Universal Trouble in American Churches

Folks we have a problem of biblical proportions in our midst and most people haven’t noticed.

Let me give you a few examples. All are true because I know the people personally. My complaint is that these examples are not the exception but the rule (or breaking thereof).

At about age 12, a young girl goes to a church camp and makes a profession of faith. She raises her hand, walks the aisle, prays the sinner’s prayer, and the whole deal. She later gets baptized again—because her new church doesn’t recognize her infant baptism. She begins attending the church on a regular basis—Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Towards the end of high school, she becomes sexually active and is four months pregnant when she graduates. She marries the young man who has no history of church attendance.

After the baby is born, she and her husband move from where they are to a major city so her husband can pursue better career options. A few years later, another child comes along. When the second child is very young, she finds it too difficult to manage both children on Sunday mornings and quits going to church.

Boy and girl grow up in the church. After college, they marry and have two children. The family regularly attends church. The children grow up thru the ranks, nursery, children’s church, profession of faith, baptism, youth groups, etc. Then they go off to college. By the end of college, neither child goes to church or has any part in the church.

Five siblings are adopted by a young Christian couple. The family has no electronic devices for entertainment. They watch no live television; only VHS or DVD recordings that are screened by their parents. They are homeschooled and only associate with other homeschool families. The family is wary of sending their children to college. They strongly believe in courtship and oppose dating. My point is this is a very different paradigm than either of the churches described in examples 1 & 2.

When oldest child is 19 or 20, he renounces God and is excommunicated from the church. At the same time, he enlists in the Marine Corp and burns every bridge in his life on the way out of town.

Child is born into family with three sisters. His dad is a minister. He is raised in the church. When he is about seven, dad has a stroke and nearly dies. Dad takes about two years to be able to walk and talk. Others in the denomination, remove all pastoral duties from dad. When dad tries to resume his duties, the new minister that was tending his church won’t let him. As a result, the family can’t even attend services at their own church. After a period of time, dad is transferred to a church in another state. Dad struggles with fledgling mission church for many years. Finally, it folds and he takes a church in yet another state. About two years into his duties at the new church, dad dies of a heart attack. Two years later, the son—barely into his 20’s—is living with his girlfriend, campaigning for Bernie Sanders, and advocating for abortion on demand.

I could go on listing many more that have fallen. Irrespective of denomination or upbringing or socioeconomic circumstances, the Church in America is hemorrhaging members, especially its youth. No surprise in a statistical way but it is in the sense that no orthodox Christian group has a solution.
Is the church model broken? Is the message lost? Why has Christianity fallen out of favor?

Never has the Bible been so available to the masses. The Gideon’s International, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and of course the Internet have made the Bible available to virtually every tribe, tongue, and nation in the world. Within the next few years, everyone in the world will have the Bible available in both print and digital formats.

In parts of Asia and Africa, Christianity is flourishing like never before but Secularism in the West has opened the floodgates to Islam and Atheism.

In the past, it has been tempting for some within the church in America to dismiss the declining numbers as the exodus of those that are really not believers—I have heard some people making this exact claim—but my experience and those of others prove this is a false claim. No, what is occurring is actually worse than that.

Whether you believer in a profession of faith (age of accountability and all that stuff) or a covenantal view (with paedo-baptism and paedo-communion) or something in between, the youth in our churches are not making the faith of their fathers their own.

As I ponder this subject, the words of Keith Green are rattling around in my head. Below are excerpts of a two part article that he wrote many years ago called What’s Wrong With the Gospel? I beg you to read these articles and be mad; not at Mr. Green but with a righteous indignation.

Keith Green—October 21, 1953 – July 28, 1982

h Green—October 21, 1953 – July 28, 1982

Unless people are truly convicted of sin, if they do not fully see that they are totally condemned by the requirements of God’s Law, then it is virtually impossible to show them the need for a savior. Why, what would they need to be saved from? Fun?

Another stranger-than-truth doctrine is that blessed refuge of backsliders called “the carnal Christian.” In this example of pretzel-logic, we are led to believe that any “believer” who isn’t really “walking with the Lord” at the present time, and is indulging in the things of the world and the lusts of the flesh, can still be considered a “Christian,” but not a Christian of the 1st class, no, a Christian of the 2nd class… a “carnal Christian.” Here we have a case of the “believer” who doesn’t believe. Oh, he still “believes” that God is God, and that there is a heaven and hell, and so on (but don’t forget, the devil believes all these things too!-James 2:19). He knows all the right things to say to convince granny, the pastor, and his Christian friends that he’s still hanging in there. He even sort of believes it himself. Seems he’s got everybody fooled – everybody that is, except God! The Bible is clear that “If we say we’ have fellowship with Him, and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. ” (I John 1:6)

One of the most well-known phrases of modern evangelism is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” But the sober, biblical truth that needs to be presented to the sinner’s mind is “You have made yourself an enemy of God, and in your present state of rebellion there is absolutely no hope for you.” In fact, God’s “plan” for the sinner at this point in his life is to separate him from His presence forever, in hell. However unpopular or unlovely that may sound, it is the only truth and reality about anyone who is an enemy of God through sin.

If people come to Jesus mainly to get a blessing, or only to get forgiveness, they will ultimately be disappointed. But if they come to give Him their lives in honor and worship, then they will truly have forgiveness and joy – more than they could ever imagine! (I Cor. 2:9)

But there is a great danger when man (or even God) designs a tool to be used for God’s glory, and then as time passes, people’s attention starts to be fixed on the tool itself, rather than on the glory of God (which it was originally designed to promote).

The greatest reason I believe that God can be grieved with the current use of such tools as the “altar call” and “sinner’s prayer” is because they can take away the conviction of the Holy Spirit prematurely, before the Spirit has time to work repentance leading to salvation. With an emotional splash that usually doesn’t last more than a few weeks, we believe we’re leading people into the Kingdom, when really we’re leading many to hell – by interfering with what the Spirit of God is trying to do in a person’s life. Do you hear? Do you understand that this constitutes “spiritual abortion”? Can’t you see the eternal consequences of jumping the gun, trying to bring to birth a baby that isn’t ready?

It pains me to see the beautiful truths of Scripture being plastered about like beer advertisements. Many think it is wise to “get the word out” in this way but, believe that we are really just inoculating the world with bits and pieces of truth – giving them their “gospel shots.” (And we’re making it hard for them to “catch” the real thing!)

In my studies of the life of Jesus, it has amazed me that He never had “a follow-up program.” It was usually His habit to let people “follow Him up.” He never had to go door to door, looking for that fellow who He healed last week, wanting to share another parable or two. He always seemed to have the attitude of, “If they want life, then they’ll have to come and follow Me.”

Can’t you see what fools we are? We preach a man-made, plastic gospel. We get people to come forward to “the altar” by bringing psychological pressures that have nothing to do with God. We “lead them” in a prayer that they are not yet convinced they need to say. And then to top it all off, we give them “counseling,” telling them it is a sin to doubt that they’re really saved!

Beloved family, the world around us is going to hell. Not because of communism, not because of television, not because of drugs, or sex, or alcohol, or the devil himself. It is because of the Church! We are to blame! We alone have the commission, the power, and the truth of God at our constant disposal to deliver sinner after sinner from eternal death. And even though some are willing to go… into the streets, the prisons, foreign lands, or even next door, they are taking a watered-down, distorted version of God’s message which He has not promised to anoint. That is why we are failing. And unless we admit that we are failing, then I’m afraid there is no hope for us or the world around us. We have the choice between causing eternal tragedy for our whole generation, or bringing our beloved God a whole family full of “good and faithful servants.”

What’s Wrong With the Gospel?

What’s Wrong With the Gospel?: Part I

What’s Wrong With the Gospel?: Part II

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics” but that young people are fleeing the organized church cannot be disputed. Here are a few sources to explore but please be aware as you read that some numbers are teens raised in the church and others are all teens.

At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

While some critics say the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth ministers dubbed it “the 4 percent panic attack”), there is widespread consensus among evangelical leaders that they risk losing their teenagers.

Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers


These are the most recent and most cited studies that I could find:

88%:  The Southern Baptist Convention’s Family Life Council study in 2002 (unfortunately, I can’t find the actual study and methodology)
URL SBC Annual Meeting

70%:  LifeWay Research study in 2007 (LifeWay also found only 35% eventually return)

66%:  Assembly of God study (again, I can’t find the actual study, only references here and there)

61%:  “Barna study in 2006—“Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf…”

How Many Youth are Leaving the Church?

On the other end of the spectrum, here is an article about children that stay in church.

Link: 3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church

I feel strongly about this issue but I am happy to give credit to others that have come before me in taking the time to write about it. My prayer is that I will do better with my teenage son.


4/25/2018 A National Day of Mourning for the CRA

Today was a horrible day for the CRA  (whatever the heck is left of it, I should add).  In a move not foreseen by anyone in either this organization or the Tea Party; Senator Theodore Cruz R-Tejas has endorsed President Donald J. Trump for re-election in 2020.  There you have it ladies and gentlemen….shut it down.  Cruz2020.com is now a worthless domain name.  For those of you who think there may still be Hope…sorry she left the White House a month ago.  As the Blog Father and I have stated all along, Donald is here for 7 more years, get over it.

Oh, true believers may want to help Lyin’ Ted to make sure he gets re-elected first, he is barely edging out a liberal democrat in early polling for his senate race in November; otherwise CRA will be Can’t Re-elect Anyone.

CRA President Thomas N Hudson, has moved to declare today a National Day of Mourning for the organization. Note: the spelling of MOURNING, not to be confused with MORNING, like “Its morning again in America.”  CRA flags should not be flown at all (actually this has been the case for many years, but I digress), endorsement meetings scheduled for the rest of the month will cease to take place, and all should tune in to CNN to be sure this is not fake news.

I was aware that the organization was losing members, but now I hear entire units are shutting down and may never meet again. This news is a huge blow to CRA’s moral. Both a crisis prevention hotline and suicide prevention hotline are being made available to all members free of charge.

Speaking of suicide prevention…

Never Trump media figures lamented Cruz’s support for Trump’s campaign. Glenn Beck, a fervent Cruz supporter during the 2016 primary, described himself as “profoundly sad” following Cruz’s endorsement of Trump, whom Beck strongly opposed. Beck later described America as a “petulant child” worthy of divine punishment for making “the wrong choice” in nominating Trump.

Ted Cruz Endorses Donald Trump in 2020

For the sole purpose of impeaching President Trump, CRA leadership is mulled over a proposal to allow endorsement of democrats running for Congress in the People’s Republic of California.  Since most voted for anyone but Trump in the last election, this effort will likely prove just as futile.

Good luck, hopefully you will find the strength to overcome this setback.



Camden Croc

Last Friday after returning home from work, I called Mr. X to chat. (Do long distance rates still drop after 5 pm.?) Anyway, as is my practice, I usually walk around the neighborhood while talking on the phone.

I noticed a scantily clad Asian woman that was with some guy that was operating a commercial grade camera on hefty tripod next to the nearby lake. The back door of a nearby van was open and some opened large equipment cases were visible. I’ve always wondered what Victoria’s Secret is and somehow I think this gal had the answer but I was too busy to ask. Nearby, a beaver and a few geese were frolicking in the water close to the camera.

As I walked a minute further down the path, I saw the KOVR Channel 13 live truck off in the distance. Knowing this was out of place in my neighborhood, I wandered over to see what was going on. I was stopped by some lady that said she was President of the Camden Neighborhood Association. Again I saw a commercial camera on a tripod and an info-babe that had a microphone in her hand checking the area. Without stopping for a breath, the President then said I couldn’t walk any further down the path. I told Mr. X to hold for a minute and then asked what the commotion was all about. That is when I heard the news that people not only had seen an alligator in the little lake at this exact spot but they even had the photos to prove it . The explanation that I was given was verbatim what you saw if you turned in to KOVR-TV or saw the report that was posted on their website later in the evening.

“It came up and it would go straight under and up and under. We saw a head come up. The body was like three or four feet long,” said Karen Keeslar, who first spotted the alligator.

Keeslar says the first encounter was on Wednesday, and on Thursday, she saw it again. She says an alligator was inside Camden Lake right across the street from her home. She snapped a photo and shared it on social media.

Gavin Crutcher lives in the community and says he didn’t hesitate to check it out. Thursday night, he and other neighbors gathered around the lake to take a peak. Crutcher says the gator wasn’t aggressive, even walking the shoreline alongside its spectators.

Sharon Anderson, President of the Camden Neighborhood Association, also saw it.

Possible Alligator Spotted In Elk Grove Lake

Screen capture from KOVR broadcast

In the wake of the alligator report, crime tape and warning signs were used to create a perimeter that separated the lake from the paved path around the northern edge of the lake. The next day, I saw wary fishermen casting their lines over the crime tape to try and continue recreational fishing.

Gator warning sign

I have seen some interesting critters in the lake: beavers, otters, white pelicans, and geese that illegally emigrated from Canada just to come here to mooch off our food and have anchor babies and I know that people do dump their pet turtles and probably other critters in the lake but an alligator? If true, it either isn’t very big or hasn’t been there very long or it would have been sighted before now.

Offspring of illegal Canadian Geese—Anchor babies

While we pondered the merits of the sighting, no government employees were seen near the lake on Saturday or Sunday. The last time that I know Fish and Game was in the area was about five years ago when they drove thru the same area writing tickets to people fishing in the lake. People in the neighborhood waited to see what would happen on Monday when the G-men were back on the clock.

On Monday morning, I had barely been able to tell folks at work about the commotion in my neighborhood over the weekend when competing television station KCRA—who never covered the initial alligator story on Friday the thirteenth—posted the news that the whole thing was fraudulent.

Fish and Wildlife officials were also out looking for the gator, but a search online found the exact stock photo and video of the reptile taken in Florida.

KCRA has reached out to the woman who first posted the image, but she has not returned any messages.

CA officials: Possible alligator sighting in Elk Grove lake deemed a hoax

Stock Internet image found by Fish and Game-from Sacramento Bee

The station that broke the news on Friday also had to renounce the story.

Monday morning, wildlife officials said their investigation revealed the sighting to be a hoax.

Wildlife Officials Say Reported Alligator Sighting In Elk Grove Lake A Hoax

For many this was the end of the story but..

…what about the witnesses? Much was made by the President of the fact that a minister and his wife were among the witnesses. Clearly, to her this is proof of her credibility. There were at least four people that claimed to have seen the gator at different times. Even with photographic proof they were denounced in the media by a government agency as frauds.

I tried to imagine who in the government would believe the unbelievable. My mind began wandering back to my youth and then it hit me. Agents Mulder and Scully, this is the same setup as every episode of the X-Files and right in my backyard.

Then I tried to think of ways to prove that Elk Grove’s version of Nessie was real.


Given the lack of resources that four individuals would have as compared to the full faith and credit of the State of California, how could they possibly fight back? The witnesses must feel like lone gunmen facing incredible odds. They are the good, the government the bad, and the situation is ugly. Only by regaining the trust of the public could these folks hope to even the odds and salvage their reputations.

I wondered how the witnesses could turn things around. A logic component of this effort would have to include a guerrilla marketing campaign utilizing the public as their eyes and ears in the search for the truth because “the truth is out there”. In this spirit I wish to offer this flyer to post around the lake.

When Your City Has No Leadership and No Plan

By John Slamkowski

I want to take a moment to reflect on what has happened to my hometown of Elk Grove, CA.  Several contributors to this blog live in Elk Grove. First some background. Our City was founded on July 1st, 2000, splitting off from being an unincorporated area in Sacramento County.  The vote passed overwhelmingly; mostly because the folks pushing hardest made some convincing arguments.

The folks pushing cityhood argued that we (Elk Grove residents) were being overcharged and underserved by the County.  The Elk Grove area is represented by one of five county supervisors and the other four could care less about our needs and concerns. Cityhood was advocated to allow residents to control their own destiny instead of being subject to the whims of folks that don’t live here. The cityhood plan was to contract certain services such as law enforcement and leave fire and parks to the Community Services District (CSD) which had been running them for many years while allowing the city council to manage other aspects of a small and fairly rural community.

It was hoped that cityhood would result in less expensive private trash service and a bus system that wasn’t Sacramento County backed Regional Transit (RT).  On the surface the thoughts may have resonated well, RT most definitely was not perfect, and one would figure a private trash hauler would be cheaper than a county run one.

For a while things started off rosy. Trash bills went down as Waste Management took over garbage collection.  The transition to a new bus service E-TRAN went like any other government takeover….horrific.  E-TRAN was the first 100% hybrid bus fleet of its kind and in hot 100-degree Sacramento Valley weather, most of the buses either died or had the air conditioner go out frequently.  Additionally, the buses had a very difficult time linking up with the RT buses to commute to downtown.  I knew of one example of someone who was a lifeguard at James Rutter School. She would have to catch a bus that left at 6:30 AM just to be able to transfer to an RT bus and get to James Rutter by 11:30!  The City also never understood one simple fact, mass transit is a drain on any budget; let alone when you decide to have a local bus as opposed to one administered Countywide.  Additionally, no one is ever on those buses when I see them pass by!

A few years after cityhood passed, the carefully balanced cityhood agreement began to be dismantled by the city council. Two of the five council members who were active Sacramento County Sheriff deputies, were able to convince the council to establish its own police department. Before proceeding, I want to make one thing clear; no one writing for this blog is anti-police in any way, but this department is one of the worst run departments in the State of California.

First, when you form a new department, other departments around the area are more than happy to “pass the trash” from them on to you.  (This term was used by a former lieutenant at EGPD by the way). Then we hired a police chief who resided full time in Renton, Washington, not Elk Grove.  After telling you that, are you surprised our police department gets more complaints filed against it than any other city in Northern California?

The kicker came last year when a former trainee officer filed a discrimination lawsuit regarding his homosexuality against the city naming ¾ of the sergeant and lieutenants, as well as the outgoing chief and incoming chief of police, in addition to the internal affairs officers. Just as a side bar, not a single officer named in the lawsuit was placed on leave, terminated, or was ever investigated. It looks like a 7-figure settlement will be forthcoming.  Hard to imagine if that is how they harass their own, what they must think of the average citizen who lives, works, or commutes through here daily.


58 percent of City of Elk Grove Budget is law enforcement
38,104,054/65,605,012=58.1 percent

City of Elk Grove 2017-18 Budget page 28

To make matters worse our City Council began appearing in the local and Northern California papers for all the wrong reasons.  Some examples include a midnight vote guaranteeing health care benefits for life for the City Manager and City Attorney.  Then one of our finest, Jim Cooper, who was on the council, also serving as a Sac County Sheriff Captain at the time, voted repeatedly on matters involving a contract between the City of Elk Grove and his own Sheriff department, leading to a grand jury investigation…ouch that had to bite.  He will forever live in infamy with his Sheriff Deputy and councilmen pal Mike Leary—best known for being arrested after losing election for evicting his former girlfriend from their home and forging a document.  Not to mention the City and our Parks, Recreation and Fire District, sued each other for several years regarding who should be in control of the City’s area parks.  Like any other lawsuit, when two government entities sue each other, no side won or lost, lawyers got very wealthy, and the citizens got a Pepperidge Farm sausage to the backside.

During this period, city leaders began to see its residents as sources of revenue instead of the people that they were supposed to serve. Under the guise of helping law enforcement, the city installed “Cooper Cams ” at various intersection throughout the city to raise revenue to fund our ever-expending city payroll. The city doubled its utility tax, in part by calling it a tax cut in the ballot argument—which by the way was unopposed by the CRA and Tea Party folks living in our midst. The amount of taxes and fees just to break ground on a residential project rose to about $100,000 per home.

This was all happening during a time of unprecedented growth in this area. Population growth in Elk Grove was the highest in the United States for three years in a row. Most legislators in Sacramento resided in Elk Grove due to its quality of living and small-town feel.

Then the housing bubble popped, and Elk Grove found itself being hit extremely hard by its high concentration of subprime mortgages.  This also saw the development of our “going to be better than Roseville Galleria Mall” stopped due to the mall developer’s parent company filing bankruptcy.  The blighted area became a heavy topic of future city council elections allowing Steven Detrick and Steve Ly to get elected to the body.  Suddenly the city that was known throughout the county as being a renegade town quickly became a part of the good ole boy network.  By the way Detrick has more FPPC violations and grand jury investigations than most would have in several lifetimes.

Not long afterwards, voters decided to implement the election of a mayor every two years as opposed to rotating the job amongst the five council members every year. The original proponents of cityhood had purposely setup the rotating system amongst the five councilmen to allow for more sharing of power. No one person could have more sway with voters than another. Being mayor was just one among equals. The other purposeful distinction of cityhood was that candidates for council were elected by all the votes so that they were accountable to all not just represent their district to the exclusion of all else. It was a purposeful rejection of the model used by county supervisors in hopes that the council would act based on what is best for the city not just their little fiefdom.

It seems like since we got an elected Mayor that this city became Los Angeles on steroids.  Suddenly strip malls start being built everywhere in central and western Elk Grove (Laguna).  Worse yet, the buildings were erected but most never had a tenant, some even sit vacant to this day.  It’s almost like the city just wanted property tax revenue as opposed to collecting tax just based on the land.

While that was going on, more disturbingly we began hiring top positions for our city from other cities throughout northern California, none of whom called Elk Grove home.  Our City Manager Laura Gil?  From ritzy El Dorado Hills.  City Economic Director Randy Starbuck?  Pittsburg, California.  As mentioned earlier, the Police Chief continued to call Renton, Washington home.

When you hire people with no ties to your city, they tend to not have the best intentions.  Take Randy Starbuck for example; he worked for this city from 2011-2014, a time where cities’ economies were reviving, and the result of his three years of hard work?  70 new jobs in Elk Grove, the majority being minimum wage jobs.  Starbuck was known for the monthly “business trips” to Las Vegas to try to shake down businesses and convince them to come to Elk Grove. He also spent countless hours trying to lobby Major League Soccer to grant Elk Grove a team.  Think about that for a couple moments, Las Vegas trips and a major league soccer team….in a town of 175k?

Editor’s note: If soccer is so great, how come nobody talks about the success of the taxpayer funded multimillion dollar facility in Stockton?

I attended the council meeting where Starbuck was grilled and had his fate sealed. I remember the meeting like it was yesterday, he was grinning ear-to-ear talking about how he had recruited Green Acres to open a store here in Elk Grove…..yeah….great success.  The council let him have it, as did the actual residents of this town.  Reality is, it wasn’t all Cluster***ks fault. The city manager and council share more than a majority of the blame. They allowed this man to run around unchecked and not held accountable.  Also, Starbuck was not fired. Instead, he was put on paid leave for the remainder of his contract. Yes, folks we have a typical crony capitalist city out here now.

Despite efforts at economic development, the stores opening in Elk Grove aren’t much better either. We now have four Little Caesars Pizza stores, pretty much every chain restaurant known to man, a Smart and Final, Popeye’s, and a Grocery Store Outlet.  Gone are stores such as Bel-Air, The Fresh Market, and Baguettes.  Essentially the stores coming in match the clientele moving in, lower middle class and working poor families.

I doubt any legislative staff or legislator calls Elk Grove home anymore. They have all moved to Folsom, Roseville, or downtown.  What do two of those cities have in common?  They are fighting adding more Section 8 housing within their city limits. Again, I’m not being racist here, just stating the obvious. Look at the Franklin/west of Highway 99 area of Elk Grove; most of the government subsidized, low income housing was built there, and crime has skyrocketed.  A friend of mine was hit by a hit and run driver in that area. Upon speaking to a police officer dispatched to take an accident report, he was told “hit and runs are an epidemic in this area now.”  Crime being up and hit and runs are a direct result of police officers not chasing bad guys but instead focusing on writing tickets in an effort to close the budget gap in our town.  Bringing me to my next point.

Remember how I talked about shopping centers popping up on each available square inch of land in the city?  Government buildings are going to start popping up very soon as well.  The city council is spending money they don’t have like a couple of drunken congressmen. In the hopper already is a new library (keep in mind we have two already run by the County), an convention center (the Falls Convention center was built less than two years ago and with private funds) an aquatic center (we have 2 water parks already—run by CSD—as well as two privately owned gyms with Olympic sized pools). Apparently, the city needs to have facilities that they can control, or it doesn’t count.

At the January 13, 2016 City Council meeting, staff presented a conceptual Civic Center Master Plan for the southern portion of the Civic Center site that would include an Aquatic Center and Commons, Senior Center/Community Center, Veterans Hall, Children’s museum, Library and botanical gardens/nature preserve.  At the meeting, the City Council directed staff to proceed with the completion of the refined Civic Center Master Plan, including a Phase 1 of the project, which includes an Aquatic Center, Senior Center/Community Center and Veterans Hall. The site plan and facilities continue to be refined through design team efforts and public outreach.

These Phase 1 projects are estimated to cost approximately $61 million.

City Planning and Special Projects

By the way, our city council thinks we will get some of the summer Olympics events here if California bids for them.  Yup, why would an Olympic swimmer want to swim in sunny southern California with Shamu and Mickey Mouse, when they can choose Elk Grove, that mass of houses in a bedroom community near Sacramento?

We are building a sports complex in sparsely populated east Elk Grove. I’m not upset because I live out there, I’m upset because if you live on the other side of Highway 99—which goes through the center of our town—you are closer to downtown Sacramento than to Grant Line Road.

Elk Grove city employees are seeking input on possible features and amenities at a proposed sports complex on property just south of the city.

City staff at a July 11 workshop will provide a presentation on the 100-acre parcel near the corner of Grant Line and Waterman roads in south Elk Grove.

City Manager Laura Gill said the cost to build all of the elements at the complex is estimated at around $110 million.

Elk Grove Citizen: Sports Complex

Also, rather than pay Sacramento County for animal shelter services at 500k per year, we are going to build our own dog pound for 12 million dollars plus salaries, benefits, and upkeep.  Lastly, we will be getting a landfill at some point because…well we could get fees from other cities and municipalities to dump here!

Bid document for Animal Shelter and Community Center

Again, these will all be government administered buildings, which means more government jobs, pensions and benefits paid out later, paid for by bonds and taxpayer dollars right?  Or will they be?

Remember that mall that was supposed to get built?  Every 6 months we got an update from one or more of our council members saying we will be breaking ground soon.  Our Mayor at the time, Gary Davis, said in the Fall of 2018 that the mall would be ready to be up and running.

“Outlet Mall. Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) continues its development and leasing efforts for The Outlet Collection at Elk Grove, which will involve the construction of approximately 775,000 square feet of commercial uses… certificates of occupancy must be issued for 400,000 square feet by November 2018…”  City of Elk Grove 2017-18 Budget page 3

City of Elk Grove Budget 2017-18

Steve Detrick told me to my face that city staff were cold calling and already had half the leases spoken for at our state-of-the-art mall that would make every other city jealous.

During the mall talk, an Indian Tribe nobody ever heard of before started looking at Elk Grove to build a casino, yes one of those casinos.  We were told again by the same two city councilmen and soon to be Mayor Steve Ly that a possible site could be at the mall, but the casino was just doing fact finding on available options.

Then overnight, the casino was announced. The casino developers promised that between the city and local school district over 132 million would be contributed over 20 years.

The Elk Grove City Council on Sept. 28 unanimously approved a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the Wilton Rancheria. The tribe is proposing a $400 million entertainment and gaming facility on a 35.9-acre site near Highway 99 and Kammerer Road.

If the casino opens for business, the tribe would pay nearly $132 million in recurring and nonrecurring payments to the city and community of Elk Grove during the first 20 years of the MOU.

Elk Grove Citizen: Council Approves Casino Agreement

“The total cumulative payment from the Tribe to the community over 20 years is approximately $132 million. This amount far exceeds that which the City would expect to receive from tax revenues associated with the portion of the mall site upon which the Casino would be built.”

City of Elk Grove 2017-18 Budget page 4

The only good to come of this was that the city’s effort for a local sales tax increase was put on hold for a few years. The casino was coming to Elk Grove in the place of the planned mall….let’s call this exhibit 666 from our three congenital liars on the council.  This casino is being built because the city wants to expand and thinks it can legally extort its citizens to do so, via laundering the money through gambling agreements.

I have been harboring my feelings of frustration on the decline of our community for a long time but then the big boom, last straw or whatever you call it occurred when I went to my mailbox the other day and found a city-taxpayer funded glossy with an outline of Elk Grove, the purpose of which was to encourage citizens to spend money inside the lines, so it stays local to fund citywide initiatives.  At that point I felt the need to vent on the mismanagement and hypocrisy that passes for local government from people claiming to represent me.

Shop Between the Lines Newsletter

The article makes a point to avoid the Target on the other side of Calvine Road, even though that Target wanted to locate in Elk Grove before being rebuffed.  Ditto for both the Lowe’s and Costco.  Add the Walmart on Florin Road to that list, Steve Detrick fought it and that propelled him to be a councilmember.  Additionally, targeted, ironically are the CarMax and the new Delta Shores Mall by Green Haven.  This is rich, both entities wanted to be in Elk Grove. CarMax was willing to make every concession possible, but they were told “NO”, so they built just on the outside of Elk Grove.  Delta Shores, a nice brand new shiny mall, should have been here in Elk Grove but instead the council wanted a casino.  Full disclosure we are getting a Costco soon, but this is what happens when you have no vision and no plan.

Natural Gas from Sewers?

I was minding my own business yesterday and as is my usual practice, I went out to the communal mailbox to fetch my daily installment of junk mail and hoping to see a new Netflix DVD. I received a form letter that was from one of our many local utilities. This particular envelope was from Pacific Gas and Electric Company commonly known as PG&E. While the utility does provide electrical service to much of northern California, in our area electrical service is provided by SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District). PG&E only supplies natural gas in my area.

On the face of it, this letter is weird. It appears that PG&E is concerned that past work on their natural gas pipelines has been cross-connected with sewer lines.

As part of our commitment to ensure your safety, we have hired a qualified contractor to perform gas and sewer safety inspections in your neighborhood.

These important safety inspections will ensure that our past natural gas pipeline work did not result in a conflict between your sewer line and gas service line .

Our contractor will use a video camera to inspect your sewer line.

Copy of PG&E letter with proper redaction

All I can think of reading the text of this letter is the San Bruno neighborhood that went up in flames many years ago. However, I know that inferno was the result of a different problem.

When I was a kid, it was common practice to light and then extinguish a match after a person spent a long time sitting on “the throne” to mask the smells in the bathroom; however, I had no idea that such a practice was a life threatening exercise due to PG&E getting natural gas from the sewer lines.

Why doesn’t PG&E spend time checking their own lines? The sewer lines don’t belong to them. I know because we get to write a generous check to the County of Sacramento on a regular basis to have the privilege of flushing our one gallon potty and washing dishes.

If there were any evil gasses escaping from the sewer lines then I would know because we have at least two drain traps in our home that have no seal on them because the fixtures are never used and the water in them has evaporated long ago.

Illustration from Plumbing Info showing how P-Trap seal works

Reading this letter reminds me of the joke about losing something and looking elsewhere because the light is better.

In 1942 a version of the joke appeared in the popular syndicated comic strip “Mutt and Jeff”. Three of the five panels in the strip are shown below. The gentleman in the top hat is Jeff.

Link: Better Light

I’m glad PG&E is able to fund this snipe hunt for cross-connected natural gas lines. I’d rather see them spend extra money on this because it’s at least related to utility service than spending my utility payments fighting traditional marriage like they were doing back when Prop 8 was on the ballot.

Once this vital inspection is completed, I will be relieved that my bathroom is once again declared a sanctuary free of life threatening gasses; in fact I will breathe easier.

Amazon Axing Music Service

Back when digital music downloads were in their infancy, many consumer choices were available. In 2001, Apple began their iTunes music while big music companies like Sony had their own services. Amazon decided to wade into this market as well. One reason was that Amazon got into the market is because Apple—in their typical snob appeal fashion—charged more for music from iTunes than other companies and furthermore, they required that it could only be played back on Apple devices. Amazon felt they could charge less and still be profitable in this market space.

Music Encryption
You may not remember this but back in the day, all music downloads sold by Apple were encrypted and only their software could unlock the encryption to allow playback. The only workaround for this was to make a music CD using iTunes and then using third party software rip the songs back to your computer. Once that was done, you could play your music on any device that you owned.

Both Apple and Sony had malicious defects in their software.

In 2005, Sony snuck rootkits into their music software and 22 million CDs that they produced. Rootkits operate at a level below the operating system and could be used to monitor your computer usage and download other software onto your computer without the operation system or antivirus programs being aware of its existence. This software reported user data to Sony without user consent or awareness. Sony produced these rootkits for many years before being outed by the Tech community. However, many of the CDs with preinstalled rootkits are still in circulation today. Link: Sony BGM copy protection rootkit scandal

SONY BMG can take two lessons from its recent wayward attempt to fend off digital piracy: One, in a world of technology-astute bloggers, it’s not easy to get away with secretly infecting your customers’ computers with potentially malicious code. And two, as many a politician has learned, explaining your own screw-up badly is often worse than the screw-up itself.

The Rootkit of All Evil

FYI: most Google Android devices are built with rootkit features that regularly report your phone info including address book and text messages to third parties including foreign governments which by the way does not include Russia. (We have previously documented these issues on our blog.)

Apple was aware of an iTunes a security vulnerability in 2008 but didn’t fix it until bad publicity forced their hand in 2011.
Link: Wikipedia iTunes

Apple also has pushed out rootkits in their music software but since Apple calls it a feature of their program, people somehow don’t get bother by it.

Ironically, this news comes on the heels of the recent Sony BMG DRM fiasco, a part of which included an undisclosed “phone home” feature of its own. Is the Apple MiniStore a rootkit DRM? Not from what we can tell, but it is part of a dangerous trend EFF has been witnessing in the digital music space market. When the music players on our computers start monitoring our listening habits, we’ve crossed a major privacy line. After all, my Sony stereo and my Panasonic boombox don’t shouldersurf my listening habits when I turn them on, so where does Apple get off suddenly doing it on my computer?

iTunes MiniStore “phone home” feature part of a dangerous trend in data collection

My recollection is that there were others instances but Apple rarely admits publicly to defects in their security or software.

If you want to get deeper into music encryption, see this article
Hidden Feature in Sony DRM Uses Open Source Code to Add Apple DRM

Amazon Introduces Encryption Free Music
In 2008, along came Amazon and offered essentially the same songs as iTunes for less money and without the digital rights management (DRM) encryption. Eventually, Apple began to relax the DRM requirement and by the time smartphones were a thing (2009), the encryption of mp3 files was eliminated. (Please note that Amazon gets no credit from the Apple folks for breaking the Steve Jobs monopoly on digit music.)

As a result of their overpriced music and lack of trustworthiness, I never use iTunes for anything and am reluctant to install it on any computing devices that I own. Only when some other Liberal company or educational institution grants monopoly status to the iTunes store will I consider using it. Even if Rush Limbaugh or Hugh Hewitt or some other conservative media guy offered their shows for free as a podcast only on iTunes I would still not install it. Yeah, I really hate Apple that much.

Anyway, as time went on, Apple decided to offer a music matching service. The way it was supposed to work was that if you had an LP and recorded the music onto your computer and then uploaded it to Apple, if Apple had a digital version in their library, they would replace your LP ripped version with a clean digital copy—usually at a higher quality that your recording.

Amazon, as Apple’s chief competitor in the music download market, implemented a similar offering. Both companies offered the ability to upload files and get the music match option. With an annual subscription, Amazon offered you the ability to upload up to 250,000 of your own songs; plus any music that you bought from Amazon did not count against the 250K limit. Thus the offer was not a dedicated amount of space on their servers but number of tracks. All this for $24.95 per year. Oh, and just to get you to try it, Amazon would let you upload up to 250 songs for free.

Ten years Later
In December 2017, Amazon eliminated the free 250 song upload offer. This month, the other shoe dropped on their digital music business model. It was announced that the paid subscription for warehousing 250,000 songs is going away.

Amazon Music software warning message

Interestingly, I have yet to see a single article on the tech blogs and news sites that I frequent that even mentions this move by Amazon. I guess maybe not that many folks utilize this feature. I guess the pirated music offered by Spotify is all the rage these days.

Overall, I’ve been happy with Amazon but I do have a few gripes. Amazon has neglected the music software that they produce. For most of its existence, album art that was wrong could not be corrected and sometimes after they rolled-out updates, the album art would be changed.

The music match offer that Amazon made was never well thought out from a consumer’s point of view. Amazon software has never had the ability to give me a visual or other indication of when a music match was successful. This idea of the music match was to give you a copy of the song free of pops and scratches so prevalent in ripping LP tracks to a computer. The underlying assumption was that if you owned the LP copy, you had a license to entitle you to have a digital copy also—for your own personal use. Once matched, in theory you could then download a “clean” copy of the mp3 file.

Amazon website notice of pending doom

Amazon will let me keep what I have purchased from them but everything else is facing the digital chopping block. It is clear that rather I check the “Keep my songs” box in their webpage or not, my personal stuff will eventually go away. If they want, I suspect they could offer to sell hard drive space on Amazon Drive that could link to their media player but I think they are big enough not to bother with a bunch of us pesky customers anymore when they get so much money for hosting corporate data. At least when Microsoft got out of the music service business, their software will still play music warehoused on OneDrive.

I also like Amazon Music because it is not blocked by the draconian firewall where I work so I can stream anything from my vast library of music. I’m sad that this option will soon go the way of Toys R Us.

Microsoft & Apple leaving Intel

Lest you thought Toys R Us was the only business with bad news featured on our blog this week, things are not going well for another company whose name you know; namely, Intel. In the PC space, Intel has only one competitor, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). However, in recent years they have faced pressure from the smartphone/portable devices segment of consumer devices.

Previously, we have documented the Windows on ARM initiative which is finally appearing in the consumer space. While Microsoft has yet to get all the bugs worked out of the process, you can now buy devices free of Intel chips that run a full version of Windows 10. The cell phone CPU chips are not quite up to the processing power of Intel’s but these devices can last up to a week on a full charge and unlike Intel’s they can maintain a connection to cellular data and resume from sleep in less than a blink of an eye.

In addition, this year you are seeing a new feature implemented by tech companies across devices that allows you to continue a document or game from one device to another. Here are some things you can or will shortly be able to do:
• Playing a game on your phone, you will be able to pause it, resume it on your tablet device and pause it and resume playing it on your desktop device.
• Working on a document, you can cut or copy to the clipboard on your PC and the paste it into you phone’s text message or tablet’s email.

Device platforms are moving to an always connected to the Internet model. This will allow for seamless operating of many tasks that you do daily.

Also companies like Microsoft are enabling personal devices to be integrated with Enterprise networks so you can use the same phone or tablet to do both your work stuff and your own stuff. If your company’s IT staff is worth a darn then folks on the go don’t need to carry two phones, one for work and one for them.

This week it was announced that Microsoft is not the only company trying to get free of the decades old Intel monopoly, Apple announced that they are abandoning Intel all together and will run all their devices including desktop PCs with cell phone CPUs.

Apple copies Microsoft, moves to abandon Intel

Apple has delivered a shock to Intel’s share price with news of a new project to move their Mac business to ARM-based processors of their own design by 2020.

According to Bloomberg, Project Kalamata would have all Apple’s devices, from iPhones to Macs, running on the low power processors, and would rely on Marzipan, a platform which lets iOS apps run on the Mac desktop.

The move would emulate that of Microsoft, who has already launched their Windows 10 on ARM initiative with two 3rd party laptops already in the market, and who has been working for many years on their UWP platform, which unifies mobile and desktop applications.

ARM Diagram

Two days later, Intel got another blow from Microsoft when they announced that the new version of their virtual reality device—HoloLens—will be using ARM chips and not those made by Intel.

Hololens 2.0 may ditch Intel for ARM processor

Competition for the Microsoft Hololens is finally close to reaching the market, with the Magic Leap’s headset expected to reach virtual shelves later this year.

This seems to have prompted the company to finally get around to releasing version 2 of the headset, according to a leak via the WC.

According to their sources, the headset will use Microsoft’s Always-Connected PC platform, with an ARM processor with LTE modem, have longer battery life and greater autonomy, and would also have an increased field of view.

Folks we are approaching the world of Ready Player One—at least in some respects—and Intel has no part of it. They are becoming a legacy company that has totally missed the boat on computing! Let that sink in, the biggest computer processor manufacturing company in the world has no part in the future of their own industry.

First generation Microsoft HoloLens

Please understand that Intel has spent billions of dollars trying to get into the mobile space but failed at every turn. They actually make Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell look like geniuses and that is really hard to accomplish. While I’m reluctant to say so, Aaron Park’s favorite phrase of “epic failure” is actually appropriate in this case.

Intel quit trying to get into the mobile device CPU business two years ago and look where they are now.


Intel’s new smartphone strategy is to quit

Late on Friday night, Intel snuck out the news that it’s bailing on the smartphone market. Despite being the world’s best known processor maker, Intel was only a bit player in the mobile space dominated by Qualcomm, Apple, and Samsung, and it finally chose to cut its losses and cancel its next planned chip, Broxton. This followed downbeat quarterly earnings, 12,000 job cuts, and a major restructuring at a company that’s had a very busy April. Intel is still one of the giants of the global tech industry, but it’s no longer as healthy and sprightly as it used to be.

The bane of Intel’s existence for the past decade or so has been the transition to mobile computing. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Having secured a commanding lead as the premier provider of desktop PC processors, Intel had a clear-eyed strategy for extending its dominance into the mobile realm.

This has cost Intel dearly, with the company lavishing billions on developing suitable processors and modems to put into its various mobile undertakings. The multibillion-dollar mobile costs have spiraled in recent years — a loss of $3.1 billion in 2013 was followed by a loss of $4.3 billion in 2014 — which eventually forced Intel to combine its mobile and PC earnings reports in order to disguise its unproductive spending.

The tragedy of Intel’s mobile failure is that the company foresaw all the threats to its business and acted to preempt them. It just didn’t do so very well. That being said, Intel’s the victim of its bad decision making almost as much as its poor execution.

Intel Cancels Atom Processor, Could Exit Mobile Industry

While Intel appears to be continuing to dominate the desktop and laptop market with their processors, their mobile efforts haven’t been as successful, with the landscape being mostly dominated by the likes of Qualcomm, MediaTek, and Samsung. So much so that there is now speculation that Intel could be looking to exit the mobile business.

No, Intel Isn’t Abandoning the Mobile Market

Atom has been one of the biggest duds in the history of semiconductors as Intel spent billions designing and producing the chip, then billions more paying hardware makers to use them before failing to get any traction at all and eventually burying the whole project last year inside of its shrinking but still highly profitable PC unit.

Since these articles appeared two years ago, Intel still has not produced a single chip that can connect to either Wi-Fi or the Internet.  In contrast, ARM devices in a single chip can do computing, video, cellular modem, Wi-Fi connectivity, and other functions and just as you would expect, each generation of ARM chips is better and faster than the last. Moore’s law anyone??

What Really Killed Toys R Us

Unless you are a CRA member, living under a rock, voted for Hillary, or have any Park Family Genes in your DNA, you have likely heard Toys R Us is liquidating their business here in the United States and all over the globe.  What caused a giant big box that controlled 20% of the toy market to collapse you may ask?  Well a combination of things, but the internet, Amazon.com and high prices were none of them.

First some background on Toys R Us. The company was founded in 1948 by Charles Lazarus who interestingly died the same day the company decided to liquidate all stores.  The company had sustained success and was even referred to as a “category killer” which is similar to how people view Amazon.com today (a company that is almost impossible to compete with).

Editor’s note: As a child, the highlight of every Christmas was receiving the Sear’s Christmas catalog. In my youth this was Christmas. We only wanted to get toys from Sears because it was literally a one-stop shop for everything. From their catalog, our parents could order anything and have it waiting for us under the tree. Seemingly out on nowhere, along came Toys R Us and stole Christmas from the oldest and most well-known retailer in the country.

Retail icon, Toys R Us, fades into oblivion

The company prospered for many decades but in the late 1990’s Toys R Us started having issues competing with Target, Wal-Mart, and Amazon.com. In 1998 it fell behind Wal-Mart in market share. This is when the chain’s issues started. They tried Kids R Us, a clothing discount chain, and it failed badly and was liquidated after 5 short years.  They began growing their Babies R Us chain, to essentially focus on commodities like diapers and bottles, this was also a bad decision.  Even more costly was the expensive remodeling of all stores in 2000 by former FAO Schwartz CEO John Eyler.  This predictably didn’t change the competitive landscape so in 2005 with the stock struggling on Wall Street, it was sold in a leveraged buyout to 3 private equity firms.  This further exasperated the problems facing Toys R Us.  The buyout to take Toys private was 6.6 billion dollars, led by Bain Capital (After Mitt Romney had left) Vornado Realty Trust, and Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts.

Leveraged buyouts are not always bad things, there are benefits to being private and you do not have to answer to public investors on Wall Street and can work out corporate and company issues behind closed doors.  In N Out and Chick-fil-A are both private and the lines are out the door, down the street, and in most cases backed up to the freeway!  Michael Dell—yes that Dell—took the company he founded, Dell Computer, private. Dell Computer had been struggling for many years but taking it private has allowed it to turn around.  Typically, after these types of buyouts, private equity firms wind up taking the company public again (more on this later).

So how do these buyouts work?  When a public company has a major drop in stock price and has fundamental issues like Toys did, then in come the White Knights saying they can fix everything and will offer to buy the shares of the entire company.  In the case of Toys, the private equity guys offered a price 67% higher than what the shares were trading for on Wall Street; banks are happy, stockholders are typically happy, everyone gets paid and then the company is private.  In the case of Toys, it was 6.6 billion. So, did the private equity guys have to pay 6.6 billion for Toys?  No, they borrowed the money from investment banks—think Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, etc.—and used the company’s cash flow as collateral.  Truth be told, the private equity guys in this case likely put up only about 10% of that 6.6 billion.

So, from the start, Toys had a debt load of 6 billion to pay back, at interest rates likely in the 8-9% range!  Banks extract large fees from these loans and add it to the debt load—think the housing crisis circa 2008. The banks just rolled the expenses into the loan then sold it to an unsuspecting group of investors.  In this case Toys was now controlled by 3 large companies that didn’t know how to run the toy business at all.  However, one thing these 3 companies know a lot about is how to extract money from their investment, (more on this later as well).

So after the dust settled, Toys was saddled with 400 million in annual interest payments to satisfy the terms of their loan.   Think about that, 400 million in annual revenue goes first to paying off debt interest, not keeping the lights on or paying salary, just debt.  Then the private equity companies charge a “management fee” of usually 2-3% of revenue every year, further straining cash flow to pay bills.  Then they pay themselves a dividend every year of around 5-8% on their “investment” once again straining cash flow even further.

With sales falling, Toys began to run low on cash. As a result, cuts had to happen across the company because no way would the private equity companies take a cut in fees.  In such circumstances, the research and development department gets cuts first, then other sales, general and administrative expenses are slashed next, followed by a hiring freeze, then changes to the accounts payable department.  What used to be 30 or 45 day terms are changed to 60 or 90 day terms.  After that benefits are cut/eliminated and salaries for new hires are slashed to minimum wage.  This is all being done to pay interest and dividends to private equity companies.

The result of this ultimately led to the death of the company.  Because of financial constraints, Toys can’t innovate much. For example, toys are only made by a couple different companies—Hasbro and Mattel being the big ones—so in a sense you are limited by their innovation in that space.  On price, Toys only had about 800 stores in the United States compared to Wal-Mart and Target which have 800 in the western U.S. alone. This hurt the negotiation power Toys had with suppliers. For example, Toys wants to buy one million GI Joe toys from Hasbro, and Hasbro sells them to Toys for $10 a unit.  Wal-Mart orders three million GI Joe toys and Hasbro cuts them a volume discount based on $7 a unit.  As a result Toys sold GI Joe for $14 and Wal-Mart could sell for $10.  Toys then agreed to price match the competition, so now on that same GI Joe instead of making $4 per unit, they were breaking even; such a business model is not sustainable.

Also, there was no money being re-invested back into the business. Toys used to be known as a huge demonstration and interactive place for children to visit, try out the toys, and then scream and cry until mom or dad bought it for them. Those demo areas disappeared.  Toys became a big box store and worse yet couldn’t compete on price with other big box stores like Wal-Mart.  In a world where price is now everything, Toys had an advantage at one time. The child could play with and decide they want the product and unfortunately for the parents, they couldn’t wait two days for Amazon Prime because little Mike wanted it NOW.

Even as the business declined, Toys still controlled 20% of the market. Finally, the private equity guys turned to turnaround artist David Brandon, you may recognize the name, he turned Domino’s Pizza into the company it is today and brought it back from the dead.  The problem for Toys was that it was too late. Toys remodeled several hundred stores, brought back the demo areas, improved their website, but the damage from private equity had been done. The flow of money away from operations led to customers opting for other big box stores or internet websites.  They couldn’t attract top talent anymore and began to close stores several tranches at a time.

This spooked suppliers and as a result; Hasbro, LEGO, and Mattel changed the terms under which they would sell products to Toys. The result, Toys ran out of inventory during the Christmas shopping season!   With unsustainable debt, the company could not pay its bills and as a result the only option left was bankruptcy protection. A big store like Toys—similar to Sports Authority and Sport Chalet—no way the creditors would allow them to go through a restructure, they would need to liquidate.  Thus, the end of Toys R Us. But don’t feel bad for the private equity groups. They collected fees and dividends for over 15 years and then during bankruptcy sold the inventory and everything else to liquidation firms.  Additionally the lack of profitability also gives tax advantages to these groups since they tend to own many companies.  The employees?  They got nothing, except a pink slip of course.

Could Toys have been saved…I think so; there is room for a toy store chain in the United States.  This is what I would have done. I would have run the stores similarly to Best Buy or a grocery store. I would have found a tenant or two to sublease floor space, so they could demo their own products.  I would have set up an area to host children’s birthday parties, and maybe reached out to LEGO to see if they wanted to create a LEGO Land in the stores.  This would give predictable cash flow every month and given you a way to spruce up your business to make it more appealing to customers.  Have you been to a Best Buy lately?  I don’t even think Best Buy owns much of its own leased stores; Pacific Sales, Sprint, T-Mobile, Magnolia, Google, and HP/Apple lease a ton of floor space from them.  As far as price match goes, that’s a battle big box stores win by attrition. I would have focused on making the stores into a place both parent and child want to go to because I don’t think anyone admits publicly to wanting to go to Wal-Mart.  But alas, a large part of most people’s childhood is gone with the wind.


Ready Player One: Review of the Review

On my recent trip to Ogden, Utah, I treated the family to a trip to the movies to see Ready Player One. We enjoyed the movie but I was curious about how much it deviated from the book because experience has taught me that movie makers take extreme liberties with their depictions of books and other source material.

The basic plot of the movie is that the future is a miserable, dystopian place to live so people spend as much time as they can in a virtual world. You can be anyone or anything in this world. People navigate thru the world as avatars. You can be a Star Wars Storm Trooper, a World of Warcraft character, Iron Man, or anything else. The only stipulation is if you die in the virtual world then you lose all your stuff that you have accumulated and must begin again. The inventor of this virtual world created a treasure quest that if completed would allow the winner to own the virtual world. Think-winner of contest owns Internet and all its content-and you get an idea of the prize.

I often read articles on a website affiliated with the SyFy Channel (formerly SciFi Channel)—even though we are cable cutters and I haven’t watched their programming in many years. This website has changed names several times over the years most recently changing from Blastr.com to SyFy.com. It is owned by NBCUniversal Media, LLC whose parent company is Comcast. So when I read content on this website I know two things, first that the person writing an article is getting paid for their contributions and secondly that they represent the company for which they work—at least to some extent.

I found only one review of the movie on their website. I thought I would be getting a perspective from someone who would critique the movie either in comparison to the book upon which it was based or at least in terms of how well Steven Spielberg did in making the movie.

If someone wanted to be critical of the movie—irrespective of the storyline in the book—they could complain on three points:
• The movie is a typical hero journey movie, average or misfit young person discovers an ability or aptitude as he begins a quest, gets discouraged along the way and overcomes adversity to succeed
• Corporations (and governments) are always the bad guys
• Hero falls in love with girl that doesn’t like him at the beginning but their relationship helps him to prevail

I began reading the review and it was clear that it went off the rails very early and into an alternate reality.

You’ll see He-Man running into battle alongside Catwoman, and Harley Quinn hanging out in a dance club in The Oasis, the virtual world where gamers intermingle. But these aren’t the characters you know and love. Within the movie, these are the chosen avatars of anonymous gamers around the world. Their cameos tell us nothing new about He-Man or Harley, as they are in no way bound to behave as they would in canon.

Why does the reviewer expect avatars to behave as they would “in canon” meaning in comic book character. Which canon is this reviewer talking about? The one where Superman marries Louis Lane or the one where he marries Lana Lang? I found a website listing 18 different women that had a love interest in Superman and this is just one comic book character out of thousands. Thanks to J.J. Abrams, what is canon in Star Wars or Star Trek anymore? It is ludicrous that the reviewer expect that avatars must only behave as they do “in character”.

Reluctantly, the reviewer later concedes:

But its use in Ready Player One doesn’t tell us much about The Oasis, except that someone somewhere likes He-Man.

Yeah, this is why it’s an avatar.

Lest you think this dense person admits that an avatar is an avatar, the author then starts a rant about the Iron Giant. Why, because the Iron Giant shoots a bad guy and that is out of character for him to behave like that. Seriously.

A big element of promoting Ready Player One has been showing its inclusion of the Iron Giant, the beloved robot at the heart of the adored 1999 animated feature. In his own movie, the Iron Giant’s defining moment is when he declares, “I am not a gun.”… He is a hero who refused to be a weapon but still saved the day.

In Ready Player One, the Iron Giant is an avatar of top-notch gamer Aech. Despite the fact that the titular character’s entire arc in The Iron Giant was about how he chose not to be the weapon, Ready Player One only uses him as a giant gun in its climactic battle. Some are already venting their frustrations on Twitter about this misuse of the definitely anti-gun character. But this isn’t even the only assault on Iron Giant fans that this movie has in store. Because when Ready Player One does decide to be true to this character, it’s to kill him.

Ok, so despite admitting that the Iron Giant is an avatar and not the character from the children’s movie, the author of this review has a tantrum about the giant shooting his gun—in self-defense I might add. All I know at this point is how much this person hates the Second Amendment but never worry because she is just getting warmed-up.

Hubris is defined as: excessive pride or self-confidence.
synonyms: arrogance · conceit · conceitedness · haughtiness · pride · vanity · self-importance · self-conceit · pomposity · superciliousness · feeling of superiority · hauteur · uppitiness · big-headedness

Now we get to the real core of the reviewer’s complaints against the movie; she hates it because the movie doesn’t bend over shamelessly to validate her lifestyle.  Since when does the rest of the world have an obligation to so?

A more caustic element of Ready Player One is the way it uses allusions as a litmus test of cool. In one scene, Parzival readies for a virtual date with Art3mis, and decides he’ll wear a suit from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. On one level, it’s supposed to show her he’s cool enough to know this cult classic. But, he tells his confidante Aech, it’s also meant to see if Art3mis will get it. What’s implied here: is she a real fan, or some Fake Geek Girl? Of course, Art3mis—the manic pixel dream girl that she is—recognizes it and thinks he’s super cool, because Ready Player One is nothing if not a fantasy for straight-fanboys who dream of hot gamer chicks who’ll get all their references to obscure (or not that obscure) sci-fi. But that’s not the end of this tedious testing thread.

The story of Ready Player One’s hero Wade Watts suggests there is one right way to fan. Notably, the one who figures out this one true path is a straight, white, cisgender fanboy —which suggests that to be a “Real Fan,” you must like things on the terms of dominant (and often exclusionary) fanboy culture. Spielberg could have opened up things if the characters of color or women took a stronger role in the film. But despite the heroics of the other members of the High Five, they are ultimately sidelined as sidekicks to Wade. Alternately, Spielberg could have explored new pathways into the familiar characters he folds in by using familiar avatars to explore elements of fanfiction, a sphere of fandom that’s often more female and LGBTQA+ friendly.

Cast of Ready Player One

Ready Player One feels like Spielberg dumped out a collective toy box, but wasn’t interested in playing with its incredible contents. It’s a wasted opportunity, and worse yet a lazy exploitation of geek culture that promotes its more toxic elements of sexism, self-righteousness, and fan-versus-fan hostility. What could have been an inclusive celebration is instead determined to divide us.

For those that haven’t seen the movie, it features kids and adults of a variety of races and genders but because the author can find nothing blatantly homosexual promoting in the film, her conclusion is that it is a dud and “wasted opportunity”.

Sorry babe but neither Steven Spielberg nor any of the rest of us need to conform to your views or values. The world at large does not exist to validate your life choices, this is hubris.

Folks if this article had appeared on the Huffington Post or some other website I would just ignore it but since it is on a site paid for by one of the biggest media companies in the world I think it deserves a rebuke.

Ready Player One is a fun romp and great entertainment for the whole family.

Oh, the ridiculous review quoted above can be found here:
Link: How Ready Player One fails geek culture

Last week, I took a roadtrip to Ogden Utah to see the middle child. Along the way I had a few ideas that might end up being blog topics but I thought I’d jot down some thoughts that I had.

First, Elon Musk is a fraud.  As soon as you depart the once Golden State in your privately owned vehicle, you will find zero charging stations along the Interstate 80 corridor. While electric vehicle travel within California is a sketchy proposition, outside of California it is not possible or practical. Hybrid automobiles are a rare sight away from the Left Coast and electric ones are unheard-of.

Musk thinks he can sell ten thousand vehicles a week and sustain that production? It’s a Ponzi scheme. He can’t even get to 5K per week and is running out of cash and good will.

Musk is a flimflam guy of the first order and gets lots of other people’s money (often tax dollars) from Liberals to do stuff that is not market based because these guys believe that governments not markets should decide what our economy should look like. The AB-32 crowd wants to use the power of the State to force us into electric vehicles that are not able to leave the gilded cage of California just because it is their religion. Their arrogance to pick losers and winners is hubris of the highest order.

Second, the path from Reno to Salt Lake City is the only proof of a universal flood anybody should need. Except for a few mountains here and there, this whole path is clearly a shallow sea that was only recently drained. This was within the last few millennia not millions of years ago.

Third, Brigham Young sure picked a crappy spot to proclaim the new Zion. My biggest gripe of the area is the lack of trees. But he did have big plans.

The Territory of Deseret would have comprised roughly all the lands between the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies, and between the border with Mexico northward to include parts of the Oregon Territory, as well as the coast of California south of the Santa Monica Mountains (including the existing settlements of Los Angeles and San Diego). This included the entire watershed of the Colorado River (excluding the lands south of the border with Mexico), as well as the entire area of the Great Basin. The proposal encompassed nearly all of present-day Utah and Nevada, large portions of California and Arizona, and parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.

Link: State of Deseret

Map of Proposed Deseret region

Brigham seems to have wanted the 1840’s version of “fly-over country” to be united under his banner; whether as a state or a separate country depends on what you read. The presence of Los Angeles and San Diego as part of his territory would indicate a separate nation was in the back of his mind. The war of northern aggression ended that dream and he reluctantly settled for Utah statehood after yet another rewrite of Mormon Scriptures to get rid of polygamy. Why the “god’ of Mormons is not the same yesterday, today, and forever like the one revealed in the Bible is a subject for another day.

Fourth, the amount of indigent and homeless people in Ogden really surprised me. Latter Day Saints try really hard to cultivate the reputation that they care for their own—maybe they do—but for the folks outside their church, clearly they are on their own.

Fifth, the amount of young people with ridiculous amounts of body art and piercing was a surprise to me. I was expecting Donny and Marie type youth but clearly not everyone follows this expectation. My wife thinks that Ogden draws youth from outside the LDS world for the skiing. Maybe this is true. Clearly a large segment of young people are nonconformist.

Sixth was a news story that I saw on the local television station. This is interesting because the LDS church is front and center of a story about a man named Joseph Bishop.

(Note: Although the LDS church has clergy with the title of “bishop” this is not the same as in Protestant Christian Churches and not Mr. Bishop’s title just his last name.)

Mr. Bishop was in charge of training youth that knock on your door as missionaries. Mr. Bishop is accused of giving private lessons to some of the female candidates under his care—much like President Clinton did in the Oval Office with Monica.

SALT LAKE CITY — (KUTV) – On March 20, as a sexual assault scandal was exploding around former Missionary Training Center President Joseph Bishop, his son, and attorney Greg Bishop sent an email to 2News unsolicited.

In the email, he unspools a five-page dossier about the past of the woman who had accused his father of rape.

The email included the woman’s criminal record, alleged false allegations she’d made in the past, and jobs she’d lost.

It even included details about an incident that occurred when she was 17 years old. Bishop encouraged reporters to examine the woman’s past adding, “consider the source.”

In the last two days, 2News has obtained a letter that was written by David Jordan, a lawyer at the firm, Stoel Rives, acting on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The document is a response to a letter from the woman’s attorney, Craig Vernon, requesting a settlement from the LDS Church.

The document includes everything we saw in Bishop’s email, plus a review of her ecclesiastical church record.

At the bottom, the Jordan indicates that he sent the letter to Greg Bishop.

It appears Bishop took portions of the letter, and at times, repeated allegations word for word and sent it to the media.

Link: Exclusive: Documents reveal how the LDS Church responded to MTC sex scandal

Related Stories
Link: New statement: LDS Church responds to alleged sexual abuse by former MTC president

Link: Church Statement About Alleged Sexual Assault by Former Mission President

The woman told 2News Bishop had been grooming her, taking her out of class to talk about the sexual abuse she had suffered as a child. She said he seemed to enjoy the discussion, then one day he invited her to a place he called, “special.”

“He didn’t tell me there was a bed or a TV or a VCR down there, he just said it was this really special room,” she said.

“I was nervous and uncomfortable, and I should have listened to that feeling.”

Once she and Bishop got into the small room, he advanced on her.

“He tried to kiss me and I pushed him off, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, here’s this old man, I’m 21 years old,” she said. “Then he pulled my blouse and rips my buttons off. It had little pearl buttons, then he ripped the back of my skirt, it was an A-line skirt, and then with one hand he pulled my garment and my pantyhose down, there he was, trying to rape me.”

The woman tried to tell officials in the LDS Church on multiple occasions including her bishop.

2News documented as many as four times when the woman tried to speak out to church leaders, but the woman says she had told as many as 10 different church leaders about the alleged abuse.

“Oh no, oh no, I have been talking to bishops and stake presidents for years; one bishop in Colorado Springs called me a liar and wouldn’t even talk to me.

Link: Exclusive: The woman at the center of the MTC abuse scandal shares her story

I find it interesting that the LDS Church saw fit to release a letter concerning the character of the accuser and defending Mr. Bishop by saying there is no need for them to look into this matter. The LDS church has a long history of circling the wagons when things don’t go their way.

Here is another example of the “see something, say something” mentality. Put yourself in her place, do you want your church releasing an official letter about your past?

When has your church ever made an issue of your:
• Juvenile behavior?
• Morals?
• Employment record?
• Criminal record?
• Marital status?

Sorry, I thought churches were in the business of changing lives thru the power of God’s Word not keeping a tally of what notorious sinners we are just in case they need to shut us up.

At the same time this story is going on, another one about sexual abuse had faithful Mormons marching in the streets.

Link: Mormon church to allow parents in youth bishop meetings

Link: ‘Stop protecting sexual predators’: Outburst interrupts LDS General Conference

Seventh, we went to Easter services at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ogden. It was a nice service that emphasized the importance of the bodily resurrection of Christ.