A Kennel of Irritations

09/10/13

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Whoopi Goldberg says she has so many pet peeves that it is more appropriate to refer to them as a kennel of irritations instead.  I agree.  As I walk around with my head up and eyes open I see a lot of things that astound me and irk me to no end.  Some of these are things that I've never heard people express as irritants.  So I thought I'd expound on them a bit here to see whether I'm just being overly critical or perhaps you agree with me.  Of course I run the risk of pointing out things that didn't bother you before, but will now that I've brought it up.  If so, then I apologize for giving you more things to be upset about.  But maybe, just maybe, you may have been guilty of a behavior I describe without thinking anything ill of it.  If this results in your ceasing such behavior, not only will the world be a better place, but I may have saved you from being shot by someone with a shorter fuse than I have.  If you share my views about some of these irritants, then just knowing that others share these opinions will help to make it more tolerable.  Talking and writing about it is my way of doing something about it.  I say that these are things that prevent our country from being that first class nation everybody wants it to be--with the possible exception of New Jersey.  It's good for a laugh or a cry, at least.  So here goes, in no particular order of irritating importance.

Shopping Carts in the Parking Lot

When you go to the store or shopping mall, aren't you pissed off about shopping carts being left anywhere and everywhere?  It's hard enough finding an available parking space without people using them up by simply leaving their emptied cart in them rather than returning them.  Folks are evidently too lazy to go the extra distance to return the carts even to marked cart islands conveniently distributed throughout the parking lot.  These folks can frequently be seen wearing the workout outfits they wear to the fitness center.  They can drag their fat butts there to do pilates, treadmills, or elliptical runners for hours on end, but it's asking too much for them to push their empty shopping cart 50 feet to the cart island.  Cart abuse negatively affects us all.  Keep in mind that shopping carts and the management of shopping carts represent a significant cost that is simply passed on to the customer.  It's one thing for these rogue carts to be sitting there daring you to park in the spots they occupy.  But I have seen them get up a head of steam and purposely seek out immaculate new cars to dent as if they were completing some baptismal ritual. 

Solution:  If you can find a parking space amongst the loose carts, don't just ignore them.  Take one or two of them with you as you head into the store.  Not only does this help clear the lot of loose carts, but it increases the likelihood that you will have a cart that steers OK and doesn't have Parkinson's disease of the wheel--you know, that fluttering, wobbly wheel that detracts from the shopping experience.  Since I started gathering loose carts, I have occasionally discovered items left in the cart by the lazy so-and-so.  Surprisingly, no one has yet left their kid in the child seat.  I have also taken to offering to take the cart from someone who is in the final stages of unloading their cart.  This not only pre-empts the temptation of cart abandonment, but also increases the possibility that the person might offer to take someone else's cart in the future.  One good turn might beget another.  My hope is that everyone does this.  The world would be bigger and better than Montavani.

Solution:  In many places in Europe, shopping carts are not found in the parking lots because they are all serially chained together in the front of the store.  To obtain a cart to use while shopping, you release the chain by inserting a Euro coin into a little box locking the cart to the one in front of it.  When you are done with the cart, you return it to the chain of carts.  As you reattach the chain connecting it to the cart in front of it, the little box opens and your Euro is returned to you.  Perhaps this would be the best use of the $1 U.S. coins that we hardly use otherwise.  Then again, someone will probably sell some device on eBay that you can use to empty the coins from all the lock boxes.

Male Urinals--Aiming to Please/A Sporting Chance

In the men's restroom at a department store a sign above the urinal reads, "At Acme Dept. Stores, we aim to please.  We would greatly appreciate it if you would aim too, please."  Herein lies one of the things that causes me much puzzlement.  Men spend a large percentage of their life engaged in sports and activities that rely on coordination and accuracy: throwing and hitting a baseball; putting a basketball through a hoop; striking a golf ball into a tiny hole over an undulating green; shooting a small target with a gun or arrow; curving a soccer ball past a goalie and into a net.  Yet without anyone guarding or trying to tackle them, men can't seem to pee competently into a large urinal from only inches away.  Judging from the piddle puddles that commonly surround public urinals, fellows evidently need to be "choking up on the bat" for better control.  Perhaps the rules of the game have not been adequately explained.  Close only counts in horseshoes.  With a batting average or completion percentage so low, the fact that hidden camera surveys show that one out of four men don't wash there hands after using the restroom has got to bother you a lot.  The whole thing is disgusting and seriously threatens the status of indoor plumbing as a beneficial goal of Third World nations.

Solution:  Take advantage of the competitive nature of most men.  Place targets in the urinals and contrive a scoring method that awards more points for greater accuracy and for sustaining that accuracy.  Points earned can be shown on digital displays mounted prominently above the urinal being used.  While mates hitting the head together can compete against each other, high score for the month or year can be shown as objectives to beat.  A step in the right direction is used in Spain.  Some of the urinals there have a very realistic image of a fly sitting near the drain in the urinal.  The idea was that men would have an irresistible urge to aim at the fly to chase it away or possibly drown it, resulting in greater accuracy and less messy bathroom floors.  It's not perfect, but seems to work.  After a couple of years, most guys finally figure out that the fly isn't real.  An ingenious low tech solution nonetheless.  Not bad, huh?

 

Telemarketing Calls

We've all gotten them--calls from telemarketers at dinner time.  I've done everything I can think of to avoid or eliminate them.  I've bought various gadgets ranging from beepers to answering machines to blocking of calls through CallerID information in attempts to combat the automatic telemarketing calls.  I've listed and relisted our phone number on the government "no call" lists.  All this has served to reduce the number of calls, but not eliminate them.  I try not to be rude when answering such calls because 1) it's not in my nature and 2) I know these poor souls are in as much pain trying to earn a buck or two.  However, I have taken to coming up with fabricated stories to ease the pain of refusal for the both of us.  I've been getting some enjoyment out of the responses my fabrications generate.  Click here for a link to a satisfying recording of the tables being turned on a telemarketer.  When I get a call soliciting donations, I will tell the caller that I'm out of work and in desperate need of income myself.  I might even inquire if there is any way that the charity for whom they are calling can possibly help me out.  Most of the time, they hang up before I can finish my sentence.  Only once did someone say how sorry they were for my plight and hoped that things would soon get better.  When a telemarketer calls to tell me that I have won a trip to some resort or timeshare, I give them the story that I can't travel because of a severe medical problem.  They're usually off the line before I can describe the nature of my ailment in greater detail.  One of the better squelches to a telemarketer's call that I heard of was to tell the telemarketer that you are very interested in what they are selling and that you would like to discuss it further another day.  You ask the caller for their home phone number so that you can call THEM at dinner time. 

Solution:  I wish I had one that worked.  Please send me suggestions that have worked for you.

Cellphone Conversations in Public Places

How about the unconscious people who insist on carrying on prolonged conversations on their cellphones in grocery or department stores?  They're talking loud, laughing and gesticulating.  They're completely oblivious to the people around them and don't seem to care that everyone around them can't avoid listening to them.  If they are talking about what they should be getting at the store that's one thing.  But when the conversation is obviously nothing more than a social visit, I get annoyed when it's loud enough to be heard a couple of rows over. 

Solution:  Walk up to the person with a smile.  Ask who's on the line and if you could speak to them.  At that point, the person with the phone will probably tell you to buzz off because it's a private call.  At that point simply say, "You're right.  It is a private call.  So why are you subjecting everyone around to your private call?  Why don't you hang up or take the call outside where it can be private?"  If the person surprises you and hands you the phone to see what you are going to do, take the phone and simply say, "I'm sorry, but your friend is really in a hurry to complete his/her shopping.  I hope you don't mind, but he/she will call you back whenever he/she gets home and puts all these items away."  Press "End", hand the phone back, and say "Thank you."

Young Adults that are Chronically Late

Why is it that so many young adults (and this applies to some older adults as well) are never able to be on time?  I have noticed this not only in many people with whom I have worked, but in some of my own relatives as well.  You set a meeting time for business or dinner and make all the logistical arrangements based on that time.  Invariably, these young 'uns will drag themselves in late with some excuse and apologize for being late.  Soon the apologies become shallow as the behavior is repeated ad nauseum.  More than 50% of success in this world is just showing up--on time.  Yet some people just can't seem to manage something as simple as this.  The thing that boggles my mind is that these same young adults are almost always in a hurry.  Most of the time it is because they are running late.  Consequently they drive like a bat out of hell in order not to be any more late to their next appointment.  Because they are running late they are impatient and abusive with anybody on the road that they have to drive around.  They have watches and clocks on the wall just like anyone else.  Why they can't plan their activities so that they can be more on time is a nagging mystery to me.  I prefer not to think that it is an egocentric thing in which they don't care about others.  Nor do I want to think that they are doing it to make a grand entrance to garner more attention.  You know they can be on time when it matters to them.  You won't catch them arriving late for concerts to which they have paid $100/ticket.  They never get to a theater late because it's such a drag to miss the first part of a show or to locate a seat in the dark after a movie has started.  So it's not some infirmity that prevents them from ever being on time.  It's just that they don't appreciate how important it is to others for everyone to be on time. 

Solution:  Forget about being patient and waiting for them to begin.  All business meetings should start on time.  When an onerous task comes up that nobody is jumping up to assume, save it for assignment to someone who is tardy to the meeting.  The same goes for dining engagements.  If someone is late, start the dinner or order without them and begin the meal.  If that means they will be getting cold food or waiting for their order while others are eating, so be it.  Next time, they should try harder not to be late again.  They should not be inconveniencing others by their inability to be on time.

Litter on the Highway

Why do people insist on tossing their garbage out of their car window while tooling down the highway?  What the hell are they thinking?  Accidental litter blown from hauling trucks is bad enough without people unnecessarily adding to it.  Is there some five-second rule that says that garbage must be thrown out of a moving car within five-seconds of becoming garbage?  What happens?  Does it blow up killing all the occupants of the car?  "Quick.  Open the window and get that crap out of here before it blows.  It's better that it kills someone outside instead of us.  Here, while you're at it, toss out these old gym shoes too.  Surely some homeless person without shoes will appreciate our tossing it.  Oh, yeah.  Toss this ashtray full of cigarette butts with filters too.  It's no problem.  They'll biodegrade in about 50,000 years."  When you see this happening, don't you wonder exactly what happens with trash in their living room as they sit there watching TV, eating snacks and chugging on some beers.  Maybe it's like eating peanuts at a ballgame.  You're supposed to toss the shells on the floor around your seat.  Somebody will come by to vacuum and pick up all your trash once the game is over.  There's only one problem, there isn't someone cleaning up after you on the highway.  Months or years will go by before government services can assemble a road crew of "detainees" to work cleanup on any stretch of highway.  Litter and trash usually collect in areas that cannot be picked up by road cleaning vehicles.  Manual collection is the only way to get rid of most of it.  And there is no way we can manually clean up all the stretches of the highway.  Why do I care?  Because it is not only offensive to the eye, it's offensive to my heart.  It tells me that people don't have pride enough to try to keep our living space clean and orderly.  Furthermore, they don't have any respect for the living space of other people.  Trash begets trash.  When you see a lot of litter, it unconsciously legitimizes littering.  And the problem gets worse.  One of the most impressive things about other countries like Japan and Singapore is how clean those countries are.  People can be seen going out each morning to clean the sidewalks and side of buildings as a matter of civic pride. You have more respect for people who care enough to do this.  If they are conscientious about cleanliness they are probably conscientious about other things as well.  So you are more willing to do business with them.  That cleanliness is contagious.  You are hesitant to let anything fall to the ground unretrieved.

Solution:  Fines for littering have not been effective.  You are asking law enforcement officials to attend to a problem that diverts their resources from the more urgent tasks that protect us from immediate harm.  We used to have more public service announcements and campaigns to address littering.  People actually littered less because it was essentially "politically incorrect" to litter.  Littering became the refuge of the few individuals who did it to flaunt authority.  Compared to now, we can live with that.  Another thing I have noticed is that, for some reason, fewer gas stations place convenient trash receptacles by the pumps.  Some of the funds earmarked for cleaning up highways should be directed toward returning trash cans prominently labeled to encourage their use rather than littering the highway.  Hawaii has had significant success in reducing loose trash in the tourist areas by placing public trash cans (they're called "rubbish cans" there) with the word "mahalo (thank you)" on the hinged door.

Ridiculous Salaries for Corporate "Fat Cats"

[I originally wrote this a couple of years ago before we all got swept up in the recent corporate bailouts and the sudden public outrage at executive compensation.]  Are you ever amazed by the huge salaries earned by people who head up perennially failing companies?  In addition to making bad choices about the directions they take their company, they cover up losses (even making them look like profits) until they can sell their stock options at inflated prices.  They frequently suspend or raid company pension funds to secure additional operating capital for their companies.  For all this, the Board of Directors almost always raise executive salaries each year without regard to the company's performance.  There are bonuses tied to performance, but they usually make up only a small portion of the total compensation package.  Executives essentially get their high salaries even when they do a miserable job.  When stock holders' unrest begin to demand answers, the CEO and other top executives always leave their positions under "golden parachutes" that lavish even more money on them just to be rid of them.  Researcher studied 241 CEOs in all, each of whom had ranked for at least one year among the 24 highest-paid corporate leaders.  Of those, 22 percent led companies that died or got taxpayer bailouts after the 2008 financial crash, 8 percent lost their jobs involuntarily and 8 percent led companies that ended up paying sizable fraud-related fines or settlements.  134 remain active CEOs in their companies.  Those that were fired left with an average payment of $47.7 million.  Not too fear, theses folks always land on their feet like cats with other companies willing to start the process over again, often at higher compensation than the position they just left.

Let's look at the compensation being doled out by companies--companies you support by buying their product or services at ever increasing prices.  According to a 2013 report by the Institute for Policy Studies, entitled "Bailed out, Booted, Busted", the pay gap between large CEOs and average American employees has gone from 195 to 1 in 1993 to 354 to 1 in 2012.  In other words, CEOs make as much in one day on the job as the average worker makes all year.  The average worker is making $30 thousand/year.  Compare your income to that.  If you are earning three or four times that much, you've got to figure you're doing pretty darn good by comparison.  So just imagine 354 times that!  This is especially amazing when you consider that the CEO really has nothing at risk.  It's not like an owner who has invested his/her own capital to establish a business.  In Europe where the Euro has steadily increased in value against US dollar, CEO compensation is only 25 times that of the average worker.  What's wrong with this picture?  The word is "inequity".

If you think general CEO compensation is out of line, let's look at the executive salaries in investment firms.  The top 20 equity and hedge fund managers earned an average of $657.5 million last year--or 22,275 times the average American worker.  Now you know who can afford the ridiculous prices in Manhattan. 

I don't begrudge anyone who generates profits, or goods and services commensurate with such compensation.  But again, these are people who are risking very little of their own and more often then not are doing very poor jobs of running their companies.  Why do I care about these few people out of a country of over 300 million?  Well, because there is an infrastructure in place to support this phenomenon.  The salary structure is such that salaries at each level down from the CEO is a decreasing proportion.  This continues all the way down to that of the average worker at $30,000/yr.  Now consider the total cost of that infrastructure.  And how do you suppose that cost is met?  Right, it is done by increasing the cost of the products or services the company markets.  Since all competing companies employ the same practice of overpaying their executives, the capitalistic market never comes into play. 

I suppose we can boycott product and services from specific companies, but with mergers, conglomerates, monopolies (like utilities and cable service) it is very difficult to determine how one should do that.  And there are some things you just can't do without--like electricity, water, and toilet paper.  About the only thing that can be done is to hope that the downturn in the economy necessitates a broad change in policy for executive compensation and the salary infrastructure beneath them. 

Raising Prices to Generate more Revenue for a Sagging Business

When the demand for a company's goods and services decreases, revenue decreases.  The company must determine when revenue is insufficient to provide  a reasonable profit for the effort of providing those goods and service.  There are three major options for the company.  They may reduce their costs, increase the demand for the goods and services, or increase the price.  Increasing price is the simplest action.  But it will only work if it doesn't result in a reduction in the demand.

This is not deep economic theory.  Any hot dog vendor on the street knows this.  Yet very few municipal authorities know this.  Every six months or so, I read that the city will have to hike bus and trolley fares because the current ridership does not generate enough income for the city to avoid losing money.  As the fares increase, the number of riders for the existing lines drop over time.  This has happened steadily.  Evidently, the phenomenon is still perplexing to the city transit authority.  They keep holding on to their strategy thinking that the cost of gasoline or operating a car will eventually force more people to switch to public transit.  Every now and then the transit company will have free or low fare days to briefly entice people to try public transit.  The thought was this might convince more people to try public transportation rather than drive.  The fact that ridership skyrockets during those trial days has not convinced them that perhaps lowering fares is a better way to encourage more ridership, hence generate greater revenue.  By the way, there are many communities around the world that have very effective public transportation systems.  They are frequently predicated on the assumption that public transportation systems shouldn't expect to operate at a profit and should be subsidized as are libraries and fire stations. 

A similar thing occurred during a drought and energy shortage a couple of years ago.  Vigorous programs and public service announcements encouraged everyone to conserve water and reduce electrical consumption.  As a consequence of a successful campaign, the utilities saw a large drop in total revenue as people used less water and electricity.  They panicked and argued to the utilities commission that reduced revenues were cutting into the reasonable profits for share holders of the utilities stocks.   They requested and were granted a permanent rate hike.  The utilities commission reasons that it is to the detriment of the community if the utility companies do not make a sufficient profit.  So for their compliance and sacrifice, the public is rewarded with higher utility bills.  As the perceived drought and energy shortage diminish (and some say it was manufactured in the first place) and use returns to normal, the utilities begin reaping even larger revenues and profits.

In the transit situation, a faulty business model is threatening the health of a public transportation system.  In the utilities situation, a faulty business model held by the utilities commission makes the public a hostage of the utilities.  In both cases, you and I lose without any choice.

Creative Ways of Wearing Baseball Caps

Young males have decided that one of the best ways to demonstrate their individualism is to wear a baseball cap in some unconventional manner.  Depending on the group of people you hang out with, the cool way of wearing a cap may be backwards, or to tilted to the side, or completely sideways.  The unconventional manner soon becomes the convention, and they eventually have to do something different again.  Sometimes a pair of sunglasses comes into play as an accoutrement--often being worn upside down on the back of their head as if to provide protection from the glare of the sun while walking backwards.  Hispanic males are fond of letting the sunglasses drop down against the nape of the necks.  It's quite a sight to see half dozen young men walking together, all with their hats cockeyed and their sunglasses aimed backwards in the same manner.  It looks like a jailbreak from a juvenile detention camp for the mentally challenged.

And while I'm on the subject of baseball caps, when did the Charlie Brown look become in vogue for major league players?  Up until recently, the first thing you did with a baseball cap was to make sure the bill of the cap was adequately bowed or curved.  We use to wet the bill of the cap and wrap rubber bands around it and a baseball to achieve just the right curvature to provide maximum blocking of the sun.  That "tunnel" look helped you to focus your attention and to block out peripheral distractions.  That was the theory, at least.  You see golfers accentuating this "tunnel" view when they get down and read the green.  But today's baseball players are now choosing to have the bill of the cap as flat as possible.  We use to consider anyone who had a cap like that an absolute "dork"--like Charlie Brown looks in the cartoon strip.  Last season, I noticed several San Diego Padre players had adopted this goofy look.  Guess what?  They were really terrible players too.  I think it has a lot to do with the caps. 

Drivers Who Constantly Step on their Brakes for No Reason

Ever wonder why we have traffic jams on 70 MPH freeways when there are no accidents or any other visible obstructions?  If everyone drove the minimum of 50 MPH, you'd think that the traffic should move along a little slower, but it should be moving along--not stopped or creeping at 5 MPH or less.  The traffic experts say that the problem stems from a bottleneck or blockage caused by some event.  They often apply the principles of fluid dynamics to study traffic flow.  Once the blockage occurs (usually triggered by a sudden lane change causing someone to brake suddenly to avoid hitting the car changing lanes), it sustains itself by drivers applying their brakes to slow down as they approach the blockage area.  What is interesting is how long this bottleneck is sustained and why.  The problem is exacerbated by the tendency of drivers to apply their brakes as soon as they see brake lights ahead of them.  This is a natural reaction of most drivers who wrongly believe that when driving, you should either be on the accelerator or the brake.  When a lot of people drive this way, then everything slows down to a crawl and you have to stop no matter what.  Watch people as they exit a freeway.  They begin to apply their brakes as soon as they leave the freeway or even before that, even when there are no cars in front of them.  Talk to any mechanic and he will tell you that people go through brake pads at a much higher rate than they should.  Brake repair and replacement is one of the most frequent procedures for an auto garage.  And they vie heavily for that business.

People are either unaware or have forgotten that if they leave a reasonable distance between them and the car in front of them, they can usually slow down sufficiently by simply lifting your foot off the accelerator.  And by doing so, you can avoid triggering an unnecessary braking response of the driver behind you.  When the traffic flows rather than slows down due to unnecessary brake tapping, everyone benefits.  Leaving a sufficient space between you and the car ahead doesn't cause you to traveling any slower.  You are going the same speed, but at a safer distance.  By avoiding your brakes, you automatically increase your gas mileage significantly.  The other day, I was behind what I call a "serial brake tapper".  There were no cars directly in front of him.  He would accelerate until he was traveling 65+ MPH.  At that point, I guess he thought he was traveling to fast.  So he would step on the brake.  And then he would accelerate again, followed by a tap on his brakes.  I was right behind him (at a safe distance) for about 1.5 miles.  During that time we counted that he applied his brakes 22 times while I never touched mine.   Remember, there was never a car in front of him within a 100 yards.  While this was an obvious extreme, it was nonetheless indicative of the driving habits of a vast number of drivers I have observed.  These are probably very nice people, but they really need some drivers ed.

 

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