Monday, September 24, 2012

Stupor Size Me

Nothing speaks louder to the infantilization of America than NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent proposal to ban large-sized sugary soft drinks within the city.
Last week, the Board of Health in the city voted unanimously to approve Bloomberg’s ban on drinks greater than 16 ounces. While the endocrinologists stood up and cheered, John and Jane Q. Public were not amused, with polls showing that over 60% of individuals opposed  the ban.
So how big is too big and how much is too much? When McDonald’s first introduced Coke with meals in 1955, the size was a mere 7 oz. Today a kiddie sized drink at Mick-dick’s is 12 oz.  And while the current largest drink at McDonald’s tops out at 32 oz. other fine establishments offer beverage sizes that are more than twice that large, contain over half a pound of sugar and provide nearly half the entire daily caloric intake for an adult woman. Does this sound like the type of thing you really need to swill into yourself on your lunch break or after the big game? Half a pound of sugar!
"Start spreading the pancreas is leaving today!"

I’ve consumed a few 7-11 Double Big Gulps in my time. It was never done to quench an insatiable thirst, however, but more of a consequence of unbridled teenage swagger; the same type of brash behavior that might compel a newly minted adult to quaff down 10 beers on a Friday evening. While the danger of this practice is certainly more pronounced with alcohol, the negative implications of overdoing it on the soda are definitely evident. Childhood obesity is a phrase that has only entered our lexicon over the last generation and I’m willing to bet that the level of this obesity has risen in direct proportion with increases in super-sized drinks and other mega-portioned fast food choices. Will Bloomberg’s ban fix all of this? Of course not, but it’s a step in the right direction and puts the root of problem in the crosshairs, exactly where it belongs.
Yes, we need to preserve the right of an individual to make their own choices, but when those choices can cause harm, there is no reason why government intervention should be unwelcome. If you must, think of the soda ban as a “speed limit” on your sugar intake.
Like it or not, the ban is a good idea and perhaps the only shame here is that 60% of adults need a government nanny to make these decisions for them.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Yard Sale Detail

Yard sale season is drawing to a close. How do we know this? Well, if your neighborhood is typical of other suburban settings all across the country, every signpost at every intersection is marred with homemade signs advertising long since past sales from the summer.

There ought to be a law. What a sec...there is, or at least a by-law. Most municipalities have ordinances on the books concerning the staging of yard sales and similarly named events (garage sale, street sale, moving sale). Failing that, all municipalities do have by-laws concerning erecting, displaying, or altering signs.

In tough economic times, when city officials turn a blind eye to enforcing by-laws that could otherwise affect our ability to make ends meet, I think they deserve our praise. If 10% of your neighbors are out of work and resort to selling old clothes, VHS tapes, and Stephen King paperbacks out of their garage on a Sunday afternoon in order to put food on the table, any harassment from "the man" would indeed be unwarranted.

Who wants to look at this every morning?
The aftermath of these sales, however, should not be overlooked. Those with time enough to drive around the neighborhood taping unsightly signs to street posts and stapling gaudy flyers to trees certainly have time enough to remove and discard them after the sale.

Call me a fascist if you must, but signs that remain posted days after the sale has ended should be regarded the same way authorities view graffiti or litter. In essence, that's what it becomes once the sale has passed.

Planning a yard sale next summer? Make sure the detail regarding removal of your signage is not forgotten.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Freedom Fighters and Dictators Make Strange Bedfellows

Forgive me for looking a bit askance at Julian Assange's bid for diplomatic asylum from Ecuador.

As founder of WikiLeaks, Assange has spent half a decade pretending to represent the interests of those who embrace freedom of the press, but in reality he has done nothing more than undermine the diplomatic efforts of the West through the mass release of classified secrets from whistleblowers and anonymous sources. The world is not a better place because of Assange's deeds; it inches closer towards anarchy.

Rather than face the charges of rape of two women in Sweden, Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Enter Ecuador's repressive dictator, Raul Correa. Under the trumped up charge of labor law violations, riot police in the nation's capital raided the office of one of the country's largest magazines, Vanguardia. Publication was prohibited for a week and journalists' computers were confiscated. All of this took place mere days before Assange was granted asylum with Correa presenting his government as a champion of freedom of expression.

"Move over principles.  I've got a prison to avoid."

Does this sound like the kind or regime Assange would cozy up to when the stated goal of his precious WikiLeaks is "to bring important news and information to the public" and "one of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth"?  No, of course it doesn't.  That is unless you are trying your damnedest to avoid prosecution for your criminality. I guess then principles come a distant second.

Assange is a fraud and when the history of the world is recounted someday, he will be footnoted as nothing more than a narcissistic raping anarchist who was good with a computer.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Financial Illiterates Take Note

If Franklin was correct that an investment in education always pays the best interest, then an investment in financial education would be compounding. If the pun is lost on you, then perhaps you are part of a growing majority whose personal finance acumen is woefully lacking.

With generous company pension plans quickly going the way of the dodo, the responsibility of funding retirement is falling into the hands of individuals who are often too ill-equipped to take on the task.

The simple process of bringing the masses up to speed on personal finance should fall to our schools, but turning to educators in this matter is folly simply because those with government funded guaranteed pensions are likely not that well informed on the matter themselves.  Why would they be? If all of your meals were prepared for you, would there be any reason for you to learn to cook?

Keep It Simple
So it should surprise no one that the typical high school graduate is no longer prepared to cope in a world rife with complicated financial products that didn't exist just ten short years ago. True, you can still go through life with a savings account at a big bank, government bonds, and a traditional mortgage, but unless your plan requires you to work until you're 75, you will need to modify your approach.

If you read a book a day on personal finance for the rest of your life, you still wouldn't put a dent in the volume of information that has been written on the subject. I prefer to distill what I need to know down to one basic axiom: buy what you need, not what you want; invest any remainder in the companies that satisfy those needs.

Lather, rinse, and repeat.