It’s a ghost town around here

August 23, 2014

The Man and I took a few days to relax sans internet at his folks’ cabin north of the city. He did find a sweet spot on the deck which worked to check a few messages with his phone but otherwise we were cut off. Lovely.

I’ve done some poking around online since getting back and have a few ideas for what to write about next. Proper posts will resume on Monday. For now, explore the ghost town that is my blog this weekend. Check the categories, check the tags, type random words into the search bar and see if anything interesting pops up.

Speaking of ghost towns, if you have a million dollars burning a hole in your bank account and you don’t know what to do with it, consider buying Bradian, British Columbia. The whole town is for sale. A bit of a fixer-upper, but close to Whistler – prime skiing country right there.

Atheist scuples: restaurant etiquette

August 11, 2014

As a houseguest, you are showing appreciation by taking your hosts to an expensive restaurant. A friend of theirs joins the party. Do you also pay for the friend?

First off, I’d think the friend was pretty damned rude for butting in and no, I wouldn’t want to pay for that meal. Being who I am, though, I’d probably just cringe inwardly and do it although I’d totally hate myself for not being assertive and speaking up about it. Ideally I’d tell the person, “Yes, we’re here because I’m treating them to a nice meal as a thank-you for putting up with me. I hope you’re okay with paying for your own as I didn’t plan for anyone else to be joining us.”

This puts me in mind of the whole idea of splitting the cheque at a restaurant. I hate that idea. If I order a $10 entree and the others order $18-$25 main dishes and drinks/desserts besides, why should I be expected to pay for more than I ordered? I think that’s a shitty concept and I’d like to throw the most expensive pie I can find in the face of the one who suggested it and make that person pay for the pie.

That’s all I got.

I’m selfish and I’m a liar, but good news!

August 3, 2014

I’m being prayed for tonight.

The Man dropped the Little Man off at his mom’s on the way to work today so I took the opportunity of a Sunday to myself to go to a movie (How to Train Your Dragon 2 – very cute; I cried; not the point of the story.)

I had to walk a few blocks after the film to get to the main terminal where I’d be able to get a bus home. While I was checking the schedule for upcoming buses a guy came up to me and asked if I had 50 cents for the bus. I didn’t even look or want to look in my purse. I just said, “No, I have a bus pass,” and turned up my iPod.

I’m awful. I know. I know.

He asked everyone waiting and almost asked me again before realizing he’d already tried. He was having no luck. This went on for a few minutes. I did scope out my purse at one point and found three loonies at the bottom. He said something to me again a little while after (never heard clearly – iPod) and I confessed that I’d found a dollar at the bottom of my purse, and did some more poking around for the coin again. My efforts turned up two quarters within moments and I passed them to him.

The gratitude in the guy’s eyes.. this clearly meant a lot to him. It was kind of uncomfortable how relieved he seemed, actually. “I’ll pray for you,” he said. “I promise, I’ll pray for you tonight.” I just kind of brushed it off in a “You can if you want to, go ahead, whatever” and really felt like shoeing him away like I would a fly or pesky dog. “Okay, thank you,” I finally said, brusquely, and he hurried across the street to catch the bus that was just rolling up.

I had no qualms about ignoring a guy I saw earlier in the day asking for coins and even forgot about it until this moment but this guy..

I always kind of wonder about the begging in the city. The Galaxy Theatre where the film was playing is right by a place called the Lighthouse which houses transients and offers beds to the chronically inebriated. I seem to recall hearing they have a couple ambulances that will cruise the city and pick up people that would otherwise find themselves in the company of the police for the night. They’re doing good work, but I’m always slightly wary of walking on that side of the street. I don’t know if someone’s going to come out a door and start telling a tale of money woes that may or may not be sincere. I don’t like ignoring them but I don’t really want to be pestered to give up my coins either. Always the dilemma.

The daycare the Little Man used to attend was near the STC/Greyhound bus station and at least twice we were accosted by the same guy telling some story about needing to get out of town to see an ailing parent and needed $20 and would totally mail cash back, yadda yadda.. The night we got married, we were on the street heading for a restaurant near the Rouge Gallery where our ceremony was to socialize afterwards and our progress into the building was interrupted by a couple claiming to be off the drugs and just needing a few dollars and on and on their story went, too.

It’s probably better to just give the money to the Lighthouse, or donate stuff they’ll always need, like towels or soap and blankets. But it feels mean to walk past people like they aren’t there. Don’t they already get enough of that? Everyone needs a reminder that they matter in some way…


Quotable comment: help the poor (somehow) with Jesus

August 1, 2014

This comment was left on a post recently but it has nothing to do with the post itself so instead of replying with a comment there, I made a new post to share my thoughts on it.

Help the poor ,live as we do.that is what the bible and jesus preached d to us is a book about poverty help not rich ,money help

Ignore the seasoning in terms of spelling and punctuation and try to focus on the meat of the comment.

Help the poor…

How exactly?

It’s already clear that prayers to Jesus or his mother or various saints or other gods aren’t helping the poor not be poor. People pray every day. Does God think those prayers are insincere and therefore not worth answering? Is he somehow incapable of fixing the problem? Does he not want to fix the problem? Or, and this is my favourite scenario, there isn’t any superior being anywhere to hear them? Scratch prayer.

…money help.

Part one of this aphorism holds true: give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Throw some money at the poor today and they might buy coffee or beer or pay a bill or something, but that isn’t getting to the root of the problem. The problem isn’t just “they have no money”.

What’s going on in their city, province, state, country in terms of the government and aid for low/no income families? What’s available for them? How many roadblocks are there for getting health care and enough food and education for themselves and their children? How many chances are they given to get further ahead?

Now the other part of the aphorism: teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for the rest of his life. How much help are they able to get? What facilities exist for assistance and getting them out of a bad situation? How much support is really there? How much compassion from their employers, their landlords or their governments? True, some money problems are a direct result of bad choices made by the people themselves (you really think a carton of smokes and another tattoo is a good use of that pay cheque?) but how can people really learn how to manage their money if they never had much to begin with? How will kids learn how to save and invest in the future if the parents can’t?

Something that might help a little: churches and the governments that support them should stop fighting birth control and abortions. Life may be precious but think about the lives of the people here right now and how they’re doing. If they’re doing well, having a child (or another child) won’t be as huge a financial strain as it will be for a low income family. Make birth control as cheap as possible if it can’t be free. Put the choices in the hands of the families, not businessmen and lobbyists. I hope it doesn’t come across as if I don’t think poor people should get to be parents. That’s not the argument I’m making here. What kind of support system is in place for these families, though? If the support isn’t there to accommodate the added monetary weight for each new kid born, these families will inevitably fall.

…Jesus preached to us…

Yes, this story is credited to him:

Jesus did not extol poverty as some great virtue. In fact, only one time did He tell someone—the rich young ruler—to sell his possessions and give to the poor. I think it was because that man was possessed by his possessions. Because when Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21), the Bible says that he went away sorrowful. It was a test to see whether God was more important to him than his things.

But recall that no writer of the bible knew the man in life. All they had were anecdotes of varying degrees of validity about a man who may never have lived at all.

A few western examples of life on a low income:

McDonalds and their goofy budget suggestions.

Employees at McDonald’s and Walmart support living wages and it’s not going to be quick fight to get it.

Woman gets jailed and fired because she can’t afford child care and let her kid spend the day at a park.

Bottom line, don’t quote Jesus as the solution and simply stop there. Yes, even atheists will admit that there are bits in the bible that are still relevant today but he’s more like an advice columnist from a bygone era, Miss Manners for the 1st century.

Apologies to the Beatles, but the poverty issue really is bigger than Jesus.

Atheist Scruples: the business agreement

July 27, 2014

Today’s question:

You’ve agreed verbally to a business deal when you get a much better offer. Do you back out of the deal?

Memo to self: email the auto dealer we spoke to yesterday and let him know we went with a different car on a different lot and I hope to hell it was a good choice — a 2012 Kia Forte we knew the price of versus a recently arrived 2010 (blue!) Ford Focus the lot hadn’t done its inspection on yet. We went with the Kia.

I’ve been really stupid with money in the past. Maybe nearly everyone who’s lived without a lot of it can say the same. That’s what a study from August 2013 was measuring and they might have been onto something.

“Previous accounts of poverty have blamed the poor for their personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success,” said Jiaying Zhao of the University of British Columbia, who led the study, conducted while she was a graduate student at Princeton University.

“We’re arguing that being poor can impair cognitive functioning, which hinders individuals’ ability to make good decisions and can cause further poverty,” she said.

The study had two parts. In the first, about 400 people at a New Jersey mall were randomly selected to take part in a number of standard cognitive and logic tests. The participants’ annual family income ranged from $20,000 to $160,000, with a median of $70,000.

Part of this was car related: repair work required between the prices of $150 or $1,500. The cheap work was an easy decision for everyone in this hypothetical scenario but apparently the more expensive it got, the worse the impoverished test takers did in choosing a good financial solution, effectively creating a drop of 13 IQ of points or the equivalent of losing one night’s sleep. One could probably suggest that someone strapped for cash has already had more than a few sleepless nights worrying and isn’t working with a full set of intelligence points most days, unlike someone with fewer cash flow woes.

I was awake at 3:10 this morning with this new car on my mind. I’m not broke, though. In fact, taking into account my bank accounts, my RRSPs and Tax Free Savings Account, I have nearly the value of the new used car right now, not counting the “cost for borrowing on the term of the loan.” If we need it, I can dip into it. I wouldn’t want to, but it’s there if we need it. That’s part of the point of investments, I’m sure. I’ll have to inquire on what kind of income tax payments I’d be looking at next year if I use any RRSPs, though. See what the pros suggest we do here.

Bringing this back to the question, we didn’t agree verbally to buy the Focus but the guy we were dealing with was nice and he will have some details for us about the car by Monday, he said. Looking through the paperwork from this other place, we have a 15 day window to return the Kia… But then we’d be considering an older car with more mileage and frankly, that seems like stupid squared.

Then we’ll just have to figure out what to do with other car. It has a computer glitch and a crack in the windshield and I’m tempted to just sell its set of snow tires to somebody and he can have the car for free…

Atheist Scruples: the car trouble

July 22, 2014

Today’s question:

You and friends go on a day-long outing in separate cars. Their car develops mechanical trouble. Do you wait with your friends until the trouble is fixed?

Yes, I did, and it was a colossal pain in the ass.

We have to go back several years to the convoluted day.

It was 8:00 or so on a summer evening when I got the phone call. It was from B, a guy I’d met through a dating site. We didn’t hit it off romantically, but he was a cool guy with similar music and film interests so we’d been hanging out when schedules fit. I wouldn’t have been the first choice for his call, he said, but nobody else he knew with a car was available. His friend and roommate had driven him and his young daughter across town to drop her at her mom’s but when they went to leave, the car completely crapped out. Could I drive over and get them? (Fuck.) Yes, I can.

A neighbour had the hood up and had figured out the problem; they’d run the damned car completely out of oil and seized up the engine. He thought they could maybe make it home with a lot of oil added and a new spark plug or something of that nature. C stayed with her friend and her car and B and I took my car over to an open Canadian Tire (fuck Canadian Tire, just saying) to see if we could find the matching plug. B did not have any money so I bought the oil and the thing. When we got back to the car, the oil was the right stuff but the plug wasn’t a perfect match. The neighour worked on this for nearly an hour but was able to jury-rig the plug it to fit and got the car running. (I had no coat with me and the wind was picking up and I was not a happy camper by this point.)

B and I were to drive to B’s place and C and her friend were supposed to be right behind us. In hindsight, we should have followed them to make sure the car would make it a block in its condition. As it was, we arrived at his place across town and they didn’t. We waited about 20 minutes and then there was nothing else we could do save get back in my car and drive across town again to look for them. It got about three blocks further down the road. It was toast.

B, C, and her friend piled into my car and I took them all back to their place. I don’t remember if I stayed there with them for a bit or left right away. It was a hell of a night.

While B claimed he’d pay me back for my troubles, I never got a lick of money out of him and I didn’t bother to press the issue. Not long after that, the Man and I were together again and haven’t seen much of B since save for comments on Facebook.

It was a strange experience for me, not just because of the 4 or more trips across this wonderful city over the course of an evening, but having friends that would call me for help.

I’ve always been an independent person and calling friends when I need help was never something I thought of doing. When my Reliant died on the way to work, I called a tow truck to take it as far as the Walmart. I had to tow it home from there, too; they said the head gasket had gone and I shouldn’t drive it anymore. When my Taurus peed itself at a parking lot (antifreeze poured out of it) I was meeting friends for supper but I still called a tow truck. (Canadian Tire said that was a head gasket, too. Later I started to wonder if these places just call out “head gasket” to all single women with car trouble to make them stressed over the potential cost of that and more likely to make a bad money decision that will work in the garage’s favour.)

C had no money to buy oil, obviously, let alone pay a tow company.

It’s something you do for friends, I guess. No, I wasn’t happy to do it. I was mighty inconvenienced. I don’t know what I had planned for my evening otherwise – probably nothing – but most of me did wish I had just let the answering machine take the call instead of me getting it. I would have been sorry to hear about the trouble later but I don’t think I would have felt any guilt over not answering.

I’m supposed to read Huck Finn for my Banned Book Club

July 19, 2014

It’s slow going.

I’m trying to figure out if I like it.

I’m roughly half-way though. At this point Huck and Jim (the slave who’d wanted to run away to a free state instead of being sold again) are making their way through Arkansas and have been hosting a couple professional liars on their raft. One calls himself a duke and the other a king. Huck is something of a liar, too, and sees through them easily but admires their finesse.

One of the best bits of the book has been with those guys. One’s a top con artist and at one particular town they find out a revival meeting is going on in the woods. He marches onto the stage and lays a thick tale of a pirate life. Then he claims he’s been saved thanks to this revival and wants to take the mission to all the other pirates he knows on the Indian ocean. The gullible locals are in tears over his moving story and insist on taking up a collection so he can continue to do God’s work on the sea. Counting it up at the raft later, the guy netted $85 or so.

This novel was published in 1885. I was curious what that kind of haul could buy back then and came across this:

In early 1884 several traveling salesmen walked across the Ozarks. They came up from Arkansas along the train tracks from Mammoth Springs to West Plains. From West Plains they followed the railroad to Willow Springs, then headed west towards Springfield, through Cabool, Mountain Grove, Norwood and Mansfield. One of them kept a journal describing what he called their “peddling.” This journal tells us a little about the land, towns and life of the Ozarks in 1884.

It lists Missouri prices but Arkansas probably would have been comparable at the time:

For those people who wanted to homestead in the area, the federal government still had land available. There was 75,000 acres of homestead land available in Douglas County, 125,000 in Ozark County and 25,000 in Wright County. This land could be had for a $2 filing fee plus $6 for a 40 acre plot. It cost only $14 dollars to homestead 160 acres of land!

(So the thousand or so bucks that Tom and Huck wound up with at the end of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was one hell of a windfall. I’ve never read that book either; there’s reference to the money at the start of this book, though, and it drives part of the plot at the beginning.)

This is an area of history I know nothing about and have yet gotten around to looking into. Being Canadian, we learned of the expansion into what would become the Canadian provinces and even those details are gone from my brain; Social Studies was not my forte. Names and dates and places.. no thanks.

The meeting is at the end of the month so I still have a couple weeks to get through it but damn.. it’s unusual for me to have this hard a time to get into a book and get it read. Maybe some of it has to do with the writing style and slang and necessity to decipher the parts of speech. I just can’t zip from start to finish like so many other books.

I don’t want to resort to reading Wikipedia entries and watching a crappy film version and then go to my meeting pretending I have a clue and valid input. One guy who came to the last couple book meets has done that and it’s an eye-rolling experience. We don’t have a rule that everyone has to finish the book. We let people come that haven’t read it, but there’s just something about this guy.. he seems to be one of those people who puts more stock in his own wacky theories than he does the ideas and knowledge of others. It’s frustrating to listen to him going on and on. But, whatever.


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