Sunday, January 16, 2011

Just Workin'

Yesterday was likely my last day off for the next 16 weeks or so. As of right now, I'm working six days a week on taxes and the other day at the library. I was hoping to be able to take a day or two off here or there, but a returning tax preparer that the owners have been planning on working full-time was a no-show on her first day. Why they continue to operate under the delusion that this person has any desire to work for them is beyond me. She has consistently ignored all attempts at contact for five months, yet hope still springs eternal. Of course, given the complete lack of traffic in the office so far, it may not matter that much. I think word is getting around the illegal immigrant community that we won't be violating Federal law this year. Nor will we be printing out documents you bring to us on a USB drive, allowing you to use our phone and fax machine anytime you want for free, or calling your bank to clear up all your bounced checks for you. (I had requests for all of the above, some multiple times, in the last week.)

Other fun stuff that comes with working in the ghetto: listening to the rats running around fornicating in the ceiling, cleaning rat shit and piss off every horizontal surface in an office that I was told had been thoroughly cleaned, watching drug deals going down in the parking lot, and trying to talk to a client while someone stands right outside the window next to my desk screaming "Fuck You!" for ten minutes non-stop into a cell phone. This place just keeps gettin' better.

Debbie's work has (thankfully) taken off; she is booking more cabins now in one day that she was doing in a week back around Christmas. It helps that her employer goes through employees like Lindsey Lohan tearing into a bag of coke. Another one bit the dust just this week, further reducing the competition for bookings.

Other than work, we haven't done a thing. We want to try to find a day we can take my parents up to see the manatees, but I'm not sure when that's going to happen, unless we do it later in the day after I get out of work. I guess there's always next year.

The big story of the last week was the shooting in Arizona. The politicians did (and continue to do) what politicians always do; use any and every tragedy for personal political gain. The situation is really as simple as it is tragic: Jared Loughner is criminally insane. It doesn't matter what nonsense he spouts on his blog or on Youtube, what excuses he cooked up in his deranged mind to justify killing other human beings, what political agenda the media can concoct from the rantings of a likely-schizophrenic. The. Dude. Is. Nuts. Full stop. No one of any political stripe or party affiliation is responsible for the actions of someone whose mind has gone off the rails. And as far as the "toxic political atmosphere" is concerned, I would love to know when this supposed Golden Age of civil political discourse existed. Politicians have always had the morals of junkyard dogs, since the invention of human government. Some of the cartoons from the early years of this country couldn't even be printed in a modern newspaper. In 1804, the Vice-President of the United States shot and killed the former Secretary of the Treasury. Compared to that, what exactly is so horrifying about the passionless nonsense bandied about on the 24-hours news networks and talk radio on topics of no importance? Has no one noticed that it is all theater? That once in power, every politician toes the same line? Does anyone believe the droll stupidity of Sarah Palin, delivered with less skill than that of a bad middle-school debate team, could inspire a murder rampage? Maybe it's best to mourn the dead, move on, and leave the politics out of it.

And forgotten in all the political posturing is what we really need to talk about:

Madhouses are expensive. Moreover, many were confined to them long after they were no longer dangerous to themselves or others -- "cured" manics and schitzes were very useful as trustees and unpaid orderlies in madhouses, and were often kept long after they legally should have been released, often because the doctors couldn't figure out how they would live outside the asylum environment. There was a wave of sentiment for letting the non-dangerous mad out into society, and this certainly resonated with legislatures since it would save a lot of money. In theory there would be "mental health" clinics for outpatient servicing of the recently released; in practice those proved to be too expensive and went away even as the number of clients for them increased by an order of magnitude.

Thus we had, and have, many who in earlier times would have been considered mad turned out on the streets. Others were released with medications that kept them calm, but the side effects induced many to go off their meds. We all know the results. Watch the relevant Law and Order episodes for more.

I haven't any profound observations on this dilemma: the price of liberty is that many who are considered mad are allowed to live their mad lives among us. Note that it was not all that long ago that many behaviors, including homosexuality, were considered treatable disorders. Note that there are very strange protesters who act in ways that others consider utterly mad. So there are counter protesters to the protesters, and sometimes one and sometimes another faction appears to be insane. Once in a while both protesters and counter protesters seem to be stark raving mad.

Allowing the non-violent madmen to live among us is a price of liberty; and allowing physicians and police to lock people away without judge and jury because they are mad is conceding a power to the authorities that often proves unwise, and sometimes is simply an adjunct to tyranny. 

The Enlightened used cases of abuse as an excuse to close the asylums while simultaneously discovering the right of the insane to live on the streets, defecate in doorways, bath in public fountains and eventually die a painful death by starvation, exposure or drug overdose. Not in the areas of our cities frequented by The Enlightened, of course. How dare anyone suggest they be daily confronted with the predictable results of their own actions. And yet, the abuses were very real; we all know what effect absolute power has on individuals as well as institutions.

Speaking of messes with no easy answers, Haiti one year after the earthquake is not much different than Haiti a couple weeks after the earthquake: masses of people living in tents; inadequate food, water and sanitation; bodies being dug out of rubble piles; roving rape gangs; ineffective foreign aid. Instead of worrying about someone else's mess on the other side of the world, maybe we should take care of the mess in our own front yard. A mess we played a significant role in creating. Oh! I forgot; Haiti doesn't have oil. My bad.

World food prices are up significantly. Good thing we don't include food in our inflation figures; otherwise everyone would realize they are paying more for their groceries. Anyone with an ounce of common sense and a calculator has been saying for 40 years that it is not possible for the entire world to live the American Middle-Class Lifestyle®. This is exactly what was predicted to happen if the attempt was made. Same story with oil. Which is also not included in government inflation figures. How convenient.

Elsewhere in the economy, don't expect housing or anything related to it to recover in 2011:

"2011 is going to be the peak," said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at foreclosure tracker RealtyTrac Inc. The firm predicts 1.2 million homes will be repossessed this year.

The blistering pace of foreclosures this year will top 2010, when a record 1 million homes were lost, RealtyTrac said Thursday.

I'd like to know the rationale behind the 2011-is-the-peak hope-speak. Is everyone who still has a job in a year going to run out and buy second and third homes? Are banks going to simply forgive all their mortgage debt? Are those foreclosed on going to jump back into the real estate market next year? Are the banks going to stop closing long enough to start lending money? Are the all the states' Attorney Generals going to stop hounding the banks over mishandled paperwork? Or is this a back-handed prediction that the 5 million households behind on their mortgage will continue to grind away at the economy for the next four years or so instead of all going down at once?

Holiday spending hit a new record in 2010!! As long as you ignore inflation. And the extra 8 million people added to the US population since 2007. And the discounting. And the compression of the prior two months' spending (and likely January and February's as well) into the two-month Christmas Shopping Season®. Other than that, it was a great year to be in retail!!

And The Bernanke is hopeful! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-LAAAAA!!!

Speaking of civil political discourse, someone is testing mail bombs in Maryland. These cannot be mistaken for serious attempts at blowing something up. I expect something big in a couple months after everyone lets their guard down.

And in climate news, the British government wants to know why it spends millions of pounds on weather predictions that are never correct while a couple dudes with laptops get it right year after year. I'd say it had something to do with observer bias on the part of the Met Office climatologists, but we all know those selfless public servants working inside the government bureaucracy would never allow politics to influence their work.

NASA has announced the next-to-last shuttle launch will happen on February 24, 2011, more than three months late. All the cracks are now thought to be related to a bad batch of metal. NASA is testing a repair to see if it actually fixes the problem or makes it worse. I'm not sure we should do this.

Well, time to hit the shower and go practice my ABC's.

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