Damaged Goods …

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An Open Letter to Bill Nemitz

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Dear Bill,

I’m writing with a suggestion for one of your columns in the PPH/MST. As long-time reader of those publications, I know that you are constantly on the lookout for stories about people who have seemingly been shafted by “the system”.

As you may be aware, last year President Obama and members of Congress enacted the Stimulus Bill, aimed at averting a fiscal crisis in the US banking system, and jump-starting the stalled economy. One provision of that bill was an $8000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers.

Although this tax credit didn’t exactly reinvigorate the housing market, it still proved to be enormously popular among real estate professionals and the lobbyists who serve them. Consequently, this law was expanded in November to include an additional $6500 tax credit for persons selling a home where they had resided during the previous five years.

Hearing this, you might ask yourself, “What kind of tax credit is available for long-time homeowners who bought a new house during the window between the initial bill and the November extension?”.

Answer: Nothing. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

As somebody who closed on a new construction home in May of this year, I was quite excited when I first heard about this extended tax credit. I naturally assumed that Congress would make this law retroactive so that people who bought a home during one of the most unstable financial periods in US history would be able to reap the benefit. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

If it sounds like I’m complaining just because this affects me personally – well – I am. The fact is, we had committed to the construction of this home before the bottom dropped out of the world economy. We are certainly not “well off” by any means: Right now – like a lot of Americans – our household income is down about 15% on the year, and we could really use this tax credit.

By the way, it’s worth noting that all four members of our congressional delegation voted in favor of this tax break. I sent a letter to each of them back in mid November requesting some clarification on their position: So far, none of them have bothered to reply. This response – or lack thereof – is especially surprising coming from the office of our newest House Member, Chellie Pingree. I distinctly recall a recent PPH letter from her Communications Director, former Maine radio host Willie Rich, in which he stated that Ms. Pingree’s staff responds to most communications within two weeks. As a freshman member of Congress, I’d think Chellie Pingree would be more concerned about the impression she’s leaving with her new constituents. Is it really that tough to crank out a form letter?

The next time Congress has some stimulus money to distribute, maybe they should just hold a lottery. The results would probably be more equitable.

Written by mainecartoons

December 17, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Where Have All the Heroes Gone … ?

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My mother has been having a bad week. No – it’s not that her rheumatoid arthritis has been acting up; nor is it related to the fact that my niece (her granddaughter) has decided to join the Marines. What’s really got my Mom upset is … Tiger Woods.

Even though she’d never admit it, the fact is, my Mom was just about the biggest Tiger Woods fans in the world prior to his recent fall from grace.

This preoccupation she has with Tiger has long been a source of amusement to me. You see, Mom’s not exactly a “jock”. In fact, her general sports knowledge could be summed up by a recent conversation we had in which she asked me whether “Big Papelbon” was still “making a lot of touchdowns”.

There are several reasons for my Mom’s uncharacteristic interest in golf, not least of which is that my Dad – prior to his death several years ago – was an avid golfer. When Dad wasn’t actually playing golf, he was apt to be watching professional golf on TV. When Dad was alive, this was a source of irritation to my Mom: But now that the old duffer has gone to that big clubhouse in the sky, Mom seems to take some comfort in keeping the TV tuned to The Golf Channel. As a result, she has absorbed a great deal of knowledge about the mechanics and stratagems of this subtle sport.

What is it that Mom finds so appealing about the game of golf? Although she’s never specified her reasons, I feel like I know her well enough to speculate about her motivations …

  • My Mom is a senior citizen. In my experience, the vast majority of senior citizens prefer warm weather over cold weather. Not coincidentally, professional golf is played in warm temperatures on sunny days approximately 95% of the time. That’s because they don’t generally build championship golf courses in places where there’s a potential for crappy weather. Ergo … golf makes you feel warm.
  • Golf is arguably the only sport in which it’s possible to be a better player at age 40 than at age 20. Not only that, but many players still earn considerable prize money at age 60. Did I mention that my Mom is a senior citizen …?
  • Golf is the only sport you can play without getting your clothes dirty.

To sum up: My mother liked Tiger Woods because she regarded him as the “classiest” player in an inherently classy sport.

Nice job, Tiger. As if it weren’t bad enough that you’re a serial philanderer, you’re also guilty of snuffing the joy out of the lives of a nation of lonely old golf widows.

Written by mainecartoons

December 6, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Does Hannaford WANT you to steal those reusable shopping bags?

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My wife and I have been having an ongoing argument …

A little background: I’m all for being “green” (although I think that most green practices are 10% reality and 90% marketing), but I’ve always struggled with the concept of reusable shopping bags. In my experience, there are two problems with these bags:

  1. They’re too floppy. That is – they won’t stand up like a paper bag. This always makes me feel like I’m making the bagger’s job even crappier, if such a thing is possible.
  2. After a half-century of disposable grocery bag conditioning, I just can’t remember to use the ##$%&**# disposable bags. Even though I keep ‘em right in the car, I generally don’t think about them until I’m actually inside the store. At that point, I can either make a trip back outside, or I can just say “screw it” and promise to be a better human being in the future.

Recently, though, Hannaford Stores have started stocking reusable bags that are made of some peculiar hybrid of paper and plastic. These bags can be folded flat like a traditional grocery sack (or “poke” as my dear departed grandmother would say), yet they are rigid enough to maintain their shape when empty. In addition to these qualities, the bags are virtually indestructible, and can easily hold 30 pounds of groceries without producing the “tear anxiety” that is engendered by the aforementioned disposable paper bag. This final feature is what really sold me on the reusable bags: Since I do all the grocery shopping in my household, this effectively reduces my bag load from 7 to 4 for a typical, two-week shopping trip.

As I mentioned before, I’m the grocery shopper at our house. However, my wife demanded to accompany me on a recent trip, as she felt that I was displaying a certain indifference when selecting from among the approximately 2000 available flavors of single serving yogurt. During this trip, we got into a casual conversation about reusable shopping bags, and I innocently mentioned that Hannaford WANTED people to steal the bags, even though they are ostensibly marked with a nominal price of $1.99 each.

My wife was shocked at this statement and insisted upon knowing my rationale.

If you’ve been in Hannaford, you’ve seen racks of these bags placed at various strategic locations throughout the store. The pricing for the bags is designated by a bar code on a paper tag that is attached to the sturdy fabric handle of the bag by a thin plastic cord. It would have been just as easy for the manufacturer of the bag to screen print the bar code directly on the bag itself, but this is not the case. As such, it is virtually the only item among the tens of thousands of products available at Hannaford that does not have its price permanently printed or glued to its surface. All that’s necessary to make an unpurchased bag look exactly like a purchased bag is to discretely pluck off the paper tag – an action that requires about the same amount of time and effort as glancing at your watch.

Is it dishonest to steal a two-dollar disposable bag from Hannaford? Probably. Is it an accident that Hannaford has made it so easy to steal such a bag? Not a chance …

Here’s how I see it: Hannaford must know that they will save money in the long run on disposable paper bags. You can’t fault them for trying to make a couple of bucks off each bag – after all, they’re not getting them for free. That said, the deliberately insecure pricing makes it clear that it’s to their benefit to give the bags away, if that’s what it takes to get people to use them.

Needless to say, my wife does not ascribe to this elegant theory of shopping bag economics. In fact, she regarded me as if I had suggested we take up professional bank robbery.

For the record, I DID NOT steal any bags (Well, maybe one. It was kind of an accident.). But I’m sure that lots of the bags have been pilfered by folks that are less scrupulous than me. My question is … are these people fundamentally dishonest, or are they behaving in exactly the way that most economists (and grocery store managers) would predict?

Written by mainecartoons

November 27, 2009 at 8:43 pm

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The Crazy Chicken Story

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Have you ever had an experience that is so bizarre that it makes you question your grip on reality?

 About a month ago, I was walking my dog along the rural road where I live, just as I do early each morning. Suddenly, I heard a rustling sound from the weeds at the edge of the road near my feet. A moment later, a large bird emerged from the undergrowth and charged directly toward me and my dog! Needless to say, this behavior seemed most uncharacteristic for a bird!

 I recognized the bird variety as the common partridge or woodcock (often called a grouse in other parts of the country). It continued to dart about in bird-like fashion, not quite coming within reach, but making a clear effort to stay within an 8-10 foot radius of me. This despite the fact that my dog was clearly having visions of a chicken dinner!

 At first, I was intrigued by these strange actions. However, as I considered the danger that this bird posed to itself, I began to grow concerned. Struggling to divert the attention of my large collie, I proceeded down the road.

 The partridge followed us!

 Eventually, the bird retreated into the woods. I spent the remainder of my walk musing over this unusual experience. Although the bird appeared to be healthy and fully aware of my presence, I finally concluded that it was blind or otherwise injured, and couldn’t possibly survive for long. (For what it’s worth, I also considered rabies; but I’ve never heard of birds being carriers for that disease.)

 Fast forward one month: It happened again! In the exact same spot, at the exact same time of day, I was hectored by (presumably) the same bird! The bird still looks quite healthy: Its breast is plump and its feathers are sleek, so my injury theory is out the window!

 As entertaining as it might be to conclude that this animal is my “spirit guide” or some similarly bird-brained notion, I’ve decided that it has a brood of chicks hidden somewhere in the woods nearby and that it’s following its natural instincts in an effort to distract me from them. Most people have heard of how a duck will mimic an injured wing to draw a predator away from her chicks, and many people have observed this first-hand. I’ve personally experienced a similar behavior with a turkey hen and her chicks that I surprised along the roadside. On that occasion, I observed the chicks scatter into the undergrowth while the hen made an obvious attempt to divert my attention, staying directly in the center of the road for several minutes when she could have easily escaped into the woods. At no time, however, did the turkey allow me to come closer than 30-40 feet, whereas the partridge repeatedly came within 4-5 feet of me, not to mention my very interested dog!

 Nature: Beautiful, yet slightly screwed-up.

Written by mainecartoons

November 27, 2009 at 8:30 pm

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