Archive for December, 2012

End of an ok year

December 27, 2012

I generally post a new blog once a week, and I think of it as an exercise. I used to write letters to friends.  It’s easier this way, and  you can upload photos.

Obviously, I have an opinion about most things.  This is somewhat exacerbated by my  roommate, a foreign national from Japan.  He’s been with me 12 years now.  He says it’s inertia, but there are several reasons he’s still here.  His company, a consulting firm, went out of business, and  even though he has dual Ph.D.s in mechanical engineering and computer science (and is bilingual Japanese/English), he hasn’t found a new job. This is telling, as he says he has the minimum requirements for a job. What does this say about the rest of us….and the global economy?

I have managed to piece jobs together, as I have always done this, but I am afraid I am more sophisticated about the actual economics of the businesses I work for than the owners.  Yes, they are  doing well and managing ok, but one keeps making bad hires and spending money on  what are, at best, break-even propositions. The other actually bought herself a job. I know she loves having the business, but  the physicality of it can easily burn you out.  Both are at the limits of their physical growth.

I had been contracting to a very small company (literally a ‘mom-&-pop’ shop) that   had a small pet shop storefront AND provided dog walking and pet-sitting services. They also  shrunk in this bad economy, and  as the owners are married, had not been communicating or  investing in the business as they should have. It got very stressful, as they managed very  seat-of-the-pants.  I know you have to be flexible when you own a small service business, but giving me  10 minutes notice to work was not working for ME.  Nor was not buying the equipment necessary to provide  grooming services with integrity. After telling them several times, I told them: no more.  I felt bad  and continue to feel bad as they had a lot of potential. They just didn’t respect each other, so could not plan to grow.

Meanwhile,  on the personal front, mortgage interest rates are 2% below what I continue to pay on a loan I have about 5 years left on. I owe about $50,000 on the house.  I am not under water by any means. In fact, I have paid additional principle down (as an alternative to ‘saving’ it & actually losing money.  Paying down a debt at 5% is like saving at  5%—remember that…)The house has over doubled in value since I bought it,but— according to RealtyTrack & Zillow, what was at its peak  worth $600,000 is now worth $238,000.  I actually think it  is probably worth about $50,000 more, as it is a rewired, replumbed 2 flat (a somewhat rare commodity as none are for sale), but the property taxes hover around $600 a month, bringing the  value down.  I am going to stick it out a few more years, but I am afraid I will have to  really explore all the options. There is no chance property taxes will go down. Taxes in Illinois are among the highest in the nation  because of what we allowed out politicians to do to  public employee pension funds  (that is, not contribute actuarially to keep them solvent, and allow double dipping as well)..  In fact, it’s happening in many parts of the country.  The really truly only solution for us barely middle class people is expatriation.

I never thought I’d live to see the day where i could not afford to buy a dog to show, or to show a dog, or  compete in dog performance events. A friend who has been breeding dogs over 50 years, who is an AKC breeder of merit, told me she could no longer afford to show dogs AND pay her property taxes.  I believe the AKC is oblivious.  I really remember when some very working class people living in absolute dumps were showing dogs.  They are gone.

Now, I am actually at the point that I could sell this place, not as profitably as I had hoped, but still do very well, buy a place —gosh, there are so many places;  Michigan, Florida,l Alabama, I am sure I could find others—for under $50,000, and  do ok. just retire, but i cam going to stick it out a few more years here & just be frugal.

My next  blog post—which will be the first for 2013, will be about altruism, and  supporting my values.  I would be interested in  hearing from readers  what they do to conserve and live their values,too. Several people asked me who reads my blog.I get an average of 20 hits a day from people looking for information.  I also have about 20  subscribers.   I will tell you, what  people look for are my blogs on spike collars NOT being training collars, and the George Peter Murdock map of Africa. next  googled subjects are  about how Yelp! reviews have to be taken with a grain of salt, and  my experience working for  corporate pate stores. Also, proud to say, my blog on housebreaking the difficult dog gets a lot of hits.  If I have sparked an idea in just one person’s mind that will lead to them taking an action to making the world a better place, for me, that’s enough.

We need to keep talking about why it’s not a good idea to buy pets at petshops

December 20, 2012

I read int he Dec. 2012 issue of Pet Age magazine that  Point Pleasant , New Jersey  recently adopted a pet sales ban.  I guess  enough  hobbyists, fanciers and  animal shelter people were able to convince their city council that  there are plenty of places to buy pets without  allowing  brokers for commercial livestock breeders to add to the pet overpopulation problem by not screening buyers to make sure they could take care of a pet & understand the responsibility. I mean, if they did that, they would not be able to stay in business!

But, on the ABC-TV   national news last week, they highlighted a new scam that the Nigerians use. They don’t just post on Craigslist:  they actually put up American websites  with photos of puppies, & you either pay by credit card or  send a money order…& they disappear. No puppy ever arrives.  & those sites are still up in spite of the exposure…because my fellow citizens are just plain stupid.

Now, I have friends  who breed dogs and ship puppies, but rarely do they ship any  pup without a referral from someone.  And if you want a show prospect, you REALLY have to know someone!

Now, the irony is, very few people can afford to  breed and show genetically sound dogs anymore.  It’s tragic. The economy has wiped out at least 20% of the middle class. Those were people comfortable enough to partially live on credit  don’t exist. The credit doesn’t exist, and  the other mitigating problems of high property taxes &   unemployment (or, underemployment, where you don’t even get health insurance)  has  eaten expendable income.

We know that some breeds with precariously small gene pools are going to disappear.

Yet, pet shops are still managing to sell  poorly bred, over priced dogs. Thus, we are not making much headway.

I know part of the solution would be for the local clubs to hire webmasters to update their websites, and for them to have more events—especially that benefits  their own breed rescue. It’s short sited to  ignore  the problem. It’s clear that people will pay for  good dogs if they can find them.  It is also clear that people  go to pet stores because they can’t find hobbyists to mentor them along.

How we got a dog park: community organizing for animals: Pawtowattomie Park

December 13, 2012

Due to a fluke of good timing,  infrastructure money availability, and a core of really  smart, committed people in my neighborhood of Rogers park  on the north side of Chicago, we got a dog park.  Let me explain how this  happened….

Our alderman, Joe Moore, in a fit of  generosity (to make up for  Tax Increment Financing fiascos?  not sure), decided to allow us to vote on  how to spend $1,000,000 of infrastructure money.

This money could not be spent on salaries for teachers, or supplies. It had to be spend on infrastructure.

Now, my community’s infrastructure is old.  Our streets constantly need resurfacing, but our community is composed of very interesting people, and among the proposals put forward were community gardens, street art…& the dog park.

We has several months to get this together, so we  first put up a facebook page. and  pooled some money to  print ‘palm cards’  These are  1/4 or an 8.5 x 11 in  sheet of paper (fits in the palm of your hand), and we spread out through out our ward (geographic area of about  2 x 2 miles) & handed cards to anyone we saw walking a dog. We also got  a local architect to do a graphic mock-up of our plan to present to voters. The most important thing we did was to find a host park that had the space and wanted us.  Not every ‘Host Park Manager’ wants dogs in the park. Why?  Dog poo, plain & simple. Dog owners tend to be libertarians.;They think their dog’s poop is organic & not offensive.

We all really wanted a dog park on the lake, but the Mayor at the time, Richie Daley, was not a dog lover, and the mayor appoints the park board. so, we had to compromise. The park district had some land at the north end of the ward, that was underutilized.  Or, rather,  miscreants were hangling out drinking &and doing drugs.  We got the approval of the Host Park Manager, and we got more votes than any other project (including street resurfacing).

Then we had to deal with the Chicago Park District.  With a few minor alterations, they approved our plan, but they told us they needed about $15,000 mo0re. So, we raised it. We had another commun8ity group act as our fiscal agent.   We are now having trouble getting an accounting, as it seems we should have about #$5-8,000 left, but we have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get an accounting.  No joke. this is Chicago.

While some people are disappointed that we didn’t get a lakefront park, and others want a dog park at the south end of the ward, they refuse to ask us how we did this.  Better to reinvent the wheel.

The irony is,  most of the board members don’t use the dog park. Either our dogs are too aggressive towards o0ther dogs, or too shy!  It remains difficult to get active board members, but this is how democracy works:  y9u have to be involved!

Book Review: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell

December 7, 2012

Did you ever read something in a magazine  and think, “Wow!  That was well put.  He really hit the nail on the head,” and  check who wrote  the article?

I had read a New Yorker  article and found Gladwell’s writing compelling.  It  was reading reviews of his other books:  Blink!:  the  Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and The Tipping Point, which got  me interested in Gladwell’s other writing.

I was an anthropology major several decades ago, and  what got me  interested in anthropology was my interest in how people made decisions.  For people who are interested in  marketing, advertising, or social change, you have to read The Tipping Point.

As for Blink!, people often ask me  how I can groom a dog so quickly, or how I can tell  whether a dog is show quality, or if a dog  is  stressed, and , well, you have read Blink! to understand  what dog people know.  Also,  when people tell me they want to learn to groom dogs, but can only learn part time,  I tell them they can’t, and Outliers addresses why that is so.

I picked up Outliers at just the right time.  He has subtitled the book, The Story of Success, but it is much more than that.  It is about  how people learn, and why understanding how they learn, and how they communicate, matters.

His  chapter 6, “Harlan, Kentucky” and chapter 7, “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes”, are absolute must reads for anyone interested in culture and communication.  In fact, I was interested in  doing consulting for  a group that promoted education policy in Africa, and I mentioned to  one of the  group’s employees how socially stratified much of Africa is.  I might have seemed imperialist, but these 2 chapters really address why  educational reform has NOT occurred in Africa.

Now, what’s interesting to me…when I go into a bookstore, sometimes Gladwell’s books are in the business section, sometimes they are under psychology, and sometimes they are under sociology.  They are in print.  He’s easy to read, and he documents  what he writes.

I often tell people that getting a job is a matter of luck, who you know, being in the right place at the right time.  Only sometimes, being better than  anyone else at a particular skill matters.

Gladwell addresses all the factors that lead to success. This book is definitely worth checking out.