Saturday, May 17, 2008

Let the punishment fit the crime.

EASTON, Pa. - Sally Ann Gombocz, 51, a former Bethlehem woman, will serve up to 23 months in prison for having her 7-year-old son dress as a Cub Scout to collect money for a nonexistent cause.
Gombocz had her son dress as a scout in 2003 and tell people he was raising money for a camping trip. A prosecutor says the family collected $69.
Gombocz was sentenced Friday to six to 23 months in the county jail. She also was fined $2,000, ordered to perform community service, take parenting classes, have psychological counseling and submit to random urine screens. She also must pay restitution.
First, 2003? Whatever happened to a speedy trial? That seems like an awful punishment for something so ridiculous. I'm thinking there's more here than meets the eye.
After all, Sally Ann wasn't doing anything more than Burger King or McDonald's does when they promote a movie for kids. They tie-in a fictional plot to some food item and encourage the kids to whine until their parents drag them into the joint for a burger and fries.
Then, in December we lie to them so that they behave themselves (allegedly) and tell them that a fat guy with a beard brings them junk that they have seen on TV and whine about until their parents buy it for them.
Whatever the method, it's big corporations using children to get their parents to part with money to make the corporations more wealthy. It sounds to me like dressing a kid as a Cub Scout and collecting 69 bucks is kind of like a parking ticket compared to the billions they drag out of us.
Now, if she had dressed the kid as a Girl Scout, maybe the urine test wouldn't be a bad idea.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Lighten up, it's Friday.

WASHINGTON - Would consumers get the same warm, fuzzy message from a drug advertisement that promised to lift their mood if it also urged them to report side effects like suicidal thoughts and diarrhea? Under a proposal regulators will consider Friday, that buyer-be-vigilant message would have to accompany the rosy messages of pharmaceutical promotions.
Aren't the side-effects already longer than the drug's benefits in those ads? I think they are. I particularly like the anti-depressant meds that advertise that the side effects include yawning and diarrhea. Isn't being depressed better than that? I think it is. I'm depressed, and I don't think yawning and the runs would make me feel better about myself.

Meanwhile, speaking of side effects...

COLUMBUS, Ohio - John McCain, looking through a crystal ball to 2013 and the end of a prospective first term, sees "spasmodic" but reduced violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden dead or captured and government spending curbed by his ready veto pen.
Oh God, in Columbus? Kimmy, do something! What a coincidence that he sees and end to the war if we give him 4 years? I'd have to do some research (egad) but I think that's the same thing that G.W. Bush said in 2004. How did that work out for us?
I did manage to look up the definition of spasmodic, since I could reason what it means because "spas" is in it and "mode", but ...
1 a: relating to or affected or characterized by spasm b: resembling a spasm especially in sudden violence, spasmodic jerk
2: acting or proceeding fitfully :
intermittent spasmodic activity
3: subject to outbursts of emotional excitement : excitable
So, based on the definition, I would say that John McCain is a spasmodic jerk. And here's a question: How many lives will be lost because of these "outbursts of emotional excitement"? My guess is: A lot. A second question: For what? Answer: Not a lot.

We used to have ice cream trucks in the neighborhood. Don't you love the way I can switch gears? Not so much anymore. They disappeared about the same time that the mulch showed up. Coincidence? I think not. Around here, it was Mister Softee which, besides being a really bad porno name, is a cool brand of soft-serve ice cream. The drivers used to run around in trucks playing a horrible 20-second tune that signaled eating like a Pavlov's Ice Cream Dog. "Gimme 65 cents. I need a cone!" Kiddie crack.

I don't even know if 65 cents can buy an ice cream cone anymore. It doesn't buy much. It won't even buy a newspaper. They're 75 cents now. I understand that the local delivery people are griping because the price of gasoline has made it difficult for them to make any money delivering the local newspaper. They don't earn enough to make up the difference in what they spend on gasoline.

Newspapers used to be delivered by kids on bicycles. They disappeared around the same time that adults needed a second income and shoved the kids out of the way with their fancy automobiles and enhanced sense of responsibility. That was when newspapers came in the afternoon and people actually read them at night. Now, the paper crashes on my doorstep at 4:30am, delivered by a person I've never met yet expects a Christmas gift every year. Maybe it's time to go back to delivering newspapers on bicycles?

I'm getting old.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wednesday in Balmer

It was a great day for a ballgame. I took Wednesday off and wandered down I-95 to Baltimore to watch my second-favorite baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles take on the (stinking) Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards, one of the few ballparks yet to succumb to the lure of big money naming rights.
The place was swarming with (stinking) Red Sox fans. Probably because they can't get a ticket for a game at Fenway, so they come to places like Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia and infest otherwise decent places with their (stinking) World Champions t-shirts and goofy accents. I try to act politely when I'm around them, because I realize that baseball was invented in Boston in 1996 and I owe them their due.Prior to the game, I was able to find some quality time with my friend Beer in the centerfield picnic area, where I didn't exactly have a picnic, just some fries and a Harp. In the foreground, you can make out the giveaway item of the day. It's a seat cushion. When I arrived, I was asked how old I was. 50, I said sheepishly, expecting to be refused from whatever they were giving out. As it turns out, it was an AARP sponsored Orioles seat cushion, available to fans 50 and older. Lucky me. I guess they figure that us old folks need padded seats for our fragile backsides. I carried it around for a while. After the game, I gave it to a homeless woman who was sitting on the sidewalk without a cushion. She wasn't 50, but she looked like she needed it more than me.
I had a nice seat directly down the left field line. To my left was Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez, who seemed more interested in the fans chanting his name than in actually playing the game. Later, he made a great catch against the wall and, I swear, took a second to acknowledge the fans screaming for him by giving the fan in the first row a high-five just before he turned and threw to first base to double-off the Orioles base runner.
Oriole Park is a nice place. It was the first of the new ballparks that were modeled after the old ballparks. For a while, every new park that was built was compared to it. Now that it's "old" I don't hear those comparisons much. Partly because the Orioles aren't very good and partly because almost every team has a new park, so it isn't such a big deal anymore.
The O's fell behind quickly, 3-0 and the "Let's Go Red Sox" chants were starting to annoy me. There were almost 29,000 people at the game, and at least half of them were Sox fans. I asked a cop if there was a city ordinance limiting the number of Red Sox fans in a building. None. They need to work on that.
That was just before Orioles left fielder Jay Payton brought a nasty end to the Sox fans fun. He hit a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving the Orioles a come from behind 6-3 lead that they would hold and send the Sox and their (stinking) fans home disenchanted.
I spotted this nice sign at a place called the Wharf Rat, a block from the ballpark. A perfect end to a nearly perfect day.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tommy can you hear me?

I don't like to give out investment advice. Mostly because it's a losing proposition either way. If the investment fails, it's my fault for recommending it. If it succeeds, the person I gave the advice to is a genius because they bought it. Generally, I just nod my head and listen quietly.
However, there is one sure-fire idea that could make you a billionaire if you are willing to wait a few years. What is it? I'm glad you asked.
Any company that manufactures or distributes hearing aids.
Every day, I see hundreds of people walking around with crap in their ears. Cell phone headsets, iPod earbuds, headphones ... everything and anything designed to keep their ears from hearing what is going on around them. I'm figuring that by the time they're 50 their hearing is going to be shot and some of you can be wealthy.
Back when I was 20 and I was going to a rock concert a week, I remember that funny feeling I had when I got home and was surrounded by silence. It's called tinnitus. A high-pitched ringing in my ears that lasted until I woke up the next morning.
I don't particularly care for headphones. Part of the charm of music is that it vibrates the air to make sound. That's what a speaker does. It doesn't vibrate my skull and use my jawbone as acoustic tile.
I enjoy peaceful solitude on occasion. It's probably why I don't mind going places alone. It's relaxing to have silence in your life. I think there are a lot of people who feel the need to have a constant soundtrack running in their head or a telephone conversation going on, as though if they're not interacting with someone they don't exist. I'm not a psychiatrist.
But there they are, earbuds in their heads and the ubiquitous player device in tow. Sometimes it's audible from the outside, so I know it's too loud on the inside. It sounds like they have a head full of bees. When they're 50 they're not going to be able to use the earbuds because they won't fit over the hearing aid.
That'll show 'em.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fritter, abandon and guzzle

Now that gasoline costs more than crack cocaine, I'm seeing a lot of TV ads for high-mileage vehicles. The same ads that they used to run for SUVs and big trucks. Ads that used to tout horsepower and size now flaunt gas mileage. They've replaced the ones where they told us that those big trucks were safer and more useful in our daily lives for the grocery safari's and running the kids back and forth to soccer practice with ads telling us how efficiently we can get to the grocery store and soccer practice. Five years ago we couldn't have shopped for food and moved children with a 4-cylinder sedan, but now it's practical. Times change.
They play on our fears. Now, we'll start buying sensible cars because gasoline is costly. Prior to that, we could afford to waste gasoline, even though the cars we were buying were no less sensible than they are now, but they're made more practical given the fact that it takes a second mortgage to fill it with gasoline.
Wastefulness is a way of life here in America. It's our birthright to buy things and discard them when they are no longer deemed useful to us, or they are replaced with "new and improved" models, which may just be a different color or contain more RAM.
We'll waste things as long as it is economically practical to do so. There isn't much conscience involved, until our wallet is involved, then we're full of purity and goodness. I think that's why Global Warming is a hard sell. It doesn't have as much to do with the practicality of preserving our planet as it does with the economic feasibility of accomplishing it. We can still afford to put things in flimsy plastic bags and throw out tons of packaging because it doesn't (yet) affect our wallet. Once it does, billions of people will be walking to work, bringing their own bags to the store and turning off the lights when they leave a room.
News articles
are starting to crop up about people suddenly feeling the necessity to walk to work, ride a bicycle or shop responsibly because gasoline is expensive and they need to conserve money and resources. Three years ago when gasoline was half the price it is now, those things were both unnecessary and impractical to the same people who are now struggling to conserve.
It is both funny and sad that we have to be forced into doing the right thing. Like when we start to realize that 300 pounds is way too big for a human to be, so we decide to diet and try to exercise, failing to realize that it took 20 years to gain those extra pounds, but now we suddenly feel the need to behave sensibly. We pay attention to our vehicles when they stop running, read our children's report cards when they fail and think about wasting energy and materials when it is financially reasonable. Otherwise, we spend, discard and consume.
It's one of the worst things about us as a society.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I'll bet you a dollar that none of your numbers come up.

I continue to be fascinated by the lottery players.
There's a little store near my home that sells tickets in all shapes, sizes and denominations. Almost every morning I stop in for some little thing and invariably there's someone in front of me making up the ticket order...
"I'll have one Flamingo Bingo, two Win for Life, two Red Hot Slingo, one Raise the Stakes ..." On and on it goes until they either spend all the money in their hand or run out of catchy lottery names, whichever comes first. Usually the money thing comes first.
They even had a Mother's Day ticket. "I love you mom. Here's ... absolutely nothing!" I considered getting one for mom, but then I sat down until the feeling passed. I've heard about people who give lottery tickets as gifts or leave them as tips at restaurants. Most of your fine dining establishments appreciate the lottery ticket as a tip.
I'd never give one away because I feel like if I bought the thing and actually thought it would win, why would I want to give it away? So, you're giving somebody something that you logically figure is worth zero, otherwise you'll feel like a schmuck for giving it away.
Mostly, the lottery is a tax on the poor. Poor people (and some optimistic middle class) buy the things, then sit around until the drawing fantasizing about what they'll do when they "hit the lottery". Usually, the lottery hits them. Then they buy more tickets.
If you don't believe it's a tax, then read where the New Jersey Lottery tells us the money goes:
For more than 35 years, the Lottery has been helping to meet New Jersey's needs and to improve the lives of countless Garden State residents.
I'll bet you'd get the same explanation from the Bureau of Taxation if you asked them where your tax dollars go. That's a fascinating explanation, since New Jersey has the highest property tax rates in the country, third highest auto insurance rates and a 7 percent sales tax. Imagine how rotten it would be if we didn't have all that lottery money?
But we love to gamble. It's the best way we can think of to get money without having to work for it, and we're all for that. Having the state sponsor it makes it sound legitimate, even though it's kind of like the numbers runner on the corner, except the state does their drawings on TV.
Our government has tried to make America sex and color blind through legislation, but it can do nothing to change the effects of ones social class. They try to help with “stimulus payments” and other little things like legalized numbers games (lotteries) but those things offer little to poor people than hope, and hope is the last vestige of the desperate man.
That reminds me, the Mega Millions drawing is worth $166 million this week. The odds are 1 : 175,711,536.
I could buy 166 million tickets and still not break even.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy freakin' Mother's Day!

Mother's Day. Second only to Valentine's Day in annoying radio ads, reminding us ... Sunday is Mother's Day ... don't forget, Sunday is Mother's Day ... Mother's Day is Sunday. How can I forget?
Here's an interesting fact:
In the United States, Mother's Day was loosely inspired by the British day and was imported by social activist Julia Ward Howe after the Civil War. However, it was intended as a call to unite women against war. In 1870, she wrote the Mother's Day Proclamation as a call for peace and disarmament.
How's about we bring that little custom back? Too late now I guess. Oh well, once John McCain is elected, we'll have plenty of opportunities to call for peace and disarmament.
In 1907, Anna Jarvis, started the crusade to found a memorial day for women.
In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother's Day, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.
I think we're a little far afield of that particular celebration these days.
Nine years after the first official Mother's Day, commercialization of the U.S. holiday became so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become.
Now we're talking. You'll run out of fingers and toes if you try to count the number of occasions that have run afoul of their original intent.
According to IBISWorld, a publisher of business research, Americans will spend approximately $2.6 billion on flowers, $1.53 billion on pampering gifts like spa treatments, and another $68 million on greeting cards. Mother's Day will generate about 7.8% of the US jewelry industry's annual revenue in 2008. Americans are expected to spend close to $3.51 billion in 2008 on dining out for Mother's Day.
I always think about the people who have to work on holidays like this. Undoubtedly, some of them are mothers, and they'll be cooking, waiting tables and cleaning up after us when we're dining out.
Greeting cards are another scam. Five bucks for a little verse that says something you could just as easily say yourself. Especially now, with so many people having color printers and a Staples nearby, I'm surprised that we still spend as much as we do on cards. I bought one.
Mother's Day is a bit of a scam, too. A couple of guys at work were telling me that they have to get something for their wives because they're mothers. I told them they're suckers and that Mother's Day is the children's job not the husband. It isn't Wife's Day.
By comparison, fathers get screwed on Father's Day. Quick - when is Father's Day? Time's up. Maybe they get screwed because the best gift you can give a lot of guys is to leave them alone for 24 hours? Or maybe I'm bitter because I haven't had a Father's Day in 41 years?
I miss Father's Day.
It's a good thing I still have Mother's Day. I have to go, the 2 o'clock seating was the only reservation I could get. I told mom not to eat lunch!