About Mark Cathcart

I am an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Formerly I was an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm also the ride leader for Jack and Adams Bicycle shop rides; I own the new Austin Triathletes and ATxD Multisports, a sports management company.

insidious greed – HSBC

If you’ve not been following along today, it’s well worth reading back through the BBC Business Live News feed on the HSBC Tax Avoidance scandal. It is indeed the perfect example of the sort of insidious greed that is destroying society today.

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It’s not just the “me” culture that is all around us, but the industry and culture that is behind it. Rather than pay taxes now, there is a whole industry on tax-avoidance. It’s become an accepted practice, mostly illegal, certainly immoral and to deflect interest in their actions, just like with the bully at school, they deflect criticism and investigation away from their own failings, by making a big deal about those who can least defend themselves.

The amount of tax avoided, mostly illegally, by the HSBC 7,000 will have gone along way to dealing with many of challenges that the UK is currently facing, and the austerity measure they are taking.

Add to that the same offshore tax dodges being employed by large companies, and the industry of sleeze ball consultants, awarded for advising, aiding, and making this possibly, doing everything from advising, writing, and ultimately even joining governments to implement tax policy that facilitates this has got to stop.

It’s easier to blame welfare cheats, immigrants, in fact anyone than themselves. Here in Texas we have both past Governor Perry, and current Governor Abbott continually railing against the Federal Government. Under Governor Perry, we had the HHSC(Ed: no relation) contract scandal, with the State going with a no-bid contract, with little oversight and unclear results to again go after the “little people“. It’s much easier to make them the problem than deal with the problem of insidious greed of the wealthy and their legions of shills.

hsbc taxWatch this extract from the BBC Panorama show to get a quick summary, or read the summary here.

Texas as a playground for rich Mexicans

After the recent fuss over alleged Muslim “no-go”  areas in Europe and,  specifically the UK,  which are total nonsense,  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal better meet with Texas Senator Ted Cruz and start talking about a wall along the Tejas border with Louisiana.

At least down in Southern California, they think swathes of Texas are already a playground for middle and upper classes from Northern Mexico.  Gotta love uninformed,  speculation. Back at ya ‘Merica

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Something for the weekend – Ruby Ridge

I continue to try to get behind some the things held as “norms” here in Texas, and more broadly in America. This week has seen many examples of the gun lobby an the freedom from big government get riled up.

Even as a Brit’ I watched with amazement the FBI “invasion” at the Siege of Waco on UK TV. But the whole episode waas too easily dismissed when you stand back and look at those involved, almost as easy as “nut jobs!”.

I came across the story of a Texas Resident John Joe Gray, who is still holed up as a fugitive after 15-years, in his wooded, 50-acre ranch about 100-miles southeast for Fort Worth. I read into his case to see if that would show how many of the gun, freedom fighters had drawn their fear of being disarmed. Nothing really, if this report in the Houston Chronicle is true, not the cause célèbre I was looking for the cops are ignoring him.

11487373-standard[1]After reading an article on John Joe Gray, I came across a link pointing to the Retro Report and their video on the American Standoff at Ruby Ridge in 1992. Fascinating stuff. Ruby Ridge preceded the Waco Siege by almost a year, and at least for me, was unknown.

Having watched through to the end, I can certainly see the seeds of mistrust in the Federal Government, government overreach etc. It’s easy to extrapolate from there. Hundreds of smaller incidents, someone constantly telling you about the bogeyman, eventually you believe it.

Watch along, if you hadn’t heard of Ruby Ridge Idaho, you will after that. Something for the weekend?

Ruby Ridge: American Standoff from Retro Report on Vimeo.

Two small deposits

I’ve often commented on my absolute disdain for the US Banking system. I’ve been poking around with what I can do to remove some of the barrier to the time delay and inefficiency in the system.

I used my online banking system to add the bank details of a friend. I did it by adding it as an “external account”, providing the ABA routing number and the account number. It informed me that two small deposits would be made into the account, and once I had the details to come back and confirm.

I emailed my friend and said I’d done it and why, and asked to be notified when they arrived and what they were. Once notified, I confirmed with my online bank and immediately did an online funds transfer of $100, it arrived overnight. Next day, I initiated a transfer from my friends account of $50, again, it arrived overnight. I then did another transfer of $50, no problem.

So, while there is no way for me to do any formal set-up or account management, without a single signature, and as far as we can see, no way for my friend to stop me crediting, or more importantly debiting from their account. I’m hopeful that a call to the bank could stop it, surely?

For the record, we bank at completely different banks. Yep, the US Banking system truly sucks, 3rd world at best of function and performance. Out of this world on profits though…

Farewell to “alms”

I wrote to the Austin Chronicle a couple of weeks back to follow-up on their quote of the week, from departing Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

“It is important to remember that there are over 860,000 people living in Austin. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep this in mind when you’re facing 200 loud voices in the Council Chamber.”

My observation, from being one of those 200 8-10x during Leffingwells tenancy, and addressing the dais probably 3-4 times, was

So, our rail or fail Mayor Leffingwell reminds us that there are some 860,000 people in Austin, and it’s hard to remember that when confronted by 200 loud voices in the chamber [“Quote of the Week,” News, Jan. 9].
Perhaps if he’d been more of a leader, less confrontational, and paid more attention to the issues of those various 200 people, he’d have been elected in 2012 by more than a paltry 10% of Austin voters.
Voter apathy in Austin is legend, and you get what you vote for.

Fellow Austin rail advocate, Andrew Clements followed up my letter aka “piled on” in a follow-up letter, it’s a much better summary of the Leffingwell era, or “legacy” .

News of the Weird

The news of the weird column in the weekly Austin Chronicle is an interesting thing. Published by Chuck Shepard, it’s is mostly extracted, printed, and syndicated verbatim from http://www.newsoftheweird.com/syndicate.html. It’s a mix of quirky, surreal articles, many of which you would’t share with your mother or your children.

The case of Richard Rosario though deserves to be on other pages, it’s news of the bizarre. If true as reported, it’s one of those things that shows, you are only one unlucky break from having your life totally disrupted and bellies the truth behind the American system of fare just for all. You can hear the details of the story here.

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Banking like it’s 1985

Every time I deal with my UK bank, I’m reminded how utterly useless, inefficient, and expensive the US Banking system is. I just paid my UK credit card from my UK bank and got this response

The payment has been accepted by the beneficiary’s bank who advise that it will be credited by the next working day.

Yes, I paid it on Saturday from FirstDirect, a subsiduary of HSBC. The payment was sent direct to MBNA Limited(UK) bank, who accepted it and will credit it to my account on Monday.

Old%20Bank[1]I then went and paid my US CapitalOne credit card from my US bank, Austin Texas based Amplify FCU.  The payment process will not be started until banking hours Monday(8am Central), and not received until Wednesday, and if I’m lucky, credited on Thursday…

Yes, I know if I was lucky enough to have a banking account with the same Bank as my credit card company banks with, the payment would be within 24-hours, but that’s just coincidence, not design.

In other news, I set up one of those funky external account transfers this week to a friends account. You know one of those where they make two small deposits, and if you have access to the account, you confirm the amounts to your banking system. After that, you have credit and debit authority on your friends account. Keep banking weird.

A U.S. federal law of 1996 required the federal government to make electronic payments such as direct deposit available by 1999. Shame the rest of the US, ACH backed banking system has caught up yet.

The Disturbance Business

I had a fairly exhaustive discussion about some of the topics I’d posted on here, with one of the guys in the neighborhood recently. He asked why I bother.

It was a pretty simple/easy response for me. I often use these blog posts as a way to organize my thoughts on a subject or issue. Yeah, he said, but why? My answer, well because I’d like to either get things changed or make sure people understood that the status quo isn’t the only way it could be. Yeah, he said, but why?

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I’ve seen a couple of things over the last week that both resonated with me, and I think are the reason why. The first was a quote from Alan Turing, used ne in the movie The Imitation Game, it was used a few times. It’s not that I associate what I write has any real significance, it’s also not that I equate myself with the like of great people like Turing. It’s simply that often, the best ideas come from people you least expect.

More directly though, last night I watched Atul Gawandes’ annual BBC Reith Lectures, “Why Do Doctors Fail?” at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum on October 16, 2014. In the introduction, Sue Lawley for the BBC, referred to the John F Kennedy quote

Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought

This seems to me to be a fairly accurate description of a lot of peoples thoughts on a wide range of topics todays pressing topics, local, national and International.

When introducing Gawande, Lawley describes his work as being “as much about attitudes, systems and human behavior as it is about medical research”, Gawande is self described as “being in the disturbance business”. This is pretty representative of my 41-years in Computing/Information Technology, I’ve been in the disturbance business. So, for 2015, I re-confirm to these three things.

  1. Be Thoughtful
  2. Be Imaginative
  3. Challenge the status quo.

Ken Weiss does a good job of breaking down the disturbance business over on the Mermaid’s Tale blog.

Wonky property taxes

The new Austin 10/1 council is pretty much settled after the run-offs. The new districts will be represented by 9 new Council members, two of whom are Realtors, a new Mayor with zero Council experience, all voted in by an appallingly low voter turnout especially in the runoff elections. In District-3,  Sabino “Pio” Renteria won with just 2,555 votes, a victory by 833 votes… I assume a mere $10,000 could have bought victory for  his opponent by paying locals $10 to go vote. I bet that TV and newspaper advertising looks lame now.

propertytax1One of the flagship, priority subjects will no doubt be property tax. Most candidates had a position on it, almost all want to discount or cut it. Hold on, not so fast. Anyone who actually thinks it through knows, property tax has almost nothing to do with affordability. I can certainly easily pay for my taxes now, but the question is, will I still be able to pay them in 20-years.

That’s certainly the problem most long term residents of the core/downtown neighborhoods face now. They generally live in modest homes, whose lot price and property tax evaluation has gone through the roof. The guy that lived opposite me, 73 when he died in April, couldn’t afford to retire. He was an (arthitic) plumber. He was paying, even with an age discount, more per year than he paid for a mortgage when he bought the property with a small deposit from his mothers estate after she died.

That effect can’t be allowed to continue for many reasons, not least because it is not acceptable. That people who have lived in their home, in what was often a modest property, in a less attractive neighborhood,are now, in their later years, being forced to move. A time when you often are less prepared for change, less able to make new friends, less willing to learn where to go and to get to pretty much everything.

Yes, they can make a ton from selling, and yes, many may chose to do that to move into assisted living, but they shouldn’t be forced to because thy cannot afford property taxes.

The whole issue has become conflated in the usual Tea party, “any tax” is to much rhetoric..  Rather than everyone jump on the bandwagon demanding a property tax cut, and the new 10/1 council lauding it around as having done something important, which the current proposal, clearly isn’t.

Julio Gonzalez has two great posts that show what the current proposal means on his Keep Austin Wonky blog. The Homestead Exemption debate in 2 minutes and 10 bucks or 10,000 homes

DVT and the American Way

As we approach the holiday season, I am reminded to check the American Way magazine to see if they’ve updated their advice about Deep Vein Thrombosis, aka DVT. My legs are sore from Sundays race, so better safe than sorry.

Looks like I’m still in with a chance to win the 100,000 award miles for my letter to the editor last month, after all they have not changed the advice. Here is what I wrote:

I’m in 22a of AA 1149, I’ve been here for about 3.5 hours since boarding. The guy in the exit row seat in front, despite a polite request, refuses to put his seat upright.

The space left between us is so small, I can only use my laptop as an oversize MP3 player, lid closed. I’ve read American Way cover to cover and it’s a great issue.

I did though find the diagrams for avoiding DVT hilarious. I can barely do the ankle rotations in the space I have, knee/chest lifts even knee lifts are simply not possibly. Perhaps you could update the diagrams?

Yours, 3-million miler(almost) 6ft triathlete with a 35 inch waist…

and yes, the following illustration is still there in the December 2014 issue.

See page 106

See page 106

After all, you wouldn’t want find out that you needed seat savers in order to prevent a real problem.seat