Friday, July 24, 2015

Unladylike Luck

Members of my family shared a belief that unexpectedly finding money made the discovery date "your lucky day." Thus, I was pleased to spot a penny in the parking lot of my dentist's office when I opened the car door.

Why not, I thought. I was there merely to have a final cap placed over what had been a troublesome
Not all pennies are lucky.
tooth. No problems were expected. I'd paid for the procedure in advance, so not even financial unpleasantness was in sight.

The new dental assistant told me what to expect. "I'll pop off the temporary crown, clean up the old adhesive, fit the final, and take an x-ray so the doctor can be sure all is well. Then he will cement the final crown in and you'll be good to go."

That worked for a couple of minutes. The assistant failed twice with the x-ray. She called in another assistant. Two more attempts failed. An assistant who had worked there for several years was summoned. Zip. Done. "Would you look at this, please?" the original assistant asked.

"Hum," said the veteran. "Where is that image from?"

"It's one we took from the wrong angle before you got here."

I heard a muffled conversation in the hallway, and the dentist appeared. He clicked the computer monitor back and forth several times, studying the screen intently. "Well," he said, "there's good news and not so good news. Your crown work is perfect, but the tooth next to it is in serious trouble. You need a root canal. We'll set it up."

"How much?" I asked.

"Only about $700."

I later figured my net good luck for the day could be valued at around minus $699.99. Old family beliefs aren't always reliable.

Friday, July 17, 2015

How Terrible: Oil May Get Cheaper

The headline in USA Today shouted: "Iran deal boosts fears of global oil glut."

Of course, I had to read the story to see who was afraid and how serious this whole glut business could be. Surprise! The fearful are those who devote their lives to gambling on Wall Street, and apparently their concern relates only to the possibility the mega-oil companies of the world may see their profits, and thus their stock values, fall a bit.

Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow
Michael Cohen, an energy analyst at Barclays, was among the  fearful. According to Barron's, he said, "Iran's efforts to raise oil exports could not have come at a worse time, given the market's lingering oversupply."  He promptly was contradicted by other experts who pointed out that Iran is not in a position to immediately dump a billion gallons of oil on the world market.  It will take six months or more to gear up production, although some reserves have accumulated and could be released sooner.

Hey guys. Do any of you care about the effects on the folks who use oil products? I can't think of anything those of us who are forced to fill the gas tanks of our vehicles to survive in this modern world have to fear from stable or lower  prices.  I can think of several reasons for us to celebrate.

1. Lower oil prices may hurt economies of producers such as Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, but they help net oil importers, including the U.S.  Lower oil prices make our companies more competitive. More important, they put extra dollars in the hands of consumers, and consumer spending drives most of our economy.

2. U.S. oil producers have been on a drilling and pumping spree since fracking technology made increased production possible. If world prices drop, some of that activity will stop or decline as it becomes too expensive. Problem? Heck no. Fracking can have very serious environmental effects.  If we need less of it, that is all to the good.

3. Unless our politicians are willing to accept continued deterioration of our roads and bridges, they must raise taxes, and the most convenient way is to increase existing per gallon taxes at the pump. Here in Michigan, even with a decidedly anti-tax legislature, our pols are flirting with a deal that would increase our tax by 34 cents per gallon by 1217.

The federal government so far has shown little interest in a tax increase, but it cannot support that position forever. The highway trust fund is unsustainable.

Of course, tax increases will reduce or eliminate the positive effect of lower oil prices on consumers, but at least they will not cut into our present spending power much, if at all. And we'll have a better and safer transportation infrastructure.

If benefits such as these promote fear, I would like to be terrified.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Another Blogaversary

Today is the ninth anniversary of the birth of this blog. This small-time journalist created the first post in 2006 after checking out a blog by big-time journalist Mort Reichek titled "Octogenarian."

Mr. Reichek was 81 at the time his work encouraged me to start blogging. He continued posting well-crafted stories until he suffered serious injuries from a fall. He died at 87 about a year after the accident.

So far, I've posted some 500 items. As my own octogenarian years rapidly approach,  I find story ideas flowing as freely as ever, but the energy needed to do the hard work of expressing them clearly
and concisely is beginning to fade. However, although my entries probably will become fewer and fewer, I hope to keep going at least as long as Mr. Reichek did.

My biggest pleasure has been new insights gained from fellow bloggers whose posts I read regularly and who visit here to view my offerings and make comments. Also important to me have been those who choose not to make comments on the blog itself, but express their opinions about my writings personally. As every writer knows, appreciation, and even disagreement, by readers is what keeps us going. It tells us somebody out there cares.

I've come to value many of the people who go to the trouble of commenting on my work as new friends, even though I've not met some of them face-to-face. If you are thinking about starting a blog, think about that. Go ahead--it's worthwhile.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

How About a Civility Bomb?

I've been watching a few newer movies lately and, against my better judgment, reading some comments on web page items. It's disgusting how many F. . . bombs are being tossed at us. None of the F's added a thing to the movie plots. And certainly none enhanced the reputations of commentators who insist on leading off their opinions with them.

One that really disgusts me is the title of a very good site: "I F . . . . . . Love Science." Does that F-bomb serve any useful purpose?  For me, it spoils a visit to a place that has some great information.

Just now, I saw a comment by a more civil individual. She started with: "WTH." For those turned off by even the mild "hell," a totally acceptable "heck" might be imagined here. I like it. Even better, couldn't we stand to touch one more key and  respond to ridiculous stuff with, "Huh?"

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Confederacy's Place in History

      (I've been trying  to craft a post that would cut through, with a rational statement, the controversy related to display of the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina state capitol and elsewhere.  So many conflicting opinions, interpretations of Civil War history, and downright nonsensical statements have appeared that sorting things out proved to be a daunting task.  Yesterday, a fellow blogger did the job for me. "Morning Fog," a site whose proprietor had a career with the U.S. State Department, displayed just what I was feeling, but struggling to put into words. His post follows.)

In recent days, and for many years before, governments, politicians, and others in the U.S. South have sought to justify the continued widespread public display, sale, and reverence for the flag of the Confederacy as a matter of history.  "It's our history," they may say, or perhaps they say they are honoring the valor of those who fought for what they believed in.

I'm very much against any efforts to deny, or to whitewash, U.S. history.  The Civil War (or if you prefer, the War Between the States), is part of what we are as Americans, imbued in our psyches, even for our most recent immigrants, because its effects and its many remaining manifestations are still a part of our everyday lives.  So historians will continue to attempt to analyze and explain it, and museums will continue to offer glimpses of it.

But symbols aren't history, when raised to the top of flagpoles around the country, or splashed across automobile bumpers.  Despite claims to the contrary, they are rallying points that serve only to keep sick
Not something to honor.
ideas alive.  In this country, we teach school children to honor and even "pledge allegiance" to the flag - a kind of a dumb idea in my opinion (a FLAG? Really?), but if we blow away the smokescreen, we have to understand that the "Stars and Bars" is also a claim of allegiance.

Allegiance to what, though?  Is it history, even if Americans generally have very little regard for history?  Is it pride in relatives who served loyally for a cause, although there are lots of people in this country today who are descended from the Tories of the Revolutionary War period, who weren't evil and believed in their cause, yet I'm not aware of any state in the union today that flies the Union Jack  Causes are embraced only when someone wishes they weren't lost.

And what is that cause?  Some would have us believe that it has to do with legal issues (the right to secede), or even economic ones (concerns about destroying the economic base of the South).  And it did, in part, at that time.  That's history.  But it also had to do with a principle, or as Vice President of the Confederate States of America Alexander Stephens put it shortly after several states officially seceded, the new CSA government's cornerstone:

...rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. 

A devil's advocate might suggest that allowing the symbols of Confederate principles to be widely on display would give relatively harmless vent to regressive thinking that might otherwise go underground and turn to violence.    That has not proved to be the case.  It's time to recognize claims on "history" for what they are:  a sham.

Monday, June 22, 2015

It's Time to Toss the Symbols of Hatred

While we mourn our brothers and sisters who were murdered in Charleston, we also need to stand up and declare it is time for bigots who continue to inspire racial violence with outdated symbols to discard their battle flags.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Buying a Bargain Burger

Can you get a first-class burger (with fries) in a nicely maintained restaurant with good service for a third off the menu price? Yes you can. But you need the right qualifications and a proper alignment of incentives to pull it off.

A nearby Applebee's is our dining spot of choice when we want to enjoy a reasonably priced meal in a pleasant place. Our food selection normally is something a little more elegant than one of the seven
How America gets fat (but yuummm)
varieties of hamburgers on the menu. But recently everything aligned so amazingly well, I just had to go for one.

I chose the "American Standard," otherwise less grandly known as a cheeseburger, priced on the menu at $9.99. However, our dine out date happened to be a Monday, and while we were planning it along came an Applebee's ad proclaiming every Monday evening "$5.99 Burger Night."

I asked the waitress if that included the burger I wanted. "Oh yes," she said. "It's all of them."

Every Monday at Applebee's has been "Veteran's Day" for some time. All vets, and I am one, get a 30 percent discount on all food items all day long. I assumed two simultaneous big discounts weren't going to apply, but asked anyway just for fun. "Yes," she said, "you get the Vet discount too." So my $9.99 burger magically became a $4.19 item before it even was plopped on the grill.

But that's not all. I paid the bill with a gift card purchased at a 20 percent discount using a credit card that gave me a 1 percent cash back bonus. So my $9.99 goodie cost me a net $3.31. With a deal like that, I might have to become a Monday night fixture at Applebee's. Of course, after a month or two on a burger regime I might not fit through the door.

Really, I'm not quite as cheap as all this sounds. I did tip that helpful server on the regular $9.99 amount plus drink and tax.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A Ford in Your Past?

To the delight of many Michiganders, Ford Motor Company sold a quarter-million vehicles in May. It was another in what has become a long string of positive performances since the U.S. economy started to emerge from the depths of the "Great Recession."

Ford's revival has been a do-it-yourself affair. The company declined to accept government financial assistance to weather the economic storm, while rivals General Motors and Chrysler dipped deeply into the federal till to stay in business. Ford management anticipated the crisis and, unlike the others, got its house in order before banking disasters struck.

Perhaps it's fitting that Ford led the way. It often did so in the history of American automotive companies. Henry Ford, a farm boy with little formal education, had a remarkable ability to introduce or develop novel ideas in building a manufacturing empire. His first product was the Model T, and his factories ultimately produced more than 15 million of them. The video celebrating the Model T has, I think, some fascinating scenes of the vehicles being produced and driven.

Ford did not invent mass production, but he was the first to develop the idea in a big way. He made large capital investments to build giant factories that housed assembly lines. Some believe he created the first workable private auto, but Karl Benz of Mercedes-Benz renown did that two decades before the first Model T Ford rolled off the line in 1909. Likewise, Ford did not invent mass media advertising, but he was one of the first to use it effectively.

Ford Motor Company produced print ads in color when color printing was a rarity. "There's a Ford in your Future" became perhaps the best-known advertising slogan in the 1940's, and various versions of the phrase popped up on the American scene for many years after the company adopted new tag lines.

Henry Ford gained some of his fame by paying assembly line workers $5 per day, an unheard of sum in the early 1900's. His motivation probably was not entirely altruistic.  Skilled workers flocked to Detroit for good paychecks, and Ford managers could take their pick from many candidates for every job that became available.

Whether or not there's a Ford in your future, there probably was one in your past. American families (and many in other countries) either owned a Ford at one time or another, or owned other mass-produced vehicles whose development mirrored the Ford example. The video claim that the Model T was the "great-great-grandparent of most every car on the road" has some truth to it. Sometimes the connection is close in unlikely places. On a trip to Europe, a German family member loaned us their car for a lengthy road trip--it was a Ford SUV!

My family didn't own a car during most of my years at home. Dad bought a 1927 Model T in 1945. It was one of the stranger of the many "T" models--a convertible pickup truck. Dad used it to carry materials to a lake lot about five miles from our home where he was helping build a cottage for an uncle. The tough old truck did the job well for about a year.

Dad (age 53), me (age 9), and our Model T (age 18).

One statement in the video probably is over-exuberant hype. There is no way our Model T ever was started with a "half-turn" of the crank. Dad was a strong guy, and he did a whole lot of cranking to get that four-banger engine going on many occasions when I was responsible for adjusting "the spark" at just the right time.

The last Model T's were produced in 1928; I bought one of the first successors, a 1929 Model A, in 1952 for $50. I drove it for about a year and sold it for $55. Wouldn't it be grand if today's cars held their value like that?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Will Polite Enforcement Work?

An ancient axiom holds there is some good in every situation. Indeed, there are indications that police forces in many parts of the U.S. are examining their practices and policies and making positive changes as a result of  a rash of documented brutality in dealings with the public they should be safeguarding, especially the reprehensible shootings of black men without sound justification. Justice may yet be served properly.

However, one might ask if the pendulum could swing too far the other way, a characteristic of American political life and social change seen often in the past.

The new sign pictured here popped up recently on a route we travel often between a home improvement store and our favorite supermarket. I am certain that the old sign it replaced said, "VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED."

Saying less forcefully they "may be" prosecuted, it seems to me, opens a loophole for miscreants who might be willing to play the odds and take a chance they will be among those who escape punishment. There also could be an administrative problem. Who decides which dumpers will be prosecuted? Based on what? The volume of junk they drop off? The esthetics of the stuff? The nastiness of any odors?

Could it be this type of more sensitive warning could go so far that tellers with their hands raised might say, "Please don't rob our bank. You may be prosecuted." I'm sure the bandits would pay a lot of attention to that sort of notice--right after they entertained the hostages with a round of  LOL.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Not a Packers Fan

With pro football's draft day looming, it appears da Bears, Green Bay's arch-rivals, are once again trying to pull off some sort of trickery. According to a Chicago radio station report (probably a plant), local authorities have called in the FBI to search for a man who allegedly robbed a Chase Bank branch in Chi Town's Woodlawn neighborhood while wearing a Packers cap.

Surveillance camera footage supposedly taken inside the bank shows a robber with a
Definitely not one of ours.
Packers logo on the front of his headgear. Suspicion is mounting in Green Bay that the image has been altered.

Odds are about as long as those favoring the Bears to win the Super Bowl that this man is a Green Bay Packers fan. We are not above stealing the Bears' signals or some of their better players (Julius Peppers comes to mind), but we have no need for Chicago money.

Cash is not a Packers problem. Again this year, the corporation's 100,000 or so stockholders will get no dividend despite multimillion dollar profits.

No one knows for sure what da Bears are up to with this robbery story, but now that we're on the alert the plot is destined for failure--like a Jay Cutler pass in a key situation