New Shoes in the Rain

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Finding our happy place

Good Thursday morning, friends!

My schedule has been so haphazard lately that I really don't have any kind of pattern of when I find time to post, so I hope that this hasn't been an issue for any of you super-organized types out there.

Interesting times we're living in within these United States.  We have one active war, two other conflicts in which we're involved overseas, humanitarian disasters in Texas, Florida and now Puerto Rico and yet our leader seems obsessed with petty grievances with other politicians and with professional athletes electing not to stand for the National Anthem before their games or to visit the White House.

This same leader is being investigated by no fewer than four congressional committees and a special counsel for, well, a lot of things.

Talk about leadership.

Closer to my home we have the former basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, now the head coach at in-state rival Louisville, having been effectively fired yesterday over the school's identification (as "University-6") in an FBI investigation into bribery of prospective student-athletes.  This is the coach who is credited with resurrecting Kentucky basketball following its own shameful scandal some thirty years ago.

On the flipside, Kentucky's current coach has staged various events lately that raised money for hurricane victims a considerable distance from home.

We also have a state government retirement and pension system that is absolutely broke and will require billions of dollars to put right, while our governor and attorney general, who are of opposite political parties, cannot agree on anything regarding the pension or otherwise.

Specifically at my house all is well, thanks, so that's what I try to keep in mind right now.  Not much we can control outside of our immediate view, and even then control is a bit of an illusion.  Our family is all well, we'll be visited by our daughter and her family in the next few days, and later this year we'll welcome another grandchild to our family.

So that's not so bad, when put into the proper perspective.

I've had friends mention that they cut off political news from their Twitter feeds (and who's happy about doubling the number of characters that users can include in a tweet?) and I'm not quite ready to do me it's important to know what's going on, and sometimes finding out via Twitter is a little quicker than looking through more traditional sources.

I also have heard of people who simply don't watch the news, that it's too depressing.  I'd echo my own thoughts from above.  Important to know what's happening.

But perspective seems to be the key, so I'm going to do my best to keep everything in its proper place.  And I'm sure that you will, too.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Saw this on TV, too

Happy Monday, everyone. Hope your weekend was smashing, and that all of your teams won if you're into that sort of thing.

One of our teams was struggling last night, as it got close to bedtime, so we watched a bit of the Emmy Awards ceremony. You know, the awards for stuff and people on television. Important to note if Shailene Woodley is reading this, since she made it abundantly clear to a reporter prior to the ceremony that she does not own a television, she READS BOOKS. So there.

Anyway, I wanted to tune in because I like Stephen Colbert when he's not on so late at night (old guys can't stay up like they used to). In the twenty-five minutes we watched I saw him twice, once to say "Good night!" So that was a bit disappointing.

And as the public address announcer, the show employed some standup comedian who apparently specializes in imitating another comedian, Chris Rock, as this guy sounded like him and all of his comments about presenters and winners alike were probably designed to be funny to someone, but we found nearly all of them unintelligible.

The ceremony was down to the awards for limited series and dramatic series by the time we joined in. Big stuff. By then Julia Louis-Dreyfus had won her sixth straight award for "Veep," which is funny but largely unknown to us since we don't have HBO. "Saturday Night Live" was recognized for its political spoofs, and the performers who played the candidates, Kate McKinnon (HRC) and Alec Baldwin (Trump) both won awards.

Anyway, the limited series that got so much attention was "Big Little Lies," a drama that apparently centers around an honest depiction of domestic violence starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, won for series and for Kidman's role. Kidman spoke twice and I was honestly concerned that she was going to impale herself or someone else with the pointed part of the Emmy statue both times.

"The Handmaid's Tale" was the big winner in the drama category, with star Elisabeth Moss winning best dramatic actress and the series winning for best dramatic series. That show is on the streaming service Hulu, which we also don't have. And we likely would not have watched it, as the stated subject matter is this, according to IMDB: Set in a dystopian future, a woman is forced to live as a concubine under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship."

Wow, sounds like fun.

Anyway, good for the folks who create and appear in these programs, as they do address issues that need to be dealt with in some way for most people to understand.

The worst thing I saw was a young man who is one of the large cast in "This is Us", Sterling K. Brown, won for his role in that program, and was delivering an eloquent, entertaining and heartfelt acceptance speech. And they struck up the orchestra to get him off the stage, right in the middle of the speech. As someone observed online, Kidman spoke for a lot longer, and was never threatened with being played off. And this actor had just won an award the previous year for his role in the "The People vs. O.J. Simpson," so it's not like he doesn't already have industry credibility.

I saw this morning that the ceremony recognizes the odious Roger Ailes among those who passed away in the last year, but opted not to mention performers like Dick Gregory and Harry Dean Stanton who also were involved in the television industry. And they also somehow worked Sean Spicer, yes, THAT Sean Spicer, into the show someway.

The thing ended at two minutes after 11:00, which is a rarity in the awards show business.

I suppose that illustrates that HBO still has clout (and without "Game of Thrones," which did not air during the period for which the awards were given) and that big numbers of nominations (19 for "Stranger Things" from Netflix and 22 for HBO's "Westworld") don't guarantee wins, as both of those programs were shut out. Haven't seen either of these shows.

I don't know that I am now inspired to watch anything I wasn't already watching, but that's what voters liked and recognized. And now we return to your regular programming....

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Credits and debits

Good Thursday morning to everyone.

Here in my area, we're getting that promised portion of the remains of hurricane Irma, but a fraction of what folks further south experienced.  My thoughts are certainly with those affected in Florida and the Caribbean.

The Equifax hack that we all learned about late last week is more evidence that nothing and no one is entirely safe online.  Try as we might to be cautious and use the kinds of safeguards that make the most sense, someone's always out there trying to extract information from banks, retailers and now credit reporting services.

A good friend works in compliance and security for a regional bank and is a certified auditor, so I consulted him for advice.  His comments were simple and straightforward--freeze your credit reports immediately and consider a security product to protect your information from such attacks.

I spent a fair amount of time Sunday evening moving gradually through all three credit reporting bureaus' websites (Experian, Trans Union, and of course Equifax) and all were structured a little differently.  In doing so I found a few minor errors on each report, so I submitted requests for correction while I was in their processes, and all have reported removal of the erroneous information.

So I should be protected from people trying to pose as me and opening credit card and other accounts in my name, as no one, not even me, can access those credit reports without me lifting my requested freeze.  We're not planning any major purchases just now, so this isn't much of a hardship for us.  But if we needed to buy a car, for example, the freezes would need to be lifted to facilitate a credit application for that purpose.  And then put back into place.  At $10 per instance, I found.

But let's be frank about this--if hackers can get into other systems with this kind of ease, what else are they getting into?  It's not about MY information, of course, it's about as many people's info as can be obtained.

My son in law works in fraud detection for a financial institution and he's told a lot of stories about how hackers can intercept the wireless transmission of transaction data from department stores.  When you swipe your card at the gas station, it's being transmitted by satellite to your bank to verify the funds.  And as we've seen from ominous commercials, what's to stop a retail clerk or food server from cloning your card when you make a purchase?

I should add to all of this that Monday I received a fraudulent text message claiming that my Chase debit card was locked and that I would need to call a certain number to release the lock.  And I don't even bank with Chase.

And isn't it interesting that several Equifax executives dumped large amounts of their stock right after this breach was discovered, but right before it became public?  So much for "women and children first..."

So take care with your information and freeze your credit reports.  That's the one universal advice I've yet seen on this entire mess.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

21st century consumerism

Good Tuesday morning....and, yes, I actually typed "Monday" before catching my own error.

I had the pleasure of playing golf with some friends yesterday.  One is a friend through golf whom I had not seen in some time, the others I see regularly.  Somewhere along the way through our time together our conversation turned to golf courses in our home area that are no longer in operation.  We collectively agreed that those who were now out of business had flaws and issues that likely accelerated the circumstances that led to them ending their operations.

The comments continued, and we began to collectively name restaurants and stores that have left the scene over the past few months.  It's a longer and longer list, and while new shopping areas open frequently, many bringing with them new retail and dining choices, some of the old stalwarts continue to leave.

For instance, here in Lexington we once had THREE K-Mart stores.  I was just saying to a friend of mine that when I was a kid, growing up in neighboring Paris, KY, the big treat was a chance to go to Lexington to K-Mart and then maybe eat at McDonald's!

That K-Mart store has been out of business for quite some time, and the building now houses a Goodwill thrift store and an operations unit for the local telephone company.  The one that opened last went out of business several years ago, and is now the home of a Burlington Coat Factory store (and, no, they don't make coats there, if you're not familiar with the brand).  The third and last one standing is on Nicholasville Road, a major thoroughfare and retail corridor.  Yet it's set to close by year's end.

As I mentioned, restaurants are a big part of this process, too.  I was never a huge fan of Applebee's, but others apparently were for a long time, as opening an Applebee's location was often a sure bet for success.  Now, two have closed within a few months of each other.  The original Logan's Roadhouse (not just for Lexington, but the entire chain) is now shuttered.  We had not patronized that place in a long time, either, but it's still a little strange to see it happen.

Newer restaurants come and go as well.  There's a condo development not far from the University of Kentucky campus that formerly housed a Firehouse Subs, Jamba Juice and Smashburger.  All three closed at one point or another, although the Jamba Juice location reopened not long ago.  The Firehouse spot was one my wife and I enjoyed, and they always seemed to do steady, if not spectacular, business.  No more.

I've read recently, as you likely have, that J.C. Penney and Macy's are both closing stores at a noticeable pace.  Both of those outlets still exist here.  A Rite Aid Pharmacy closed not long ago, one that never seemed busy but had been in its former location for what seemed forever.  Yet Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreen's have all opened pharmacies (mostly on busy corners) in significant numbers over the past few years.

And there has for some reason been a proliferation of mattress stores here in our area.  Why?  Someone in the local media postulated that buying a mattress is an "impulse" buy.  Really?  I'd just be driving down the road and decide "it's time to get a new mattress?"  I don't know, but to me it seems deciding to buy a candy bar is an impulse purchase.  Buying a mattress requires a little more thought.

I recently did something I've never done--buy something from someone who advertised on Craigslist.    I have been the Craigslist seller countless times, but for the first time, I bought something that was advertised.  My new job required the storage and organization of a pretty wide variety of printed materials, so needed a place to keep all of that.  So I bought a five-drawer lateral file cabinet from a very nice woman who's a work-at-home accountant.  Her husband and I loaded it into my SUV and it's in my garage as I write this.  That fit the primary qualification--something of the type that would be easy to clean if purchased from someone else.  That also explains why I would never buy upholstered furniture that way.

Yet I advertised something recently and a respondent to my advertisement actually asked me if I would "deliver" the item.  I responded that I would meet him in a public place, but he has yet to get back with me, as I assume he wants the Amazon treatment.  You know, order it, agree to pay the price, and have it on your doorstep.

Perhaps that's what's happening with retail.  And Amazon can buy Whole Foods but I can't imagine going there more because they sell a few things cheaply.  And I can buy an Alexa while I'm there.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The storm(s) and what followed

Greetings to all.

Sincerest sympathies to those in Texas and elsewhere in the path of Harvey who have lost loved ones,  property and all semblance of normalcy.  Things will get better, I'm sure, but not quickly enough.

Here in Kentucky we're getting some wind and rain, but not so much as was seen and experienced elsewhere.

We're in a strange place as a country right now.  We're in a position where the people whose lives were upended need help in the worst way, yet the second-highest-ranking member of the Executive branch of our government lobbied AGAINST relief after Hurricane Katrina twelve years ago, on the basis of what it would do to our deficit.  Both he and the President have visited Texas, as that's now an expected element of disasters and recoveries.

It appears that we're going to be hearing a lot about tax reform, though I don't yet have a clue if MY taxes will change or if that "reform" will extend only to those who most likely don't pay enough taxes now.  And the government is going to have increase the amount of money it can legally borrow to stay in business, or else it will have to shut down.  And our President has implied he's prepared to allow a shutdown in order to fulfill one or more of his major campaign promises.

And lest we forget, an unfathomable number of Congressional and other investigations about the current President's campaign and its possible collusion with Russia may be intensifying, creating even more havoc in our government.

But putting all of that aside, each day we see more and more evidence of the strength and goodness and resilience and generosity of the people of this country, providing for those in need.  I donated to the American Red Cross (despite some of these grumblings about there being better places to donate); you can, too, via a number of processes online, through a text message and otherwise.  Actress Sandra Bullock has donated $1 million for Harvey relief.  The Kardashian/Jenner clan, astoundingly, have donated $500,000.  Houston Texan football player J.J. Watt has raised about $10 million thus far.  The University of Houston's basketball and baseball coaches are asking for donations of clothing and shoes from their fellow university teams, and getting them in large quantities.  The New York Mets arrived in Houston yesterday for a weekend series against the hometown Astros, and were reportedly planning to spend today volunteering where needed.

People are taking strangers into their homes.  Multiple families with nothing.  Why?  Because it's the right thing to do.  This morning's news featured a Pizza Hut manager who waded through chest-high water to deliver pizzas to those without power, whether they could pay or not.  An armada of boats of all manner came into Texas from Louisiana to help with rescues and evacuations.  A Kentucky company called Alltech (fascinating company, check them out online) has donated a certain amount of cash and a larger amount in the form of animal feed and crop products, because those areas need assistance, too.  They're also sending a team of employees to help rope cattle that have scattered as the result of the storm and subsequent flooding.

Simply put, America doesn't need to be made great again, it's already pretty damned great.

Enjoy your long weekend, if you have the opportunity.