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Friday, August 28, 2020

50 Shades of Elvis

Well, actually more like 8.

File this one under the category of "For no reason other than to just entertain me".

I'm convinced that, when you talk about the late Elvis Presley, it's simply not right to describe him in the singular.  In point of fact, I think there are actually 8 Elvises(1).  Allow me to explain.

Elvis #1:  Growing Up Elvis
This is the Elvis before there was an Elvis.  The blonde Elvis.  The Elvis with the burgeoning and almost un-natural attachment to his momma.  This the Elvis up until he made that initial recording at Sun Records (for, you guessed it, his momma).

Elvis #2:  Initial Fame Elvis
This is the "shaking his hips on national television and causing a commotion" Elvis.  The Elvis when most people think about Elvis.  The "Love me tender..." Elvis.  This is the epitome of all Elvis.

Elvis #3:  Army Elvis
This is Elvis when he joined the United States Army, stationed in Germany.  The Elvis who, while old enough to be in the Army, developed an almost un-natural attachment for a 14-year-old named Priscilla, who would later go on to be his wife " 'cilla".  This is the "your career is over" Elvis.  

Yet, life could not keep an Elvis down.    

Elvis #4:  Movie Elvis
This is the Elvis that made countless crappy movies, where Elvis always played a quasi-heroic outsider type who manages to save the day through elaborately staged 50's-era rock and roll songs.  Having seen a few Elvis movies myself, I defy anyone to binge-watch all of the Elvis movies and come out of the experience with most of their sanity in-tact.

Elvis #5:  '68 Comeback Special Elvis
This is the black leather-clad Elvis who, tired of repeating the same movie over and over again like some endless run of Home Improvement episodes, decided(2) to get back to his roots.

Want more '68 Comeback Special Elvis?  Click HERE

Elvis#6:  Vegas Act Elvis (a.k.a. In The Ghetto Elvis)
This is the "okay, I am a singer again, so now what?" Elvis.  The Elvis who wasn't capable of being a contemporary of artists such as The Beatles.  The Elvis who apparently discovered plus-sized rhinestone jumpsuits and had a flair for belts only slightly smaller than your average World Wrestling Federation champtionship belt.  The Elvis who fancied himself a gun-tot'n real G-man and developed an unnatural affinity for, of all people, Richard Nixon.

("Nilvis" from Wikipedia)

This is also the "In the Ghetto" Elvis.  Seriously, listen to the song.  This song should be an auditory aid when teaching the concept of insincerity to junior high school students.

Elvis#7:  Dead on the Throne Elvis
This is the Elvis who died on the toilet at age 42.  The Elvis who technically suffered from cardiac arrest as a cause of death, but given the circumstances, including his insatiable appetite for certain drugs, it's not much of a stretch to come to the conclusion that Elvis actually died from chronic constipation(3).  That's a crappy way to die(4)

More on the death of Elvis, all be it a sanitized version, can be found HERE.

Elvis#8:  Revisionist History Elvis
This is the Elvis of Graceland.  The Elvis of countless impersonators.  The Elvis of legend and lore.  The Elvis that didn't have an unnatural affinity for his momma, didn't date a minor, didn't have Col. Tom Parker strong-arm songwriting credits away from actual song-wrinters(5) and wasn't the demanding customer of proto-Dr.Feelgood drug-dealer Doctor Nicky(6)

A final note of sorts:  
I don't dislike Elvis.  I really don't.  I grew up listening to some of his music, and as noted above, I've seen far too many Elvis movies (a.k.a. Elvis#4) in my life.  I'll also note that, when you look at what this guy packed into a life of 42 years, well, it's nothing short of truly amazing.  

However (and you knew there was a "however" coming), the notion of what Elvis represents does bother me.  This includes what's already been mentioned in this posting plus his cultural appropriation (and sanitization) of The Blues and the willful ignorance of those who admire him.  Yes, I know we are all flawed as human beings, but if you are going to stake your livelihood on being such a public person, you had better be prepared for the accompanying scrutiny.  When you look at the life of Elvis, well, it's actually not always such a pretty picture.

Thank You.  

Thank You Very Much.

* * * * * *

(1) The correct plural of "Elvis" is "Elvises", not "Elvii, although I will note that "Elvii" would sound much better.  Citation HERE.

(2) When using a phrase like "Elvis decided..." it's important to remember that, outside of say dating a 14-year-old while an adult, Elvis didn't make a ton of actual decisions himself.  The man behind the curtain was his manager/svengali, "Colonel" Tom Parker.  More on "The Colonel" can be found HERE.

(3) Modern medicine is a great thing.  While many medications provide a tremendous service to us, some work, in part, by disrupting the connections between nerves and your brain.  A side effect though is that they also disrupt some of the nerve signals in your digestive system, resulting in, among other things, chronic and debilitating constipation.

(4) With apologies for the bad pun, but come on, this is a posting about Elvis Presley for Pete's sake. Potty humor is to be expected.  Sh*t, I did it again.

(5) Basicly, Elivs' manager would force songwriters to give Elvis partial songwriting credit in exchange for recording their music.  Citation HERE.

(6) Dr. Nicky refers to the real-life doctor George C. Nichopoulos, who effectively was the Official Elvis Dope-Dealer.  "DrFeelgood" refers to a terrific song by Motley Crue (see hyperlink).

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

It's Not A Pension Plan

Just a quick clarification for the masses.  

Often times, when politicians (in particular) want to paint a rosy picture of the economy, they will point to the stock market and talk about employee's "401(k) Pension Plans" increasing in value.  Well call me a stickler for details, call me a cynic, and call me someone with many years working in the retirement plan business.  Just don't feed me that particular line, as it's simply not true.

The untrue part 401(k) Plans are not "Pension" plans.  Technically, they are considered "cash or deferral arrangements" according to the Internal Revenue Code.  This means that they do not provide any guarantee of benefits of any sort; employees basically just get out of it what they put in, plus any employer contributions (which are not mandated), plus any investment gains.  Or minus any investment losses.  These contributions and investment results, if positive, are tax deferred until a later date.  Basically, the employee bears all of the risks.

The above means that if an employee doesn't voluntarily put away enough money, well, technically speaking, they are "screwed".

A true part 401(k) Plans were never intended to be replacements for actual pension plans.  By way of definition, a true pension plan is one where an employee would work for "X" years and get a lifetime monthly payment, for example, of "Y dollars", based on their pay and years of service.   Basically, under a pension, the employer bears all of the risks. 

The vast majority of companies in the United States no longer offer true pension plans.  Most do offer 401(k) plans.

So how did we get into this pickle?  Call it another victim of an ever-increasing desire to reduce corporate expenses.  Basically, the tax code makes having a true pension plan unfavorable for all but a very small number of employers.  The details of why that is the case are out of scope for a blog posting, but if you want to read more, click on THIS LINK from for more information.

A bottom line of sorts:  If you work for an employer with a true pension plan, well, that is terrific.  If you don't, and the employer offers a 401(k) (or 403b or 457) plan, then by all means participate and contribute as much as you possibly can.  Also, because these plans rely on you to make investment decisions, take advantage of any professional advice offered by your employer or your own financial advisor.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Conditioning the Air

I've probably mentioned once or twice over the years that I grew up poor.  Now not "we ate lard sandwiches and had holes in our shoes" poor, but definitely on the lower end of the economic scale.  This was something I was painfully aware of as a kid, where "painfully aware of" means that I was ashamed of it.  Now I could go down a rabbit hole on that one, and maybe I will one day, but for now, the thing that spurred this whole thought in my head was air conditioning.

As a side note, according to the United States government (via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), July 2020 was the warmest month ever.  Reference HERE.  As in the warmest, on average, for the entire planet.  Having spent July 2020 doing a lot of work outside (I have some free time; see HERE), this fact does not surprise me one iota.  

Anyway, growing up my single-parent mother worked the night shift.  Trying to sleep during the day is tough; trying to sleep during the day when it's hotter than Daisy Fuentes, circa 1988, is nearly impossible.  The solution for my mother was a set of dark curtains and, during the summer, an actual window air conditioner (I'm going to say AC from now on, as I'm already tired of spelling out "air conditioning").  That was a luxury which was more or less a necessity for her.  The rest of us lived in a completely un-air-conditioned environment.  Granted that this was the 1970's and very early 1980's, but it was still hot in June, July & August while living in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  

We survived.

Now I'm not going to turn this into a "kids today are soft..." kind of rant, because this isn't about kids.  While the cost of air conditioners has gone down dramatically since I was young, your average 10-year-old in 2020 probably still doesn't have the means to buy their own AC unit.  The extent to which I think AC is over-used these days, well, that's squarely on the shoulders of the adults in the world.

These days, our home as two ductless and two window AC units.  My office, from which all of this spew originates, is not a room where we use AC.  That's on purpose, by the way.  While getting hot and sweaty isn't on my short-list of fun things to do, I just don't like being in a room with AC for an extended period of time.  To me, fresh air, even if it is on the hot side, is far better than the alternative.  I do have a pedestal fan running in the office now, but I'd like to think that is just moving around the fresh air, as opposed to "conditioning" it.  One of the ductless AC units is in our bedroom, and we do use it if the night is going to be on the warm side.  This is in part because of the fact that I have, for my entire life, been engaged a running cold war (no pun intended) with sleep, so there's no sense in handing the "can't sleep" side some extra ammunition.  

Back to the point at hand.  Maybe I truly am the crazy one, but I look at almost hermetically sealed homes with a bit of disbelief.  Windows are truly fine and functional, and there are few things better than a summer breeze and the smell of nature in the air.  The improvement of simply making it cooler inside seems like it comes at just too high of a cost when you chronically miss those things.

By the way, next year's breezes here should include the smell of the honeysuckle I planted and have been dutifully caring for since April.  

Free advice:  Open your windows and actually smell the fresh air.

And wear a mask when you go outside for Pete's sake.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Voting By Mail & Social Media Flamethrowers

You've probably seen this little ditty floating around social media:

Personally, I think it's a great example of the kinds of things foreign agitators are doing in order to sow seeds of doubt in our political system.  The fact that the president has "mail-in vote fraud" as a standard talking point doesn't help either.  

Personally, I think the very idea of comparing voting to shopping is a load of rubbish.  Here's why:
  • Civil Responsibility - I don't have a civic responsibility to go shopping.  I do have a civic responsibility to vote.  In fact, I'd call it a civic obligation.  Comparing voting to shopping is simply ridiculous.
  • Choice - I can get toilet paper at any number of places.  If Walmart happens to be unusually wackadoodle on a particular day, I can go to Walmart light, a.k.a. "nameless __________ Dollar store".  I have no choice come election day.  I have to go to the one and only place where the government says I need to cast my ballot if I am to vote in person.
  • One Day of the Year - I can go shopping at Walmart 7 days a week if I so desire.  In fact, if I go into Walmart and see that it's too crowded, I can simply come back the next day.  No harm is done.  Primary election voting however is only one day during the year.  The powers that be have also seen fit to make it on a work-day for most.  This means that, for many folks, they may not be able to come back to a polling place if it is crowded.  None of us can come back the next day and vote.
  • Health & Safety - Walmart, for example, makes some kind of effort (laughable as it may seem at times) to keep their stores clean and to enforce mask and social distancing rules.  I have no idea though whether local poll and government workers will do the same on election day.  If the enforcement of mask-wearing by local governments is any indicator, we could be in for some trouble come election day at polling places.
The final point is the most important one for me.  I am, generally speaking, a pretty healthy guy, all things considered, & high-milage noted.  However, I did develop asthma in my 40's.  Among other things, this means that on those rare occurrences when I do get a cold (for example...which occurs about once every 18 months or so), I get really sick.  Sick as in I end up having to take steroids for a few weeks.  Trust me when I say that two weeks of feeling greasy and bloated is not all that much fun, but it's better than hospitalization.  What's more, COVID-19 is no Cold, and I'm not about to throw months of being extraordinarily careful about hand-washing, mask-wearing, and avoiding crowds away just because of some Russian troll farm-produced and widely circulated a social media piece.

By all means, vote in person if you are moved to do so.  That's your right, and honestly what's most important here is that you simply do vote.  However, an entire state (Oregon) has been voting by mail for years now without any issues.  In fact, the president himself and, as I understand it, all of the senior members of his administration, have regularly voted by mail without issue.  A mail-in ballot goes through the exact same United States Postal Service channels whether it is an absentee ballot or a mail-in ballot.  

The bottom line is this:  The arguments against voting by mail don't stand up when you think about it logically, which is precisely why these kinds of things are designed by Ivan and his comrades to elicit an emotional response.  I'm voting by mail in the November election because it's simply safer for me to do so and because it is proven to be a secure way for me to exercise my civil obligation.  

Don't be so willing to take social media bait.  

Think about these things logically, not emotionally.  

What we should be passionate about here is encourage everyone we know to vote in November, be it in person or via the mail.