Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

August 21, 2018
by funny
1 Comment

Storms and Blueberries

So as the dawgs and I rolled out of the sack — a little late, around 5;30 — what should we see but a flash of lightning off to the south: a storm blowing in! And quite a little freshet it was: a spectacular lightning show, lots of thunder, and this wet strange stuff falling out of the sky.

Yes. It actually rained at six in the morning!

That is a rarity in these parts, at this time of year. Usually monsoon rains come along late in the afternoon or early in the evening.

So we opted the morning doggy-walk, which was too bad. The human needs that mile-long stroll even more than the dogs do. But I wanted to get the coffee ground and the water heated and the melon out of the fridge before the power went off, as its apt to do at the first sign of a lightning bolt. Even though I have a gas stovetop, these fine new-fangled Protectors from Yourself don’t work when the power’s out! Yes. A modern gas stove requires an electric spark to light it and to stay lit. No electric, and the gas shuts off, fuckyouverymuch.

Yes, I do have a camp stove. But how can I count the ways I do not wish to fiddle with that in the dark during a storm…

It’s now after 6:30, and the light has yet to come up: even though the storm has blown over, it’s still pretty dark out there. And muggy. Not any cooler than one would expect at this hour, but soggy. The dogs refused to go out on the back porch, where I wished to repair with coffee after breakfast. Cassie, being a corgi by nature as well as by form, contrived to herd the human back into the house and back onto the bed, where she wished to recline.

Cassie and Ruby look forward to their morning doggy-treat snack of blueberries. I always serve up a handful of fresh blueberries to myself as a side dish to whatever breakfast happens to be. The dogs being spoliated, they mooch treats whenever the human sits down to the table. And I’ve found that a blueberry apiece is a convenient way to shut them up while I’m trying to chow down myself.

So, running low, the other day when I was making one of the late, triumphant Costco runs, I pick up a box of organic blueberries from a produce bin. Walk into the chiller room and find…what? Non-organic blueberrries: same size package, same handsome looks, half the price of the organics. Well…naturally I put the organic berries back in the bin and grabbed a box of the non-organics.

Mistake! Or, in the immortal words of Star Trek‘s Nomad: ERROR ERROR ERROR!

Next morning I serve up these insecticided, weed-killed berrries to myself, and e-w-w-w-w-w-w-w! What a GAWDAWFUL taste.

I thought there must be something wrong with me: old age brings on all sorts of sensory flukes. Put them back in the fridge. Tasted them again later: still inedible. They tasted, not surprisingly, like some kind of chemical.

So yesterday I took them back down to Costco, demanded my money back, and traipsed to the back of the store to pick up a package of the organic variety.

And yup: this morning we see that apparently the cheaper berries indeed were contaminated with some kind of agricultural chemical. The twice-as-much berries taste very much like…well…blueberries. Just blueberries.

Jeez. Think of that: you have to pay double the price for produce that has no gunk poured on it.

Costco is offering a large set of beautiful German kitchen knives, replete with a set of matching steak knives. I covet these. And they fact that they have white handles like the late, great Wüstof’s that Williams-Sonoma kindly canceled after I had started collecting them makes them even more covetable

My favorite paring knife — one of those fancy Wüstof numbers — got bent when I used it to peel off the red stuff around a wine bottle’s cork and then dented when I tried to straighten it by tapping it with a hammer, but it was already scratched up in an encounter with a badly applied knife sharpener. From a YouTube video, I learned how to straighten the bent tip. Worked handsomely. But it still has the dents and the scratches. These are aesthetics, though: the knife works fine.

All the other knives are also scratched from a previous attempt to use my father’s whetstone to sharpen them. She who does not know what she’s doing should NOT try to hone a knife on a stone. 😉

But still: they all work just fine.

So really. I cannot justify plonking down $200 to buy two entire sets of knives with matching white(!!) handles.

But.

That’s really quite a bargain, isn’t it?

I wonder what the quality of those blades is, anyway? They looked very Wüstoflich. But that was looks, not use.

 

August 18, 2018
by funny
2 Comments

Budget Micro-smugness

Yes. Feeling somewhat smug (!) about the new cash-card “envelope” method, which for reasons not altogether clear is working like a proverbial charm. There’s so much psychology involved in the budgeting game that one sometimes feels like one is pulling one over on oneself.

As you may recall, the cash-card envelope scheme entails not using a credit or debit card at Costco, the Empire of Impulse Buys. A substantial part of the stuff that stocks my household and feeds me and the dawgs comes from that budget-gobbling place, so I’m not staying away. But if this business of having to take the annual RMD (required minimum drawdown) from savings a month or two earlier than the prior year is to stop, then a grip must be gotten on the spending!

Since most of the spending happens at Impulse Buy Hell, that’s where the grip must start. So the idea was to figure how much could sanely be spent at Costco in a given month — and also budget a set amount for gasoline, which also comes from Costco because it’s the cheapest supplier in my part of the Valley.

We have monthly allotments of $60 for gasoline and $300 (or less, if possible) for general purchases.

And amazingly: so far this budget is working just about right. Come the end of last month, I had $30 left on the gas card and $4.67 on the general purchases card. That was after spending $90 on a giant bucket of pool chlorine tabs.

We’re now more than halfway through August. I don’t expect to need any Costco items between now and the 31st — all the meat and dog food makings are in hand, all the household products stocked up. Awesome. As of August 15, the gas tank was full and $30 remained on the gasoline card.

Since there’s no way I’ll drive enough to run the car out of gas between now and September 1, that means the gas card may very well have enough cash to buy next month’s allotment of gasoline. All of it. If that’s the case, then the amount slated to be moved out of checking to the gas card for September gasoline can instead be moved to emergency savings. Yes!

Meanwhile, as of  August 15, $17.16 remained on the “general purposes” Costco cash card. On August 17, its balance was $29.44. Later the same day it held $20.66. Yes: three bucks more than it contained two days before. 😀

How, you ask did this sleight of hand occur?

Through the magic of returned merchandise, that’s how!

I’d bought a box of LED lighbulbs that promised “vivid” wonderful glorious light and 15,000 hours of burning time. Well…they were vivid, all right: vivid BLUE! Ugh!!!!!

So I dragged the things back — $12 back on the card.

Meanwhile, running low a few days earlier on the cheddar cheese I normally buy at CC, I’d bought a couple chunks of fancy stuff at a Whole Foods, hoping to avoid another trip to the Queen of Impulse Buys. It was expensive stuff — not as expensive as it would’ve been before Amazon engrossed WF, but pricey. But it looked good, aged and fancy and all that. Next morning when I sliced off a piece to go with breakfast, I found it absolutely flavorless!

Jeez. If I’d wanted flavorless cheese, guys, I’d have bought Kraft. So I schlepped back to Whole Foods and got ten bucks back for that return. Then during the same trip to Costco that clawed back the 12 bucks for the neon blue lightbulbs, I picked up a chunk of their excellent cheddar cheese (which will easily last till the end of the month and then some), plus the blueberries and the tomatoes I’d forgotten during the previous week’s actual shopping trip. Spent less on the cheese and produce than the bulbs had cost, so I ended up with a net increase in the budget’s bottom line.

{Cackle!}

It’s highly unlikely that I’ll need to buy anything more at Costco for the rest of this month . But if I do, it surely will not run more than twenty bucks. Money is budgeted for regular grocery-store purchases, so if I need any other food or household items, that’s where they’ll come from. But in fact nothing like that is needed just now, so I expect precious little buying in those precincts.

An amazing $297.50 remains in the month’s budget — and that’s after all the regular bills (power, water, Medigap and on and on and on) are accounted for. In other words, we have almost $300 to cover the next 13 days, during which no incidental purchases should be needed! That’s assuming no emergencies occur.

With any luck, then, if nothing happens between now and the end of the month, I should have almost three hundred buckolas to transfer over to emergency savings on August 31. And that’s in one of the highest-cost months of the year.

Since over the past year or so I’ve been consistently overspending available funds — and running out a month or two before the RMD was scheduled, forcing an early drawdown — that suggests that the “envelope method” works.

It may, indeed, work Big Time…

August 18, 2018
by funny
0 comments

The Pre-Dawn Doggy Walk

Having rolled out of the sack somewhat before five, the dogs and I were on the road as the minute hand hit 12. (Remember those? Yes, my house still has clocks with hour and minute hands!) It was dark out yet. The sky began to pale a bit as we hit Richistan. We got back to the Funny Farm right at 5:40, about the time we usually head out.

But oh! Is it lovely to get out at that hour! Though in August it’s a bit sticky out there, the air was reasonably cool. No sun beating down on you. And no one around!

We encountered one human: a guy on a bike with a headlamp to help him make his way. That was it.

No bums.

No coyotes. (Surprising, as dawn is the prime hunting hour.)

No neighbors standing out in front to intimidate you from letting your dog dump on their yard. 😀

No early morning commuters headed for Starbucks in a dazed and cranky mood.

And most charming, no fellow dog walkers!

Not that I don’t love my fellow dog walkers…but wrestling with two gingery corgis who want nothing more than to pounce your (fill in the blank: pit bull/mastiff/German shepherd/90-pound lab/Great Dane/angry Chihuahua) is far from the most pleasant way to start the day. Nor, indeed, does every one of my fellow dog walkers appear to be having the best of all possible fun keeping their own hounds under control. Odd, isn’t it?

So really…the dark before dawn was pretty much the ideal time to circumnavigate the ‘hood with the dawgs.

And now, a couple hours later, it’s still pleasant enough to sit outside. The various kids are frolicking around the street before they’re carted off to school. Ruby is yapping at every passing dog and its human, the hummingbirds are grating, and the doves would be feeding were not for Ruby chasing them.

We have a nice little covey of whitewings hanging around. So I decided to put up a couple of feeders for them, it now being too hot for much food to be readily available. The bugs go to cover, underground or under the rocks. The seeding plants barely cling to life. One wonders why the birds don’t migrate north with their relatives.

Well. The reason of course is that a city full of humans amounts to a riparian area on steroids. Stuff grows here. Water flows from long hollow ropes strung across the ground and sprays out of mysterious springs that erupt at the same time each day. And a forest of trees provides a lot of cover and roosting space.

How do you like this gadget I scored from Amazon?

Dunno how well you can see the device: it’s a wrought iron hook that fits over the tree branch and then swings down into an elegant swoop to hold your bird feeder. It works handsomely, and it makes reloading the feeder so much easier, by making it easier to take the thing down and put it back up.

The reason I bought it, however, had nothing to do with aesthetics or convenience and everything to do with the usual yard hassles.  Luis, when asked to clear some space so Gerardo’s men could move around the backyard without risking decapitation by tree limb, blithely hacked a big chunk out of the lime tree, exposing its interior to the full blast of west sun. I was surprised, because Luis is usually pretty savvy about trees. But he sure missed the proverbial boat this time!

To keep the tree from dying, I had to wrap swaths of shade cloth around the major interior limbs. That wasn’t enough to protect it from the summer blast furnace, though; this spring I had to drape more lengths of cloth across its entire west face.

This meant I couldn’t hang the feeder from its usual perch in the lime tree…said perch now being wrapped in plastic shade cloth. Lovely.

We still have a feeder hanging from the north eave, but it’s not readily visible from the deck. And since the main reason one hangs up a bird feeder is to watch the birds, I missed the lime tree station greatly. Solution: hang it from the paloverde tree.

Alas, though, the hang-it gadget I had would not fit over a paloverde limb. New solution? So obvious: AMAZON.

Forthwith they sent three of these swell doodads. The top hook just fits over the desired limb. Though it’s a little closer to the ground than I’d like — leaving the birds possibly vulnerable should one of the neighbor’s effing cats come over the cat-repelling wall — I think they’ll have plenty of time to escape should that happen.

Matter of fact, Ruby just strolled there and terrorized them. They all flew off, leaving a bold wren behind to gorge down as much as it can before the competition returns.

Ruby is actually drawn by the twitta-twitta-twitta alarm call of a whitewing dove. If one of them makes the outtahere! noise, she rockets out the door like a furry little missile and gallops around under the trees. Doesn’t seem to occur to her that by the time they’re making that noise, they are already soooo gone.

Summertime, and the cacti are blooming. Across the street a neighbor has a huge, invasive columnar cactus. The things can be quite a job to keep under control in your landscape. However, it makes these amazing blossoms:

Strange and wonderful, aren’t they? They attract strange and wonderful pollinators, too, especially bats (which is one of the reasons they open at night) and a particularly crazy flying critter called a “carpenter bee.” This little animal can best be called a sorta flying thing. Like a bumblebee, which it sort of resembles, it leaves you wondering how it ever imagined it could get airborne. Tried to catch a photo of one, but it came out a bit on the unclear side.

That flower is as big as your whole spread-out hand. So you get an idea of the critter’s size. Hysterical posts published by exterminating companies aside, carpenter bees are pretty harmless (unless you try to grab one) and are actually highly beneficial pollinators.

Also in summer we still have the ghost of Arizona’s once vigorous monsoon season. The “heat island” effect now bounces rainclouds away from the urban areas, and of course the climate change that all the President’s nitwits…uhm, “men” tell us does not exist has created a decades-long drought. That notwithstanding, we’ve had at least had some impressive cloud displays.

Alors. It’s warming up out here. So I suppose it’s about time to go inside and get started on something constructive. À bientôt, then.

August 16, 2018
by funny
4 Comments

Dollars and Tree$

Big ole’ storm is building up to the north. Kinda doubt it will blow down this way, even though it looks mighty threatening. The mountains just to the north of us — hills, really, but big enough to create a rain shadow — usually block incoming from that direction. Our most vigorous storms usually come in from the southeast or the southwest. Although…fortunately the most recent freshet, the one that blew down a 60-food-plus Aleppo pine, did fly in from the north. If it had come in from the south, it would have blown that tree right down on the homeowner’s house. And that would’ve been an even bigger-dollar event than it was.

Turns out that when a tree that size blows down across a city street, the city has the US Forest Service come and cut it up. But the homeowner has to pay to have the debris hauled off. Apparently they’ll pile it up on your yard, but you have to find a way to get rid of it!

And good luck with that.

Apparently, too, if your tree falls on the neighbor’s house, your homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover it. The person whose house is smashed has to try to get their homeowner’s to cover it.

“And again I say…” good luck with that. Presumably if your neighbor isn’t insured — or not adequately insured to cover the damage — you’ll end up in court fighting over the damages.

devil-pod-treeI’ve been thinking for awhile that I should have the west-side devil-pod tree removed before it drops a limb (or itself) on my house or Terri’s. Even though I don’t think (right now) it poses much of a hazard — it has been thinned, and yesterday I inspected from a distance and think the wind can blow through it all right — it has got to be the single messiest, dirtiest, junkiest tree in all of God’s creation. Whatever it can dump on the house and on your roof, it dumps.

A wind from the north would, if the tree does decide to break despite being trimmed and thinned out, drop it on the fence between the side yard and the front yard. Actually, it wouldn’t even do that: it would fall on the paloverde tree and smush it. Falling due south or due north would not bring it down on either one of our houses. But if it fell to the east or the west, it would cause some serious damage.

It provides a lot of shade on the west side of the house. It’s now so tall that it shades my roof in the afternoon and Terri’s in the morning. So if I take it down, we’re both going to enjoy even more extravagant power bills than we already get…and mine was pushing $300 last month. It will take several years for another tree to grow big enough to shade that west wall, and one that won’t cause any damage if it breaks would never get big enough to shade the roof.

I’d like to replace it with a desert willow, which a lovely plant. Some of them bear pink or purple blossoms. It’s about as xeric as a tree can get — extremely drought tolerant — and it can stand winter temperatures as low as 10 degrees. The one I have in front is gorgeous.

Problem is a desert willow doesn’t get very big — certainly not tall enough to shelter the roof from the afternoon sun. It’ll get maybe 25 feet high. And it’s pretty slow growing. You can get them from landscaping nurseries that are fairly mature, but it’s quite the project to plant such a thing. Presumably would require a crane to lift it over the wall…for that matter, I can’t even imagine how they’d get it around or over the paloverde tree back there.

I don’t even want to know what any such endeavor would cost!

So… It may be best to leave bad enough alone. Get Luis back up there this fall, only this time browbeat him until he agrees to seal every cut with tree tar. (He resists…and the damned willow acacia does not heal where a limb has been cut off. Result: it drips molasses-like black sap on the the ground, not for a little while but permanently. Forever!)

* * * *

Whoa! Several hours later, and it’s really dark and threatening in the west. It’s unusual for a storm to blow in from the west…even stranger than one coming down from the north. Hm.

What do you suppose could have possessed Satan and Proserpine (the house’s previous owners) to plant something like that tree so close to the house? It’s just a few feet off the west edge of the patio, and maybe 18 or 20 feet from the house’s wall. That just seems so mind-bogglingly stupid.

Welp, they were very naive about outdoor plantings. They put two sissou trees in front, which they imagined would never get much more than 15 or 20 feet high. The pattern fits the sales methods indulged by Moon Valley Nurseries, the used-car dealers of the nursery business in this state. They high-pressure you to buy a “package” of a half-dozen trees, about four of which you don’t need. And I’m sure when they saw those two turkeys waddle in, they figured they’d found a place to dump the junk smarter buyers declined to consider.

People are dumb.

Speaking of the smarter parts of God’s creation: I’d better feed those dogs now, so they can wring themselves out in the yard before that storm gets here.

And so…away!

 

August 15, 2018
by funny
3 Comments

Let’s Say Something Personal-Financey

Over the years, Funny about Money has wandered away from its original subject: at the outset and for the first half or more of its lifetime, it was a personal-finance blog. A good 98 percent of what I wrote about had to do with money.

But there are only so many ways you can say “get a decent education; get a job; get out of debt and stay out of debt; live frugally; build retirement savings; invest savings; build an emergency fund; live on a budget.” After you’ve said those a million times, you tire.

Okay, admittedly: the story about saving money by washing your clothes without laundry detergent — that one was pretty good. Actually got me in the national media. And the one about using olive oil to condition your hair: all-time favorite, got a zillion views before anyone ever heard of “social media.” But still…. How many wacksh!t penny-pinching ideas can one person come up with? 😀

So Funny has evolved away from “personal finance” toward plain old “personal.” It has become a kind of online journal, a five-finger exercise to start a writing or editing day.

Yesterday as I began downloading posts by way of back-up — don’tcha just know this new “Gutenberg” thing WordPress is about to foist on us will erase a LOT of archived content! — this fact floated into consciousness: really, I should write more about money matters.

These days money seems to me much tangled in politics. Unless you’re describing ways to mix up home-made laundry detergent, you cannot talk about money without some political inflection. And given the political place our country has taken itself, that is a tedious subject.

Interestingly, The Economist’s columnist “Bagehot” holds forth this week about the glum mood of Britons. In doing so, he exactly describes the political and economic mood in the U.S. “It is hard to look at British politics these days without worrying that this is a country in decline…. Today Britain is a shadow of its former self: inward-looking and anxiety-ridden, stagnant and expensive, split down the middle and fearful of the future…. Productivity growth has been nugatory. Real wages have been falling for a decade. A growing population is trapped in a cut-throat gig economy. The next generation fears that it will be worse off than the baby-boomers.”

Where have we seen that of late?

Bagehot speculates that “Most of Britain’s problems are internally generated….” But I would suggest that what he describes reflects an international dysphoria. It’s not just the Brits who sense that we’re cruising toward Hell on a skateboard. This fear — these falling wages, these “side gigs” that are no longer opportunistic schemes to supplement our salaries but now form many citizens’ only source of income, these obscene medical and health insurance bills, this junk merchandise imported from countries where workers earn 90 cents a day, that college tuition that straps a graduate to an entire lifetime of debt, this sense that our children and their children will never live as well as we have, this spreading drug addiction, these people sleeping on the sidewalks and begging on the street corners, this prison population that is the largest in the world — this fear has brought us the likes of Donald Trump.

And, IMHO, it — this fear — leads us to miss the point.

The problem is that money is politics and politics is money. He who has enough billions of dollars, as we saw in 2016, can afford to buy a presidency. And who has those billions of dollars?

Big, big business. Megacorporations.

Those megacorporations have been quietly taking over the running not only of our country but of every country in the so-called “developed” world for at least a generation. When you have companies that can observe your every move (did you know that Google tracks you everywhere you carry your smartphone?) and record your every word and block you from public forums if you say things the company decides it doesn’t like and manipulate your choices of everything from the food on your plate to the reading material on your tablet, what you have is a kind of shadow government.

That shadow government has nothing to do with the truths we hold to be self-evident. It has everything to do with maximizing profit and with controlling the sheeple who pay into the profit. It is, IMHO, one of the reasons we have seen our public schools dumbed down into the sub-basement: when young adults know nothing of history and civics and literature and jurisprudence and ethics, they can easily be tricked into voting for interests that actively operate against their welfare.

So…we Yanks suffer from financial and political angst, same as the Brits do? You bet.

Financial angst and political angst are manifestations of a shared loss of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Shadow government is actively taking over representative government. Angst, indeed. When we get government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations, the man and woman in the street lose financially. Shadow government is not good for your pocketbook.

When private corporations own your country — and, for that matter, the world — you do not tell them what to do. They tell you what to do. They control you through your pocketbook, and they control you through the products and services they allow you to access. They choke off representation of the people — unions are crushed, monopoly replaces competition, education is degraded, productive leadership is replaced with circuses, class differences are aggravated, schism is fostered, hatred and hostility replace discourse.

These are not accidents, my friends.

Mark my words: Money is politics; politics money.

August 13, 2018
by funny
0 comments

WooHOO! Proposal: GONE!

Finally DONE! The proposal for the Overprescription book is written, finished, and winging its way to Canada! GONE!

What a project. Every time I looked at the copy, more things to change would pop up. I rewrote an entire chapter. Revised the chapter organization twice (or was it three times?). The proposal finally ended up with eight sections…

  1. The pitch itself (6 pages, single-spaced; 2100 words)
  2. Table of contents
  3. Detailed chapter outline (18 chapters & introduction)
  4. Introduction (1400 words, exclusive of references)
  5. Chapter 1 (3520 words)
  6. Chapter 2 (2120 words)
  7. Chapter 3 (2375 words)
  8. Curriculum vitae, much shortened and bowdlerized to hide dates (3½ single-spaced pages)

{chortle!} One thing you have to say: when I pull out all the stops, I’m damned impressive! Polish that ego! 😀

It’s highly unlikely that the first publisher who sees this thing will buy it. (Although it’s happened before: twice, come to think of it…) But I wanted to give Toronto first shot at it, because the Canadians seem to be a great deal more alert to the problem — and the Canadian government is far more assertive about combatting it. The U.S. government…well, one hesitates to use the term “corrupt”…but when agencies are in the pocket of mega-corporations, it’s hard to think of a more accurate term. Let’s leave it at “laissez-faire.” Yeah.

Presuming the first foray will be repelled, this week I need to run over to a college or university library and raid Literary Marketplace — whether in database or electronic format. Compile about a dozen potential publishers — these days names and email addresses of acquisitions editors can usually be found at publishers’ websites….but first you have to identify the likely markets. I suspect LMP is still the go-to reference for that purpose.

So with 12 or 18 likely publishers — companies that expresssly state they publish the kind of thing you’re writing — you start sending out proposals, six at a time.

Editors hate that, of course: they don’t want to compete for your book, and they certainly (and reasonably) wish not to spend a lot of time and effort evaluating a manuscript, only to be told you’re going somewhere else. However, the “do we want it” process can take so long that if you have to go to several publishers, you may not see a printed book in your lifetime.

So what I’ve done in the past — and probably will do this time, too — is always to have a half-dozen proposals in circulation. When one comes back, rejected you simply turn it around and send it to the next publisher on the list. I’ve never had to send a proposal out to that many houses…but one does have to be prepared for rejection, and to keep the process moving steadily.

It will be interesting to see what transpires this time.