Monday, April 30, 2012

The EU Method

The European Union took a break from matters regarding its impending doom to focus on what's really important.  Hairdressers.

It appears that a new set of rules drummed up by some Brussels bureaucrats will ban high heels and jewelry in the workplace, require non-slip soles on footwear, and implement the use of elbow-length gloves while shampooing.

All in the name of health and safety, you declare? I doubt it. I wouldn't let anyone near me wearing elbow-length gloves. The mixed message is just too alarming to overlook. It's a wonder that electric hairdryers and scissors haven't also been banned.

What's more is salon owners are being told not to let hairdressers do too many haircuts in one day to prevent "emotional collapses" and workers must be given time during the day for "social dialog", which is fancy terminology for gossip.

The EU Method: micromanage, enforce, repeat.
Understandably, the average hair salon employee is against the oppressive rules. It's a shame they can't use their scissors to cut through some of the red tape currently ensnaring the continent.

Europe will continue to employ agencies to look after agencies that look after everything in the nanny state.  Perhaps a little less micromanaging by EU politicos would allow it to climb out of the pit it has fallen into.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Moving Towards a Walletless Future

Any time I leave the house, I go through the same ritual in my head. Do I have my keys, my smartphone, my wallet?

I'll admit that my wallet has become somewhat of an albatross and while there is seldom any cash in it, it has grown to a size where friends and co-workers in the know refer to it as the "Costanza wallet" from Seinfeld lore.

It has occurred to me that most of the stuff we cart around in our wallets could easily be replaced by the now ubiquitous smartphones that we all have attached to our hips and that day couldn't come soon enough.

Try the exercise as I have by dumping out the contents of your wallet and think of a reason why anything that pours out of it could not be replaced by some utility or app on your smartphone. Cash aside, 90% of the remaining contents of your wallet are likely credit cards, debit cards, licenses, memberships, reward program cards, etc..  I have so much plastic in my wallet that a HazMat team would need to be dispatched if it ever caught fire.

The days of mobile payments are upon us. Payments by smartphone at checkouts will replace credit cards in much the same way that credit cards replaced cash (or at least acted as a substitute for those with none). It's worth noting that most people are fiddling with their smartphones while waiting at the checkout, anyway so this would simply be a logical progression.  Hopefully, government bureaucrats will follow suit, allowing everything from library cards to driver's licenses to be replaced by the security, simplicity and privacy afforded by our smartphones. The god-like technology that has replaced our wristwatches, photo albums, home phones, GPS devices, calendars, calculators, and cameras should be able to easily conquer our wallets and purses, as well.

Perhaps the only item in a wallet that a smartphone can't replace is that thing we were warned as schoolboys never to carry in our wallets, anyway and if the reference confounds you, hopefully the lyrics from this song by The Extras will jog your memory.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Gloves Won't Come Off

When it comes to North Korea, America will continue to tread lightly, not because it has to, but because it must.

The hermit regime continues to get away with long range missile launches, nuclear tests, and provocations against peaceful neighbors. If these bellicose actions were attempted by any other nation on the planet, they would be countered with swift military intervention by the US and its like-minded friends.

Yet the punishment for North Korea only seems to amount to harsh criticism and ineffective sanctions. Most seem to get that the criticism is never taken seriously in North Korea and that the sanctions don't work because you can't take away from a nation that already has next to nothing, but what many do not seem to comprehend, however, is why the next logical step in the progressive discipline of the regime; that of military action, will never occur.

To appreciate why, you would need to understand the relationship between North Korea and China. Yes, both communist and loose allies, but more importantly, the land mass of North Korea provides a huge buffer between South Korea and China. When North Korea invaded the South in 1950, China did not intervene until the U.N. began to overwhelm the North. The consensus among the Chinese was that military operations against North Korea would continue into Chinese territory to prevent the North from being resupplied. So, as long as there is communist vs democratic competing ideologies in our world, there will be a North Korea, existing solely to deter the use of South Korea as a staging area for a land invasion of China.  The Chinese can no more tolerate a US controlled North Korea than the US could tolerate a Russian controlled Canada.

So it will not matter how many rockets the North Koreans launch, how many underground atomic bombs they detonate, how many millions of people they starve, or which overfed heir is installed to continue the legacy because the pugnacious regime will continue to walk around with a chip on its shoulder that we wouldn't dare knock off.

Monday, April 09, 2012

"Let it Ride!!"

There are perhaps fewer sights more depressing than a line-up of people, thousands of bodies long, some with sleeping children in their arms, waiting for 2+ hours to buy...lottery tickets.

Such was the case last week during the Mega-Millions mayhem that gripped America as the jackpot swelled to a record $656 million. Lines of people wrapped around buildings and out into parking lots as it seemed like everyone was a willing participate in this “voluntary taxation”.

Losers...Figuratively, Literally, or Both?

The How-To-Govern 101 textbook presumably indicates that there are 4 vices for which the masses will always pony up: booze, butts, pornography, and the lottery, regardless of how dire times are.

I like to gamble as I’ve always considered it a provocative form of entertainment, but I'm more of a coincidental gambler. I don't ever seek out casinos, but may venture into one while on vacation or away on business. So, I’m that guy at the tables twice a year that loses $25 in less than 30 minutes (sometimes much less than 30 minutes) and leaves. Truth be told, however, I find it much more entertaining watching others at the casino than actually gambling. Those with their “systems”, idiosyncrasies, and superstitious rituals all designed to make sure they come out ahead.

The sad fact of the matter, though, is that gambling implemented to aid governments as willing participants entertained themselves for an hour or two has regressed into jurisdictions addicted to the proceeds and most willing participants are those who can least afford it and will rarely come out ahead. To this point, I wasn’t shocked to read that one of the supposed winners of last week's Mega-Millions jackpot was a single mother of 7, who was working at McDonalds. How she could justify committing any funds to gambling wasn’t disclosed in the story.

Children locked in cars in parking lots while “parents” indulge, morbidly obese seniors lapping over the seats of their mobility scooters blowing Social Security proceeds, and the chronically unemployed waging their welfare benefits because they’re all feeling lucky are now all too common at the strip mall casinos.

And let us not forget about the crime. I sure no one would be surprised to learn that gambling attracts a criminal element, but it’s likely more extensive than you’d think. In the years after casinos opened in Atlantic City, the area went from having the 50th highest per capita crime rate to number 1. Pennsylvania, which only opened its first casino in 2006, recently surpassed New Jersey, becoming the second-largest casino market in the country pulling in a record $233 million in gross slot machine revenue last MONTH!!! This prompted Spectrum Gaming Group senior VP, Joe Weinert to comment, “Virtually every jurisdiction in the country would kill for that kind of growth.” He did not state whether or not his ironic use of the verb “kill” was intentional or not.

The often promised secondary economic impact from legalized gambling never seems to materialize. As glitzy as Atlantic City casinos have become, no one actually lives in the city and non-gaming areas of town are rife with boarded-up buildings and vacant lots.

What any jurisdiction puts into its right pocket from the proceeds of gaming will certainly be paid out tenfold from its left as the social safety net continues to expand in order to “catch” all those for which gambling has become a way of life and the others who are indirectly affected by it. It’s a racket, not an economic development tool and it’s sad that governments’ stand on the matter seems to be to “Let it ride!!”

Monday, April 02, 2012

Boys Will (still) Be Boys

They’ve started building in the wooded lot at the end of our street.  Apparently, 20+ new homes are being constructed.  When I was a 9 year-old boy, this would have been cause for much unbridled jubilation among my peers and I. Not the new houses, but the fact that there would be a giant, dirty, often muddy, crater-pitted, mountainous tract of land on which we could indulge in war, hide-and-seek, fort building, and other hijinks during the weekends and summers of our formative years.

That was then.  This is now. I don’t think our son has even noticed the construction, much less ventured down for a look-see. What kind of New World Order is this? 

 Is this a relic from a bygone era?

I spent most of my pre-teen years on a bike, going places I have not since ventured. Getting in and out of trouble was a big part of that. Not serious trouble, but the kind kids regularly find themselves in. My friends and I would usually be out of the house on a summer's day well before 8am, returning only as the sun was setting, usually blackened, minds afire dreaming about tomorrow's adventures. 

This wouldn't happen today.  Researchers say that a group of kids brought together will no longer spontaneously play, but rather wait for instructions on what to (or how to) play from the grown-ups.  No doubt, this is a consequence of helicopter parenting, where kids don't go anywhere without a parent hovering close by. One could safely assume that the fear of abduction is the main reason why a child can no longer leave his backyard or driveway without adult supervision. Statistically speaking, however, your child is at no greater risk for abduction by a stranger today than they were 50 years ago. Of course, with Amber Alerts constantly in our face, you'd be forgiven if you thought otherwise.

I don't know exactly why our streets are no longer filled with kids on bikes, why every patch of grass doesn't lend itself to a soccer match or baseball game, or why hiding in the bushes while others try to find you on a summer's evening no longer appeals to the young, but I do know that every generation tends to shun that which was popular when their parents were children. We did the same and were sternly warned that we wouldn't amount to much. The fact that many of us actually did gives me reason to hope that it's not the end of the world for my son, either.