A Personal Journey and A New Direction

My friends and regular readers have no doubt noticed that I am not as prolific a blogger as I once was. This is true. Over a year ago I moved from Dallas to Los Angeles to become closer to my daughter. I wasn’t able to find a steady job at the time, but I was all right with that. I have a good skill set as a poker player, and I was content to play poker to pay the rent for a time. I enjoyed what I did and the money, though erratic, did come in.

Still, I had always figured that eventually, I would find something else to do. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy poker, I just wasn’t sure it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So I took acted out of a luxury that most people didn’t have. I didn’t enter into something in order to pay the bills, I already had that covered. Instead I just focused on what it was I enjoyed doing. I enjoy studying the economy and found that I was able to make predictions about the future. Friends encouraged me to put my ideas down in a book, and so I did. It turned out that the predictions my book made very quickly came true. Since I had made invests according to my philosophical outlook on things, I profited from the crash.

So, in addition to poker, I was making a nice return as an investor. Well there’s two sources of income anyway. I started this blog in order to pursue a third source of income as a writer. So far the income has proven elusive, and that’s in large part what the writing regarding this blog as tailed off a bit. I’ve been spending my time learning a new skill set. In the past six weeks or so I have read and digested CSS: The Missing Manual and Syndicating Web Sites with RSS Feeds For Dummies in addition to some other books on Word Press. Continue reading A Personal Journey and A New Direction

An Inflation Survival Kit

Well, I’m beginning to get clients seeking my investment recommendations. I think a lot of the investment advisory business is driven by what advisers can profitably sell, and not necessarily what’s most lucrative or best for the client. When you’ve got your country’s central bank working hand-in-hand with your government to inflate your money supply by trillions of dollars in high-powered money (this year alone), holding physical gold and silver becomes a must.

There are many investment vehicles available for purchase that allow you to participate in the appreciation of the Comex gold price, but they also all involve some form of counter-party risk. The beauty of gold ownership? It’s a form of wealth that isn’t someone else’s liability. This is important, and lose when purchasing gold through an intermediary. Part of the reason most never bother to learn investing or money management is that it’s made artificially complicated by the profession of accounting, as well as the pseudoscience that is Economics. The average person wanting to learn about money is bombarded with terms they don’t understand and notions that make little sense; my favorite among them being that the Fed is there to protect the value of the US Dollar by making it gradually worth a bit less each year so that, as a nation, we may prosper. Such bizarre statements defy rational explanation because they just don’t make sense, which in turn confuses people who are ready to soon seek comfort in the blind belief there are experts out there who do understand this arcane esoterica, and they’re better off just placing their faith in them.

Of course, they would be mistaken. The foundation of the modern American financial system rests securely upon this ill-placed faith in experts being able to manage what we as individuals cannot begin to fathom, and soon don’t even want to try. Knowledgeable central bankers manage the currency so as to allow smart, capable CEOs to grow the bottom line while accountants and regulators ensure that everyone’s playing by the rules. Every era has a mythology that holds it firmly together; this view of our financial system seems to be ours. The trouble (for those in power, that is) seems to be that in recent times, these myths are being exposed for being just that: myths. Continue reading An Inflation Survival Kit

The Blog’s New Look

I’m sure my returning readers have noticed the blog’s new look. I ordered the Lisa Sabin-Wilson’s book WordPress For Dummies and it immediately empowered me to start changing a few things. WordPress is a really useful engine for content management and is very customizable in terms of the look, and WordPress For Dummies really helped to unleash its potential.

We’ve gotten rid of the old frame along the top and are instead allowing WordPress to manage the entire site. We also added a selection of books from Amazon in the sidebar that are all books that I have read and recommend to people in order to better understand the crisis. (Yes, I know, it’s a lot of books. I need to get a life!)

We will start further customizing the look to better taylor the website to the readership. Just today we darkened the “Older Entries” link because Kevin couldn’t see it on his browser. If anyone has any other suggestions please feel free to leave comments.

The House Goes Broke

I spent the weekend in Las Vegas attending a collectable card game tournament. I got to spend some time with my friend, and blog reader, Kevin, who was organizing the tournament. Since I’m a poker player by trade, and since there are plenty of places to play in Los Angeles, I didn’t do any gambling while in Vegas. Instead I took the opportunity to show my girlfriend the town. It was her first time, so I took her to my favorite casino, The Bellagio. As always, it didn’t disappoint. 

Before seeing The Bellagio, her understanding of Vegas was a town that was entirely gaudy and flashy town that was entirely devoid of taste; it’s not that she didn’t like the town, but that she felt that the garish, in-your-face, depictions of the city was what had to be appreciated in and of itself.  In essence, she felt that the nonstop carnival nature of the town permeated everything from the design of the casinos to the behavior of the patrons and that that was its charm. If you could appreciate that, you could have a really fun time, but don’t expect to ever see anything that one could objectively think of as tasteful of beautiful. The town was a carnival. If you wanted taste, you came to the wrong place. 

The Bellagio immediately changed her opinion. She was immediately overtaken not only by the amount of wealth that was on display for all to see. As you can imagine, with a construction price-tag of $1.6 billion dollars, there’s a lot of wealth on display. The celling of the lobby has a display of hand blown glass flowers that, apparently cost over $1 million dollars. There’re really quite beautiful. I always have to pause and just marvel at them. She was speechless, and that was just the beginning of her journey of wonderment. Beauty and taste was everywhere. From the Louis XIV chairs used in the phone room, to the world’s largest chocolate fountain in the desert parlor, everything was simply beautiful. 

I’ve often indicated to people that Las Vegas is my favorite city, and The Bellagio is a big part as to why. Of course, it’s a product of the bubble era. The exorbitant cost of its construction was financed by corporate bond offerings by its owner at the time, Steve Wynn who ran Mirage Resorts Limited. Mirage Resorts was later acquired by MGM to form the corporation MGM Mirage which controlled virtually every high end Vegas casino you could name. Unfortunately, the expense of all of the debt used to make all of those big fancy casinos is now getting hard to finance given that people are cutting back on travel and entertainment.

According to MGM’s latest earnings statement, their earnings are down 66.7% year-over-year. That means, for every $1 they made last year, they made $0.43 this year. Investors have not been very forgiving; the stock has lost over 90% of its value in the last year. The company is currently trading at a price-to-book ratio of .35, which would suggest that the $1.6 Billion dollar Bellagio casino is selling for $560 million today.  

The story of the this stock is the story of both Las Vegas and America: the easy money was flowing and it made both consumers and investors a little crazy; investors poured money into extravagant projects designed to capture more of the consumers money; now that the consumers have gone broke, the investors are in danger of doing the same. Another casino operator, Station Casinos, is defaulting on its bonds and is about to file bankruptcy. Trump Entertainment is also probably a goner this year.  MGM will probably do the same as this recession continues to deepen over the next few years. 

It seems clear that, in light of current events, that The Bellagio was a bad investment, but that does not make it any less beautiful. When deflationary crashes grip an economy, people marvel at how anyone could have spent so much money on such ridiculous projects. In the internet era, it was Pets.com. Today, we are beginning to realize that the Iraq War as a ridiculous way to spend our money. The Bellagio is a child of the era of easy money and poor investments. It stands as a monument to consumer excesses induced by easy money. I doubt another such casino will be built in the United States for decades to come.

It may become increasingly reviled by some as a monument to greed and foolishness, but I will never be among that crowd. Yes, The Bellagio was a poor business investment, but, unlike the Iraq War, it didn’t kill anyone (at least, none that I know of). It may have been built far larger than necessary, but, unlike the “bridge to nowhere”, it wasn’t at taxpayer expense and its far more pleasant place at which to spend time. As this recession drags on, we will need some cheer and value in our lives and I think the Bellagio may be there to provide it for us. Sure, MGM may go bankrupt, but the casino itself is an asset that will emerge from bankrupcy under some new owner and eager to attract customers- which brings me back to my original topic. 

Las Vegas is really a town of value if you know where to look. My girlfriend and I got a room with a king-size bed for $45 a night, and the casino was advertising rooms as low as $25. We ate steak and eggs breakfasts for $5, and toured a luxurious casino, including art museum and fountain show, for free. For those of you who are looking for a good value vacation spot, I’d encourage you to visit Las Vegas. One of the most helpful guides I’ve found is the book Comp City by former pit boss and fellow Texan, Max Rubin. The stories in the book alone are priceless, and the insiders view of how to work the Las Vegas comp system is fantastic.

I look at the mistakes and excesses of the city of Las Vegas as a microcosm of the mistakes and excesses we have made as Americans. I had to stifle a laugh as I walked past an office in The Bellagio that was selling exclusive condominiums in a project that hadn’t yet been completed. Given how much cheap housing their is in Las Vegas right now, and how far the housing market has to fall, the room probably represented the worst room you could step into in Vegas. After all, in the table games, all you can lose is the money you put up. In Las Vegas real estate, you stand to lose far more. Hey, just ask the house.

Drugs and the FDA: An Argument for Liberty

Cat recently commented:

It’s unfortunate that you pick the FDA as a target, since the FDA has semi-recently deregulated some aspects of its guardianship to the detriment of society. I’m talking about the herbs and supplements industry, which now peddles untested, unverified snake oil at every pharmacy near you. Getting rid of the FDA entirely means more snake oil, not less. The FDA’s practices are not perfect, as medical professionals will tell you. I have heard that drug makers often conceal unfavorable or neutral (no better than placebo) studies and submit only the highly-favorable ones to the FDA. In the absence of all information about a drug, another Vioxx could very well slip through.

I personally think closing that hole is preferable to opening it wide. Peddlers of snake oil already do such cherry-picking of “studies” to sell their concoctions directly to people. I can find Bach’s Flower Remedy (homeopathic garbage) on the shelf next to the Sudafed (proven decongestant), for pete’s sake! I shiver to think of all beneficial medicines being lost in that sea of misinformation. It’s already hard to Google any combination of symptoms without landing upon the webpage of a “naturopath” or a “homeopath”, neither of which require rigorous medical degrees. Journalists, who don’t know science from pseudoscience, keep doing stories about acupuncture, chiropractors, and other sham treatments that are no better than placebo. As a people, what we know about medicine is being directed by insufficiently skeptical people and spiritual nonsense in the name of making a buck.

In the Libertarian quote above, it says (tellingly) “For example, during a 10-year delay in approving Propranolol (a heart medication for treating angina and hypertension), approximately 100,000 people died who could have been treated with this lifesaving drug.” Note it does not say that the treatment would have saved any of those 100,000 lives. It just says that they could have been treated with the drug had it been approved sooner. Well, yes. But so what? How many would have actually been saved? How many would have died of a heart attack anyway, or an embolism or a stroke? High blood pressure (mostly) comes from lifestyle factors that predispose people to other risks of premature death.

Propranolol was the first drug of its type. Ten years isn’t a terribly long time to study the effects of something new before giving it to human beings. Is there any specific incompetence being alleged, or is this just about delays? Getting something faster isn’t always better. Drug companies mix up untold numbers of completely crap drugs for every drug that might show a little promise. Fast-tracking them all into human guinea pigs is fixing the problem of “delays” by supplanting it with the problem of “untested drugs hurting people”.

I tend to read a lot of medical blogs and there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the use of experimental drugs. For one thing, they’re usually insanely expensive. Cancer, which is a huge magnet for experimental drug treatments, involves lots of drama and controversy and heart-wrenching stories. So-and-so didn’t get Experimental Drug A and died. What they don’t tell you is that So-and-so would have lived maybe 4-6 extra months at a cost of $200,000 to be paid by somebody else (usually Medicare). Nobody would ask for $200,000 experimental drugs if the bill wasn’t going elsewhere (unless they were very rich). A staggering number of people get cancer now because they are living long enough to get cancer. The risk grows with age. They get old, they get cancer, and we throw pots of money at them to treat them even though the cancer likely won’t kill them before something else does.

I go back and forth on this. Extending life is precious, but at what cost? The most expensive years of a person’s life are currently their last ones, and those are the years which suck Medicare dry. Old people stacked like cordwood in nursing homes, scarcely able to talk or feed themselves, getting run by ambulance to the super-expensive ER periodically because the attendants don’t want to take any chances of getting sued for the slightest missed symptom. Eventually the oldest wind up in an ICU where the relatives, upset and unwilling to let go, demand that everything possible be done. They’re not paying, so why not ask for every life-extending measure possible?

We got here in part because of malpractice lawsuits. An 80 year old woman passes away in an ICU and the family is looking to collect. The doctors can’t say “no” to unrealistic demands because a jury of non-scientific, non-medical people will judge their actions and render a verdict on their professional competence. Such juries are easily swayed by emotional appeals and pseudoscience. Very few people think, “Well, grandpop is pushing 90, he had a good life, let’s put him in a hospice and let him die peacefully.” The doctors and nurses themselves are starting to become very upset about how much they must prod and poke and torture people who are clearly dying because it’s the family’s wishes and the victim can’t speak up. This is the medical system that lawyers have won for us.

In many countries where medical care is paid for in part by the government, they’re beginning to do studies on various treatments to see which ones are the most cost-effective. It’s a hard thing to do — to put a price on a few hours or months of life — but it needs to be done as scientifically as possible. Those treatments which do not offer cures but merely prolong life (such as Propranolol) need to be scrutinized. Many older drugs are, surprisingly, as effective as newer drugs, but for a fraction of the cost. That’s why insurance companies keep coming up with tiers of drug coverage. They want to direct treatment first to the old standbys before paying out the nose for the newest tiny tweak of the same old molecular structure.

In Norway, when my blood pressure began to rise, my doctor there was confident enough to say “get some exercise and it will fix itself”. He didn’t shove me out the door with a bottle of diuretics in one hand and a bottle of statins in the other. And you know what? He was right. I made the effort and my blood pressure is now below average. Denying people Propranolol for ten years might have resulted in a few dying who might not otherwise have died, but how many of those people could have been saved (for free) by modifying their lifestyle?

 

The thing about life is that no one really has the answers. We come into this life with the promise that we will someday die. The decisions that we make could hasten or delay it. Smoking is an activity that is virtually guaranteed to shorten the length of your natural life, and yet people smoke. Part of it must stem from their desire to shorten their life, and part of it probably had to do with the pleasure they seem to get from smoking. The state could step in and outlaw smoking, and then we would all live healthier lives. Is the state justified in doing so?

What this question is really asking is to whom our body belongs. If our bodies belong to the government, then the government is right to step in and enforce actions to protect its property from harmful habits such as smoking. If, on the other hand, our bodies are entirely our own property, then the state is far out of bounds to do so. Obviously, this is the ideological framework from which I view the question.

If we start with the notion that our bodies are all our property and it is our responsibility to care for them,  then let’s look at the question of drug use. If a drug is not falsely advertised and we have all the information needed to make an informed decision as to whether to use it or not, then on what authority is the state to step in and say that we can not use it? Why should the FDA take ten years to approve or disapprove of a certain drug? Would not their time be better spent ensuring that the drug was properly represented to the people who wished to take it?

Bringing up the issue of Nutraceuticals, Cat wishes the the FDA would take a more heavy handed approach with the industry. This is an area where I feel that the FDA is adopting the correct approach by policing the  claims that the industry makes rather than the products themselves. If we’ve established that a given substance isn’t going to kill you, and there may be some anecdotal stories to suggest that it might help with such and such, then I don’t see the problem with selling the product with the claim that it might possible help with such and such. If the product is advertised truthfully, as something that “might” help, then what’s the harm in someone deciding to buy it? 

Sure, there might be some more effective product out there, but the placebo effect of expectation often corrects the problems that we might be having. And for consumers who are more serious about their health, they can do more serious research and find far better solutions. I think the people that buy most Nutraceutical products buy them on impulse as they walk through the store. If they keep buying them, then they must find some good in them. Or perhaps they buy them for the same logic as people buy lottery tickets. “Eh, couldn’t hurt.”

I do wonderful it Cat has thought the entire issue through when she brings up the notion of bringing down blood pressure through lifestyle and exercise. The truth is that a lot of American’s problems are lifestyle related, and I think on some level we all know that. There is not pill that can make up for poor diet and exercise. All pills can do is treat the symptoms. So if we understand that, as Cat and her Norwegian doctor seemed to, then why adopt the position that we need stricter government rules regarding the FDA and Nutraceuticals. The truth is that virtually all of the products offered by the Nutraceutical industry treat areas that are largely lifestyle choices: depression, sex drive, and the common cold. We all know that there’s no easy fix for these things, yet we seek them anyway. 

Furthermore, the medical profession is an excellent example of what happens with too much government regulation. The medical profession got a monopoly from the government to dispense healthcare. Now, working together with the pharmaceutical industry, they dominate American economic life by controlling inordinately larger portions of our paycheck for products that, for the most part, are poor replacements for the lifestyle choices we have all made. To me, this just shows the end result of what happens when the government tries to use regulation and bureaucracy to shield us from ourselves; corporations take over and industries set out to pad their own wallet. 

Now it may be that in an entirely Socialized system where their is no profit motive present in healthcare, that the common sense advice given by your doctor is more common place. The doctor would have no monetary incentive to suggest a drug, therefore the more common sense approach is offered. This avenue, while seemingly desirable, is arrived at by the government forcing individual resources toward the system that it desires best and the resulting hard choices of spending money to prolong life left to a system that is trying to spend as little as possible for the benefit of the collective.

Ideologically, I must reject such a system. Were individuals able to make their own choices in regards to how they spent their health dollars, there would certainly be a fair amount of snake oil sold. However, I feel that a fair amount of snake oil will be for sale anyway, because a quick fix has always been the most deeply coveted solution in any crowd. By, despite money spent by consumers to chase false promises, we would also have individuals looking at their own healthcare and making their own decisions and some of these decisions would be very enlightened. Indeed, in a world where false advertising is forbidden and the consumers are able to make all of their own choices, I think we would see a result were some people made extremely rational decisions and some made rather poor ones. That is always the result when people are left to their own devices. To try to collectivize everything means that one central body must make the hard decisions for all of us and that’s a world where the individual choice has been removed. Would it not be more rational to allow each of us to make these choices for ourselves?

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation, Part II

Cat recently commented:

Sounds almost like somebody I knew who stalked me for a while. He could say the most awful things to me, then would be the sweetest, most awesome innocent person ever around my friends and family. Practically nobody believed my story because how could such a *nice* guy do such things? Maybe, they reasoned, I had done something to deserve it?

I’m glad the police didn’t fall for his “poor innocent me” act and that you have continued to remain organized and determined. I’m sorry Auby has to go through this. I am glad she has somebody around to help protect her and be her advocate.

I’m glad you had a good holiday that no jackass could ruin!

Yea, I suppose lots of women have a hard time with stalkers who seem nice at some point in their lives. I can say that my vacation gave me more experience with Restraining Orders than I thought I would ever get. 

Here’s a few tips for people who find themselves in this situation. First, the State of California issues a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) in order to protect someone from someone else. Other states issue what they call a Protective Order, and the term Restraining Order is just used for civil procedures. This lead to some complications when we followed the advice of the Office in Charge and took the restraining order to the police. They were not able to act on it because it was not termed a protective order, which is what they were used to seeing. 

But when you look at California’s TRO and compare it to other state’s Protective Orders, it is clear that California’s TRO actually goes beyond what other states Protective Orders do. It’s just called something different here, but it can be hard to communicate that to Police Officers. At any rate, after the hearing regarding the TRO, the state can issue a Permanent Restraining Order/Protective Order. Now you have something that law enforcement in other states can recognize, but you’ll need to contact a district attorney for the state in question in order to get the Protective Order “domesticated” (i.e. put into their law enforcement computer system so that his name will come up whenever he’s stopped and they can check for guns). A Texas DA told us that all we had to do was send the Protective Order to Law Enforcement, and that that was all that’s needed. Oh, that’s another thing about the California Protective Order, it says you can’t own a gun for the entire length of its term. 

The issuance of the Protective Order is apparently what the Office in Charge of the case was waiting for, because he brought jackass in for questioning the very next day. He explained to him, over his continued protestations of innocence, that if he continued to contact Auby that he would be in violation of the law and that he would arrest him. We haven’t heard much from him after that. He did sent a few lines of anonymous text one day, just to prove that he was undaunted, but the it seems that he has gone away.

This is a dramatic change from how he was acting before the Office in Charge did that. He was constantly sending her messages. In order to further build the case against him, I thought it was best to engage him and allow him to give himself away, but Auby was so disgusted by him at this point that she would have none of it. So, in order to build the case, I impersonated Auby when he would contact her. 

It’s strange, but it seems he fell in love with me. I’m only partly kidding. In order to see what he would do I told him (as her) that she was breaking up with me and that she wanted him back. His tone changed immediately and he henceforth started playing hard to get. Auby explained that she expected this of him; that he wanted to be emotionally unavailable in order to punish her for leaving. Therefore he behaved in a perfect paradox: he would not go away when he was unwanted, and would not be available when it was indicated he was desired. In some moments that I find the most clear about this case I asked him (again, as her) just how it was possible that a relationship might work between the two of them. He indicated that he had no idea. Which again goes to show the absurdity of the situation. 

Jackass was pursuing a relationship he was himself unprepared for with someone who was more than done with him. He had delusions that he would win her back and would, in fact, say so on many occasions. In some of his more bizarre ramblings he would indicate that he had evolved beyond taking no for an answer and that she would eventually come crawling back to him. But when the prospect was put in front of him that he might really have a chance to get back into her life, he really had nothing to say. He softened his tone considerably, but he had nothing to say. 

We maintained this illusion till the end. I felt that if he felt that his plan to win her back through constant harassment and threatening behavior was going according to psychotic plan, then we would be less inclined to pursue any violence against her. Others cautioned me that we might be demonstrating that I we were in fact not afraid of him because we were engaging him, but as we had previously met with law enforcement and were acting in cooperation with the authorities in trying to build a case against him, I felt that we had little to fear in this regard. The night before the hearing, he contacted her again. Again he had little to say. I’m sure that the hearing date was on his mind and he was just trying to stall and give her assurances so that she wouldn’t go through with it. 

How hard it must have been for him to have his bubble pricked in such a way. To find out that not only does your ex not want you back, but that she has sent all of these communications to the police who went over them with him line by line. To discover, at the hands of the law, that she wasn’t coming back, and that if he pursued her any further, he would be arrested. Though I wasn’t able to witness that moment, I know it  must have been crushing for him. I can’t say that I’d have it any other way.

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

I spent Christmas of this year in Dallas and not in Los Angeles as I had previously claimed in this blog. The reason for the deception was, as I mentioned in the Dec. 7th post, I had received death threats from my girlfriend’s loser ex-boyfriend. I did not feel they were credible, but by the same token, I wanted to try to ensure as much safety as I could for ex-wife and daughter who were going to be visiting. It’s one thing to feel that death threats aren’t to be taken seriously when your life is potentially at risk; it’s another to do so when the lives of others who are staying under the same roof are also at risk. So I opted for a bit of deception.

Not that it really did me much good. We already had travel plans to be out of town when the hearing was scheduled for. So we had to go before the court and ask for a new hearing date. Many times in these matters you fill out the form and the bailiff takes it straight to the judge; you don’t get a chance to interact with the judge directly as part of your request. To help remedy this, we attached a declaration to the request. A declaration is a statement signed under penalty of perjury. The format we used was as follows:

DECLARATION OF SOMEONE

1. I am someone who is currently appearing before the court in regards to somecase. If called upon to testify I could and would testify as follows:

2. 

3. 

4. 

 

Signed under penalty of perjury for the State of California in _______ County on this ___ Day of December, 2008. 

You just fill in the numbered items with what you’re testifying to. Auby, my girlfriend, filled out the declaration with the facts that she was traveling to Dallas on the date of the hearing. The judge granted the request, but the declaration was attached to the reissued restraining order and was now part of the document that required it to be served to Jackass the stalker. This meant that we would be serving him with proof that we would be in town. Ah well. So much for that plan. 

I was also pondering acquiring a firearm for the holidays, but was never like having the combination of firearms and children around. If I did pick one, I’d half to favor one such as a Beretta 9mm which has three safeties. There have been incidents where a police officer loses his firearm to a perpetrator, but the perpetrator could not work the safeties on the gun and instead threw the gun down and fled. You don’t read of those kind of incidents happen with something like a Glock 9m, which has no safeties. In fact, here’s a video of a police officer shooting himself in the foot with his own Glock; safeties are a good thing. 

Firearms are ultimately rather risky devices. They can be useful in repelling attackers, but also cause unintended harm and even death. I decided against retaining a firearm because I weighted the remote possibility of unintended harm outweighing the also remote possibility of actually being attacked by Jackass the Stalker. In making this decision, I might be somewhat prejudice because I had my own incident with a firearm growing up. A 12-gauge shotgun was accidentally discharged in my direction as I walked across the room. I felt the blast against my back as it rushed past me, and bore through the kitchen cabinet door. The blast went on to bore a hole through the three of the thin-separator walls of the trailer we stayed in when we were hunting. I got lucky. 

I didn’t want to take another chance, so I opted to just to trust in the cowardice of the person who was threatening me. Not that I didn’t first try other resources. Auby and I stayed in touch with the police at the university Jackass was attending. The first time we called in to the police we informed them that one of their students had violated his retraining order. This prompted the police department to open an investigation into the doings of Jackass, and that meant that one particular police office had been assigned to the case. This officer became our point of contact with the university police. 

The officer in question had actually spoken with Jackass; he had gotten spooked when he first got served by the restraining order and took it upon himself to go talk to the police to tell them that he was completely innocent of what he was obviously guilty of. That was actually a really bad move on his part, because lying to authorities is a felony- just ask Martha Stuart. Not that he has been arrested and charged with one, but he just dug himself deeper into a hole by going to the police of his own accord and lying to them. In so doing, he committed a crime far more serious than the one he was trying to avoid. He also merely served to arouse the suspicions of the officer in charge of the case. 

We started a relationship between the officer in charge of the case and ourselves. We continued to document when he would contact us and we would always forward this information to the officer in charge. He seemed to want to make an arrest of get a subpoena to confiscate his computer and have it reviewed by a computer expert, by all the district attorneys involved seemed to busy to waste the their time on this case. That’s a shame, because it would have been nice to have Jackass confronted by the police and found out for the liar that he is. As it was, I merely had to place my faith in the cowardice that I knew ran deep in him. It had always been part of his modus operandi to be meek in person but say horrible thing over the internet. I could see no reason why now would be any different. 

Christmas was wonderful. Jackass contacted us several times and, in cooperation with law enforcement, we encouraged him to reveal himself more and more. We put this evidence in a useful format so that Auby could readily refer to the parts she needed when the hearing arrived. On that fateful day, Jackass was a no show- as we had well expected. In the case where only one of the parties shows up, the court almost always sides with the other party, and so it was with us. Our temporary restraining order was made into a permanent (well, 2 years anyway) protective order. 

The next step is to get this California Protective Order domesticated into the State of Texas so that his name will be entered into the Texas law enforcement databases. I’ll let you know how that proceeds.

Answering Cathy’s Questions

Cathy, good friend and frequent blog commentator, recently left the following comment:

A nice series, even if it doesn’t have a happy ending. For those of us who already live austere debt-free lives yet have no money to invest, how would you suggest we prepare for what is coming?

I am also curious as to how guys like Madoff figure into all of this. If the SEC wouldn’t investigate when told the fund was likely a Ponzi scheme, then the SEC is useless. We should get rid of it. What would be a Libertarian answer to fraudsters like this?

So far, most “Libertarian” answers I have heard (from those who claim to be party members) involve non-answers like, “don’t get fooled, protect yourself”. I call it a non-answer because it means that everyone would have to be superhumanly smart and educated in order to know everything. It means that those unable to care fully for themselves would still be at the mercy of shysters. You’d still need somebody whose opinions you trusted… and Madoff was a very trusted name!

What would be your solution? Cheers!

For your first question, that fact that you are out of debt is very important. You also seem well-prepared for whatever calamities might next befall our society. But, if you’re looking to do more than just survive — and actually prosper — then I’d recommend you pick up a copy of my book. I give some very practical advice in there about how to save money including a section on how to get credit card fees refunded — yes, even if customer service denies you the first time around. In addition, I go over the specifics of how to start and grow a portfolio that’s going to do well over the next few years.

Going forward, America will still have an economy and building wealth will require that you participate in it. So you’re going to need to find that niche in that economy that best pays you for the talents and training you already possess. (If you’re lacking, then this is a good time to acquire it.) That the dollar will eventually default is almost a given in the future, so any student loans you take out to go back to school may end up being a free roll.

In terms of picking out skills for the economy, keep in mind you need to look to the economy of the future — not the present. Language skills will be at a premium. I can think of no language that wouldn’t be useful in some way. Asian languages such as Chinese would suggest themselves, but Europe will remain a training partner of ours as well which means that any of the traditional languages commonly accessed through your local college will be in demand.

Now as far as the SEC goes, I’m afraid I have the same non-answer as the other Libertarians: “Caveat Emptor”, (‘let the buyer beware’). Yes there will be frauds in the areas of finance just as there are frauds and cheats in all walks of life. The individual needs to be very aware of where his money is and how it is being put to work — which, incidentally, is called “transparency” in the field of accounting. Bernard Madoff did not have any transparency to his operation. His operations were a black box into which people out money. In return for it, Madoff would send them statements telling them they had made a profit when they really hadn’t. He didn’t provide any explanations for how their money had grown, just that it had.

Meanwhile, private industry will respond to the investors’ needs for information on where they can safely put their money. Accounting firms will audit records, and those with audited seal of approval from a prestigious accounting firm (which Madoff also did not have) can also go a long way towards keeping the cheats out of the system.

Now, I know this isn’t a perfect answer — in fact, you seem to feel it’s a “non-answer” — but keep in mind that the traditional answer failed, too: the Government’s oversight group, the Securities and Exchange Commission, investigated Madoff twice in the past 4 years and both times came up with nothing. All that did was give people the illusion that Madoff was running a clean ship when, in fact, he was not. Regulatory agencies such as the SEC and the FDA tend to have a horrible record in terms of fulfilling their charter. There have been a number of drugs that made it to market only to kill people under the watch of the FDA just as the largest financial scandals in history have been under the SEC. These agencies do little but chew up taxpayer money and give the organizations they preside over an aura of legitimacy.

In essence, what your question boils down to is, “What can be done about evil in the world?” There is no one answer to that. Evil will always exist and it will never be eliminated entirely. In terms of limiting our exposure to it, there is no substitute for learning the art of skepticism and critical reasoning. Those mental tools will keep most people out of an awful lot of trouble. And, of course, there will always be organizations that will come along and say that they can vouch for various clients of theirs. Then you have to decide whether you want to trust the vouching organization. Sometimes it’s private, and sometimes it’s a government agency.

I haven’t seen any studies to support the notion, but I’m putting my money on the free market to provide better watchdog agencies than the Government.

The Peculiar Case of Jackass the Stalker

I sometimes say that I am a boring person who seems to be leading a rather exciting life. It seems strange to me that the same person who grew up reading comic books and playing role-playing games, grew up to lead a life that has so far included:

  • being sued by a large corporation bent on destroying me
  • looking down the barrel of a loaded gun and daring the person to pull the trigger
  • writing a book about the collapse of the American economy

Perhaps I’m a weirdness magnet or perhaps I am unconsciously seeking this drama out to spice up my otherwise boring existence. I’m not certain, but my life experiences do seem to make for interesting tales. My latest development involved getting a restraining order against one who is stalking my girlfriend. I thought I’d recount the experiences here to aid anyone who has to go through the process themselves.

The person in question was one of my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriends. Since he is not a “public person”, I will just call him Jackass to protect his privacy. Strangely enough, I actually met her through him, because we were friends at the time. And as my once-friend has recently threatened my life via gun and mail bomb, I guess this goes to show you that you never really know about some people.

But I’m getting ahead of things.

The relationship between Jackass and my future girlfriend was on-the-rocks at the time I came into the picture, and, while she now admits to there having been a developing attraction, it was never acted upon. Still, he could sense it, and therefore took steps to alienate himself from me. Ironically, the pretext he used for it was that I was somehow threatening to her, and he feared that I might take reprisal against her for perceived slights by him. It’s ironic given recent events, but he played himself up to be her stalwart protector and used that pretense to cease all contact with me. Eventually, there was a parting of ways between the two of them and myself. I expected that that would be that.

Life is never that simple.

At the start of the year, I heard from Taylor, a frequent commenter of this blog. He and Taylor had been one-time friends as well, and suddenly, Jackass had gotten back in touch with Taylor in response to viewing Taylor’s wedding album. I had been in attendance of the wedding, and this motivated Jackass to contact him to ask how he could still be friends with me given how horrible I had been towards his now ex-girlfriend. Yes, you heard that correctly: though she had recently ended the relationship, he was still casting himself as her stalwart protector against my evil transgressions. Taylor then contacted me and asked if there was any truth to Jackass’ numerous accusations against me. I assured him there was not. What I did learn from this exchange, however, was that those two had broken up.

Being nothing short of a love opportunist, I contacted her and suggested we get together. Soon, we were exclusively dating. You might have thought that after being the unwitting, ironic impetus for me to reach out to her, that his role in this particular tale would come to a close.

I should have known better.

You see, the bizarre behavior that he exhibited over the course of knowing him should have served as a warning that all was not well with the young man. Ordinary men do not fashion themselves their woman’s protector as a ruse to alienate a competitive interest, and they particularly do not maintain this ruse AFTER being dumped. While many of us might fail to move on just after the end of a romantic affair, it’s a very rare person who would attempt to maintain the facade that they are still fighting battles on the behalf of a now ex-girlfriend. Come to find out, there was an episode of battering during their relationship, which makes his claims of being her protector all the more bizarre.

Taken as a whole, all of this behavior is a warning sign.

Sure enough, around Thanksgiving we heard from him again. This time, via the Internet. He had been taking programming courses to try and better himself, and apparently decided to use his newfound powers of the computer for ill. It seems he was using an anonymized IP, and various aliases to send harassing messages to her through AOL Instant Messenger and phone texts. In addition, he would drop by this blog and make a pest of himself by posting all manner of harassing comments. He seemed to feel that because he was doing this harassment through the Internet via alias, that there was little we could do. In fact, in numerous messages he said that he was basically untouchable and that there was nothing the law could do about him.

A notion of which, I was rather anxious to dissuade him.

First, she and I engaged him in AIM conversation. He craved an audience and, basking in the power of his perceived anonymity, went on to give himself away several times by giving out information about the two of us that only he would know. In addition, she commented that the word choice and emoticons he used in several of his texts were exactly as she knew him to use. At one point, he even went so far as so say that she would be his “bitch” again and that he was “beyond taking no for an answer”. Comments like that greatly narrow the field of who we could possibly be dealing with, and show just how far gone the person is.

All very interesting, but can we actually take this circumstantial evidence to the courts? Furthermore, what could we, a couple in California, do about harassment from someone in Texas? Can the legal system protect us given this set of circumstances?

The answer is yes — it absolutely can.

  • The first step is to get a restraining order.

While the police are typically slow to move on complaints of cyberstalking, (as it remains a federal crime, in the jurisdiction of, not local police agencies, but the FBI) they are much faster moving regarding charges of violating a restraining order. The actual process of getting one varies from state to state; in California, it is quite simple. In fact, they even have a special department set up at the superior court to walk you through it. All the forms are in plain English (or Spanish) and are easy to fill out. You see a judge who will look over your evidence and authorize the restraining order — all on that same day. In our case, the judge looked over the numerous AIM texts where Jackass … er, someone who seemed a lot like our him — had his knowledge, grudges, and speech patterns — threatened to kill both my girlfriend and myself. He used language that was both colorful and graphic, which I’m sure helped the judge render his decision to authorize a restraining order after only ten minutes of reading.

Now, I’m sure some of you are asking if a California restraining order can restrain a Texas resident.

Again, absolutely, it can.

A restraining order, is a restraining order, is a restraining order, and it can be presented to the Texas police if he makes a pest of himself again, and they are obligated to investigate it just as they would an order that was authorized by a Texas court. In his case, the legal process is working to his detriment. Should he choose to present himself at the hearing, he would have to do so by taking a trip to California. Of course, he could just hire a California attorney, but he’s about to discover the joys of paying legal fees on a pizza delivery boy’s salary. (Yes, that is his profession).

The only thing we had to do next was get it served, which means that someone who was not named as a protected person had to present it to him in person. And you cannot direct-mail serve a court order. Of course, my girlfriend had a few friends who had been horrified by his treatment of her and were more than happy to present it to him … at work.

Which is exactly what happened.

Today, at roughly 7:30 PM Central Standard Time, he was served with California Superior Court Case Number S0003689, Temporary Restraining Order and Notice of Hearing. The court order itself has boiler plate language that prohibit him from owning a gun, and if he already does, he must either sell or turn it into the police within 24 hours of receiving the order.

The person serving it said she delighted in sarcastically wishing him a “Merry Christmas.”

I will continue to update this blog as to how the case progresses. It should be fairly straightforward because he no longer has his perceived anonymity of the Internet with which to issue idle death threats. As he has been told, everything he says, or instant messages, or texts, can now be lawfully recorded and used against him. Even if he does it anonymously, it is more evidence that the judge would weigh against him in this case, so I suspect that we may have heard the last of him. But, you never know. He does seem rather crazy, and he is going to be spending Christmas alone.

Fortunately, we’re going to be spending all of Christmas in California, so there’s less of a chance that he could ever actually carry out his threats — even if he got the mind to.

All in all, I’d say that it’s going to be a rather happy Christmas, indeed.