Thursday, December 1, 2011

Have you seen this armadillo?

The last of my re-posts from previously published material is below. The prior date on this was Sept 27, 2007.

Have you seen this armadillo? He and his companions were last seen making coffee in the Fredrickson kitchen in Cassadaga, NY. Dubbed “The Juan Valdez Gang” by local authorities, it is unknown whether these armadillos are dangerous or just hopped up on caffeine. They are known to flee if approached, but may come back later to see if the pot is empty. Please post a response immediately if you see these armadillos or know anyone who has.

May be using the name "Fidel."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Art of Choosing A Bathroom Stall

Do you think deeply about selecting a bathroom stall? Chance are, no. Yet for a few moments every day, it's right there at the top of your priorities. Either consciously or not, we all follow certain unwritten rules during this process.

Disabled Access
Generally, the handicapped stall is left open unless a disability is present. This stall is reserved out of respect for the disadvantages of disabled, injured or very large people. This rule is suspended in extreme circumstances to be detailed further on.


Proximity rules change based on the current population of the room. A full house cancels out all choice. The rule of thumb is to select a stall that is not adjacent to a currently occupied stall. There are endless variations, many of which are effective for urinals as well as stalls.

A. A four-stall bathroom with stall 1 occupied and stall 4 with handicapped access indicates entering stall 3.
B. A six-stall bathroom with stall 1 full and stall 6 handicapped indicates selection of 3 or 4.
C. A four-stall bathroom with stall 2 occupied and stall 4 handicapped still indicates a choice of stall 1 or 2, leaving the 4 open for the disadvantaged.

Expected Result
Entering a bathroom knowing you have a lot of "business" to do negates the usual respect attributed to handicapped access. Go all the way to end of the row. Choose the handicapped stall or the one right next to it. Odor will still be apparent, but possibly to a lesser degree. Your efforts to limit collateral damage will be appreciated.

Lack of Equipment
Just move on if paper is missing. It will not do to take an inordinate amount of time to select the next stall, so just go to next available, ignoring proximity. Helpful tip: At a concert (especially outdoor), the first time you go, paper will be plentiful. Take enough for two extra trips and shove it in your pocket. Things can get dicey later.

There's probably a phobia named after this.

A dirty stall cancels out almost everything above. If a cursory glance indicates a soiled seat or if there is "unfinished business" lying around, move on quickly. Make exceptions for paper on the floor or in the bowl if it is clean.

Need for Speed
Desperate times call for desperate measures. When you just have to go NOW, abandon all above rules. If at all possible, choose someplace clean. You can always beg your neighbors for paper if that issue comes up.

Gender Differences
I would be remiss for not noting this is written from a female point of view. Men don't often have the luxury of stalls. I'm sure they still appreciate the unwritten rules of bathroom use. In fact, I'm told they have a special rule that women are not usually aware of. They have to maintain exactly the correct eye contact and direction of gaze. This is not a situation in which to smile or intitiate casual conversation. Save the talk for the sink. And please wash your hands while you're there.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Facebook Stereotypes II

My previous post about stereotypical FB behavior was my popular blog ever. So, in the interest of selling out, I now provide a sequel. Several of these new types were ideas of other people. You are know who you are (Kim).

Dumb Question
The question feature seems interesting at first. But then you receive your first "I'm cleaning out my friends list. Answer yes if you want to stay on it" poll. How about you go ahead and "unfriend" me if you want and I'll go ahead and not care? One less friend who thinks I need to answer a poll about staying friends won't hurt me.

A Call To Prayer
I'll admit the praying folks are well-meaning. But I've literally seen requests to pray someone finds their car keys. Really? Unless you're looking for them to jump in the car and escape an advancing tornado, let your god sit this one out.

Please make people read this blog.

Youtube Boob
Sharing videos, pictures and smart-ass comments is what FB is all about. That said, we all know at least one video overposter. I WILL hide your ass after the sixth Nickelback video pops up in news feed. This is how you remind me to no longer pay attention to you.

That's a really clever and poetic observation on life you came up with there and.....HEY! That's from an Eagles song. It must have taken a huge amount of energy to type out that profound influence on your current life situation. Yet perhaps you should have gone one step further and done a web search first. You might then know that it's "trying to live my life without you" and not, "trying to live my life without shoes."

Captain Obvious
“It’s Hump Day!” Oh, thank you so much for the breaking news. I would never have guessed it was the middle of the work week all on my own. Please also tell me when it’s time to TGIF. I certainly wouldn’t want to forget that!

A lot of people really like food. Most of us use it to fuel our bodies and keep the bulge of our muffin top in prime condition. Then there those that suddenly morph into Guy Fieri. They tell us all about their meal plus take a picture. I’ll tell you one thing a picture of food does for me. It explains to me why marketing teams all use FAKE food for pictures and commercials.

He's inside us all.

Do not hesitate to delete the post of a subverter. These are people that hijack your status for their own sinister purposes. You start with a casual invitation: “Hey, everyone! A group of us will be at Taco Mac tonight to watch the game. Come on out and have some fun!” Almost immediately, Jenny Harris posts she can’t come because of her minor dental surgery that afternoon and leaves a paragraph of the bloody details and how horrible she feels. Now no one is reading your post because they are all saying “poor poor Jenny” and leaving details of their own recent dental procedures. Hey, Jenny….delete!

The Offended
These people always get my attention for a minute. They are really mad at someone. I don’t know who, but I spend precious moments of my life wondering if it’s me. Think. Think. What could I have done to inspire a friend to say “I wish some people would just grow up!”? I guess the easy answer is I wrote this blog post. But looking at my low readership numbers, probably not. Chances are it was someone else, but the Offended should beware. They leave the door wide open for misinterpretation and the creation of second generation Offended.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Facebook Stereotypes

These are some common traits of online personalities. If you find a description of yourself on this list, I'm sure you'll just take it as a joke. Right?

OCD Updater
This person MUST let the world know what they are doing every moment. Working out at the gym > driving home from gym > showering > preparing dinner > picking nose > watching CSI > brushing teeth > sleeping > still sleeping > getting ready for work > at work > discussing with co-workers whether Watson or Crick made the greater contribution to DNA studies > going to lunch > buying stamps at post office > back at work > picking up kids > ARGH!

Pity Party
This friend always has some horrible thing happening. For a typical person, any one of these things would elicit well-wishes from friends and family. But something bad happens in this person's life EVERY DAY. A typical week:
Monday: Mom having surgery
Tuesday: Taking little Murray to doctor for bronchitis
Wednesday: Mittens hit by truck
Thursday: Brother knifed in bar fight
Friday: Roof leaking
Saturday: Car broke down
Sunday: Spouse leaving my pathetic ass

Serial Dater
Soanso is single. Soandso is in a relationship. Soandso says it's complicated. Soandso is single. Tell this friend that if you have to update your relationship status more than once every three months, maybe you should just leave it off your profile for now. After two dates, you are not necessarily "in a relationship". Just leave it as "single" and keep them all guessing until you shack up or get engaged. And do not, I repeat DO NOT, friend the friends of your current interest until you've at least met the parents of said interest.

Contest Addict
You are not going to win anything. Ever. No Macbook Pro, no i- or e- prefixed technology. Just stop.

“Sigh. FML. OMG, not again.” Any of these statements are popular with the fisherman. The goal of this person is to get attention that their generally boring lives can’t supply. A vague status update forces people to ask questions. “Why is Nancy so sad?” or “What’s happened, Leonard?” Then, they reel you in a little at a time. Sparse details are supplied each time they post until you end up at some mundane result. “Oh, I just couldn’t find my car keys. Got ‘em now!”

The Joiner/Liker
It's fun and easy to like things. But consider the amazing variety of products, programs and simple household items that have dedicated fan pages. If you like a dozen items in one of these categories, it says something about you. For instance, Janice likes ER, Grey's Anatomy and Chicago Hope. One might suspect Janice is a fan of medical drama programs. But then consider Pete. He likes those programs too, but also Bones, Fringe, Friends, American Idol, Nova, Dancing With the Stars, SNL and Blue's Clues and 16 other random shows. It says something, but mostly just that Pete is not very discriminating.

App Junkie
Farms, Mobs, Fish Tanks, Zoos, Restaurants, Vampires, Pirates... It's a list that keeps growing and this friend keeps playing. The first two or three apps just take a few minutes a day to play, so where's the harm? The harm is these games can be addictive. The easily achievable goals just feel good. Most people know when to quit, but some begin to ignore their real life obligations in favor of their farms.

Special Friends
You just want to pat this gullible buddy on the head. No matter how many times you remind them of the reasons why Facebook is not going to charge for it's services or explain that there is no way to know who is viewing your profile, these people will continue to join the latest group that references these activities and many more. These precious little dears are just too trusting and no skepticism is powerful enough to overcome their naivete.

Are we still friends?

Friday, September 16, 2011

The concept of HOME

Are you home?

Go back to the moments when you're a bored kid at your parents friends house. You whine to your mom, "I wanna go hooooooome."

Now consider the next day when you're running around like a maniac at Tom Schroeder's 6th birthday party. Mom tells you it's time to go home and you whine again, "Nooooooo!"

What makes it so desirable one day and so distasteful the next? As many aphorisms tell us, home is not really about a place, but about a feeling. Not home, but being AT home. When "home is where the heart is", it doesn't mean a specific physical place. It's where you feel like you belong. It's where you want to be.

As adults, most of us are able to suppress our whiny inner kids. We just mentally trudge through those moments when we'd rather be somewhere else. But what happens when you are actually in your own house and the thought occurs to you that you want to go home? Maybe the first time you can disregard it easily by thinking, "What a silly thought!" But as months and years pass and you think it again and again, you realize that something is wrong. Your house is fine, but you are not where your heart is. You are not home.

We're trained from birth by the expectations of those who have gone before us. Our path is clear: go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, etc... But what if there's another way? Education sounds reasonable and being able to support yourself is pretty important. But all of it, even these things, should be a choice.

I ask again....Are you home?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Technological Firsts

Technology grows exponentially and often outpaces our ability to comprehend its application. Did that statement sound smart? I sure hope so because the following blog may make me look more limited than a mime in a shrinking box.

Amongst all of the smartphones (is that one word or two?), laptops and advanced acne medication available today, I like to keep in mind some of the basic firsts in certain technologies that my family experienced when I was growing up. These devices and our reactions to them when first encountered must seem pretty moronic today. Well, they may have been moronic even back then.

Answering machines were a charming addition to our household. I have to pluralize them though because we went through so many. Sure, the tiny tapes were adorable. Until later. They can be quite daunting when their guts are exposed all over your living room as you futilely try to wind them back up to hear that potentially most-important message of your life. After splicing your broken tape back together and suffering hand cramps from twisting your pinky in the tiny hole for hours, you then receive a message meant for some real estate agent named "Betty".

The VCR was both enchanting and traumatic. I pat myself on the back for immediately figuring out how to program it. The downside was that movies were expensive. We rented often, but we owned one movie. ONE MOVIE. And let me tell you, when you own ONE MOVIE, you show that movie to every single guest that drops by. After the first dozen showings, I could quote every single line along with "Beverly Hills Cop". And I did, much to the chagrin of everyone else that actually wanted to watch it. To this day, I do not wish to see a single clip of that film nor of any of its sequels.

Our first microwave oven was kind of fun. In the beginning, it was just a big popcorn popper. We tried microwave brownies, but food technology had not quite kept up with appliances. Eventually, we figured out it was also good for defrosting frozen goods or melting cheese. The crowning achievement of the microwave age was discovered while softening butter. You see, butter sometimes comes in metallic wrappers. Wheeeeeeee! Just don't do it when Mom's looking.

The computer was fun for our young brains. Mom did great getting us one early on, guaranteeing we'd never be afraid of the technology. Our first machine was a Commodore 64. We ran some text-based games and even learned a few simple programming commands. It's hard to believe we got by with the tiny amount of memory available, but Zork didn't take a lot. Down. West. Kill troll with sword. Hello, Sailor. Of course, this was all when the floppy disk drive was actually working. And when we remembered to use comma 8, so the PC wouldn't ask us to "press play on tape".

So today I am grateful today for voicemail, DVDs, DVR and modern computer UIs. All the technological advances are pretty amazing. But it's also nice that microwaves haven't changed and the sparks can still fly!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bacon & Cheese, Oh forgive me!

Lazy repost of something I originally wrote 10/02/2007. Go ahead and judge. I don't care.

Today is a historic day. My personal beliefs have been shaken undeniably. It all started quite innocently when the circumstances of beautiful weather and the rare pleasure of driving my husband’s car inspired me to spend my lunch hour shopping for a birthday gift for my sister-in-law.

I located an appropriate gift, however, was quickly running out of time. With this noble pursuit carried out, a trip to the drive-thru of a local fast food establishment was next on the menu. Wendy’s beckoned with the promise of the dollar menu. A baked potato and some chicken nuggets may very well be the perfect meal for such a day. Then fate intervened with a gluttonous thought. Why not go for the bacon and cheese potato?

The staff expertly handled the request resulting in a smooth window-to-window transaction. Yet even as I received the welcome bag into my hands, I sensed something amiss. Was it the weight of the bag that was different? Perhaps the hint of glowing neon orange shining through the top of the bag? Nervously, I drove back to my place of employment, taking great care not to spill the bag on the interior of my husband’s vehicle.

Upon arrival, I fully opened the fast food package. Egad! I would have been blinded by the expanse of orange cheese instantly if not for the mounds of bacon obscuring it in strategic locations. At first, it seemed a miracle. Two of my favorite foods were plentifully adorning a simple potato. I stared for several moments attempting to ascertain the best method to consume the meal. Finally, I simply dug in. I ate as much as possible, but in the end it was too much. Fragments of both cheese and bacon were left on the plate in an embarrassing display.

Prior to these gooey events unfolding, I would have told anyone who cared to listen that it was impossible to have too much of either of these ingredients in a meal. But today, my world has been forever changed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Florida’s Non-Violent Opposition to Drugs

When I first heard of the new welfare drug testing law signed by Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, I was skeptical. Would the savings of not paying welfare benefits to drug users balance the cost of administering a testing program? Is the testing constitutional by federal law? Should the government be able to tell anybody what they can and can’t do with their lives including using drugs?

This issue allows me to stretch my brain in balancing my leanings toward both conservative economic policy and liberal personal liberty. As a taxpayer, I don’t want the revenues generated from my labors to support the drug habit of another person. However, if that same person wants to do drugs on their own dime, then have at it.

The facts as I understand them are below:

1. As of July 1, 2011, any applicants for state welfare benefits in Florida will be tested for drugs as part of the application process.

2. The drug test is paid for by the applicant. The applicant is reimbursed if the test is passed.

3. An individual that fails the test can designate another person to receive benefits on behalf of his or her children.

4. A failed applicant may not re-apply for one year or may re-apply following the completion of a drug abuse program.

Right away with fact number one, I notice that this does not apply to current benefit recipients. It is new applicants only. I have not located a copy of the law yet, but no news outlet I have seen details any provisions for testing those already receiving public assistance. My guess is that the law does not apply to those already in the program in order to better stand up under Constitutional scrutiny.

The fourth amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. The fourteenth provides for due process before cutting off a welfare recipient’s benefits. Interestingly, the fourteenth amendment also provides for something interpreted as “freedom of contract.” This allows a corporation and an individual to enter into a private contract free from government restrictions. A government agency may be different than a corporation, but the freedom of contract concept could possibly be in effect here. Therefore, if an individual wants welfare benefits, they enter into a contract with the government to submit to a drug test before receiving said benefits. I’m no Constitutional expert, but it seems reasonable on the surface.

Fact number two provides for a portion of the funding for the test. It curtails the extra expense for drug testing when the applicant fails the test. Those that pass are reimbursed. That’s nice. Now I stick my big fat BUT in here. What kind of bureaucracy has been created or enlarged to administer all this? I haven’t seen any projected figures on how much it will cost for the testing equipment and employees to perform the necessary tasks. Will it actually be less than money saved from not paying out additional benefits? I suspect additional infrastructure would be minimal considering drug testing is very common and not particularly expensive. There are well-established parameters on how to perform such testing. It would be necessary to print new forms adding in the drug test to the application process, but that too seems small.

Let’s project that one denied applicant would have received from $100 to $700 per month for a family. Per the ACLU, average cost per drug test in 2008 was $42. I have no idea how many applicants would fail the test. I’m going to base it on 1 in 100 applicants will fail. Spending would be $4,158 on 99 drug tests. If the failed applicant would have received the minimum, the state would be avoiding a payout of $1,200 per year. The maximum not paid would be $8,400.

Admittedly, there are a lot of factors not included here. Benefits may also include rent assistance, food stamps, medical care and insurance and other allowances. At any rate, if more people are closer to the minimum payout, there’s not a lot of saving here.

An excellent vintage!

Fact number three above seems like a big concern to me. I am going to assume the designated benefit receiver would have to go through the same application procedure. If they don’t, the whole program is an utter waste of time. Still, that’s quite a loophole. I’m sure most parents or siblings would do this for an applicant without too much complaint. Or maybe anyone would do it for a small kickback, further corrupting the purpose of public assistance funds.

I like fact number four. One year seems like a reasonable amount of time before re-applying. Time for a BUT again. It seems like an added cost to keep tabs on this and even more so, to track time spent in drug abuse programs and determine if such programs were indeed successful.

On the surface, I don’t really have an issue with requiring welfare recipients to be drug free. Just like your parents said “my house, my money, my rules” when you were young, the government can say the same thing when it’s footing your bills. I do have an issue with the cost of keeping up with the program. I commend Florida for the requirement, but this should be watched closely to see if the savings outweigh the costs.

You may have noticed I said “on the surface” in the previous paragraph. That was your cue I’m not done rambling just yet. If you don’t like freedom, this is where you get off the ride. Stop reading (if you haven’t already…yawn) because now I’m going to state two more things that may be heavily disagreed with.

Drugs should be legal. Really. It’s my choice if I want to do take drugs. That doesn’t actually invalidate drug testing to get free money. If you’re taking a hand-out, you can be told what to do by your benefactor. It’s just like when you are employed and your company states you will be tested if you agree to work there. Absolutely. That is a contract. Employers have a choice to hire on that basis. Which companies will be more successful? Ones with slacker druggies or ones with productive people taking pride in their work? A contract is still regulation, but you choose it so it is also liberty.

Welfare should be completely reformed and mostly shut down. Now’s the time to say “WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN!?!” I’m sure most people would agree that children should not be allowed to starve. For the most part, they’d agree that the government should subsidize the care and housing for those unfortunate enough to be born to parents that can’t actually take care of them. Oddly, if approached on an individual basis to give money to families living in poverty, a lot of people would keep their cash for themselves. But they don’t seem to mind the government taking money from their pay and donating it to the same families. All I’m saying is that we have way too many people milking the system. I don’t want kids to starve, but I’d rather their parents paid for them.

I’ll end this with one final caution. A law frequently does more than intended or opens the door to even more laws. How long before Florida decides that since driving is government-regulated, all drivers must be drug-tested before receiving a license? What about testing for a business license? Then perhaps a fishing license?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Grown-Up Jell-O

Three things in this world always make me smile, reggae music, Jell-O shots and Canada Geese. This is my technique for making Jell-O shots.

One package of Jell-O is normally made with two cups of water. The general rule is to substitute alcohol for one third of the water content. I make my flavors from lightest to darkest color, so I don't waste time washing the mixing bowl between flavors yet none become discolored. Each package should make 14 shots. Use cheaper liquors for these since no one will know anyway.

Utilizing this technique means each shot contains about 1/3 ounce of liquor (1/3 of a normal shot). It may not seem like much, but it can creep up and surprise you. Too much liquor in a shot makes a more distinct alcohol flavor which I have found most people do not enjoy. Still, a few such high gravity shots can mix things up. Another advantage of this formula is non-drinkers will often still partake of one or two shots and feel included in the party atmosphere.

I use an answer key so I don't have to field questions all night about which is which. Before making the shots, I number the bottoms of the cups. I record them and print out what is in each number. Sometimes, I wait a while to display this key. It’s fun to make people guess.

The answer key above is a good start, but get creative. I have experimented with instant pudding, milk and chocolate liqueur. It works, but must be kept colder than gelatin with regards to finished product. Sometimes a little lime juice or grenadine is nice. Some people add fruit, but I prefer not to. Just think of any common drink and add Jell-O.

Boil water and mix one cup of it with your Jell-O in mixing bowl with whisk (or spoon). Fill one third cup of your measuring cup with ice or cold water. Fill the other two thirds with your chosen liquor. Mix this in then transfer the contents of mixing bowl back to measuring cup. Pour into your small cups. Refrigerate per Jell-O instructions.

To save fridge space:
Get a cardboard box. Liquor stores have a large supply and if you are reading this, I suspect you have been there lately. Use a box cutter or scissors to rip into sections to fit a shelf of your fridge. As shots are poured, place a layer on the fridge shelf. Place a cardboard section over completed shots then place the next batch on top etc.

Consuming your shots:
Don't tell your guests how to eat these because it's more fun to make them figure it out. However, since you are the host, you should look cool by having this knowledge. Run your tongue around the entire circumference of the shot between Jell-O and cup. Dump into mouth. If you really want to enjoy the shot, don't be shy. It's more fun to shove it all in your mouth at once. Only girly-girls take three bites. For Pete's sake, it's a shot!

Not recommended:
Unless it is an emergency, do not use mini bathroom rinsing cups (Dixie or other). You'll end up eating paper and it's much harder to eat the Jell-O.
Too much liquid content will not allow the gelatin to set properly. Stick to two cups liquid.

small plastic condiment cups (available in large quantities at Sam's)
small boxes of jell-o
mixing bowl
2 cup measuring cup with pouring spout

Thanks for joining me in the wholesome family fun that is Jell-O!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dear Celery

Dear Celery,

I hate you. I have tried for many years to be tolerant, but I finally understand that I am unable to come to terms with your acerbic crunch. Your raw bitter burst offends my sensibilities. For a time, I thought I could at least stand your presence in soups or stews with your most noxious qualities boiled out of you. I was mistaken. Your flavor pervades and anything you are a part of becomes less desirable as a result. I regret that it had to come to this, but I must abandon any semblance of civility toward you. This is war, Celery.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Pop Quiz

I hope I get a good grade.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de "Maya"

*Warning – Heart-warming content may not be suitable for some audiences. Please use caution.*

Cinco de Mayo is a day to celebrate and have a good time. Many of us aren’t really sure why aside from some vaguely Mexican reason. It turns out it’s mostly a U.S. holiday celebrating Mexican heritage and culture and also the date of a battle won by Mexico against France. Whatever. It’s fun. Have a margarita.

I go through this day in remembrance of something else entirely. This is the day I most remember Maya. I first met Maya when the family that found her called for help. They described a black cat and five kittens. The cat had been a stray that decided to stay with them. The kittens came shortly after. I reluctantly took in the feline family. Mom plus four kittens were black. I knew even my rescue group would have a hard time placing them. Black cats can be a tough sell.

I went through the standard procedures, testing for disease, spays and neuters and vaccinations. The babies were cute as are all kittens and they had a great mom. She was so attentive I decided to call her Maya (after the Maiasaur, a dinosaur with a rep as a good mom). Then it occurred to me there were five kittens: Cinco de Maya!

I couldn’t have been more lucky with those kittens. Predictably, the striped one, Marble, got a home first. But then the two black females, Penny and Whistle, got adopted together. A week later, the two black males, Slingshot and Button, got adopted together. I just had Maya left…for about four years.

My mom tried to take her in at one point while I was moving, but Maya turned out to be a biter. She was also not very affectionate or trusting. I took her back and she continued to be a caring mother figure each time I fostered kittens. Even if they were as big as her, she’d pin down a younger cat to clean its ears. I eventually came to understand that Maya was no longer a foster. She was my cat. She trusted me and sat on my lap whether I wanted her to or not.

The biggest problem with keeping Maya was she didn’t get along with my other cats, all much older than her. She hid in my office and I spent time with her when I could. I thought with her age, she would be around long after the others were gone and that would be “Maya’s time”. Sadly, about a year after the decision to keep her, she got sick.

Maya stopped eating and grooming. She lost weight fast. She couldn’t walk in a straight line. She was given emergency fluids and medicine. She ate again for about a day and a half then stopped. Her liver was failing. I had to make the hard decision and let her go. I was lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with her. I held her and brushed her and made her as comfortable as possible. I was with her at the vet’s office when the end came.

Now every year on Cinco de Mayo I think of the good mother cat that I got to know. I hope I made her life better. She was my friend and I miss her.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Life & Taxes

The conversation started amiably enough. A co-worker and I agreed that the U.S. is quickly approaching a financial crisis. Beyond that generality, however, we started wandering into territory dangerous for work discussions.

At first, she overlooked a potential point of disagreement regarding education. I voiced the opinion that if tax money followed children instead of children being assigned to where money was already going, home-schooling might become more appealing. Parents might find it more affordable to stay home with their children if their own tax money stayed home too. Children could learn at their own paces. The co-worker said, “Home-schooling is hard.” I had a lot more to say about taxes and education quality, but I let it go.

Then I overlooked the next potential point of disagreement regarding elder care. My co-worker’s sister cared for their mother rather than place her in assisted living. No disagreement until she mentioned in her sister’s state, an adult could be paid by the government to take care of her own elderly parents. I said, “Sure, that’s a tax break if the elder is a dependent.” But what she meant was that someone should be paid by government to stay home and care for the elderly. I wanted to ask whose responsibility it was to pay for that, but I let it go. After all, no one wants to see older Americans suffer.

Finally we arrived at the real disagreement: taxation. The co-worker declared that the problem is the government really needs to “tax the hell out of the rich.” I said, “I disagree.” I pointed out that “the rich” (the definition of which is another debate) are also employers and if they were penalized additionally, they might have to let some workers go. She said, “The government can take of them [the workers].”

Next I asked, “What is my incentive to get promoted or otherwise earn more money if I know I will also have to pay more money if successful?” She said, “You would want to earn more to get more things you want.” I thought to myself that I would want to use ALL of my money as I see fit, not just the portion the government decides I can use, but I didn’t voice this.

The co-worker then went on to claim that half of her wages go to taxes because she is single. Half? 50%? I can’t disagree because I don’t see her paycheck, but huh? Later, I looked up the current top tax bracket: 35%. The lowest is 10%. Based on knowing where she works, I would guess her income tax rate is actually either 15% or 25%. She says is tired of the rich getting all the tax breaks. I said, “Well, everyone should get a tax break. Why does there have to be an income tax at all?” She said, “Because there has always been one.”

Disregarding for a moment that there was not always an income tax in the U.S. (16th Amendment, 1913 – looked it up later), I asked “Does that make it right?” At this point, the conversation devolved into her stating in various ways that there is always an income tax and me asking again just because something has “always” been there, does that make it right?

Eventually, I excused myself to use the bathroom. While I was sitting there like the thinker, I decided that next time this conversation comes up with anyone, I will ask the questions below to stir things up a bit. Do any of my loyal blog readers (Mom?) have any questions to add?

1. What income level (individual or couple) do you define as rich?
2. Are you aware that earners in higher income brackets already pay more taxes by percentage than those in lower brackets?
3. Are you aware that even if there was a single tax percentage across all brackets that top earners would still pay more because that is how percentages work?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fate? A farce. Destiny? Doubtful. Hall & Oates? Universal.

In recent weeks, I have noticed an unusual amount of Hall & Oates references in casual conversation and songs playing on the grocery store PA. I had chalked this up to coincidence. But something niggled (Hey, I’ve never used that word before. Niggled. Haha. Fun.).

Anyhow, today I decided to use my private eye skills to sleuth out whether there may indeed be something going on in the realm of Hall & Oates. It was a very quick search. I did it in a minute. There it was in my Google search results. John Oates is 62 today, April 7. Now some may say it was destiny, but I can’t go for that. Indeed, I say it isn’t so.

Instead, I posit that perhaps Hall & Oates is an important part of the universal force that binds us all together. Either that, or there is a Hall & Oates revival going on and I am just out of touch.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Shaping of a Capitalist - Anita's Tale

Names have been changed for my own protection.

My first “real” job was in a distribution warehouse for a large pipe, valves and fittings company. Most of the employees were order-fillers, taking products off shelves and shipping them out. A huge office staff wasn’t necessary, so I was one of just a few. By “real” job, I mean a standard 40 hours per week with paid vacation. It didn’t pay much, but it didn’t bother me. I still had the illusion of possible advancement and the work was not unpleasant. The environment, however, was different.

Job duties changed. Management changed. These were not issues. The real challenge of working there was Anita. Anita was a little older than my other officemates and me. She hadn’t yet received the memo that you didn’t have to scheme to hold back other women anymore. More than one woman can now be on a board of directors. We can actually help each other. We don’t just get the coffee these days.

Additionally, Anita was intimidated that the receiving clerk and I had attended college. Obviously, we thought we were better than her due to our education. Mostly we tried to have as few dealings with her as possible and just stay out of her way.

It quickly became apparent that Anita delighted in our misfortunes. Walking into the office bright and chipper and saying “good morning” elicited a frown. Slinking in with downcast eyes got her attention immediately. She’d smile like Jaws (she got her teeth fixed later, but it was scary for a while) and be concerned at your unhappiness.

Anita was absolutely in her glory when others were miserable. Her favorite self-appointed duty was Thermostat Nazi. At first, I had some sympathy. She was menopausal and I understand the concept of hot flashes. But NO ONE sets a business thermostat at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. NO ONE. On the hottest days of the year (in Atlanta, GA), I wore a scarf at my desk. It’s not easy to use a PC with gloves on, but I managed. The colder it was, the bigger Anita’s smile.

At this point, Anita sounds like a real…er…witch. But here is where she deserves some credit for reinforcing my free market ideals. I came to have a greater understanding that her motive was envy. We were better-educated and had good teeth. She had barely been to high school and had a miscreant son that required his parents’ caretaking long past the start of adulthood. Our lives were fluid and hers was etched in stone. Because we were perceived as having more, we were to be punished.

This, today, is what our government is doing. The productive and successful among us have more. So they must be punished. They must pay a higher percentage of the money they EARN to help those that are neither productive nor successful. You can’t raise up the lazy among us by bringing down the motivated.

The day I realized Anita’s true feelings of hate and jealousy toward us was the day I noticed her shivering with cold. She was willing to endure privation and discomfort as long as others were equally uncomfortable. She was unwilling to empower herself in her personal life, so she chose to make our lives more difficult.

By the way, she hated the name “Anita.” Apparently, her husband had dated a girl of that name right before her. Naturally, I had to use it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The True Meaning of Sharing

My little brother Jeff is awesome. He is the source of good advice on auto, plumbing and various mechanical issues. He is smart, loyal, funny and can reach stuff on higher shelves than me. But aside from all that, there is an incident in our past which may really be the glue that bonds us together today.

We were not particularly well-off as kids. Neither of our parents were raking in the big bucks. We never lacked for anything critical, but some items were still luxuries nonetheless. Soda pop was one of those luxuries. We lived in an apartment with a Pepsi Mom in a Pepsi town. She bought it when it was on sale in whatever form was cheapest. Sometimes this was a two-liter plastic bottle. Other times, the eight-pack of 16 oz. glass bottles was more economical.

Two-liter bottles went fast. You had to drink it within a couple of days or it went flat. Most Coke drinkers will tell you that Pepsi already tastes flat. I agree. So imagine Pepsi three days after opening with zero carbonation remaining. Ack! It makes smaller bottles much more attractive.

Enter the eight-pack.

The eight glass bottles would beckon from their place next to the fridge. The conditions were cramped. The wallpaper was loud. But all we could see was the sweet dark liquid gleaming in the incandescent light.

Now, I’m sure anyone with basic math skills can see an issue already. Me, Mom, Jeff. Three people. Eight bottles. But Mom was generous. Jeff and I were allotted three bottles each while she owned only two. For all we knew, she was drinking it every day from the vending machine at work, but that is pure speculation.

Jeff and I made our Pepsi last as best we could. We were not greedy children, but who could resist a bottle the first day? The next hit was usually in three or four days. Mom would drink a bottle too. Then reality would start to set in. We only had one bottle each. At this point a minor miracle would happen. A few days later, my brother and I would actually share a bottle. We’d split it even in those old colored Tupperware cups, 8 oz. each. As time wore on, we’d split our last bottle. We could milk our Pepsi for at least a couple weeks. Who knew when we’d have it again?

Cute story, right? My brother and I had supplemented our knowledge of sharing gleaned from Sesame Street with real life experience. But it’s not over. No, it’s not.

Next, we’d move on to Kool-Aid, biding our time between Pepsi purchases. We’d even drink water or instant iced tea. But all the while we were both working very hard to ignore one fact. There was still one full bottle sitting there in the eight-pack with the empties and it wasn’t ours. Eventually it was torture. Every day we’d come home from school and the first sight straight ahead to the kitchen was that full bottle. No Berry Blue could sate us. No Tropical Punch could sustain us. Sigh.

It may have been only two weeks, but it felt like two months. Then finally one day, Jeff and I would just look at each other. We knew what we had to do. I got the cups. He got the bottle opener. There was never a more even and equitable pour as both us tasted sweet caffeinated heaven.

Unfailingly, that was the day Mom finally decided to drink her Pepsi. She summoned us.

We stood together. No blame. No accusations. We knew what we’d done. Forgotten were the times I didn’t tell Jeff what was on TV when he couldn’t yet read and also the times he borrowed my walkman without asking. The moments we had to be restricted to our own side of the couch or the rear seat of the car were unimportant. We were on each other’s side now and forever.

We endured in silent solidarity pondering her past threats of punishment. Would she turn our noses upside-down so we would drown next time it rained? Would she make us ride in the trunk finally after all these years?

Mom said “I was thinking about that Pepsi all day.” That was it. I remember no other punishment, simply the crushing oppressive guilt fostered by that simple statement. Yet Jeff and I shared this just as readily as we’d shared the sweet nectar of life an hour or two earlier. Perhaps that was why Mom was a little easier on us. We’d somehow learned something together.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The First Amendment, Part 2: Speech & Press

Here’s what the first amendment says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Freedom of speech can be perhaps more accurately defined as freedom of expression. A photo or drawing or symbolic action can represent this particular right just as easily as written or spoken words. One could theoretically choose to fart in the boss’s office when she’s not around and that would be self-expression. Incidentally, I have never done this.

Freedom of the press overlaps significantly with freedom of speech. The amount of published information and opinion continues to increase exponentially as our population gets more and more plugged in to the Internet. Blogs in particular blend the definition of free speech with free press. A blog is an exercise in free speech published in a public forum, the ultimate independent op-ed.

Love you, Blogger!

When the CON was written, the press consisted of printed news. There were no radios, TVs, computers or telegraphs. Even the nuances of semaphore were not fully explored. Today, the Internet sets up everyone from mainstream media sources to the Bob Loblaw Law Blog as “the press”. I say this is a good thing. Mainstream sources are not the government watchdogs they used to be. Everyone has an agenda. Facts are overlooked when they don’t support that agenda. Again, I say that can be a good thing.

WHAT?!? How can ignoring facts and spinning a story to fit your own personal goals be good?

Ok, it’s NOT good when the source purports to be neutral and presents supposition as fact. But it is completely liberating and excellent when a hundred people state their opinions and back them up with select facts. That means a hundred different viewpoints. Even reading a handful of different sources helps each of us refine our own thoughts on an issue.

Now that I have clearly stated that I believe everyone should be able to say or print whatever they want, I’ll briefly explore some potential problems with that. There’s treason, hate speech and of course, porn! Or slippery slope, slippery slope and…never mind.

The slippery slope arises when even small acts start to be counted as treason due to a progression of sensitivity. There are some pretty clear cases of treason. Providing the location of your country’s top secret military base, revealing the technology behind your country’s top secret mind control device or bragging about how Brenda Rafalski let you touch her in top secret areas all come to mind as direct treason. The problem with using the treason label is that things can go too far. One day you can’t reveal military codes, the next you can’t burn iconic symbols of your nation then suddenly you can’t even comment that you think the President’s healthcare mandate is a mistake. Citizens should always be free to criticize their government without fear of wire-taps without due process (cough, Patriot Act).

Our forefathers were treasonous bastards. That doesn’t mean they were wrong.

Next we have hate speech. It’s often cruel, hurtful and focused on a particular race, lifestyle or other aspect of a group of people. Despite all that, it’s completely legal in the U.S. Good! We are not a free civilization if we can’t state our opinions, even when those opinions are short-sighted and bigoted. This turns into another slippery slope type situation if nasty comments begin to be banned. Also, we do have recourse when the hate speech is unfounded. At that point, we call it defamation (or libel if it’s published). We can litigate the heck out of folks for false statements.

Now I believe I mentioned porn earlier. I saved it for last to try to keep male attention throughout this long ramble. This is a situation that we are really still feeling out. In legal terms, anything considered not socially acceptable is considered “obscenity”. The problem with obscenity is that every generation, every social niche, every subculture, every person has a different picture of what is obscene. What is acceptable to one person may rub another the wrong way. There is little consistency in defining the concept as it changes constantly.

So how do we determine if porn is obscene? The only way I can see to fairly define this is to ask if it violates the rights of someone else. For instance, child pornography most definitely violates the rights of another person. Hence, it is completely illegal to produce and distribute that product. Owning it is also illegal, but whether that specifically violates anyone’s rights is another topic.

In general, if we want to remain in freedom and liberty, we can’t restrict people from expressing their opinions. It is wrong to violate the rights of others via those same expressions, but how can you legislate against an opinion? It’s problematic at best. The framers of the CON were rebels who expressed their own opinions in opposition to the powers that were. They would not have wanted us to try to control each other. It looks like we just have to depend on people’s parents to raise them right.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Street Sign Scandal

A few members of my immediate family have had a rather inappropriate relationship with street signs. It all started with a stray orange cone, ostensibly left behind from a road construction project. Or perhaps it was lifted off the ground from an ongoing project to be yanked through the window of a moving vehicle. Why split hairs?

The criminal mastermind trio that perpetrated this abduction will not be identified except to say one was the mom of the other two. Let’s call them Beatrice, Jesse and Paula.

The street cone was a proud addition to the family. They all giggled and smirked about their feat of property redistribution. And that was that. No sirens, no escalation of thrill-seeking. Their life of crime may have come to a stop right there, but for a chance circumstance.

The family moved to a new apartment and what should greet them as they explored the large attic above the second floor? Real honest-to-goodness, government-issued street signs! Both “STOP” and “DEAD END” would be displayed prominently on bedroom walls. The latter even appeared in the family’s photo history in a shot of a bleary-eyed friend waking in the top bunk in Jesse’s room. These were joyous times and seemingly innocent since the family had not had to perform any illegal acts.

Amusing as they were, these signs began to inspire covetous feelings. Jesse dreamed of obtaining the “Do Not Walk on Wall” sign by the stone bridge across the Chadakoin River. Beatrice and Paula admired a sign they often saw while on marching band carpool duty. One night, they could no longer resist its siren call.

After dropping off the other band kids, Beatrice and Paula looked at each other and knew it was time.

“I’ll keep the car running. You grab the sign,” Beatrice carefully orchestrated.

“Okay” was Paula’s eloquent response.

The car doors were unlocked, engine idling as Paula approached the “ROAD CLOSED” sign. The size of the bright white wooden sign was overwhelming. Paula grabbed it off its stand. She was relieved it was unattached, but quickly realized it was HUGE. On end, it was just as tall as she was at a strapping five feet. There was no time to contemplate further as she began shoving and heaving it into the back seat of a Ford Escort. Then there was actually a little more time to think as additional shoving and heaving was required. Was it already mentioned it was HUGE?

Finally, the car doors were shut. Paula was in place in the passenger seat dutifully clicking her seat belt. Beatrice began to drive. It was not long before they realized…the road was closed. “How could we have known?” Beatrice surmised. “There was no sign!”

Laughing nervously, Beatrice turned the car around. It was just in time to pass a police car driving the other way. The other way in this case being…down the closed road. Beatrice remained calm and drove quite sanely away, turn signal blinking, stopping properly at the intersection. Somehow nothing happened. By chance or by design (neither could remember later), the reflective surface of the pilfered sign was angled facing downward and they escaped free and clear.

The thievery ends there, but not the story. The family learned their lesson and went on the straight and narrow, (well, somewhat). Then one day, a few years later, young Jesse had a party. Neither Beatrice nor Paula was around. Yearbook signings indicate the party was a resounding success until the cops showed up. Finding underage drinkers, they searched the host's bedroom and located "STOP" and "DEAD END". Jesse spent a lovely evening in jail and was eventually charged with two counts of possession of stolen property. Ironically, this was for the signs the family did not steal. Fortunately, he was not scarred by this and everyone lived happily ever after.

I remind various government authorities that all of the above occurred in a stormy and tempestuous past. It is a tale relegated to another time and such actions should now be forgiven as outside the statute of limitations. Besides, you can’t prove anything!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The First Amendment, Part 1: Religion

This is an opinion about what the first amendment of the Constitution of the U.S. means to me. I have zero legal experience and my educational basis for understanding the material is one communications law class at Syracuse University and whatever I learned from Mr. Wilfong during my junior year of high school (I learned about kidney stones in his class too. That looked like it hurt!).

Here’s what the first amendment says:

That seems pretty simple really. I guess my work here is done. Seriously, worship (or don’t) however you want, say what you want, write what you want, hang out with whoever you want and don’t forget to write your Congressman.

As it turns out, humanity has an endless capacity for debate and also is very good at discovering exceptions to all rules. I’m certain it’s part of our charm as a species. If someone metaphorically tells us the sky is the limit, we still push to go further.

I’ll start with religion. According to the CON (dramatic nickname in an attempt to keep your attention), we don’t have an official national religion and everyone gets to believe whatever they want. Government is all secular and stuff. Sweet!

But then there a couple of things I don’t quite understand. Why are there official national holidays based on religious holidays? Why are religious organizations tax exempt? Why is God mentioned on our currency? Why does a private business catch so much static for selling “Christmas” trees and feel they have to call them “Holiday” trees instead? What about displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses?

Hm. That’s more questions than I realized and still just the tip of the iceberg.

When I was a kid, it was called Christmas vacation. Now they call it winter break. I say: whatever. It’s become more of a convenient break between school semesters. It includes the New Year’s holiday, which most of the world celebrates by heavy drinking. It really should double as National Taxi Day. It’s really up to individual businesses whether or not to close that day. For government workers, it actually makes sense to leave Christmas as a national holiday since the majority of Americans would ask for it off anyway. Even atheists celebrate it. Whatever the original intent was in declaring Dec 25 a national holiday, it now has just as much secular meaning.

Religious organizations are largely tax exempt in the U.S. Then again, so are a host of other non-profit (but not necessarily non-prophet) organizations. If your group is charitable or educational, you pretty much have a shot at qualifying for tax exemption. It’s an even playing field, so tax exemptions under the CON are a different subject.

"God” on my money is just not necessary. It doesn’t really belong in the Pledge of Allegiance either. In both instances, it is not the original wording. “In God We Trust” was made the official motto of the U.S. in 1956. The prior unofficial motto was “E Pluribus Unum”, appearing on our cash since the late 18th century. Well, now. This is uncomfortable. It’s like we had this mistress for 150+ years then married someone else we officially gave our money to. Though the mention of God in this case does not really seem to intend support of a specific religion, it could still be a violation of those who choose no religion and those who are polytheistic. It’s an ongoing debate in our court systems. We could just return to the gold standard for our national currency. I sort of like “In Gold We Trust”.

I’m on the other side of the coin regarding religious holiday displays. There is no reason why a private business or organization can’t call their products or marketing materials whatever they want to. They are, in actuality, Christmas trees, intended for use as Christmas decorations. Use them for whatever you like, but that is their main purpose. As for government holiday displays, I restate that Christmas has attained secular meaning as well as religious. It’s cultural and it remains part of the dominant culture in our nation. Other cultures are allowed their own displays for holidays at any time of year. There should be a reason to celebrate every day we live, so get down for Diwali and party on Passover. And, of course, Festivus for the rest of us.

Bear with me, I’m almost done. The last question on my list was the legality of displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses. A lot of people get upset over this. If they’re taking it literally that this is the law of the land the court is upholding, then I can see why. However, displays as a historical record of an earlier system of law are not far-fetched. The Code of Hammurabi is older, more relevant and would be far more interesting, but not everyone has my impeccable aesthetic taste.

After all those words, it seems like I really haven’t come very far here. The short version: I agree with the Constitution that state-sponsored religion is a bad idea and everyone should worship (or not) however they want. How simple is that?

*Note: Festivus pole image is from where said poles may be purchased.