Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday Morning Tradition

I like Sunday mornings. There's nothing like eating a leisurely breakfast while reading the newspaper spread out on the table.

The food is the same as ever. Lately, however, the Sunday paper has been falling short of being compelling. With the glut of news available on the web, radio and TV, the paper has become somewhat redundant for getting the hard news. It is still the prime place to go for analysis, local news and quirky stories that don't make it elsewhere.

Without any natural disasters, new political issues, or compelling local sports team action to report, today's paper was pretty humdrum. I got through the whole thing in about 20 minutes. That includes my cursory glance at the advertising.

I know that I am among the rapidly declining population who still read newspapers each day. But this is a habit that I started when I first learned to read the comics, progressed to the sports section, and then finally graduated to consume the whole paper.

For me, reading the paper is tradition. Similar to my family's tradition of passing down interest in baseball, my father read the paper, I read the paper, my son reads the paper, and my oldest grandson has starting reading the sports section and comics.

I'm not at all convinced that this tradition will persist for another generation. It's too bad. Eating while staring at a TV or computer screen just doesn't feel the same.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Kabuki at the Car Dealer

I just bought a new car. It's the first one I've bought in over ten years. The experience hasn't changed very much in all that time.

Perhaps the only difference is that I was a little bit more informed about the pricing and features of the various choices since I was able to get the information on the web. But the actual Kabuki dance at the dealer was pretty much the same.

My wife and I arrived at the lot and the group of salesmen hanging around the entrance checked us out. Somehow they decided whose turn it was to approach us. Then, I asked for the fleet manager. He didn't exist, according to the salesman who had won us.

Then, since we already knew which car we wanted, I looked at the MSRP price sticker and asked him how much the dealer wanted. He responded by asking how much I would offer. I gave him a ridiculously low offer. He asked for a very high price. I said that was too much. He invited us to step into his office where we could wait while he said he would try to convince the manager to lower his price. After a suitable time, the manager entered and announced that since he really wanted us to join their family of extremely happy customers, he would lower the price $500.

I said that was insufficient and that we were too far apart to continue to bargain. I thanked them for their time and we got up and left the dealer showroom. When we got to the sidewalk, the salesman ran after us and pleaded with us to reconsider, saying he really needed the commission. He promised that he would extract a better deal for us if only we would come back inside.

We returned to a good cop/bad cop routine and, after a series of final, final offers from each side, we agreed upon a price. Now, it was off to the finance office to sign paperwork.

By now, the salesman had become our closest friend. The finance guy was just the opposite. Icily detached, he could care less if we ever got the car. He shoved paper after paper in front of us for signatures, briefly explaining what the documents were about when we dared to inquire. His biggest challenge was not falling asleep during the process.

The final steps were actually fun. The car was inspected by a highly qualified technician (so we were told), washed and brought to us. We rode with the salesman to the gas station where he filled the absolutely empty gas tank up to the tune of $85. Then, the salesman explained how to set up all the features and bade us a good day. There's no one on earth who could remember what all the instructions were if they didn't have prior experience with similar electronics.

We drove off, happy but exhausted, in our new car. I wonder what it would be like if all purchases in our lives followed a similar process. The economy would probably grind to a halt.

All in all, it's an interesting ritual.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Money For Nothing

Several weeks ago I wrote about Money. There's a really interesting article in today's' Wall Street Journal describing the situation in Zimbabwe.

They are "enjoying" an inflation rate in excess of one million percent! That's correct. One million percent! Some of the descriptions of hyperinflation make for great reading.

Quoting from the article:

"Robert Mugabe has kept his embattled regime in Zimbabwe afloat on a sea of paper money...

[Robert Mugabe]

Mr. Mugabe's regime relies on a steady supply of the paper -- fortified with watermarks and other antiforgery features -- to print the bank notes that allow it to pay the soldiers and other loyalists who enable him to stay in power. With an annual inflation rate estimated at well over 1 million percent, new notes with ever more zeros need to be printed every few weeks because the older ones lose their worth so quickly...

Zimbabwe's central bank stopped posting inflation figures in January, when it stood at a relatively modest 100,580%. A loaf of bread costs 30 billion Zimbabwean dollars...

Vending machines, which take coins, fell out of service in Zimbabwe years ago. A single soda would require the deposit of billions of coins. Imported from South Africa and in very short supply, a Coke sells on the black market for around 15 billion Zimbabwean dollars."

The lesson is simple. When your government cranks up the money supply, buy wheelbarrows!