Stuff me in one of these when I go

I’ve had a unique perspective about my own death ever since I took a death and dying course in high school. It’s not a morbid obsession or anything, it’s just always good to have a plan. I’ve always said I don’t want person crying. (C’mon, like more than one would show up anyway! The funeral home would probably have to hire professional mourners.).

Nah, I want people to laugh at me, and about me. I want someone to sing “Amazing Grace” because of the line, “…saved a wretch like me,” and I want people to know that’s why I chose this song. I also want the after party to have a kickin’ DJ and an open bar. Seriously.

I hadn’t put much thought into a casket, though. I figured I’d get the standard silk-lined number made out of some kind of nice hardwood that cost more than any single piece of furniture I ever owned. It probably still will (although, the thought of buying my casket at Costco has crossed my mind).

This is even better, though. What’s better than a casket with a Red Sox logo inside?

Enjoy the video, and if someone wants to put in an order for me, please go ahead. But if you have any wishes for me to be in it soon, well… Don’t count your chickens!

Citibank’s drumming up business

Previously, I posted about CitiGroup’s financial troubles, saying that it was a hallmark of misguided government oversight. After posting, I checked my e-mail and CitiCards had sent me an e-mail with the subject line: “A Great Reason to Use Your Citi Card this Holiday Season.”

It seems the more I use my card, the more likely I am to win “The Chance of a Lifetime” sweepstakes. Wow. So, as I dig myself more and more into high-interest, unsecured debt, I can have a chance to win it all? Well, sign me up!

Look, I, like most Americans, carry a balance on my credit cards. It’s the result of poor budgeting and satisfying wants. It is also, lately anyway, partly the result of $4 per gallon gasoline that ate into my cash-on-hand for things like groceries and utilities. So, now I’m paying interest on food or gasoline I consumed weeks or months ago.

The thing I like about credit cards is that they give me a cushion to fall back on in case my cash runs short. I’ve long held the belief that such a cushion is a necessary evil. However, I’ve moderated that opinion in recent years, and now realize that only a small cushion is necessary. I’m beginning to think that a $1,000 limit on any card is more than enough for me.

My hope for the future

Yet another bank is at the table looking for help from Uncle Sam: CitiGroup. It’s heartbreaking and angering.

As I was watching this segment of the CBS Evening News last night (something that puts me in league with septuagenarians, I know), I started thinking about the deregulation of the banking system. It’s not something I think much about, by the way, but deregulation has been blamed for part of the economic crisis.×3.swf
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My particular thought on this issue isn’t about deregulation so much as it is about oversight. I repeatedly hear the adjective “giant” used to modify these struggling firms: “banking giant,” “insurance giant,” “investment giant,” etc. These companies didn’t just get “giant” on their own. They got “giant” by buying up or merging not-so-much-smaller competitors. The key is that each merger or acquisition came with government approval.

I believe the focus of previous governmental reviews has been on one main issue: anti-trust; the idea that mega-mergers might create a monopoly, or near-monopoly, in certain markets. Usually, the anti-trust issue is skirted by forcing one or both of the firms to divest certain divisions, subsidiaries, or a percentage of branch offices.

That doesn’t address the overall issue of allowing companies to grow so large that their collapse could cripple the economy. That’s where we stand now, and we, the taxpayers, are being asked to rescue these companies.

Of course, this is America, and free-market capitalism reigns. I take no issue with that, but it has been proven over and over that laissez-faire policies only invite greed, abuse, and misuse.

My hope is that the lesson learned by regulators is this: that by allowing companies to grow and grow with only minor concessions of market share can lead us to near disaster, as we are now. Although I’m not advocating breaking up these companies, I believe there should be some kind of operating policy within the regulatory agencies that will insist upon closer scrutiny of mergers and acquisitons for reasons beyond anti-trust issues. I hope that the lesson learned is one of objectivity and sound decision. One can only hope.

Introducing the next world wonder: Dyson

OK, few retail products impress me any more. Like most people, I believe they truly don’t make them like they used to. In terms of longevity, I find that manufacturers are making things cheaper so that they break more easily and force consumers to shell out full price for a new model rather than a few bucks for a small part.

This has been my experience with the vacuums we’ve owned since just before getting married. That was until I met Dyson.

Mostly, we’ve either had a Dirt Devil or a Hoover, and they were, admittedly, at the lower end of the product lines — chosen for their lower prices. I knew we couldn’t expect the 20-year life span of the Electrolux, but 20 months would have been nice. Invariably, within six months of purchase, either Sue or I would find ourselves in the throes of disassembling our vacuum on the living room rug to retrieve a clog of carpet fluff or to replace a drive belt. Ultimately, the vacuum would return disappointing results, and I always wondered if we spent another hundred bucks, would we really see improved performance? It was a gamble we weren’t really inclined to take.

Out of necessity, last fall, I bought a lightweight Dirt Devil for $45. It was the best vacuum I had owned in years, and the thing was basically as a Dust Buster on wheels. It really showed results on the wall-to-wall. I was impressed because it was small and cheap, and it really worked well. It was bagless and used a similar cyclone technology I had seen in Dyson commercials. But I knew it wouldn’t cut it in our new house.

That got me to thinking about the type of vacuum I wanted when we moved into our new house. I wanted a Dyson, but they were so expensive that they seemed almost prohibitive. The thought of living with another chintzy sucker didn’t appeal to me, and I started to consider how much we had spent on vacuums in 5 years. It was probably close to the cost of a Dyson. And, in my research, I found Dyson offered a 5-year warranty. I thought if this thing lasts one day beyond five years, I’ll be happy.

I had this 20 percent off coupon to Bed, Bath and Beyond laying around, so I went and bought the Dyson DC17 Animal. It’s called the animal because it is supposedly designed to pick up pet hair. I saved over $100!

This thing amazes me. Even after having our carpets cleaned before moving in, the family room carpet, though only two years old, was pretty shabby. The cleaning took out the dinginess, but traffic areas were still very visible. The cleaning man told me it was likely the previous owners vacuumed very infrequently. I was sure we were going to have to replace it because it was so bad.

Enter Dyson. I vacuumed the family room, and had to empty the container right away. That’s not because it’s a small bin. The thing can probably hold a gallon of junk. The carpet was just that dirty, even after being professionally cleaned. The second time I vacuumed, the bin was filled halfway, bringing out more dirt, and we weren’t walking on the carpet with shoes!

Today I vacuumed the upstairs for the second time with the Dyson, and I had to empty the bin twice — just like the first time.

Best of all, the carpet pile looks a lot better. The traffic areas don’t look as defined as they once did. And it seems like we won’t have to replace the family room carpet as quickly as I thought.