May 30th, 2011

USPS

Bloomberg Businessweek has a long article about the postal service's impending impact with its debt ceiling.

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_23/b4231060885070.htm

Dead Tree Edition (a blogger I stumbled across when I was looking for consolidation in book printing) does a lot of USPS coverage, primarily from a magazine/catalog production/distribution perspective.

http://deadtreeedition.blogspot.com/

While I would not say I agree with the blogger on everything, I have found that blog to be consistently informative on topics that are probably important but very, very poorly covered elsewhere.

Reading (for the purpose of mocking) e-book coverage for the last couple of years was a real eye-opener to me. I had not fully understood just how hollowed-out printed reading matter had become as an industry -- it still looked pretty good. It turns out that the postal service has some of the same characteristics.

I feel bad for the postal service. It's sort of the government corporation version of what happened with the railroads. They were not actually allowed to be run as a business, because there was so much regulation regarding service and pricing. The railroad situation was worse in some ways in that people sort of expected them to be endless pots of money. The expectation is not now and never has been that the USPS would be a source of endless revenue, but I think there has been an unbounded service expectation. This expectation has encouraged both political parties to do slightly nutty things, because their constituents are even nuttier.

This entry is a particularly good example of how out of control this got over the decades:

http://deadtreeedition.blogspot.com/2011/05/how-postal-service-subsidizes-wall.html

I had _never_ heard of special treatment for the Wall Street Journal and other publications at a significant cost to USPS. This is just disgusting.

Mormon Investment Fraud

This showed up in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/us/27ponzi.html

It describes Daren Palmer of Idaho Falls, member of the LDS church.

"This week, Mr. Palmer, 42, agreed to plead guilty to federal criminal charges that he ran a $78 million Ponzi scheme, a rural Western version of the kind of fraud Bernard L. Madoff operated in New York. He faces up to 30 years in prison, though he is expected to receive far less."

Readers of Jon Krakauer's _Under the Banner of Heaven_ know that investment schemes put together by members of the LDS church and marketed primarily to other members of the LDS church are poor risks. In part, they are poor risks because members of the LDS church think like this:

"“A lot of people who invested are active members of the L.D.S. church,” said Wayne Klein, a court-appointed receiver working to settle claims. “They knew that Palmer was, and that gave them comfort.” "

And that makes a person a Mark.

Val Southwick's scheme, VesCor, was a lot larger, but operated in roughly the same way.

Shawn Richard Merriman was smaller.

If you were interested in an endless stream of information about similar schemes, you could check in here periodically:

http://utahsecuritiesfraud.com/

But the takeaway is very, very simple and surprisingly, something my parents reiterated many, many times: don't do business with people in your family or your church. It's another indication of the cognitive adjustment necessary to continue to believe in End Times prophecy when it has repeatedly proved false. After all, the JWs argue that God's Holy Spirit helps keep the Bad People Out of the organization, so at least in theory, it would be better to do business with members of one's faith community. But in practice, my parents knew where the money disappeared and were smart enough to stop sending more after it.

Not smart enough to leave the church, tho.

ETA:

Lying works.

http://utahsecuritiesfraud.com/2011/03/18/lessons-to-be-learned-from-jeffrey-mowen/

Wow. Promising 33% return a month got him $41 million in a "relatively short time". I guess if you pick an audience that believes the story Smith told, 33% return a month shouldn't be that much of a stretch.

ETAYA: h/t to the blogger referenced above.

http://www.lvrj.com/opinion/thieves-in-the-temple-102725259.html

"Although so-called affinity crimes occur in all faiths, law enforcement sources agree con artists have been especially effective in exploiting trusting members of the Mormon faith in Utah, with its heavy focus on family connections, social-religious activities, and generations of community stability."

That article is really worth reading. I was somewhat disappointed that the NYT article mentioned at the top of this post barely mentioned the huge issue that this kind of fraud is for LDS.

Charlaine Harris, _Dead Reckoning_ (kindle) book 11

I'm still enjoying the books. I tried watching the TV show and just couldn't, and I know at least one person in the reverse situation (likes the show, uninterested in the books).

If you dropped in here from google, I'm big on spoilers. As in, my reviews almost always contain them.

The book opens with Claude, Dermot and Sookie cleaning out storage space in Sookie's house. Over the course of the book, a hidden letter from Gran is found, along with a fae artifact capable of granting a wish and the probable reason why Claude and Dermot and other Fae Really, Really, Really like hanging out at Sookie's place. Sookie learns more about her fae heritage (from the letter, from the fae, from Mr. Cataliades), including the source of her and Hunter's telepathy.

Victor continues to be a complete pain in the arse. This book is essentially about Eric, Pam, Sookie and assorted assistants finally deciding to do something about it. Needless to say, another Fangtasia bartender takes sides with the wrong team and dies for it (<-- not much of a spoiler).

This book also finally wraps up the Pelt story line, with Sandra getting out of prison and trying a wide variety of tactics to kill Sookie. Obviously, she fails. Sookie's latest idea for body disposal is the portal in the woods that Claude and Dermot told her about. Brilliant, in an ew sort of way. Bubba makes a key appearance. Sookie runs to Bill in a time of need (mostly for his safe hiding space). Amelia figures out a way to break the bond between Sookie and Eric Northman. And Mr. Cataliades sends the Leeds from the Shakespeare books to help deal with some of the people hired by Sandra -- it's always mildly amusing to see Lily in action, and of course it's nice to be reminded of that other series (if there are Aurora Teagarden references in the Stackhouse books, I'm missing them because I haven't read those books).

I hope we see more of Cataliades (and Diantha!) in future entries. I like the sense that is slowly building over the course of the series that while a lot of supes have low (or no, or not recognizably human) morals, that is not universal, and Cataliades and Diantha actually agree with Sookie on a number of moral points that she can't seem to get across to some of the other people in her life.