The Watchful Chicken

Some days, you find odd things at Schiller Park.  This morning, I found this colorful rubber chicken — a dog’s toy, probably — positioned atop the dog poop bag dispenser, as if she were keeping an eye on the dog owners and their compliance with the admonition to clean up after their dogs.

I couldn’t help but read the stern, red-eyed expression on the chicken’s face as a look of disapproval.  And when I realized that all of the doggie bag dispensers were empty, after the dog I was walking had already required the use of three of my pocket supply of bags on the walk, leaving me sorely in need of replenishment, I couldn’t help but share the chicken’s reproachful countenance.

Advertisements

Weeds And Wishes

The Ohio Lottery Commission has put up a new billboard on the path of my walk home from work.  It features a line drawing of dandelions gone to seed and dandelion seeds wafting in the air, with the saying “Why see a weed when you could see a wish?”  The billboard refers to inspiredoh.org and has the Ohio Lottery logo.

“Inspired Ohio” is a website sponsored by the Ohio Lottery.  The home page of the website reads:  “To many in the outside world we’re simply ‘Midwesterners.’  But we know better.  We are selfless neighbors, and decorated servicemen.  We are soup-kitchen-altruists and wheelchaired-iron-men.  We are inspired Ohioans.  And these are our stories.”  The home page has links to videos of three Ohioans who apparently “tell their stories.”  One of the links at present has the title “Always bet on yourself.”

The obvious message of the billboard is that it is all about perception.  Why see something as a negative that you could see, instead, as a dreamy positive?  But what is supposed to be the weed, exactly?  Is it Ohio, and have the “inspired Ohioans” used their positive viewpoints to turn our state into a place where dreams come true?  Or is the Ohio Lottery just trading on positive stories about Ohioans who are doing good to try to shift the perception of the Lottery itself?  Do they hope that people who now view the Lottery as a merciless way of extracting money from people who will never beat the overwhelming odds and really can’t afford the lottery tickets they buy every week will see it instead as a harmless way for people to dream about how they might have a better future?

Either way, the billboard message doesn’t work for me.  The fact that, for a brief period every summer, little children might blow the seeds off dandelion puffballs doesn’t make the dandelion any less an invasive, destructive, ugly weed.  It’s interesting, and telling, that the Ohio Lottery has chosen to associate itself with a weed.

 

It Could Have Been Worse

According to the weather app on my phone, it’s 56 degrees outside right now, and the temperature today is supposed to hit 70 degrees.  56 degrees, in itself, is like a tropical heat wave, but . . . 70 degrees!  Sure, it’s supposed to rain during the day, but still . . . 70 degrees!  After the long, dark, dank, cold winter we’ve endured in the Midwest, outdoor temperatures that will actually feel warm seem so wildly improbable they can scarcely be imagined.

I’ve written before about the lousy winter weather, and those of us in the Midwest have been feeling pretty sorry for ourselves about it.  And, in fairness, it has been an exceptionally crappy, frigid, snowy winter, so there has been cause for the muttering.  But I do want to note that, as bad as it has been, it could have been worse.  Much worse.

d2e991b7-2bbf-4062-a886-47c3386c060d-02172019_giant_springs_weather_art-bConsider Great Falls, Montana.

Our friends in Big Sky country have been through one of the coldest, most brutal continuous stretches of weather in recorded American history.  As a slack-jawed article in the Washington Post recently recounted, in many parts of Montana temperatures for the entire month of February averaged — averaged — 27 to 28 degrees below normal .  That’s hard to even conceive, and it is the most extreme, extended variance from normal temperatures seen in the lower 48 states in 50 years.  And March began with temperatures going even lower.

Great Falls, Montana, was in the heart of the bone-chilling zone.  The Post article notes that, in that city:  “The mercury didn’t rise above zero on 11 days and dropped to zero or below on 24 nights. Only the first day of the month topped freezing. Its average February temperature finished 27.5 degrees below normal.”

“The punishing and unrelenting cold continued into March. On March 3, the low temperature tanked to a bone-chilling minus-32 in Great Falls. Combined with a high of minus-8, the day finished a whopping 50 degrees below normal. The city concluded its longest stretch on record below freezing on March 7.”

So sure, our weather sucked this winter — but the frozen souls in Great Falls had it much, much worse.  Imagine a March day where temperatures were 50 degrees below normal, or a nearly two-week stretch where the temperature didn’t rise above zero, even once.

It will make hitting 70 today all the sweeter.

Operation Varsity Blues

Yesterday federal prosecutors announced that charges were being brought against dozens of people who allegedly were involved in a scheme to use bribery and fraud to get kids admitted into elite American schools.  The investigation — code-named Operation Varsity Blues — swept in Hollywood stars, corporate executives, and high-powered lawyers, all of whom allegedly took illegal steps to game the college admissions process.  The U.S. attorney who announced the results of the investigation and the arrests called the parents “a catalog of wealth and privilege.”

1552422542439The prosecutors says it’s the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the federal government.  Charges were announced against fifty people, including nine college coaches and 33 parents, who are collectively accused of paying an estimated $25 million in bribes to college coaches and administrators.  Individual parents were alleged to spend between $200,000 and $6.5 million in the scam, and allegedly hired an “admissions consultant” to make the bribes, falsely present their kids as star athletes to increase their chances of admission, and hire people to take admissions tests in their children’s stead.

The schools involved — which included elite institutions like Yale, Stanford, and Georgetown — are not targets of the investigation, and some said they were victims of the alleged scam.  No students are being prosecuted, either.  The alleged scam involved college coaches in sports like soccer, sailing, tennis, water polo and volleyball being bribed to put students on lists of recruited athletes, which helped their admissions chances, and parents claiming their kids had learning disabilities that would give them privacy and extra time to take admissions tests and facilitate tampering with scores.

The scam says something sad about the parents who were caught in the dragnet and allegedly participated in the scheme.  They apparently have so little confidence in the actual abilities of their kids, and so much confidence in the allure of elite colleges, that they are willing to participate in fraud and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get their kids in the door, figuring that a degree from one of those schools is all their kids need to secure their futures.  In short, the parents don’t think it’s a meritocracy out there in the real world, and if you’ve got a degree from the right school it will put you on Easy Street for the rest of your days.

The college admissions process is a tough time for parents and students alike, and often the process doesn’t seem fair.  This scandal isn’t going to help that perception.  As the article linked above states:  “The scandal is certain to inflame longstanding complaints that children of the wealthy and well-connected have the inside track in college admissions — sometimes through big, timely donations from their parents — and that privilege begets privilege.”  How many parents who are stressing about their kids and colleges are going to think about that come admissions time?

Waiting For GoMueller

Every week, it seems, there’s an article about the timing of when Robert Mueller will finally complete his investigation and present his report on President Trump.  Some articles report that “insiders” who are supposedly privy to the workings of the investigation team confidently predict that the report will be out next week; other pieces are written by savvy pundits who have read the tea leaves and concluded that Mueller is timing his report for this or that reason and next week the report will be out.

1551885010588But the report never comes.  The stories speculating about the timing of the Mueller Report remind me of the plot of Waiting for Godot, where Vladimir and Estragon wait, and wait, and wait for Monsieur Godot’s arrival — but he never shows up.  And then the articles that predicted that this would be the week for the Mueller Report get flushed down the memory hole, and new articles that predict that next week will be the week that we get the report, for sure, take their place.

The constant anticipation of the Mueller Report has gotten to be so bad that Newsweek — which I didn’t think still existed, frankly — is reporting that some aged and sick Americans are desperately trying to hold on to their thread of existence just so they can finally read Mueller’s findings.  It’s a pretty thin story — based on the comments of one person who regretted dying before he could read the Report, a reaction to those comments from another senior citizen, and a quote from a third person who thinks her mother would have said the same kind of thing before she joined the Choir Invisible — but it sure seems weird that being unable to read the Mueller Report is the one regret voiced by people who are dying.

The constant fixation on the Mueller investigation and the breathless anticipation of its ultimate report seems pointless to me.  Investigations take time — the Mueller investigation has been going for about two years, already — and good investigators play their cards pretty close to the vest.  At this point, why worry about when, or credit anyone who claims to have special insight into the timing of the report?

One of these days, Godot is going to finally get get here.  Mueller and his team will finish their work, publish their report, and everyone will have the chance to review it.  Until then, Vladimir and Estragon need to stop waiting and get on with their lives.

Old, And In Debt

One of the most basic rules of retirement planning is that retirees should be debt free.  The idea, of course, is that when you are living on a fixed income, you don’t want a significant portion of that fixed income to go to paying old debt — and paying interest on that old debt.

4-tips-to-manage-your-debt-1600x700Increasingly, however, older Americans are breaking that very basic rule.  It’s part of a growing and worrying trend of accumulating credit card debt, and delinquency, by Americans.

According to the Federal Reserve Board, at the end of 2018 Americans had amassed $870 billion in credit card debt, which is a new record.  That debt was created on more than 480 million credit cards in circulation.  Credit card debt is the fourth largest form of consumer debt, trailing mortgage, student loan, and auto debt, but is the fastest growing category of debt.

And what is especially concerning is that older Americans are holding more credit card debt than ever.   The New York Federal Reserve Bank says 18 percent of all credit card debt is held by people between 60 and 69, and an additional 12 percent is held by people over 70.  Even worse, according to the American Banker article linked above, “by age group, older Americans are seeing their credit card debt transition into the delinquency category at an increasing pace. In particular, those in their 50s have seen the most rapid change and could be considered the most vulnerable should a change occur in their employment.”

Americans already aren’t all that great at saving for their retirements.  If people are heading into the “Golden Years” saddled with lots of old credit card debt, it’s just going to make the problem worse.  When Grandma and Grandpa need to use the Social Security checks to pay off their credit cards, they’re not going to have much of a retirement — or even any retirement at all.

UJ And Man’s Best Friends

Regular readers of this blog will remember my brother UJ, who has posted occasionally about his adventures and travels.

52812917_2017707298284358_42568911224307712_nLately UJ has been volunteering at the Franklin County Dog Shelter, where his principal activity is walking the dogs and, in the process, giving them a little bit of the human attention that dogs seem to instinctively crave.  Then, he posts about his exploits and the different dogs he has met on Facebook.

UJ had not previously indicated, from outward signs at least, that he was a big dog lover.  For example, I don’t think he’s ever had a dog of his own since he left our parents’ home, where we had a cantankerous “teacup dachshund” named George.  However, when one of his friends suggested the volunteer activity at the Shelter he gladly took it on, and it’s clear that UJ and the Franklin County shelter go together like hand and glove.  The Shelter has acknowledged UJ’s dedicated volunteer work with some posts of its own, like the photo to the right.

It’s interesting, too, that the focus of UJ’s Facebook posts has changed somewhat since he started his volunteer work.  After a few posts about what he was doing there, it really became all about the dogs he was walking and their desire to be adopted.  UJ will walk the dogs, take some pictures and video, and then post something about the dogs and how good-natured and easygoing they were.  And, UJ and his Facebook posts publicizing the dogs he’s walking have helped the dogs at the Shelter who are up for adoption find homes — including homes with some of UJ’s Facebook pals.

I’ve been a critic of social media, and I still think it has contributed mightily to our current polarized political situation.  But UJ’s efforts at the Franklin County Dog Shelter show how a little volunteer work and some social media attention can really have a positive impact.  I’m proud of UJ’s good work, and I think his use of Facebook to help orphan dogs find a human family illustrates what is the right role for social media in civic affairs — to let people know about what’s happening in their communities, and how they personally can make a difference.  Kudos to UJ!