Sunday, September 17, 2017

Lives of the Rich and Famous


Many of us might admit to a vicarious fascination with the lives of the rich and famous.   Television programs have focussed on this, whether real or fantasy lives.  This article in the National Post by Brandon Presser makes interesting reading.    Are the filthy rich really so different from you or I?   I recently watched The Butler which gave some insight although it's mainly about the era and the racism.

Butlers are not just present in Downton Abby and The White House.    They live and apparently exist to serve you at the Plaza Hotel in New York.  Some requests are mundane:   more ice is frequent.  But, relax,  millionaires and billionaires have some quirks.    Have you ever thought of bathing surrounding by oysters on the shell, sharing the water with you?   The potential pleasure in this ritual has never occurred to me.

Some butlers are asked to perform bizarre tasks.   Unusual food items are  requested:  tarantulas?    A butler must be able to be ever present but rarely seen and certainly not observant of anything that should be private.    If by chance something titillating is viewed, it must never be mentioned or discussed with anyone.   Discretion is all.

When you have everything money can buy, it must be difficult to come up with new desires.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What's Cooking?


I've been reading several books by Michael Pollan and watching some Youtube videos made from his speaking appearances, for example, here, where he discusses how cooking can change your life.  You may have heard of his brief list of food rules:   Eat food ; mostly plants, not too much.   In the video he postulates that the key determinant of the health of an individual is if a person, not a corporation, cooks their meals.   A brave statement, for sure.   I don't recall nutrition being written and talked about so much in previous decades.   When I was setting up my household, collecting recipes and trying to learn to cook, nutrition took a definite back seat to taste.  I remember my mother-in-law giving me a favourite recipe of hers:   a chicken casserole that included both a cup of mayonnaise and a cup of sour cream.   I'm certain it was delicious at the time.

Both the United States and Canada have long had food guides.   These are recent iterations.   It seems important to remember that food industry and agricultural  lobbyists  promote a particular perspective.    The American version comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

  The Canadian government's recommended plate looks very similar with perhaps a slightly smaller portion of  what is termed meat and alternatives and the inclusion of a glass of water.   The other beverage is called milk and alternatives.  The fruits and vegetables (green) are combined  and there is a drop of oil representing fats and oils.


There proliferation of books and videos and even Netflix movies on the topic of our food supply and nutrition habits recommending a change of habits considerably different from either country's recommendations.  Paleo, Low Carb, Intermittent Fasting . . . Once you go down that rabbit hole, you are more likely to start cooking.   That's probably a good thing.

Sunday, September 3, 2017



It seems that quite a few people do not love their work and not just because they are shovelling manure all day, literally or figuratively.   It doesn't help that an onerous commute is required at both ends of the working day for many.   But other factors contribute.   Do you need to be on call all/most times by means of your cell phone or e-mail?   Those things didn't exist twenty-five years ago.   Your weekend was your own. Salaried employees may work long hours without additional renumeration. Two people are laid off and their work is added to yours, often without additional compensation.

Wages/pay rates have been almost stagnant for twenty-five years or more. Many people are earning less, taking into account mandatory deductions from their wages.   Discretionary income has declined and many carry credit card balances which require at least minimum payments.    It's hard to feel motivated to go to work when it is a struggle to pay bills, never mind have a few treats.

Are lay-offs are regular part of your work life?   Some trades seem to have seasonal/unexpected lay-offs on a regular basis.  These can play havoc with your personal life and finances.   Do you work irregular hours or shift work?   Your circadian rhythms have a difficult time with this way of life.   Are you on what is called zero time hours?  This type of work contract does not guarantee you any hours of work at all.   Your employment is at the pleasure of your employer and living life on this kind of knife edge does not make you love your job.

Some aspire to Early Retirement.    This blogger makes it look relatively easy.   His current interviewee became wealthy in two years as an early AirBnb hostess.  Most of us find out about get rich quick schemes long after the early adopters have retired.    There's a whole community out there looking to save twenty-five times their annual frugalized expenses which are then invested  securely.  They are able to safely withdraw four percent a year and live on that pursuing sports, hobbies, travel or generally enjoying life.   Sounds tempting, doesn't it?

Life as  a cubicle worker can make you long for escape. Do you feel like a pencil pusher, or more likely, a keyboarder?   Years ago it was thought that modernization and automation would shorten the work day to four hours.   What happened?  Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian has some thoughts on the topic.

There must be a reason that no one on their death bed wishes they'd spent more time at work.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Being a Celebrity Probably Isn't so Great


There's been a lot written lately, or rather re-written, about Princess Diana and her untimely demise.   In case we had forgotten what happened, the twenty year anniversary of this event is upcoming at the end of the month and it seems to have been decided, probably by the press,  that it is time for a re-visit.   Often in the case of such an unexpected and public death initial press reactions offer some discretion.   The grief is too new, there must some some semblance of respect.

After twenty years the gloves come off.   Old theories and reports are dusted off and new ones are considered.  Anyone who had the remotest connection gets a chance to have their moment of fame or at least a line in the British tabloid newspapers.    At the very least, a tragic event like this serves to prod change.   In the same way that a traffic death at a vehicle intersection leads to the installation of a traffic light or stop sign, the information and details that came out about Diana's life as a member of the Royal family have led to change for the next generation.

It must still be difficult to be someone famous, whether Royal or Hollywood A list star.   Photographers clamour to take your picture and you have to be on guard against scratching your nose or yanking on your underwear in public.   The Duchess of Cambridge must always have a smile ready and never look bored.   You can keep track of her commitments here.  Then there are the blogs and articles that observe and report on the clothes, the children, the activities, the jewellery . . .   You would need to get used to always being watched and on display.

Are there still many young women who dream of being princesses?

Sunday, August 20, 2017


Do you expect special treatment when you travel to foreign countries? Admit it now, it is a little frustrating when the direction and location signs are in a language you are not familiar with or, even worse, in an alphabet that is not the one you know.  

Tourism is the number one industry in the world. Do you feel a little self-satisfied to be contributing to other countries' economies?   London may not need your piddly contribution but other places in the world are very reliant on tourism for jobs and foreign currency.    It is natural to want to feel welcomed, perhaps even a little appreciated.    After all, you have emptied your savings accounts to be here, not to mention endured a lengthy and gruelling flight.  It seems unfortunate that some admission prices are outrageous, not to mention the queues:

The Louvre, Paris

Suzanne Moore writes in the Guardian here that not only do some locations not love and embrace tourists, they downright dislike them, including you and me.    But it must be other people who litter, engage in raucous yelling late at night, and generally behave badly.  Besides, they're just having a little fun; isn't that what vacations are for?   Probably they are only embarrassing themselves and will think better of the photographs when they get home and delete them from the Instagram account without delay.

In the months of July and August especially, traffic can become impossible and tourists driving rental cars down unfamiliar streets might cause frustration and annoyance without intending to.   Rental housing disappears, lost to vacation by-the-night accommodation that nets the landlord considerably more by way of profits.     Parisians have long had the custom of taking their vacation in the month of August, the better to leave the city to visitors.   

Stonehenge had to resort to putting a wooden boardwalk some distance from the ancient stones.   Some tourists wanted to take a piece of history away with them or at least leave their mark.   Some places are considering limiting tourists.  Are any of these on your bucket list?

Altogether, I am pleased I visited many places in Europe twenty-five years ago.   Perhaps I beat the crowds.   

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Don't Take it for Granted!

CTV News

It is easy to take for granted some of the most precious aspects of life.  We would only survive three minutes without air, three days without water and thirty days without food.   More or less.    Even if these commodities are available, we have come to expect a certain quality.   The air should be fresh and unpolluted, the water potable and cold.   As far as food is concerned we expect the government to monitor the safety of anything that is allowed to enter our borders or served to us in restaurants.   We are responsible for our own cooking skills when we eat at home.  To paraphrase Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.   He probably inferred that this society would include the basics listed above.

British Columbia has had a surfeit of forest fires this summer, something that is becoming alarmingly regular.     The seriously reduced air quality, even in areas far removed from the fires, is a reminder of the winds that swirl around our planet on a regular basis.    Some people have difficulty breathing, others find the air stale and smelly, views are substantially diminished and tourists are disappointed.  But nothing can be done.   We are not as omnipotent as we like to think.   Advice is given to stay indoors and avoid exertion.

A hazy skyline is not a natural disaster, but it serves as a reminder to be patient, to be prepared, and to be appreciative when eventually normality returns.   We can spare a thought for those evacuated or made homeless and bear our lesser complaints with good grace.   It wouldn't hurt to treat the planet better then has been our wont in the past hundred years or so.   Gaia may be getting annoyed.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hanging on financially


I was interested to read  The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans in The Atlantic about the prevalence of people who would have great difficulty in finding $400 for an emergency.  Who could live like that?    Emergencies come around regularly, if by that is meant a car repair, painful dental problems or your hot water tank expiring.     Forty-seven percent of Americans surveyed by the Federal Reserve would have to borrow or sell something to find the money.  

The subject. Mr. Neal Gabler,  chose his profession, writing, for love not money.   He's published five books, hundreds of articles and television scripts.   He's won awards and describes a respectable reputation.   Unfortunately, writing has never been a well paying career except for an exalted few.   In addition, as a self-employed person he must engage in the annoying and time-consuming task of chasing payments.   Anyone who works for themselves will know what this is like.   The work has been delivered but a finely tuned dance must be commenced to pry payment loose without offending the payor and cutting off a future supply of work.   

There was good money at times.  Neal Gabler describes years of a solid middle class and even upper middle class income.   I suspect the more prosperous years were in the past, or at least before the internet was well established, with sites like Fiverr providing writers for amounts that would just about buy latte at Starbucks.   When you have to borrow money from your adult children to pay for heat in the winter, there's a particular kind of shame attached.

It may be that Mr. Gabler did not manage his money as well as he might have.   Saving in the years of plenty for the years of want.   Creative types of people don't seem to manage their finances well as a multitude of rock stars who end up destitute have described.  You can meet Mr. Gabler on Youtube here.

Some Americans end up in financial straits because of medical bills.   The Canadian health care system is far from perfect and a middle class person will have to cope with  many expenses considered non-emergency, like glasses or root canals.   But hospital and doctor visits are covered, albeit with payment of a monthly premium of $75 for the middle class individual.

In the past, families managed on one income.   What's changed?   Wages have remained stagnant, good union type jobs with benefits and pensions are a dying breed.   There's so much more to need or at least want.   It's hard to imagine living without a computer and internet connection and many people are attached to their cell phones.  

Gabler is relieved to come out of the shadows and admit his problems.   Sharing doesn't solve his problems but finding out that half the people around him are in the same position offers some solace.