Friday, January 30, 2009

CEO Compensation & Bonuses

I didn't quite know how to react when I heard President Obama bashing Wall Street executives for handing out billions of dollars in bonuses. Did I hear correctly? Was the President of the United States actually looking out for the little guy? Uncle Peter, get me my smelling salts!

Wall Street was quick to respond. Seems overcompensation runs rampant in Manhattan. They have to dole out billions in bonuses to retain the best professionals. And besides, providing bonuses is not illegal.

Maybe not. But for most of the rest of us tax-paying chumps, this kind of behavior just confirms what we've suspected all along. Those Wall Street bastards are only in it for the money.

It's a no-brainer. If you are all about helping people, you become a nurse, social worker, or educator (along with many other professions). If you are all about making obscene amounts of money, then Wall Street and the financial services sector are where you want to be (next to maybe politics, unless of course you are a professional athlete or entertainer). It's the same reason banks get robbed--it's where the money is, stupid.

Want to end the excess? Tax it. That's right. Let's add another tax bracket. Currently, the federal income tax tops out at 35% on income above $357,700. Let's add another bracket and tax income over $XX million at 50%. Shoot, while we're at it let's add one more bracket and tax income above $XXX million at 75%.

I don't care where you draw the lines. The point is that there is some level of income that exceeds common decency. It's just not nice to make billions of dollars a year. I don't have anything against rich people, and admit to being somewhat fascinated by the filthy rich. But when you reach the level of obscenely rich, it's just gross. I mean really, all things in moderation.

One more thing--if you can't get by on $10-15 million a year, you shouldn't be in charge of anything. And you most emphatically have no business being in charge of a big Wall Street firm or bank. Ain't fittin. See a budget counselor. Shoot, for a couple of million I'd be happy to give you some budgeting tips.

If I was rich or filthy rich, I might feel differently. But I'm not. Just another reason I'm....

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Passing of Santa

I believed in Santa Claus for a very long time. Nearly all of my cousins did, too. We all believed because for us, Santa Claus was real.

Santa kicked off the holiday season every year as the anchor of the annual Christmas Parade. His reindeer were artfully arranged in front of the sleigh on top of a big firetruck so that it looked like they were flying. Because Dad was a fireman, we often got to ride on the truck with Santa to wave and throw candy to kids along the parade route.

Santa always knew my name and more than a little about me. Same with my sister and all my cousins. He knew where we went to school, the grade we were in, whether or not we participated in any extra-curricular activities, and of course, if we'd been good or bad.

Santa hosted an afternoon show on a local television station. He read letters from area children in between cartoons. Our letters were read on air every year. At the end of every show, Santa would wave good-bye to various children by name (first name only). All the kids in our large, extended family received these personal greetings at the end of every show.

Santa dropped in to visit all the cousins at least once in the weeks leading up to Christmas every year. He would arrive in a red car from the fire department with his official photographer. We would sit in Santa's lap and whisper in his ear what we wanted for Christmas. Once in a while, pictures of Santa taken at our house appeared in the local newspaper. All the cousins have lots and lots of photographs taken with Santa over the years.

For a variety of reasons, the fire department provided the official Santa for the city of Lexington. Years later we learned that Uncle Gene, another fireman in the family, was the official Santa for most of our childhood. When I look at those old pictures today, I can tell it's him. But throughout my childhood I never had a clue. I even stumbled across a closet full of Santa suits at his house but never made the connection.

I have told him many many times how special it was to grow up in a family where Santa was real. He loved being Santa and looked forward to it every year. He told me that the home visits started out as bathroom breaks. He called our names out at the end of every television show because there were 16 of us, we all had different names, and it was a good way to cover a lot of possibilities. It tickled him that being Santa had made such an impression on me.

Uncle Gene passed away yesterday. He was a sweet, wonderful man that will be sorely missed by all of us who loved him. The loss of our beloved C-Sir leaves Momma as the sole survivor of eight siblings. I have many, many fond memories of time spent with Uncle Gene. The last time I saw him, he told me he wanted to share with me two important lessons he had learned. With Santa's sparkle in his eye, he told me not to trust my farts, and to pee any time a facility was available because you never knew when you'd have another chance. Truer words I've seldom heard...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

For the Birds--Strictly Enforced

Installing a bird feeder was one of the first things I did after we moved to Georgia just over ten years ago. The very next day I picked up a National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Birds so I could identify unknown visitors to the feeder. Now a squirrel-proof feeder for sunflower seeds and a basket for suet hang from the gutter. I watch the birds come and go from my favorite resting spot in the living room.

It was not feasible to feed the birds from my Dupont Circle apartment in D.C. Before that, I did have a feeder in the back yard of my house in Lexington. Farm land surrounded the neighborhood on three sides, and there were very few large trees in the area. Grackles and starlings were more common than anything else. Now and then I'd see cardinals, purple house finches, gold finches, and in the low, marshy part of the field behind us, red-wing blackbirds. One year a huge flock of cedar waxwings hung around long enough to pick a big holly tree free of berries.

From sunrise to sunset, we see a constant stream of birds at our feeders here in Athens. I'm forever amazed by the variety--multiple species of woodpeckers, sapsuckers, nuthatches, towhees, sparrows, thrushes, thrashers, warblers, finches, wrens, cardinals, titmice, and chickadees. Even with my bird book in hand, it's difficult to determine the exact species for many of these fast little birds. Sometimes enough birds get on the feeder to trip the squirrel prevention mechanism and nobody eats.

Besides the birds and the squirrel or two that hasn't figured out what "squirrel proof" means, our feeders do get other visitors. Chipmunks stuff their cheeks with sunflower seeds scrounged from beneath the feeders. In warmer months these cheek-fulls sprout from flower pots and other hiding places.

About this time last year, a pair of rats started visiting the feeders. At first, they climbed up the side of the house and leaped onto the feeders. Within a day or two they were coming down from the roof. For the first time in ten years, we suspended all bird feeding operations.

We have the feeders out again. Haven't seen the rats. Maybe the cats got them. I know they escaped the traps we baited with peanut butter and sunflower seeds, though a few chipmunks weren't as fortunate. Yeah...I know...they're cute. But they are incredibly destructive and faster than the fat cats in our neighborhood.

Besides, it's what you'd expect from...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Summer They Drained the Pay Lake

When I was in second grade, we moved to a house my parents built in a new neighborhood on the southern edge of Lexington, Kentucky. The house was only the third or fourth to be built in a neighborhood that had recently been just the corn field next to the pasture behind the pay lake. It was really more of a pond than a lake, with more big carp in it than anything else.

Back then there were more horses in the area than kids. The summer between fourth and fifth grade (give or take a year), they sold the farm and drained the pay lake to put in a shopping center. We were pretty excited because one of those newfangled twin screen movie theaters just like the new one at the mall on the other side of town would be the anchor.

A little creek ran through the bottom of the neighborhood. To drain the pay lake, they came in with a back hoe, deepened the creek bed up close to the pond, and then allowed the pond to drain out the channel. All summer long we positioned ourselves at various points of the channel with window screens lifted from houses being built in the neighborhood. We'd lay the screen in the trench, toss dirt clods in the water above the screens, then pull the screens and their squirming contents out for sorting.

There were huge carp, especially toward the end of the draining process. Most of them died, trapped on the rocks in shallow creeks in several back yards. The stench from rotting fish was overpowering for a few weeks. We also hauled in snakes, frogs, turtles, crawdads, tadpoles, mud puppies and several kinds of fish. These were immediately sorted with desirable specimens placed in one of several containers brought along just for that purpose.

I had about a dozen cracked aquariums of various sizes that I rescued from the dumpster at the elementary school. We patched these up as best we could, and arranged them on the patio in the backyard to hold our bounty. At one point I know we had about a dozen snakes, no telling how many frogs and turtles, and tanks full of tadpoles. We sorted them by developmental stage--no legs, two legs, and four-legs--so we could monitor progress. Crawdads were sorted by size. If I knew then what I know now, some of these would have ended up in the steamer. Eventually all those critters escaped, died, or were released.

All in all, we had a blast. It was a great summer. I can hardly believe that I ever handled snakes--much less ever reached in to muddy water to grab one. My most recent encounter with a snake--a large black snake--ended with me screaming like a girl and running into the house. Wish we caught it on tape because I'm sure it would have been a big hit on YouTube.

Just another reason I'm...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Winter in Athens

I hate everything about cold weather. I mean it. It hasn't always been that way. When I was a kid, I couldn't wait for it to snow enough for school to be canceled. I grew up in Lexington, KY, so school was called off for snow at least once or twice a year.

When I was in grade school, we had really bad winters a couple of years in a row. It snowed so much that cars were not able to get up the hill near our house. Some of the neighborhood kids had sleds--big clunky sleds with wooden slats, steel runners, and an alleged turning device. We sledded down that hill all day for several days. It was a blast and I didn't care that it was frigid cold.

The next really bad winter came the year after I got my driver's license. I had a Chevy Vega at the time. It was parked on the street which had virtually no traffic. The snow was so deep that the car just wouldn't move. That's when my dislike for cold weather really started to settle in.

Winters at the University of Kentucky solidified any negative feelings about cold weather into a solid wall of hate. Trudging across campus in a foot of snow with sub-zero temperatures and wind gusts of unknown magnitude isn't fun, no matter how you cut it. The university rarely closed because the majority of students lived on or around campus. I was in the unfortunate minority that commuted in from the burbs, unless of course my car was snowed in at my parents house.

Today it's a balmy 70 degrees in Athens. It's unseasonably warm, but the fact that a 70 degree day is possible in January is why I love winter in Athens. Yeah, I know it's going to get cold. But it will only last for a few days before we have another unseasonably warm day. If this is winter, I'll take it!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dogs Should be Tax Deductible

A lot of people cannot afford puppies. Sure, there are plenty of free puppies to be had. But my experience over the last few months suggests that the purchase price is one of the smaller slices of the total cost pie. Becoming a dog owner has become so expensive that the IRS should consider your house dog to be a dependent--just like a human child. It's that expensive.

Besides the purchase price, the initial outlay for equipment and supplies can be significant. One must have the right crate, comfortable bedding, feeding bowl, watering dish, and a toy or two. We also needed three books on chihuahuas, two on dog training, and a subscription to a monthly magazine devoted to the breed. We believe in information.

You have to feed them. This used to be a simple thing. After a full year on Purina Puppy Chow (remember the ads?), you decided on canned or dry and that was it. Now there are endless varieties of top shelf and designer dog foods available in pet stores and from your veterinarian. Some of that stuff looks good enough to eat.

They have to have shots and stuff. Back when Purina Puppy Chow owned the puppy food market, you took puppies in for some cheap shots two or three times, got them "fixed" and then came back every year for a rabies shot. Today it's all that plus pills and potions to keep fleas, ticks, and heart-worms at bay. I've had more face time with the veterinarian in the last 3 months than I had with my physicians in the last year.

You have to see to their education. Nobody likes a bad dog. Tico is home schooled at present. We're thinking about sending him on to some preppy obedience school, but frankly he's so smart and doing so well I'm not sure he needs it. Even without tuition, you have to have the right collar and leash, a clicker, and treats. My observation is to be generous with the treats. Dogs are treat whores.

You have to keep them clean. Nobody likes a smelly dog. You need the right shampoo and for some, like little Tico, conditioner. Some, but never our little dog, might also need a flea comb. You'll need the right kind of brush. Note: "right" used this way throughout this posting means there is trial and error involved in finding just what you need. We have at least two of practically everything.

You have to dress them up and take them places--especially if they are little prissy dogs like chihuahuas. At long last, Tico can wear some of the smallest made-for-dog clothing available. He looks good in Georgia red and black. I've seen a little Georgia cheerleader skirt and top but I didn't buy it because I'm not allowed to dress him up like a little girl dog. I feel like he's comfortable enough with his chihuahua manhood to wear whatever looks good.

But that's just me...

The Crotchety Old Man
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