How many more reasons do I need not to return to the United States?

"Service with a Scowl" should be the motto of the US Customs and Border Protection. Any time I went to New York, to work for Reuters, I would be berated by the CBP staff in a manner that reminded me of any Western movie where someone is passing through town and is looked upon as a being from another planet.

And now the CBP turns people back because of the content of their Twitter accounts. Admittedly the moron who tweeted, "I am going to destroy America," could have chosen a better turn of phrase than that particular English slang term for "going to have a good time" but how on Earth did the US Department of Homeland Security match a passenger name with a Twitter account?

Now, I am not dumb enough to associate my full/real name with any Blogger, Twitter, Facebook, or any other online account. However, it is obvious that the Department of Homeland Security keeps track of every name on the planet, flags them as good or bad and notes whenever that name attempts to enter the United States.

You've got to feel sorry for the people who actually live in the United States. What was the point of defeating Hitler? And to the dimwit from the Department of Homeland Defence reading this article, my passport is not under the name of Mr Eco Punk!

BBC - Caution on Twitter urged as Britons barred from US

They still don't get it

The not so great and the anything but good are meeting in Davos for their yearly get together. Rudderless and without ideas they bleat their perennial mantra of growth.

One simpleton says, "By 2030, 4.8 billion people will be middle-class... And once people are in the middle class, they start to consume and drive economic growth."

Notwithstanding my hatred of the word "middle-class", the world, as is, can barely cope with the current crop of "middle-class" dimwits consuming their way to oblivion.

Add billions more to the equation and you have a global disaster on your hands with dissatisfied people, famine and civil war. Everyone wants to live like an American but barely half of Americans manage it so what hope the rest of us?

BBC - Davos 2012: Setting the gloom level to 11

When China Rules the World

I've just finished reading When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques. I'm glad I bought a refurbished Kindle reader (£10 discount from Amazon) as it means I read an awful lot more.

Having sold off a few hundred books during my period of downsizing and not being surrounded by stacks of books, I found myself reading less. The Kindle has turned that around. Most books are free, you just have to know how to find them.

When discussing China, I have no time for those who snort, "China is a communist country!" First, I would go further than what Jacques says in his book and say that I don't believe China is a communist country.

Certainly, it is not communist as the Soviet Union was. The Soviets never embraced capitalism as China has. Instead, Russia concentrated on an arms race to the detriment of its economy. China, only now that it has a world beating economy, is thinking of building up its armed forces. Not to compete, just to protect its economy.

I do agree with Jacques in that China is more in touch with its Confucian past than anything propounded by Mao. The Marxist ideology went with Mao's death in 1976. Instead, China today is not that different from the China of the emperors. Supremely confident that it is a superior civilisation to all others.

Also, that China is not westernising, any more than Japan has. The Far East is modernising not westernising. There is more than one way of becoming modern and it doesn't have to involve being like an American or European. Japan is no more democratic than China. Elections in Japan do no more than rubber stamp continuity. The Japanese civil service runs the country and the perpetual government's cabinet meets occasionally for ceremonial purposes rather than once a week, as in the west.

Democracy and capitalism do not necessarily go hand in hand. You do not need one to get the other. China's Confucian state relies on consensus. The people are happy regardless of what Western commentators try to tell people in the West. Demonstrations in China are more to alert the authorities of corruption rather than any desire for political change.

And what of us in the West? The future modern world will be in the East. We in the West are a footnote to the past. Rather than China westernising, the West will probably easternise, in the same way that we in Europe were Americanised following the Second World War.

Our gadgets, clothes and shoes are made in China. We see a more hard-line policing style that would not look out of place in Hong Kong. The European Union is anything but democratic. Our politicians are deferential to China and are at pains not to offend for fear of losing access to the Chinese market. We are dependent on China as we were once on America, if not more so. America and its dollar are finished, kept alive on a life support system that depends on China. History has moved on and we must too. Adapt to thrive.

Do you self-price?

I popped into the supermarket this morning, after collecting a few Freecycle items. The supermarket was desperately getting people to spend by playing muzak with a consumption theme. An awful cover version of Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" being one unsavoury example.

I bought three tins of ASDA tomato soup for 72p and noticed someone else buying the same but of the Heinz variety, for a total of £2.65

I can't tell the difference between the two soups in taste. One tin has an austere green on white label and the other your typical Heinz label. The purchase reminded me of when I read The Undercover Economist, a book I recommend to all who are frugal.

One particular part of the book discusses the price of coffee from those coffee shops I never enter. At the back of every coffee shop you see a chalkboard with all the varieties of coffee and the prices next to them.

As The Undercover Economist points out there is little actual price difference between the shots of coffee. The coffees do have different prices and names but that is just for the consumer to self-price themselves.

If you think you are of a given class and are more deserving than others then you might go for the Ristretto or the Macchiato rather than the straight Espresso. No extra cost for the coffee shop but certainly more for you. Self-pricing is a tried and tested High Street marketing strategy.

The same is true of supermarkets. I eat bran flakes and lots of them. I could buy Kelloggs Bran Flakes for £2.68 or, like my father buy the less expensive ASDA flakes next to the Kelloggs flakes but still for over £1.50. Or, I could be less lazy and notice that above the two there is the ASDA budget brand, green on white label, for 77p. Blind taste me all you like, I won't tell the difference and I wouldn't care if there was a slight difference, anyway.

What ASDA are doing is this. If you want Kelloggs because you think you are special then there it is but if you want to save money and still make a handsome profit for ASDA then buy the intermediate brand. Oh, and if you refuse to buy either then have the cheapest ones but we'll separate them from the more expensive ones just to give you time to change your mind and buy a more expensive option.


Compare Supermarkets - Check the price of your shopping basket afore you leave your home. (UK readers only - Suggest your country's equivalent in the comments section below)
The Undercover Economist - A must read for the frugal to understand pricing.

When is a sale not a sale?

When the shop is not going out of business and they are willing to sell something for a 90% discount.

As I've mentioned before, I find it amazing that people are willing to pay for things that cost next to nothing to be made in China, shipped in containers to our shores and then have a couple of zeros added to the price tag.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If a shop can afford to remain in business and unload its stock for a fraction of what it was selling it for a few months ago then either that shop is going out of business or you were a mug if you were buying from that shop before the sale.

Things are a lot cheaper than we imagine them to be. However, we live in a society of just-in-time supply and have been brainwashed into accepting a culture of "must have". Combine these two things together and we must all have something that is in short supply and are willing to pay anything to have it.

No wonder we are in a financial mess. Hopefully, the mess will open a few eyes. Because we are in a financial mess, we are spending less. Because we are spending less the steady trickle of just-in-time goods is now a mountain of goods that need to be shifted. To shift the goods, prices need to fall because demand is down but supply up. Prices won't start going up until we start demanding more and the mountain of goods is gone.

The lesson to be learned is that you must play the corporate game right back in the face of the corporations. Who cares what your neighbour has bought? Who cares what the television says is the must have item? Keep your money in your pocket until the corporations beg you to buy it but only then if you really need the item and you are getting at least the 90% discount.

Personally, I prefer to get last year's whatever it was for nothing on Freecycle or for 90% off on eBay or better still, not to bother having it. iPad? iLaughed at the price. What kind of a mug pays extra for the word "Apple" on a gadget? There will be plenty of decent tablets on Freecycle when people get bored of them.

And why would you want a laptop without a keyboard? I am a 50 word per minute typist and so using a tablet or a mobile phone to type with, is an aeon's length step back in time for me. I wouldn't bother writing this blog if I couldn't knock up a rant in 2 minutes flat.