Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Smoking Rant

I work with a lot of people in their early 20s. And it seems nearly all of them smoke, almost without exception. It seems as if a larger percentage of them smoke than did those of my generation when I was in my 20s.

I don't get it. Growing up with information about the dangers of smoking, from lung cancer to emphysema, bombarding them at every turn, I don't see how anyone with half a brain takes up smoking nowadays. I pass them huddling outside on their smoke breaks, sometimes making a smart remark, "Getting a head start on that case of lung cancer, hmm?" and they laugh and keep on puffing.

The truth about the dangers of smoking have been around since the early sixties, at least, yet people continue to doggedly take up smoking. It's almost as if they have a death wish. Surely everyone has had a relative, friend, or who has known someone personally who died from the effects of smoking. Yet, they smoke on.

My mother smoked. Smoking was a direct cause of her early death in her forties from a massive stroke. I remember my father doing everything he could to get her to stop, but she kept on until it killed her. However, her death served as a negative example for her children, none of whom smoke today, myself included.

But at least my mother's generation has an excuse for when they took up smoking. My mother began smoking as a teen during World War II when the negative effects of smoking were not yet clearly known. Indeed, smoking was promoted at that time as an aid to weight loss, and several advertisements of the time featured doctors endorsing their favorite brand of cigarettes.

But people today who start smoking -- there is no excuse. It's just plain stupidity.

Following below are a couple of ads that convinced my mother's generation that smoking was harmless

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Marketable Degree Or A Career You Love?

On Alternet, I read an article Will You Have Roommates For The Rest Of Your Life? by Nan Mooney, where the author addresses the issue:

Thought you'd leave your roommates behind after your career got going? Think again. Social mobility ain't what it used to be

The author covers the phenomenon of rising rents and rising prices coupled with lower paying jobs that creates a situation where more and more adults must live with roommates much further into their adulthood than in years past.

One reader made a critical comment, where he coupled one's maturity level with what field they majored in and their marital status:

Missing information

One critical piece of information is missing from this article: What was Ms Duyn's major in college? Did she get a marketable degree like electrical or biomedical engineering? Or is she just one more Art History major, surprised that no one wants to pay you for that knowledge? Since she has lived an entire decade working odd jobs and unable to secure her own living space, I assume she went for the Art History degree.

...At age 33, she's "ready to be an adult now". Too late.

to which, he smugly added:

As for having roommates, I've had one my entire adult life. Normally, I call her "wife" rather than "roommate". We met at 18 in college, married at 21, and have been happy "roommates" for 30 years. We've lived in some interesting places, but there was never an extra roommate involved, just the two of us and our kids.

As is often the case, this comment set me off, rather than the article, which made a lot of good points about our economy, without blaming the victims.

My reply:

Another Form of Slavery

You chastise the author for not getting a "marketable" degree.

I don't know about you, but getting a degree in a field you have absolutely no interest in and spending the rest of your life working in that field, simply because it is "marketable", sounds an awful lot like a form to slavery to me. In a time of rampant mandatory overtime in many companies, the idea of spending the majority of one's waking hours for the next 40+ years or so in a job you hate sounds like a pretty miserable proposition to me.

It's quite similar to something many people do now; stay with miserable jobs they hate just because the benefits are good. And as more and more companies scale back benefits offered, particularly health insurance, this is a phenomenon that can't help but become more prevalent in the increasingly fewer companies offering good benefits.

Given the choice of spending my best years locked into a job I despise just for the money or having a job I love, but needing roommates, I'd pick the roommates.

The original commenter also did not address how "unmarketable" such currently "marketable" careers would quickly become if everyone now in college immediately changed their majors to such fields. He also did not consider what would happen to this country if no one was willing any longer to become a teacher, nurse, or other relatively low paying career. Nor did it ever enter his mind that a good education, regardless of major, might just be a worthy endeavor on its own, completely apart from its potential to generate money.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Favorite President

In honor of Presidents' Day, tell us: Who was your favorite U.S. President and why?

My favorite president is Harry Truman, who made the top five in a recent ranking of US Presidents.

He was a blunt, plain spoken, common sense man, who always made clear to those he dealt with how he stood on issues.

Because he came from a working class rural background, Truman did not have a university degree, the last American president whose formal education did not go past high school. Nevertheless, he was far from uneducated, as he was a lifelong bibliophile who educated himself through extensive reading and research, as he considered education to be a lifelong activity.

He worked a variety of jobs during his young adult years, including a stint as an Army Captain during World War I. But in the 1920s, he had to declare bankruptcy because of a business he owned that failed. After the bankruptcy, many people thought he was a failure and would not have thought him a candidate for a future Presidency. However, he never gave up, but started over, even eventually paying back all the money he owed that had led to the bankruptcy

Truman was a man who did not come from a privileged background. He experienced first hand many of the trials that average Americans did. He didn't have to imagine what it would be like to be one of us -- he was one of us.
One fo the first things Truman did in the aftermath of World War II was the de-segregate the armed forces, knowing there was no room for such hypocrisy in the army of a free nation who had most recently fought to end the oppression of others in Europe and the Far East.

Decades ahead of Walter Mondale and John McCain, he seriously considered having Eleanor Roosevelt as his running mate in the 1948 election, a request that Mrs Roosevelt declined.

Similarly, he envisioned the US with a national health care system, but, unfortunately, it was a dream that was way ahead of its time. However Lyndon Johnson, when he signed Medicare and Medicaid into law in the mid-60s, acknowledged and honored President Truman for the groundwork he laid that made these partial steps toward a national health care system possible.

Truman also holds the distinction of being the last President not to leave the White House as a millionaire.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Late Fee Games

Recently, I wrote about one of my creditors twice assessing late fees on my account when I'd actually paid on time on each occasion.

Today, I thought I'd warn my readers about two other possible credit pitfalls that are now becoming common in our sagging economy.

The first is randomly changing the due date on one's account. I've had a card with JC Penney for several years now and my payment date had always been on the 15th, without variation. It was such that I never checked the due date on the bill when it came in each month.

Imagine my surprise when I got this bill a couple of months ago and saw that a late fee had been assessed on my account. I looked closer at the bill and saw that the payment date had been moved back six days, hence the late fee.

Last month, I got the bill, and saw that it had been moved back yet again another day.

I'm convinced that credit card companies are doing this quite purposely, knowing that people who have had cards for years with the same payment date all that time aren't checking the due date each and every month, hoping to be able to slap late fees on unsuspecting customers who are in the habit of paying their bills on time. After all, it's not as if they're moving payment dates ahead, so that the customer ends up paying early.

Another change is that of eliminating payment grace periods. Most of us have had accounts that we know allow a couple of days grace on payments, not assessing late fees until the bill is past due five days more or so. And with money being tight and with paydays sometimes not matching up well with due dates, we've known which bills we can let slide a few days until the paycheck comes in, and others which must be paid strictly on time.

Well, those days are pretty much over.

I paid one of those relaxed "grace period" accounts one day late last month and the new bill came in with a stiff late fee that doubled the monthly payment for that month. This was an account that I've paid up to five days past due in the past without assessing late fees.

So, to all of you who have credit card accounts, carefully check your due dates each month from now on, as they're likely to be bouncing them back more than once, hoping to catch you in a late fee. If you pay any accounts in person, save those receipts, in case they try to slap a late fee on you, even when you've paid on time. And, lastly, eliminate the idea of "grace period" from your credit vocabulary. Credit card companies are now more predatory than ever and are looking for ways to get more money out of you, especially in the assessment of late fees.

Don't let them get away with it. Monitor your bills carefully and don't allow yourself to fall into one of their traps.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tax Money and "Those People"

Many times I hear people talking disdainfully about those who are any sort of government assistance, saying that they don't want their tax dollars paying to support these people. Sometimes, they're talking about people in general on assistance, but more often I hear such comments in reference to a particular person or family in the news.

Though I realize that there are some people accepting aid that really don't need it and they should be weeded out, I'm not quick to judge everyone who gets assistance of any kind. Even in particular instances, I realize that I don't know their entire life situation and to jump to the most obvious conclusion (they're lazy and they don't want to work), is rarely helpful and really isn't my place to pass judgment, anyway.

I always roll my eyes when I hear people self-righteously say that they don't want "their tax money" going to help "those people".

For one thing, any one person's particular share of taxes they pay don't go directly to another family. It goes into the general fund, where it may used for numerous various tax-funded purposes, quite a few of which have nothing to do with aiding the less fortunate.

Secondly, even among those who resent paying taxes in general, I never hear them say, "I don't want my tax money going to help build more bombs" or "I don't want my tax money going to build another prison" or "I don't want my tax money going to big corporations". They always reserve their ire for poor people, who may be neighbors and members of their own community.

Many of these conservative people take great pride in being Christians. So much for love thy neighbor and "what you did for the least of these, my brethren, you have done unto me." Such "Christian conservatives" often speak of "family values" and protecting children, particularly the unborn, but are seemingly oblivious to the fact that the people on assistance they seek to prevent their tax money from assisting, more of then than not contain children, who are innocent regardless of their parents' faults, real and imagined.

After asserting that they don't want their tax money going to help others to maintain a minimum stnadard of life, they are quick to add, "It's their own poor choices in life that put them in that situation," leaving unsaid the second part of that sentiment, that if one has made mistakes and not made perfect choices in life with perfect foresight into the future, then they deserve to starve, be homeless, be denied medical care, and so on. Again, how wonderfully Christian of them.

Conceding that in some instances that this is at least partially true, it denies the truth that everyone's situation in life is because of a variety of factors, some chosen, some circumstantial beyond any one person's ability to control. Taking the view that what happens to any person, rich or poor, fortunate or unfortunate is one hundred percent within their ability to control and thus one hundred percent their responsibility is simplistic and naive at best.

Our failing economy is one prime example of circumstances beyond the individual to control. And that includes millions of people who have been in past years included among the fortunate, what these conservative folks call hard-working people, who have followed all the rules. It might even soon include some of these people who don't want their tax dollars going to help "those people". They may soon one day become one of "those people".

Though it would be prophetic justice for those who remain higher on the food chain to in turn look down their noses at such folks and claim that they don't want their tax dollars going to help them because, as they all know, everyone on assistance is "lazy and doesn't want to work" and that they should be left to suffer the consequences of their own "bad choices" in life, it wouldn't be right.

America should be better than that. In a civilized society, we give a helping hand to those who need it, knowing that one day our turn may come to need that helping hand ourselves. While hard work and thrift are most assuredly virtues to value and cultivate, we should never reserve the basic needs of human dignity and survival: food, shelter, medical care, and education to only those we deem as having sufficient character to "deserve" it. Assure the basics for everyone, then teach the value of hard work and thrift so that people may earn the luxuries for themselves.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Cats Are Democrats, Dogs Are Republicans

Looking at the typical personalities of cats and dogs, I've always thought that cats are Democrats, while dogs are Republicans. I'm not sure whether this also transfers over to pet preferences among Democrats and Republicans -- do Dems prefer cats and Reps prefer dogs, on the whole?

Following is a list of typical traits of the average cat and the average dog that seem to fit my idea:


Can't be herded, they are natural nonconformists

Are individualists; they follow the beat of their own drummer

Are harmless when left to themselves

Think of their humans as equals

Prefer a clean evironment

Live and let live


Are pack animals; they respect authority

Dogs don't think outside the box

When one starts barking, all the others join in.

Worship their humans

Make a mess wherever they go

Nose into everyone's business

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Name That Tune

I haven't done a Name That Tune entry in a long time, so here goes. Same rules apply: 5 points for correct song, 5 points for correct musician. Enjoy!

1. When I step out
I'm going to do you in

2. You got mud on yo' face
You big disgrace
Kickin' your can all over the place

3. I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag,
I was schooled with a strap right across my back

4. If the real thing dont do the trick
You better make up something quick

5. Like a lazy flowing river
Surrounding castles in the sky

6. Did she make you cry
Make you break down
Shatter your illusions of love

7. You don't have to put on the red light
Those days are over
You don't have to sell you body to the night

8. It's late in the evening; she's wondering what clothes to wear.
She puts on her make-up and brushes her long blonde hair.

9. Your hands build me up when I'm sinking
Just touch me and my troubles all fade

10. Don't sit cryin' over good things you've had,
There's a girl right next to you
And she's just waiting for something you do.

11. You're digging for gold, you're throwing away
A fortune in feelings, but someday you'll pay

12. And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse

13. I was cutting the rug
Down at a place called The Jug
With a girl named Linda Lou

14. Well, I coulda been an actor, but I wound up here
I just have to look good, I don't have to be clear

15. When lonely days turn to lonely nights
You take a trip to the city lights

16. You don't know what we can see
Why don't you tell your dreams to me
Fantasy will set you free

17. Maybe you'll get a replacement
There's plenty like me to be found

18. Ah so let her go don't start spoiling the show
It's a bad dream

19. You're still the one that makes me strong
Still the one I want to take along

20. They headed down to, ooh, old El Paso
That's where they ran into a great big hassle

21. See, don't ever set me free
I always wanna be by your side

22. I really must confess right here
The attraction was purely physical

23. Yeah, I'd like to hear some funky dixieland
And dance a honky tonk

24. And an old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing

25. And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February Odds and Ends

I'm too distracted today to write a proper entry, so I leave you with a few odds and ends.

For the last few months, I've had a "dog machine" living directly across the street from me. What is a "dog machine", you might ask?

It's not a machine, of course; it's just a dog on the smaller end of medium. The reason I call this animal a "dog machine" is that it is constantly barking, morning, noon, and night in a precise, measured rhythm. The dog never gets tired of barking and never gets a sore throat. It's almost as if my neighbor has placed a recording of a dog barking in their backyard in a continuous 24-hour loop.

Fortunately, the normal sounds inside my house pretty much cover up the incessant barking.

But I feel sorry for the dog. It's obvious the dog is lonely being stuck in the back yard all the time and simply wants attention. And I have to admit I don't understand the mentality of people who get an animal, then never spend any time interacting with it, other than at feeding time.


I've noticed that new fast food restaurants in my area are placing their drive-through windows higher than was previously standard in such places. Previously, when using a fast food drive-through, I would hand my money straight across; now I'm handing it up to the clerk. No doubt the ubiquity of SUVs in American life is responsible for this new phenomenon.


I've got a new favorite commercial on the radio. This one is for Frank's Red Hot Sauce, where an elderly woman tells us, "I put that sh-BEEP! on everything!" in a sweet, little-old-lady tone of voice. I'm surprised the morality police isn't foaming at the mouth to get this commercial off the air. Yes, there's a beep, but there's enough of the original word that everyone knows she's really saying, "I put that shit on everything"