Archive for Health

Cars and Trucks

Sophistication has its limits even in the US of A.  Apparently so does Hudibras.  So the news last week from GM was as much surprising as it was long over do:
GM announced plans at its annual stockholders meeting today for new company strategies designed to “aggressively respond” to this increasing demand for fuel-efficient cars that the North American consumer can afford. The company will be focusing on a series of efforts aimed at cutting costs, eliminating jobs, and limiting its dependency on truck and SUV sales.

Unfortunately, the good comes with some bad. Since it is always about profit, and not very often the workers, nothing in the announcement mentions plans for reeducation, or transitional support for the unemployed thousands as four plants will close by 2010.

Investors cheered the decision, sending the company’s stock up about 2 percent in early trading.

What makes this news a Loser is that this decision smacks of not being about what is right and sustainable for the economy but what self-serves the interests of Wall Street and by extention we the stock holders.  Because no matter how you cut it, we are caught up in a web of our own making.  We have to consume, we need to make money, we are invested in the very corporations that we know have only self interest at heart.

Contrast that to this kind of story of a Winner from Alex at YBwhoUR?  It’s about an inventor named Matt Shumaker and his motor bike.  It’s an example of what each and every company should be using as a reason for being.  What do people need not what can we sell them. 

I think that a long time ago that was the way it must have been.  Then came the Mad Men, and the idea that the business of business was making money first and useful products second or even third.  Excessiveness meant success.  The more you made the more you could sell became the business model.  And it worked in two ways.  One, to show that we are a successful and abundant country where everyone has a chance to have more and more stuff.  Two, to set up a way of producing things that explained why we needed to be powerful enough militarily to enforce ourselves upon the rest of the world when the need arose. 

So now, even as we look at the younger generation as the ones who will have to solve this problem, we may be facing, are facing the possibility, that all the excess is about to come back and overwhelm us.  Unless, of course, GM is not too late and then, well, . . . ?

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Our Gift from China

It is hard to buy a manufactured product these days that doesn’t come from China or some other sweat shop nation.  But that doesn’t mean much when you are out shopping.  Normally we buy what we need and take the product at face value.  News stories of product defects, of tainted materials used in the manufacturing process, are usually sloughed off by the everyday ordinariness of life.  That’s why it took me by surprise when the reality of the danger struck home.

Here’s the situation:  T and I had started working out in the pool by swimming laps using kick boards.  The weather had turned warm early and we both needed to get back in shape after a winter of stress and strain.  I had noticed though that T likes to float around in the pool after a workout while I get out to enjoy the sun.  So I went back to the store where we got the kick boards and picked up small size belly board that was small enough for pool use but large enough for her to float on.  So much for good intentions.  What’s that saying “No good deed goes unpunished.” 

Skip forward about two days.  T says “Look at this.”  She is pointing to a small row of pimples on her right side.  “And this.”  She turns so I can see a similar breakout across her chest.  I can tell from the way she is looking that she thinks this is more of the same weirdness that has happened to her body since the gall bladder surgery in February.  In another two days the breakout has spread to the backs of her knees and all across her abdomen.  “I don’t understand what could be causing this.” she tells me.  “I stopped using any medications over a week ago.”  So we go back to the doctor, who prescribes a steroid ointment, and then, either Benadryl or Zyrtec, whichever works since he really doesn’t know what the cause is but sees it as some sort of allergic reaction.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to figure out what could have caused this to happen.  Could it be more post surgery body stress?  Was it the sunshine, the pool water, the combination of both?  It didn’t make sense.  Then I looked at the belly board I bought for her to float on.  China, tainted lead-based paint, asbestos, flash across my mind and I suddenly realize that the pattern of the breakout actually matched the way she would lay on the board as she floated in the pool.  Shit.

“There are generally three types of product liability cases: negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty” say the folks at lawyers.com.

Strict Product Liability

If you can prove that a product is “unreasonably dangerous” – that it has a design or manufacturing defect – then you may be able to establish that the defendant is “strictly liable.” Unlike negligence cases, you may not have to prove the manufacturer knew about the danger, because even if they didn’t, they should have. (One of the main purposes of this provision is to hold manufacturers accountable for developing safe products). You still, however, have to prove that the product caused your damages.

Is this the case?  How can I even start to prove it?  Yes, the board was made in China, but how do I pursue a product liability case with so many other factors involved?  Maybe it wasn’t even mis-manufactured but just made with latex in the processing.  She is allergic to that.   The lawyer.com site recommends talking to several lawyers, and warns that the whole process of pursuing a claim will be extremely expensive.

No, for now I’m stuck with this.  Blogging about it in hopes that the blogosphere might have a response.  I’m also going to take this question over to JD’s getrichslowly forum and see what the folks there might suggest.

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I caught a cold last week

Or rather I should say the cold caught me.  And I have to say that it is very seldom in my life when I can’t write – something, but this has been one of those times.  Last Wednesday about 4 AM is when it started.  I woke to go pee and felt it in the top of my mouth.  A dryness, a tightness, a difficulty to swallow.  Shit! I thought.  I should have gargled right then.  Warm water, salt stirred in, head tilted back, you know the sound, gggghhhh, and spit.  But I didn’t.  Went back to bed.  Thought, I’ll be fine.

But three hours later, no way Jose.  My head had joined forces with my tightening throat and now was stuffed with snot.  I got up to go to the kitchen to start my day.  Coffee, paper, computer.  What was I thinking, I couldn’t really tell.  That morning’s post, became an afternoon’s one, and was a fair indicator of my state of mind.  If you could read my mind that is.  About three paragraphs, ending with a self-satisfied smirk of a summary.  I couldn’t sit there without breathing any longer.

I skipped the next day.  Drugged up on NyQuil, then Dayquil, and chicken soup, I slept sitting up so I could at least breathe.  But write, no I could barely think.  Finally about 2 AM, I gave it another try.  I really enjoy the experience of making something last.  I have to admit that the things in my life count for a lot.  They act as talismans.  A shirt from ten years ago that I can pull out and wear.  My homemade dance workout shoes, two pair, which I have alternated onto the dance floor for about 10 years too.  But when I tried to write that post about frugality, it was all I could do to say two things.  Rereading only shows me that I couldn’t wait to get done.  And I was really trying.  I remember going back and forth between youtube and this blog trying to imbed a Todd Rungren video that wouldn’t take and finally giving up in sick frustration.

Then came Friday.  Yes, the Lakers were into the finals, and T and I were packing for the trip to LA but I was still one sick puppy.  Dayquil all day, I even tried alcohol, two margaritas with dinner.  Here’s how sharp my thinking was.  It’s a cold I have.  So stay warm.  Not me.  We go to the book reading after dinner and sit for two hours while the cool city breezes blew in the door and swirled around my bare legs (I was wearing shorts) and sandalled feet. 

Sick Saturday, that what I’ll have to call it.  I couldn’t drive.  Thank the gods for T.  I couldn’t think or write or even read, and you know I really have to be sick for that to happen.

So now it is a tentative Sunday.  I have only sneezed once and I have managed to write this too.  I’m going to leave you with this reference point, one I gathered from the blogger at http://www.skepticsandpolitics.blogspot.com/.  I hope to write more about it tomorrow when this cold will be going going gone.  

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Semi-retirement

It isn’t that I haven’t written about this before but I have been thinking quite a bit about it since I pointed out to T that she was now living in semi-retirement.  We were sitting by the pool listening to the lapping of the water, squinting at the sunshine glints, and talking about our latest movie day.  She turned her head away from the pool and smiled at me. “I like the sound of that but what does it mean?” she said.

I could feel the little thoughts start running around in my brain.  I didn’t really want to have to think.  But that’s the problem with having a conversation, sometimes you have to converse.  “It means to me that you work when and if you want to and on the things that you decide are important and at your own pace.”  I felt so proud.  I knew John D. McDonald wouldn’t turn over in his grave though now that I thought about it I wondered how such a prolific writer ever got to live his own semi-retirement.  Oh well, he’s gone now and so is Charles Schultz the man who created my other fictional role model, Snoopy.  Which reminds me did anyone else ever see that movie “My Life as a Dog”?  Because there is the perfect example of what it means to be semi-retired.  Dogs are born that way.  Cats even more so.  Domesticated ones at least.

Of course, a semi-retired human does so at their own peril.  This is not a world that likes us to do things halfway.  Either retire, you know get out of the rat race, or get back to work and, as the old song goes, “git me some money now.”  Yes, it’s also a little more difficult to be semi-retired if you live with someone who is still working.  You can see it in their eyes.  They don’t like the fact that you’re reading the paper while they’re packing a lunch.  Even if you do the housework, the laundry, the cooking, and take care of all the bill filing that doesn’t absolve you from causing them the pain of having to go into the “damn office” day after day after day.

Which is why it is really important that you figure out a way for your partner to semi-retire too.

Five ways to semi-retire without quitting your day job:

  • Set up a budget analysis – You need to know what your finances are.  How much of what you make is left over?  This can be done simply by just making a list of your expenses in one column and a list of your income streams in another.  Add up each and subtract the first sum from the second.  Think of this as laying the groundwork.  So if it turns out to be a negative amount you have already taken the first step by seeing that you are working hard for no reason since you now know that you are just treading water in the labor pool.

I know this seems like work but trust me organizing things on paper is a great way to relax.

  • Make out a list of your spare time activities – How do you unwind?  Are you a gym rat?  Do you head to the nearest bar?  What happens on the weekends?  Do you spend time alone or with friends?  When was your last semi-vacation?  You know, the kind where you went somewhere but brought your laptop just in case you had a little spare time to catch up.  While you are making this list, use a calendar to remind yourself of when these things actually happened.

Time is sometimes hard to quantify.  It passes on by or stacks up.  When you take the time to look at what you do in this backward looking way take note of how many unplanned things you do to.  Unplanning is key in the semi-retirement world.

  • Take a look at your job – Look at a week on your job, day by day.  How does each day start?  What is the first, second, third, …, thing you do once you get there?  Who is your boss or rather what is your boss?  Is a person in charge of setting your task load or are you in charge of doing that?  Do any tasks carry over from day to day?  Who do you work with?  Where do you eat that sack lunch and how long do you take to do it?  What happens at day’s end?  Do you drop your tools and head home or do you pack up some of the work to take with you? 

A semi-retired mind is in control.  The best way to get control is to know what your job really is about.

  • Figure out your hourly pay – Go back up to your budget, take the amount you added up from column two and divide it by the actual number of hours you spend working at, thinking about, and doing your job.  I know, sometimes the amount you get might turn into a reverse motivation, but that’s life.

Again, a semi-retired mind doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the hourly stuff but you might have to do a little growing in order to reach a point where you can mentally afford to semi-retire.  Maybe you’ll even have to do some work on the self-advancement plane in order to get there.

  • Figure out your hourly pay for the spare time activities – Same deal, go back to your budget only this time look at column one.  Total up how much are you spending on leisure time into two columns, one for cash expenses and one for credit expenses.  Divide the hours you spend into the credit expenses to see how much it is really costing you hourly to do those things.

Yes, here’s the key to semi-retirement.  It is a cash only state of being.  No credit card liabilities allowed.  Just remember that the reward is in knowing you can stay semi-retired for life once you take control.

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Scooterville

For several months T has been looking at bikes.  Harleys, Vespas, Yamahas, and now at our local Costco, a Schwinn.  Yes, they all have motors which works just fine for her since she really doesn’t like pedalling a bicycle very much.  Says the seat is too hard, or there are too many hills, or it’s too much like exercise to be fun.  Weird eh?  Anyway, as gas prices have continued to rise, we’re at $4.05 today in California, she has become more and more concerned.  It takes $50 to fill her little run around BMW and that lasts about a month.  But the truck we have to take to the field to pick up our produce every other day costs $100 a tank and has to be filled weekly.  So her awareness has risen.  She also likes to think of herself riding a motorcycle, roaring around the curves of the road that leads from our produce stand back up to our house.  But that’s just a dream because the lightest Harley is way to heavy for her to balance.  Hence the Vespa or the Yamaha.

Vespa has a new model, the 2008 Vespa S, that sells for around $4,200 and weighs in at 243 lbs and get about 69 miles to the gallon.  While Yamaha’s 2008 Vino comes in at $2700, weighs 229 lbs and claims to get 96 MPG.  Both fit her needs but the extra $1800 has her leaning towards the latter though she likes the history of the former.  Strange but true, if she can’t get the big bike then she’d like to get the one everyone knows.  But neither one of the above has a wind screen so since bugs in her teeth isn’t her style either, we have been forced to widen our search.

Here’s where price makes a difference.  Honda has its Silver Wing ABS for $8,600, and Suzuki has its Burgman 650 executive at $9,000.  Both are more solid and good for freeway traffic if you have to but since she doesn’t we are now taking a long look at Yamaha Majesty.  It’s priced at $6,000, gets 51 MPG and weighs in at 432 lbs. 

Once we make a pick though the fun really starts with the training.  First, it’s highly recommended that you practice first by doing some bike riding.  Get used to the balance required and the comparitively easy shifting.   I have to laugh as I tell her this but she doesn’t appreciate the irony.  Then take a safety course.  The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers a 4 hour scooter school but we found out it’s not available in Cali.  Luckily, California has its own Basic Ridercourse offered through the California Motorcyclist Safety Program.  A 15 hour course leading to the M1 license that’s required here if you want to drive a bike that engine-sized over 49 cc. 

Still I have one bike I have been leaning towards that I think may be our best option.  It’s a motor bike.  It’s light in weight and is offered at least 8 different models all priced at below $2,000.  To be truthful, every time we see someone riding a motor bike, that’s really the one that T seems to like. 

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Weekly tags

The first stop on this week’s tour is New Zealand where we encountered the NZConservativesas they blogged on the environmental movement’s idea of turning off the lights for an hour.  I saved a lot of money by just travelling the airways and had a great time jumping into the discussion.  The conservatives down there sound quite a bit like the ones we have up here –thoughtful, sarcastic, confrontational, and almost willing to listen.

Next on the agenda, we arrived back home to the enjoyably light hearted Milk in the closetpersonal finance blog.  Here’s what the author had to say about her point of view:

Milk in the Closet – a blog about faith, parenthood, and whatever else pops into my head.

As a former teacher, Christian, and downright opposite of everything this sweet little blog seems to be about I couldn’t help spending time browsing through and seeing what the other side is thinking about these days.  Reminds me of my own youth when it was twice on Sunday and once in the middle of the week for me.  You know it might not be so bad for me to keep in touch with her kind of sincerity.

After that we settled down to a good old session of blogosphere styled research as we visited several sites to try and get a handle on the economic crisis facing the country. 

Sudden Debt is a site run by economist calling himself, Hellasious and as he explains, he was:

Educated as an engineer, almost my entire professional activity has been in finance, particularly in money, FX and credit markets and their derivatives. PS: I can spell fine. “Hellasious” stands for “Hell as IOU’s”.

I admire and envy the bloggers who can explain clearly and demonstrate with graphic examples.  This guy is definitely a hard contrast to Ms. MC and well worth the visit. 

Publius2012 looks at the responses to the environmental peak crisis and sees a return to the land as the solution.  Simplify, cutback, use less, waste less, and yes, see this through a progressive’s eyes. You don’t have to look very far to see this perspective these days.  But I strongly advise that if you want to understand the mix you had better be ready to read all the labels. 

Price of Oil the title seems self-explanatory for this blog but I have to say that the degree of information and the diligence at which it is appearing on the web is astounding.  Opinionated, yes.  Backed up by hard facts and a ton of research, that too.  We just need to figure out how to keep on sharing and using what we know.   Things are bound to get better, aren’t they?

Well that’s it for this week folks.  I hope you had fun, too.

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Losing weight the hard way

A few years ago, I became so concerned about the extra pounds I was carrying that I actually joined one of those dieting plans.  I got the pre-planned diet, the once a week counseling, and the target weight loss.  About half way through the program, I realized that the losses had leveled out and I was starting to gain back the lbs.  So I dropped the plan and went back to my usual strategy for weight loss, excessive exercise.  That worked for a while until the stress of the job began to take my attention and time, and  back came the pounds.  So then I decided on taking the radical approach.  I went to a health food store and picked out one of the 48 hour flush plans.  Within 10 hours I had lost 5 of my target 20 and I was sick as the proverbial dog.  My head ached, I had a fever, and my mouth tasted like old sauerkraut. 

But whatever I went through then was nothing compared to the trip my wonderful partner, T, has taken to lose her extra.   A year ago last December, she became enamored of the ads that were then running for weight loss with Jenny Craig.  She loved seeing the fat woman, Kirstie Alley, before become the skinny after.  So she joined and for approximately $90 a week all her meals became planned.  She took the once a week weigh-ins, she learned to cut up her meals into itty bitty bites, and she drank rivers of water.  Seven lbs, 4 lbs, then for a long while, 1 pound a week was her weight loss all through this past summer and into the fall.  About 25 pounds and 10 months into the plan though something began to happen.  She began to have a problem digesting.  She felt like she had a constant cramp in her right side.  Gradually her nights became sleepless.  I’d wake up to find her watching TV with the sound down low.  She stopped eating the Jenny Craig and went to her doctor.

Skip four months ahead to a week ago last Friday, when T took one last fearful look at me as the nurse wheeled her into surgery.  Four months of constant pain, plus one last excruciatingly painful visit to the ER had convinced her to join the apparently thousands of others who choose to have gall bladder surgery.

So here we are, slim and almost boney, T and I.  She has been limping towards recovery for 10 days now.  Those extra pounds are definitely gone.  The way that she picks at her low fat food indicates they won’t be coming back any time soon.  Our trip to weight loss has definitely thinned down our emergency fund.  If there is a plus side to all of this, it’s that T has discovered she has tons of clothes in her closet that now fit perfectly her new slimmed down chassis.  And I, well, let’s just say there ain’t nothing wrong with hugging a slimmed down chassis.  But if we had it to do all over again, there’s no question we’d pick a way that was a lot less painful.

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