Monday, December 26, 2011

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Jenkies!  It hasn't been a good year for tyrannical despots, has it?  Ben Ali, bin Laden, Saleh, Mubarak, Gadhafi all deposed, dethroned, or dead.  And now Dear Leader has bitten the dust (and there's plenty of dust to bite in the DPRK).  Let's hope the trend continues. 

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things
Hennessy cognac, roast donkey, French jellies
A nation of children with grass in their bellies
Vintage fine wines fit for a king
These are a few of my favorite things

Ray-Ban sunglasses and a khaki pant suit
Those who oppose me will live under my jackboot
A joy brigade for my sexual cravings
These are a few of my favorite things

Elevator shoes and vertical hairdos
Rattling my saber whenever I choose
Nuclear destruction and firestorm warnings
These are a few of my favorite things

Daffy Duck, Rambo, and James Bond flicks
Shutting down the power every day at six
Indoctrinating the people with propaganda postings
These are a few of my favorite things

Holes in one, speed reading, breeding giant rabbits
Are just a few of my accomplished habits
My birth was divine or so the swallow sings
These are few of my favorite things

When the hunger still pangs
When the whip still stings
Recall with a tear all that you've seen
Simply remember my favorite things
And learn how deceived you've been
                                                                                                        -by Kim Jong Il

Let it play

Monday, December 19, 2011

Highway Traffic Act 167 Revisited

How long should the motorist in front of you be allowed to do nothing at an advanced green light until he/she hears the polite toot of your horn from behind? For me, it's the 2nd syllable of "Mississippi" in my 2nd "Mississippi". So, "one Mississippi, two Missis..." and then you'd better be rolling on through. I think that's more than enough time for the synapses in the brain to fire and take action.

I'm convinced that a great number of drivers have no clue what a flashing green light in their face means simply because so many do nothing until prompted from behind. To be clear, when you face a flashing green light or a left-pointing green arrow and a green light, you may turn left, go straight ahead or turn right from the proper lane. This is called an advanced green light because oncoming traffic still faces a red light. Ring a bell? What's even more inexplicable is when the first and second cars roll through and third still stops to assess the situation. By the time it's your "turn", the advanced green has ended and the opportunity is lost. Damnation, I hate lost opportunities.

I don't lay on my horn in these situations, although I'm not ashamed to admit that I've done so in others. A polite couple of taps on it will usually do the trick. It's what I call my "courtesy horn". Usually the driver ahead gets the message and darts on through quicker than normal. I assume they are trying to compensate for their earlier inaction.

Sometimes, however, you get that proud, righteous jag-off who takes your courtesy horn as an insult and either rolls through at a snail's pace, continues to do nothing, or worse.

Last summer, I got the "or worse". The driver ahead of me clearly had no intention of taking advantage of the advanced green. I tapped my horn twice and got nothing more than a long, menacing glower in the rearview mirror. He then slowly proceeded, turning left through the intersection with me right behind. When we were both through the intersection, he switched to the right lane allowing me to pull up beside him. Words were exchanged and he ended the discourse with, "Don't f*ck with me, dog!" I couldn't help myself and laughed out loud at the absurdity of the comment before he sped off.

In hindsight, it wasn't the wisest move considering my wife and children were in tow, but I remain unapologetic preferring instead to use a simple set of criteria to determine who gets the horn.  Here's a list of those who might deserve a second thought before using your courtesy horn, or may otherwise be immune to its effects:

1) Cops.  One short "beep" might be acceptable. Try two and you're really pushing it.

2) NRA or similar type bumper stickers. Dangerous. In contrast though, those with humorous bumper stickers (Jesus is Coming.  Look Busy! is my favorite) will typically give you a polite thank-you wave after a courtesy horn, so honk on.

3) Old, short men wearing hats. They're usually the ones driving an 80's model land yacht. Don't bother with the horn; they likely won't hear it and if they do, they're apt to swallow their teeth and you don't need that on your conscience.

4) Monster trucks. These slack-jawed quadrupeds have an image to maintain and aren't about to let you tarnish it. It's road rage waiting to happen, so holster your weapon.

5) Student drivers. Yikes!!! An unexpected honk from behind may cause Junior to reverse into you. The cop won't understand and you'll just ruin everyone's day. Save it.

6) Pimped rides with tinted windows. You never know how many thuggy little wannabes are going to spill out of these things.  Usually not worth the risk.

All others, and there are many, get the horn.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Occupy Grandpa's House!

A recent report from the US Department of Commerce paints a sad, sad picture of the wealth gap in America.  As those learned folks representing OWS have told us, the young are getting by with less-and-less.  And is it the greedy, corrupt 1 percent who have absconded with the nation's wealth who are to blame?  Nope. The same report from the Commerce Department indicates that households headed by those 65 and older have on average 47 times the net worth of those headed by people 35 and younger.

This should come as no surprise.  Our parents and their parents were much better savers and typically bought only that which they could afford.  Of course, one could argue that there was nowhere near the amount of temptation then as there is today to fuel a consumer-driven economy and certainly not the ease of access to the great enabler--easy credit--to make it all happen.

Nowadays, the average-income, thirty-something North American walks about with a credit card that could buy them a mid-sized car.  And when those who are tempted have the means to act upon it, the results could be tragic, as housing bubbles and stock market corrections have so eloquently shown.

Assuming our brains are wired to be defenceless against resisting temptation (cue Genesis, chapter 3) and we cannot remove that which tempts us, it would stand to reason that a suitable solution would be to remove access to credit. Many of those "occupiers" living in tents on parkland in [insert you favorite metropolitan City here] are staring at 50K college tuition loan paybacks that they perhaps should have never received in the first place.

Governments look good making and guaranteeing college loans to all and everyone associated with that gets a warm fuzzy feeling; that needs to stop. Raising interest rates over time is critical, too.  This will make saving more attractive and consuming, less so.  There's a reason grandpa is sitting on a fortune and it's not by living a consumption lifestyle.

So, let's give the 99 percent a hand up by helping them go through life debt free. This starts by eliminating the access to cheap and easy credit for the masses.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Frank Talk On Bank Squawk

The North American banking collective is an ingenious marketeer.  Its members have spent the last generation offering cozy little advertising campaigns featuring toothy, neatly coiffed individuals thoroughly enjoying their banking experience. Those who greet us behind desks and counters at banks now often look like us, dress like us, and act like us.  The banks have done an A+ job at convincing us that they are our friends.

How else could you explain the palpable outrage expressed when some banks recently raised service fees by a few dollars/month?  Friends don't screw over friends this way, hence the squawking.   When insurance companies increase rates by much more significant amounts, there isn't a reflex to publicly condemn them.  The difference of course is conventional wisdom dictates that insurance companies are scoundrelly scum who won't pass up an opportunity to bend us over.  We expect this from those who are not our friends unlike the swell folks down at the bank.

The simple truth is, clever marketing aside, the banks are not our friends.  They are in the money lending and subsequent interest levying business.  Most of use will, at one time or another, require funds from a bank.  The most common requirement would be a mortgage to purchase a home or other property.  As long as we jump through a few hoops, the bank will be more than happy to oblige.  Of course, for every dollar we borrow from the bank, something greater than a dollar is owed back.   If ever there was a simpler business model, I've yet to hear it. What's even more brilliant is that the money the banks lend to us is, you guessed it, our money that they hold as account deposits.

It's fruitless to fret about how the banks conduct their business.  They are heavily regulated in this part of the world.  But your uncle, your neighbor and I can participate in these phenomenal businesses simply by owning them.  No, you can't start a bank, but most of them (and all of the good ones) are public companies meaning almost anyone can own a share of them.  In any 10-year period over the last century the average annualized return on North American banks has been greater than 14%.  It's hard not to be impressed and that rate sure beats the snot out of the near-zero return you get by being the banks' customer, rather than a shareholder, doesn't it?  Perhaps the most sublime aspect of the banking business is that you and I can own a piece.

So give up complaining about alleged corporate misconduct, rallying against the new 60-story glass tower, or protesting about a $5 service fee increase.  Raging against the machine gets you nowhere.  If you can't beat 'em, own 'em.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Chickens Roost For Europe's PIGS

I like to believe I've had a full and productive work life, thus far. Excluding paper routes, I took my first real job in the summer of grade nine. While in high school and college, I always worked weekends, and/or evenings, and summers.  Since then, I've worked continually for 20+ years.

I'm not expecting anyone's praise for this, as it's a fairly standard work ethic among my peers and I.  Imagine my bemusement then when I started my career to learn that many on the other side of the pond seeking a similar socioeconomic status do not share this ethic.   How could workers doing less, having shorter work weeks, enjoying midday "naps", taking longer vacations expect the same outcome (if not more) than the average North American Joe and Jane?

The answer, of course, is they cannot.  Well, more correctly, they could expect it, but it's folly to think they'll achieve it over the long term.  There's no free lunch.  Lay in the bed you've made.  Reap what you sow. Insert your favorite idiom or adage here, for in Europe, entire economies have been founded upon the fallacy that wealth and prosperity can be multiplied by dividing it.

The countries that stand to lose the most from decades of unreasonably generous worker rights and welfare-state-like giant social safety nets are the so called PIIGS; namely Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain and if the acronym is offensive, might I suggest GIPSI?

Telling the average European over the last generation that we, on this side of the Atlantic, have worked forty-hour weeks with a meager two-week annual vacation would be akin to telling him that you thought the Earth was flat; that is, you'd be looked at as if you were crazy. Debt burden with yawning fiscal deficits, the economies of the PIIGS (and the club is by no means exclusively to these 5 countries) are broken with no painless fixes in sight.

It may have taken the US sub-prime mortgage fiasco to foster Europe's unraveling, but the clock had been ticking for a generation or more and the chickens would have come home to roost eventually.  A continent cannot take the month of August off on vacation and expect to keep up with the rest of the planet in terms of productivity.  High costs, weak competitiveness, and a distorted labor market all led to Europe's undoing.  Sure, beleaguered politicians and those who bow to them shuffling decimal points and zeroes around on paper may have kept all the balls in the air, but those days are now over.

I, like you, have heard all of the pundits' solutions trumpeted to fix Europe: austerity measures, defaults, dissolving the Eurozone, Chinese intervention. None of the remedies will be palatable for Europeans and whichever reforms are implemented will need to be comprehensive, pervasive, protracted, and reach deep into the pockets of all those affected. But it's time for Europeans to swallow whatever bitter pills will cure them. Now is not the time for arrogant pride.  Hubris sank the titanic, not an iceberg.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Smokers' Last Drag?

I recall reading in the early 90's that twenty years on, smoking in public would be viewed with as much indignation as urinating in public.   That day couldn't come soon enough for me.  While we are today further along the path to a smoke-free utopia, we still have a long way to go in educating the ignoramuses who are arrogant about their habit in public.

I've tried cigarettes twice in my life.  Once when I was 4, I stole a puff from a smoldering cigarette in a shoe store while my mother's back was turned.   And again in my 20's at a party.  But I've probably sucked in more than my fair share of second hand smoke.  It amazes me to see old college photos from a mere twenty years ago taken at a restaurant, bar or at some house party.  Yes, the scattered beer bottles are omnipresent, but so are the cigarettes and smokers.  In many of these images a visible haze hangs over the people in the photo like a fog.  That was our world a short quarter-century ago.  I suspect that the same photo taken today would still feature the ubiquitous beer bottles, but the smokers would be gone, banished to the great outdoors, which always amuses me on a frigid February morning.  And therein lies the problem.

I'm not going to lecture smokers on the health implications, impotence, rotten breath, and yellow teeth and fingers; they've heard/read it all before, so blaze on. Most of the smokers that I know are aware that the non-smoking majority are not particularly keen on absorbing a lung full of carcinogens and are therefore respectful about smoking in public in close proximity to us. But to the others, must you crowd around the entrances of every shopping mall, hotel, arena, and restaurant forcing the nasty residue of your addiction upon children?

This weekend, our family and friends will make the annual pilgrimage to our Santa Claus parade. I'm sure this year will be no different with a disturbing number of chain smokers scattered throughout the dense crowd seemingly oblivious to the throngs of children that line the route or, more likely, too arrogant to care.

Yes, that day will come when puffing away in public will be viewed with the same scorn as smoking on an airplane or in a hospital is today.  Until then, however, municipal governments need to enact and enforce bylaws to protect our majority in outdoor public places.  Unfortunately dirty looks just aren't enough.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Jehovah's Witness Protection Program

Despite a discreet, but clear sign stating, "No Soliciting, Please" at our doorway, we still entertain a regular flow of kooks, charlatans and know-nothings who come a knockin' trying to offload their crap.

I will preface this piece by stating that I have nothing against anyone's religious preference, political affiliations, or desire to sell their "must have" goodies and services.  I do, however, take exception to the door-to-door manner they've chosen to promote their causes.

The typical nuisances and how to avoid and dissuade, in no particular order:

-Kids selling chocolates.  I have a soft spot for kids and another for yummy chocolate, but parents...really?  Letting Junior go door-to-door is no longer appropriate or advised.  I'll never buy poisons from kids at the door simply because it encourages the practice.  And if the parent is in tow, they can expect an earful. Tsk-tsk!

-Politicians.  In the social media driven internet age, neighborhood-canvassing politicians are irksome. We don't trust them handling and kissing our babies anymore and their time would be better spent on Facebook or Twitter.  Telling them that you are housesitting and don't live in the riding is the simplest way to have them quickly shove off.  If, however, you've got time to kill and want to ruin their day, invite them in, show them everything that's wrong with your house, your yard, your neighbors, your world.  You'll be doing mankind a favor by encouraging these politicos to stay home or to visit a soup kitchen for their shameless photo ops.

-Religious Zealots.  I've assumed that the Jehovah's Witnesses ignore our "No Soliciting" sign because they really don't think they are selling anything.  Nothing could be further from the truth, in my opinion.  Again, I respect others' religious preferences, but the promotion of religious dogma under the guise of altruism should always raise suspicion.  Unlike the politicians above, inviting JWs into your home to debate ideologies is always a sure way to get them to return, so don't unless you're old and lonely and craving propaganda heavily cloaked as companionship. Assuming you don't want to go as far as the cunning stunt pictured below, a polite sigh followed by "We're not interested" will almost always do the trick.  Remember that they have hundreds of doors to knock upon and if they quickly conclude that they can't get their foot into yours, they won't waste their time.

-Charities.  The old "I gave at the office" excuse is getting a little tired.  I prefer to simply explain that with so many fraudulent charity scams out there, I don't make donations at my doorstep.  This is 100% accurate. True, it may sound like the banter of a parsimonious tightwad, but I'm affirmed by the knowledge that my family does give appropriately to legitimate charities where no cash changes hands and genuine, legible receipts are issued.

-Home Renovations.  They're perhaps the easiest to avoid.  Before the salesperson can launch into their spiel, I explain that I'm just a renter and they'd have to speak to the landlord.  While most likely know this is nonsense, they're always too befuddled to counter with anything persuasive.  After all, a tenant has no power to approve renovations, water heater contracts, or lawn maintenance for his rented domicile.  Charming.

My wife insists that the remedy for all of the above is to simply not answer the door.  I think that's a tad rude and besides, I relish matching wits with those who have been trained to not take "No" for an answer.

One of the greatest anti-irritant innovations of our time was the No Call Registry.  Way to go, government! After registering online, home renovation calls, telephone solicitations for magazines, invitations to time-share seminars, and all the other dinnertime bandit blather stopped virtually overnight in our home.  What's needed is the same protocol to vanquish the door-to-door dufi.  A simple certified sign or sticker issued by some government agency that would legally dissuade any would-be knocker from even thinking about it would suffice.

Our homes are our castles.  We could use the protection.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Florida Causes Arthritis

Many old folks live in Florida.  Many old folks have Arthritis.  Therefore, living in Florida causes Arthritis.

While I'm certain that anyone reading this claim could easily poke holes in the logic, I'm not convinced that we apply the same rigor to all the other assertions we are bombarded with on a daily basis. 

Today's claim indicated that women drinking 3 - 6 alcoholic beverages/week raise their risk of breast cancer by a statistically significant amount.  And just yesterday I read that sending toddlers to daycare could retard development of their brains.

In our Twitter-fed world, where everyone expects the universe to be explained in 140 characters or less, this kind of "science" is rapidly becoming a replacement for the real thing.

What's missing, of course, from these types of assertions is the rest of the story.  No person with even a rudimentary understanding of the scientific method would accept as fact that Florida could cause arthritis. So then, why are we so quick to jump on the bandwagons of other dubious claims?   Does moderate consumption of alcohol really increase a woman's risk of breast cancer?  Maybe, but other factors would need to be considered and without that scrutiny the claim belongs to the realm of junk science.  Someone who regularly consumes alcohol may be more likely to lead a lifestyle rife with other cancer causing factors; smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet, etc..  Without due consideration given to these other factors in the same study, the conclusion becomes suspect and flawed.

An inevitable corollory to the ease of access to information in our age is the ease of access to poor conclusions based on pseudo-science conveniently bundled up into a palatable tweet.  A proper study needs to include randomized trials, blinding, and cohort comparison all subject to review and repitition by peers.  We'd do well to remember this rather than gulping down the latest fad claim on the internet.

"Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive but what they conceal is vital."~Aaron Levenstein

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Hometown

I was born at the hospital ten minutes from where I write this. Half of my children were born there too. Every day I travel the same familiar streets of my youth and other than a short stint away at college, I have lived in my hometown all my life.

Maybe that makes me a bit of an old school flake to some, but I don't see it that way. There's something comforting that comes with knowing where the best barbershop is, who can change my oil and rotate my tires on my lunch hour, where I can park for free downtown, or how to quickly detour around traffic.

Many friends from my youth have long since vanished from here. But I still see many who have disparaged our city back at our shopping malls on weekends, on our sports fields in the evenings, and travelling our roads on their way to and from work. Hometowns are funny that way; you're never gone for long.

When I was younger, opportunities to leave this place were common, but I never did and never will. I love my hometown. It fits me like a glove.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pollyanna Goes Shopping

I'm three-for-three this week at the grocery store checkout.  I've been there three times and all three times some mumsy in line ahead of me disputed a price.  I know it's not the greatest issue of our time and these things happen, but is it always me?  I've never tracked the stats and my evidence is purely anecdotal, but I'd bet good money that of the 1000 times I've been at a checkout in my life, well over half of those times there's been some sort of discord ahead of me in the line.

Who here looks like they may have an issue or two?

I've even went so far as to switch lines when the dispute became protracted only to (you guessed it) wind up with a dispute in the new line.  And then the original line starts to move in such an orderly fashion that those who were behind me in the line are checking out before me.  Is some higher being punishing me for my impatience or just getting a good laugh at my expense?

I'm beginning to think that I could be blindfolded, brought to some foreign country, to some unfamiliar store, load up on some random items, line up at some random checkout and STILL end up with some contentious issue in front of me that would eat into my day.

I've always assumed that this was just the way it is.  But then it occurred to me that if this is happening 50% of the time, why am I never the cause?  I've never had to dispute a price, never tried to pay with counterfeit currency, never had my card declined, never forgot my PIN,  never had an expired coupon, or never spent 90 seconds rifling through my pockets for exact change.  I'm not that guy.  So if you're part of the 50%, what's your issue?

I'm not sure who's usually at fault, but I suspect it's you.   And what's particularly irksome is the carefree and cavalier attitude you have while "bottlenecking" a lineup.  Those behind you in line have lives to lead and want to get on with their days without the extra crapola.

During the most recent occurrence, Junior behind the till actually left his post to go check a block of cheese that the consumer swore was 50 cents cheaper than the price that "rang up" on the electronic tally.  Minutes elapsed.  I quickly did the math.  If you value your time at $20/hour, is it really worth waiting five minutes to save 50 cents?  No, it's not even close.

Here are some more timeless tips for gladsome grocery shoppers:

No sampling or snacking while shopping.  That's just tacky.  This includes items you intend to pay for later.

Don't thumb through the tabloids or your favorite lurid picture-book at the checkout while you should be loading your goods on the conveyor.  The library is down the street.

May I help the next person in line?  When a new till opens up and the clerk offers to help the next person in line, they mean just that.  The next person in the queue will be the one who has been waiting the longest, so it's only just that they are next to be served.  In my experience this rarely happens.  More often than not, some ill-mannered type at the back of the line runs up to the newly opened till to be served.   Look up "discourteous" in the dictionary and you're apt to find a picture of these oafish types.  Don't look for these boors for help if the building ever catches on fire; they'll trample geriatrics and young children to get out first.

Stay out of the express aisle if you have more than the stated number of items.  The sign is posted for a reason; it's troubling that it's largely ignored.

Don't pull your vehicle up along side the fire route adjacent to the store to facilitate the transfer of your goods from cart to car.  Your cart has wheels to make your life easier and the exercise won't kill you.

Carts go back to the designated areas.  Don't leave them beside your vehicle or in the empty parking spot next to you to get windswept into the side of some poor bastard's car.  Getting them back to the general vicinity of the designated area isn't good enough either and there is no special dispensation given when it happens to be raining, snowing, windy, or past your bedtime.

Do your part, good citizens.

Monday, October 17, 2011

An Anarchist By Any Other Name Would Still Stink The Same

Lately I've been occupied with the Occupy movement that has swept across North America and Europe.  From what I've gathered from their incoherent hodge-podge of arguments, I've concluded that the collective is simply disenchanted with their prospects in life.

I wonder how many of these "occupiers" bothered to vote in their last election or would even consider the democratic process as a means to exact the change they seek?

"...a cacophony of random rhetoric blather..."

Don't be fooled.  This is nothing more than another group of anarchists, their enablers, interlopers, and hangers-on who want something, but don't feel particularly compelled to work for it.

Demands posted on a website mention irrelevant arguments about better bank lending practices and prosecution of corrupt corporate fraudsters.  These "fixes" from the last economic meltdown are already in place.  Yes, it may still seem unjust that the CEO of Bank X earns 100 times more than the employees, but that's called supply and demand; something leftists and children don't comprehend.  Moreover, what do CEOs' compensations have to do with anyone else's lot in life?  Has a disproportionate increase in CEOs' earnings ever prevented anyone from carving out a life for themselves?  Of course not.  It's just a talking point and fodder for a group that isn't quite sure of what their goal actually is.

Other demands include:  better health care, employment, education, immigration, racial and gender equality, or in other words, the same things "the people" have sought for generations.   These changes, when sought by the majority, have occurred and will continue to do so through the democratic process.  Yes indeed, in the same democracies that afford these malcontents the opportunity to "occupy" in the first place.

These demands should be tabled and lobbied for in Washington, not on our downtown streets.  Preventing us from getting to work while subjecting us to a cacophony of random rhetoric blather does nothing for anyone's "cause".

I suspect that the only winds of change upcoming for the occupiers are winter's chill.  Grounding them once and for all, at home, snug in their beds, asleep 'til noon, while the real 99% remain hard at it.