Archive for September, 2010

Not a smart businessman

So a few days before my last camping trip, I contacted a recreational vehicle company through email about replacing the canvas in my tent trailer. A sales representative promptly responded with the information I needed. I was very happy until I scrolled down on his email, I saw the following:

Born free in America ? are you sure. The government earns no money
everything it spends is STOLEN from YOU your children and your
grandchildren. Perpetual debt is not freedom it's involuntary servitude.
STOP the madness, we the people surround them stand up for individual
liberty and limited government. Help restore the original pre 1868
constitution, and honesty to our country. You are not free until the dollar
again reads united States Treasury instead of FEDERAL RESERVE NOTE - END the


So this is a blurb that he includes on all his business email correspondences. Well, if you’ve read anything I’ve written, you can guess that I was pretty offended. Not only am I a lefty, but I’m also a government employee, and no, I don’t believe that my salary is stolen money. On the contrary, it’s the law in this country that every child receives a free an appropriate education, and I work extremely hard to achieve that goal.

And yes, I will have a hard time purchasing an $800 canvas from this person. I wonder if he realizes how divisive his comments were. I wonder if he is just so immersed in his Fox News and Rush Limbaugh that he thinks everyone agrees with him. Or maybe he thinks that his customers have no political opinions and that his comments would affect them in a purely educational fashion.

Maybe this person sees government employees and political opponents as enemies and therefore not worthy of tent trailer canvases. It’s possible. Maybe he feels that putting that blurb there will win more customers than it loses. I don’t know. If I were in sales right now, I’d want any paying customer I could find, and I’d try hard not to offend them before they give me their money. Then again, I’m not in business, so what do I know.

I also wonder if this person realizes how dependent his business is on government spending,  and I thought about that quite a bit the following weekend as I drove my RV on the public, government-funded road to the State, government-funded campground.

I know that I would not  continue camping if my only choice were the privately-owned campgrounds which usually sit spitting distance from the freeway and where the sites are cramped together like sardines.  The State campgrounds are in picturesque locations with plenty distance between sites. They are much better maintained than private ones, and they usually cost less. In many cases, the only reason these campgrounds are even possible is because the government, State or Federal, has stepped in and protected the land from development and other more profitable uses. Because they’ve done that, my family can take our RV to these locations, enjoy the experience, and patronize RV companies.

So what do you think? Is this guy a smart businessman?

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I recently sold a dresser to a guy through Craigslist, and upon delivering it realized that my buyer was Ron Heathman from The Super Suckers.  I’m no Super Suckers fan, but I know enough about them to appreciate how cool it was to be standing in this guy’s apartment, talking about music, furniture, coffee and life.  It made me think about how cool Craigslist is, how it brings interesting people together, how it makes great transactions possible, and how it is a picture of the possibilities and perils of a free market. And so I introduce Craigslist Chronicles, a column about interesting things that happen through Craigslist (or ebay, since ebay is basically the same concept but with fees, rules, and less awesome).  My hope is that others will contribute as well, so please start collecting your stories now.

For my maiden voyage I will tell of my stolen bike, and how I got it back.  I woke up one Saturday morning to find my 1960’s Raleigh 10-speed stolen.  It was my fault really because I didn’t lock it.  I figured it wouldn’t be worth stealing.

I initially didn’t grieve the loss too much, since I’d gotten the bike for free, but began to become more and more bothered by the loss as I considered that Jana had the matching she-bike, which was pretty damn cool.  Plus, I didn’t have a bike now, so I was going to have to go buy one.  Plus, that was my bike, and it had my cup holder, my lights, my recently purchased seat, and my son’s child seat attachment.

On Sunday morning I was struck by a thought- if I had stolen a bike, how would I go about selling it?  Put it on Craiglist, probably.  And with that thought I went on Craigslist and typed in “Raleigh bike” and boom, there was my bike, stripped, cleaned-up, and for sale for $80.  Now I ask you dear reader, what would you do if you were in this situation?

I called the number in the ad and left a message: I’m interested in the bike, please call me.  I went to church.  I asked all my friends at church what they would do, and I soon had a posse of about 20 guys who just wanted to the time and place to meet to go take the bike by force.  But what if the thief is a violent man?  Or what if he calls the cops on me?  No, I had to go through legal channels on this.  But how would I prove the bike was mine?  I had not registered it, did not know the serial number, and really didn’t have any pictures.  In the meantime, the guy with my bike had called me back and we had set up a time to meet.  His name was Nicoli, and he was from somewhere in the former Soviet Union.  He sounded like a cool guy.

I called the police and hoped to just convince him it was mine, and show him Jana’s matching bike, and just generally win him over with the Pete Deeble charm offensive.  That didn’t work, but the cop agreed to look at some photos on my computer, and we found one of Luke sitting on the bike.  The picture was really just of Luke, but you could make out one small part of the bike- the stem that supports the seat, with a small rust mark across it.  We blew it up, printed it out, and the cop agreed that if I could show him the same mark on the allegedly stolen bike, he would take necessary action.

And so we drove over to Nicoli’s place, near Anaheim and Termino, and the cop and I mapped out our sting operation.  I would approach on foot, ask for a test ride, ride over to the cop who was parked around the corner, and go from there.  The plan went off without a hitch, I showed the rust mark to the officer, and it was on.

Naturally, Nicoli claimed he had not stolen the bike, but had bought it from some other guy.  I would have taken my bike and dropped the whole thing but I wanted my cup holder, lights, child seat attachment and seat (they switched out the seat for some reason).  Nicoli swore he didn’t have those things, but said he’d buy me anything I wanted.  The cop threatened him that I would press charges if he couldn’t produce these things, and before I knew it we were on our way to the place he had bought the bike from.  I rode my newly reclaimed bike, Nicoli rode with the cop.  Soon we were at a dumpy garage near Temple and Anaheim and speaking to an old Asian man who, wouldn’t you know it, had some bikes for sale.

The man denied knowing anything about the bike, then claimed to have gotten it from Salvation Army, then claimed to have bought it from a kid down the street.  Meanwhile I was able to locate my things in his garage.  While the cop had been rather slow to show much interest in my bike up until this point, the prospect of busting a petty crime ring seemed to get him buzzing a little bit, and soon another cop car was on the scene and they were running serial numbers on some of the other bikes for sale.  Soon, I had all of my bike parts except my cup holder.  Neither Nicoli nor the old man seemed to know anything about it, so I told them I’d drop the whole thing if they gave me $20.  Nicoli told the old man that he “owed him big time” and pulled out a $20.  So I had my bike, all my parts, and $20.

I rode my bike home, and the cop dropped by later to deliver some of the parts I couldn’t carry on my bike.  Apparently they weren’t able to make a bust, because none of the bikes were registered.  Nicoli called me and apologized, and told me that if I ever need any bike parts, give him a call.  I told my friend Josh about the incident, and he told me that he knew Nicoli and had gone riding with him before.  Nicoli told me that he bought the bike off the old man for $40.  My guess is that the old man bought the bike off a kid on the street for $20- there’s no possible way he got it from Salvation Army, and I really doubt he personally stole it from my porch.  I think a kid was walking by, saw an unlocked bike, and figured it would be a free ride and maybe a little cash, and he was right.  So think about that: in two days the bike changed hands three times and in the process went from stolen to $80.  That’s a lot of criminal activity for a very minor reward.  For me, it was the ultimate vindication for all the times I’ve had something stolen and thought ‘I’d give anything to find the guy who stole this.’  For one sunny afternoon, I got to see almost everyone involved in the taking of my bike, and I actually got it back.  It was awesome.

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Georgia’s Channel 2 reported recently that an organic farmer in Clarkston is being sued by DeKalb County for having too many vegetables on his property, a violation of zoning laws. The man, Steve Miller, is a landscaper who, according to the report, gives his vegetables to clients and friends and occasionally sells his produce at the local farmers’ market. For fifteen years, Miller has been growing vegetables on his two-acre property. Fifteen years. Which begs the question, how did the county even know he had “too much” in the first place? For fifteen years his farm has remained concealed on his two acres of land. What changed? Why now?

The answer, most likely points to a previous post about a town in Long Island using Google Earth to find zoning violators. More and more local governments are using online aerial photography for assessing fines and generating money for cash strapped local & state budgets. While the privacy concerns were brushed off as laughable then because the story was about rich people problems unlicensed pools in wealthy areas, this story is a little different and cuts right at the heart of our rights to Life and Liberty.


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Sleeper Albums

Sometimes a record just fails to win you over on the first, or second or third listen.  How many listens do you give it before accepting that you just won’t like it?  And once you reach that conclusion, do you sell it back to the store or keep it, in hopes that, at some point in the future, you’re able to appreciate it?  Here, I offer a list of albums that took a long time to take.

The Kinks “Lola vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Pt. 1”

Why I bought it: I bought this album because I heard Yo La Tengo cover a song called “Top of the Pops” off this record.  I didn’t particularly care for the song, but I figured that if Yo La Tengo liked it, I probably could eventually too.  I only gave this album one or two cursory listens before putting it back on the shelf, where it sat for years before I came back around to truly discovering it.

Why it took so long:  I think that, when I bought this album, I was very infatuated with the Kinks as the “You really got me” mod, edgy 60’s pop band.  I had no room in my musical vocabulary for a folksy, ironic Kinks of the 70s.  Maybe I just had too big a gap in my Kinks discography.

Why I tried it again: I had a vague notion that I was missing out on vital music with my limited view of the Kinks as a mod band, and “Something Else by the Kinks” eventually became my bridge.  This album still echos of “You really got me” but gives glimpses of the Kinks to come.  It took a few more album purchases (“Face to Face”, “Village Green Preservation Society”, “Arthur”) for me to finally return to “Lola.”  Once I really began to love Lola I couldn’t understand how I missed it the first time.  Music is just like that sometimes I guess.

Superchunk “No Pocky for Kitty”

Why I bought it: One of my friends whom I worked with at Fingerprints told me it was one of his favorite albums.  He seemed to have really good taste in music, so when I saw this I bought it.  I was in college at the time and had a lot of expendable income.

Why it took so long: I listened to this album for about a week before deciding so decisively that I disliked it that I actually sold it back to the store I had bought it from.  I’m not sure what I disliked so much.  It was more noisy and aggressive than anything I had learned to like at that point (I was still just a couple years out of a heavy hip-hop phase, maybe that’s a factor) and Mac’s (the singer) voice seemed strange and out of place.  Maybe it was a little too close to pop-punk, a genre that I was firmly set against ever enjoying.

Why I tried again: For one, when I sold the album back, the clerk at the store (where I also worked- this was in Colorado) seemed really surprised, and told me this was one of the first punk albums that he really dug.  That planted the seed I guess.  Then some other friends told me how much they loved Superchunk and I told them about my experience.  They recommended “Foolish” and, though it took a while, that album got me over the hump.  When I finally got back around to buying “No Pocky” a second time (and feeling very lame doing so) I was a Superchunk fan, and I instantly loved this album on the second go-around.  As a side note, I almost never sell music back to the music store now, in part because of this experience.

George Harrison “All Things Must Pass”

Why I bought it: My brother Dan bought this album for me for Christmas one year.

Why it took so long: I don’t think I had much interest in it from the start.  George Harrison seemed like a relatively minor part of the Beatles to me, and I wasn’t terribly interested in any other Beatles solo material at the time anyway.  Beyond that, it was three records (six sides), and as such just seemed like way too much work to get into.  I think I listened to a couple of the sides once or twice before putting it on my shelf, figuring that it at least beefed up the appearance of my record collection.

Why I tried again: In a word, family.  No, not to appease my brother, who I’m sure is quite unconcerned about it, but my wife and kids, who keep me on a rather narrow range in terms of what will be tolerated in the house.  This limitation has caused me to reexamine most everything in my record collection that is relatively mellow (relegating all of my punk rock to my classroom where I foist it upon my students).  I pulled this out one day figuring it would be a safe bet for the family, and was really surprised to find that I love this record.  I still haven’t listened to the final two sides more than once or twice, but there are great songs littered all over the first four sides.

U2 “October”

Why I bought it: I think I’ve mentioned this elsewhere on this blog, but this is actually the first album I ever bought.  I was probably about 9 years old and Joshua Tree was huge, and I knew that U2 was somewhat of a Christian band.  So, I bought this on cassette at Wherehouse.  I chose this particular album because I didn’t know anything about music, and I was confused by the fact that I had more than one choice in buying a U2 tape.  I had no idea which album had all the songs on the radio.  So I chose this one because I thought the guys looked cool on the cover (can you blame me?).

Why it took so long: October is decidedly U2’s least accessible album (well, maybe second-most next to Zooropia).  Being 9 years old didn’t help in this regard.  I remember listening to it thinking ‘What’s the big deal with this band?’ and ‘This doesn’t sound very Christian’ (my nine-year-old mind was rather ill-suited for gleaning nuance).  I gave up on this tape pretty quickly and, as I recall, just went back to listening to the radio and/or my brother Dan’s new wave tapes.

Why I tried again:  In junior high I heard “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on KROQ and absolutely adored that song.  A friend of mine loaned me “Under a Blood Red Sky” on cassette and this started my U2 infatuation.  In high school I listened to Joshua Tree for the first time (of course, I knew some of the hits at that point, but had never really listened to the album all the way through) and before long I wanted to own every album in the U2 catalog. I bought “October” on vinyl, but it still didn’t take.  What finally did it was when my friend Matt Clatterbuck referred to it as a great album and specifically said that “Scarlet” was a particularly beautiful song, and that the drums sounded like nails going into Jesus’ hands.  I went home that night and listened to that song and finally understood the genius of “October.”

There are others, but I’m sure that most readers will only indulge so many of these personal tales before losing interest.  So I turn it over to you: which albums/bands/songs took a long time for you to appreciate?

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