Sunday, April 24, 2011

Phobias For The Twenty-First Century

Phobias…those irrational fears of just about anything you can think of. Most of them have been out there for centuries (if not longer). Some of them have been handed down through families.

But like so many other things, the twenty-first century has brought us a whole new collection of things to provide irrational fears.

Nomophobia is the fear of not having cell phone contact, whether it's due to a dead battery or because your network doesn't have coverage where you are. A fate worse than death?

Vidigameaphobia is the fear of video games. This can cover everything from simply being afraid of the games to the fear that the games could come to life. Hmm…maybe I need to buy that Indiana Jones game after all.

Interphobia is exactly what it sounds like…fear of the world wide web. Now that's a phobia to avoid at all costs.

Dextrophobia and its counterpart Levophobia offers us a couple of really strange phobias. Dextrophobia is the fear of everything to the right of your body while Levophobia is the fear of everything to the left of your body.

Coulrophobia has actually been around for a long time and is still going strong. It's the fear of clowns. Didn't Stephen King have a clown as one of his evil entities?

Alektorophobia is an extreme fear of live chickens. Maybe the scope of the fear should be expanded to include people who look like Col. Sanders?

Pupaphobia is related to Coulrophobia. They might even be first cousins. It's the fear of puppets. Not sure what you'd call the fear of a clown puppet.

Sesquipedalophobia, as the length of the word suggests, is the fear of very long words. Wouldn't a shorter word be more appropriate?

Cathisophobia is one that those of us working at computers need to avoid at all costs. It's the fear of sitting.

Genuphobia is the fear of knees. That must be really difficult in summer when warm weather clothing means lots of knees sticking out there for anyone to see.

And here's a bonus phobia to carry us through the twenty-first century. This has to be the ultimate fear: Phobophobia. Yep, it's exactly what it sounds like…a fear of fears.

My primary fear is bugs and other creepy crawler things. My irrational fear is, of course, totally rational. Do you have any irrational fears (or rational ones) you'd like to share?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Television Situation Comedies We Loved

With TVLand's annual awards show at hand again with special praise for those programs from television's past eras, it got me thinking about some of the situation comedies from the 1970s and 1980s that I particularly enjoyed…those shows with the terrific ensemble casts that never failed to entertain week after week.

Let me be a little more specific here. I'm not talking about the situation comedies where the main characters are the mother, father, and children with the stories revolving around the trials and tribulations of that family unit.

I'm referring to those sitcoms with a diverse group of characters where the circumstances throw them together, usually in a work setting. One of my favorites of this type of sitcom is WKRP In Cincinnati. And some other favorites from that era are Barney Miller, Night Court, The Bob Newhart Show (the original one where he played the psychiatrist with his group of whacky patients…gotta love Mr. Carlin), and the incomparable MASH. And I would be remiss if I didn't include an import from Great Britain…Fawlty Towers. There were only 12 episodes made and each one is perfection.

I know there are others that I particularly enjoyed, but for some reason they aren't coming to mind at the moment.

Fun shows with marvelous performers portraying carefully crafted characters, each of whom could easily carry an individual episode of the series even if they aren't the primary star of the series, characters who each have their own distinct personalities and functions within the group.

Some of these ensemble characters are constantly befuddled and confused such as Mr. Carlson on WKRP. Others are the voice of reason amid periodic moments of chaos such as the Barney Miller character trying to deal with the many oddballs who file through the squad room of New York's 12th Precinct while keeping his detectives in line. And still other characters are totally outrageous such as WKRP's Dr. Johnny Fever. And then you have marvelous characters so out there that you wonder how they are able to function away from their work environment such as about everyone on Night Court from the totally unorthodox judge to the lecherous prosecutor to the do-gooder defense attorney and the bizarre bailiffs.

And a special nod to the character of Jennifer Marlow from WKRP, the beautiful sexy blonde who is also highly intelligent and makes no effort to hide that intelligence behind the 'dumb blonde' persona—a refreshing change from the normal characterization of the sexy blonde woman at that time.

So many brilliant sitcoms from the 1970s and 1980s that were very successful thanks to a great ensemble cast portraying non-family members who functioned together week after week. And a definite acknowledgement of the writers who created all the odd-ball and slightly off-center characters, giving the bones of the characters to the actors who brought them to life on the screen making them memorable for us.

I know there are several great sitcoms from that time frame that I haven't mentioned. What are some of your favorite sitcoms from the 70s and 80s? Let me know which ones you liked and who your favorite character is.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Outrageous Tax Deductions The IRS Might Actually Allow

It's that time of year again…the tax payer vs. the IRS. The "rules" of the tax game say the tax payer looks for every possible deduction to lessen the tax burden while the IRS tries to close every loophole in order to garner as much income as possible.

And to that end, some of the tax payer team members try to bend those rules a little too far with an occasional surprising result.

Dairy Cows…on a Safari?

The owners of a dairy tried to write off an African safari as a business expense claiming that some of the dairy's promotional efforts included wild animals. Even though the concept of "wild dairy cows" is a bit far-fetched, the IRS actually allowed the deduction.

Beer vs. Whiskey…

A gas station owner gave his customers free beer and took the cost as a tax deduction. An Oklahoma businessman tried to deduct several cases of whiskey he gave to clients as an entertainment expense. After a trip to tax court, it was ruled that the beer deduction was allowed but the whiskey deduction was denied. Logical? Not even close.

Burning Down The House…

A Pittsburgh furniture store owner had tried for years to sell his business without any success. Finally in desperation he hired an arsonist to burn it down and collected $500,000 from his insurance company. But then he took the $10,000 he paid the arsonist and deducted it as a "consulting fee." An IRS audit two years later uncovered the crime and both men went to prison.

Thanks, Doc! Come By For A Swim Anytime…

An emphysema patient was told by his doctor that he needed to start exercising. So, the patient installed a swimming pool at his home and deducted it as a "necessary medical expense." Surprisingly, the IRS allowed the deduction including the cost of various chemicals, cleaning, heating and upkeep.

Did She Tango Her Way Home?

While the IRS said okay to the swimming pool deduction, they denied a deduction for dance lessons a tax payer claimed would improve her varicose veins. The reason? "Not medically necessary." That also covered dance lessons for arthritis and nervous disorders.

No, You Can't Deduct Fido's Babysitting

With approximately 75 million household dogs in the U.S., millions of them are left home alone each day. One tax payer hired someone to come to his house and watch his dog while he was at work then tried to deduct the expense using the tax credit intended for children and legal dependents. The IRS said "no way."

"Here, Kitty-Kitty-Kitty!"

Junkyard owners had a nasty snake and rat problem. In an attempt to combat it, they set out bowls of pet food each night to attract the feral cats that roamed the area. The cats ate the pet food and also the snakes and rats. Since the cats made the business safer for customers and employees, the IRS allowed the deduction for the pet food.

And finally…the best for last.

The Bigger The Better?

An exotic dancer wrote off the cost of breast implants, claiming it was a business expense since bigger breasts equaled bigger tips. The IRS agreed, saying the implants were a stage prop essential to her act.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

10 Most Counterfeited Products…

Our penchant for wanting the most coveted products, the latest fad, the hottest new item, at the lowest price throws the door wide open to unscrupulous operators who supply that demand with counterfeit versions of the real thing.

I recently came across a list of the 10 most counterfeited products sold in the USA, the following figures being for 2009. Statistics for 2010 hadn't been released yet.

Although it's impossible to get an exact number for the total amount of money lost to counterfeit goods each year, sources estimate that businesses lost hundreds of millions, possibly even billions of dollars in sales in the United States alone.

Here's a list of the 10 product categories that lost the most money to counterfeit goods. These figures relate to U.S. goods only, not world-wide statistics.

1) Footwear: Value estimated at $99.8 million
Nearly $100 million worth of counterfeit footwear was seized entering the U.S. in 2009, the greatest amount of any product for the fourth year in a row. 98% of counterfeit footwear originated in China.

2) Consumer Electronics: Value $31.8 million
Products such as cell phones, digital music players, and digital cameras made up that value with most of those seizures originating in China and Hong Kong.

3) Handbags, Wallets, Backpacks: Value $21.5 million
Just walking down a major street in New York City provides the consumer with numerous opportunities to purchase a fake designer handbag. China exported $19.5 million of the $21.5 million seized.

4) Apparel: Value $21.5 million
The dollar amount of counterfeit designer clothing seized was almost identical to the handbags, wallets, and backpacks seized. The amount of the apparel exported from China was also almost identical to handbags, wallets, and backpacks at $17.9 million.

5) Watches/Parts: Value $15.5 million
Even though counterfeit watches are readily available in the U.S., $15.5 million worth of watches and parts were seized in 2009 with the majority of that coming from Hong Kong.

6) Computers/Hardware: Value $12.5 million
Over $12.5 million in computers and computer components was seized coming into the U.S. in 2009—almost double the amount from 2008. It's estimated that up to 10% of all high-tech products sold worldwide are counterfeit.

7) Media: Value $11.1 million
$6 million worth of media, including compact disks and DVDs, was seized entering the country in 2008. That number jumped to just over $11 million in 2009 with approximately half those goods coming from China. Bootleg media is widely available in street markets and on the internet.

8) Pharmaceuticals: Value $11.1 million
Most of these coming into the U.S. originated in China. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals also made up the majority of the counterfeit goods seized coming from India. Although counterfeit drugs present a problem in the U.S., they range from only 1% in developed countries to over 30% of pharmaceuticals in developing countries. Pharmaceuticals are the top commodity presenting "potential safety or security risks."

9) Jewelry: Value $10.5 million
Counterfeit jewelry has a huge market in the U.S., especially with the proliferation of online shopping. One popular means of counterfeit jewelry distribution is through online auction sites. Tiffany & Co. lost a lawsuit recently against eBay regarding the sale of counterfeit Tiffany jewelry on eBay.

10) Toys/Electronic Games: Value $5.5 million
Of the $5.5 million worth of toys and electronic games seized entering the U.S. in 2009, just under $4.9 million came from China. These toys and games have the potential of being extremely dangerous. Some are made with poisonous materials such as lead paint. Electronic toys have been known to overheat and explode.

Other counterfeit products that figure prominently in the world trade market are:

Cigarettes: China's counterfeit cigarette industry is growing at an extraordinary rate. The country now produces 400 billion counterfeit cigarettes each year packaged as several popular brands.

NFL Merchandise: This is one of the most highly counterfeited of all sports goods, especially around Super Bowl time.

Antiques: These are definitely not the easiest counterfeits to detect. Be cautious of overly inexpensive items, furniture pieces that have numerous copies at antique fairs, and supposedly very old pieces that don't have any imperfections.