Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How much is too much?

Yesterday my friend Joe Hagy, aka "Cranky Old Man", posted about all the things he didn't have as a kid growing up in the 1950's....things like color TV, Netflix, cell phones, FM radio, air conditioning, a car with power windows and lane departure warning, etc, mainly because those things hadn't been invented yet.  I grew up without those things, too, and we were still happy as could be.  Today we have two of everything, and lament the fact that we don't have three of everything like our neighbors, the Jones's.  'Merica!

Six years ago we sold our 3500+ square foot home and moved into a two bed / two bath apartment.  It was supposed to only be for a year until I could find a suitable lot and build us a home more appropriate for two people.  It turned out I / we liked the maintenance-free apartment lifestyle.  It didn't take long, however, for that second bedroom to turn into our catch-all / junk room, so after another "stuff purging" we downsized again into a smaller but nicer one bedroom.

Now here we are about to downsize again.  This time it was prompted by the fact that the $10 BILLION dollars worth of new construction going up within a mile radius of us, and the 8,000 new permanent jobs that will come with it, are making our little utopia a congested nightmare.  Plus, management seems to think that our community is now worth its weight in gold.  It isn't.

Last week we went through every box, every cabinet and drawer, every closet and nook and cranny, and simplified once more.  What we've found is that if you downsize in steps, it's much easier to accept.

We've gone in six years from one huge rolltop desk to two smaller desks, and shortly to just one.  Much of our furniture, none of which held any sentimental value, was given away to family and friends, sold on Craig's List, or put into storage for later use, except "later" never came.

We decided we didn't need that extra blender, or the food processor, pressure cooker, or the toaster oven that we only used twice to melt cheese on open faced roast beef sandwiches.  Ditto for the two extra coffee makers that were made obsolete (according to my wife) by the new model that George Clooney was hawking on TV, the extra set of cookware and dishes and drawer full of dull knives, and all those old towels that two people will never, ever need. 

Most of our books long ago gave way to Kindles, and a Bose radio brings us magnificent sounds that belie its tiny size.  I also finally gave up hope that all those pairs of jeans I saved that "shrank" in the dryer will ever somehow stretch back enough to fit my 2016 waistline.  And as much as I've cut back, K has cut back even more.  :)

This time we're giving up about 200 square feet, but because it's arranged much better, and without any long hallways, I think it will actually live larger.  Plus we'll now have an on-site dog park, a "pet grooming station", and a gym with actual instructors.  (And you know how much I love exercise....I could sit and watch it for hours!)

So how many more downsizes are there in us?  Where will this all end?  Maybe....  

Umm, probably not.  Looks like a lot of maintenance.   How about....

....the Ultimate Woodie?  No?  OK, I have it....


Monday, May 9, 2016

The Donald....idiot or savant?

Donald Trump will be on the Presidential ballot this November, fact.  Many people love him, while many loathe him. Many people think he's brilliant, while many others think he's an idiot.  I'm one of those who likes many of the topics he brings up, but don't understand how he gets away with saying what he does without telling us HOW he's going to do it. 

After considerable thought, though, I've come down on the side of those who think he's brilliant.  Think about it....due to his show biz background he knows exactly how to get the attention and support of the "30 second sound bite" generation.  It's straight from Marketing 101:  "Sell the sizzle, not the steak."   

Or to use another foodie metaphor, people today don't want to know how to bake a cake, all they want is to lick the icing off it.

But credit where credit is due, he and Bernie Sanders are right about one thing: "the system" is broken.  House Speaker Ryan said he is not ready to support Trump until/unless The Donald comes around to supporting the traditional (orthodox conservative) Republican Party agenda.  Trump says he doesn't need Ryan's support as "the people", based on the ballots they've cast, are who he answers to.  

Ummm...yeah. I suppose that's the way it works, or at least the way it's supposed to work.  Ryan seems to represent the tail trying to wag the dog.

I recently saw former Speaker Newt Gingrich on the tube talking about one of Trump's vanquished competitors (Graham?  Rubio?...can't remember) who has publicly stated he would not support Trump's candidacy.  Newt said shame on him, he owed it to the party to fall in line.

So the candidate and the card-carrying party members are just supposed to do whatever "the party" says?

This reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live skit....

    Customer:  "I'll have a hamburger, fries, and a Coke, please."

    Burger flipper:  "NO!  Cheeburger, chip, Pepsi."   

I'm very confused....do the people owe something to the party, or is the party, either party, just a support mechanism for the people's will?  


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I think I nailed it....

....and I'm not exactly happy about it.

I've been saying for quite a while now that income inequality is the most important issue of our time.  I'm not looking at this on a micro level, liberal vs conservative, Democrat vs Republican.  This is more than "the 1% are greedy" or "the losers won't work".

Here's what we should IMO take away from this on a macro level this election season:  When enough people feel like they have hit bottom, that they have nothing left to lose, they will revolt.  They're now revolting, and it's real, if not (for now) violent.  I'm not saying the revolt is justified, or is right or wrong.  I'm just saying it's REAL.

Donald Trump is appealing to more than enough people to win the Republican nomination for President. He's talking about stopping American companies from laying off American workers and moving overseas, and about bringing good jobs back to America.  These are issues the down-and-out masses are concerned about.

Bernie Sanders is appealing to (almost) enough people to win the Democratic nomination for President.  I doubt Hillary Clinton, the old school legacy politician, is sleeping well at night.  Bernie is talking about our rigged economic system/tax system, our much-too-powerful financial interests, and, yes, income inequality.  These are issues the down-and-out masses are concerned about.

Can you imagine our bankers and our titans of uber-capitalism rooting for a Hillary victory this November?  Unlikely as it might seem, she might be their best hope.  

Today the revolt is polite.  Enough people are fed up with the status quo and are demanding a better deal.  They are making themselves heard...loudly...at the ballot box.  Unless the masses see their lives getting better soon, tomorrow's revolt might be more aggressive, dare I say even violent.

I nailed it.  I predicted this, but I'm honestly not happy about my insightful prognostication. I'm scared shitless, both for America and the larger world.


Monday, May 2, 2016

We want it all, but we just don't want to pay for it. It's called "denial".

Does the Tea Party....oops, I mean the "Freedom Party"....know how to say anything besides "cut taxes"?  That's their mantra....CUT TAXES!  I'm tired of hearing them say it because they obviously haven't thought things all the way through.  I'm all for cutting taxes if....IF....all of our essential services have been properly funded, but they HAVEN'T been. (Of course the term "essential services" is open to interpretation.)

Here's an example:  our crumbling roads and bridges.  Pres. Eisenhower proposed the Interstate Highway System back in the 1950's, and by the 1970's much of it was in place, and interstate commerce has since benefited greatly.  

Without a top-notch transportation infrastructure Walmart, Costco, Home Depot and all the other big retailers couldn't economically stock their shelves, and the Amazon phenomenon might not have been possible, either.  Yes, even high tech internet businesses ultimately rely on good 'ol asphalt and concrete roads to deliver their goods.  But by all accounts our roads and bridges are in dire need of maintenance and/or replacement, and the money isn't there to do either.


At one time our air our traffic control system and our airports were the envy of the world.  That's no longer true.  We still have a few world-class airports, but most are fairly decrepit, and our air traffic control system is *I should whisper this to avoid panic* on the precipice of being downright dangerous!


We don't fund our schools properly.  Local school boards are loath to propose tax increases....that's a sure-fire way to get voted out of office.  Instead they postpone maintenance and new school construction, preferring instead to just bring in cheap, energy inefficient portable buildings.  Teachers almost universally have to spend money from their own pockets to buy classroom supplies their districts won't provide, and local PTA's must have carnivals and bake sales to help their schools make ends meet.  That's shameful!


I'm a big proponent of police "body cams".  Our police are under attack, both literally and figuratively, and they're often accused of being heavy handed.  Sometimes they are, but sometimes they are just accused of being too rough when they are in fact justified.  Body cameras would go a long way to establishing the truth, but most police departments will tell you they can't afford to buy them.  Wouldn't this be a good use of taxpayer money?  The Tea Party might nod their collective heads "yes", but they never seem to be willing to cough up the cash.  

"CUT TAXES!" is all they know how to say.

Much of our needed additional funding can no doubt be paid for by eliminating "waste, fraud, and inefficiency", another popular phrase that all politicians talk about, but never seem to deliver on.  (That's another topic I will write about later.)

For now, please spare me the bullshit of preaching "tax cuts".  Let's talk about that when we have our house in order, and right now we aren't even close.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Pssst, buddy. Want a great deal? Huh?

I get tickled every time I see a certain home improvement referral service advertised on TV.  They tout how they do all the vetting for you and can without hesitation say their select tradesmen are the best...AND THEIR REFERRAL SERVICE IS ALWAYS FREE!  

Free, huh?  So who is paying for all those TV ads that air every 10 minutes?

Here's the truth:  In virtually* every transaction, only ONE participant is paying money....the buyer.  The seller is receiving money.  No doubt the service provider is paying the referral service a fee, which is rolled into the price they are quoting you.  YOU are paying for the referral service, I don't care what the ad says.  It is NOT free!

The same for an electric service provider in my area who advertises "free night and weekend electricity" for people who sign up for this special program.  My advice:  Quietly back yourself into a corner and hold on to your wallet.  They just coincidentally fail to mention that the per-kilowat-hour-price for the hours they DO charge for is twice as high as their normal rate.

How about the furniture company who says if you buy this weekend they will pay your sales tax!  Sweet, huh?  And people no doubt camp out all night in order to be the first in line to get cheap furniture while the retailer PAYS the sales tax for them.

Remember, only one party in a transaction is PAYING....the buyer.  Anything the seller is "giving" you for free or "paying for" on your behalf is figured back into the deal as a "cost of doing business", just like rent and insurance and payroll.

I have a challenge for medical science:  Will someone please look into this phenomenon and figure out what happened to our common sense gene?  I'm pretty sure we all used to have one, but for some reason most of us have lost ours.

*  The exception to the "only the buyer pays in a transaction" statement is a true distress sale, and they are rare.  The perpetual "going out of business" sale does not qualify.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Screwed again!

I think Donald Trump has stumbled on to something.  His current heartburn is that, according to him, he's getting screwed out of his rightful Republican presidential nomination.  Practically speaking, he's right.  Technically speaking, he just got snookered.

The Donald is pissed because he has won the popular vote hands down, yet because of the way each state Republican Party writes their rules...and they are all different...they can award him fewer convention delegates than his popular vote count would suggest he should receive. 

Ted Cruz, evil as I believe him to be, is NOT stupid.  He knows how to play the game to get what he wants.  And it's this corrupt game that Donald Trump has exposed.

Us common folks have naively believed until now that the majority ruled, that our elections were based on "one man, one vote".  But now we find out that party nominating processes are not "elections" in the proper, legal sense, but are just a game a bunch of powerful, rich (mostly white) guys play to further feather their nests.  They can legally do this because they say the state primaries/caucuses/conventions are NOT elections.  The rules of fair play only apply to the official election on the second Tuesday in November.  Donald Trump obviously didn't read that memo.

They will NOT give us a candidate we want*, but only the one they want us to haveTrump has exposed how the Republicans operate, but the Democrats no doubt have things rigged, too.  (Do "Super Delegates" sound fair to you?  It's just their way of denying The People's Candidate if they feel they can't control him/her.)

So why can't we just tell both parties to go f--k themselves and then nominate someone as a third party candidate who will truly represent us?  Because again, they have rigged the system and made it virtually impossible for a third party candidate to get their name on the ballot in all 50 states.  They have a monopoly, and they intend to keep it that way.  All the hoops a third party candidate would have to jump through, with each state (controlled by one or the other of the established parties) setting their own rules, is by their design impossibly Byzantine.

The parties only want to nominate candidates they feel are "one of them".  But this year, thanks to Donald Trump and to a lesser extent Bernie Sanders, outsiders are threatening their privileged positions, and both parties are out of desperation exposing their sly little built-in "fail safes".

Our Founding Fathers are no doubt looking down on us and thinking all their brilliant work is now officially down the drain.  And they would be right!


* Hypothetically speaking.  I am in no way intending to endorse Donald Trump.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter everyone

 We all seem to "talk the talk" on Easter,
now let's try "walking the walk" the rest of the year.