from getting into government - IMHO, there are exceptions, like Barack Obama, John Kasich, and Bernie Sanders, but for the most past, the only people I've seen making a good difference for our country right now are comedians (John Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, etc., ), billionaires like Bill & Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet, and celebs like Ophrah Winfree and Matt Damon.  And there is little incentive for any of them to run for office when our system is so screwed up....

I think there are a number of steps which might be taken to alleviate these problems:

A) There should be an amendment to the constitution which limits terms for U.S. Senators, Representatives, and Supreme Court Justices.  Yeah, yeah, I know the founding fathers decided to have the justices serve for life, but that was to keep them apolitical - like that's really worked....

B)  And speaking of the Supreme Court, the "Citizens United" supreme court decision was the most destructive blow to our democracy in history, and congress needs to figure out how to fix it!  To cut back on the staggering amounts of money currently spent on electioneering, and to insure "one man, one vote", congress should set strict limits on the amount of money spent on election TV, internet, or social media advertising - elections should not be "for sale" to the highest bidder, whether it's a corporation, a billionaire, a lobbying group, or a foreign government that's providing the cash.  If we need an amendment to our constitution which "modernizes" it to deal with that issue, so be it!  As for the large amount of false information appearing on social media and the internet, and in TV advertising, we need to create laws which provide penalties in line with the damage done.  Free speech doesn't extend to yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater when there is none, and it shouldn't extend to deliberately misleading the American public into voting for or against a particular candidate by telling lies about them either.  Both can be exceedingly dangerous to the public welfare....

C) A clear, standard set of questions on current governmental issues, appropriate to each national elected office or cabinet position, should be prepared for congress by a bipartisan committee on a regular basis; these questions should be designed to enable the public, and congress, to determine the fitness of each candidate for the office or position they seek.   Each serious candidate (qualification criteria could also be set by congress) should be required to formally answer these questions, in person, on camera, and these Q&A sessions should be locally televised on all major networks.  Answering these questions should be a requirement for being placed on the ballot, or for being submitted as a candidate for all presidential appointed cabinet or supreme court positions.   The release of all candidates' recent tax returns should also be a requirement (we wouldn't want to inadvertently elect someone who was being controlled by - oh say, RUSSIA)...

D) Voting in our elections is both a privilege and a right for U.S. citizens, but it should also be a responsibility - many Americans seem to be becoming more cynical and apathetic toward the electoral process every year, with good reason....  Voting should be easier, available through any of a number of electronic means with a common, secure interface, and should be a requirement for things like getting and retaining passports and driver's licenses, obtaining unemployment or other forms of welfare, receiving Social Security, etc.  Technology is being used by nefarious agents to attack our election processes, but technology can also be used to protect them!

And finally, a little advice for our current President:  stay away from social  media, and try to say as little as possible whenever you're in public - you're embarrassing yourself and the country....  ("Avatar" reference: "Try to use big words...".)