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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Those Who Do Not Remember the Past are Condemned to Repeat It...

I, like millions of my fellow human beings have been watching with dismay and alarm at what Donald Trump has been doing since he took office. But what has prompted me to write about it was a conversation I had with a very old friend of mine yesterday. My friend is not an unintelligent man. In fact, he is very smart. I did not know until very recently, that he is in favour of what Trump is doing. Yesterday I asked him if he did not see the parallels between Trump and Adolf Hitler. My friend is interested in military history, so he knows the history of the Nazis and World War II. Despite his intellect and his knowledge, he is convinced that "a correction" was needed to offset the "social justice warriors" who are turning society into a police state. He is optimistic that Trump is nothing like Hitler. Throughout the call, I couldn't understand how he could look at what is happening, specifically the way in which Trump is steadily trying to strip ordinary citizens of their rights and freedoms, and concentrate power in the hands of elites that have nothing in common with the average world citizen, let alone the average American, and not see that something is very amiss.

After I was done talking to him I started to wonder: why do so many fail to see the parallels, and why do the Republicans have so much power in the US when it seems that they are overrun and controlled by religious zealots, xenophobes, and power hungry crackpots? I believe, that much of the reason has to do with how successfully the Republican party has attacked its own people, the American public, and conned them into believing that they are really just the other side of the political coin.

There was indeed a time in the history of the US when that was indeed true. Many people today would be surprised to learn that Abraham Lincoln was a republican, given that he held the country together during the Civil War and abolished slavery. Teddy Roosevelt who was instrumental in passing anti-combines legislation that broke up the Rockefeller oil monopoly and fostered improved competition, putting an end to the propagation of robber-baron tycoons that were created during the 1860's, 1870's and 1880's, was also a republican. Now, he also started the Imperialism of the US with the Panama Canal, but at least up to this point, there were only minor ideological differences between the Republican party and the Democratic party.

But then in 1919, the Republicans commenced their long running assault on the rights and freedoms of the American people with Prohibition, which made it illegal to drink and eventually gave rise to an era of gangster violence, with mobsters like Al Capone terrorizing cities like Chicago. It was introduced by a Minnesota Republican by the name of Volstead. The Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, vetoed it, but the Republican controlled House and Senate overturned the veto and made it law. The suffering of the American people during the Great Depression, which also started because of their lax, Laizzez-faire economic policies was indescribable. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt, a democrat, who restored confidence in the banking system, and repealed Prohibition as some of his first acts. He introduced the New Deal, which softened the blow of the depression, and started the process of national recovery, although it would take the Second World War to really lift the country out of the depression for good. It was Roosevelt who established Social Security.

It may have been the Democrats under Harry Truman who established the CIA, with the National Security Act of 1947, but it was the first Republican administration after WWII under Eisenhower that really ramped it up into the covert paramilitary organization  that we know it as today. Under Eisenhower's watch:

  • The US had the McCarthy witch-hunts in which Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican ruthlessly destroyed the lives of many prominent people by accusing them of un-American activities and being communists. He was eventually censured when it was shown that he had done this without any evidence, but not before he destroyed many dozens, if not hundreds of innocent lives. 
  • The CIA started covert operations in Vietnam, which was then Indochina, Iran, and South America, to name just a few places. Of course when most people think of Vietnam, they think of Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat. While he may have escalated the war, it was the Republican party that dragged the US into it in the first place. 
  • The Civil Rights movement had begun, but George Wallace, and Bull O'Connor, and other Southern politicians were openly defying the national laws, and it was only at Little Rock, Arkansas that Eisenhower would send in the National Guard to enforce de-segregation in the schools. It was not until the Democrats re-took power in the 1960's that real progress in Civil Rights was achieved. The act that gave black Americans the right to vote was the work or Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy, both Democrats. 
  • The Cuban revolution in which Fidel Castro took power took place in 1959.
Yes, under Kennedy, the American presence in Vietnam was intensified, and the Bay of Pigs fiasco occurred and subsequent Cuban embargo were imposed. These were not some of Kennedy's finer moments, but they were more than outweighed by the positive contributions made to world peace and the contributions made to the overall well-being of the average American, by the Democrats, who brought Medicare and Medicaid, as well as giving black Americans the universal right to vote. 

The next Republican administration was Richard Nixon's. Nixon was not a bad president actually, even despite the Watergate break-in. He handled the Cold War with an aplomb that few leaders could have and he kept the world safe. He also opened up relations with China in 1972, which was a big deal back then. Nobody can take that from him. But, his stance on the Viet Nam War protesters was hard lined and resulted in unnecessary deaths, most notably at the Kent State University shootings in 1970. Nixon did end the Vietnam war, but not before he doubled down and attempted to win it by bombing the shit out of Laos and Cambodia from 1969 to 1970 - countries that were not directly involved in the conflict, but which supplied the Vietcong with supplies. 

I can't really say much about Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford. He seemed by all outward appearances to be a genteel man, and he really didn't stand a chance of ever being elected on his own because he replaced Nixon after Watergate forced Nixon's resignation, and then immediately issued a Pardon to Nixon, which angered the public. 

Jimmy Carter, was the next Democratic president and he was unpopular because of his handling of the Energy Crisis and the Iran Hostage Incident. However, he was really just decades ahead of his time and was the first president to try to formulate policies to pursue environmentally sustainable forms of energy, and had really inherited a damaged economy following the Viet Nam War. However, I am not aware of any instances during his administration, of people's rights and freedoms being curtailed. 

Then in 1980, he was defeated by Ronald Reagan, a Republican, who while a nice man, was in the early stages of Alzheimer's in his second term, and even quite possibly his first. Everyone thought it was cute when he joked and came up with his quips, like "Honey, I forgot to duck" when he was shot by John Hinckley, or "We have outlawed the Soviet Union, we begin bombing in 5 minutes." at a press conference. While he did make great progress in ending the Cold War by working with Mikhail Gorbachev, it was during his two terms that:

  • The War on Drugs, which targeted the poor and disadvantaged gathered steam. There was never any real attempt made to treat the root causes of drug addiction, such as poverty and lack of opportunity. No, the entire war was focused on prosecuting otherwise law abiding Americans for taking recreational drugs. 
  • The rise of religious fundamentalism, with powerful figures like Jerry Falwell and others, whose mission it was to end women's rights to abortion, end easy access to contraception, block gay marriage, restrict access to even soft pornography like Playboy and Hustler (the People versus Larry Flint anyone?), gathered traction, and became a very strong presence in the Republican party.
  • The Iran-Contra scandal broke in which it became apparent that the US was selling weapons to Iran, which was at war with Iraq, when the US publicly supported Iraq, and then turned around and used the dirty money to train rebels in Nicaragua. This was just some of the shit the CIA was involved in during this time - there was much, much more. 
  • The Savings and Loan scandal in which almost a third of the Savings & Loan institutions failed or otherwise went bankrupt. It was later revealed that many of these had been technically insolvent for years, but due to lax regulatory oversight, they were allowed to continue operating, so that the losses to Americans when they finally did fail were catastrophic. 
  • Reaganomics took hold,  in which tax cuts were given to the wealthiest echelons of American society. These were done on the stated belief that the benefits would trickle down to the American public. Of course, what really happened was that the concept that with great wealth comes great responsibility and obligation was legislated out of the public milieu. 
After inflicting Reagan on themselves for eight years, the American voters elected his second banana, George H.W. Bush for four years. Bush was an intelligent president, but most of the erosion of freedoms that had started under Reagan, continued, and the U.S got involved in the Gulf War and set the stage for all the strife that continues there to this day. His son, George W, got the U.S fully entangled in the middle east starting with the 9/11 attacks, which there is very good reason to believe was an orchestrated internal attack against Americans to give the administration an excuse to go after Saddam Hussein and his so called "Weapons of Mass Destruction", which were never found - by anyone. Instead, a dirty, disheveled Saddam Hussein was eventually captured, found crouching in a hole in the ground. Now, he was NOT a good man. But he was hardly any kind of real threat to Americans. He was a threat to his own people more than anything, but he certainly didn't have weapons of mass destruction. He was just a very good bluffer and a despot. 

After 12 years of Republican stagnation, America got another breath of fresh air with Bill Clinton, who revitalized the American economy, and was instrumental in bringing some peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He managed to get Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, two sworn enemies for decades, into the same room and got them to shake hands and start working together on some peace between the Palestinians and the Israeli occupants of the West Bank - an area that had been the site of armed conflict since the Six Day War of 1967. He was a good president, but the Republican controlled Senate and House chose to focus instead on Clinton's sexual activities and for much of his second term was investigating him and trying to impeach him. Never mind the fact that one of the most outspoken Republicans at this time, Newt Gingrich was cheating on his second wife, with his now third wife, while he was condemning Clinton's supposed lack of morals. 

Thanks to their undermining of Clinton, the Republicans took power again with George W Bush, who may not have won fair and square the first term, due to the Florida vote count. I have already commented on the complete dearth of any positive accomplishments during his term, so I don't really have anything to add here about him, except that it was under Bush's watch that the use of torture techniques were authorized at Guantanamo Bay - a facility that Obama wanted to close down, but was not able to do successfully. 

In 2008, Obama took power and tried to do his best to undo most of the damage inflicted on the American economy by Bush. He has attempted to usher in an era of tolerance and diversity, and has tried to bring in universal health care and gun control - both good and positive things for society. Yes, he has continued much of the military involvement in the Middle East, but I'm not sure that he had much choice given the obligations the U.S has to its allies, and the mess that the Bush administration left behind. Political correctness and the rise of over-zealous "Social Justice Warriors" is an annoying by-product of an evolving society that is trying to adopt new social morays and decide what is acceptable, and what is not. But it is hardly such a horrible thing as to require a man like Donald Trump. The 2008 Financial Crisis has been blamed on Obama because he bailed out the institutions that were involved instead of letting them fail. However, this crisis was an inherited problem from the previous administration. The lax policies that led to the subprime mortgage meltdown were all had their genesis during the Bush years, just as the S&L crisis had it's genesis in the Reagan years.

Are all of you reading this beginning to see a pattern? Do you still think that Republicans and Democrats are equally corrupt? Now, I know there are good Republicans in the Republican Party. I have quite a lot of respect for John McCain, from what I know about him, and how I have seen him conduct himself throughout his career. But the Republican party as a whole has a demonstrated, long history now that goes back to 1920, of being wildly out of touch with the issues that affect the largest number of Americans. That may be because many of them are very wealthy individuals, and when the issues that concern most people like health care, paying the mortgage, putting food on the table are a non-issue for you, it tends to skew your perception of what really matters. Perhaps this is why the Republicans always seem to be overly concerned with issues that are not important to most people, and more often than not seem to involve taking away people's freedoms. The only thing they seem to oscillate between is whether they take those freedoms away from Americans, or whether they take them from people in other countries. It's not the Democrats that initiate these punitive actions generally. All Democratic administrations since 1920 have tried to make as many Americans as well off as possible, while making positive contributions to the rest of the world as a whole, or at least that is what history suggests.

But don't take my word for it. Look up any of the facts that I have written about here. Except for a few opinions, nearly everything I have written here can be fact checked on Google. 

The problem for America, and the world right now is not just Donald Trump. He is the closest thing there is to Adolf Hitler - no question. He has never shown that he cares about anyone other than himself, and that includes his wives. He is only where he is for himself. When he says "Make America Great Again", I don't think people have the slightest idea of what he really means by that. Steph thinks he means "Take America back in time to a time when only a certain percentage of the population had any rights". I think she is right - 100%. 

However, he wouldn't be where he is today if the Republican party had blocked him on principal. The problem facing the world today, then is the perverted nature of the Republican Party of the US. It is a party whose time has passed. It needs to be recognized as the general menace to civilized values that it has shown itself to be over the last 100 years, and decisively dismantled and disbanded. Those few honest Republicans can then either run independently, or form a new party if public service is so important to them. Donald Trump is on them. This is their doing and a simple defeat in the next election is not sufficient. 

It's time to take a stand. We cannot afford to let history repeat itself. The stakes are far too high this time. I close this with a video clip from the Newsroom that I believe is appropriate:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Broccoli shmoccoli

In light of the much expressed hatred of recipes on this blog and my own short attention span, this post with be both a major departure from the normal recipes we publish and delightfully brief. There is a very good Simpsons episode about the dangers of ingesting the deadly and poisonous broccoli wherein Homer dies from eating a floret. You would think that would deter me but think again! I absolutely love this green menace and decided to put a twist on the typical cream of broccoli soup your mom and possibly your drunk uncle used to make. Though many of you would rather snack on rat rectum than this dreaded cabbage cousin I promise you will not be disappointed when you dig in! Without further ado, here is my recipe for the best God damn broccoli soup you'll ever shovel down your gullet (must work on that title).


Two broccoli heads, hacked to death
A whack of butter
One quarter cup 35% cream
One quarter cup half-and-half
A good spoonful of garlic
One and a half yellow onions
Two chicken bouillon cubes
Three cups boiling water
Three cups Monterrey Jack cheese
One teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste

The Method To My Madness:

I usually start by dicing the onion and heating up the butter in a large heavy bottom pot on medium high heat until it starts to brown a bit. I then throw the onions in and let them soak up all that buttery goodness while I move on to the next step which is cutting the broccoli into medium size pieces or until it breathes no more. I use garlic in a jar because I am a heathen but if you are one of those "culinary arts" perfectionists then by all means, chop your garlic up now!

While your onions are simmering boil three cups of water in a kettle and add that to your bouillon cubes preferably in a container that pours well and dissolve the cubes. Next, check your onions and if they are translucent then you are ready to rock and if not, quit now...or wait a little longer until yours are nice and see through, it's up to you.

If you chose to continue then we can move on to the next step which is adding your chicken stock to the onions but for the love of God, do this carefully or you will end up with a huge mess, like me of course. Let that come to a simmer again then add the hopefully fully deceased broccoli into the pot and cook it on medium with the lid on stirring occasionally for eight to twelve minutes.

Once your broccoli is fork tender, turn the heat off and let it cool for half a titch. Once your half done soup is cool enough to handle but still hot enough to cause you pain if you get any on yourself transfer it to a blender or food processor (warning: if you choose the processor method DO NOT fill that puppy too much or you will end up with a puddle of hot broccoli smelling liquid on your counter. Blend that crap in batches, bitches!) and blend until smooth.

Once you've reached a consistency you like transfer the broccoli soup of death back into the same pot and add the creams, nutmeg, salt and pepper and give it a good stir or a stern talking to, either way make sure that mixture is well combined. Next, turn the heat back on to medium and once the green goop is warm start adding your cheese in small handfuls at a time stirring in between until all the cheese is well incorporated and dissolved. Serve in big bowls with crusty bread and bask in the many compliments that you receive from your soup admiring guests.

Now, a confession: that episode of the Simpsons I mentioned? It actually wasn't that good but you know what is good? This soup! Try it, or I'll come to your home and relentlessly quote the Simpsons at you until you pass out from boredom.

Stamp Geek, out!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Business Really Gathers Momentum, Partial Re-Entry Into The World of Accounting And The Best Explanation of Abuse I Have Seen

Having made it through our first month in Saint John, and enjoying a relaxed Christmas with family in the new house it was time to start the new year. I have been stressed lately because January 2016 was a very slow month, and I had figured that this was naturally a slow time of year, when people were recovering from the excesses of Christmas and not spending money. As a precaution against the possible lack of cash flow, I decided that the time had come to re-enter the world of professional accounting on a part time basis. The last thing I wanted to do is take my focus off the business, so I thought: "How many hours a week can I devote to accounting, without hurting the business? Would I be prepared to work late most weekdays to make up the time?". I thought that I can probably do 2 days a week with no problem and make it up on the back end. Sure, it means I will be working harder than I ever have in a very, very long time. I do it without hesitation, as this business model is really working and it is imperative that I do whatever it takes to give it the best possible chance of success. Our move out here to Saint John was one such step that we took, but it is clear that more is required.

With that in mind I sent resumes to all of the local accounting firms here advertising my services on a part time basis. I was very straightforward in my approach, sending out 10 resumes, just before Christmas - not fantastic timing, but I figured at lease one firm would respond. Three days later, I received exactly one telephone call from a firm downtown. They asked me to come in for an interview on January 10. I enthusiastically agreed and then set about listing material and filling orders.

Far from being quiet, January 2017 is set to become our best month yet. We just received a $1,700 order from a very good customer for Nigeria, which I haven't even really started listing yet, pushing our total sales over $3,300 and we are just at the 15th! We are getting multiple orders and offers every single day, our blog is now receiving hundreds of visitors daily. More and more customers are engaging us, asking questions and sharing our posts. All of this is an excellent sign that the time is right to now develop our webstore. I am very excited by the growing momentum that the business is gathering.

The $1,700 order bears special mention though as it illustrates perfectly the benefits that come with specialization. The customer in question collects marginal single stamps from around the world bearing either plate inscriptions or a plate number. He purchased a plate inscription single from the 1928 Scroll Issue of Canada for $12, or something like that. Thanks to our welcome e-mail, in which we engage our customers and invite them to tell us what their interests are, this customer decided to engage, which opened up the opportunity to offer him some specialized material from early pre-1914 Nigeria. He was eager to purchase, and when it came to price, he did tell us that he was used to purchasing at no premium over catalogue. We explained our pricing philosophy and explained the scarcity of our material and he agreed to our pricing, which was far above full Gibbons. We could never have done this if we were generalists because we wouldn't have had the material to offer him, and even if we did, he probably wouldn't believe that we were in a position to know how truly scarce the material is. This order also illustrates the importance of engaging customers in a non-threatening way and giving them the opportunity to tell you what they want. If you listen, they will tell you, and by doing so, give you the opportunity to help them.

I attended the interview on the 10th and found it to be a completely different experience from any professional interview I've ever had before. Gone was all the discussion of my future aspirations and where I see myself in 5 years - all the BS. Actually, we started the interview talking about my business. They had few to no questions about my qualifications, since the work I am interested in handling is far below my skill level, and the discussion focused on my availability. It felt good to be able to state firmly that I would not want to work more than 2 days a week. They seemed fine with that, understanding that some time is better than none, and when they asked me my rate, I was able to go low: $35-$40 per hour. This week, I received word that they want to hire me for 15-20 hours a week at $40 per hour. On top of this, it looks like I will maintain a relationship with my old firm as well to help them with a limited number of clients. So this will help greatly with cash flow and allow us to retain more of the cash flow from sales to either expand the business or hire staff.

I was on Quora the other day looking through my feed, when I came across the best definition of abuse that I have seen to date. It was so good, I thought I should share it here.

The problem when you are in an abusive relationship is that your abuser will point to all kinds of things that they claim make them a victim of YOUR abuse. This can be both confusing and isolating. Confusing because they can become very good at convincing you that they are indeed the victim at least some of the time. It can be isolating because your mutual friends and family believe them. This is often because your abuser will have successfully isolated you from the people who genuinely care about you and replaced them with people who might like you, but who are ultimately loyal to your abuser. That was certainly the case with my ex wife.

The key thing that betrays such a relationship, this person on Quora said is: The Arrow of Control. They went on to distinguish between setting boundaries and trying to take control. Boundaries, consist of things you put in place to restrict access to yourself by others. Examples are:

"Don't touch me there."
"Don't go through my phone".
"Don't open my mail"

The reason these are healthy boundaries is because the things in question are yours: your body, your phone and your mail. They do not belong to the other person. An abuser will try to convince you that because you are in a relationship with them that they have a right to intrude on anything that could conceivably impact them, which in their mind is just about anything. However, that is what TRUST is for. When you are respected and trusted your partner does not feel the need to cross your boundaries because they trust you to weigh your needs and theirs.

Taking control on the other hand, is when somebody attempts to establish boundaries against you, rather than putting up boundaries for themselves. Examples would be:

"I don't want you seeing that friend of yours again."
"You aren't allowed to spend more than $X without talking to me first."
"I've told you a million times not to accept calls from telemarketers. I don't want my information out there."

On the surface, it is easy to see how they might seem like healthy boundaries, particularly the third one. However, they cross the line because they all ignore the fact that as an individual, you have a right to choose your friends, spend money that is yours and accept whatever telephone calls you want. An abusive partner attempts to curtail those freedoms because they either do not know how to establish healthy boundaries for themselves, or they are too lazy to do so. A healthy individual who is not abusive might say the following to you about the above three issues:

"I don't like this person, but I respect that they are your friend. You are free to see them whenever you want, and I will be polite when I see them, but please do not expect me to hang out with them, and please do not share any intimate information about me."

"You can spend your money as you please, but if we are building a future together, I would like to be involved in major financial decisions."

"I don't like taking calls from telemarketers because I don't like giving them free information. If you want to take those calls, that's your business. All I would ask is that you do not give them any of my information."

In each case, the person making these statements is expressing their preference, preserving your freedom to act as you will, but putting up a boundary to protect themselves. That isn't controlling at all. Do you see the difference?

What this person on Quora said in conclusion is that when you look at nearly all relationships in which abuse is present, there is usually one person who is clearly trying to take control most of the time. In these cases, the other person is usually putting up boundaries, or if they don't know how to do this, being passive aggressive in order to protect what little freedom and autonomy they have as an individual.

That was easily the best, most succinct, simplest and useful description of abuse that I have come across anywhere - bar none. I hope at least some of my readers find it useful. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Happy New Year! 2017 Is Off To A Fantastic Start!

After a very stressful and arduous December, we are finally all settled in and back up and running. Although sales for December were less than what we had hoped for, they were very good considering that we had to put the store on vacation for over 2 weeks. December 2016 finished up with just over $3,700 in sales.

January is off to an amazing start, with almost $750 after just 4 days! Most of this has been coming from entirely new customers, along with a few returning customers, which is an excellent sign. What is really encouraging is that the sames are coming from a wide range of material, including items that have just been listed. We are now in a very good routine, with several blog posts completed in draft form, ahead of schedule, and items being listed every day.

Blog traffic is really, really strong now, with the Canadian blog receiving close to 500 visits a day, and the Nigerian blog receiving well over 100 visitors per day. This is very encouraging considering that the amount of traffic was one-fifth of that just a couple of months ago. Our Adsense is still very low, mind you, with just $45 in our account so far. Still, that will basically be found money when Google actually gets around to paying it out.

The highlight accomplishment this month, will likely be our website, which we have been hard at work on building. As I mentioned in my last post, we realized that we simply could not rely on the online marketplaces as our only sales channel anymore. We have to develop our own brand through our own domain and our own website. So we have made great progress in the construction of our website. The basic functionality is almost working, but it is not quite ready to receive shoppers just yet. However, if you want to take a look at what we have done so far, you can visit it at:

I'd love to know what you all think of the general appearance and layout!