Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dear Tina;

Dear Tina,

As I look over your life from a distance, I am alarmed at the accumulating detritus. Here you are, the mother of a toddler just getting out of diapers and another child who just turned six in April, and your world is littered with dozens of empty Marlboro Light packs. That’s bad enough, but are those stronger Pal Malls driving you to use that Albuterol Sulfate Inhalant? Or does one of the kids have asthma?

You shop at Food Lion and buy far too much sugary processed stuff. Often, the king-sized enriched plain sandwich bread and some small yogurts are the closest thing to real food that you have in the house. You buy Kicks, Twix, Drumsticks ice-cream bars, Shake ‘n Bake, Toast Scrambles, X-Treme Jell-O, and instant mashed potatoes. Instant? Come on! You never finished filling out the ManPower application, so with no job, don’t you have the time to mash a few real spuds? They’re cheaper, too. And then there are the high sugar, high caffeine soft drinks: Classic Coke, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper (by the way, large plastic bottles are less expensive than the cans). And the Burger King take-out meals aren’t any better. Do you really need that much ketchup? All that junk food might explain your Gas-X habit. How much longer do you think that you can wear size six satin bikini panties? A few Nutri-grain bars aren’t exactly going to balance your diet. By now you realize that I also know what kind of shampoo, conditioner, bath soap, toothpaste, and feminine hygene protection you use; though I haven’t drawn any conclusions from that information (except that apparently, at least you're not pregnant again).

Apparently, your problem with the authorities last March resulted in a judgment of guilty of Breach of Peace and a fine of $160.00. You had to pay up or risk the loss of your driver’s license. Did you pay in time? With money so tight I can’t figure out why you didn’t bother to challenge the Medicaid cut-off date for your older child. How are you going to pay all those doctor’s bills?

And who am I to give advice? I’m just the guy who picked your garbage out of the bushes on my property. The bags were torn open and the junk was strewn around so I had to pick it all up piece by piece. That’s how I came across your name and address on the court papers and all that personal information about you. I could have turned you in to the county sheriff. But I have come to realize that the last thing you need right now is another court case, another fine, and more public humiliation. That obviously wouldn’t be a good thing for your little ones. Instead, all I ask, Tina, is that you get a better grip on your life and your garbage.

Sincerely yours, Mr. Landowner

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Past notes to Heloise, part one

An open letter to Heloise:
The other day, my brother Davis and I were thinking about some of the hints we’ve seen in your column. Of course, being country boys, we kinda feel like you’re a little too biased toward the "little old lady" kind of hint, but we decided to just keep trying with our more manly "redneck" hints. It was either that or try and start our own column; nah, too much like work.
Well here goes nothin’:
Most of us guys born prior to 1950 just are not comfortable wearing our hats indoors, even to just sit down in a diner to eat. But forgetful as we’re all getting, one of the easiest things to lose is a ball cap (and some of those have serious sentimental value to a guy). You can’t "check" your hat anywhere any more and most places don’t even have a hook on the wall, so what to do?
I take my hat off and tuck the brim into the back of my pants, you know, into the top of the waistband (even works if you wear suspenders). It’s out of the way, you look respectful of the circumstances and you’ll have your hat when you leave . You do have to remember it’s there if you happen to go into the men’s room and have to loosen your belt or takedown your pants for any reason (you know what I mean). Otherwise you just might have to flush it down no matter how much you love that hat.

Advertising

An open letter to advertisers:
Ok, so maybe I' m a little weird. But, like most folks, I have my TV and radio on for significant periods of each day. I of course, see plenty of your ads. What you may be interested to learn is that I do not respond to your ads according to what your demographic marketing professionals tell you.
When I hear someone on the radio talk fast, I assume that what I am hearing is a lie. The faster the talk, the bigger the lie. When I see images on the TV flashing rapidity, I look out the window. I know that it must be a commercial and that I am most likely not only not interested but that I'm being inundated with stressful images and prejudicial opinions (more lies).
I especially try to buy products that are not advertised during high profile events such as the Super Bowl or the World Series. I know that the cost of ALL advertising is passed on to the consumer. All things being equal, I'm sure that the company that produces a bottle of pop and that doesn't pay a half a million dollars a minute for a commercial has to be a better value to me.
I am subjected to hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of ads for automobiles between the rare points in my life (once every eight or ten years) when I'm actually in the market to buy a car or truck. A new Ford or Chevy has to cost thousands of dollars over manufacturing costs just to pay for all the thousands of expensive radio, TV, print, and billboard ads that blight our lives (I was going to say consciousness, but it's unconscious too and "consciousnesses or collective consciousness" sounded funny).
Of course advertising has a legitimate function. We all need factual information as to what is available, where, when, at what cost. There really are differences in quality, environmental and social issues between products and companies. I’d like to know the differences. Of course, 99% of 99% of ads can be translated into one phrase: "We’re better than them." It’s like the two Popes that excommunicated each other. Which one is in Hell?
When a company decides to bathe the planet with incredibly expensive ads at saturation levels, I for one get the real message: This product is likely identical to its competitors, except maybe it costs more ... because of all the money wasted on over advertising.
Industries
The dentist asked me the other day whether I wanted any cosmetic work done on my teeth. I said, "No." I’m not likely to invest the GNP of the average African village of one hundred people to make my teeth a little prettier. It doesn’t take much to set me off.
I thought about the "Cosmetic Industry". Oh boy! We’ve got a "Cosmetic Industry", and an "Entertainment Industry", and probably the Associated Federation of Organizations "Industry" too. We are told that they are all important parts of our "vibrant" economy. Well, I concede that they at least move money around, I guess that anything that moves money around is an industry. So apparently the "Car Theft Industry" is also an important part of our economy; it sure moves money around. Mostly it moves money from relatively well off people who have cars and insurance to those people who have neither. "Industry" used to mean the hard work that resulted in the construction of something. Now it seems to mean anything at all. And some people will buy anything. Unfortunately, this broadening of the meaning hasn’t been accompanied by a qualification of the word’s positive connotation. We hear that all "industry" must be good, right? Anything that moves money around is productive. This brings me to the "Defense Industry".
Now since we are spending a few trillion dollars of Defense Industry money over in Iraq, it made me wonder about how that money is moving around. Well we pay for the bombs, we pay for transporting the bombs to Iraq, we pay the folks there to drop the bombs. But it doesn't end there. We have to pay to replace the bombs and apparently, we’ll pay to replace all the things that the bombs blew up (except for the bodies). There is a fallacious theory of economics (is THAT a redundancy?) that deals with the town glazier’s child who goes out at night and breaks windows so that his dad will have plenty of work replacing them. The theory goes on to posit that this is ultimately good for everyone since it keeps the money moving around, (the glazier buys glass from a wholesaler and meat from the butcher, the butcher buys grain from the miller, the miller buys... etc. Ad infi ni dum) . Our Defense Industry is the ultimate window breaker. Money that is spent on things that go BOOM and make other things disappear can’t be money well spent; I don’t care how fast it moves money around. The economic theory? An economist is to a mathematician what an astrologer is to an astronomer (or a cosmetic surgeon is to a doctor).
I’m not saying that we don’t need a Defense Industry, we do. I’d just like to see them defending us instead of Baghdad, especially our National Guard; they used to guard the Nation- ( rhymes with fashion al  Guard). Back when G. W. Bush joined the National Guard, NONE, not one of them went to the real war. So he wasn’t a draft dodger, he was a combat dodger. I was too. I just admit it.
So what am I to do with the money I’ll not be spending on my teeth? (Is this where it all started?)
As a cynic I believe that even if I were to send all that money (or even more, were I to do the "Jesus and Mother Theresa thing" and relinquish every bit of my resources) to Africa, or anywhere, there would surely be some scammer or consultant or government official on hand to skim off the majority of the good stuff for themselves. Then they’d probably figure out a way to get a US government grant to help them procure a permanent subsidy (paid for by the taxpayer) to help them maintain their pipeline to the money and property. I don’t know of ANY lobbyists that are protecting me and my money...
This hasn’t stopped me from giving. But I’m damn careful about how I give. After all, I get to give to the Defense Industry each and every pay check whether I want to or not. By the way my dentist is a pretty good musician, he sings along with the radio as he drills. I like that.

THE WEATHER CHANNEL

Please, please, please, everybody knows that the weather doesn’t start and stop at the international borders of the United States, Canada and Mexico. How would you like to live in south west New Mexico (the USA, in case you didn’t know)* where most of their weather comes from Mexico, and not be able to see what’s coming? Same for the folks in North Dakota where the fronts roll in from Canada. Toronto, Canada is south of a bunch of New England. Do you have a lawyerly prescription barring you from showing a forecast for Canada and Mexico? (And by the way; your graphics have gotten much worse since Jan. 2008 when I first wrote this.)
It’s bad enough that you can’t seem to keep your talking heads from standing right in front of the weather map while they point out to us (for the thousandth time) where Chicago is. And your graphics "editor?" won’t be happy until he/she has so cluttered the screen with ancillary factoids (it’s 68 in San Diego right now - fascinating for those of us in Virginia) and pretty yellow picture frames and the names of the talking head now up, that what little substantive information remaining is impossible to see or is flashed on the screen for less than a second and a half. Certainly, framing and wiggling the photos sent into you by viewers enhances them tremendously. And another thing: your legend at the top of the forecast map covers up about 4 million square miles of the USA. Do you think that it could be a little smaller and still inform all those "first time viewers" what the colors mean? The 99.9999% of the rest of us already know what the colors mean anyway; we’d be fine without any legend at all. The actual radar is the most useful thing you put up on the screen and although you do show it "on the eights" you run the three hour loop so briefly and quickly that it’s easy to miss. Your legend and your channel icon often cover up a large portion of the image. By the way, I’ve seen your "real-time" radar show a massive front still in the west over in West Virginia at the same time that I can see it out of my window 30 miles EAST of the state line moving easterly over the Massanutten Mountain. I’d never climb into a boat on the Chesapeake Bay based on your "up to the minute" information. Aren’t you afraid of being sued by some poor putz’s estate because he believed you? How about a clock on the radar screen that shows the real time of the loop? Oh and a six or twelve hour loop now and again would be nice, too. The truth is that only with "Tevo type" stop, slo mo and pause, is your show watchable. You can tell your advertizers** that most viewers aren’t seeing their ads either. And playing "faux pause" with alexandra’s face is a hoot!
During your regional coverage you often jump from New England to Atlanta as if Washington, DC, Virginia and West Virginia don’t even exist. Then when you get to the Mid West there you are standing in front of the map with your butt obscuring the part of the country where 60% of the people live. Just for grins, sit and watch for an hour and pretend that you live in Charlottesville, VA.
Finally, why not at least pretend that a few of your viewers actualy know what to expect from a cold front? Maybe you could actually show us the map with highs and lows and fronts on it more than once every few hours. You could make up the time lost by dropping some of those three hour too early "on the scene" reports by you traveling disaster team. Don’t you realize that commercials** for yourself are self defeating? I can only tune in as much as I am tuned in right now. You spend half of your air time telling us that you are going to tell us something, sometime (then you don’t till after the next ad). Do you think that noone notices when you do this? It’s insulting.
I’m ranting but that doesn't mean that my points aren’t valid and that if you modified your programming consistent with my observations your show would be far more informative and educational. But I can see that you are in the entertainment business, not the weather business. I can’t believe that somebody hasn’t come along and cleaned your clock for you. A little competition would sink you in a minute.
* New Mexico has an on going problem with folks who apparently believe that Texas and Arizona touch each other. You apparently don’t think that anyone lives between New York and Atlanta.
** Ads and "Telling us what you’re going to tell us" all wasted time; 90% of your program.

Pundits

On August 4, 2011, gold closed at about $1650 per ounce. That's about 22% in six months. This is likely reflects the level of confidence so many folks have in our House of Representatives. Unfortunately for us little investors, the really big investors and Governments don't have to pay that 15% charge every time they buy or sell something (nor the tax on transactions), so they're in a position to push the price up and down to their advantage.

The financial pundits are always making fun of the "cash under the mattress" people. Burying stuff in your back yard ala Erskin Caldwell may seem dumb; right up until you pick up the paper and see that your NYSE stocks have lost thirty percent of their "value" in a week, and then they lose another 20 % over the next month or so... Don't we wish we had had all our money in gold in September 2008? (When it was about $700.)

We need to remember that those same pundits called "no money down, no principal paid the first year loans" for super over priced houses _SECURITIES_! (House prices propped up by Greenspan's super low interest rates. "Hey! I can afford to pay for more house than I can use for more money than I have because the Government has interest rates WAY below the inflation rate! And I get to deduct the payments from my taxes! And the house will double in value in three years.*" And the real estate people obliged by hawking the "no risk" investment potential of houses and there were TWO TV shows about "flipping houses" for big bucks.) Now let's bundle the loans and sell them to other banks! Oh Boy!

SECURITIES! Secured by what? A promise to pay made by someone who is spending 130% (average American family debt) of their income on restaurant meals, cars, and vacations? (Also "secured" by a home "equity" loan. Equity that only exists and only on paper because the real estate sales people SAID the house would sell for big bucks because *see above*). SO, does anyone ever ask just exactly where the big bucks sales commissions for Realtors come from? Or where the two billion dollars came from that the Sandler couple walked off with just prior to the implosion of their World Savings Bank? Their bank was so Ponzied with fake "securities" that it brought down Wachovia, the purchaser.

The worst thing in the world that can happen to you is for a realtor to tell you that your house is worth twice what you thought it was IF YOU AREN'T PLANNING ON MOVING! And maybe even if you are, because you have to live somewhere and you'll have to buy another house that's probably over priced by the realtors. "Everything is worth what someone will pay for it." said Publilius Syrus about 2100 years ago. But that is only true if there is money out there. How much money disappeared in the fall of 2008? Everything is worthless in dollar terms right up untill it's sold. A house (realestate) is two things; an investment and a place to live. don't confuse the two.

We give lip service to the fact that everything comes from somewhere and you don't get something for nothing, but if you're just buying and selling things, houses, and companies, you're not creating anything, you're just moving money around so fast you get to keep some of it (Ayn Rand). Now, just where did all those "profits" come from? It's too complicated, say the pundits, you wouldn't understand.
Back in the 17th century there was a bubble for tulip bulbs in Holland. You could buy two or three houses with the right kind of tulip bulb because the bulb was GOING TO BE WORTH SO MUCH MORE TOMORROW! Forever and ever.
I'm still reading that the housing industry isn't back to "normal". Normal like what was going on in Las Vegas? I wouldn't live there if you gave me a mansion.