Saturday, September 27, 2014

Find Your GGA

You will face many problems in your lifetime, some easily solved and others daunting but none will be quite as fraught with dangerous pitfalls and life altering situations as deciding how much of a gift to give the honoree at an affair.

Now you might be tempted to think this is just going to be a bit of fluff, a way to fill paper or waste time but trust me if you don’t give the right amount you will be marked for life!  You may become a pariah among your peers; an outcast cast out of formerly friendly circles. They will point at you and talk behind your back.  You will lose friends and family members will shun you on holidays.

Okay it may not be that drastic but you get the point.  And to that point let’s breakdown the parameters involved.

Of course there are many different types of affairs but all have one common denominator, the family or families hosting the event have the firm belief that this is the singular most important thing to be happening in the universe on that day and the entire world should take note!  And if you do anything to ruin, mar or even just stain it, well look out.

Now I don’t mean to say that you must be racked with fear and lose several nights worth of sleep over this question but some consternation will arise and it must be met with logical and analytic thought.  You must discuss it carefully with your spouse to be certain you are both on the same page.

And to help you along your way I offer herewith your guide to the age old question, “How much should we give?”

Before I can answer this you must answer a few pertinent questions.
Is the affair a wedding or a Bar/Bas Mitzvah? (Bat Mitzvah for you annoying nouveau Jewish types)

Is it a lesser ‘look at how wonderful my kid is’ affair like a sweet sixteen?

How about a pretentious ‘I want an extra gift’ one like an engagement party or a baby shower or dare I say it, a divorce party?

I will leave the last two up to your discretion and deal only with the first duo on the list.  So for these major parties, the wedding or B-Mitzvah the questions are:

Is it a friend or relative?
Is it a close friend or close relative?
Do you like the relative?
Will your child be having a similar event in the near future?
Did your child have a similar event in the near past?  If so the question becomes nearly moot as you will see a few lines down.
Will you be going to said affair?
How many of you will be going?
Did they invite your kids?
Are you a kid?

And perhaps the single most important question in deciding how much to shell out for this obligation, did anyone having anything to do with this event ever come to a similar event you hosted and did you hopefully keep track of their gift?

Oy, so many questions, so many variables, so little money, I mean time?  What’s a potential guest to do?

For one important piece of the puzzle I turn to my teacher, my hero or rather heroine, my mother may she, well you know.

I still have a loose leaf binder filled not with women as some may own but rather nearly endless lists, lists of gifts. A gift list registry of what every attendee at every milestone event ever paid for or hosted by my parents gave.

Yetta and Seymour didn’t have much but they were such generous kind souls. The cousins gave too little as a group!

I can see how much my parents received when I was born, technically not an affair although many did attend a cutting age event seven days later, ouch!  And rather than gifts you might be tempted to call them tips but please don’t. Again ouch!  I did have my first taste of wine though so it wasn’t a total loss, just a partial small one.

But again this self-help post is more about major parties held at a Temple or catering hall rather than regular birthday parties and such so back to the point.

You will be forever judged by your gift, at least by the recipients.  And lest you think size doesn't matter, when it comes to money nobody walks and trust me everybody talks!

Give too little and you are a cheap so and so.

Give too much you’re a show off, tempting fate’s evil eye, kina hora, poo poo poo

So what is the GGA, ‘The Goldilocks Gift Amount?’

Bonds have always been popular but remember everyone knows a bond is really a way of giving less while seeming to be generous.  It’s a way of saying I have your gift and you can have it in ten or so years.  That’s because a $100 bond only sets you back $50!

‘So that’s it, a bond?  What cheapskates!
It’s still a hundred dollars.
When? When is it a hundred dollars? When he’s married?  And did you see the gown she was wearing?  I bet she only wore it 2 or 3 times.
And that necklace, what a fortune that must have cost!
The necklace was fake!
Fake shmake, those pearls were real.
No they weren’t, none of them matched.
MEN! Suddenly you’re a Polynesian diver? They’re not supposed to match. THAT’S HOW YOU KNOW THEY’RE REAL! Meshuganeh!
Alright, so we’ll give $50.
What are you nuts?  Want to look cheap like them?  They gave $100, we give $100.
But you said…
A bond, a $100 bond!  We have to give a $100 bond also.
SO I have to go to the bank…
Such a hardship.   To save $50 you want to stay home?  Get a bond!’

When it comes to an amount to give that has meaning many choose to go with multiples of Chai, the Jewish symbol of Life.  The numerical value of said symbol is 18 and therefore some may give that or $36, $54 etc.  Of course it may get awkward when the event calls for $200 and you write a well intentioned check for $198. What, it’s eleven times life for crying out loud!

Suppose it’s a wedding and the bride’s family is not from the same city as the groom?  The heads of the two families will then have to fight it out behind the scenes and decide which city wins the event.  Think it’s easy?  Think again.

We recently witnessed a wedding in Seward Alaska near the bride’s family home.  The groom on the other hand had his family fly in FROM BUFFALO, NY!  Of course given the choice between those two places the herd of Buffalo didn't balk too much.  And we all know which side of the nuptial bed will be wearing the pants in that new family!

But if no one can win the geographic tug of war or the soon to be newly-weds have their hearts set on that tropical beach or mid-western farmhouse as their venue of choice you have what’s now commonly known as a “Destination Wedding” on your hands.

This is a particularly interesting event in that it causes no end, or seemingly no end of angst among all involved with the possible exception of the main couple who cannot fathom why everyone wouldn't want to come and join them a mere round trip ticket away from home.  It also generally means that the Machatunem have loads of gelt!  And you are now faced with loads of guilt!

Do you go or not?
Is the destination a place you’d like to visit?
Can you afford the time and expense of the trip?

And remember the costs of getting there, the hotel room or rooms, and the time off from your ever demanding job and subsequent loss of salary cannot be included in or rather deducted from the gift.  Although the aforementioned extras do weigh heavily on your mind and bank account and tend to taint your thoughts as you write the check and stuff it into the envelope possibly wrinkling it just a bit in defiance.  “I hope they notice!”

The hosts know that a destination wedding will cut down on attendance and perhaps they are counting on that to allow them to lower the number of dinners they must guarantee the caterer.  Of course the caterer who was not born yesterday or even seven days ago, ouch, knows this as well and ups his price. This causes the hosts to hope you will up yours as well. The gift I mean.

And that brings us to another consideration all must use, the assumed approximate cost of the affair in question.  You generally want to cover at least the cost of your meal at any event you attend.

If you are being invited to an outdoor affair at some park in the afternoon or a ‘rec room’ in the basement of an apartment building you might be tempted to drop the amount a tad.  After all the family didn't have to pay all that much to set this thing up did they?  So why should I empty my bank account?

But if that’s your modus operandi be careful. You may be invited to the fancy shmancy Waldorf Astoria!  It’s nice to attend such a hoity toity affair but understand the couple will be expecting fair compensation for their parent’s outlay!

And speaking of expectations a subliminal message from the inviter to the invitee on how much they expect you to fork over for your knife and fork use at din-din is that tiny 3 word phrase at the bottom of the invitation – Black Tie Optional.  This is naturally to be translated as Black Tie Preferred.
Or worse, you might be hit with the more pretentious and simple, ‘BLACK TIE!’  This one is like blatantly saying “if you have to ask how much to give, YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT! But give it anyway.”

In either case give too little you are cheap but give too much and you are showing off (look how rich we are) and once again tempting fate (poo poo poo.)

Now lest you get the idea this is just about one group of people or one religious denomination let me assure you similar thoughts are agonized over in most others.

In some areas of the world the question might be, ‘is one mule enough or should we give Sister Sara two?’

In medieval times the king or local ruler had a special gift he bestowed upon a bride, every bride, in private.  I wonder if they both had a smoke afterward.

Different ethnic groups today have different ideas about gifts for these events. Some routinely give actual physical gifts they feel will be needed in future life.  For example some may bring a toaster or food processor to a wedding.  The hosts are aware of this and even set up gift tables to receive these bulky items.  Of course a $100 check could buy a toaster and still have enough cash left over to buy some bread to toast.

A small splinter group of Italians (fictional or otherwise and not generally meant to signify all of them - poo poo poo) made famous on TV shows or films like The Godfather, Scarface or the Sopranos also give cash but in a slightly different denomination than your normal guest.

“Here Don Clendonian I brung you dis envelope what I stuffed with cash from my latest encounter with some locals to help your lovely daughter and her soon to be member a da family business if you get my drift as they start on deir journey trough what will be a beautiful and long life togeda as husband and wife and have many wonaful healthy offspring.  I want you should call on me if dis is not enough or I should do something more for dem or for you in da future.”

Gifts of ten to twenty thousand dollars were not unheard of but anything too small and the gift giver himself might be unheard of again!  Fuggedaboutit!

Again whatever your ethnic or social background is think hard and find YOUR GGA.

Now suppose you are not sure if the venue is a top notch one or the quality of the caterer is unknown beforehand?  Then I suggest the following.

While some people like to send a check and card early so they don’t have to carry it you should not.

My advice is to carry the gift check and card to the affair in an unsealed envelope and carry an extra check made out to the honorees but without an amount written thereon ready to use just in case.

If you don’t get ptomaine poisoning and the band or deejay does not cause your eardrums to explode then seal away and leave in the comforting knowledge that you have done the right thing.
But if you spend your time looking at your watch, visiting the bathroom, and stuffing your ears with tissue paper you will be so happy you carried a replacement check.
And whatever you do don’t forget to remove the first check.  Trust me if you seal the envelope with both in it, both will be cashed.  I know I would!

Whatever decision you make remember yours will only be one of many gifts and their total will not come close to paying for the entire event which has often been likened to buying a new car and driving it off a cliff.  So try to enjoy the affair, after all you paid for the right!

Because finally understand this one universal truth, no matter what you give the recipient will send you that ‘Thank You very much for your generous gift’ card all the while jotting down the amount received in their binder and thinking you could have given more you cheap bastard!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Humans as Fractals

First let me offer a few words about fractals and also this link should my explanation not be to your liking.
Fractals is a word that should be closely associated with the word fractions.
The science of fractals suggests that all things take on a similar look when a fraction of them is viewed closer and closer and closer still.
For example a coastline as viewed from outer space will show many inlets, outlets, craggy points and offer a generally ragged look.  If you were to view just a small portion of the same coastline, say a one tenth fraction you might be surprised to notice the same features as the original view.  A further diminution of the new coastline view will offer another similar view.  Keep moving closer by a factor of ten and you should be rewarded with similar rugged looks all the way down to the molecular level!
In fact if you placed a view of the molecular level alongside that of the original outer space view you might be surprised at their overall similarities.
Fractals also appear in nature in the veins and structure
of a leaf.

But how about human nature?  Can we find fractal similarities in groups of people?
I argue that the same is true about the ins and out-lets of the human animal, at least when viewing financial wealth from a safe and lofty outer space-like perch.
Let's look at the tremendously wealthy, the uber wealthy, the top one tenth of one percent of Americans.
Here you will see a group of people who jockey for position and power versus each other nearly all the time.
They do this almost without realizing it as one might prepare breakfast or pick up a newspaper to read.
And they do so for many reasons not the least of which is sport but also for increased power and more control over their personal environment.
Left alone they will continue to move in the same way constantly looking for more money and more ways to get more money.
What will they do with the increased wealth?
It doesn't matter, it's all part of the game.
These people hardly notice any of the fractals below them. But they should since  without there can be no wealth!
Let's move down the financial fractal chain by an order of ten and view the extremely wealthy or so-called one per-centers.
This group of people will not live long enough to spend half their massive fortunes yet they too jockey for position versus their peers in a never ending struggle to move ahead.
Their constant desire to 'win' also eggs them on for more money and more control of their sheltered environment.
They are somewhat aware of the group above them but pay them less heed than the group just below as those are to be shunned and feared as social climbing wannabes.
In their own circles or rather bubbles they act very much like the obscenely wealthy only a bit less so.
Still they have problems that keep them up at night such as, 'How can we afford to buy a second yacht and next to which home would we moor it?'
Take the next move down the food chain with another fractal drop of ten percent and view now the upper middle class, the nouveau riche, the 'well to do' working class.
This group has made it, as far as they are concerned but nevertheless still maneuver and think and plan on getting further ahead.  They include groups such as snowbirds, who have a home up north perhaps at a ski resort and a winter home in Florida or some other warm clime.
They are the ones usually thought of when using the phrase keeping up with the Joneses.  They would love to move up but they too are more aware of the groups below and sometimes feel it is their duty to keep the division and distinction alive lest others move into their neighborhood.
You all know the ones they mean!  Better sell now before it's too late.
And the next leap, or rather drop of ten percent brings us into the heart of America, the bulk of the working class, the steady sturdy middle class.
This former backbone of the country now finds itself being used as fodder by the groups above.
It is the largest populated group in all of fractal land.
If the upper fractals can take just ten dollars from each of the people in this group it would add up to massive amounts for them.  And surely no one would miss ten dollars a year, would they?
The inhabitants of this middle class fractal are also constantly jockeying for position with regards to their friendly fractal neighbors.
They realize how close they are to being dropped down a fractal and have recently all but given up on hopes of rising up and out.  With them it's all about keeping the tide from flooding their coastline and sending them into ruin.
And this brings us to the lowest fractal of all, the molecular level if you will of feared financial fractal-dom, the poor. They are also known as the needy, the indigent, the homeless.
This group with the least is feared the most by all fractals above it.
Yet they too only wish to make their environs livable and jockey, albeit at a much slower pace for morsels and pennies to help them eat and survive.
There will be scuffles in this group since human nature exists in all of us.
They must get ahead of others to survive another day.
And just like the creatures on the sand of an ocean beach who may never see the big picture their universe consists of the immediate.
Many fight over a few square feet of a sidewalk living space or a cardboard box in which to sleep.  Some covet a well trafficked street corner from which to beg for donations from higher fractal passers by.
They go mostly unnoticed by society.
Every fractal above this group uses them to some degree to stoke the fires of fear and promote the 'there but for the grace of God' feeling they hear or preach to others.
Each group has a NIMBY attitude toward the lesser fractals.
But we are all basically the same with the major difference merely being the size of our bank account or the lack thereof.
And just as the coastline viewed from outer space knows nothing of it's molecular sized fractal the top financial fractal group of Americans spends little or no time thinking of the homeless.
Yet once again remember that without the lower groups these people would not have their cushy lifestyle or even exist.
A wave crashing onto the coastline cares not for the sands it causes to disappear but perhaps it should.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Republicans Must Not Hold America Hostage Any Longer

According to the Stockholm Syndrome if one is held hostage by an evil person or group long enough the person may start to exhibit protective tendencies of one's captors.  In fact after a while a strange sort of irrational love may even develop.
Once set free the hostage must seek or be afforded psychiatric help to return to a normal productive life.
For the past 6 years America has been held hostage by the Republican Party and too many voters are exhibiting the same mental defect described above.  They are answering polls showing how much they would vote for the same Republican party that blocked any and all progress in America all the while blaming President Obama.
And just like a kidnapper who brainwashes a child into believing his real parents deserted him and do not love him anymore they have convinced their base that the President is not only at fault but not even an America citizen or worse!!
Polls show that Congress has a favor-ability rating less than that of gonorrhea or root canals so why would any sane, rational human being listen to them let alone vote for them again.
Perhaps the answer lies in the question itself and the words sane and rational.
Is it possible that the majority of the Republican base is so consumed with hatred and sublimated racism that they are willing to believe anything bad said about the President to the point of voting against their own best interests?
The answer to that is a resounding yes!
We have seen this happen over and over again and even read about it in a now famous (or should be famous) book by Thomas Frank.
In Florida, that wonderful State that gave us the hanging chads, Kat Harris and appointed a President that did not win the majority of votes we are now witness to a Governor with a terribly low approval rating leading in the polls due to $26 million worth of negative ads about his far better and more deserving opponent.
Generally when a candidate ONLY runs negative ads it's because he has nothing positive to say about himself. That could not be more true than in this race between a generally hated awful Governor Rick Scott and his 'for the people' foe Charlie Crist.
Neither man is a saint but then they are both politicians.
However when push comes to shove Mr. Scott is awful and deserves to be shown the door as soon as possible!
And speaking of awful, in Kentucky it is quite possible that another member of the hostage takers may hold his seat in Congress even though he has said publicly and in private that his entire agenda is to hurt the President and keep America down.
He will stop us from doing anything for at least the next two years and affirmed his affections for the anti-social Koch brothers and their bribe money with a treatise of love and promises to help them increase their massive fortune! (If you can sit through the recording of his promises to the Koch billionaires click the link above.)
He aims to block any regulations aimed at reining in business at the expense of the environment and human lives!
And this creature is leading in the polls?
As for the President's foreign policy is it so terrible to think about all the consequences of bombing other countries and starting or entering a war before actually doing so?  Haven't we been there done that already?  And aren't we and the World still paying for the rash ill-advised behavior of the previous war mongering administration?
Who died and made the United States the sheriff at the O K Coral?
If the President can make his case to World leaders and have them join us thus spreading the responsibilities as well as the costs are we not all better off?  Do we wish to send our young men and women into another far off battleground?
We have already been through two World Wars.  If the World cannot come together to squash small factions hell bent on global destruction in the name of some absurd religious belief then shall never have World peace.
Think of what a united Planet Earth could accomplish if testosterone driven machismo, personal greed and religious zealotry could be relegated to an embarrassing footnote in the annals of history.
It may be naive to think this could happen but at least I am not giving in and falling for my abductors!