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Monday, December 28, 2009

Health reform observations

Those who thought Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska would hold his ground against the health care bill had to be dreaming. Did they really think the poor guy wasn’t going to be beat to a pulp by Reid and his buddies to get that 60th vote?

I told Middy the other day that Nelson’s interaction with his Dem friends had to be like a car salesman at 9:00 p.m. beating up a customer for his last sale of the day. That peddler would give away the doorknobs for that sale. You want free power steering? You got it! The desert package? You got it! Sign here!

It looks like Ben may have the last laugh though. He hung around long enough to use the law of supply and demand to increase the value of his vote. While Harry was trying to cram the power steering down his throat he managed to get many other concessions for his state. Ben was also shrewd about playing the pro-life card for a while as another reason to give his vote. He was insistent on that initially but eventually caved. I guess he couldn’t get the desert package for free after all.

Let’s not forget Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla) who got a deal of his own as reported by the AP this morning. Apparently, he worked a deal where his vote was worth "exempting roughly 800,000 seniors in Florida from potential cuts by private Medicare Advantage plans." I’m sure many seniors who live in other states under that plan are crying "What about me?" My answer to them would be to elect more aggressive politicians. After all, $450 billion will be taken from that plan to support other items.

Some are complaining about other special deals for states. Governor Terminator of California says "It is unfair." To him I would say, "Get up earlier in the morning and put in your bid. California is next to Reid’s Nevada and the highway is bumper to bumper on weekends with gamblers heading from L. A. to the silver state. Look at the money California is giving to Nevada!" Put on your selling shoes, Arnie!

If nothing else the health reform bill is giving us a good look at the smoke filled rooms of politics. These guys are on a gravy train and will do anything to stay there. I’m not singling out the Democrats since the Republicans would probably act the same under the circumstances. One of the exceptions this time is that the American public is very dissatisfied with both parties. A recent poll says that 41% of those polled consider themselves neither a Democrat or a Republican. 36% said they were Dems and 21% claimed to be Republicans. With those numbers, maybe the Whigs can make a comeback! Abe Lincoln was originally a Whig. Does anyone have his phone number?

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday grocery shopping tips

Sorry, kiddo, no caffeine for you.
This is the time of the year when most of us overeat which means it is the time of year we overspend at the grocery store. It’s hard not to overspend as the stores are pros at luring you into situations where you are vulnerable to either the sight or smell of a great holiday treat. That treat, by the way, is usually a high profit item and if it gets decent volume sales it can go a long way toward improving the 2% or so average gross profit of a supermarket.

I called on supermarkets for 20 years and I can tell you from experience, these guys are good. Here are a few tips about saving a buck that I have learned along the way: I’m old fashioned so I always keep a hand written grocery list at home that I add to as I get low or run out of standard items. It is a simple form of organization.

Always shop on "best food day" which in Phoenix is Wednesday; that’s when the ad comes in the newspaper. If you don’t take the paper, the store usually has a stack of ads at the entrance. Check the store’s website too as many times they will have coupons online along with the coupons in the ad. Be sure to have coupons that you may have clipped from various other publications too. Also, be sure you have the store’s "card" as that can mean savings when you swipe it at the register.

Private label (store brands) used to be junk. No more, I’ve found private label products to be as good if not better than many national brands. They are cheaper mainly because they have no advertising budget. Watch out for elaborately packaged items like bags of lettuce. That 3 or 4 color printed bag is part of your cost; check the cost difference of the bulk lettuce.

Watch out for the "peripheral" departments. Those are bakery, deli, nuts, floral, seafood, and many stores will have a Starbucks. Those departments make a lot of money for the store. If you want cheese, go to the dairy case. Deli? Go to the meat case. Bakery? Entenmann’s is cheaper but may be a step below the bakery. Seafood? It can be cheaper in the frozen case and tastes the same. If you feel Starbucks is worth its high price, go ahead and have a treat but understand you are paying for a product that yields a high profit to the store. Buy a bag of Starbucks in the coffee aisle instead.

Remember, peripheral departments usually mean higher price and profit. The areas like the soap aisle take up a lot of space and yield lower profits. It’s up to the peripherals to pick up the low profit stuff.

Two final tips: NEVER go grocery shopping when you are hungry! Everything will look good and you will buy the place out. Also, leave your cell phone at home so nobody can call you to add something to your list.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"No God?...No problem!"

That is the slogan of the American Humanist Association this year and it will be plastered over public transit vehicles in five cities across the United States: Washington D.C., New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Last year the only city targeted was Washington with their slogan for 2008 being "Why Believe in a God? Just be Good for Goodness Sake!"

According to Roy Speckhardt, the Director of the AHA, "Humanists have always understood that striving to make the world a better place is one of humanity's most important responsibilities. Religion does not have a monopoly on morality--millions of people are good without believing in God." Also, Speckhardt pointed to the false assumption held by many that not believing in God indicates a lack of morality as the reason for needing such advertising campaigns. "We want to change the way people think and talk about nontheists, and to pave the way for acceptance of humanism as a valid and positive philosophy of life."

"We understand our message may seem controversial to some, but it certainly isn't our purpose to offend anyone," concluded Speckhardt. "Of course, it's obvious that many people are also good with a belief in God, so I hope we can all find common ground."

Obviously, the message of the AHA will cause some controversy. We live in a country where the belief in some kind of heavenly being controlling our destiny dominates the lives of millions of people. Right or wrong, that is not a bad thing; there is nothing wrong with faith and it has guided many down the path of respect and dignity toward their familes and fellow citizens.

For others, they lead exemplary lives without the assistance of religion. Many leave the door ajar just in case they may be wrong. That’s probably not a bad idea but if there really is a judgment day they better have on their selling shoes when they go in front of the big guy.

I include myself in the second group. I think some religions have strange beliefs but I respect the members of those religions for their faith. I also feel that I live a lifestyle that any god would approve. I don’t break the law, I don’t cheat on my wife, and I never speed on the 101, especially on the West side. I did get kicked out of Sunday school once but I think if there is a HE, HE will give me a pass on that. It was a really boring subject that day and I was a little kid.

In summation, I have no problem with the Humanists. They are non violently subscribing to the belief that one does not need to worship a god to have a successful life. So what? It's a touchy subject but I say "To each his own and the decision to have religion or not have it is up to the individual"

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Christmas gifts then and now

The Slinky

Christmas is coming and many kids are anxiously awaiting their new cell phones, Xbox games, or whatever else may arrive on December 25th that will help them avoid physical exercise.

One present that offers plenty of activity is the Frisbee. The National Toy Hall of Fame lists it as an icon in the toy business and if you have ever thrown and chased one, you will get plenty of exercise. Although invented in 1950, I still see kids throwing Frisbees around occasionally and dogs love to chase them. It’s still a cheap and useful gift.

Another item that kids used to love is the Hula Hoop. My first memory of them is from about 1958. EVERYBODY had one as they sold 25 million of them in the first two months they were available. I still see kids occasionally spinning a Hula Hoop around their waists. In 1994 the Coen Brothers made a good movie about it with Paul Newman called The Hudsucker Proxy.

Do you remember the Slinky? It used to be a popular Christmas gift. It was basically a spring that would walk down a flight of stairs. It was accidently invented in 1945 when a guy dropped a spring on the ground and noticed it move across the floor on it’s own. It even had a catchy advertising jingle:

"What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, And makes a slinkity sound?
A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing, Everyone knows it’s Slinky…
It's Slinky, it's Slinky, for fun it's a wonderful toy,
It's Slinky, it's Slinky, it's fun for a girl and a boy."

Kids used to love getting Crayola Crayons. My favorite color was "burnt sienna." I didn’t care about the color; I just thought it had a cool name. They also had a color called "flesh" which was changed in 1961 to "Peach" to satisfy the PC crowd. The same applied to "Indian Red" which became "Chestnut" in 1999.

Other gifts like kites, jacks, yo-yo’s, marbles, and checkers have come and gone in popularity but have been around in some form since ancient times. I think I still have a "cat’s eye" marble around here somewhere. Also, don't forget Lionel Electric Trains; they were the mother lode of presents.

Then, there is the skateboard. When I first saw those in the 60's, I thought they would be strictly a fad. It’s hard to be right all the time and I missed the boat on that one. I see kids on skateboards everywhere all these years later. I saw a kid of about 10 a couple of years ago going down the sidewalk on a skateboard while talking on a cell phone. Go figure, huh?

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Apple pie not American?

The bhut jolokia pepper

We have heard the expression "As American as apple pie" many times but theoretically, it is incorrect. Alexander the Great found apples in Asia Minor as early as 300 B.C. and they eventually worked their way to America in the 1600's with the colonists. While the apple came from elsewhere "it has been transformed into a distinctly American experience" according to John Lehndorff of the American Pie Council.

Do you know the three fruits that ARE native to North America.? They are cranberries, blueberries, and Concord grapes. As the Ocean Spray guys say: "Cranberries didn’t come over on the Mayflower, they were already here."

Then there are peppers. I love the taste of Jalapeno peppers although I can only eat them in bits because they are so hot that I go into hiccuping fits. Don’t ask why, it’s just the way they affect me. The scary thing is that the Jalapeno is one of the LEAST hot peppers as listed on the Scoville Unit scale which measures the hotness of chili peppers. Jalapenos have a Scoville rating of 8,000.

The hottest? It’s the "bhut jolokia" pepper with a Scoville rating of 1,000,000 which is 125 times hotter than a jalapeno! That makes it the hottest pepper in the world replacing the former hottest, the Red Savina. I now have total respect for the people of India as they eat these things either by themselves or as an ingredient in certain foods. There are warnings to not let these peppers or their seeds get into one’s eyes. That is, if you enjoy seeing.

Since I am such a wimp even with the lightweight Jalapeno, I’m sure the bhut jolokia would kill me instantly. That may be one reason it is nicknamed the "ghost pepper." It is even 10 times more powerful than the Habanero!

My favorite Mexican restaurants in Scottsdale are Jalapeno’s and Los Olivos. Los Olivos in particular has a great tradition in the area as the Corral family established it in downtown Scottsdale in the mid 1940s. As much as I like the place, I think that from now on I will make sure to tell them to "hold the ghost peppers." I’m sure they don’t use them, but it never hurts to be sure. Whew!

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