Other bits and pieces

Monday, November 21, 2011

How's Everything Tasting?

Every morning, I stop off on my way into work at the little drug store just inside the building to buy breakfast.  I buy a $.59 shrimp flavored Cup – O – Noodle.  I know, that’s degusting you say.  Maybe that’s true, but it’s not any worse than what most of the rest of you are going to eat, so I don’t want to hear about it.  Anyway, at the check-out counter, there is actually a tip jar.  This begs me to ask the following question:  Why in the name of sweet Mary Poppins’ trouser snake is there a tip jar for the lady running the register?  She’s sitting on a stool, taking money, and handing back change.  The store pays you what they figure that’s worth.  I had to go find the noodles myself.  Then I had to walk alllll the way up to the register and stand there until you snorted, “Next!”.  I’m not going to pay more than the product price just because you stuck a tip jar out there.  Why am I being expected to subsidize the wages of practically every employee I come into contact with?  And why do I have to tip so much now?

Tip jars are basically everywhere.  I get tipping a waiter or waitress (Or server, or whatever else they are called now).  From the dawn of food time everyone knows that you are paying the restaurant for the food and the waitress to bring it to you.  They only really get paid enough to take care of their tax withholdings…whatever.  But if I go into a donut shop, place my order at the counter for coffee and a donut, fix up my own coffee (which sometimes means I even pour it myself), pay you and leave…why would I give you a tip?  I’ve already paid like $4 for a cup of coffee (which kind of makes me an idiot in the first place, but that’s another discussion).  They have tip jars at the parking garage.  I press a button (which probably gave me finger AIDS), park my car; and when I leave I hand you exact change so you can press a button to release my car from the clutches of the uppy-downy bar.  I’m not giving you a gratuity for that.  I'm not really that grateful.  The garage at the airport has machine to take my money.  I expect to be let out.  If they aren’t paying you enough to push that swine flu encrusted button, ask for a raise.  I’ve already paid way more than I should have in order  park my car for an hour so I could over-tip the guy at the take-out counter of a Chili’s ®.

Coffee shops, Delis, Chinese Take-out, the UPS store, electronics stores…the list is nearly endless.  I’ve even seen a tip jar at a Walmart cash register for the love of Jenna Jameson.  Sometimes the jar will have some little explanatory note taped to it, like, “For my kid’s college”, or “My dog needs a hip replaced, “So we can bury grandma”.  Now you’re just begging for money.  I love these ones:  When the owner of the store is the one with the tip jar.  Now you’re just blowing sand up my skirt.  It’s your business! You set the prices and just because you’re too cheap to hire some help you’re also at the register.  Here’s the tip you need: If you’re too much of an inept business owner to set prices that will cover your costs than don’t be in business!

“Good sir, how much would you charge me to buy that 10lb bag of women’s underpants?”
“I will sell that to you for $15.00.”
“Excellent, now can I have a little more?”

It’s like bartering in reverse…and it’s moronic from a consumer standpoint.  And even if it’s not your business, I’m not tipping you for doing the job you agreed to do for the wages you agreed to be paid.  You serve coffee for minimum wage.  You call it being a ‘barista’.  It’s just a fancy word for “I pour coffee much the same way you would at home except into a paper cup with an Italian name.”  Here’s YOUR tip:  Minimum wage is probably more than that job is worth.  I’m not giving you more money.

The grocery store where we shop has baggers that work for tips.  After they put stuff your now broken eggs in your bags, they want to follow you out to your car, pushing the cart full of the same groceries you’ve been pushing around the store for 30 minutes, and then expect you to tip them like 10% of your purchase.  They get nasty when I tell the cashier that I’ll be taking my groceries out.  You know what: Go stab a fat orphan!  I’m not paying someone to do a job I don’t need done!  Every other grocery store just lets you take your own crap out to your mommy missle.  Why should this store be different just so I can pay someone to do something NOBODY NEEDS! Do you know how stupid you feel, as a 39 year old man, walking out to your car being followed by a 70 year old retiree pushing your cart?  I mean I’m lazy, but I’m not that lazy.  You’re just paying the guy to torture himself at that point.  So it’s really not that much different than paying homeless people to let you hunt them with paint balls.  But I digress.

Not only are we now expected to hand out extra cash for everything from package delivery to traffic stops, tips for waitresses are magically going up too.  It used to be that a tip for good service at a restaurant was 10-15%.  Now we’re expected to tip 15-20%.  In a recent discussion, one of my friends informed me that’s due to inflation.  Let me divide by zero here:  You’re paying a percentage.  That means as things cost more, the tips go up at the same rate.   If I paid you $7.00 for a meal that cost $50.00 ten years ago, I shouldn’t be tipping you $10 for it now.  The difference lies in the that a meal that cost $50 ten years ago now costs $80, so you’re getting $12 at 15% anyway…so quit crying!

Maybe I should just join the parade and put a tip jar on my desk.  I suppose, if we all did it, and we all tipped each other, it would turn the whole gratuity system into a nil-sum gain.  We’ll all just be trading tips.  I’ll be the only one making money though, because I’ll flood the internet with articles and blogs like this one to persistently establish the standard customary tip for ‘guy who sits a desk and answers emails’ at 25%.  Plus, I'd have a note that reads: Just need money for strippers.  Because that my friends is worth tipping.

That’ll be $5.  Enjoy the rest of your day.

© 2011--Raymond Smith

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I Want My Two Dollars!

I'm watching all these protesters 'occupying' Wall Street. They're angry. They've had enough of watching our country morph into this situation where the top 1% of the population control the bulk of the wealth. And I get it, they've played by the rules, they've worked hard. Many have gone to college and have student loans for bachelor's degrees that don't pay off in terms of the jobs they expected. Meanwhile, they see those of fortunate circumstances, be that family money, or just plain luck enjoying all the good times. Tea Party and far right conservatives' claims that the very wealthy use that money to create jobs seems to be class A hokum considering they retain and play with the bulk of their money. So how did our country get to this point?

Actually, that's a dumb question for me to ask. The better question is: When wasn't our country, or any other this way?

Dear Wall Street occupying, disenfranchised hipsters,
Put down your PBR and medical THC for a minute and pay attention. This is not new! The very tippy top minority holding the lion's share of the money and power has been the case in pretty much every society for thousands of years! It's not a Capitalist thing. It's not a Socialist things. It just...is.

It started when one big strong caveman wielded physical and sexual power over his fellow cave dwellers. He commanded the best food, flattest rock to sleep on, most pimp-ass saber toothed tiger fur, and had his command over the hottest (though hairy) cave chicks. The Pyramids of Egypt were built by hundreds of thousands of slaves to satisfy the opulent post-mortem obsessions of like 20 people. The Senators and Emperors of Rome had enough scratch to spend building giant stone houses off the backs of the proletariat. The Kings and wealthy land owners of Europe bathed in hot and cold running fat cash while basically everyone else squirmed around in their own filth.

But what about the noble and enlightened? The Chinese? Yeah, same story but with fireworks. The American Indians...yup. Powhatan's people knew full well who their daddy was. Marxists? Sure, they rage against the machine until they are the machine. Life was good in the USSR if you were a member of the Politburo...not so much if you were a farm-hand in Azerbaijan. How about the Inca, the Maya, or the renowned street gangs of L.A.? Uhh...yeah, same thing.

About the only society where this wasn't the case would have been the early post-colonial United States; the land of opportunity where everyone could succeed and attain the American Dream. After we kicked King George in the ding ding and founded the greatest nation ever to exist, every man, woman and child in the country made it big. Yeah right. One word: Plantation!

Our country didn't just get this way. It started this way. George Washington's humble little mansion on a hill overlooked a spread of around 5,000 acres and was operated ENTIRELY by slaves. Talk about disenfranchised. The founding fathers of this country were the top 1%. Everyone else would spend their entire lives sucking hind tit. But that's okay, right, surely the likes of George, Thomas, Ben, and the boys started out from humble beginnings and worked their way through college to get where they were. Heck, anyone in America could have had what they did at that time. Some did, but most didn't. The larger part of the signers of the constitution were privileged. Washington and Jefferson were rich from the get go...born to a couple of the most prominent families of Virginia at the time. Carnegie, Getty, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Ford, and Mr. Gates. Whether from privileged beginnings, or superior endeavors, these people became very very very rich while most of the rest of America goofed around in the middle class or lower.

Is it wrong? Well, that depends on how you look at it. In once sense, sure, they should share...I guess. Should they put more of their personal money back into the businesses they build and create more jobs? Should the government take it away from them through taxes and give it to everybody else? It doesn’t' really matter. Because, and here's the secret so really pay attention, you can start chanting again in a minute: Wealth redistribution will be the same whether you tax them more or not! Not better, not worse...the same.

Here's how: All the re-distributors are getting their knickers in a twist over the fact that, contrary to Tea -Bagger claims, those top earners and executives squander their wealth instead of using it to create jobs. That is a myopic view of job creation. Just because they don't re-invest every penny in theirs and other companies for growth (and therefor job creation) doesn't mean they're not creating jobs. What do you think the 2nd and 3rd order effects are when one of these grotesquely rich dudes has a custom 10,000 sq/ft house built? SOMEONE HAS TO BUILD IT. The same goes for yachts, summer homes, restaurants that make you taste the wine before they poor you a glass, private airplanes, expensive cars, cosmetic surgeons, strippers, escorts, entourages, and discrete 'pharmaceutical' suppliers.

Those who have money spend money. Most of them have money because for the most part they are smart with their money and save first and spend the residual. If you tax them more, you're just cutting into the money they spend. So, the only difference between redistribution by tax, and redistribution by squandering, is that at least with the later you have have a chance to get in front of the spend train and make a little for yourself. Or, you could let the government take it and waste it on pork-barrel spending that won't help anything, anywhere, ever.
Right, wrong, or indifferent...this situation has been an economic constant for as long as their have been people. It exists because it has to. Every model of society that has ever endeavored to be different ends up in this state very quickly because it has no choice. Someone has to mop floors, and someone else has to be at the top. But that doesn't mean that you can't start off with a mop in your hand, and end up with the keys to the executive washroom. It also doesn't mean you will. You make choices, you try and fail and try again, and if you're lucky, something you try will coincide with an opportunity and you'll be up, out and on top..and don't forget about the luck.

Bill Gates is a brilliant innovator. But that's not why he is where he is. He has all that he does because of pure, dumb luck. Check this out: Gates just happened to be fortunate enough to attend a very exclusive private school in the 8th grade. This school happened to have a computer AND access to a block of time at a better computer over at General Electric. This was 1968 folks. Bill gates, a driven and tech-savvy braniac just happened to fall ass-backwards into a situation where he could learn to program computers at a time when really no one else in the country could do the same. Talk about a head start! Sure, he made a lot of good decisions that made him wealthy, but none of that would have put him where he is without the one in ten million chance he started out with.

So, quit whining. You're not going to change this economic constant. Go back to whatever you do for a living, or figure out what that's going to be. Do your best, hope for some good luck, and remember...as Denis Leary said, “Life sucks, wear a helmet.”

© 2011 Raymond Smith

Friday, October 7, 2011

To Fist a Mockingbird

The United States and its allies have had increasing levels of success over the years with the tracking down and killing of big fish terrorists.  In 2006, an Air Strike clinched the U.S. leveling up victory against a boss as Abu Musab Al Zarqawi was bombified.  In 2011, the bulk of the western world nearly had an orgasm when a SEAL team  was sent to where Usamas Bin Hiding.   With terrorists getting pwned like little newbs front left and center, the gotcha bitch de rĂ©sistance was the whacking of Anwar  Al Awlaki who was pimp slapped by a Hellfire missile after eating breakfast and going for a drive.   As Americans we absolutely love this.  Its that image of the eagle sharpening its talons and half a bazillion albums worth of Toby Keith songs finally getting their due.  But, no matter how big a collective erection we get over these hard fought victories over the dark lords, there is something just a little bit itchy underneath this Stars and Stripes codpiece.   Its probably not legal.  Not only is it not legal, if it werent for it being wrapped in the bacon of War on Terror, there is no way in hell Americans, or anyone else eat this filet mignon.

Its easy for us to accept it though.  We killed Usama Bin Laden.  And we did in a bad-ass Hollywood fashion.  He was known beyond a shadow of a doubt as the leader of the worlds most feared terrorist organization. Youtube has been awash for years in Awlaki made recruiting videos.  Hes known to have incited terrorism all over the world including the Fort Hood shootings.  Zarqawi led the insurgency in Iraq, responsible for countless car bombings, suicide attacks, and shoe throwings.   These guys were undisputed heavyweight bad guys.  And as long as you look at it that way, youll never get passed the GWOT film over your eyes.  So lets look at it another waychange of venue.

Hokay..soa Taiwanese drug lord, responsible for hundreds of murders in mainland China had immigrated to the United States on a visa.  Hes not really on our radar for any real reason so who cares.  Hes not our problem.  The Chinese government wants this guy something fierce and diplomatic efforts through the State Department to have the FBI go look for him havent really gotten anywhere because were just too busy.  Yes, yes, China we know. Hes here somewhere and you really dont like him but weve got other stuff to do.  So the Chinese manage to find a doctor who has financial problems and happens to live where they suspect this guy is.  They pay him to start a free clinic to give flu shots.  Meanwhile, the good doctor is sending back DNA samples to the Chinese to confirm this dudes presence.  Then, one night, when its dark and quiet, a Chinese helicopter enters the United States under radar from Mexico, unloads a bunch of Chinese special forces (Ninjas maybe) who engage in a gun battle inside an American neighborhood, kill the guy and exfil with the body.

If this happened, youwouldloseyourmind.  And we would very likely end up at war with China.  But this is pretty much exactly the scenario surrounding the take-down of UBL.  Why don’t we have a problem with it? We dont because we just really really really wanted him.  And so that makes it okay.  But it doesnt.

At the end of WWII, and after the fall of the German Reich, the manhunt was on for anyone whod been a Nazi.  During the occupation of Germany, there were several splinter groups still burning the candle for Adolf andcommitting acts of violence.  None of these people fell victim to military air strikes.  Nor were they summarily executed in their homes.  They were arrested.  In 2003, the U.S and some BFFs declared war on Iraq.  That is, they declared war on the government of Iraq.  After the cessation of hostilities between sovereign powers came to an end, the war (like WWII), was over.  The Iraqi people began fashioning a new government, and during that process there popped up a lot really nasty insurgents.  These insurgents had a habit of murdering other Iraqi citizens and coalition military as well.  Theres another word for these guys: Criminals.   Abu Musab Al Zarqawi was at home with his family when an airplane dropped a bomb on his house, killing him, along with his wives and their child.  Why didn't someone just arrest him?  Timothy McVeigh was an insurgent within a sovereign nation who had killed a lot of people by bombing and would likely have continued to do so.  The U.S.  didnt ask Canada to drop a bomb on his house.  The U.S. arrested him.  What about the Unabomber?  I don’t remember any JDAMS being used on him either.

Awlaki was an American citizen who was suspected of inciting other people to commit crimes.  He was never indicted by a grand jury, or charged with a crime.  As an American citizen, like the rest of us, he is protected by the 5th amendment for due process.  He as the right to face his accuser in a court of law and be tried by a jury of his peers.  He was nowhere near any battle field.  Just because the President ordered it, and congressional oversight approved it, doesnt mean it was legal.  If this was legal, it would be no different if wed carried out an airstrike on Roman Polanski who was living in France.  At least Roman had been convicted of something.  If Awlaki was not connected to terrorism, which seems to be a green light word for do whatever the hell you want, I would guess the American people would have a out and out collective shit-fit.  If hed been an L.A. based drug lord, directly responsible for numerous murders, and had fled abroad, you would not likely cheer as loud for a military lead execution based on suspicion of wrong doing. 

The fog of the word terrorism seems to cloud our eyes and engender a spirit of The end justifies the means amongst a large percentage of a population that would otherwise decry such behavior as contrary to the idea of the rule of law at the least, or even barbaric.  As a nation that does road shows the world over, pushing the critical value of the rule law as an essential underpinning of a free state, it bothers me that we are willing to overlook it so easily just because we really really dont like this particular flavor of criminal.  Im happy that these people are dead and can do no more harm.  But I think we, as Americans, need to take a hard look at who we are before we become what twisted those we fight.  We need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves

© 2011 Raymond Smith

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rock Paper Scissors

Many years ago (either thousands or millions or something like that) the only known method of food preparation commonly put into practice around the globe was basically one of two methods:

1) Whack or stab something until it died and put it in your mouth, or,

B) Pull something that doesn't appear poisonous out of the ground and put it in your mouth.

Over time, people (and by people I'm guessing women) figured out that if you use the fire that men invented you could transform raw food materials into something that was actually pleasurable to consume. Before long, some genius Neolithic chemist invented leavened bread. Bam!! The world was now a place full of culinary concoctions that would baffle the human imagination. Ten minutes later, an even greater genius figured out how to ferment it. The world had its first real vice.

The Greeks (or Spartans) first started enjoying the squishing of grapes through their toes and the taste of wine around 4500BC. The Persians first started brewing beer (good beer, not like Coors) somewhere around 3500 BC. By the middle ages, when most of Europe had decided it was fashionable to live in huge cities with no sanitation systems, and basically advanced to an unlivable cesspool, fermented beverages had become pretty much the only liquid someone could consume without it killing them. By about 1100, monks in Ireland and Scotland figured out how to produce whiskey, and at the same time destroy any chance of either culture leveling up past bar-room drunk. Fast forward a few hundred years and the vice that was booze was pretty much the favored libation in some form or another in every household, palace, mud hut, or wigwam around the globe.

When Europeans gallantly discovered the already discovered and inhabited lands of North America, the Indians not from India that lived there knew that, due to a vast technological delta in weaponry, there was only one shot at killing off the English squatters: They introduced them to tobacco. (That whole peace pipe thing was just a joke, Powhatan was trying to give John Smith cancer.) Smoking tobacco was an instant success in European court and became the overnight designer drug of the 1700s. It was so popular that even in the 1950's one would not find it uncommon to come across advertisements touting doctor recommended cigarettes.

Now, this may not be news to a few of people, but all of these things have something in common: They are bad for you and they are all a drug. We all know they are bad for you depending on how much you consume, blah blah blah. Alcohol was temporarily and laughing sort of halted in America after the Volstead Act of 1919, but after a few years, and backed by overwhelming popular demand, was back on the menu. The people had spoken; we like our vices, and that's final.

But something is missing from this list. Sneaking along in hit or miss popular use since about 2500BC was a little fast growing plant called cannabis. Various cultures from China to South America and everywhere in between had been smoking this stuff, either connected with some sort of ritual to celebrate something cool no one could remember, or just as an inspiration for Thracian Taco Bell throughout most of recorded history. And like the other drugs I've already mentioned, it's...brace yourself...bad for you. That's why it's illegal. Wait, what?

Why is Mary Jane illegal while booze, smokes, bacon fat, Twinkies, and Woopi Goldberg are not? It must be worse. Yeah that's it. If you smoke cigarettes you could get cancer, but if you smoke pot you'll grow a third eye in your ass (think about that...and how bad that would really, really be). Nope, that's not it. It's not as bad for you as too much sugar. Maybe it leads to violence and crime. We wouldn't want that on the streets right? Oh wait, we already have booze. The truth is that Marijuana is not illegal for any real moral or health reason. It's illegal because of Nylon.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 made possession and transfer of cannabis illegal. The act was heavily supported by the newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was in bed with Andrew Mellon (Secretary of the Treasury and richest man in the world), and the Du Pont Family. Mellon was heavily invested in the Du Pont's new synthetic fiber, Nylon, and Hearst, in addition to newspapers, was a timber mogul. Their collective target was the hemp plant, which produces excellent natural fibers, is renewable, and grows faster than timber. But no one in their right mind is going to pass a law against super-paper. They needed to make America afraid of something...and fast.

Hearst's newspapers began running many articles vilifying cannabis as a scourge on society and specifically emphasized marijuana’s connection to violent crime. Yeah, they actually managed to convince the general public that a drug that could sedate Genghis Khan was leading people to rape, murder and attack midgets. Popular opinion swayed...check, congressman lobbied, check, point, set, match. Marijuana is evil, it will kill us all. So, grab your pitchforks, believe everything you read, run to the polls. The drug and it's bitch of sister, hemp, were duly criminalized so all the children would be safe from sleepy-eyed pot heads looking for a snack.

In the end Hearst was kind of right, he just didn't know it. Marijuana actually is connected to violent crime. It started when Hearst and his fiber-rich colleagues managed to criminalize it, and the war on drugs became mainstream news...which Hearst could report in his newspapers. Since 1937, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and billions of dollars have been wasted in and against the trafficking of one of the slightest threats to civilization in recorded history. The war on marijuana has to be the dumbest undertaking since Hadrian tried to keep the Romans out of Scotland by building a 3-foot wall.

Never doubt the power of the media to galvanize the sheep against the goats.

© Raymond Smith 2011

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