Retro

Junior Fire Marshal hat from The HartfordOne of my biggest fears while my house was insured by the FAIR Plan was that they wouldn’t step up to the plate if I ever needed them.

Sure, the terrible policy they offered me (which I had to accept) barely covered anything to begin with but I just knew, deep down, that if I were to ever file a claim, they’d fight me every step of the way.

Thankfully, the need never materialized and now I’m with a much more reputable insurer.

But does that even matter?

Living in the outskirts of Hartford, Connecticut, the insurance capital of the world, the subject of insurance is in the news pretty often.

The media’s target this week is the insurer for Peanut Corp. of America (yeah, that company in Georgia responsible for the salmonella outbreak); The Hartford.

Though they’re one of the biggest insurers in the United States, a lot of people around the country are unfamiliar with The Hartford. That is, until you jog their memory a little.

Remember those awesome red plastic fire helmets that we all wore as pre-schoolers?

Yeah, those were all courtesy of The Hartford.

Seems their best marketing tool targets folks that are a little too young to use their services…

Anyway, given that there have been a number of deaths attributed to this tainted peanut supply, the lawsuits are sure to roll in.

This is where The Hartford comes in:

The peanut processor at the center of the nation’s deadly salmonella outbreak could be in an even stickier mess because its insurer — The Hartford — has rushed to court to limit what it might have to pay on lawsuits.

Hartford Casualty Insurance Co., part of The Hartford Financial Services Group, is asking a federal court to determine what its responsibility is on three years of policies it issued to Peanut Corp. of America.

The peanut processor makes peanut butter and peanut paste, which is used in baked goods and other foods.

The salmonella bacteria outbreak has sickened about 575 people nationwide, and at least eight have died. Connecticut’s Department of Public Health said nine cases of illness here may be associated with Peanut Corp. products.

The Hartford could be on the hook for up to $31 million in claims under the liability insurance policies at issue if it gets only unfavorable court rulings. It might cost the insurer millions more in legal costs, depending on how the policies were written.

Rather than wait to be sued by its customer, Peanut Corp., The Hartford asked U.S. District Court for western Virginia this week for a declaratory judgment on the policy dispute.

Peanut Corp. could face hundreds of millions of dollars in claims of various kinds, said Bill Marler, a Seattle trial lawyer specializing in food-borne illness lawsuits. Only three suits had been filed by Thursday afternoon on behalf of salmonella victims — two of them by Marler — but more are expected. The peanut company will also face massive claims from businesses for the cost of food recalls and lost profits, he said.

With the company facing all that and a federal criminal investigation, “it does seem a bit like The Hartford is kicking their insured under the bus at a time when they probably need a little support,” Marler said.

Now I can’t claim to know all of the details of their policy, and maybe the Hartford has a good reason for doing this, but the purpose of an insurance policy is to cover your arse if anything goes awry and, in this instance, the insurance company is pro-actively covering their own and trying to dodge their responsibility.

That’s wrong. On a number of levels, in my opinion…

In the unlikely event that something goes horribly wrong, the insurance company is supposed to have your back.

That’s the whole purpose — that’s exactly what insurance is for!?!

Seriously, if the insurance companies are still willing to sell the policies and the customers are still paying their premiums on time, should anything go wrong that’s covered in the policy, it’s the insurer’s responsibility.

What do these companies think people pay the premiums for?

If my house burns down tomorrow or if I’m in another car accident, will my insurance carriers pull this same type of move?

At this point, with news like this, I’m not exactly confident in saying that I’m “actually” covered for anything… even though I pay my premiums every time a bill comes in.

Seems now, maybe, I’m just sending them money for nothing…

Can’t anyone hold up their end of a contract these days?

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B.F.O. ThermostatWhen I was in 10th grade, taking geometry, our teacher took a leave of absence to have hair plugs installed or something.

I’m not kidding.

He left on a Friday with some whispy stuff on top and returned a month later with a scabby, yet fuzzy, scalp. By grade 11, though he wasn’t my teacher anymore, he had a full head of hair.

So, apparently, those Hair Club for Men commercials of the early 1990’s were legit…

Anyway, while our regular teacher was out, the substitute was a fellow that none of us has ever seen before, you know, not one of the usual substitutes that we’d grown used to over the years.

He was young, had a big moustache, he wore a shirt and tie every day, and he had a full head of hair. He even carried a briefcase. Basically, he was a lot different than our regular teacher.

Catherine Zeta-JonesUnder the impression that we’d be doing, well, nothing for an entire month in his class simply because he was a substitute, we didn’t give him a lot of respect.

I know I spent most of my time in that class daydreaming about every girl in our school that even slightly resembled Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Anyway, even through my steamy fog, it wasn’t long before it was blatantly apparent that he had NEVER taught in a classroom before. You could tell he was nervous and the troublemakers in the room were taking full advantage.

This lasted for nearly a week — and then he flipped out.

Gene Wilder as Willy WonkaHe turned into Tom Green. This, of course, was before Tom Green became famous.

He had a little bit of a Willy Wonka vibe too… The Gene Wilder version, NOT the androgynous Johnny Depp version.

John RamboOut of no where, when it was actually quiet in the room and without any provocation, he started doing that “bzzzzzzzz” noise (you know, the thing that happened in every high school classroom whenever there was a substitute teacher) as he loosened his tie and put it around his forehead like Rambo.

A few of the girls started giggling wondering what on earth he was doing.

The troublemakers were annoyed that he was stealing their “bzzzzzzz” joke.

I was confused.

Then he stood on the teachers desk and shouted, “Who wants to learn some geometry!“.

Um, okay? We were less than enthusiastic.

He then jumped off the desk, doing an aerial ski move, I think it’s called a backscratcher, before doing a somersault after the landing.

I remember thinking, “Wow, this dude is crazy… but that was awesome!”

From that moment on, he had our attention, no doubt about it, and he had our attention for the rest of his time subbing for our un-balding teacher.

Anyway, as he plowed through the curriculum, obviously refreshing his geometry memory along the way, he taught us something that I have never forgotten.

Without boring you to death or bringing back long forgotten math nightmares, high school geometry was the class where you had to do proofs.

You know, prove these two triangles are congruent using a side-angle-side argument or whatever.

I don’t remember exactly how it went down, but I do remember it being relatively simple but annoying at the same time.

This teacher, towards the end of his run, drew two triangles at the same time on the chalk board, one with his right hand and one with his left. Comedy in and of itself.

He then dramatically spun around pirouette-style asking if the two triangles were congruent.

(Yes, he was still wearing his tie around his forehead — but only during class. The guy was a nut, I’m telling you…)

The nerds, often so smart that they were stupid, were all busting out their protractors to get started, but he stopped them in their tracks — “No! This is a one line proof.”

Confused, we all wondered if he was serious.

The two triangles up on the board looked more like ovals than anything else, but they also looked pretty darn similar. Maybe he was ambidextrous?

Then, underneath the two tri-ovals, he wrote in big letters, breaking chalk along the way while calling out each letter as he wrote it, “B.F.O.”

What?

Blinding Flash of the Obvious,” he explained.

I never forgot that.

When our real teacher returned, it was like a big inside joke that he wasn’t in on. As if his new scabby scalp wasn’t already enough for us to laugh about?

Anytime you couldn’t figure out how to correctly do a proof on a test, you’d write “B.F.O.” in big letters. It never worked, for obvious reasons, but everyone in the class resorted to it at least once…

Years later, in university, on a chemistry lab that went dismally wrong, I told my lab partner, Derek, about “B.F.O.” and we decided that in our final conclusion on the report, we’d refer to a “BFO” as our reasoning for coming to the conclusion we came to.

Seriously, it was like a 40-page lab report with calculations, diagrams, and things all over the place. The last page, for our conclusion, contained 3 letters.

B.F.O.

The professor’s (or TA’s — we all know the prof’s never actually looked at our lab work) remarks still give us a chuckle to this day — next to our conclusion, they drew a big question mark, then gave us a “B”. Ha!

So, after all of this build-up, how does any of this relate to your heating bill?

Well, I’ll tell you…

Ten Cent DimeYou can read all you want about putting plastic up on your windows, installing draft guards on your exteriors doors, blocking off seldom used rooms in your home, or adding a humidifier, but there’s only one surefire way to lower your heating bill without spending a dime.

Turn the thermostat down.

B.F.O.

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Picked this up off the wire:

Neither “New” nor “Classic,” Coke is simply itself again.

Two decades after adding the “Classic” designation, the Coca-Cola Co. is removing the word from its prominent location on the flagship cola sold in the U.S.

The reason for the label “has all but disappeared,” said Scott Williamson, a company spokesman.

The “Classic” tag line was added in 1985 when the company introduced a formula that consumers called “New Coke.” New Coke never caught on, and it was dropped in 2004.

Well, it’s about time… Sheesh…

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Kash MoneyHave you seen the latest Geico commericals? You know, the ones with that stack of cash with eyes “watching” people?

They’ve been running pretty heavily for a few weeks now… maybe even a month.

Now, as much as I like to hear a Rockwell re-mix, I just don’t get these commercials.

Plain and simple… they suck!

Kinda like Rockwell did.

Really, if you’re old enough to remember the original song, you’ll also remember that the only reason it hit the charts was because of MJ‘s back-up vocal…

Now, Geico’s message has been the same for years. You can save money by switching to them. Their advertising campaigns for the past 5 years or so have been brilliant!

I mean, who would have thought that an auto insurance company could be so successful with a bunch of goofy commercials featuring digitally animated lizards and a trio of cavemen hocking their product/service?

It makes no sense, but even 5-year-olds know that “a 15 minute call could save you 15% or more on your car insurance” and that “it’s so easy, a caveman could do it”.

These commercials actually feature, well, “the money” you could be saving — they’re cutting right to the chase (for once) — but it just doesn’t work.

Weird.

Anyway, the whole ad campaign is worse than Microsoft’s Jerry Seinfeld spot

What do you think?

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Bazooka JoeI’m not usually one to dole out advice on Pants in a Can.

I mean, I’m not certain that any advice that I’d give could be considered sound. I just talk about what I’m doing, what I’ve done, why I’m doing it, and why I’ve done it.

For the most part, it’s worked out pretty well for me.

If you want to mimic the way I successfully got myself out of debt, you know, follow my lead, by all means, go right ahead!

Of course, I write this post a mere three days after offering some real estate advice… Go figure?

Anyway, the Bazooka Joe comic pictured is one that I’ve carried in my wallet since, hmmmm, probably 1999. A kid I used to sit with at hockey games (and was always chewing gum) gave me a piece of gum one night and this was the comic enclosed:

Bazooka Joe Fortune

The comic itself is pretty stupid, as expected, but the fortune at the bottom still makes me smile to this day.

Happy is one who eats not the yellow snow.

Now that’s sound advice.

Maybe it’s that hint of Yoda-ness that strikes me, I dunno, but I wish fortune cookies would have such funny messages.

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18 Week Ultrasound

I guess I’m due for this, right? Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this personal finance blog into a mommy blog — or at least I hope not.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those to a certain degree too, but I’m not sure that it’s something that I have enough of an opinion on to sit down and type something out each day…

That said, of late, it’s as if I’m having trouble keeping up with the personal finance stuff too…

Sigh.

Anyway, here’s the latest picture we received from the doctor last week. It was a different one this time, and no, I wasn’t referred to as a support partner.

This doctor was wise enough to put two-and-two together and correctly identified me as the father.

From there, I kept my eyes glued to the monitor as the little gremlin/Skeletor looking thing flailed all about.

Skeletor -- poorly cropped.Really — at one point I swear I saw Skeletor. I wasn’t even a fan of He-Man, but it was him, I swear, inside my wife!

I wish I had the video to prove it.

Speaking of that, I’m surprised they still give you the little photo printouts when it would probably be just as inexpensive, but with a lot more ‘wow’ factor, to just provide DVD’s of the ultrasound appointments.

For now, though, they just provide the little photos printed on that thin plastic stuff that warps itself silly just from the heat of being printed on. As a pro photographer, that kinda rubs me the wrong way.

Further, every photographer knows or has been taught how to crop a photo. It’s a very important aspect.

Often times, the only difference between a snapshot and an award winning photograph is the crop.

Now, these ultrasound technicians, who in a certain sense are just photographers with a really unique camera, take photos all day, five days a week — you know, you’d think that in training they’d be taught some photography basics.

Now I know, someone out there is going to say, “What is this idiot talking about? They’re not just taking pictures… They’re checking for things…”

I agree, they are checking for things, no question, but each time we’ve been there, they’ve spent quite a bit of time moving that thing around trying to get “cute” — their words, not mine — pictures of the baby followed by typing in a silly caption.

That’s artsy. Not scientific.

What I’m saying is that photography — portrait photography — is a part of their job function.

Would it be too much to ask that when they take this classic ultrasound shot, that they zoom out a bit and show that the kid has some legs?

Little Person from back in the day...  My day...  See?  No legs.Every single ultrasound that I’ve seen makes it look like every baby is destined to look like one of those Fisher Price Little People figures from the 1970’s.

There are never any legs because they crop them out.

Zoom is not your friend.

Make sure you have a clean background and never, never, never crop at the ankles!

If you’re going to crop a person, it’s at the bottom of the ribcage or not at all… That’s right. There’s nothing wrong with zooming *out* so as to capture the entire person.

Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. And yes, the Skeletor photo above is a classic example of a BAD crop. See — he’s chopped at the ankles. Tsk, tsk…

Anyway, it’s a boy.

Names already out of the running include: Clumsy, Handy, Lazy, Vanity, Hefty, Jokey, Baker, and Grouchy.

Gargamel was never even a consideration… As if?

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J.J. Daigneault and Claude Lemieux

It’s been a trying week at work, so I haven’t been posting much. This post will probably disappoint. Hey, just warning you…

I’d guess you’d have to be a hockey fan of the 1980’s and early 1990’s to truly appreciate this photo.

This is 4-time Stanley Cup Winner Claude Lemiuex and he all but retired after the 2002-03 season when no one offered him a contract.

Until last month.

He’s now 43 years old and playing in the minor leagues working towards a comeback.

I’m pretty certain he’s realistic about his prospects, I mean, he’s made millions of dollars as a professional athlete and can’t possibly need the money — but he’s chosen to sign a contract with a team that will having him riding a bus (rather than a chartered plane) to cities like Rochester, Syracuse, Bridgeport, and Norfolk.

Not exactly major league cities.

Not exactly major league accommodations either.

If he reaches the NHL again, and I think he might, this will most certainly be his final season.

There isn’t a lot left in the tank (though he’s skating circles around players half his age), he knows that, but I think he just wants to go out on his own terms — and not be forced out due to his age.

Shaking hands with Lemieux is former NHL defenseman J.J. Daigneault. The two were briefly teammates on the Montreal Canadiens, oh, roughly 18 years ago.

Daigneault is now a coach, he’s in the shirt and tie, while Lemieux is still a player — playing with kids who weren’t even born when these two played together.

Anyway, this just shows how important it is to network. Lemieux undoubtedly used his contacts to get this job and, along the way, I’m sure he’s making new contacts with today’s crop of players.

It isn’t often these days that the old timer isn’t pushed aside — in sports or in the office — in favor of the fresh face.

I’ve seen it firsthand — friends getting blindsided — and I’ve got to admit, it weighs on my mind a bit. Okay…a lot.

But I’d really prefer to leave on my own terms someday.

Claude’s making sure that happens.

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Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas

Often times when I mention it, the response I get is a blank stare.

“Emmet who?”

Emmet Otter.

“Never heard of him…”

End of discussion.

Seems you have to be of a certain age while also having been fortunate enough to have lived in an area where HBO was available in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Yeah, we’re a select bunch, it seems…

It’s sad, really. It’s one of the best Christmas specials ever made and so few have ever even heard of it.

A couple of months ago I read some where that the average 5 year old these days can’t name any of the Muppets — even when shown their pictures?!

Crazy how quickly they became, well, irrelevant.

Replaced by the likes of SpongeBob, Shrek, and well, not that he’s age appropriate, even, Glenn Quagmire.

Giggity – Giggity.

Furthering my disappointment, and confirmation of the Muppetdom’s decline, while down in Florida at some sort of Disney souvenir tourist trap, my wife and I purchased a small Gonzo doll.

At the checkout, my mother thought he was “cute” but had no idea who (or what?) he was. What the hell is Gonzo anyway? I’m not sure that was ever answered…

But seriously, my mom had no recollection of Gonzo. None. And she’s not old enough — not even close — you know, where you’d almost expect people (I used the term loosely) like Gonzo to be forgotten.

Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. The Muppets have been collecting dust for nearly 20 years now — except for a few Miss Piggy cameos in Pizza Hut commercials.

Jim Henson’s death is partially to blame, sure, but so is Disney. They took over the Muppets in 2004 and then shelved them.

So it was a pleasant surprise when, earlier this week, I read in the newspaper that a local opera house was going to be putting on a production of Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas this holiday season.

No. Freakin’. Way.

Seriously.

And this isn’t just some community theatre group putting it together — it’s a real full blown production in a real opera house.

Needless to say, after all of this build-up, we’re going.

In true Muppet fashion, to be like Statler and Waldorf, we selected seats on the balcony to the right of the stage — but unlike them we’ll try to keep out comments to ourselves during the show. Tickets were pricey, a little over $50 each, but that’s to be expected for the opera.

Yeah, that’s right, I just made it sound as if we frequent the opera house.

For the record, we don’t. In fact, I’m not really sure what I should wear. I’m guessing that an airbrushed Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem t-shirt would be frowned upon…

Realistically, though, I think I’ll be a little disappointed, you know, expecting to see an all Muppet performance but having many of them as live action people instead — but hopefully as the show goes on, I’ll be able to “connect” with the new look Emmet.

Photo by Diane Sobolewski.  She's one of my photography idols!

But it’s the music that I’m most looking forward to. You can’t beat a Christmas themed show with a song about barbeque as one of the main features.

And hopefully now I won’t be afraid of the Riverbottom Nightmare Band. Really, even in high school I avoided the metal-heads because of the Riverbottom Nightmare Band…

Anyway, the world premiere musical production of Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas will be running from December 7 through January 4 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. If you’re in the area, and you’re familiar with who Emmet Otter is, you might want to check it out!

Can You Dig It?

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