by Gilles d'Aymery
"I only know what I believe."
Who said this? (Answer below)
(Swans - December 3, 2007) NO INFLATION INDEED: To follow up on my last Blips regarding the rise in the cost of living in the U.S., whether it's milk, gasoline, wheat and the like, I've tracked back our propane bills since we purchased Swans headquarters in Boonville, California, in October 2003. Two months later, the local company in charge of keeping the propane tank afloat filled it and sent us a bill that translated to $1.62 per gallon. In July 2004 we sold our home in Menlo Park, (San Francisco Bay area), and I moved to Boonville full time. One month later, propane was $1.81 a gallon. By December '05, the local company added a $2.94 "hazard material fee" to our bill. Months and years went by. In November 2007, the cost of propane per gallon had shot up to $2.8745 and the hazard material fee to $5.99. Overall, the cost of propane has increased 77.44 percent in four years and the hazard material fee 103.74 percent in two years. No worries, this is not part of the Consumer Price Index. Food prices explode. Energy prices explode. But since they are not taken into account, inflation does not exist. Watch your wallet, assuming you still have one!
UN-AMERICAN THANKSGIVING: Deplorably, our little household did not feast on turkey and gravy. We had a simple dinner made of steak, potatoes, green beans, lettuce, bread and cheese, and a kiss. Worse, we did not go shopping. Our entire contribution to the consumer spree that sees an average of $800 spent by each American family on Thanksgiving weekend was a mere $19.95. Our venerable Braun Aromaster coffee maker died after having faithfully brewed our morning fix -- the only time we drink coffee, dark and strong -- some 7,100 times in the last 20 years. Crisis was all over the house. No coffee. How shall we survive? Jan rushed to the Web to find a replacement, but the august apparatus was nowhere to be found. Out of stock. Call (or visit) again. Try the newest Braun model for $49.99. It can do so much more for you, like having it set a week in advance to brew your wonderful morning fix at a moment's notice. Try our $99.99 model and it will drive you to Coffee Heaven. Our $199.99 super model will allow the consumer to send and receive e-mail directly from the machine while awaiting its elixir... Okay, I fantasize but certainly do not exaggerate.
LUCKILY MY COMPANION KNEW OF a small repair shop in San Francisco, Universal Electric Service. They had one Aromaster in stock. It was second hand. Someone had bought it and brought it back -- it was too simplistic, the type that made a user insert a #4 filter, fill it with ground coffee, add water, and turn on a button. No Internet or WiFi ready, no e-mail available, or iPod; and, for chrissake, no "coffee experience" that our golfer of fame advertises at $4,000 a pop -- just a $26 simple coffee maker. It was returned, brand new. We got it for $19.95 with a one-year warranty and the additional incentive that we could bring our old one in and they would try to fix it. Guess what? It's fixed!
OUR DEEPEST APOLOGY goes to Americana for not spending money on waste and consumerism that make up 70 percent of our great economy. Indeed, you have to be deeply un-American for refusing to waste in order to grow. But, hold on, we deserve a break, since we are ready, willing, and able to spend more on behalf of our god-given way of life. We are going to purchase a paper trimmer (your donated money at work!). I've been cutting out Swans thank you notes with the help of a ruler and a hand-slider for a couple of years, with varying results. Time to do a better (and simpler) job. By the way, do you know of any other publication that sends a hand-written note to each and every donor? Who knows, when I become famous, these notes will be traded on eBay. Hold on to them tightly!
I FEEL DEEP SORROW FOR FRANCE, le pays de mon enfance, but the object of my commiseration has little to do with the country being stuck in labor disputes and debilitating strikes, or the banlieues engulfed in once again violent riots. My sympathy goes to the CEOs of the CAC40 -- the CAC40 is an index on the French Bourse (stock market), a bit like the DOW on the NY stock market. It represents the 40 biggest French corporations. These French CEOs feel the pain of not only being vilified by the population (they're used to it) but of seeing their financial compensations -- their purchasing power -- regress for the third year in a row. In 2006, this much maligned business aristocracy has seen its revenues (salary, stock options, etc.) decrease by an astounding 8.6%, to an average of 4.4 million Euros, or just about 274 times the minimum French salary. These poor people are suffering and they particularly feel slighted because they see their alter egos in other countries getting ahead with abandon. The cream of the cream in the United Kingdom saw a 45% raise in their remuneration; in Germany, 7.3%; and in the U.S., according to Forbes, our titans of finance and industry raked in 38% more than in 2005 -- undoubtedly, the economy is doing quite fine for some people. Discontent among these French executives has become so strident that they are pondering whether or not to go on strike until the French economy abandons all social contracts with labor and fully joins the neo-liberal American model. Perhaps they ought to threaten their shareholders with the possibility of emigrating en masse to the U.S. so that they can earn their fare share of the pie, which in the land of the apple variety is closer to 400 to 500 times the average salary. Actually, the CEO of Wal*Mart made 900 times the financial compensation of the company's average employee (2005 figure). There must be more than one French dynastic family that looks with envy at the fortune of the Waltons, Wal*Mart's founding family, which is estimated at $90 billion, or just about the entire worth of 120 million Americans -- that is, a single family owns as much as 40 percent of the American population. Me thinks a French CEO strike is long overdue. Imagine having them demonstrating in front of the Elysée Palace with signs reading "Justice et Egalité" and "Ayez Pitié pour les Patrons."
GETTING YOUNGER IN BOONVILLE: The other day I drove down to town to get the mail. There is something funny about mail delivery in the boonies. The USPS does not deliver the mail to our home. We do pay for stamps that supposedly subsidize home delivery. Not here. So we have to get a Post Office Box. Funnier still, we have to pay for the box. Funniest, it's gone from $36 a year to $52. No, no, inflation has not reached our shores. Anyway, here I am in the belly of the P.O. Box beast, checking my mail and the precious financial donations to our quixotic endeavor, when a young, thirty-something woman walks in -- the pretty type. We look at each other. Eyes connect. Hum, nice, I thought. We smile. Next, and out of the blue, pretty woman opens her mouth and asks: "What about having a drink together?" Gee, lady, I felt as saying, I just got married, but could only mutter, "no, not this time, thanks," before rushing out utterly bewildered. I swear "I did not have sex with that woman."
FINANCIAL CENTER OF THE WORLD: Boonville, or in this case Santa Rosa, California, is not New York City, which sadly is not even the capital center of the world any longer, but one would expect that the banking system would be able to handle a check tendered in a foreign currency -- one as benign as the Canadian dollar. Hmm, wrong expectation. I received a contribution from a reader located in Kamploops, British Columbia, in the amount of Canadian $100. As I was depositing it at the Redwood Credit Union (RCU) and had the bad fortune to let the teller know about the currency, he first said he could not accept it. Upon my bewilderment and insistence he went to talk to his boss, a friendly young woman. She wanted to help -- the RCU prides itself in serving the 140,000 Member-Owners of this 57-year-old financial cooperative. Let see what we can do, she said, before going back to her desk and searching her computer for a solution to the conundrum. Fifteen minutes later, she came back to advise me with a big smile that they could take the check in but that it would take possibly several months to have it collected and deposited into Swans' account. Did I want to go ahead? Having little to lose except that the donation will become a 2008 one, I answered positively. Okay, she said, it will take some paperwork. Please be patient. No problem. Another 15 minutes that looked more like half an hour, she came back with the teller, holding a photocopy of the check and a "collection form" letter for me to sign. It read:
Date: November 23, 2007
Member Name: Swans
Check Number: 0102
Dollar Amount: 100.00
Country of Origin: Canada
Type of Currency: Dollar
I understand the above listed check is being sent for collection. I understand that my account will not be credited until Redwood Credit Union (RCU) receives advice of payment of the item. Upon advice of payment, I wish this amount (less any charges by the paying institution, and differences in foreign currency exchanges or any other charge that may be applicable to this collection) to be deposited to:
Account Number: XXXXXXXXXXXX
Share or Loan ID: Share 10
The collection process can take a minimum of 30 days to process.
The fee(s) for processing the collection item are charged by the paying bank, not RCU. Fees can range anywhere from, but not limited to, $25.00 to $125.00.
Member Signature Daytime Phone Number
NOTE TO TELLER: Make sure item is endorsed correctly on the back of the check indicating the Member number and share type to which the item is to be deposited. Make a photocopy of the check and collection letter. Give photocopy of the check and collection letter to the member. Forward the check and signed collection letter to the Research Department to process with Wescorp. Reminder: we have no way to determine the amount of fees or the exact time an item will be paid. Do not misinform the Members. Their account will be credited as soon as we are notified by Wescorp.
Serving Members Since 1950
IT'S QUITE FITTING that RCU was created in 1950 -- a golden year, that of my birth -- but in 57 years they still have no idea how to go about crediting a check made out in a foreign currency, though they certainly have learned a great deal about bureaucratic processes and how to save their asses. The longer the process takes, the better for the transaction: The USD is tanking and the Canadian dollar appreciating. I can only win at the game, depending, of course, on the fee that shall be accessed. Somehow, globalization seems to have left the RCU behind. Amusingly, I asked the teller whether he knew anything about the Euro or the Yuan and his answer was a blind glaze: The what? Euro, Yuan? Never heard of these. What are they? Oh, forget it, have a nice day and a happy holiday. You too, thanks for shopping at the RCU. The United States of A-moron-ica, no less!
ANSWER TO THE QUIZ: If the names of George W. Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad jumped to your mind you may not be wrong -- both may have said something alike and with the same portent -- but you'd be incorrect. The personality who uttered those famous words, "I only know what I believe," is Mr. Bush's former illustrious poodle Anthony Charles Lynton "Tony" Blair who's expected to convert to Catholicism and be received into the Roman Catholic Church before Christmas. (Source: "The Church In England: Downright Un-American," by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The New York Times, November 25, 2007.) Perhaps Poppy Benedict, in full knowledge of Tony's transgression of the 8th Commandment, will send him to purgatory in the Holy Land where the devout man will run marvels. Then, he will recycle into a Trent Lott Washington lobbyist and join Bob Dole in vaunting the merits of Viagra. Iraqis will delight at the perspective and Israelis will gobble more of the coveted land. Let us pray.
GET INTO THE SPIRIT OF THE HOLIDAYS: DON'T BUY ANYTHING!
. . . . .
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.