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?