Anachostic

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Category Archives: Wondering

A World Without Stereotypes

The concept of stereotypes has been around for a very long time.  It’s only fairly recently that “Social Warriors” have taken up the fight to eliminate the use of stereotypes using the universal weapon of shame.  I’m not saying that I’m in favor of keeping or eliminating the use of stereotypes.  I’m saying that the point is moot.  There are no stereotypes anymore.

Stereotypes have historically been a “bad thing”, because they encourage prejudice.  They allow you to assume the behavior or personality of someone based on external factors.  I certainly don’t need to bring up racial stereotypes, we all have plenty of examples for that.

Stereotypes provide a slightly less offensive use, also.  They are coping mechanisms, where one can sort of explain away behavior that they find objectionable.  Like I say, that’s only slightly more offensive, since all you’re doing is reinforcing the stereotype in your mind for future prejudice.

Anyway, like I said, there’s no reason for any of that anymore.  I’ll provide an example and you can build it out from there.  Long ago, you could make an educated guess (which is just a polite term for prejudice) as to how a driver would behave on the road based on the vehicle they drove.  BMW drivers?  Women in minivans?  Old, beat-up, rusty Toyotas?  Little foreign cars with fart cans for mufflers, lowered to the ground?  Are you developing mental images for each of these?  Well, those images are all outdated.

You used to be able to see a car swerve on the road and say, “Typical (stereotype).  No surprises there.” Or pull up behind a vehicle covered with bumper stickers and think, “Yup, pretty much what I thought” when you analyze the stickers’ content.  But no more.  Any car can surprise you.  An “old-person Buick” goes weaving through the lanes; you get honked at by a fleet of micro-sized cars; middle fingers from corporate vehicles.

The reality is, everyone is an asshole.  It doesn’t matter what car they drive, they are going to be an asshole on the road.  Taking that a little further, it doesn’t matter what their gender is, what their race is, or what their religion is.  They are going to drive like shit and put everyone at risk for their own selfishness.

Now, can this logic be applied outside of the highways and interstates?  Maybe, but probably not yet.  Over time, maybe we can eliminate our differences in the non-driving world and we can all be a common humanity of assholes.  I can see progress being made on that front every day.

But more seriously, there are so many goddamned people now, it is not possible to be prejudiced.  You simply cannot predict what any one people will say or do.  You will consistently be surprised, for better or worse, and usually for the worse.  If you try to create stereotypes, you will have so many distinctions that it becomes useless to try and refine them any further.  It’s part of the individualization fashion, started when Windows 3.1 came out.  Yes, I blame Windows.

They Robbed Me Blind

Saturday morning, I went to get in my car and noticed the door wasn’t latched.  Weird.  I got in the car and my glove box was hanging open and my center console door was open.  Really weird.  Then it dawned on me.  My car had been broken into.  I use the term “broken into” loosely because I rarely lock my car doors.  I figure there’s nothing really of value for anyone to steal, and if they do steal something, it’s just an excuse to upgrade.

I looked around and nothing was missing.  This puzzled me.  My CDs were still there, my GPS/dashcam was still there, my MP3 player was still there.  A card wallet with probably $150 in gift cards in it was still there.  Yeah, I don’t expect anyone to steal my CDs, and yeah, they could have grabbed the MP3 player and said, “Oh, it’s a Zune”, but hey, doesn’t everything have some value to a pawn shop?  Are these smart thieves that only steal things of real value?

So whatever, I closed everything up and went about my day, puzzling over the experience.  I didn’t feel violated or anything, just confused.  Like I had such shitty stuff it wasn’t even worth stealing.  As I think about it now, maybe someone just wanted to know what it was like to sit in a car like mine?  But why wouldn’t they close up the storage areas before they left?  By Sunday evening, it didn’t even really mean anything to me.  As I was driving home, I needed to put on my glasses.  I wear glasses only for distance viewing and I need them especially at night to reduce the halo effect of lights.

Where’s my glasses?  They’re not in their usual place.  Seriously?  That’s what they stole, my prescription glasses?  What good will my glasses do them?  What a stupid criminal.

So now, I have to get another eye exam (which is overdue anyway) and get a new pair of prescription glasses.  Like most “disasters” in life, it’s just an inconvenience.

He Who Controls The Spice

This weekend, I picked up a couple of other CDs from my prime musical era: the 80’s.  It would probably be interesting to poll people and find out what they consider the best music of their life.  Based on anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, it would be the era in which a person became an adult, about when they were 18-21.  But that’s not really the point of this post. 

The thing I have discovered is that although we have all these eras of music: 50’s/oldies, 60’s/hippy, 70’s/classic rock, 80’s/glam/pop, 90’s/depression, and onward, each era has so much more than those generalizations I just assigned to them.  And even when you explore those other genres, they are still consistent with other genres of that era and also different than the same genre in other eras.  For example, Jazz in the 70’s sounds different than Jazz in the 80’s.  But Jazz in the 80’s still has that production sound of pop music the 80’s.  So the point I’m trying to make is that you can explore many genres within your prime musical era.  The amount of music just within your preferred era is staggering.  Believe me, I’ve been getting more and more daring and buying artists I only had a faint memory of.  The best way to describe the result of that effort is like filling in a puzzle of the entire musical landscape of the 80’s.  You see (hear) each album all in context and relation to the others and the era as a whole becomes more defined.  But that’s not really the point of this post, either.

I had to put those thoughts out first because I am curious abut the future (and a little about the past).  The 80’s could be the premier music moment in recorded music history, all due to the creation of the CD.  Because of the mad rush to upgrade past recordings to CD, then because of the eventual low cost of CD production, there is an overwhelming amount of music physically available on CD, both past and present (present meaning 80’s).

However, as we know, streaming is becoming the new standard.  Proponents of this format claim that it will encompass everything, where any music ever made will be available at a moment’s notice.  But will it?  It’s been shown many times over that an artist can simply refuse their catalog to be offered on a streaming service.  Not only an artist, but maybe an entire label.  If a label goes bankrupt, where do the rights go?  The music is only available when everything is working perfectly – and I wasn’t even meaning the technical bits working perfectly.

With our massively analytical society and our ROI-driven corporate environment, what are the odds that a streaming service would look at some particular music and see it isn’t being accessed enough or isn’t generating enough revenue, so it is just removed from the service.  It’s no longer available.  It’s not lost, just unavailable, which is pretty much the same thing to an end user.  I have seen news that some albums are no longer being released on a physical medium, therefore there is no way to own a copy of the music.  If this pattern accelerates, then there will come a time in the future where music can be lost.

Of course, none of this matters to me, because I’m still filling in the gaps of my era, but future generations will end up having a very spotty image of what music was like in their prime.  That would be a shame.

What’s Good For Us Is Good For You

It was a while ago that I had gone to Pollo Tropical and ordered my usual, with a large drink.  The cashier replied, “We only have one size of drink now.” Ok.  But that is a medium cup.  Right.  That change, which I considered kind of significant, made me think about the whys of such an unannounced change.

For the company, the change would mean reducing the number of items they had to stock and order, which has benefit.  Also, it’s less drink walking out the door, because who wouldn’t refill before leaving? So, there’s that savings. And finally, I assume it’s a preemptive move when the pressure comes on for the death of soft drinks.  Kind of, “Hey, we’re not even allowing people to buy more than 20 ounces here.”

Although I was pretty displeased with the change, I accepted it and moved on.  Then, yesterday, I went to Firehouse Subs and got a meal combo.  I was given a 20 oz cup.  Wait, didn’t this used to include a 32oz drink?  I looked around and saw 32oz cups on other tables, so I don’t know what I did wrong.  Oh well, I don’t eat here that often anymore, so I sucked it up and got on with my day.

Today, I go to Sweet Tomatoes.  I get to the cashier and ask for a large drink.  She hands me a 20oz cup.  No, I want the large size.  “We only have these now.”  WTF.  Just like Pollo.  But, Sweet Tomatoes only ever had 32oz to-go cups, not the 20oz.  So something’s afoot here.  It’s not simplifying stock items, it’s shrinking things.

Fountain drinks are the biggest profit makers for a restaurant.  It’s under a quarter for a cup, lid, straw and the drink itself.  Considering many places I go charge $3 for a drink, you better believe I get refills and to-go cups whenever I can.  And now, they’re shrinking the available cup sizes so you can’t leave with an extra 10 cents of drink?

For future reference, Boston Market still only has one drink cup – a 32oz cup.  They’ve recently changed from a plastic cup to a paper cup.  Let’s see if they shrink it down to a 20oz.

Get Off My Lawn, And My Beach, And My City, And My Country, And My Planet

Over the weekend, I got to spend some time at the beach and it was pleasant.  The key to that pleasantry was going early in the morning, before the large families arrived.  As I was basking in the silence, actually able to hear the waves, I thought about how nice it was right then and how it wouldn’t be so nice in a few hours.

I thought about these groups of people with screaming children and boom boxes and thought it would be really nice to not have to be around them.  But obviously, they have just as much right to any public space as I do.  It’s just that my quiet presence wouldn’t intrude on them, but their boisterous presence would intrude on mine.  Somehow, that doesn’t seem fair. 

I thought up a label for these people.  They are “environment modifiers.”  Wherever they go, they modify their environment to suit themselves.  Natural beauty?  The sound of nature?  Unnecessary. We have children and portable stereos.  It’s just like being in our house or our back yard, only the visuals are different.

I mulled over different ways to handle this.  One idea was segmenting the beach into noisy and quiet zones.  Of course you don’t say it like that.  The beach is divided into “those who love the sound of children playing” and “those who love the sound of the sea”.  And those are truly mutually exclusive.

And sadly, this little microcosm is applicable to our society as a whole, when the loud and obnoxious drive out the polite and quiet.  When decisions are made based not on merit, but on amplitude.  Where resources are acquired sorely through aggression.  When acquired resources are resold to others at a profit, when the justification of that profit is solely getting there first.

“And the meek shall inherit the earth.”  What a wonderful, ruinous place it will be to inherit.

Collecting, For The Eyes And Ears

A co-worker of mine has recently fallen into the rabbit hole of sci-fi novels.  Every day, it’s read, read, read.  And because of that, it’s also become buy, buy, buy.  He does his research.  He knows all the prominent authors, their styles and topics and their bibliographies.

Recently, he’s been talking about “collections” and first editions with increasing interest.  As we discussed the viability of being a sci-fi novel collector, the parallels between his book collecting and my CD collecting became ever more obvious.  Here’s some of the connections I made:

  • Novels will move around between publishers.  Albums will also move around between publishers.  In both cases, the publisher determines the quality of the end product.  The artwork may be different between different publishers.
  • First editions of popular novels are just like first pressings of albums.  They are desirable by those that care and can command higher prices.
  • Both books and albums are reprinted in special collector’s editions, which collectors of each can have a great interest in.  Because the content is usually the same, the improvements are usually better packaging and bonus material (extra songs for albums, drafts or letters or forwards by the author’s peers for books).
  • Both can be turned into compilations and churned out for quick bucks by publishers.  Although I don’t know for sure, I suspect the royalties to the writers suck in all cases.
  • You can “remaster” a book with the same expected results as remastering an album.  You’ll have purists that hate the changes and progressive modern types that embrace the changes.  In the book world, they call it “revised and expanded”.
  • The collecting of this “old technology” is a mystery to the majority of the public.  The details of the versions and editions are lost on them.  “It’s all about the music”/”It’s all about the story”
  • You can find used copies of either at specialty used stores and save a lot of money.
  • You can also find digital copies of either for free (legality aside), but for a collector, this is insufficient.  The physical product is paramount.
  • When a collector starts “talking shop”, it sounds exactly the same; only the authors/bands and titles/albums are different.  They all have exclusive details and timelines and history, but they are completely interchangeable.

On the topic of money, he and I have both been doling it out.  Him maybe a bit more because he’s been buying new, where I buy used almost exclusively.  Yesterday, I gave him the opportunity to validate himself.  I asked if he wanted to visit my usual CD haunt during lunch.  I warned him it could be dangerous for me because the last time I was there, they had some very hard-to-find albums I wanted.  Being hard-to-find also means hard-to-justify-the-price.  I’ll spend up to $10 for a used CD I want, with gold CDs being the rare exception.

We get to the store and all the CDs are still available.  Six of them, priced between $18 and $25 each.  I ask him if I really want to do this, because it’s not gonna be cheap.  He replies that he is the wrong person to ask for support.  For both of our entertainment, I ended up buying them.  As the cashier rung up my $144 purchase of CDs, my co-worker, red-faced and grinning, beamed with delight that someone was behaving just as irrationally as he does with his books.

A Little Bit Of Tim Taylor In The Kitchen

Thanksgiving is almost here and that means it’s time for cooking.  I believe I probably think like most guys in that in order to do something properly, you have to have the right tools.  If you don’t exactly know what the right tools are, it’s best to just have all the tools.

And so, in this year, I’ve been building up my kitchen tool chest.  I pitched my ad-hoc cookware and bought a brand new starter set of pots and pans.  Then I augmented that set with a couple more small pots, for flexibility of course.  And last night, I saw two more pieces from the same model line (in the same color, too!).  I hadn’t ever seen them before, and I wasn’t entirely sure I would ever see them again, so I picked them up.  Now I own a stock pot and a deep sauté pan.  Will I ever use them?  Better to have and not need than need and not have.  Clearly, a man composed that line.

That’s not the only thing I’ve done in my tool refresh.  I pitched my dinnerware and bought all new, matching pieces, including things I shouldn’t need, like a serving bowl, a platter, and a gravy boat.  And although my meals are typically for one, I have 4 large plates, 4 small plates, 4 bowls, 2 additional large bowls, and 2 more additional small bowls.  I like soup and salad, but still, that might be pushing it.  I have the additional plates and such in case I have guests.  ha ha ha ha

I also swapped out my flatware.  Just because.  The old set was over 10 years old, and a change was needed.  Also, more knives.  I have two carving sets.  I have multiple whisks, multiple peelers, multiple strainers, multiple cutting boards, multiple crock pots, and more wooden utensils than I can use in a week.  More mixing bowls than I expect to realistically use, but they’re in all different sizes, so I will have the perfect size bowl for whatever it is I plan to do.  You need to have the right size tool for the job, right?

Last night, when I picked up the most recent pot and pan, I made the joke that I was a “completist”.  But then I looked up the definition, which is: “an obsessive, typically indiscriminate, collector or fan of something.”  That doesn’t sound fair.  It’s not an obsession, nor is it indiscriminate for me.  For one, it’s opportunistic. (This also applies to my CD collecting.)  Also, my purchases serve a purpose.  I’m not exactly acquiring these things for the sole purpose of having them.  I do intend to use them when there is a legitimate need.  I just need to create that need.

How Cute.

In my random browsing about CD collecting and storing, I came across a website for “CD collectors”.  Some people were posting pictures of their collections and some would post pictures of their finds at stores.  It was kind of cute, and I mean that in a patronizing way.

Post titles like “Started 2 weeks ago, full collection so far” and “After 6 months, this is my collection”.  And then there’s a picture of a dozen CDs, or maybe two dozen.  And when I think about my 800+ collection, I snicker a little inside.  And when I see that the CDs are mostly new releases, I snicker a little more.

And boy, isn’t that pompous of me?  It is, I admit it, and I accept that.  I mean, I could make a post saying, “After 30 years – my collection” and there would be people snickering at me.  “30 years and only 800?  I bought that much in the last 2 years!  My collection of 3,000 laughs at you.”

Despite the holier-than-thou ranking and hierarchy of collectors in which I probably place in the 70th percentile (The curve is exponential.  Once you break a certain level, you are in rare company), at the same time, I am encouraged.  These are people just discovering the joy of collecting physical media.  Judging by their selections, they are young, which means there is still life in physical media.  It’s not dead.

There is another reason for encouragement as well.  I’m not going to pretend that piracy doesn’t exist, whether software or music or video.  I can admit that I used to be a pirate.  In the old, old days, we used to have dual cassette decks that would copy tapes.  There’s really no legitimate need for a dual-deck unit otherwise.  So, I had plenty of copied tapes.  Why?  Because I was young and poor.  I also had lots of pirated software.  Why?  Exact same reason.  I couldn’t afford $500 for Photoshop.  As I grew older and started making money in my career, I didn’t need to resort to piracy anymore.  I didn’t need to “settle” for a copy.  I could get an original.  And I started valuing having that original in my collection.

If these budding collectors are anything like I was back then, that means they are beginning to advance in their life, making a living wage, where they can afford the luxury of not stealing.  That means the world is getting better.  Also, they take pride in their collection.  Consider the pride between showing someone 200 gigs of downloaded albums (which may elicit some praise from some people) vs. showing someone a collection of 100 CDs.  “They’re all real.  They’re permanent.” 

You can copy off that 200GB of music to your friend and not feel a ounce of pain.  But, giving up a CD from your collection, you’re actually losing something.  It’s the same psychological trick pundits use when they encourage you to live a cash lifestyle.  By handing over physical cash when you buy things, you feel a loss, more so than when you just swipe a credit card.

So even as these beginners are showing off their tiny collections, it’s still something to encourage and cheer on.  They have many years ahead of them and decades and decades of music to discover and collect.

En Garde

My CD collection continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  My spinning CD rack that holds 800 CDs is just about full.  I’m planning for the purchase of the bigger model that holds 1600 CDs.  Yeah, it’s a problem.

Anyway, while on one of my shopping runs, I came across a CD from a band I don’t see very often at all – The Residents.  I have a couple of their albums and I don’t really get them.  Regardless, I had to buy this CD anyway, just because their catalog is so infrequently seen.  I popped it in the stereo on the drive home.

I don’t think a lot of people have even heard of The Residents.  More people have probably heard of Frank Zappa.  And of those people, fewer still have actually listened to Zappa.  And of those people, fewer can even “get” Zappa’s music.  Now, I listen to Zappa and can get along with even some of the weirder stuff, but The Residents are on a whole level beyond that.  I can’t even really handle it.

So as I’m listening to this album of terribly performed songs, I’m trying to think of what I’m supposed to be experiencing, other than, “This is ridiculous.  I did stuff like this when I was 15.”  Although, I really didn’t.  I didn’t have a full studio and multitrack recorders and other period technology to make sounds like that.  That’s kind of the idea to keep in mind.  A lot of The Residents stuff might be described as “creation of sound”, rather than “making music”.

And the fact that I was exploring how the music made me feel, rather than enjoying the music, made me characterize the album listening as more of an artistic endeavor.  And The Residents would be clearly classified as “avant garde”.  Coming to this realization was almost like taking a burden off my back.

When I’m faced with “music” that is just so difficult to understand, that seems to make no sense, that is completely unstructured, I try to figure it out anyway.  In the end, I’m just frustrated and come to the conclusion that “this music sucks.”  But I’m unsatisfied with that conclusion because obviously the artist spent time on this “music” and it makes sense to them, somehow.  But, approaching the album in the same way as visiting an art museum, it becomes palatable.  Similar to visual arts, you just absorb it and consider how it makes you feel.  Are the sounds menacing?  Humorous?  Does it stop and start unpredictably?  Are there multiple “subjects” conflicting or cooperating?

With that new perspective, I could classify some other CDs in my collection as “avant garde”, too.   Buckethead’s Cuckoo Clocks of Hell makes absolutely no sense to me.  The best I could come up with when I listened to it was that it was primarily rhythm-based.  There wasn’t really a traditional song structure with a melody line and a defined chorus.

And my final takeaway from my epiphany is that I granted myself license to only listen to an album once.  Like visiting an art gallery or a performance, you take in the whole experience in the same way you take in a speech.  You leave with a singular overall impression – motivation, happiness, uneasiness, or whatever.  And that experience is done.

Whole-Life Hatred

If you follow any financial pundits, eventually you will hear them say that whole-life insurance is a bad choice, how it is a poor “investment”, and sometimes, how you’d be stupid to buy it.  Well, I was just reviewing my numbers and I’m not sure I understand what all the hatred is about.

First off, you need to think about why you have life insurance.  The purpose of life insurance is to make things easier on the ones you leave behind.  Primarily, in my case, it is to pay off my mortgage.  Whoever I leave behind should not have to be saddled with a mortgage payment when that was my responsibility.  Other assets like cars could be repossessed, so what?  My credit score doesn’t matter anymore when I’m dead.  The secondary purpose of insurance is to replace whatever income I was contributing to the family until whoever is left behind can get back on their feet.

So these two reasons are enough to have life insurance unless you are a total loner and have nothing you want to pass on to someone else.  But that’s only good when you’re dead.  What if you keep living?

If you don’t know anything about life insurance, here’s some quick info.  You typically buy a “term life” policy, which is effective for a period of time (a “term”).  If you buy a Term 30 policy, it is active for 30 years.  Buying it today, the policy will expire in 2046.  If you die in 2047, your beneficiary gets nothing.  But, by that time, I would expect your mortgage would be paid off so there’s no burden on your heirs.

Whole-life policies have no expiration.  As long as you keep paying the premium, you get the benefits.  However, they are vastly more expensive (I’ll share my numbers in a bit).  Additionally, whole-life policies have a cash value, which can be accessed as needed, either through an expensive loan or as a retirement account when/if you get to retirement age.

That’s the part that finance people hate.  Whole-life is so expensive, but your cash value is locked up and there’s little way to access that money without spending a lot in interest or waiting until you’re old.  They call it a savings account for people who can’t discipline themselves to save.  It’s almost like a 401k, but without the tax advantages.

Whole-life insurance is a hard sell and brokers will push on you pretty hard to sell it.  As such, there’s some salesman-ish stuff that gets promised.  For example, I was sold on the idea that the dividends from my whole-life policy would eventually pay the premiums for my policy, then I’d basically have free life insurance.  Awesome, huh?  Well, it will happen, eventually.  I just have to be really patient.

Ok, let’s look at some real numbers.  I have $250k in life insurance.  $100k is in a Term 20 policy and $150k is in a Whole-life.  I pay $118/mo for the whole-life and $16/mo for the term.  Now do you see why people freak out about whole life?  It’s almost 10x more a month. 

There’s not much to say about the term policy.  It has no cash value and expires in 2027.  In 2028, I will only have $150k in life insurance.  Hmmm, that sounds like a good thing.  I’m not dropping to zero, and I don’t have to worry about qualifying for a new Term policy at such an old age.  It almost sounds like a “plan”.

So how about this Whole-life policy?  Well, since 2007, the cash value has grown to $9500.  The value is growing at about $1300/yr.  But wait, I’m paying a little over $1400/yr in premiums.  So my net cost is about $100/yr, which is actually almost half the cost of my term policy.

So, what am I glossing over?  For one, the $1300 in cash value increase hasn’t always been that high.  Four years ago it was $1200, and since 2007, the average rise has been $1055/yr.  But, the value should continue to climb through the magic of compounding.  But, I just want to say that I’ve got 9 years into this, and you wouldn’t see numbers like these right off the bat.

You could argue that I’ve spent $12,771 in premiums to gain $9500 in cash value.  That sounds horrible.  But that also works out to getting a 150k life insurance policy for $363/yr or $30/mo.  And that average cost is over 9 years.  That number is going drop over time as the cash value increases relative to my constant premium payments.

One more number to give consideration to.  After 9 years, my annual dividend is $781.  My annual premium is $1400.  I’m a little over halfway to the point where my dividends will pay for my premiums.  That’s going to coincide well with the expiration of my Term policy (which would also reduce my premium by almost $200/yr).

Let’s recap the whole scenario.  I have $250k in life insurance now, when I am most vulnerable with the most mortgage debt and the most to lose if I die.  If I had a family, that money would be needed to pay bills and help replace my income.  11 years from now, my Term life expires.  I have less life insurance coverage, but I also have less financial burden.  If I had a family, they would be grown and on their own by then.  The insurance would just pay my reduced debts.  I would also have $200/yr less in expenses because the policy expired.  Looking even further ahead, when I don’t have any reason to have life insurance because all my bills are paid, then I can start withdrawing money from my whole-life policy.  And guess what?  I still have the life insurance policy.  By then, my dividends will probably be paying my premiums, too, and I won’t have that $1400/yr expense anymore.

When you hear financial people trying to sell you on a “plan”, it can be hard to swallow all that information and difficult to see what the future will look like.  It was hard for me as well, but I took a leap of faith and now that I’m a significant way into the “plan”, I can see further ahead and understand that yes, it was a good choice.  Early on, it would have been easy to say, “I’m throwing away my money!” But like any investment, it takes time to grow.