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Saturday, December 20, 2008

On ATM Fees

So I was working on another post and a thought occurred to me that needed it's own post: ATM fees.

Banks get away with charging them, and in many cases they are quite large, by citing the convenience to their customers. That ATMs are convenient is all too true.

However, the banks make it sound like they are inconvenienced when you use an ATM. "You get convenience," they say, "and so we must charge you for it."

But the reality is that ATMs are much, much more convenient to the banks themselves.

I have no idea how much an ATM costs to install or operate, but I know...know this in a way that doesn't require documentation...that they cost much less than constructing and staffing an actual bank. Property taxes, utilities, payroll, insurance, all of these costs are significantly reduced when you're talking about a network of ATMs as compared to a network of brick-and-mortar banks.

In the early days, a fee made a certain amount of sense. Increased costs, in this case an investment in an ATM network, are usually passed down to the consumer, but when the investment starts to pay off in the form of decreased costs, one would expect the fees to go down as well.

But that's not what has been happening. Fees have remained steady and in some cases (mostly with ATMs not affiliated with a bank) they have actually gone up.

We are so used to paying these fees (fees in general) that we don't even question whether they are justified or not, and if we do, we concoct all kinds of rationalizations that make no real economic sense.

I bought some theater tickets on the web the other day that came with fees. I was instructed by the website that if I bought the tickets at the box office, there would be no fees.

Buying these tickets from a person making a salary in a building requiring costly maintenance is actually cheaper than buying them from an automated system run on webservers at a co-located datacenter! That should not be true, but it is.

Thanks to the handy-dandy "convenience fee." So convenient, for you, but more so for them.

Greed...it used to be a deadly sin. Nowadays, it's a bedrock principle that makes the world go round.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Brief Moment of Panic

The boss called me into his office today, told me to close the door and have a seat. Then he looked at me with a straight face and said, "We're gonna have to let you go."

I knew he was bullshitting --it's bonus time-- but for a second (a nano-second, actually) I thought he was serious. He must have saw my face flush because he laughed and slapped my knee, saying, "Just kidding!"

Gee, thanks, boss! (I was right the first time; we talked about my bonus.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On Rick Warren and his Inauguration Invocation

This is what I'll say about the Rick Warren controversy, and keep in mind this is coming from a militant atheist who doesn't pray even on Thanksgiving:

I don't care.

Rick Warren seems like a nice lady. (Not calling him gay, just saying he's a little femme, okay?) I don't follow his beliefs, but then again...I'm a militant atheist, so no surprise there.

I also don't think Obama is betraying anyone by inviting Rick Warren. Yeah, yeah, Rick Warren's an evangelical, and they are as hostile to gays as they are devoted to Jesus.

But Obama is the President of the United States --remember...not just blue states and red states, but the United States-- and he knows it.

Warren, for his part, doesn't get it. He says:
I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn't agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony.
Actually, Rick...Obama's base is now all of us, and you should commend President Obama --I'm not waiting a month to drop the "elect" part-- for realizing that his base extends beyond the folks who voted for him. Yep, Rickster, you're his base now, too.

Ah, it's going to be nice to have a president like that, don't you think? I'm not on board with the attitude that says, "You had eight years with your guy. Now we have our guy, so stuff it!"

That's one of the reasons I didn't like Bush. Taking care of the "base" and giving everyone else the middle finger. That's no way to run a country as big and diverse as ours.

Pissing in the Gene Pool

These people need to stop. It's a girl! Duggars welcome 18th child
"The ultimate Christmas gift from God," said Jim Bob Duggar, the father of the 18 children. "She's just absolutely beautiful, like her mom and her sisters."

The Duggars now have 10 sons and eight daughters.
I know the book says "Be fruitful and multiply" but, seriously, isn't say...6 enough? I know "8 is enough" because I remember the TV show from my youth. But 18? Give your poor wife a break, dude!

And show some concern for the rest of us. I'm not talking overpopulation or carbon footprints. I'm talking about the genetic diversity of the species. I'm sure the Duggars are nice people, but that doesn't mean that the homo sapiens of the 23rd century should all have Duggar DNA!

Places I Want to Go

Tikal

From Wikipedia:
Tikal was one of the major cultural and population centers of the Maya civilization. Though monumental architecture at the site dates to the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period, ca. 200 to 900 AD, during which time the site dominated the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica, such as central Mexican center of Teotihuacan. There is also evidence that Tikal was even conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century. Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site’s abandonment by the end of the 10th century.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bad Writing

I wanted to finish reading this post, but I was too busy laughing about the first sentence.
By now, it’s widely known that Jon Favreau, Barack Obama’s soon-to-be director of speechwriting, was caught in a photo fondling the breast of a cardboard cut-out of Senator Clinton while another Obama staffer holds a bottle of beer to her lips.
Um...Not to be technical or anything, but cardboard cut-outs don't have breasts.

Also, "was caught in a photo." That's not exactly what went down. Favreau posed for the photo, with a smile even, and then posted it to his Facebook page. His hand is, indeed, cupping the cardboard cut-out's non-existent breast and his friend is pouring beer (not really) down its non-existent throat. But bad just isn't bad enough sometimes, I guess.

Sometimes you have to put breasts on cardboard and "catch" someone in a photo that they themselves posted to the internet.

Freedom

Uncle Jim called me an asshole the other day. I know what you're thinking, but it was well-earned. I was an asshole. He sent me an e-mail by Baxter Black, a cowboy poet, and for the most part, Baxter was right on, talking about how America is a great place to live and how we should count our blessings. Good stuff, but then he started talking about the soldiers and how they're "directly responsible for the freedom I enjoy."

I called bullshit, as I have been known to do. In the comments to that post, I said this:
I commend [the soldiers'] service, and commend his brothers and sisters in arms (one of whom was my brother). They volunteered to serve their country and they did.

But this does not mean they are by default fighting to protect my freedom any more than they're fighting to preserve the union. My freedom is not at stake in Iraq.
I still stand by that.

Are the men and women in uniform fighting for their country? Most definitely.

Fighting for my freedom? No fucking way.

Anyway, I've been letting this thought percolate in my subconscious for a few days and then I was reading this article on prison life. And all the percolating subconscious thoughts came bubbling up.

You want to talk about freedom? Forget the purple thumbs of Iraqi voters. Forget about IEDs and insurgent plots. Let's talk about this stuff:
Call me paranoid (and indeed, many people have), but the many arms of law enforcement have broadened and strengthened their powers to an extent which would have seemed unbelievable just a decade ago.

The list of ominous indicators is long and getting longer, including warrantless wiretaps, innocent people killed or traumatized during no-knock drug busts based on bogus tipoffs, random traffic stops in search of drivers who have had two beers and will be hauled straight to jail, search-and-seizure of laptops by immigration officers, suspension of constitutional rights for anyone suspected of “terrorist acts,” tasering of citizens who ask why they’re being arrested, harassment of tourists taking photographs in public places, grandmothers fined tens of thousands of dollars because kids used their computers for file sharing, seventeen-year-old boys jailed for having sex with sixteen-year-old girlfriends, men stigmatized for life as “sex criminals” because they urinated in public, photo-radar systems that can track vehicle movements by using character recognition of license plates, naive wives of drug dealers imprisoned for years as “couriers,” and revival of the archaic offense of criminal libel, raising the risk of prison time if you post a little too carelessly on Craig's List. I used to view law enforcement as a source of protection; today I tend to see it more as an instrument of intimidation.
I'm with you on that one, bud.

And I'm not just saying that because I was treated like a criminal for throwing trash in a Dumpster. Or because the TSA can't tell the difference between the kindly grandmother type, like my Mom, and someone with nefarious plans, like a terrorist.

Freedom? Like the freedom to smoke what I want, where I want? Sorry, James, the Marine Corps don't fight for that kind of freedom.

You can smoke tobacco...outside. And count yourself lucky that we haven't decided to ban cigarettes altogether! And if we do, don't expect the Army to come restore your rights.

Are you gay? Well guess what, bud. You can forget about codifying any relationship you'll ever have, and don't even think about serving your country. Okay, think about it, but don't tell anyone.

Where are the special forces commandos preserving their freedom? Sorry, dude, they're too busy playing National Security games in the Mideast. Yeah, you didn't get the memo? Iraqi freedom is what the military provides, American freedom? Not so much.

The whole thing calls to mind that line from Ali:
If I want to die, I'll die right here, right now, fightin' you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won't even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won't even stand up for my rights here at home.
I guess, in the end, my point is you want to give someone props for providing me freedom...then we should probably make sure they're actually providing me freedom.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Goodbye Kiss From Your Friends in Iraq

Props to President Bush for dodging not one, but two perfectly aimed shoes to the head.

I love the look on Bush's face after he dodges the first shoe. It's almost like his half-cocked grin is saying, "Missed me, bitch."

And what am I to make of the shoe-thrower's shouting afterwards? Are they pulling his hair or what? He sounds like Curly from the Three Stooges after getting knocked in the head by Mo.