Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mulch season.

It's mulch season. Before the discovery of mulch, somehow trees and plants grew in soil without the aid of shredded trees bathed in fertilizer. I don't know how, but legend has it. Meanwhile, my development stinks like a compost heap.
The landscapers were out all day today, spreading the junk everywhere. For some reason, they chose to pile it in the middle of our entrance-way. I would have complained, but most of them don't speak English. Besides, I think they like the smell.
Once I managed to make my way through a 10-foot pile of shredded fertilized trees, I took my auto to have its oil changed. I've been using synthetic motor oil because I'm told it's better for the engine, and I'd like to own the car beyond the time I'll be paying for it. So I asked the guy at the oil change place, "You recommend changing the oil every 3,000 miles, but isn't the synthetic stuff good for longer than that?"
He replied, "It is, but the filters are only good for 3,000."
"Well, that's the weak link in the chain, isn't it?"
It is.
So, how's your bracket? That's the question we're supposed to be asking everyone. How's your bracket? I'm guessing that if we couldn't gamble on this NCAA tournament, there would be as little interest in it as watching a compost pile. Mine is fine, by the way. Thanks for asking.
Suddenly, in the wake of the Natasha Richardson death, Canadians are pondering a helmet requirement for skiers. One would think that celebrity deaths are more important than other deaths, wouldn't one?
TORONTO – Quebec is considering making helmets mandatory on ski slopes following the death of actress Natasha Richardson and after doctors tried to persuade the province's sports minister to do it. Richardson was not wearing a helmet when she fell Monday while taking a beginners ski course in Quebec. The New York City medical examiner's office said she died Wednesday of blunt impact to the head.
Between 1990 and 2008, at least 39 people died on Quebec's ski slopes, the provincial coroner's office said. A report released last year suggested that of the 26 deaths between 1990 and 2004, 14 were the result of head injuries. Helmets were worn in just two of those 14 cases.
So, we are led to believe that the 39 people who died prior to the celebrity accident were not worthy of prompting such a radical change in Canadian law.
I suppose it takes a celebrity to make us realize that something is wrong. Otherwise, when it's only a "regular person" who dies, we needn't rush to make any changes. Celebrities are more important.
That's what we're saying.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Our President is Special.

There is a minor furor over Barack Obama's comment on "Tonight" about his bowling score. He said something about being ready for the Special Olympics. That angered some people - or so I hear. I don't stay up late enough nor do I have enough interest in "Tonight" to watch the show, even though I knew Obama was going to be appearing. I lost interest in "Tonight" once Rickles stopped being a guest host.
The thing that's strange about it is that "Tonight" is taped for broadcast. It isn't a live program, much as they want you to believe it is, so anything offensive or odd could be edited.
So, he says that his bowling score would qualify him for the Special Olympics and we're supposed to find it insulting or offensive in some manner. Meanwhile, if he had said, "My fucking bowling game sucks" it would have been cut out and the offensive word omitted from the final broadcast.
They chose to let the Special Olympics comment run, which tells me that Obama's people may have either missed it or cringed just enough to wonder if they should have asked the producers to cut it out. Either way, it was left in, which tells me that they didn't mind that he said it. After all, he's the president, and if he says, "Cut the damned thing out" I would guess that they would have to.
"If you don't, I'm going to go all AIG on your asses and tax you 90-percent, so you'd better cut it the fuck out." Something like that.
It's interesting to me that some people are offended by the comment. I'm guessing that the principal offendees are the folks in charge of the Special Olympics. I wonder why they felt the need to call it the "Special Olympics." My guess is that those people don't want to be thought of as special. They probably would like to meld into society, but we won't let them.
We have had some preliminary basketball tournament games at our local community center. I see them from the overlooks and I've watched some of the games. Mostly, I'm happy to see them enjoying a sport and participating in something that they otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to do because they don't run as fast and aren't as coordinated as people who don't put "special" in front of their games.
Meanwhile, I'd consider anyone special who could dunk a basketball or dribble a ball from one end of the court to another because I can't do it. But we don't call the NBA the "Special NBA." We call it the "Special Olympics" because those people are supposed to be special, but I think they're kind of like the rest of us: Basically uncoordinated - not very athletic - a little slow-witted and they like to play games whether they're any good at them or not.
That's not special. That's actually kind of normal.

A simple analysis.

There are two kinds of people in the world:
1 - People who visit my blog because I visit theirs.
2 - People who visit my blog regardless of whether or not I visit theirs.

Then, there are the people who are easily offended by some of my opinions and stop visiting my blog because of that.
OK, so there are 3 kinds of people in the world:
1 - People who visit my blog because I visit theirs.
2 - People who visit my blog regardless of whether or not I visit theirs.
3 - People who are offended by my opinions and stop visiting my blog.

Then, there are people like me who don't really care about "People number 3" because if that's all it takes to keep them away, they were never really friends to begin with. So, there are 4 kinds of people in the world:
1 - People who visit my blog because I visit theirs.
2 - People who visit my blog regardless of whether or not I visit theirs.
3 - People who are offended by my opinions and stop visiting my blog.
4 - People who don't care whether you are number 1, 2 or 3.

Then, there's me. Five kinds of people in the world.
1 - People who visit my blog because I visit theirs.
2 - People who visit my blog regardless of whether or not I visit theirs.
3 - People who are offended by my opinions and stop visiting my blog.
4 - People who don't care whether you are number 1, 2 or 3.
5 - Me.

I think that about covers it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The awesome power of our Federal government.

WASHINGTON – Acting swiftly, the Democratic-led House approved a bill Thursday to slap punishing taxes on big employee bonuses at firms bailed out by taxpayers. The bill would impose a 90 percent tax on bonuses given to employees with family incomes above $250,000 at American International Group and other companies that have received at least $5 billion in government bailout money.
"We want our money back now for the taxpayers," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
And all over the country, millions of taxpayers are clapping their hands in childish glee. "Yeaaaaah - they're jamming it to them! Hooray!" Dumbasses.
All this demonstrates is our Federal government wielding its power, and as it says in the Bible, you should be sore afraid.
Why? Because if they can do it to a giant corporation like AIG, what's to stop them from doing it to you? Nothing, which is why you should be afraid. Essentially, the government is reneging on a deal. They gave AIG the money and now they're telling them what to do with it.
The bill passed as controversy swirled around the disclosure that, while Democrats and Republicans were both railing about the AIG bonuses, Democrats were also responsible for removing a provision, originally contained in stimulus legislation, to ban such bonuses.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, (D-Conn.), said Wednesday his staff agreed to requests from the administration to delete the executive pay provision that would have applied retroactively to recipients of federal aid.
For those of us who would have voted to let AIG and the others go bankrupt, the government's actions further demonstrate the stupidity of giving them money. The bonuses that were paid out were contractual obligations that were recognized as one of the contingencies of the money being given to them. In other words, it was in writing and the government knew it. Only after public outrage over the bonus money did these nitwits decide to step in and "do the right thing."
You got what you asked for. Just hope that you don't get it someday yourself.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Blowing smoke up your ass.

OK, so I filled out a NCAA tournament bracket. I did it as though I knew what I was looking at and even though I haven't watched 5 minutes of college basketball all year, I filled it in with all the confidence of an expert - which, of course I am. Although, with 64 teams and at least 10 possible tournament winners, ask yourself the odds of actually picking enough winners to actually win. Give me 8-4-6 straight and boxed.
It's that lottery-winner in me that makes me do it. Even though I'm usually out of contention by the end of the third round (curiously called the Sweet 16) it keeps me interested in life long enough to survive another couple of weeks on this miserable planet. For ten bucks it saves me the added cost of shotgun shells.
Maybe that's the allure of baseball season tickets? Five months of games that are already paid for, thereby lessening the possibility that I'll cash-in early for fear of missing some important September games and, Lord willing (geez, why drag Him into this?) some October playoff magic. Nice marketing by them.
But when we talk of nearly suicidal addictions, we can't stray too far from the cigarette smokers here in the Garden State. By April 1, the tax on a pack of cigarettes will be $3.79, making a 20-box of smokes cost around the $8.50 mark. That's a mighty price to pay for lung cancer and brown teeth. All the while, the state and federal governments move to ban smoking everywhere except your bedroom and tell you (right on the pack) that the stuff will kill you - eventually. After they collect their tax.
Consider the pack-a-day smoker (lots of them) shelling out $8.50 a day for their habit. Some simple mathematics will tell you that's $3,000 a year blown out of your face. I could do a lot with $3,000; up to and including paying for a full-season of Phillies tickets. I was stupid enough to believe that they'd give up the habit when cigs got to a dollar a pack. That was 20 years ago, so we see that I'm not always right.
Smokers will tell you (and have told me) "I have to have something" to do with their addictive personalities. OK, so if that's the case, you could give it to me and I'll spend it on pot or something else that would actually benefit me. That would save me a lot of money on alcohol.
But, I'd have to have fuzzy Glaucoma eyes or be in pain from some cancer-induced surgery for the state to give me marijuana, so I guess I'll just have to keep drinking.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Paper or plastic?

The cashier at Shop Rite wanted my Price Plus card. I was buying a bag of cat litter. $2.29. She demanded my Price Plus card. I wondered why. What sort of marketing research can they be doing at Shop Rite headquarters that says, "People with cats buy cat litter." You just never know when he'll start pooping.

Then, the lady at the liquor store wanted to know if I wanted a receipt with my six-pack of Golden Monkey. "No," I said, "We don't need any proof of this." It leads me to believe that large numbers of alcoholics are demanding receipts.

To follow up on yesterday's opinion of having "a snowball's chance in Hell" of getting those AIG bonuses back, this appeared in today's Inquirer:
Experts in employment law say the administration faces high legal hurdles because the bonuses, paid with federal bailout funds, apparently were mandated by contracts that would be difficult to break. "If it is in an employment agreement, there is an obligation to pay the bonus," said John Martini, a Philadelphia-based lawyer and expert on employment contracts at Reed Smith L.L.P.
"Typically, there is no wiggle room." Steven Balsam, a professor of accounting at Temple University's Fox School of Business, said he doubted the company had much choice in paying the bonuses, nor did the government absent the force of moral persuasion.

So that's that. No wiggle room for the snowball. My guess is that, if the government decides to press the issue the ensuing legal costs will be pretty much equal to the bonuses.

Meanwhile, here's another of those "new studies" that I find so fascinating:
LONDON – Being obese can take years off your life and in some cases may be as dangerous as smoking, a new study says. British researchers at the University of Oxford analyzed 57 studies mostly in Europe and North America, following nearly one million people for an average of 10 to 15 years. During that time, about 100,000 of those people died.
There ya go. I'm guessing that if you followed a million people for 15 years that a fairly large percentage of them would die regardless of how fat they were, but it provided a nice income for the gang at Oxford (love your shoes) and further proof that being fat is bad.

I'd like a receipt.

Pot, meet Kettle.

I suppose the smoke has cleared over the Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer shouting match. I didn't see it and I didn't want to. As far as I was concerned, it was television screaming at itself. I don't have an official poll, but I'd guess that more people like Jon Stewart than Jim Cramer. Mostly because Stewart makes them laugh and most people don't know what Jim Cramer is talking about, and we always like people who make us laugh over people who confuse us. They're both smarter than us, and if it wasn't for the laughing part, we wouldn't like Jon Stewart very much either.
Stewart was pissed over the way Jim Cramer turns investing into entertainment. That's the basis of the argument as I see it. Everything else is filler for the TV show. The point that Stewart missed is that he has made a nice living mocking people whom we're supposed to respect - like world leaders and people of authority - in a network news format. Sure, he mocks celebrities and other non-worthy adversaries, but we do that all the time. We're talking about the seriousness of investing money versus the seriousness of news.
Meanwhile, consider this:
A 2004 study into the effect of "The Daily Show" on viewers' attitudes found that participants had a more negative opinion of both President Bush and then Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry after watching Stewart's show. Participants also expressed more cynical views of the electoral system and news media.
A 2006 study published by Indiana University tried to compare the substantive amount of information of "The Daily Show" against prime time network news broadcasts, and concluded that when it comes to substance, there is little difference between "The Daily Show" and other news outlets. The study contended that, since both programs are more focused on the nature of "infotainment" and ratings than on the dissemination of information, both are broadly equal in terms of the amount of substantial news coverage they offer.
Hmm ... influencing opinion and covering the news. That sounds pretty serious and even broadly equal. Maybe Cramer should be yelling back? Or maybe he should be doing a fake investing show like Stewart's so-called fake news show?
If Stewart wants to start screaming at people he could probably start with his own producers and the producers of other television shows that make entertainment out of dating, marriage, drug and alcohol addiction and self-improvement. Fat people trying to be thin is great theater until you realize that their condition could kill them and we're all along for the ride.
People go on talk shows every day flaunting some physical malady or addiction in front of people like Doctor Phil and Oprah, and for the sheer entertainment of it, we tune in. Mostly, we tune in because we like to think, "Jesus, they're fucked up." We're in the business of self-aggrandizement. We turn other people's misery into our entertainment. How is that so much different than what Jim Cramer does?
"American Idol" viewers readily admit to enjoying the first few programs because that's when the really bad singers are on display. They enjoy laughing at their ineptitude. "The Biggest Loser" brings in a nice audience of people who like to watch fat people suffer to be thin. There's a show on A & E called "Intervention" where a family brings a destitute member to a counselor to get them to change their ways, but not before we are presented with 45 minutes of a display of their addiction. It's supposed to be entertainment.
Almost half of what passes for entertainment on television involves someone making a fool of themselves, doing something crazy or putting themselves on display in one form or another.
What Jim Cramer does is no different than fifty television shows you could name. He makes something that isn't normally entertaining worth watching. The fact that he's wrong about some of his ideas makes him ... human, just like the bad singers and fat people.
They're all in it to make a buck, and Jon Stewart isn't any better than the rest of them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The barn door is closed.

"Oh crap! I didn't mean ... wait ... I call 'do over'"!

WASHINGTON – Joining a wave of public anger, President Barack Obama blistered insurance giant AIG for "recklessness and greed" Monday and pledged to try to block it from handing its executives $165 million in bonuses after taking billions in federal bailout money. "How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?" Obama asked. "This isn't just a matter of dollars and cents. It's about our fundamental values."
Um ... pardon me, but wasn't it recklessness that got AIG into this mess to begin with? How does he expect them to change their behavior merely because the government gave them a sack full of money? And while we're at it, what are those "fundamental values" of which you speak? Do you mean the fundamental value of taking responsibility for your actions or being held accountable for your mistakes? That's what I thought you meant.
It sounds to me like the federal government (our federal government) was duped into giving a pile of money to people who couldn't keep track of the money they already had. Now that they're recklessly spending our money, we suddenly want them held accountable. Apparently, it was OK to be reckless before.
He said he had directed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to "pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayer whole."
Later, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration would modify the terms of a pending $30 billion bailout installment for AIG to at least recoup the $165 million the bonuses represent. That wouldn't rescind the bonuses, just require AIG to account for them differently.
Uh-huh. Now that the president (and our federal government) fell for the old misdirection play, he's sending his boys in to modify the terms of the loan. I'm no lawyer, but that doesn't sound like it stands a snowball's chance in Hell of happening. Meanwhile, they get to keep the bonuses.
They win.
It looks to me like we (they) got swindled by the oldest swindlers on the planet - an insurance company. Didn't see that one coming, did you?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Another tax on the poor and hopeless.

I see (and hear) that Delaware is considering starting a lottery based on sports gambling. That's almost a good idea.
They cite "this economy" (which is the latest catch-phrase) and tell us that the income will be good for the state. Either something is a good idea or it isn't. It shouldn't have anything to do with "the economy" - this or any other. If ten years ago, you had approached the governor and told him that you thought the state should legalize sports gambling, and he told you to "fuck off," then why now, with the state in financial crisis, is it a good idea?
If economic conditions are your barometer for what is right and wrong, then lets legalize marijuana and prostitution while we're at it. If the object is to enhance the state's income, then put the state in charge of it and let it go. Nevada apparently has no problem with women selling sex, so why should Delaware - or New Jersey? After all, aren't we the United States? Or is that just a geographical description? Right.
On a personal level, we make decisions every day based on our economics. When we're having difficulty meeting our debts, all of that junk that was so valuable to us now suddenly becomes expendable. That nice little coin collection we've been hoarding and worshipping now is fodder for Ebay. It's suddenly expendable based on circumstances.
It's the same for gambling. When governments run out of ways to tax us, they invariably turn to gambling, and we suck it in like a milk shake. We see it as a benefit to us because the government wouldn't dare take advantage of our dreams of riches, all the while jackpots reach 9-digit levels and we think we have a shot if we buy a ticket. What about the last 12 weekly drawings?
So, go ahead - legalize sports gambling if you must. Your state coffers will swell on the backs of the people you intend to benefit, and they'll thank you (in their way) for helping them realize their financial dreams based on the Ravens plus 6 points.
It's one Hell of a way to run a state government, isn't it?