Monday, December 27, 2010

Size is Relative

CNN ran a story on Christmas featuring a 98-year-old woman who had 100 grandchildren (actually 24 grandchildren, 57 great grandchildren, and 19 great great grandchildren).  Someone thought this was news.

My 4X great grandmother, Jael Kavanaugh Woods, doubled this.  Interviewed at age eighty (1845), she noted that she had 16 children (all living to be adults), 104 grandchildren, and 91 great grandchildren.  By the time of her death in 1848, a few more had been added.

Jael was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, in 1765, and moved with her parents to Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia) at a young age.  At seventeen, she married Peter Woods, an itinerant Babtist minister, and started a family (2).  At twenty-five (1790), she moved to Madison County, Kentucky, where her remaining 14 children were born.  At forty-five (1810), she and her husband moved the entire family (children ranging in age from one to twenty-five) to Franklin County, Tennessee; and from there (1819) to Cooper County, Missouri.

The children were born in largely unsettled territory, without doctors or hospitals.  These families travelled by wagon;  built their own homes (including their roads and churches); sewed their own clothes; grew or hunted for their food; cooked on wood stoves; dug wells for water.  No malls; no McDonald's.  Of course, this was before the age of entitlement.

You frequently hear that the United States is a nation of immigrants.  After the Civil War, as the country industrialized and the cities grew, this may have become true.  The reality is that although everyone descends from original immigrants, most of the early population growth came from settlers (or slaves) having generations of large families.  Seldom do you see pioneer families marrying recent immigrants. More likely they marry members of their own community (frequently second or third cousins).

Jael Woods' daughter Mary Woods Dallas also had 16 children; and her daughter-in-law Susan Jennings Woods (my 3X great grandmother and wife of  Charles Woods) had 12.  Only in the 20th century did the size of the families decline.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What am I missing?

About two weeks ago, I mentioned to Vera that I was having forebodings of misfortune about to occur.  Before Christmas.  Now that nothing has happened, I think only that I've missed something.

Our early snowstorm cleared up and the weather has been seasonal.  Of course, other parts of  North America and Europe haven't been so fortunate.

The Christmas tree is up.  Presents are bought, wrapped, and sitting under it.  The turkey is thawing. Dinner trimmings, including finger food, are bought.  Baking of cookies and tarts is done. The dog has been to the groomer for her Christmas clip.  Carpets are vacuumed; floors are washed.  It's only the 23rd and my list of Christmas tasks is completed.  So much for forebodings, although we do have a couple of family situations which concern me, (largely out of my control).

Vera's friend Harry Klassen did pass away.  We went to Harry's "Celebration" on Saturday.  The hall was packed and his family was pleased.

Maybe I should work on New Year's resolutions.   

And wish everyone peace, prosperity, and a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Treatment or Profits

Cholesterol is a waxy substance secreted by our livers and found in food that we eat.  Medical studies correlate the amount of cholesterol in our blood with the amount of plaque build-up in our arteries, leading to heart attacks and strokes.  It is believed that reducing cholesterol in the blood will reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The common method for reducing cholesterol levels are drugs, both statins, which reduce the amount of cholesterol produced internally, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors, which reduce the amount received from  food.

Without drugs, I have higher than recommended levels of cholesterol.  By taking a statin, Lipitor (Pfizer), in low doses (10mg), my LDL-C  (low density lipoprotein or "bad" cholesterol) is lowered to an acceptable level for most persons (2.6 mmol/l; 100 mg/dcl;).  A few years ago, this was considered near "optimum".

Two things then happened.  First, my brother had heart surgery under age 60.  This increased my risk factors for cardiovascular disease to "high risk", because of family history.  Secondly, the guidelines for optimum  LDL-C  levels for "high risk" patients were lowered from 2.5 mmol/l to 2.0 mmol/l.

My doctor then recommended increasing the Lipitor dosage to 20 mg and added a second drug, Ezetrol (Zetia in the U. S.) (Merck), a cholesterol absorption inhibitor.  This successfully lowered my LDL-C  to 1.8.mmol/l (70 mg/dcl). 

Given the apparent success of these types of drugs and their resultant popularity, sales boomed.  Lipitor became the #1 selling prescription drug in the U. S. (peaking at revenues of  $12.7 billion annually in 2007); and Ezetrol brought in $ 5.0 billion for Merck.

Then a surprise.  Under Congressional probing, it was discovered that Merck had failed to release clinical results which showed that while Ezetrol was effective in reducing cholesterol, it apparently had no effect on reducing the amount of plaque build-up in the arteries, and that eventual outcomes for patients were not improved.  In fact, outcomes might actually be reduced.  Merck pleaded that more studies were needed.

Of course, I asked my doctor about this.  He didn't know.  He was following the guidelines and the recommendations.  He said he would ask his father-in-law, also a doctor, who knew more about these things than he did.  I've yet to get an answer from him.

I stopped taking the Ezetrol for six months, but my LDL cholesterol returned to the old (previously acceptable) level.  I've resumed taking the Ezetrol.

Now I have several concerns: (1) My drug treatment is not based on any symptoms that I have (other than higher than normal levels of cholesterol); (2) My doctor doesn't know whether a prescribed drug is effective; (3) Clinical reports cast suspicion on the drug; (4) Reasons for the guidelines to be made more stringent (availability of drugs or improved outcomes?); (5) The role of  profits to the pharmaceutical industry. 

The question of pharmaceutical profits arises particularly when I see their reps trying to get time with my doctor and wonder how successful they are in promoting their products.  Lipitor is now available in generic form in Canada, but not in the U. S., due to "negotiations" between Pfizer and the generic manufacturer.  It all makes you wonder.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Remembering John Lennon

On the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon, it may seem like there have always been the Beatles.  The reality is that they were not an immediate success in North America.

Sometime in the spring of 1963, Herb Ware, an English student living at my university fraternity house, told me that the  Beatles were coming.  They were going to be big.

None of us had much of an idea who they were.  I checked the charts.  They had one song, "From Me to You", at number 5.   No one had ever seen them.  Ho hum.  Herb was obviously overly enthusiastic. 

Fast forward to the spring of 1964.  The Beatles had the top five singles.  They drowned out every other artist.

Mob scenes. Movies. Highly anticipated albums.  Memorable music.  Notoriety: "We're more popular than Jesus".  Peace Movement:  "All we are saying is Give Peace a Chance".  Senseless murder.

So we remember John Lennon.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

(As a disclaimer, these words were written by John Lennon.  What I assume John meant by "no countries" are the nationalisms which set people against one another; and by "no religion" are the intolerant aspects of  some theologies which also divide people.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Defending Beliefs

Of course, I knew better, and was being provocative, when I stated in my preceding post that "educated" Christians might not believe everything in the Bible to be literally true.  My experience told me something else. The two sentences prior to this suggestion were framed as questions in case anyone wanted to disagree. From the response, I find that some do.

Maybe the Christmas Star did move ahead of the three wise men from the East and did stop in the sky above the birthplace of Jesus.  That is, if you believe in miracles; if you reject the laws of motion and gravity and what astronomy teaches about stars.

I wasn't  trying to defend the billboard that the Atheists put up.  I probably wouldn't have done it, having no real interest in being offensive.  It was just the reaction I wondered about.  If someone is really comfortable in their own beliefs, why is someone questioning them so upsetting?  Why do they need to "counterpunch"?  If they don't like Newton's laws, why should I be offended?

I've made small efforts over the years to reconcile scientific discovery with Biblical stories.  Do you really think Noah could have collected all those animals, leaving the rest to be drowned?  Do you really think Eve was formed from the rib of Adam?   I've been assured yes, although the explanations have been somewhat creative.

I've been told that God both raised the seas and lowered the mountains to facilitate the covering of the earth with water during the Great Flood.  I've been told that God gave Eve estrogen to change her from a man to a woman, because she shared the DNA of Adam.  Who am I to quarrel?  After all, beliefs are beliefs.

I've been advised that if there really is a God that man should stop trying to recreate him for his own advantage.  This appeals to me.  However God has created the universe is probably his business; our job is to discover how and why he did it, no matter how imperfect we find the answers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Catholic Outrage

The billboard at the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel reads, "You KNOW it's a Myth  This Season, Celebrate REASON!"  Along with the wording is a depiction of  three men riding camels, a very bright star, and a nativity scene in a simple stable.  The billboard is sponsored by American Atheists. 

So?  It is a myth, isn't it?  Three wise men didn't actually know where to find the baby Jesus, much less have any idea about his significance, did they?  A bright star didn't actually hover above the stable (and not destroy the earth), did it?  Certainly, educated Christians know that this story is a myth, an allegory attaching importance to the birth of Jesus, but not literal history.

Now we have the Catholic League outrage.  Atheists believe in nothing, stand for nothing!  They think man came from apes, who fell from the trees! 

Albert Einstein, an atheist by Catholic standards,  wrote:

"A man's ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.

" I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own -- a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.

"A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.

"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity."

To my mind, Einstein's beliefs were somewhat more than "nothing".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Generic Drugs

I take three medications daily:  1. Lipitor, which reduces cholesterol which I produce internally; 2. Ezetrol, which reduces cholesterol which I absorb from food; 3. Cozaar, which lowers blood pressure.  The generic names for these medications are Atorvastatin, Ezetimibe, and Losartan.

They are not inexpensive.  A three month supply of each are $ 215.33 CAD; $ 166.10 CAD; and
$ 121.50 CAD.  Fortunately, I have Blue Cross extended health coverage, which pays 70% of the cost.

Lipitor has been the best selling drug in the world, producing revenue up to $ 12.7 billion USD for Pfizer annually.  The patent has expired, however, and yesterday my pharmacist informed me that the generic equivalent is available. The cost was reduced from $ 215.33 CAD to $ 91.29 CAD.

A curious thing is that the generic form of Lipitor will not be available in the United States for another year (November 2011).  Pfizer is concerned about losing revenue from its top money-maker and has been able to negotiate with the generic manufacturer to delay its introduction there.

Canada and most western countries have some type of government price control for drugs.  In Canada, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board limits the prices that drug manufacturers may charge.  New patented drugs may not be priced above another drug providing similar therapy; or, if a new therapy, above the average of other countries.  The result is that Canadian patented drug prices are less than the international average and sometimes much less than in the U. S.    
New provincial regulations across Canada are also restricting the cost of generic drugs.  Ontario has announced that generic drugs may not cost more than 25% of the patented form.  BC is introducing a plan to limit the cost to 35%, down from 65%.

I sometimes see demonstrators in the U. S. with signs objecting to Canadian-styled "socialized medicine".  Of course, the Canadian system is not "socialized".  It is essentially a system of private practices, with a single payer and some government regulation. The Canadian health delivery system is not perfect, and is faced with rising costs, as are health systems in other countries.  In the area of keeping drug costs reasonable, however, it seems to be doing a better job than others.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Destructive Behaviour

In July, grandson and girl friend had their child taken by the grandson's parents, because of their continued drug use and neglect. Since then, Ministry of Children and Family Development has taken the toddler into care and a permanent placement with the grandparents is pending.  The biological parents do not contribute financially and have basically ceased any responsibility.

The girl friend has a history of addiction to methamphetamines.  This results in her being awake all night and asleep all day, unable to provide for her child's needs.  MCFD social workers have asked her to get treatment, but cannot force her to do it.  The response of the grandson and girl friend is denial, avoidance, and hostility. Although we've been careful not be accusatory and to be as supportive as we can, they now avoid us.

In April, the girl friend totaled their car in a four-car collision.  Both have lost their jobs.  They've lost supervised visiting rights with their child at the MCFD office, because they are unable to stay awake.   

Complicating this is that the girl friend's Mother is a drug user, as was her father, who died of drug use.  Instead of providing support for her daughter, the Mother also denies the drug use.  The daughter's response, "If I got treatment, my Mother wouldn't speak to me!"

Now the girl friend is pregnant again.  The downward spiral continues.

I don't think this story is very unusual.  A disturbing aspect is that it is generational.  Intervention is needed, but in our society, there is no one to provide it.  You are not required to be married to have children; or to accept direction; or to get treatment for your problems.  Eventually you lose your friends and family, your place to live, and your health.  This in a society which offers so much, but is unable to limit destructive behaviour.      


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More Populism

The populist aversion to higher taxes, seen in the Tea Party phenomenon in the U. S., has its counterpart in British Columbia, with the public reaction to the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which has recently added  a 7% Provincial Sales Tax to previously untaxed items.  The most notable of these are probably restaurant meals, telephone and cable, and some personal services.

The BC Government maintains that the tax is revenue-neutral, being matched by offsetting business tax credits, which will be passed on to the public in lower prices and will encourage business investment in BC.   Nevertheless, opponents of the measure initiated a Province-wide petition campaign, and the issue is set for a referendum next September.  The Government has said that it will eliminate the tax if the referendum passes.

Premier Gordon Campbell's popularity has fallen so low that he has announced his intention to resign.  He has also announced Provincial income tax cuts to try to improve his party's approval rating.

Of course, no one likes to pay taxes.  We do like services, however, particularly when they are free, such as the BC Medical Services Plan, which provides doctor, hospital, and medical services in the Province. 

But "free" government services are not really free.  Someone, somewhere, has to pay, either by taxes, fees, or borrowing.  Charging additional fees for medical services is potentially asking for more populist rhetoric, opening up charges of a "two-tier" system, one for the prosperous, another for the low-income.

Unfortunately, the consequence of not being willing to support the cost of programs is longer wait times for medical services, more crowding in hospitals, more temporary classrooms, and fewer programs for students.

Both in Canada and the U. S., if they can't grow the economy, and don't want to pay taxes, eventually they'll have to decide which programs to cut.  In the current environment of harsh rhetoric, this will not be easy.        


Wednesday, November 3, 2010


In a democracy, political success often depends on an appeal to populism, or the wisdom, as well as the fears and prejudices, of the common man.  Yesterday, the American public switched some of their populist allegiance from the Democrats to the Republicans.  Congress is now split: the Republicans with a majority in  the House of Representatives; the Democrats with a majority in the Senate.

That the party that loses the last Presidential election recovers to make gains in the succeeding mid-term election, is not new.  It's easier to criticize from without than to actually govern.  This is particularly true when money is no object, and you're not held directly responsible for your campaign statements.

The general rationale for the Democratic losses is that the economy still has not recovered from the economic downturn of 2008.  While this was brought on by unregulated and dishonest banking practices of the Bush years, the pain has been felt primarily under Obama's tenure.

The Democrats have tried to do all the right things to revive the economy, at least according to the textbooks. When I was at University in the 1960's, we were taught that the Great Depression was caused by  Herbert Hoover attempting to balance the budget, when (according to Keynesian Theory) fiscal stimulus and deficit spending were needed. The great populist Franklin Roosevelt presumably was on the right track with new government programs to create jobs and stimulate recovery.  Today, opinion is divided on how successful he was.

In the 1970's, Milton Friedman popularized a theory that the Depression could have been avoided by lowering interest rates, instead of providing Government stimulus.  "Monetarism" removed some of criticism of capitalism, and, importantly, from the Republican point of view, some of Roosevelt's lustre.

The Obama administration has now tried both approaches, unprecedented stimulus and bailouts, and cutting interest rates to near zero.  Yet the economy has not responded as quickly as anyone would like.  You reap the consequences of events, even when you do all the "right" things.

Canada, as compared to the U. S., has not suffered the same economic downturn, partly because of a more regulated banking system; partly because its resource base has largely recovered.  It is not immune to populist pressures, however.  The Conservative federal government has refused to approve the purchase by Australian-based  BHP Billiton (the world's largest mining company) of  Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (the world's largest Potash company).  Despite the fact that both operate internationally (most of the shareholders of Potash Corporation are probably not Canadian), that the Canadian Government claims to support free markets and to oppose government interference in private business, and that the sale would provide an economic stimulus to Canada, a surge of economic nationalism in the West and the potential loss of some seats in Parliament  has caused the Government to compromise its stated principles.  At least until it can figure out how to pacify the populist objections.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Labour Unions

For most of my working life, I belonged to a union.  I'm glad I did.  Today, I have a comfortable pension; the majority of my health care premiums paid; as well as extended health care benefits, which cover 70% of prescription drug costs and other health-related items.  When I was employed,  I had decent working conditions and fairly certain job security.  I also had a voice in my employment.

I've also been in and seen situations in which the employees had little power.   Between 1968 and 1971,  I worked off and on with the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (today the United Farm Workers of America), headed by Cesar Chavez.  Farmworkers are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, which means that they can't compel an employer to bargain with their union, even if a majority desire it.  The result is an industry which has the lowest paid jobs, harshest working conditions, least job security of any. Most agricultural labour in the U. S. (and possibly Canada) is performed by immigrants, many undocumented, who have few legal rights, and are left to the mercy of labour contractors.

Many employers in the U. S. and Canada ignore labour laws.  I once worked for an employer, who ignored the Ontario Hours of Work Act, which required an employer to pay overtime rates to employees  working more than 48 hours in a week.  Some of the staff complained to me about this. When I called it to my employer's attention, he told me that it was none of my business.  I attempted to report the practice to the Ontario Employments Standards Branch and was told that they didn't believe me, and that only persons directly affected could file a complaint.  I attempted to sign up staff for a union, was only partially successful, and was informed by my employer that I had resigned.  When I applied for Employment Insurance benefits, I was penalized for quitting my job.  When I told the EI worker that I had been fired for trying to organize a union, he told me to appeal through the union, which of course I couldn't do.  If you think getting union recognition is easy, it's not.

I believe that employees should have a voice in their workplace.  Some people resent  "the power" of unions.  I think they are misinformed.  Most of the power lies with the employer.  Having a united front is one way of exercising  influence, which an individual would never have.   

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Independent, Determined, and Puritan

Ralph Shepard (1603-1693) Bell Rock Cemetery, Malden, Massachusetts
On April 24, 1634, my ancestor, Ralph Shepard (1603-1693), a tailor from Limehouse, Stepney Parish, London, England, was summoned before the Court of High Commissions, an ecclesiastical court , established for the purpose of reforming and correcting persons engaged in "heresies, schisms, abuses, offences,  contempts,  and enormities" against the Church.  The result is unknown, but on June 30, 1635, Ralph, his wife ThankesLord, and his two-year old daughter Sarah, sailed for the American colonies aboard the ship Abigail.  They eventually settled in the Massachusetts communities of Dedham, Weymouth, Malden , and Concord.

Ralph and ThankesLord were Puritans.  The communities that they established were not tolerant nor multi-cultural.  The covenant that Ralph signed at Dedham pledged, "that we shall by all means labour to keep from us all such as are contrary-minded".

Ralph's daughter Trial married Walter Power(s) (1640-1708), probably an indentured servant taken from the streets of Ireland at an early age (14) and contracted for six years of service to his sponsor. Unfortunately for Trial and Walter, they got a little ahead of themselves and were cited for unlawful intimacy prior to marriage, resulting in a sentence of public flogging.  Ralph paid his daughter's fine and she escaped the punishment, but apparently Walter took the fifteen stripes by the constable.

A few generations later, Walter and Trial's ggrandson, Jeremiah Powers, Jr. (1733-1801), living at Greenwich, Massachusetts, married Elizabeth Cooley (1734-1823), gggranddaughter of Benjamin Cooley, who gave evidence at the trial of Hugh and Mary Parsons for practicing witchcraft in 1650.

Elizabeth's brother, Gideon Cooley, founded Pittsford, Vermont, spending the winter of 1767 at the site, guarding it against Yorkers, who also claimed the Vermont area.  Another brother, Benjamin Cooley III, was with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, when they captured Fort Ticonderoga in 1775.  Jeremiah and Elizabeth eventually moved to Pittsford, Vermont, along with other family members.  

Vermont became the fourteenth state in 1791.  Whether it was carved out of New York or joined as an independent republic (Republic of  Vermont, 1777-1791) is a matter of historical interpretation.

Additionally, Elizabeth's sister Eunice married Benjamin Garfield in 1752.  They lived at Northfield, Massachusetts, in a blockhouse for protection against the Natives.  However, in an attack by the Natives in 1755, Benjamin drowned attempting to escape across a river, Eunice was taken captive and forced to walk to Canada, where she was sold as a slave to French-Canadians.  She eventually persuaded the family to free her (for a price) and returned to Massachusetts.  Happily, she remarried and lived a long life.

Some of Jeremiah and Elizabeth's grandchildren, Hosea (my ggggrandfather), Mary, and Justus Franklin Powers moved to Missouri in the 1840's, establishing a presence there which continues.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

My Jehovah's Witnesses friends told me that I was celebrating a Pagan religion by indulging Christmas, and that I was worshiping a false idol by having a Christmas tree.  I told them that I didn't worship the Christmas tree.  It was only for fun.

That's what Christmas should be.  Fun.

My JW friends, who claim that everything in the Bible is literally true, should have reflected that the Three Wise Men of the East brought the baby Jesus gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  Perhaps that's where the idea of gift giving at Christmas began.  Clement Moore's poem, "Twas the Night Before Christmas", describes a "sleigh full of toys", presumably for the children.

Today, Christmas shopping is big business.  Retailers depend on it to make their year.  With the economy barely of of a recession, it's almost a duty to do your bit by helping out the merchants.

Some people love the shopping, the "getting into the Christmas spirit".  For others, its a burden, not knowing what to buy, who to include, as well as the financial stress.  Do you really want to buy someone a gift that they don't want or receive a gift that you don't care for?  For everyone who loves the excitement of being in the stores, there is someone who shops at the last minute, feeling the obligation. For them, it's not really fun, but something to get through.

We had gift exchange at work.  It was voluntary.  The spending amount was limited to $10 or $20; and everyone listed two or three items that  were in this range that they would like.  You knew that they would be satisfied with what you bought.  It seemed to work.

While I enjoy Christmas, I've never quite understood the need to give gifts to adults.  For some, exchanging gifts is tied to self-worth and approval.  Failing to provide sufficiently may be resented.  Children may notice if a brother or sister receives a more coveted gift than they do.  It becomes a sensitive situation. Do you really want self-esteem to be tied to the willingness of others to buy you things?

Personally, I belong to the group that would reduce the obligation of giving and receiving gifts, in favour of simply enjoying the get-together.  This can be just as much fun.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"Wouldn't It Be Nice!"

"Wouldn't it be nice!", a jingle I've heard again and again, promoting CHIP Home Income Plan reverse mortgages for seniors.  The ads tout the benefits: "Unlock the value in your home"; "Maintain ownership and control"; "Pay off your debts ".  The reality is that CHIP reverse mortgages are schemes for taking away the homes of seniors.

The prime feature is that you receive funds in a lump sum, and "no payments required for as long as you live in your home".  Yes and no.  If  "no payments required" means that you don't have to write cheques, then it's correct. However, the amount of the interest due is added each month to the lien on your property, and your equity is continuously reduced.  This is the "silent" payment.

Another advertised claim is that having this mortgage may make you debt-free.  This is true only if you don't consider the growing amount of your new mortgage a debt.

It may be true that you never have to make a payment for as long as you live in your home, but what guarantees that you will never need to move?  When you do, the amount of the reverse mortgage will be taken from the proceeds of the sale, possibly making it impossible for you to purchase another home.  You are then converted from a homeowner to a renter, a serious problem is you are retired and your only source of income is government pensions.

A far better choice for seniors who need cash is a secured home equity line of credit.  The interest rate is probably 2% less than the reverse mortgage (currently about 4% compared to 6%).  While the reverse mortgage has about $2,000 of upfront costs (closing costs, property appraisal, and independent legal advice), the line of credit may be provided free (or at a fraction of the cost of the reverse mortgage).  There is a payment due every month, but this can be covered by a comparable withdrawal, if necessary (less than the amount accruing on the CHIP mortgage).  The provider of the line of credit might withdraw it, but unlikely if  payments are made regularly.  Importantly,  the amounts withdrawn are only the amounts needed and the balance may be reduced at any time, without penalty.

The bottom line is that the home equity line of credit will cost you considerably less than the reverse mortgage and, if properly managed, preserve the equity in your home should you ever decide to move.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


When an individual finds himself with too much debt, there are several remedies he can try.  (1) He can cut back on his spending; (2) He can ask his boss for a raise; (3) He can increase his productivity (work more hours or get a second job); (4) He can run out on his obligations.

Federal governments can do similar things when faced with mounting debts.  (1) They can cut spending; (2) They can increase taxes; (3) They can attempt to grow the economy; (4) They can default on their debt.

Defaulting on the debt is the most distasteful, because it places in doubt the ability to raise funds in the future and, depending on the size the economy, can be socially and politically disruptive.  It is also morally corrupt. For the United States to default on its bonds, considered the safest debt in the world, would be disastrous.

Cutting spending and increasing taxes are generally unpopular with voters.  Therefore, governments hope that their economies will continue to grow.  Right now, that's not happening, or only modestly.   

Federal governments have a further choice that individuals usually don't have, unless there is a rich uncle willing to indulge them.  This is the central bank.  Central banks are able to loan their governments money to bail them out.  The loan may never be paid back.  Cynics call this "printing money".  The popular term today is "quantitative easing", meaning that the amount of money being supplied to the economy is increased. The consequence is usually inflation.  Carried to its extreme, it means the collapse of the value of money.

Societies are generally willing to tolerate a certain amount of inflation. Economists tell us that it is necessary to maintain employment.  Individuals may like it in terms of pay increases, although in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, these may be illusory.  Of course, it is another form of taxation and redistribution of wealth.

Whether the quantitative easing stimulates the economy (producing more wealth) or simply destroys savings remains to be seen.  Speculators have driven the price of gold to a record high.  Another bubble or a store of value?  There's sure to be lots of discussion.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Fortunately, I've never had any interest in smoking cigarettes.  Even when I was younger and my friends smoked, I was never tempted to imitate them.  Why would I want to get lung cancer?

Over the years, I have probably not objected to anything more than cigarette smoking, nor been ignored more.  Smokers need to smoke, the objections of others notwithstanding.

I've watched as friends and family have died prematurely.  I always wonder at smokers who don't try to discourage their adolescent children from smoking.  Don't they care about them?  My assumption is that they consider smoking together another form of family bonding.

Years ago, the smoke cloud would form in my workplace in the late afternoon.  The smoke burned your eyes.  My tough luck, I assumed.  After all, the smokers had their rights, and you could only be so miserable about it.

Later, smoking in the workplace was restricted to a designated office area, and finally banned indoors altogether.  Occasionally, an argument would break out as to the boundaries of the workplace.  If you smoked on the balcony, the smoke could still blow back in to the office.  If you smoked next to the outside air intake, the smoke could make its way back into the office.  Still, the improvement was substantial.

But the determined smoker won't give it up just to please others.  I guess you could say the same thing about the determined drinker or any other drug addicted personality.  They smoke no matter what the consequences.

You can watch the daily count of soldiers who die in Iraq or Afghanistan; their names and faces flashed for a moment on the TV screen or shown on the internet.  Victims of human folly.  Yet the deaths in those wars are insignificant next to the deaths from cigarette smoking.  As many people die in the U. S. every two days from smoking-related diseases as died in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11.  You wonder who the greater terrorists are, Al Qaeda or the cigarette manufacturers?  It's all in your perception. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Joys of Traffic

One of my Facebook friends, sitting in traffic and late for work this morning, posted her frustration at all the "stupid" people who were in her way and how "unreal" commuting was.  I was tempted to comment, but didn't want to add to her irritation.  Why didn't she live closer to work?  Why didn't she take transit?

Many people think that owning a motor vehicle is a necessity.  Not really.  People drive when they could walk.  Many never take transit at all, although sometimes it's faster, certainly less frustrating, probably less expensive.  During the transit strike a few years ago, I carpooled with three other co-workers for a few weeks.  It wasn't very difficult.  I didn't leave any earlier or get to work any later.  After the strike, we returned to using transit.

I suppose the frustrations and cost of driving haven't yet reached the breaking point.  There are complaints when the cost of gas rises.  For awhile, sales of hybrids and more gas efficient vehicles rise.  However, as soon as the price of gas recedes, the purchase of the big SUVs returns.  Drill deeper, pollute more.  

Henry Ford created the moving assembly line over a hundred years ago, transforming the ownership of vehicles from a luxury for the rich to a necessity for the working person.  This was, of course, hailed as a great achievement.  Part of the American dream.  So as you sit in traffic during your daily commute, listen to the music and enjoy it.    


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Revitalizing Whalley

Surrey City Centre Library (Architect's Design)
For more than twenty years, Surrey has been advertising itself as the "Second City" in the Lower Mainland, soon to be a rival in every way to Vancouver.  The centre of this new city was to be near the Surrey Place Mall in Whalley, a trashy neighborhood, originally settled in the 1920's by those who couldn't afford property nearer Vancouver north of the Fraser River.

For the most part, this ambition has been more a dream than a reality.

A few things actually did happen. SkyTrain came to Surrey in 1993, with Whalley stations of Gateway, Surrey Central, and King George.  The long-promised University of the Fraser Valley, originally planned for Cloverdale, became Tech BC (1999) and then the Surrey campus of Simon Fraser University (2002), located in a tower built at Surrey Place.

City Council did change a few names.  Surrey Place Mall became Central City Shopping Centre.  The main thoroughfare, King George Highway, became King George Boulevard.  East Whalley Ring Road became Whalley Boulevard; West Whalley Ring Road became University Drive; and 135th Street became City Parkway.

But now a few new projects are actually under construction.  A 75,000 square foot, four story, regional library will be opened next year.  Next door will be a new recreation centre.
Library under construction, SkyTrain (Left) and SFU Surrey
A new City Hall will be built next year near the new library, south of 104th Avenue, replacing the current City Hall on 56th Avenue. 

We can keep our fingers crossed that these projects continue, and that Surrey City Centre can start attracting the financial and commercial enterprises which someday might revitalize this neighborhood. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stephen Colbert on Immigration

Last friday, Stephen Colbert testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee on  Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Security on the subject of immigrant labour.  Because he's a comedian, some people questioned how relevant his comments were.

Sitting next to Stephen was Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farmworkers of America, a union for agricultural workers started by Cesar Chavez in the 1960's.  I was involved with this effort from 1968 to 1972, both in Toronto with a boycott of table grapes and at the Union headquarters at Keene, California.  I never met Arturo, but I knew his wife, Linda Chavez, who died in 2000.

Farmworkers, many of whom are immigrants, have some of the most demanding and low-paying jobs in America.  The U. S. (and Canada as well, which brings in 175,000 guest workers a year, many of whom do agricultural labour) has a long history of exploitation of farm labour.  They are excluded from the National Labour Relations Act, which gives other workers the right to have unions. They are housed in labour camps; kept from their families; isolated from local communities; exposed to pesticides; and without health care. Pay is generally minimum wage (or less).  

Even though the U. S. unemployment rate is 9.6%, few non-Hispanic Americans want agricultural jobs.

Because of the need for agricultural workers, the low pay, the physically demanding work, Americans have looked the other way for years, while undocumented immigrants have harvested their crops.  This makes the recent attacks on immigrants in Arizona and other states particularly loathsome.  To suggest that they are drug dealers or terrorists is pathetic.

I'm glad that Stephen Colbert is on the right side of this issue.  More Americans and Canadians should be, too.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt?

An ancestor of mine, Benjamin Cooley, came to Springfield, Massachusetts, about 1643.  He was popular with his neighbors, and they chose him one of the selectmen for the community.

On March 4, 1650, Joshua Parsons, infant son of Hugh and Mary Parsons, neighbors of Benjamin, died.  The cause of death was a respiratory illness, possibly croup. His father, Hugh, a brick maker and chimney specialist, was charged with causing the death of Joshua by witchcraft, for the purpose of having his wife available to help with the corn harvest.

Hugh asked Benjamin Cooley to testify on his behalf, particularly that when he had informed Benjamin of his son's death, he had been quite upset and weeping.

Unfortunately for Hugh, Benjamin testified that he could not remember any sorrow, that instead Hugh had been smoking a pipe of tobacco at the time.  He further stated that Hugh's wife, Mary, had suspected her husband of being a witch, although she had been unable to find any direct evidence, having once searched him when he was asleep.

Other evidence against Hugh Parsons included statements that he had made that he would "be even" with anyone who did him wrong; that things he sold to others did not do well; that he sometimes talked strangely in this sleep; and that his wife often heard loud noises when Hugh was away from home.

Hugh and Mary Parsons were both found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to prison.  Hugh's property was sold.  Eventually, Hugh was released, but Mary apparently died while still incarcerated.

Of course, in the 17th century, the cause of many illnesses was unknown.  It seems that persons could be suspected of witchcraft if they prospered over their neighbors, or if they weren't sociable. Another mark against poor Hugh was that he seldom attended local meetings or lectures, to the unhappiness of his wife, who was also kept from these social events.

So beware.  Be on good terms with your neighbors.  Help them prosper along with yourself.  Above all, give your wife no reason for suspicions about your conduct.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Healthier Living

A month ago, I reached my New Year's resolution target weight loss of twenty pounds.  I decided to try for another five pounds.  So far, I've lost one of these, giving me a year-to-date weight reduction of twenty-one pounds.

To quantify, twenty-one pounds is an 11% weight loss.  My BMI (Body Mass Index) has fallen from 28 (overweight) to 24.9 (normal).  My percentile for my height and age has fallen from 57% to 31% (U. S. figures), meaning that 69% of the population weigh more than I do for my height and age.   Being at 31% percentile is not necessarily anything to brag about, because being at 50% (average) means a BMI of 27 (overweight).  More than 60% of the U. S. population over 35 is overweight.   But it sounds a lot better than being at 57%.

BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kg by the square of height in meters; or by dividing weight in pounds by the square of height in inches multiplied by 703.  18-25 is considered normal; 25-30 overweight; over 30 obese.

I've also volunteered for the BC Generations Project, which is developing a database of 40,000 British Columbians (300,000 with partners Canada-wide) to correlate incidence of cancer with lifestyle (diet, physical exercise), medical history, physical measurements, and analysis of blood and urine.  It's a twenty-five year study, open to those 40-69.  I completed my initial contribution yesterday.        


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Credit Cards

Canadian Tire is a Canadian general merchandise retailer, known for automotive, home, hardware, and garden products. It also operates a chartered bank, Canadian Tire Bank.

In its most recent quarter, Canadian Tire earned $119.9 million, $55 million of this (46%) from its financial services (credit card) division. Because financial services are the fastest growing part of its business, it's eager to expand in this area.

A few weeks ago, Vera and I were at Canadian Tire shopping for a new steam iron.  A store employee came by with a clipboard, mentioning a store promotion.  I didn't pay too much attention, wanting to know instead why the price on the steam iron display was different from the price on the box below.  The employee asked for my driver's license, wrote down my name and address, had me sign a form, and said I'd hear from them in about two weeks.  Then she helped with my purchase.

Last thursday I received a Canadian Tire MasterCard from Canadian Tire Bank.  Not much to that.  No questions asked. I assume that they had checked more than the information I had given them.

On the other hand, my nephew Patrick, who lives in Taiwan, has had difficulties getting a credit card from the largest bank in Taiwan, Chinatrust Commercial Bank, although he's employed and has a good credit record.  So have a number of his friends.  Apparently, they are apprehensive about granting cards to "foreigners", who they think might leave and not pay their debts, even though they are permanent residents of Taiwan.

CTCB prides itself on being international, on its excellent service, and on the many awards it has won.  It operates twelve branches in the U. S., three branches in Vancouver, and appears eager to expand its services world-wide.  How does it do this by discriminating against "foreigners" in Taiwan?  I would think these are customers they would want to cultivate.  They might encourage contacts in their country of origin to bank at CTCB.

Canada had been very welcoming to immigrants from Taiwan and Asia.  The only requirement for a "permanent resident" to become a citizen is that they reside in Canada for three years and demonstrate some knowledge of Canadian institutions.  I suspect many Taiwanese-born hold dual Canadian citizenship.  How many Canadian or U. S.-born hold dual Taiwanese citizenship?  How many Taiwanese "permanent residents" in Canada or the U. S. are refused credit cards, because of where they were born?  Time for CTCB to lighten up and forget the stereotypes.  They might find it good business.   

Friday, September 17, 2010


About 8:00 pm one evening a few years ago, someone rang the doorbell.  It was dark out.  The fellow on the porch was an Edward Jones financial advisor out looking for clients.  I spoke to him briefly, telling him that I didn't use an advisor, and did my own investing through a discount brokerage.

Since then, Frank has called me every couple of months wondering how I am doing.  I tell him all of the concerns I have about financial advisors.  Still he persists.

Frank suggested I get a TFSA (Tax-Free Savings Account).  Initially I said that I didn't see much value in them, because interest rates were low and the tax savings wouldn't be much. With some prodding, however, I opened one two months ago.   He called again last saturday.  I said I'd taken his advice and opened an account.

I  had mentioned to Frank before that I didn't see how he was making any money with me.  Other investment firms had not been interested in having me as a client.  They either receive part of a commission or charge a fee, which I'm not interested in paying.

Times may be hard for small financial advisors.  In the recent financial meltdown, they may have lost clients. Hard to tell, though, because they always groan so much about how little they receive anyway.  Wall Street investment bankers may take home millions in bonuses, but small advisors and brokers usually have a small office, sometimes in the corner of a bank or insurance agency.  They have to be salespeople.

I spent a couple of sessions with Ellen at Coast Capital, discussing mutual funds.  That possibility fell through when Coast Capital refused to take some deposits.

I once went to the Scotia McLeod office in Semiahmoo Mall to get financial advice. The receptionist told me that they had no one to talk to walk-ins.  She said I could call and make an appointment, but didn't take my name or phone number.  I didn't contact them again.

I once contacted BMO InvestorLine.  I asked them if they stood behind the products that they sold.  She asked if I meant protection from market risk?  I said no, but if I have problems with a product or provider, would they assist me?  I don't think she understood what I meant.  Simply put, what services are they providing? I didn't open an account.

I think I've told Frank these things.  I sometimes wonder why some people are so persistent, while others are so indifferent.  From experience, I guess they find out what pays off.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tax Day

Good laws should be fair, understandable, and enforceable.  Whenever I have to pay income taxes, I reflect on this.

Today is another income tax instalment due date.  If net taxes owing at the end of the year (not previously deducted at source) exceed $3,000, I have to make quarterly instalments.  If net taxes owing will be less than $3,000, I can disregard the friendly reminder.

Last spring, owing to low interest rates and generally poor economic prospects  (double-dip recession on the horizon),  I disregarded the reminder.

Now I realize that my income will be a little higher than I thought, and maybe I need to pay instalments.

My Options:  (1) pay one-quarter of net taxes owing from 2008 in March and June; pay one-half of balance equaling net taxes owing from 2009 in Sept and Dec; (2) pay one-quarter of net taxes owing from 2009 each quarter; (3) pay one-quarter of net taxes owing for 2010 each quarter; (4) reduce income by loss-selling and make sure net taxes owing are less than $3,000 to avoid penalties. 

I opt for (2), making the payments I previously omitted, still leaving the door open for (4).

The Canadian income tax system is an honour system.  If they owe taxes, Canadians are expected to file returns annually, report all taxable income, and pay amounts owing.  How well does this work?  Those entitled to a refund or other benefits will probably file a return.  If they fail to file or misrepresent their income,  is the law enforced?

Are the tax laws understandable?  Or just too complex?

Are they fair?  I guess that might depend on whether you get a refund.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Woods Gap

My 6X ggrandfather Michael Woods was born in Meath County, Ireland, in 1684.  He immigrated with his family to Pennsylvania in 1724.  Pushing west, he made his way from Pennsylvania across the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Shenandoah Valley and Albemarle County, Virginia,  in 1734.  The pass he found became known as Woods Gap, officially named by the Virginia Legislature in 1757.

Later, Woods Gap was renamed Jarman's Gap after the family that owned the land in the 1800's.

Settling in Albemarle County, Virginia, Michael Woods established a plantation known as Mountain Plains (3300 acres).  After he died in 1762, Mountain Plains was sold to Thomas Adams, tobacco agent for Thomas Jefferson.  Adams bequeathed the property to John Blair, Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, after whom it was renamed Blair Park.

Michael's son, William, having received land grants for service in the American War for Independence, moved on to Greenbrier County, Virginia.  William's children in turn migrated to Kentucky (1781), Tennessee (1809), and Missouri (1819).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pregnant? Congrats!

How often do I see it?  A young woman announces on Facebook that she is pregnant.  Immediately, there is a chorus of  "Congrats!" from her friends.  How exciting!  You're going to have a baby!

For the families, however, this news may come as a bit of a surprise.  The young woman is an unmarried teen; hasn't finished high school; has no income; has no plans for the future.  Of course, in this world, we may be told that all of this is none of our business.  Who are we, after all, to interfere with young love?

Just the one's who get to pick up the pieces.  Particularly if the young couple's favorite recreation is drug use.

Grandson is a recreational marijuana user.  No one paid much attention.  It's what young people do.  His girl friend uses crystal meth.  Last year, they had a baby.

Fortunately, the baby's paternal grandparents were in the picture.  In January, they took the baby for two weeks, while the parents were tested for drugs.  When the results came back "negative", the baby was returned to them.  (So much for drug tests.)

In April, the mother totaled the car in a four-car pileup.

In July, the grandparents took the baby back again after continued drug use by the mother.  Ministry of Children and Family Development has currently given custody to the grandparents, with the parents having visitation three times a week at the Ministry office.

Of course, all of this (which I've only highlighted), has caused considerable stress to everyone in the family.  But, hey, it's a free society.  Who needs marriage to have children?  Or an education?  Or restrictions on our fun?  Sadly, we eventually find out.     

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Getting High on Hemp

A  Facebook friend wants to be a hemp products distributor .  Apparently, there are many industrial products that can be made from the cannabis plant other than THC (aka pot, weed, marijuana).  Some of them are even good for your health.  Or so the hemp promoters will tell us.

Maybe so.  Why am I such a cynic?  After all, if you want to manufacture rope or clothing from the fiber of the cannabis plant, what's wrong with that?

My suspicion is that the interest in hemp is not about wanting to be in the rope or clothing business.  It's about wanting to be in the drug business.  After all, that's where the money is.

What's wrong with smoking a little weed, anyway?  Lots of people do it.  Is it any worse than alcohol?  Isn't it something an informed adult, in a free society, should be able to do?  Why is the state interfering in our  pleasure?

I'm a libertarian.  I really don't care what you do, if it only affects you.  However, right now, it's illegal; and while I believe in personal freedom, I also believe in living by the law.  If it's no worse than alcohol, I doubt that it's any better.  If this is so, it introduces a list of social problems, particularly in the hands of  young people.

Is Marijuana a gateway drug to methamphetamines?  You can point to other influences for drug use: social, educational, and psychological.  I think, however, there is a connection.

So I hope that the hemp business is really just about hemp.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Guilt and Consequences

In books, the author gets to impose consequences on his characters.  If they sin, they probably pay the price. In real life, I'm not always sure of this.

In June, I bought an e-reader.  Because books whose copyright have expired are now free, I've read a few from the last century.  Among these are The Mayor of Casterbridge (Hardy, 1886);  Lord Jim (Conrad, 1900); and Under Western Eyes (Conrad, 1911).

The three novels centre around young men who make mistakes in their early life and later suffer because of them.

Michael Henchard, while drunk, humiliates his wife into leaving him for another, taking his daughter. This act comes back to haunt him years later, and ultimately he dies a broken man.

Jim, a young first mate, fearing that his ship might sink, abandons it, along with the captain and two others, leaving eight hundred migrants aboard to fend for themselves.  This act of cowardice plagues him, eventually leading him to seek atonement by taking a fatal bullet for the crime of someone else.

Razumov, a young student, betrays another seeking refuge.  Eventually, he confesses his act and suffers for it.

The plots all depend on the consciences and psychological underpinnings of the characters.  They are about morality.  The conflict is within.

Of course, in novels the author can heighten the drama to keep our interest and make an impact.  I wonder, though, how many actually live their lives tormented by past deeds; and how many  just shrug them off.   

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Too Little In It?

Maybe we're in the wrong neighborhood.  Maybe it's just too hard to sell home services, and those who could provide them have given up.  Most of my neighbors do their own home maintenance, although the odd one hires someone to mow their lawn or pressure wash their driveway.

It's curious to me how seldom anyone tries to sell me services.  I'm not an impulse buyer.  You won't sell me a vacuum cleaner going door to door.  But sometimes I've let someone clean the gutters, wash the windows, trim the hedge, or even pressure wash the walk (before I bought my own pressure washer).

The summer is almost over and no one has asked whether I have something he might do.  After all, I do have things that I've put off or don't quite know whom to ask.

I would think that someone could start a business establishing leads for small businesses or retired persons wanting to do the odd job.  If they asked me, I might say that I'm mostly my own yardman, but I wouldn't mind someone pruning the trees once in a while, or removing the thatch from the lawn and aerating it, or picking up the junk for recycling (Surrey cancelled the annual recycle week), or making minor repairs.  These are things that I might eventually get around to, but someone could also do them for me.  No one asks.

I also wonder why companies, like Sears Home Central, who have done work for me in the past, never call to ask if there is something else they might do.  After all, they re-shingled the roof and installed living room carpet.  Why don't they follow up about doors and windows or kitchen cabinets?  Why leave the initiative always to the customer?

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Many Labels

When I answered the phone at 5:00 am, I was surprised to hear the voice of a former financial advisor.  He was upset.  I was destroying careers.

The previous friday I had called his office, and the staff being away, had left a courtesy message.  I was filing a complaint against an insurance company that was refusing to pay me what they owed.  The annuity in question had been sold by the financial advisor's firm.  I thought I should let them know.

Now I was being told that the complaint would be a mark against one of their young advisors.  I should have discussed the problem with them.  I didn't add to the issue by pointing out that I had written to the other advisor seven months before and had not received an answer.  I explained what I was doing and why.  The financial advisor calmed down when he realized that the complaint was not against his firm.  He finally said he understood.  I asked him if he knew that it was 5:00 am.

To add to my reputation as a "Career Destroyer", I have recently been labeled a "Bible Twister" and a "Breed Racist".

The "Bible Twister" label was given to me by a Jehovah's Witness when I said, among other things, that I didn't think that when the Bible said that Eve was created from the rib of Adam, that this was to be taken literally.  Didn't it mean that Eve was created as a partner to Adam, created in a similar manner?  To say that she was literally created from his rib would make her his clone.  She would have the same DNA and be a man.

No, I was assured, God gave Eve estrogen.  Estrogen?  But you can't change a man to a woman by giving him estrogen.  Well, I was told, Eve was really created from dust.  Safer ground, I assumed.

The label "Breed Racist" came from a statement I made that Pit Bulls can be aggressive and that I'm glad that neither of my neighbors have one.  Didn't I know that it's the owner, not the breed, that causes dogs to be aggressive, I was told.  It may be, I said, but how can I tell which owners raise well-socialized dogs and which raise attack dogs?   It's something I'm happy not to have to worry about.

New labels always come as a surprise.  I try to be a reasonable person.  I guess I'll just have to try harder.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

For a Kegful of Dollars

My 4xg grandfather John Gabriel lived in Cooper County, Missouri.  He owned a distillery, made whiskey, and sold it to the natives.  He also had a nail keg full of silver dollars.

One night in July, 1830, Jack Harris, a slave from a neighbouring farm, and Edmond Gabriel, a slave from the Gabriel farm, called out to John that they wanted to buy some whiskey.  John went with them down to the still.

When they reached the still, Jack Harris struck John with an ax, cleaving his skull, and killing him instantly.  He and Edmond then took the body to the barn, where they tried to make it appear that John had been kicked by a horse.

The next day, Jack Harris was seen in Boonville, Missouri, with a large amount of money.  He was soon arrested.  Edmond Gabriel gave evidence against Jack.  Jack Harris eventually confessed, but said that he had been hired to do it by Abner Weaver, John's stepson and son-in-law, who was after John's money.

Abner's mother, and John Gabriel's second wife, Sarah Jones Gabriel was also implicated.  She was charged and spent nineteen days in jail.  However, Sarah was released for lack of evidence, possibly because Jack Harris, not being a legal person, could not testify in court.  Abner Weaver was also let go.

Jack Harris was hanged.  Edmond Gabriel was sent south and sold.

Sarah Gabriel and Abner Weaver left the county.  It was later rumoured that Abner had been shot and killed in Texas, trying to steal horses.

John's daughter Nellie Gabriel married Henry Fisher. Henry died in 1845, and Nellie managed the family farm for another twenty-eight years, before passing in 1873.  Nellie's granddaughter Emma Fisher Igo was my Mother's grandmother.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Witness at Your Own Risk

I guess I could have told them on the first day that they were probably wasting their time.  However, Jehovah's Witnesses get credit for knocking on doors and giving out their message.  It helps them get to Paradise.

They probably starting coming about eight years ago.  Frank was nice guy who liked my dog, and I didn't mind listening to him.  He would read little passages from the Bible, and I didn't say much.  He had retired from Pepsi-Cola, and I had worked briefly for Pepsi in the 1960's.

In January of last year Frank suffered an aortic aneurysm.  Whether he elected not to have surgery or it wasn't possible, I don't know, but Frank passed away.  I went to his memorial service at the Kingdom Hall.

After that, Frank's friend Peter started coming to the door.  Peter was far more intense than Frank. When I didn't respond properly to his message, he started warning me about my fate.  I told him that the Bible needed to be interpreted; that you couldn't accept every word literally.  Gradually our relationship deteriorated.

Last fall, we agreed that Peter wouldn't come to my house anymore.  His partner tried to object, saying that  she would rather argue with me than have the door slammed in her face.  Peter overruled her.  He said that what I meant by "interpreting" the Bible was "twisting" it.

I once asked Peter if all Jehovah's Witnesses thought exactly the same way.  He assured me that they did and what was wrong with that?  I thought about freedom of thought and respect for the opinions of others, but didn't press it.  

I was concerned that although my next door neighbour had never witnessed to me, he is a Jehovah's Witness, and maybe our relationship would be damaged.  We didn't seem to speak for awhile.  He came over last week to ask a favour, though, so I guess we're still getting along.    

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Time is Relative

Time may be defined as the interval between events.  It is measured by clocks, calendars, stars, and our own nervous systems.

Time is also relative.  What seems a long time ago to one person is only a short time to someone else.  I certainly remember the 1960's well:  civil rights, a race to the moon, a never-ending war in Asia, and the Beatles.  To others, these are events from the history books.

When I was younger, I knew many people born in the 1800's.  My grandmother was born in 1895.  She told me stories of her parents, born in 1862 and 1867; and of her grandparents, born in the 1840's.  While I didn't know any of my ggrandparents, I know stories about all of them; and in some cases, stories about my gggrandparents.  Only before that, is it strictly from the history books.

From my perspective, my personal history (events experienced by myself or related to me by others) runs from the mid-1850's.  The average birthyear of my gggrandparents was 1829; of my ggrandparents 1858; of my grandparents 1888; of my own parents 1917.  Some of my blogs will be about these people. This may seem strange to some younger people.  It amuses me when I hear people talk about the "good old days", and then find out that they are talking about the 1990's.          

Saturday, August 28, 2010

It's Against the Law to Harbor Another Man's Slave

My ggg grandfather Hosea Powers was born in Vermont in 1805.  He became Surveyor for St. Clair County, Michigan, in 1830, and was admitted to the bar in Michigan in 1832.  He became a medical doctor, married Adeline Maynard, and moved to Missouri in 1839.  As a surveyor, he helped lay out the town of Cole Camp, Missouri.  He was elected state senator in 1844 and served for five years.  He and Adeline had four daughters: Frances, Juliette, Sarah, and my gg grandmother Nancy.

Missouri was a slave state, and although Hosea didn't believe in slavery, he did acquire some.  He told his slaves that they could have their free papers whenever they wanted.  One named Bert took his and left the state.  Hosea's estate records list the slaves as Martha, Mandy, Lu, and Bob.  He had bought Lu at age10 for $250 after her Mother was sold to someone else, who didn't want the young girl.

One day Adeline discovered a young slave woman named Martha hiding in the spring house (built over a spring to keep food cold).  She had been mistreated by her owner, a Methodist preacher, and had run away. She had heard that Hosea Powers was a kind man.  Adeline told her, "It's against the law to harbor another man's slave", but that she would talk to her husband.  Hosea arranged to buy Martha from her owner for $1200, and she became part of the Powers family.

Hosea Powers died in 1856.  Adeline remarried; but died in 1860, leaving her daughters, ages 11 to 18, and a son, Charles Alexander.  Martha looked after the girls during the Civil War, paying the bills, and moved to Osceola, Missouri, in 1865.

In 1866, my gg grandmother Nancy Powers, age 17,  married Robert White, age 22, an itinerant plasterer, recently discharged from the Union Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Robert and Nancy White were married sixty-six years, raised eight children, several foster children, and my grandmother Nina from age 5, after her own mother died of tuberculosis.

It seems strange to write about owning other people, but that's the history of the United States, and of a large percentage of the U. S. population, if they had family there prior to the Civil War.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wal-Mart at Guildford

Wal-Mart came to Canada in 1994, when they purchased Woolco, a dying chain.  In Surrey, they moved into Woolco's Guildford Town Centre Mall location.

It has remained the same size, co-existing with other Guildford Mall anchor stores, Sears and the Bay, for sixteen years.

Newer, much larger Wal-Marts have been built in Langley and at 88th Avenue and 124th Street, Surrey.

But now Wal-Mart is expanding at Guildford.  Soon  it will be twice the size.

North Surrey has not been growing in recent years.  Therefore, the new Wal-Mart must be intended to take business away from other stores in the area.   Depending on what products Wal-Mart intends to add (electronics, major appliances, furniture?), the two other anchor stores and London Drugs could be seriously impacted.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why I Do Bank at TD Canada Trust

A few years ago, I became trustee of two family trusts, which were to be dissolved.  The proceeds were in US dollars, cheques payable either to me as trustee or to the trust.

I took the cheques to Coast Capital Savings in Surrey, where I intended to purchase mutual funds.  However, Coast Capital was unsure whether they could deposit the cheques made out to the trust.  I showed them the trust document, identifying myself as trustee. After several conversations with their legal department, Coast Capital said that they would open an account for me, but only if I had the trust document verified by a lawyer.

Not being inclined to do this and pay a few hundred dollars, I contacted Ellen, their financial planner about the problem.  She said they were doing "due diligence", and that she would check further.  Eventually Ellen said that they couldn't accept the cheques, and further I would have to have the cheques reissued, as no bank in Canada would cash them.

I went to Bank of Nova Scotia, who said they would accept some of the cheques, but not all.

I went to TD Canada Trust.  They opened two trust accounts for me, making me the signing officer on each.  I deposited the cheques.  After the hold period expired (required for foreign cheques), I transferred the funds to my chequing account and closed the trust accounts.  TD Canada Trust was satisfied and so was I.

TD Canada Trust has helped me many times, while some of the other banks couldn't be bothered.  Among  services at TD Canada Trust is "certified signature" service, which is free and allows you generally to avoid the cost of a notary public.  In addition they have excellent online services, allowing you to do most of your banking at home. They have recently expanded into the U. S. and are promoting themselves as "America's Most Convenient Bank".

To be fair to Coast Capital Savings, they gave me a line of credit secured against my home, and waived the legal costs, which can be hundreds of dollars.  But for some services, their staff are under-trained.      

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why I Don't Bank at CIBC

Every once in a while I have a disagreement with a financial institution.  I've learned to accept this as the reality of dealing with imperfect institutions.  Most bank employees try hard, and the issues can be complex.

However, for many years I have not banked at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

The reason began when my employer, the Province of British Columbia, issued B. C. Government bearer bonds to all employees many years ago as part of a contract settlement.  The bonds were for $100 each, redeemable on October 15 and April 15.  The redemption agent, printed on the bonds, was CIBC.

I bought a number of these bonds from co-workers for $98 with a $4 coupon; or $94 without the coupon.

On April 15 I took the bonds to the local CIBC.  They refused to redeem the bonds, telling me that they had arranged with the other banks that the bonds could be redeemed at any of them. I should go to my own bank, although the bonds stated that CIBC was the redemption agent.

I walked up the street to my bank, the Bank of British Columbia, only to be told that the mailbag had left for the day, and they wouldn't redeem the bonds.  The mailbag had gone at 1:30 pm; it was then 2:00 pm.

I returned to CIBC and told them what had happened.  They still refused to redeem the bonds.  They told me that they hadn't made any money on the bonds; and besides Premier Bill Bennett had "made" them issue the bonds.

"Made them?"  Bill Bennett had "made them" issue the bonds, and therefore they wouldn't redeem them?

I told them that they issued the bonds, because they were the "Principal Banker of the Province", and every night all of the government's receipts were deposited into their bank.

Still they refused.

I went home and wrote a letter to the CIBC head office.  A few days later I went downtown to their main branch and picked up a cheque.  But I still don't do business with them.  

Retail Service - Sears

When I was sixteen, I had a summer job working in the boy's clothing department at Fedway Department Store in Bakersfield.  We had a few rules, the first being that no customer was ever to be left alone in the department. If there were no customers requiring service, I was to straighten the displays. 

Every friday, I reviewed my weekly sales with the manager.  I always seemed to sell a little less than the other two clerks, which I assumed to be from my lack of experience. I would try harder.  The bottom line was that I took pride in my job and pride in the store.

Last Monday I went shopping at Sears in Guildford Mall.  I have a long attachment to Sears, being the preferred budget store of my youth (before the arrival of  WalMart,  Zellers, and Canadian Tire).  They had khaki pants on for $39.99 (regular price $70.00).

I was appalled.  The pants display was in total disarray.  They were pulled out, scattered, strewn everywhere. I looked around for a salesperson.  No one in sight.  I walked through the department looking for someone, primarily the manager.  Aside from a young woman at the check-out, keeping time to the beat of the store's music with her head, no one was on duty.

I came to the shoe department.  Shoes and boxes scattered everywhere.  What a mess.  A sign read that shoes were on sale, 30-40% off.  I guessed that the weekend had been busy; but this was 12:30 pm on Monday.  Didn't they expect customers today?

I realized that I could find what I wanted and take it to the check-out.  I thought about it.  But no.  My Fedway training was too much.  I left the store.

It's curious to me what various retailers have as a business strategy.  Many provide excellent, helpful, friendly service.  With others, you are on your own.  But Sears is not Walmart, and their prices are considerably higher.  If they aren't competing on price, then they have to compete on service and quality.  I haven't given up on them, but they need to wake up.   

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Biases

I am creating this blog partly in response to some criticism I've received from my nephew Patrick, who has felt shortchanged that I've treated Facebook as a light social experience, whose function has been to keep contact with friends and relatives, but not as a serious forum for ideas.  He has suggested that I do more to establish an identity for myself.

I do post on Twitter, but it is limited to short entries, and is not intuitively interactive.

My blog, therefore, is about my thinking and experiences, created without regard to the opinions of others, who may comment, but should be aware of my biases.

My thinking is frequently biased in three ways.

First, I'm a liberal.  This means that I'm open to new ideas, not tied to practices of the past when they are in need of change.  This attitude has been shaped by a liberal education and a general belief in  the advancement  of knowledge.

Secondly, I'm a libertarian.  This means that I believe in freedom of thought and expression and am highly suspicious of authoritarianism, whether governmental or religious.

Thirdly, I'm a humanist, which means I believe in reason and man-made solutions to problems and am generally a religious skeptic.

These attitudes have led to some conflict in my life, but I hold them as a matter of choice, and others are free to take different approaches.  I just list them here for guidance.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Good Choices/Bad Choices

At some point I am going to Blog about making good choices in life.  Unfortunately, we have to make many important choices when we are young, before we have the benefit of experience.   I sometimes wish that we had time machines, so that we could fast forward ten years and then look back to see the consequences of our actions.

I write this because one of my Facebook friends was beaten up by her boyfriend yesterday: split lip, bruises.

He's in jail.  She says that he's her life and that she loves him.

Really?  No one beats up someone they love.  This is done by someone with low self-esteem, who gets satisfaction by attacking those weaker than himself.  If he beats her once, he'll beat her again.  He'll hit the children.  He'll abuse the pets.

Even if she's ambivalent, even if he says he's sorry, she should look for someone else.    To stay is to face a life of  fear, low self-esteem, and depression.  Leaving is the good choice; staying is the bad choice.

Fortunately, most of the advice she's getting is to leave.  For her sake, I hope she does. 

Beware the Dental Bill

I received a bill from my dentist for $66.49.  The statement read that my Blue Cross dental plan would only pay for a temporary filling on my lower left molar once per lifetime. 

Being a relatively small amount, I was tempted to pay.  Instead I phoned the dentist's office and inquired.  Are you sure that this isn't covered?  Didn't you check with Blue Cross when you gave me my bill?  They said that the check was only to establish that I had a plan, not to verify specific benefits.

After looking at my plan and not seeing this exclusion, I phoned Blue Cross.  Yes, they had denied the payment, but it was for "Traumatic Pain Control".  I agreed that this wasn't covered (and I hadn't received it), but the dentist's office had said that a temporary filling had been denied.  Blue Cross said they would pay for the filling and thought the dentist's office had used the wrong code in their claim.

I called the dentist's office back and told them they had probably made a mistake in their claim.  They said they had used the code that the dentist had written down on the chart, but that they would check again.

Result: the bill was cancelled.

Lesson: It always pays to inquire.  Question: How often do medical and dental offices make mistakes in their billings?   More alarming:  If the practitioner writes down the wrong code, do we receive the wrong service?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

New Year's Resolution

Last Christmas I received a new bathroom scale.  It showed my weight about three pounds higher than on my old scale, settling that a new year's resolution would be to lose some weight.

I decided on twenty pounds, an amount not being overly ambitious if I stayed with it.  I also decided not to try to lose it all in a hurry, having had previous experience with losing weight rapidly and then seeing it come back on.

The method I used was simply to weigh myself every morning and to record it on a spreadsheet.  This seemed to work.  Last Tuesday, I finally arrived at my goal. (Forget that I've since added two pounds in celebrating.)  I lost ten pounds during January to March; and ten more from April to August (4 1/2 months).

Now I need a new goal.  In the short run, to lose another five pounds to provide a cushion for the fall and Christmas season.  If  I dream of returning to my university days though, I still have a bit of work to do.

At the time I made my resolution, grandson Dave thought he might "bulk up" and add twenty pounds.  If he did, we would be the same weight.  I wonder how he's doing?