Friday, February 26, 2010

Known Laws of the Physical Universe

When I was a little girl, there were certain rules my mother drummed into me that have transformed themselves and are still with me in their new form in my adult life.

One of these is that you must finish the open box of cereal before you are allowed to even touch the new box. I don't care how much you want that new cereal, you can't have it until the old box is gone.

I still do that. Not with cereal, because I don't eat it very much, but with everything else that's made to not be finished at one time. My mom was very effective with this rule, and it's become a source of wonder for me now that I have a roommate who (shocker!) is not exactly like me.

My roommate and I attended a Women of Faith conference a few years ago at which Nicole Johnson was talking about women and their purses. She said that when it comes to purses, there are two kinds of women: sorters and stuffers. Then she pointed her finger at the audience and said, "And you know which one you are." My friend and I looked at each other and smiled. She is definitely a stuffer, and I am definitely a sorter.

I've noticed that in the long run, it doesn't seem to matter which one you are. When she and I go to the movies and the guy tells me, "That'll be a billion dollars" (Okay, I'm exaggerating. We go to the matinee, so it's only half a billion dollars...), I reach into the zippered pocket inside my purse, pull out my wallet, grab a billion-dollar bill from the cash slot, and hand it over. The guy hands me my change and movie ticket, and then I stand there while I put the money in the right order, slide it in between the right bills so the ones are in the front and the bigger denominations are behind in ascending order. Then I stick my wallet back in the zippered pocket and leave.

My roommate, as a stuffer, gets told, "That'll be half a billion dollars," and she starts digging through her purse, because she just saw a bill down there somewhere this morning when her phone was ringing and she was trying to find it so she could answer it. She looks at her wallet, which has receipts sticking out of it but no cash, and she checks a couple pockets on the outside of her purse, and then she comes across a billion-dollar bill and hands it over. When the guy gives her the change, she sticks everything in her purse and leaves.

So from the moment we're told the ticket price to the time we leave the counter, it's about the same amount of time. I know I've digressed, but I'm getting back to the point.

Last September, when I was moving in where I live now, my new roommate left for a long-planned cruise, and she called after a couple days to see how I was doing. I told her, "I've learned that you treat your kitchen the same way you treat your purse." She laughed for a really long time, and I did too.

It's all a source of great amusement for us, the way we're trying to blend a sorter with a stuffer under the same roof. I can't speak for the way my friend sees my three bottles and one tube of personal care products lined up in the shower the same way all the time: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and my tube of face cleanser. I need for them to stay in the same order, because I shower in the morning before the vast majority of brain activity has begun for the day. One time the cleaning lady mixed them up and I didn't notice, so I washed my hair with body wash and when I put what I thought was the conditioner (2nd bottle, so it must be) in my hair and it sudsed up, I figured out that something was wrong. I rearranged the bottles and started over and finally got everything washed with the right product.

Back to my mom. When one of my shower items gets emptied, I bring in a replacement, just like I was raised to do. My roommate, on the other hand, has all kinds of products in there, and I can't imagine what they're all for because, silly me, I don't shower with my reading glasses on. There's a matching set of lavendar bottles that I figure must be shampoo and conditioner. And there's a matching set of skinny golden containers that might have something to do with hair color, but I really haven't got a clue. And there are bottles that look like children's shampoo, and there are black tubes that fall down the back of the shower-head-hanging toiletries rack when I'm not looking and startle the heck out of me. And then just this week, two more containers showed up in the shower, but none of the other bottles got thrown away, and I just don't understand how that's even possible.

Oh man, this is going to be a long post, because that's only the first rule.

My mom's second rule was: Don't you even think of riding anyone else's bike, and don't let them ride yours. As an adult I understand about how, when your kid breaks the neighbor's bike, you have to buy them a new one, which is tough on a Navy enlisted salary. As a kid, though, I understood about the Wrath of Mom. I did not ride anyone's bike.

To this day, I don't drive other people's cars unless it's nearly an emergency. It's not an insurance issue, because you're covered when you've got the owner's permission to drive her car. I just... can't... do... it.

Rule number three is the earliest one I remember. It was burned into my very being by the time I was five years old. We lived in Norfolk, Virginia, on a huge corner lot across the street from the nice old lady who drove a school bus and had a parrot that said, "Polly want a cookie." On the next block to the right, if you're facing the school bus, lived a girl that we played with. She's the same one who scared the bejeebers out of me one time when it was getting dark outside and she came running down the side street toward me screaming in fear, "The moon mans are coming! The moon mans are coming!" I ran home crying, and my daddy put me on his lap and explained that there's no such thing as moon mans, and he talked soothingly to me until I was calmed down again.

It was that girl that my brother and I saw when we went outside to play one Saturday morning. She was playing in the street in front of her house IN HER PAJAMAS!!! I didn't know that was possible. It was a Known Law of the Physical Universe that a person had to be completely dressed before they could go outside. There were No Exceptions, and yet there she was defying all that was real in life.

My brother and I were scandalized, and we went back inside to tell our parents about the girl's sordid, shocking attire. It shook my world, but it didn't change the rule one bit.

Finally (and this isn't a Law as much as it is advice), my mom told me something when I was an older teenager. I don't remember the context, but she and I were standing near the kitchen table with the bright afternoon sunlight pouring through the windows. She told me that if I'm ever drinking beer, I should NOT have ice cream with it.

I didn't press her for details, and she didn't offer any, but I always remembered what she said and have never done such a thing. And, yes, there were a few times when the opportunity presented itself.

It was probably about ten years later that I mentioned to her that I had indeed followed her advice on this. She gave me a puzzled look and said she had no idea why she might have told me such an odd thing.

No matter. It is one of the Known Laws of the Physical Universe that beer and ice cream don't go together.

So how about it? What are some of the Laws that you grew up with that you still obey today?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

French Phrases

I bought a Page-A-Day calendar for this year. It has a French phrase every day.

Some days, the calendar seems to be made for the rank beginner who has never had a lesson in his or her life. For instance, I've "learned" to say things like:

Bonne Année! (Happy New Year!)
Moi aussi. (Me too.)
Êtes-vous marié? (Are you married?) I've used this one in real life before.

That's not what I bought the calendar for, though. I bought it so I can learn some idioms and ways of saying things that will move me closer to that Someday goal of fluency. Most of the time, my calendar comes through for me. Along with the married question, I also learned to ask this gem:

Êtes-vous célibataire? (Are you single?) Notice the way it assumes celibacy on the part of single people. How very Old School. Or very Christian.

There are other phrases that are very important to my life:

C'est le premier pas qui coute. (It's the first step that counts.)
On voit le bout du tunnel. (You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.)
J'ai besoin d'une sieste. (I need a nap.)

Sometimes I'm compelled to correct the pronunciation help on the page. It's printed in between the French phrase and the English translation, and the "single" question above would look like this: "Eht voo say-lee-bah-tehr?" Which is fine, but on occasion they spell words that I pronounce as "ay" with "eh" instead. Like they'd say Tais-tois is pronounced "Teh twah," when I know it's "Tay twah." So I cross out their pronunciation and write mine above it.

Yesterday, however, was a particular challenge. It said, "Tu me manques trop," and they said that in English it means, "I miss you so much," which just plain looks wrong. Literally, it says, "You miss me too much."

I spotted the lady who lived for 20 years in Burkina Faso, which was a French colony (formerly Upper Volta), so I asked her if the translation on my calendar page was right, and she said it was. I was confused. How can the subject of a sentence be "you" in one language and "I" in another? But she said it sort of means, "You make me miss you so much."

OK, I can go along with that.

So then I asked her how you would say, "You miss me." Would it be, "Je te manque"? But she surprised me when she said no. If I wanted to tell someone, "You're gonna miss me," it still comes out with "you" as the subject: "Tu vas me manquer."

I don't get it! Don't "I" ever get to be the subject of a sentence about missing someone in French??? It's patently unfair. Completely you-focused. And the lady at work couldn't tell me how it all made any sense. It just is.

I don't like it at all. It makes me want the page I had on Friday:

J'ai un mal de tête terrible.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

They're Going After Your 401k and IRA

Holy stinkin' crap! (Pardon my language, but it would be even worse if I hadn't emptied my 401k in 2008 to keep a roof over my head and food on the table while I was unemployed.)

Newt Gingrich and Peter Ferrara's column Wednesday analyzed the latest to come out of the Treasury and Labor Departments.

You did the responsible thing. You saved in your IRA or 401(k) to support your retirement, when you could have spent that money on another vacation, or an upscale car, or fancier clothes and jewelry. But now Washington is developing plans for your retirement savings.

BusinessWeek reports that the Treasury and Labor departments are asking for public comment on "the conversion of 401(k) savings and Individual Retirement Accounts into annuities or other steady payment streams."

In plain English, the idea is for the government to take your retirement savings in return for a promise to pay you some monthly benefit in your retirement years.

They will tell you that you are "investing" your money in U.S. Treasury bonds. But they will use your money immediately to pay for their unprecedented trillion-dollar budget deficits, leaving nothing to back up their political promises, just as they have raided the Social Security trust funds.

This "conversion" may start out as an optional choice, though you are already free to buy Treasury bonds whenever you want. But as Karl Denninger of the Market Ticker Web site reports: "'Choices' have a funny way of turning into mandates, and this looks to me like a raw admission that Treasury knows it will not be able to sell its debt in the open market — so they will effectively tax you by forcing your 'retirement' money to buy them."

Moreover, benefits based on Treasury bond interest rates may be woefully inadequate compensation for your years of savings. As Denninger adds, "What's even worse is that the government has intentionally suppressed Treasury yields during this crisis (and will keep doing so by various means, including manipulating the CPI inflation index) so as to guarantee that you lose over time compared to actual purchasing power."

Congressional Democrats held hearings on the subject this past fall, and now the proposal is being run up the flagpole to see if it draws any fire. It darn-well better draw plenty.

This is just the latest chapter in what is developing into a war by the left on America's seniors. All that class-war rhetoric about "the rich" ends up targeting seniors, who tend to have accumulated the most in savings and investment on average because they have been around the longest.

All of this reflects a fundamental problem underlying socialist economic policies. If the government keeps punishing responsibility and rewarding failure, society ends up with a lot less responsibility and a lot more failure, destroying prosperity in the process.

As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, "The trouble with socialism is you run out of other people's money to spend." And now they want to spend our retirement savings.

I left out quite a bit, so read the column to get the full effect. In the meantime, contact your (preferrably Republican) Congressman and ask him or her to introduce and/or co-sponsor legislation that would ban the raiding of your retirement savings.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dish Network is Vile

And they will screw you over if they get the chance.

This is my roommate's story, not mine. Her father passed away in September, and she was the executor of his estate. That gave her the unpleasant task of canceling all of the services he received, one of which was Dish Network.

The phone company did remarkably well, considering other people's experience, but Dish Network was another story altogether.

My friend's dad had paid $700 in June, to cover a year's service, plus he paid a monthly fee for local channels. In early October, my friend called Dish Network to cancel his service and have them refund the remainder of the annual service fee, since he certainly wasn't watching TV anymore.

They refused to do anything unless she could tell them his account number. They weren't about to look up his account for her. Privacy, you know. And when she asked to speak to a supervisor, they put her on hold for a half hour, until she got tired of waiting and hung up. They did the half-hour-hold-for-a-supervisor trick twice before she quit asking for one of those.

They told her they wouldn't accept his death certificate without his account number, which she was unable to find among his papers. So my friend decided to wait until they sent him a bill for his monthly fee, and then she'd have the account number and could get the refund.

They didn't send him a bill until January. When it arrived, my friend sent a copy of the death certificate, along with a letter that contained his account number and asked for them to cancel his service and send the refund.

They didn't. This month they sent him a notification that they were canceling his service due to non-payment. No refund. No statement of his account and where the money went.

Naturally, a company can't be expected to simply take the word of some random person calling and claiming she's the daughter of one of their customers, who she says is deceased, while she is requesting money from them. Identity theft and fraud are real issues that businesses face. But every other business she contacted eventually accepted the death certificate as actual proof that their customer was indeed dead and no longer in need of their services, and they took the appropriate action.

Not so Dish Network. Apparently they waited until they had churned through the remainder of Dear Old Dad's $700, and then they were happy to cancel.

I've advised my friend to contact the Better Business Bureau and make a complaint, as well as contacting the state Public Utilities Commission about how she was treated. Unfortunately, she doesn't have written proof of any of this, since most of her contacts with Dish Network were made by phone, except for the letter, which she didn't keep a copy of. They could deny any contact with her.

If you're considering signing up with Dish Network, think again. And if you already have them, don't lose your account number, and by all means, make all of your contacts with them in writing, retaining documentation for yourself.

This is a vile company who treated my roommate shabbily during a time of grief, and I don't wish them on anyone.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Losing Myself

I stopped at Albertson's on my way home from work to pick up a few things, and after I finished, I walked over to my car. When I started to put my key in the lock, I noticed somebody else's sweater around the parking brake handle.

Oh. That's when I saw the spoiler on the trunk, something I don't have on my car.

So I looked around and spotted my car, but then I saw some guy sitting behind the wheel.


I looked around some more and spotted my car again. This time I recognized the tree I had parked in front of. Before I put the key in the lock, though, I made sure it was my stuff by the parking brake. It was.

Who knew there were that many people who have the same incredibly good taste in cars that I do? And who knew they'd all be at the grocery store at the same time?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Back Again - Sort Of

The repair guy came over yesterday after work. His job was to replace the laptop cover, screen and all, and poke around under the keyboard, and then get the re-installation of the operating system going up to a certain point. Then he would leave me with a piece of paper that had a phone number for Dell, and they would walk me through the rest of the process.

He was a really great guy who enjoys fixing computers so much, he does more of it for a side job. He grew up in New Orleans, so I asked if he was rooting for the Saints in the Super Bowl. He is.

I told him I have blogger buddies in Indiana, so I'd probably be for the Colts, and then he said Manning is the greatest quarterback he's ever seen. I asked him who Manning plays for, because that's how closely I follow football. And when he said Manning plays for the Colts, he said he still has to be for the Saints, or else his family would never let him come to New Orleans to visit again.

The last task he had to do on my computer before he left was to install the video driver. That didn't work, though. What I have is a screen that looks fat and like it belongs in the dark ages, and YouTube videos don't show up at all. The repair guy said my computer looks bad because of the lack of video driver, and he left me on my own to call Dell when I get the chance.

I haven't had the chance yet, though, because my roommate is back from vacation, so we're watching Season Four of 24 now. I do have my priorities...