Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Independents and Big National Chains

Back before the big drug store chains became the norm, I had a job after school in a small town pharmacy.  The old man, in addition to being very highly reputed in the pharmacy profession, was also a shrewd business entrepreneur.  Shrewd enough to exploit a loophole in the mimimum wage laws, enabling him to pay full-time students such as myself and a few of my classmates less than the nominal minimum wage.

Years later, at a high school class reunion, I got into a conversation with a classmate.  We sized up those of us who were there, and those who weren't.  Though there were exceptions both ways, we came to the conclusion that those of us who had gainful employment in high school fared far better in life than those of us who did not, notwithstanding the impecuniousness of the emolument which some of us received.  And a third classmate put us in our place when we started pissing and moaning about our low wages from our respective after-school jobs; his "gainful employment" was helping out his parents with the family business, and, doing the arithmetic, his take-home pay on a per-hour basis was less than ours (though he did subsequently attain an ownership interest in the family business).

The proprietor of the drugstore where I worked after school may have been a miserly tightwad sonofabitch, but he was a good boss.  He knew how he wanted to run his business, he made the rules, he communicated the rules to his employees, and he basically left his employees alone to do what they were tasked to do when he wasn't chewing us out.  And he had a sign posted in the back room:  "Customers Pay Your Salaries!" On one occasion when he was dressing me down, two customers simultaneously walked up to two separate cash registers.  He cut off his tirade and said to me, "Go help that gentleman at the register, and I'll yell at you later."  (He did).

The old man's Rule Number One was that The Customer is Always Right.  He insisted that we never get into an argument with a customer, and any dissatisfied customers were to be referred to him (or to the pharmacist on duty if he was not available). 

My son's first remunerative job was gotten through the good offices of his maternal parent.  My wife arranged for him to volunteer during a summer at the hospital where she works, which gave him a preference for a remunerative position the next summer.  My wife told the chair of the department where he was working that she was to hold my son to the same standard as any other employee.  The next year, his senior year of high school, my son lined up his own after school job (or, rather, jobs, because he had two), which paid him more than the hospital could.

So I certainly can identify with working in a low paying job after school, and I certainly can respect those who do it.  Accordingly, I give benefit of the doubt to the young lady whom I encountered in the Big National Chain drugstore this evening.  It is entirely plausible that she did not have the benefit of proper training and direction.

I walked into the store and immediately noticed (could not help but notice) that the "background" music was not so background.  I would estimate it to exceed 70 dB (normal conversation is about 60 dB).  This young lady came up to me and asked me if she could be of help.  I told her that, first of all, the background music was too loud.  She told me that she has no control over it.  I said to her "Don't you have a manager here?"  She told me that her manager would tell me the same thing.  At that point, I was really, really uncomfortable, so I put down the item I had intended to take to checkout and walked out of the store.

A while later, I passed a Big National Chain drugstore at another location.  I went into there.  The same background music was playing, but it wasn't as loud.  I did my shopping there, and continued with my agenda this evening.

The independent pharmacies (or hardware stores or stationery stores or any other kind of store) were good because they were managed by people who had skin in the game.  At the Big National Chain drugstores I visit, they end up with a new manager every few months.  The small town independent pharmacy where I worked was one and the same as the financial security of its proprietor.  And so, the old man did his utmost to keep the customers satisfied; and while he couldn't always give them the lowest prices, he insisted that customers be given the most courteous, expeditious and competent service.  He knew that the most important person in the store was the customer.

Almost two years ago, I had occasion to walk by what had been the small town drugstore where I had been employed.  It is now a high-end bistro restaurant.  Two blocks away is a Big National Chain drugstore.  I went into there to get something for my Mom.  I cannot say that the personnel in that store gave me poor service, or had poor attitudes.  But somehow, I don't believe that the establishment would pass muster with the old man if he were still around.  And, given how this ObamaCare is perverting the healthcare system, I cannot imagine the Big National Chain drugstores emerging unscathed by it.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

English and Blindness

            When it comes to something like home ownership, it is quite appropriate to require those who would disentitle a home purchaser to jump through all of the hoops, grab all of the rings, and steer the go-kart through all of the hairpin turns to show their clear entitlement to a foreclosure judgment before evicting the homeowner.  Once this is accomplished, however, the lenders are entitled to their remedies for defaulted loans.

            Like so many on Long Island and elsewhere, Maria Navarro found herself unable to pay the mortgage loan on her home, and, notwithstanding the recent tweaks to the statutes and the court rules to level the playing field between homeowner and mortgage holder, Maria has now gotten a judgment of foreclosure slapped upon her.

            Seems that Maria failed to answer the complaint filed in the court by Onewest Bank, the holder of the mortgage on her home.  She belatedly obtained counsel (smart money says assigned counsel, i.e., taxpayers' treat), who asserted that Maria should be given leave to file a late answer, which would interpose various defenses, including the argument that her default in answering the complaint was on account of her inability to read or write English when she .

            Judge Whelan wasn't eating any of that up.  Hizzoner reasoned that just as blind individuals are obligated to take reasonable efforts to obtain competent help in ascertaining the meaning of legal document that affect them, so, too, are those who are illiterate in English.

            [Onewest Bank v. Navarro, 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5656, 2013 NY Slip Op 52053(U)].

            One must wonder how Maria, with her handicapping inability to understand English, was able to find sufficient gainful employment to amass enough assets to be able to afford a home in the first place.

            Surely, the purveyor of the mortgage would have done a sufficient background check on Maria to ascertain and verify her earning capacity, and she never, ever would have been given a mortgage loan unless she had the demonstrated skills and acumen to obtain and maintain gainful employment.  And surely, her illiteracy in English would have prevented her from completing the loan application documents (Plural!  Very plural!).

            Mortgage lenders are very meticulous in making loans, so I really, really, cannot understand how she got the loan in the first place.

            [Oh, wait!  This blog posting needs a rework!   Never Mind!!!]

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Lis Smith: Pro and Con

Lis Smith is a public relations wonkess who was the media mouthpiece for Eliot Spitzer's flop of a comeback campaign for New York City Comptroller, and the communications director for Bill de Blasio's successful bid for New York City Commissar Mayor.  Lis is part of de Blasio's transition team, and is (as of very recently, at least) on the short list for his media mouthpiece when he takes the reins from Mike Bloomberg.

But Lis now has involved herself romantically with Spitzer, and that is generating some controversy.  Alexis Grenell of the New York Daily News is saying that Lis's personal poor choices are her personal business, while Andrea Peyser of the New York Post opines that de Blasio should not lose one minute in booting her out the door.

I am no fan of de Blasio, nor of Spitzer, nor of Bloomberg (though I fear that I might long for him after a few months of de Blasio in Gracie Mansion).  I truly am neutral regarding Lis Smith, if only because I have not been following her career and know next to nothing about her above and beyond her reported use of her own body to cover Eliot Spitzer's mattress (or, rather, her own mattress to accommodate Mr. Spitzer).  As much as I disapprove of her choice of dance partners, that is not a matter into which I care to insinuate myself.

Alexis Grenell's editorial piece in the NY Daily News is playing the gender card, with the usual observations of a gender-based double standard.  This, to be sure, is a valid observation.  Nevertheless, it is all a red herring because there is a key difference besides gender (and age and wealth) between Lis Smith and Eliot Spitzer.

Back when Spitzer was the Attorney General of New York, he made a big deal about prosecuting prostitution.  How ironic (and hypocritical) that he himself got caught with his pants down in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington with a call girl whom he brought in from New York (a logistical feat which necessitated the crossing of 5 state boundary lines).

But Lis Smith, to the best of my knowledge, has not been given to delivering morality lectures to the public.  So, while I do begrudge Eliot Spitzer's indulgence in immoral behavior, I have no such issues with Lis Smith.

It is quite interesting, if only in the timing, that Eliot & Silda Spitzer have just today announced what has long been a foregone conclusion — that their marriage has come to an end.

Whether or not de Blasio jettisons Lis Smith remains to be seen.  But, given de Blasio's oft stated social and economic agenda, Lis Smith should be the least of the public's concerns about him.

Christmas is not my holiday, but if it is yours, then I hope that you have a merry one.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Spelling some Troubling Implications

It is the end of the semester, the Final Exams have been administered, and now, I have a little more than a week to get the final grades submitted to the University Registrar.  I will be grading exams and term papers for the next few days.

While incorrectly spelling the name of the professor does not constitute an automatic failure, or even an automatic grade reduction in the courses I teach (yet), neither am I favorably impressed by students who misspell my name.

Even more perplexing are those students who spell their own names incorrectly.

My grandparents emigrated to America from the former Soviet Union, where the Cyrillic alphabet is used instead of the Roman alphabet; my grandparents, whose primary language was Yiddish, were conversant in the Hebrew alphabet no less than in the Cyrillic.  Accordingly, what with the transliterations from the Cyrillic and Hebrew alphabets to Roman alphabet, there are variants in how my surname is spelled in America by various branches of the family (and in Israel, the transition from Cyrillic to Hebrew has yielded at least two different Hebrew versions).  So yes, approximately 90 or 100 years ago there were some confusions by some members of my extended family as to how their names are spelled (which is just as well, because the bad branch of the family, who spelled it differently from mine in America, are not so easily conflated with the rest of us).

Given my family's experience, I can sort of understand a student misspelling his or her name if they come from a place where the Roman alphabet is not the standard.  I have a student from China who has been in America for less than a year; she has spelled her name a number of different ways (though she did learn English quite well before she came here).  But at least she has something resembling a plausibly good reason.

Not so for the student whose family has been here for over 100 years, and who has used at least three spelling variants of his own surname (which is not all that uncommon).

I am convinced that the texting culture has caused a deterioration in the integrity of the English language.  I don't know what to read into it, but my gut hunch is that it is more likely to do harm than good.  If people are spelling their own names incorrectly, then we have probably gotten ourselves beyond Stage One of whatever long slide down the slippery slope we have embarked upon.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Greeting Party

As Ashley Parker has blogged on the New York Times blog of record:

"Already in vacation-casual — clad in khakis and blue button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up (no tie) — the president greeted the several dozen well-wishers and service members who had gathered at Hickam Air Force Base to watch his arrival."

Several Dozen?!?

That is a poor showing of adulators for the President of the United States, compared to the mobs and mobs of people at his coronation inauguration.

And just how many of the "service members" would have been there if they were on their own time and not in uniform?

Just wondering!

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Another Ironic Twist in the Mandela-mania

Thamsanqa Jantjie, the fake sign-language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial service, turns out to be an admitted violent murderer.  Specifically, Jantjie participated in a "necklacing" incident, whereby a gasoline-soaked tire was placed upon the neck of the victim and set afire.

Necklacing has been a widespread problem in South Africa.  Never mind that it was almost always done in the context of black-on-black violence; the practice was endorsed by Nelson Mandela for use by his African National Congress against its rivals.  When Winnie was married to him, she, too, endorsed necklacing.

On several occasions, Mandela was called upon to denounce the practice, and had he done so, the necklacing incidents would have significantly abated.

Between Mandela, Jantjie, and Obama, it was difficult to tell who was the wise guy, who was the foil, and who was the straight man in the comedy act that was the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.  But there is no question as to who was the fool -- it was the Secret Service for allowing a criminally violent sociopath to come within arm's length of the President.

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