Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You said we wuz visiting friends!

A "nice ride" turned into another trip to the vet yesterday morning. This old dog is starting to have reservations about getting into cars with humans, especially when they tell you that you're going to visit friends. This time I got jabbed in the back of the neck with a needle that I'm just as glad I didn't see--though I should have suspected the worst when they strapped a big leather muzzle on me and started running on about what a good dog I am. That needle must have been a real doozy, too, cuz M said it contained a microchip  that's now lodged somewhere between my shoulder blades. (Don't be fooled by the "micro" part--it felt as big as a cow chip! Ouch!!)

On the way home I asked M what a microchip is, and he said it's an electronic gizmo that contains information to help people find me if I ever get lost. I said heck, I could have just promised not to get lost and saved him the expense. All he had to do was ask me not to--get lost, that is. But he said getting lost or not getting lost doesn't work that way, since the former is always done by accident.

Later we actually did get to visit some friends, a hound named Daisy and her person, a nice lady named Libby. But we didn't have to drive there, since they live a couple of houses down the street. Daisy's pretty cute and I like her even though she's at least twice my age. Libby says that makes her a cougar, but she still looks like a regular hound to me. I was glad to get to go over to her house. I'm afraid I wasn't at my socializing best, though, because of the lingering stress from being stabbed a few hours before.

We went through Daisy's house and out into the back yard and weren't there five minutes when M and J started grousing at me for whizzing on a coupla dozen bushes and a potted magnolia tree and then taking a big dump out by the fence. Libby said it was okay to leave it there. But noooo--M had to go bag it up and then stand around holding it for the entire rest of the party, complaining the whole time about the smell. (What'd he expect--Chanel Number 2?)

They tried to get me and Daisy to chase some weird looking toy, but we didn't feel much like it, as it was about 98 degrees in the shade. So most of the festivities just involved standing around the water bowl watching M and J and L sweat and listening to them make small talk. At some point Daisy found a patch of bare dirt and started scratching around in it. Then she left it, so I went over and dug it out a little more and then lay down in it. It felt good--nice and cool.

As you might imagine, the paparazzi were out in full force. Okay, that's hyperbole. M took his camera and snapped a few pictures. Here's one of me and ol' Daisy having some water:

Laissez les bons temps rouller!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The only stupid questions are those that aren't asked.

I learn a lot from Mike, especially when we go on our walks. He's usually pretty good about answering my questions. But sometimes if he has a lot on his mind, he tells me that I ask too many and could I please stick a sock in it. This morning's Baby Blues comic strip sort of reminded me of that situation:

By the way, I don't have to ask M that particular question, since I already know what "E.D." means. It stands for "Educating Dogs"--and unless you dislike them, it's not something you "suffer from." It's something you "Enjoy Doing."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pappy . . . Is that you?

I was browsing through dog books on Amazon a while ago and found something downright spooky. For a second I could have sworn I was looking into a magic mirror at myself a hundred years from now. Then I thought maybe it was a picture of my granddaddy, though I never met him. In any case, check this out:

An amazing future likeness to yours truly, don't you think? (M says it also reminds him of an old TV newsman named Walter Cronkite.) The book looks interesting, too, and has a lot of great reviews.

As for its author, Gene Weingarten, M says he's a guy who writes funny stuff for a big city newspaper called The Washington Post. He also writes serious pieces that win him major awards called "Pullet Surprises." I wonder if those involve chickens? I like surprises as long as they aren't scary, which poultry certainly aren't, except for large geese.

M also says that Mr. Weingarten has told his family that when he dies he wants to be buried in Washington's Congressional Cemetery, because they let dogs run free there, and that he wants his tombstone to have only his birth and death dates and to say: "A funny man who loved dogs." Oh, and he wants the stone to be shaped like a fire hydrant!

It didn't surprise me to learn that Mr. Weingarten adopted his own dog, Murphy, from an animal rescue shelter after she'd been abandoned in the woods. Boy, can I relate to that! (Except that I got to skip the shelter part.)

I told M that Mr. Weingarten sounds like my kind of human. And M said, "What's not to like about a guy whose Twitter avatar is a big, steamy pile of dog poop?" I thought, you have got to be kidding, M, but I Googled "Gene Weingarten" and "Twitter" and he's absolutely right. Soft-serve, anyone?

Mr. W, sir, you crack me up!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What the finance?

I'll bet this is what Mike's classroom would have looked like if everyone in it was a dog:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Insurance imitates art.

If you've read my post from yesterday, you know that M isn't exactly the insurance industry's biggest fan. How ironic, then, that I should find this poster in a stash of his souvenirs: a 1991 ad for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company!

M says it's no big deal and not at all out of character for him to have wanted one for his collection. "It's a clever piece of advertising. You don't need to endorse the product or the company to see that."

I have to agree. "You're right--very simple and direct."


"And you know I always like it when famous paintings cross over into the cartoonist's bailiwick."

"That's true, especially when there are dogs involved." He reminds me of my post last month about the painting of the ones sitting around playing poker.

"And notice the slogan down there at the bottom," I say.

"What about it?"

"Everything's so understated. 'GET MET." They could have said 'GET METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE,' but instead it's just 'GET MET.' Pure elegance!"

"Yeah," he says. "Much more effective that way. Poetic, even."

"And the other part," I continue. "'IT PAYS.' Not the much more tiresome if perhaps more truthful 'IT PAYS UNLESS WE CAN THINK OF SOME WAY TO GET OUT OF IT.' That would have been way too wordy, don't you think?"

"Let it go, dog!" he says. "Don't make me regret baring my soul to you."

"L-M-A-O!" I reply.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Econ 101

"What's an insurance company?" I asked Mike on our walk this morning. I'd heard the term now and then through a constant white noise in our house that I believe is called cable TV news.

M knows the answers to lots of questions about business because he spent nearly half his life teaching in a university business school. (When people find out he was a college professor, they often want to know what he taught, and he tells them morons and idiots. But I think he's just jerking their choke-chains. His actual field was economics and his main focus was corporate finance.)

"An insurance company," he informed me, "is a firm that sells you peace of mind by guaranteeing to take a particular kind of risk off of your shoulders for a price."

I gave him my best "Why The Fudge?" face, which told him he needed to simplify. (He says he used to get that look from his students, too.)

"Every so often," he explained, "say every month or three months or year, you pay the company some money. Those payments are called premiums and what they do is buy you a policy. As long as you pay the premiums, you own the policy--unless of course the company decides to cancel it."

"They can do that? They can stop your policy even if you keep giving them your money, right on schedule?"

"Does a stray dog poop in the woods?"

M told me about the time a few years ago when my Cousin Ginger was visiting from Kentucky and crazy old Willis scratched her eye. It took a veterinary ophthalmologist many stitches and cost about $1,400 to repair the damage. When M filed a claim with his homeowners insurance company, they paid a not-very-mind-boggling $500 and a few months later told him his policy would not be renewed.

"But let's not get into that right now," he said. "Let's at least start positive. So the company invests your premiums in a portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other things. Then if something bad happens to you and it's covered in your policy--say you die or get sick or your house burns down or you wreck your motorcycle or maybe you're a doctor and you accidentally amputate the wrong leg and then get your pants sued off--the insurance company, because you are a valued policyholder, is obliged to cover your losses. With some exceptions like Cousin Ginger, this usually amounts to a lot more than the premiums have cost you up to that point--and certainly more than you can afford to pay out of your own pocket. Are we okay so far?" So much for simplifying.

"But that doesn't make sense," I sputtered. "How can the insurance company afford to promise you more than you pay them?"

"Well, they tell you it's because you're pooling your risk with lots of other customers who have the same kind of risk but who don't have losses at the same time as you."

"What if lots of customers do have losses at the same time?" Something in the white TV noise about an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico and some old storm called Katrina told me this was a distinct possibility.

"A good point. For starters, you can always count on the company to deny as many claims as possible," he said. "In fact, that's the big gun in their arsenal. It's their favorite part of the whole insurance business model. While we're on that topic--which is one of my pet peeves--here's a word to the wise: Don't ever confuse having health insurance with having health care. Insurance companies don't make money by paying claims!"

I chewed on that for a moment. "So these companies can get your money and never pay it back, even though they've said they will if the bad thing in the policy happens to you?"

"Not if they can help it."

"Cool," I said, and he sort of scowled at me. "Tell me," I continued, "about this portfolio thingy that they invest your premiums in."

"Back in the old days it was made up mainly of the stocks and bonds of other companies in lots of different industries. That's called diversification and it's used to reduce risk. Stocks and bonds are your two basic kinds of corporate securities. Their owners--the insurance company in this case--would collect dividends on the stocks and interest on the bonds and sometimes they were also able to buy the securities for a low price and sell them later at a higher price. That gave them a special kind of profit called a capital gain. So they had investment income from these three different sources. Plus a regular income called commissions that are part--sometimes a very large part--of your premiums."


"Sweet for a while. But then the financial wizards got greedy. Over the years they invented things called derivatives that let speculators--that means investors who have more money than brains--try for huge profits by putting up very little of their own capital. Eventually, fed by something called a housing bubble, this speculation reached a fever pitch. The profit potential was enormous. It made the traditional insurance company's dividend and interest income look like chump change."

"Wait--let me guess," I said. "So then the insurance companies wanted to do derivatives, too?"

"Smart doggie!" M replied, patting my head. "And one of their favorite new toys was a little thing called a CDS or credit default swap."

"How does a CDS work?" I begged, wagging my tail in anticipation. The secret of a prosperous life was about to be revealed.

"It seems nobody knows for sure. Not the insurance and other financial moguls who had their traders buying and selling them by the bazillions of dollars. Not the government watchdogs--some of whom used to be the same big financial CEOs who gave them the green light in the first place. Probably not even the MBA whiz kids who invented them. One thing is certain, though: They didn't work the way the market thought they would.

"They were supposed to allow a bondholder to get rid of his default risk by paying a speculator to assume it. Modern financial markets are all about passing risk along to somebody else--like a hot potato. The trouble is, deep in their souls no one really wants to be the ultimate holder of someone else's risk. And they have no real intention of doing so. They intend, instead, to cover their positions while things are still relatively rosy. But if the regular stock and bond markets hit the skids for any big unforeseen reason, the derivative markets can dry up fast. If you're among the last to own some, you might not be able to unload them. You can't even tell what they're worth, because there's no one bidding for them."

"So what happens then?"

"If you're a small player--tough noogies. But while your Roth IRA and 401(k) are going down the financial tubes, the big insurance companies and the mega-banks and brokerage firms get to enjoy another special kind of income called a government bailout."

Necessity, it turns out, is the mother of intervention! My head was spinning. I knew it was going to take me a while to process all this.

"And who came up with these little beauties--these credit default swaps?" I asked M when I found my voice again. "Did I understand you to say it was some enterprising MBAs?"

"I did."

"And--uh--did you ever teach MBA finance students?"

"Yes--but I never taught them to be greedy. I was Dr. Squeaky-Clean Balance Sheet. My whole approach to finance was safe and boring and old-fashioned."

"Still, you must be very proud."

"Don't be a moron!" he said as he gave my choke-chain a sharp tug.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You wanna give me a hint?

This morning while M was reading the comics, he just about nosed his coffee. (Ouch!) I jumped down off the couch and went over to see what had tickled his funny bone. It was this:

I swear I'll never understand humans. What's so hilarious about a dog having to go outside and pee?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Penny for your thoughts.

I'm not the first dog that Mike and Jeannie have had in their family. In 1977, when they lived in Dahlonega, GA, they adopted an AKC-registered Irish setter named Lady Jennifer O'Tara--Jenny for short. Jenny was about a year old when she came to live with them. I guess in a sense they "rescued" her, because her first and second owners didn't want her. The first one said she was too rambunctious for the small apartment he lived in. The second took her for a while, but then decided he'd rather have a German shepherd, which would be a lot easier to train. They both said Jenny was something of an airhead.

Many humans think that while Irish setters are beautiful, loyal, and friendly dogs, they aren't exactly the sharpest tools in the shed. Others say they're very smart, but hardheaded. Speaking of heads, most of them have a small bump at the base of their skulls. Some people call it an "intelligence bump," and others say yeah, cuz that's where they keep their tiny brains. And then the first ones say au contraire, it's a target so their dumb humans will know where to scratch. I don't guess you're ever gonna get a consensus on how bright and trainable Irish setters are or are not. It all depends on who you ask. By the way, a lot of golden retrievers have those intelligence bumps, too.

That reminds me: What do you call a blonde with a high IQ? Answer: a golden retriever! But I digress . . .

So M and J became Jenny's third owners. But right away there was a communications problem in the household, because they already had a daughter named Jenny. So whenever there was a Jenny who needed yelling at, M or J would say, "Jenny!" and two heads would pop up instead of one. It got very confusing, and they soon decided their new pup needed a new name. Then they noticed that the dog's coat was dark red and shiny like a brand new copper penny and that Penny rhymes with Jenny--and wah-LAH! From then on, Jenny-the-dog was Penny, and Jenny-the-human stayed Jenny, and people could be sure they were yelling at the right individual.

By now you're probably dying to see what Penny, nee Lady Jennifer O'Tara, looked like. I think you'll agree that she was a bit foxy. Here she is with Jenny, when Jenny was just four years old:

And here's Penny with Jenny's older sister, Bonnie, at a dog show the following year:

One more picture from the early days--one that makes me green with envy. I have always wanted to stretch out in front of a blazing fireplace. Maybe next winter . . .

And then Penny did what most domesticated creatures do if they're lucky enough to have loving homes where they are well cared for. She grew old. Here she is with Jenny again, this time at Christmas in 1987, at the house in Florida where I live now. Look at the wisdom in that sweet gray face:

These other pictures were all taken that same year, just months before Penny died. Here she is with Bonnie:

And with Jeannie:

And with Mike:

There's a framed enlargement of that one hanging on the wall in J's office. I know they all still miss her.

Bonnie was a high school senior in the spring of that year and took a class in photography, where she learned to develop black and white film and print her own pictures. I'll close this tribute with one that she made into a poster:

1976 - 1988

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I was just doing my job!

If M and J didn't want me to move the roast pork au jus from the kitchen counter to the floor last night, they could have said so. But noooo! Instead they left me alone in there to draw my own conclusions. Did they forget that food relocation is a big part of who I am? Oh--and get this--rather than scoop up the pieces and eat them, which was apparently against something called the five-second rule, they had hot dogs. So of course that became my fault, too. I swear I haven't heard such negativity since a week ago, when I assumed that one of their grilled Cuban sandwiches was mine.

Property rights are a real puzzle. I had another head-scratching moment this morning, when I got into a disagreement with Arlo about who owned the toad that was in our living room. After much discussion it turned out that M owns it and thinks he should keep it outside.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Let sleeping dogs write!

Contrary to human mythology, when a dog wiggles his feet in his sleep, he's not always chasing a rabbit. I for one have never chased a rabbit in my life, either awake or asleep. I did a little nocturnal high-stepping last night, but it's because I was having a bad dream. I don't have them much anymore--just every now and then. M and J tell me that I sometimes wag my tail in my sleep, and I guess that's a sign that I'm taking to my new life pretty well.

But last night's dream was a little disturbing. Something positive did come from it, though. When I woke up this morning, I wrote down another poem! See how this grabs:


Sleeping in the rain
Is a pain
In the butt
For a mutt
With little choice.
An angry voice
Assaults my ear:
"Hey, you, get outta here!
Too bad you're all wet--
Now get
Your stinky hide outta my front yard!
I know life's hard.
It's a bitch--no offense."
(None taken.)

I awaken
Somewhat shaken
And struggle to my feet,
Then head for a place across the street
Where the rain-soaked grass looks just as green
And hopefully the humans are a little less mean.
As I slink down the long and winding drive,
To show my friend that I'm still alive,
I decide to leave a gift--I squat for a minute.
Maybe tomorrow he'll step right in it.

Gettin' there, huh?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Breakfast at Ginger's

When I first saw this title, I thought it might be my Cousin Ginger from Ft. Knox. But it's a different one--a pretty pampered one from the looks of it! (Thanks, Grandma Grace, for bringing it to my attention!)