Tinderbox?

I have the weirdest dreams! Had a sequence of them that included standard, if in some cases rare, settings of a mall, an old amusement park, my great-grandmother’s house, and my grandmother’s house. Not so standard: North Korea. In one sequence I was in a mall with two other people. The only clear part is when we each bought a slice of bread with butter for a dollar from a storefront Chinese restaurant. I was last and ended up lagging behind them. To my rational mind, it was weird, but in the dream it was completely usual to buy this thing from this type of seller as a cheap snack. The other thing I recall is a sense of urgency, and that perhaps things weren’t what they could have been, for all the mall looked fairly busy.

Another sequence involved going into a broken down amusement park, small, which morphed into more of a playground, with adjacent Soviet-looking run down buildings. There was a downpour and we all sought shelter under playground structures, tables, or wherever we could, if we weren’t already prepared. I tried to get under something and found the side wall went to close to the ground, and was one of the last left standing.

That morphed into a similar looking “park” or square that was in North Korea, though it seemed a bit prosperous for that, in retrospect. I was meeting people there or something, and passed along a tote bag that I hadn’t even looked in to a contact. I saw when he looked into it that it was shrinkwrapped bundles of magazines, Playboy and something else. Contraband. The clearest thing about that dream segment was an oppressive fear, similar in a way to the pervasive fear of nuclear holocaust that some of us grew up with, but not as low-key. I remember terror that we might have been seen as doing something wrong or being with the wrong person, and the need to get out of there.

Next I was in a house that was the one my great-grandmother owned, and was in the family until my great uncle died. I regretted not having the money at the time. They sold it for very little, but it needed work. My grandmother’s 1/3 of the proceeds in part paid for her new septic system, still so new that the builder who bought the property finagled things to ensure he could use it for one of the new houses being built. But I digress. Near as I can tell, I lived there. And while it was not in North Korea, there was almost the same fear of the government and being spied upon in place. There was just a pretense of freedom over it. Someone else was there. I don’t know or remember who, now, and there were other people I saw who didn’t live there. In the sky there were balloons, more like zeppelins, but small, that were a show of presence by the government. After they passed by, a more zealously revolutionary friend stopped to let me know that the revolution was starting. Apparently the main thing we were going to do was show we simply didn’t take the powers that be seriously, mocking them rather than battling them. He drove off with big balloons trailing behind his car, mockeries of their observation balloon things I had seen just before. That put me into full alert, because all hell was going to break loose and he’d made the mistake of not spreading the word as thoroughly as could be. I grabbed a few provisions and went with whoever the woman was in the same house to what in real life was my grandmother’s house, driving in what I am sure was an old Dodge Dart. Green.

At the other house was a woman I did not know, a little girl who was her daughter, and someone who may or may not have been my mother and/or grandmother. They were surprised to learn the revolution had started, which was when I knew word had spread poorly, or too many people just had no idea or interest. I agreed to take the unknown mother and daughter with us after the woman said “I don’t drive” when asked about driving. I started looking for provisions, mainly food, and putting some into a cloth bag. But not much, weirdly, being selective with no apparent rhyme or reason. To my shock, my grandfather was sitting at a table in the kitchen, not dead, but so feeble he may as well have been. I had to decide on the spot that he wasn’t going to go with us and would be left to his fate. If he wasn’t simply an apparition. Going through cabinets that weren’t where they really were (they were by the porch door, on the wall where the original kitchen sink had been, where the table was in later years), there were a huge number of cans of beans. I found one on the bottom that was bulging top and bottom, and on the bottom edge had actually sprung a leak. I was completely disgusting when I got spoiled beans on my hand. Looking in an upper cabinet, I found it almost completely full of boxes of matches. Wondered why they’d have stockpiled THAT many matches, but knew I wanted some. While grabbing a couple boxes and trying to decide whether to take more, I noticed that most of them had been made in North Korea. I went back into the dining room and living room one more time to talk to people, but after that I woke up.

As for what it means, well, not that odd to be nervous of the government, concerned about spying, the economy, the need to be prepared for trouble, and generally feeling that things aren’t what they once were or could be. North Korea could be indicative of that, if you take it as a direction we don’t want to be going but seemingly are, however far we may appear to have to go. On the other hand, it’s not that odd to dream something that suggests North Korea as a tenderbox or danger to world stability, despite its size.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts! Yes, Massachusetts gave you Scott Brown to defeat Obamacare, President Obama, Harry Reid, et al. It was a clear indicator from a state often called “the bluest of blue” (which I might contest) that people Did Not Want the so-called “Affordable” Care Act.

Instead of “passing” the law as was, in a manner that at least bordered on fraudulent, don’t you wish now, Dems, that you had gone for that “oh man, we BARELY lost by ONE vote, maybe next time” loss?

Massachusetts Did Not Want the law passed, enough to muster the people’s votes against it then. Massachusetts! And you blew it.

Collected Links

I have been bookmarking things on the idea I would post about them. You’d think posting, say, five days a week would be easy, right? The set is huge, some are probably quite stale, and I am not sure I’ll get to them all with meaningful treatment. Therefore, I will collect several in one post, with minimal commentary.

When law is no longer a safe bet and more about economic change, automation, job security and “the good old days.”

The Roman Army Knife beat the Swiss by 1800 years and looks remarkably clever for the time.

Agile: The Once and Future Methodology explores how what some might think of as new software development practices go way back. A favorite topic of mine, for all my experience in software development is modest.

NSA: The Decision Problem is a discussion of the state of and history of sigint and surveillance, and how modern big data and such affect it.

Superfast internet over old-fashioned copper phone wires?

The Dick Durbin Debit Card Fiasco bears shouting from the rooftops, much the way Barney Frank’s role in the financial crash does.

I waited so long to post this, it’s obsolete! The tax was subsequently repealed, but here’s Why We’re So Frustrated About The Massachusetts Software Tax.

That ought to do it for now.

Thinking

I was getting ready to start this post and happened upon this one, in which Julie says one of the things I have been thinking, but in fewer words than I might have achieved. I have worried about authenticity. Not merely in expressing myself online, but in living my days, pursuing my works.

So. I have been job hunting, in response to Deb going on disability, on the idea that I both need to at least make up the shortfall, and that I am free to pursue such a thing. I love my part-time job that had more or less perfect SAHD hours around her schedule, but it was all I generally felt I could do, besides herding kids and being a crappy housekeeper and an awesome cook. Yeah, I kept thinking “write, dude” and similar things, since when would I have even that much of an opening. Yet I didn’t even keep blogging up well. Whenever the question of what I really want comes up, though, writing is way at the top. Even if it’s blogging.

That was a great thing about my job in outsourced Microsoft support years ago. While in one product, during an annual review I expressed how much I would love doing work centered around writing. That was part of a career growth kind of thing, as I recall. The manager, who was fantastic, didn’t see much chance of that happening, yet under my next manager it did. I had more to do with that than management did, apart from tolerance, initially, and doing what Microsoft wanted, when one of my counterparts there effectively appointed me to full time “web response” support of the product. This was a new thing. It had only been done by escalation level people at Microsoft itself, by our primary weekend guy, and ad hoc by me and a colleague, in any available time we could find between calls. The weekend guy would handle the cases he got as far as he could, then escalate them, even if they were easy. One Monday, Microsoft assigned them all to me and that was it for phone support. I was writing from then on, with rare exceptions, and was one of the pioneers.

Things that make me think.

I’ve been doing a web site migration for an extended family member who had some sort of falling out with his original designer and host. There was more to fix than I might have expected; ways in which they were sloppy. I figure it’s because of a graphics person going into web development, versus someone with a programming background. It’s been a blast. I could do this a lot, but I’d need to farm out graphics to build sites for people that needed new/nice ones. I can do simple, though I lack the tools I once had, and the money to buy nice ones.

I got a call from an unsolicited prospective employer. On the phone I said I was interested, but the guy was skeptical due to the commute. He had read my town wrong. Off the phone, I found it’d be at least 110 miles a day round trip, an hour minimum each way. I did math. They pay over the amount I must make net of added costs for things like commuting and tax considerations, but not enough even to pay for gas at a charitable price. Then there is the opportunity cost of the hours driving, other car costs, the fact it starts out temp, albeit long term, and that I would loathe working in the industry. Which, near as I can tell, is closely involved with making Obamacare fly. That and the type of work is the secondary type I seek, the “or I could do this.” I got an effective rate of pay for the hours added to what I spend on my PT job that is well below my PT job’s hourly rate (which is just $5 below what they pay before doing the math).

There wouldn’t be enough money to move nearer the job and support me in a room or small apartment plus send enough here to keep things rolling. Since we apparently are separating again but for real this time, moving out is actually a goal, but isn’t going to happen until and unless it’s viable. We have a good arrangement and set of roles, and that would shake things up far beyond money. With her home, we have changed roles, so I am no longer the main crappy housekeeper, laundress and dishwasher, but I am still the primary cook. In job hunting, I have had a low key “I can relocate” aspect that I hadn’t before. At a price and within reason, though what’s reasonable depends on price, as always.

That made me think about what do I want to do, or particularly not do. Do I even want a job job? The bottom line for making up Deb’s shortfall is to nearly double what I make from the PT job. We once had ads on sites and peaked at almost 2/3 of that number. From blogging. Or more accurately, from residual value of having blogged and run a blog carnival. I had some resentments that led me to mostly stop blogging, and to keep starting new sites that’d be mine alone. In fact, I have a conundrum that was going to be another post. We decided to return to AV, which I’d never loved the idea of leaving, the act of which lost us most of our audience and momentum. We were staying together. We would have a joint blog again. Happy days are here again. I had actually made a bit of progress with a solo blog, settling on one to build. Albeit not as I’d originally planned. The site in question was going to be a portal to posts at various blogs on various topics (more blogs, topical ones, easier to get ads), while also having original content, and importantly, promoting myself as a “help you create/maintain a blog or web site” service for side money. When we were really screwed financially, Deb did a brilliant job of building multiple income streams that by themselves might not support us, but contributed, and in some cases bordered on being “yawn money.”

Yawn money is a term a friend and former colleague introduced me to (not sure if he coined it) for things that bring in money while you sleep. Anything that gives you residuals or royalties would be like that. Ditto for ads. Once you get past the initial work. Selling something like crochet patterns isn’t far removed, where you do a fair bit of work, but then it’s a download with automated sales, or worst case, sending e-mail with them to buyers. My ideas for that have extended to reviving the blogging enough to generate revenue again. That’s not so much yawn money as it is getting paid indirectly for writing. It becomes yawn money in that you can coast for a while before it goes away. And to writing a book I have had in mind, though I could blog the story serially as well. It’s a business experiences thing.

Now, I should pursue some of this regardless of whether I search for full time work, even if I am going to set my standards low for what I accept. Especially if I set them low. I keep thinking there is something I am missing. A way to make lightning strike. Like it’s a game and I need to learn to play it.

One of the things that kept me from blogging was the fact too many of the wrong people read me, and I had to watch what I said. It’s not so bad as the Facebook account where you’d barely know I had a political opinion, due to the diversity among friends, and especially the vocalness of the leftier, sometimes almost to the point of commie, people there. I sometimes want to throw all caution to the wind and be myself. Which also applies when I am looking for work, blogging on my real name site that is oriented mainly to that end.

In fact, I have developed mixed feelings about this identity. Too many people know the real one, or could figure it out. At the same time, if what I am selling is that I write, that I know something about business and economics, that I managed/edited a thing on those topics that was in its day a big deal, then how am I to deal with the fact that I can’t admit to those things without revealing my pen name, and revealing all my opinions and maybe the less [adjective chain here] things I might have written along the way.

I am also thinking that I am at a juncture like the one when I job hunted following college. I sought accounting work because that was my degree, but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t know what else to look for, though, and I stubbornly resisted taking just any job anywhere and seeing what happened. That is the correct tactic. You explore, learn an industry, make contacts, get work experience cred in general, and avoid having zero income or doing something that can’t lead anywhere. Because I kept adding tech stuff, in the form of software I’d used, to my resume, on the idea accounting needed computer skills and especially knowledge of Lotus 1-2-3, eventually I landed in tech support. Hiring people saw an opportunity I had no idea existed. One that was ideal for me.

Now I feel somewhat the same about support, at least in the call center sense, if not about tech generally. Thus I had focused more on “analyst” as a job title, be it called business, systems, data, or something else that still means you’re in the same continuum. Aspects of this harken back to my business background and experience, go along with my ability to cross-communicate between geeks and ordinary people, the times I’ve worked on determining business needs, and my ability to hold a big flow in my head while also handling detail and accuracy.

Obviously, I have an idea of something I could do and might enjoy, but I am not sure anyone will hire me at it, or that I’d be comfortable starting at a high level version. Yet I keep thinking that I am missing something, and that an astute hiring person might say “aha, you could do…” some cool thing I had never considered.

I’ve done self-employment a lot. I’d have done more over the past few years, but for tax complications and SAHD duties. Working on a web site for someone is ideal as a do at home task, for all I am not obliged to do things that way any more. Though it is actually more possible, given the presence of another parent and more viable age of the kids. The tax complications are gone. My weird reticence about charging adequately still needs work. It was another factor in making me not care whether I did business.

Any conclusions? Well, I am going to work on some of the side money angles, and on associating some stuff with my real name without necessarily shouting out my pen name to the world. There is a business blog can be revived easily, and that was the single most successful ad vehicale we ever had, the one that generated most of the money over time. It might still be, had it not lain fallow. I’ll personal blog, and it’ll probably be here, despite my mixed feelings about the joint versus sole blogs. I’d been meaning to post here more than has happened, and to migrate posts from the old version that was in Expression Engine, which doesn’t port over in a friendly, convenient way. Personal blogs weren’t a big seller for ads, but hey. The only blog with an ad is a tech blog I never post at, and that is a candidate for revival. That and the business one go with skills I am emphasizing for Real Job potential. I also had a site that was going to be my next business. It never went away, but I have it blank right now because the content, including what I did for services, pricing and all, was stale. I mean to do something with that, even if I do limited business. That is because I added that as a position on my resume, as well as because, well, any work I can get is much needed income. If it actually flies, I can see a tiny office in my future, which would be a nice supplement to a tiny apartment or room rental I also see in my future, eventually. I’m going to emphasize more the web stuff than I did before. I’m going to stop failing to play with technology. It was exhilarating recently to make a laptop work, including tearing it apart more than necessary and seeing how it ticked. I have computer carcasses and parts to go through and mostly purge, but in the process I can get my groove back. Funds are an issue, obviously, but I learned the hard way you can’t build or even keep a business running without spending on it in ways that get you and keep you current. I used to be angry that everything I took in at the old business went to home expense and I felt unable to put money into anything “extraneous.” The office rent got paid, though sometimes that was an eventuality rather than a given, but the technology I worked with got older and older, internally and not just with the client. If I couldn’t pay me enough to live on (and I felt like I couldn’t trim things as much as I needed – funny what necessity changes) and keep both the taxes and medical insurance/expenses paid, I certainly couldn’t buy new computers, devices, software, training, whatever. And that is part of the problem with my weird reticence about pricing adequately. Which back then wasn’t a problem, long as I charged the clients for everything I did. Too few clients and too much restriction by one on my ability to service others was a problem, but the hourly rate was at least close to where it should have been.

That job prospect I mentioned saved me turning them down by simply not calling me back or e-mailing as promised. I was prepared to say no. That’s something I am learning! I can say no. I don’t have to take work that pays too little or has demands that are all wrong. Obviously there needs to be some work being had, and it can be a matter of marginal revenue in a storm, but the abuse can be limited.

I figure as I blog, as I muck out my room and work through the old computers, I might have ideas. I am feeling hopeful and my brain feels like it’s funtioning fully now, so I am more likely to have a clever, creative idea and be able to follow it.

If the economy were better, I might be focused purely on jobs, but I have already been turned down for no-brainer opportunities. That’s an element I forgot above: The need to piece a living together, to be a rennaisance man, perhaps.

Entitlement

I’ve been thinking about entitlement as a personal and moral trait that can overlap political beliefs, and relate to the government plural of the same word.

Whether you have been raised to it or come to it otherwise, a strong enough sense of entitlement without moral brakes on it can lead you to steal, which is really just a direct form of seeing that money not yours is spent to your benefit. It can lead you to something like insurance fraud, where you feel entitled to take the insurer for enough money not merely to repair insured damage to your house, but also to rebuild it extensively, shiny and like new. It can make you the person who is demanding beyond all reason at a retailer, or who gives the pharmacy hell for the limits of your prescription coverage that they can’t control. It can make you the person who has an unrealistic concept of what Social Security and Medicare are/should be, and of how far the money you paid in actually extends, even if you are logical and not otherwise mathematically impaired.

You see this as a generality in generations, like the Lucky Few, even when individually they might have political leanings ostensibly disparaging of “entitlements.” I had not been aware there was indeed a distinction until recently, despite it seeming like there was a gap before the Boomers. You see it more specifically in families or how people are raised, and in social classes. A sufficiently strong sense of entitlement is a lopsided thing, where you see only that you want, you deserve, you need. You don’t see where the money is coming from, who you are affecting, or even ethical, legal or philosophical ramifications. Come to think of it, it’s the extreme opposite of feeling entitled to nothing via a low self-esteem or “dog that’s been beat too much” problem, but that strikes me as a digression into another topic.

A gentler form of it is indeed strongly optimistic expectations. Of course you can get a job at the proverbial IBM and retire comfortably after thirty years! Isn’t that what everyone does? Sorry, Lucky Few, it’s 2013. Or 1980, as the case may be.

Anyway, where I am going with this is to cross it over to political leanings or expectations. It seems to me that the same outlook could give make your overriding conviction to be milking the system for what you want for you and yours, without regard or even awareness of consequences or costs. Just as you can ruin your life if you let an inhibition-free sense of entitlement veer into illegal ground, you can ruin the country by voting or promulgating institutionalized theft. There are times when the overhead of entitlement can be absorbed for an extended or even indefinite time. For instance, unionized industries that add cost out of proportion to value. There are times when the party ends. Real estate won’t always go up and up artificially. You were never entitled to an automatic windfall. Government won’t always be able to pay benefits it does now. Not even pensions, if the money wasn’t actually put aside and kept safe and actuarially appropriate.

You are not entitled to whatever you want, any way you can get it. There isn’t an endless trough. It has to come from somewhere. If you’re not creating value for value, if you just want it so you should get it, you’re doing it wrong.

Talking About Basic Nonsense

The often sensible if excessively socially conservative John Hawkins has a bizarre piece at Townhall.com that I just can’t resist going through. It’s long, twenty points, and that may be part of its problem. When you’re trying to come up with that much in the face of a deadline…

(Update: I will update this when I have a chance, to show the gist of each original point, so it will not be imperative to read the original to make sense of this. OK, paraphrase, condensed version or copy of point being addressed is indented above each numbered response.)

People who wish to change sexes should see a shrink. Apparently rather than being allowed to, on a reread of the source.

1. People who wish to change genders were not, last I knew, allowed to do so without the advice of a psychologist. That doesn’t mean it’s good advice. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an industry of enablers, as might also be the case with convincing people they have conditions that allow them not to work, or never to grow up, or to live as professionally needful whiners. “OMG I am crazy and always wanted to be a girl” is no excuse for not having a life and taking some responsibility. Nor is it anyone’s business if you want to invert or extend your parts, even if you will never look feminine, or masculine, so long as you are not a societal leech. You have the right to do it. Others have the right to mock it. Nobody but you has any obligation to pay for it, or your general support.

“Most people who remain poor over the long haul in America stay that way because of their own poor life choices.”

2. That sounds like something one of the Lucky Few Generation might believe, having hit everything just right. It sure helps to make good decisions, but conservatives who dismiss timing and luck as factors and are holier than thou just come acorss as low-credibility cretins. It also helps to learn the skills and principles associated with success and good decisions, which makes parenting a rather overlooked factor.

“Most black Americans are good and decent people, but percentage wise there are more black Americans in jail because percentage wise, black Americans commit a lot more crimes than white Americans.”

3. Maybe. Or maybe the pointless drug war goes after them disproportionately. Driving while black? How about toking while black. In any event, most blacks are good and decent people, some of the best, so no disagreement there. It is unfortunate that the fascist left since FDR has used them as a permanent underclass to gain and maintain power, though I perceive that to be eroding. For that matter, referring back to item 2, poor is the new black.

“As often as not in America, the people claiming to be “victims” are the real bullies and they don’t deserve anyone’s sympathy.”

4. No real comment here, since it only purports to be common, not absolute, and strikes me as true enough. There is an element of bludgeoning the rest of us with need, with a claim to being maligned if the sense of entitlement is denied.

Politicians are shameless liars because people vote what they want to hear, not truths.

5. An actual truth, as I perceive it, though given enough chance and impetus, voters might just surprise you.

We owe less to illegal aliens even than to foreign nationals, because they broke the law.

6. Essentially correct, if you operate on the basis of closed borders, and even if you subscribe to the “two hands, one mouth” theory of what immigrants, legal or not, bring. Since Mexico has an economy and we don’t, these days, it’s less of an issue, and it’s not an inverse issue, since Americans are less inclined to leave their family and walk a thousand miles in search of work most people wouldn’t want to do, out of desparation. Or they could stay home and make good life choices!

“Life begins at conception and having an abortion is no morally different than strangling your baby in the crib.”

7. Do we really want to go there? Having kids made me both more willing to accept abortion, and more appreciative of the little parasites developing to the point of intelligence and personality at some point while still in the womb. Until they are viably separate enough to be raised by someone not the biological mother, though, they are indeed parasites, and about as welcome as illegal aliens are to some folks.

“Most liberals aren’t patriotic and they don’t love their country.”

8. Maybe. Not all, but I certainly know some. Yet they would be first to have the schools use instilled patriotism as doublespeak indoctrination and a mind control tool. (Added thoughts…) It is far more important to love freedom than a given country. The same might be said of hardcore libertarians, who are loyal to positive principles more than to place or political status quo.

Avoid civilian casualties but ultimately lives of our soldiers rank higher.

9. Damn straight. Except we should not be involved in conflicts that make civilian foreign casualties a factor without incredibly good reason, none of which currently exist, even if they did in the last dozen years.

Ignorant, ill-informed rabble shouldn’t vote.

10. Arguably, perhaps, but the same sort of class superiority that makes you look down on the poor, and gives you more in common with the left than with real people. This statement is up there with “if you didn’t vote, you lost the right to complain,” which is one of the most shallowly ignorant sentiments I’ve seen. It never fails to make me see red. So are you going to be the one to decide, Mr. Dictator-in-Waiting? That’s where the sentiment leads.

“The only practical way to make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is for the Israelis to transfer the Palestinians and take their land.”

11. Ah, Israel. Land that leftist American Jews refuse to support, at least as indicated by voting patterns, if not universally otherwise. Israel, and its annexed lands that the owning countries gave up on and didn’t want the residents back from. The ones who are Jordanians or whatever, but call themselves “Palestinians.” Yeah, keep the land. Evict the people. Even though Arabs live peacefully in Israel proper, and it’s probably the best place for them to be in the greater Middle East and Persia. A friend once told me, probably about 1978, that the solution would be for Israel to become an American state. Never happen, but amusing idea that’s never lost its charm for me.

This is a christian nation dammit!

12. This is a nation of religious freedom and open arms, which has something of a Judeo-Christian tone without being overtly religious. I wouldn’t say that makes it a “Christian nation” with “Christian principles.” I consider those who keep harping otherwise to be somewhere between looney and dangerous. Nor is the presence of “in God we trust” or a national Christmas tree worthy of concern to your average atheist, agnositic or pagan. Especially the latter to the latter, since it’s pagan borrowing.

“Men are just generally better at some things than women, just as women are just generally better at some things than men are.”

13. The most accurate thing yet. Men and women. We are not the same. Nobody is saying women should stay barefoot and pregnant, simply by observing reality. Duh.

Racism was once big deal, now a tool of phonies et al.

14. Another accurate item! “Racism” of late has become a cudgel, even as it’s fading away to nothing in reality.

“Long term, the only way our country can pay its bills is by asking everyone who’s not dirt poor to pay as much in taxes to the government as they’re given in services if they want to continue to receive those services.”

15. And hey, why not make the dirt poor pay and pay too, since that’ll teach ‘em not to make bad decisions. But seriously, this is too brief to be analyzed well, though it’s on the right track. Except… at this point, even that is not going to be enough to pay the bills, assuming we’re not talking about repudiating some or all the national debt that cannot ever be repaid without an explosion of productivity and fiscal sanity. Which, yes, would include people paying for services or not getting them. The more of them privately provided and not within the government sphere at all, the better.

Mother and father better at raising children than singles, gradparents or gay parents.

16. Two parental units are always better than one, unless that “village” is awfully responsive, and not too busy helping with someone else’s much older kids who are far more able to take care of themselves than yours. But… they can’t be gay parents? Seriously? Are you a fucktard? An asshat? Or grandparents?! What’s this, ageism? Does this apply to parents who are old enough to be grandparents? Why mess with the point of “single parents have it harder and are less likely to have great results” by bringing in extraneous prejudices?

Boy Scouts can’t survuve gay scoutmasters because lust trumps all, gay male to young male just as straight to young female.

17. But it’s OK to have a lesbian Girl Scout leader alone with your daughter? I know! Let’s make all Boy Scout leaders lesbians, and all Girl Scout leaders gay men. Problem solved! Or we could try our best simply to have responsible, trustworthy adults who are good examples and would protect and defend but never harm their charges. Naw, never work.

Homeless = mentally ill. Contain or help them in spite of themselves.

18. I missed this one on my original reading, perhaps because my head was spinning with WTF by this point. Not actually out of line, since the homeless problem originated with Reagan’s well-intentioned reduction of the former system for handling the mentally ill. On the other hand, where do we stop with the involuntary “help,” and ho decides “mentally ill”? Didn’t the Soviets used to lock up their “mentally ill”? When I was a kid, this was the stuff of nightmares for me.

“If you have good character, you should feel ashamed of taking food stamps, taking welfare, or being on a school lunch program.”

19. I daresay most people are, but it’s bad when that deters you from bothering at all. Further, what is meant by “school lunch program”? In our town, school lunches are $2.50 and do not serve $2.50 worth of food, and yet it has always been my understanding that even this is subsidized, which is why the feds exert so much control over it and have made it so kids throw so much away as unpalatable. If you are poor for your family size, actually the same guideline as SNAP (food stamps), school lunch is 40 cents, while milk alone is 50 cents either way. That is actually a worthwhile discount, since it costs us somewhat more than that to make a lunch. However, we make lunches half or more of the time, since so much of it is food the kids won’t eat, or can’t due to allergies. As far as I have ever been able to determine, free lunch only goes to kids whose parents are on food stamps. Ironic, since we would qualify, and could use the little bit it would provide, but I gave up on applying after the local food stamp office blacklisted me for rudely expecting them to respond to a renewal application after the one year we received benefits. Luckily, the year we most needed it. Of course, we probably made bad decisions that made us poor, which probably means we have bad character, so why would we have any shame? Glad you feel so superior.

Most immigrants should be well-educated Europeans, not losers from rest of world.

20. Racist! Well, maybe not, but think about it… doesn’t that sound like it? Except it’s not that so much as classism, which has been what much of the list was about.

Fascinating Map

Showing the numbers and proportions of secession petitioners by state. Found via Jeff Soyer.

I laughed when I saw California with the lowest proportion of the population. Massachusetts was tied for second with Maryland, with Illinois third and, it appears, Minnesota fourth. No surprises there, or with Alaska having the highest percentage and Texas the highest total.

Of course, the question of secession was settled by force over a century ago, but that makes it neither less appealing nor less of a political statement to agitate lip service toward it.

Oh Megan

Good points, but…

Four pound sugar bags have been an option for at least four years. I first encountered them in Stop & Shop, the company that brought you Peapod. At times, they were lower per pound so I’d buy them.

People aren’t stupid. We do notice size changes. It is frustrating, but you have to be a relatively monied, inattentive shopper not to notice 16 oz cans becoming 14, and so forth. Cranberry sauce. Tuna. I’ve even noticed smaller kielbasa for the same price as a pound. At least sugar had 4 lbs as an option, with 5 lbs remaining standard. That may have been an early instance of trying to give people on a tight budget a smaller size at an easier to take price, though there have always been one pound sugars for that.

Size changes aren’t new. It’s been happening with candy bars since I was a kid, decades ago.

Another size reduction? Potatoes in 4 lb bags. Not universal, but they exist, and are marketed at what would be a decent or sale price for five pounds, making it easy to be fooled into grabbing a bag, thinking it’s a deal. Very important to pay attention to those unit prices.

Elections Have Consequences

I knew there were tax changes coming, barring anything done to avert them, and I just discovered one aspect I’d not know of before in the chart here. Child tax credit is going from $1000 back to $500 in 2013. That may not suddenly mean we owe more, or even that we get less back in earned income credit, but it may be a close thing, or may matter in a couple years.

Not that the child tax credit should even exist, but since it does, and it potentially affects our finances, why would we approve of an arbitrary drop? As such things go, it seems least worst, in the manner of the EIC if you’re really into evening things out. The trouble with the EIC is the donut hole dropoff, which we start to approach, in which your effective tax rate is staggering. Even now, I figured out last tax year that each dollar of self-employment income I might add means 47 cents in additional tax. If I charge you $40 to fix your computer because I figure that’s all you can afford, or all the market will bear, I make a tad over $20 of it in reality, and no matter that I spent three hours, for which I should have charged between $120 and $300. But this is not about pricing and marketing and even the effects of self-esteem on same.

Also, the more direct impact on us is the end of the payroll tax reduction, which arguably should never have been enacted anyway. But since it was, the end of it represents a substantial tax increase on people of modest income. We’re talking about eliminating what we saved by canceling our landline, to put it in real terms, or enough to get McDonald’s 2-3 times a month… except we don’t do that, because the money isn’t there! If it’s not there for things we want or need, how is it there for a tax increase? It’s not. Nor is it there to be a portion of the additional we’d need to spend on groceries in order to change my diet to comply with what the cardiologist wants to see to maximize my lifespan and minimize my chance of additional stents or worse. Not. There. For. Health. So it’s not there for taxes, either, and if you think Obamacare is going to help me afford to eat healthier, you’re delusional.

The thing is, again, the tax shouldn’t have been cut in the first place, so nobody would be able to miss it. Or it should have been eliminated 100% in a massive overhaul of everything. As long as you pay lip service to it being a retirement account, or even if you don’t, and instead recognize it as a wobbly pay-as-you-go Ponzi scheme, cutting that tax makes no sense, as it affects if either way.

The child tax credit, though… As a matter of social policy, what is it? It recognizes that people with children could use an added tax advantage because OMG expensive. By extension, it makes having children a prioriy of the government. New subjects citizens to help keep the social security Ponzi scheme economy going in the future, replacing older workers as the retire, and some so the whole scheme economy doesn’t collapse.

Back to the donut hole. It’s more than the taxes. My 47% assumes self-employment, and would be lower otherwise, but if it’s employment or business income, if it takes time away from home, it means daycare. If I were to trade in my part-time job for full time, there would be an immediate daycare “tax” of $270 a week. Not even guessing at how much more that might be in summer or school vacation weeks. I have to account for that, elimination of the EIC, even though for us that has been on paper and being taken to cover old tax debt each year, incurring income tax on income that had none before as well as the added income, insurance costs that will change, and costs associated with commuting and having less “free” time. Working from home or doing business from home and flexibly/less than full time modifies that, but doesn’t avoid it entirely. For a specific potential job, I estimated needed $40,000 a year above the income I make part time just to stay even. Not compensating me at all for taking my time. That’s basically $43 an hour for each extra hour above what I work part time.

No wonder I still keep thinking what I have to do is make a living at self-employment and/or writing and/or part-time work from home.

Things have to change, in any event. My reaction to the election was a coldly furious resolution to be prepared to survive whatever happens. Ironically, that means improving my income. Expenses have nowhere to go but up, since we are about as to the bone as possible. I figure on being better able to cover living expenses, while continuing to keep them as low as possible, while preparing against disaster, disruption, lack of income in the future… all the things that can happen “unexpectedly” (if you have blinders on). It’s great to hope things go well and change for the better, but in reality it could take decades to recover from this depression and from four more years of fundamental transformation. If it happens at all. In the long view, the tax blip coming up is nothing, and could help things turn toward the saner sooner rather than later.

I Compose the Best Posts in My Head at Work

I just don’t remember them later!

I was wrong, obviously. I forgot Wizard’s First Rule: People are stupid. Thought of that at work, while my thoughts churned.

I can’t go Galt now, or I would. Planned or not, I’ve de facto been going Galt for the past four years. I said things would get better regardless who won. I didn’t say they’d stay better, let alone get as much better, and as I conceded to a leftist acquaintance, we would crash either way. Just why sooner rather than later?

No, I have to change my life to what will seem to be better and wealthier, because I can’t go unprovisioned into the darkness, and provisioning takes money, while it still buys things.

Republicans will have to change. Mitt ran a good race, as a better candidate than I’d have imagined. Cerainly none of the crew were better, which is a sad statement. Sure, there were some near misses and some excitement, but they all were flawed. He didn’t emphasize social conservatism, yet the party has saddled itself with that to the point people assume. From what I could see, that was what people feared. While they didn’t need to fear it, republicans need to be more overt in recognizing and acknowledging it’s over, that there’s a new normal. Better to focus on the economics that will no go out of style, and improve foreign policy while keeping the general tenor of strength and world leadership.

The sad thing is, before Bush hit his second term and went crazy, or perhaps showed what was always there, when Bush was running, it seemed like republicans has overtly become the big tent party. It’s better, or at least no worse, to be gay or a minority and go republican. (Note that I am leaving out libertarians here, though I did have thoughts on that and Gary Johnson as well.) If there are loudmouths who sound like they’ll take away your right to early term abortions or stand fast in the way of marrying whoever you want, well, they are loudmouths, not representative. Sadly, democrats project. They project fraud onto republicans, while being the primary home of it. They project racism onto republicans, while being the current and historic home of it.

It was always discomforting that Mitt was the grandfather of Obamacare.

He was also too nice, too non-specific economically, and too easily associated in people’s minds with Bush, who remains poisonous. In some ways, I’d call this a referendum on Bush versus Obama. If I had to make a choice of having Bush back or keeping Obama, I’d go for Bush, but it would be a razor thin thing, holding my nose and hoping he didn’t screw it up. Mitt is no Bush, but it took me a while to get enthusiastic rather than resigned to him.

It’s just an election, at least. Hugo Chavez was elected, so how bad could it be?

On the plus side, I was not looking forward to blogging critically of the Romney administration, given the morass it faced. Oh, I would have. I may have more fun going all out on the clown who’ll inherit his own (and yes, GWB’s) mess.

As for the voters, you own it. You voted for it, and oh won’t you get it. Thanks for taking me along. Appreciate it. Especially you single issue voters (see above, and also delusions like that there’d cuts to school funding enough to matter – as if that’s a federal issue anyway) and people who grew up financially privileged as children of rent-seekers or workers of angles and influence or thuggery however polished, who seem yet to have learned of the real world. Good luck with that, eventually.

And yes, I voted, so even to you pathetic morons who spout the witless line about not having the right to complain if I didn’t vote, I sure as fuck will complain. Boy will I complain. If that were all you reaped from what you’ve sown, you’d be lucky, and I’d be thrilled. Are you ready for what’s coming?

Insurance Games

I work at a large company that provides a health insurance benefit for part time employees who have worked there over 1000 hours, or about a year. We’re drawing toward the end of the second year of that.

There are two plans. Let’s say that one costs $10 a month and has pathetic coverage, a catastrophic plan that is marginal until you have been personally responsible for $5250, after which it pays everything that it covers. That’s over 1/3 of my gross income there, and could easily be half of someone’s income, depending on location and seniority. That’s equivalent to an out of pocket maximum closer to $25,000 on the income I’d need in order to be out the other side of the donut hole. I am up over $3000 of that so far this year. That’s a lot of years of making sure the providers get at least $10 a month to avoid having it sent to collections.

The other plan, which I was on last year, costs five times as much, and covers much more. That year, I only saw a doctor a few times, and for whatever reason I never saw a bill. I’m pretty sure I should have seen bills for a portion of each office visit. I was supposed to have been on the same plan, but the company defaults your choice to the bottom plan, and in a tricksy accident I was not allowed to select the one I wanted. You know that’s a guarantee I’d actually need the coverage for that year. In six more days, I will get to select again, which is a relief.

I am also covered, into the beginning of next year, by the part of RomneyCare called Health Safety Net, which is backstop coverage for people who are poor, but not so poor, and have crappy insurance that they can’t actually afford to use but that satisfies the mandate. I had thought that covered all the things, and that was why I never saw one bill from the doctor last year. However, it covers stuff at hospitals and “community health centers” (what are those? where? who designates them? couldn’t tell you!), but not at regular practices. That would encourage one to hit the ER for something relatively mundane, which makes no sense, given the alleged overuse of ERs by poor people was the driving force behind RomneyCare. I have never done that in my life, and it would never occur to me, unless I had an emergency. The practice I use has after-hours urgent care that’s pretty easy to get into, and they have people on-call for emergency visits. Usually seeing a nurse practitioner, but no need for more for most things. Heck, when middle child broke her arm, we went there, not ER. NP saw her and then our family doctor, who is her boss, stepped in to help put on a cast. We didn’t even have to see the orthopedic people.

As an aside, the wife is on separate insurance, through her employer, and the kids are fully covered by RomneyCare, but we pay a monthly premium for that. Not sure how we’d do it if kids were on an employer plan for probably more additional premium than the state charges, but were not as well covered. I know! We’d magically up our income tens of thousands of dollars to get to the other side of the donut hole. Can I digress like a fiend, or what?

Where was I? The point of this was to discuss my EOB (explanation of benefits) for the 34 hours I spent at the hospital, getting a cardiac catheterization that resulted in two stents, followed by time in a room for observation – otherwise I’d have been home same day.

The cath and stent procedure was free as part of a large study I agreed to participate in for the privilege of it being free, and not having to be transferred to another hospital if they found blockage that could be treated with stents. (Bypass would have required transfer, since there is not a full cardiac unit there – thus the study showing the efficacy of hospitals being able to do stents without full cardiac units.) I thought that was cool, and a worthy goal. Cost didn’t matter so much, since RomneyCare would backstop the hospital charges.

On the EOB, there is no indication that anything about the event was “free.” It may be that there is some tiny portion of the charges that is what they actually meant that is not noticeable in its absence. The hospital billed over $60,000 for the 34 hour stay, plus another $2500 for the hospitalist in charge of me for most of that time. Great guy. Chatted with him twice, briefly. He even gave me his cell number in case I needed anything after I got home and couldn’t reach anyone. Even in the middle of the night… call. Except… his number was nowhere on any of the paperwork. Oops.

About $40,000 of the total on the main bill was “physician” charges. Since the hospitalist was covered elsewhere (and the insurance actually covered all but around $400, after discounting it to about $1600 they’d actually cover), that was all for the excellent cardiologist who did the “free” procedure and presumably the anesthesiologist. I expected the retail on the procedure not to be cheap. Specialized room, team of people, special prep and recovery area, special skills and equipment… but, yeah, don’t think so, especially “free.” The room overnight, amazing nurses, meals, whatever… those were apparently around $4000-5000 of the total charges.

Anyway, insurance denied most of it, either not covered or separately billed items already included elsewhere not being allowed. I maybe should have called this “hospital games,” since the culprit here appears to be the hospital, but I suspect this is what they have been trained to do by the government and insurers, as self-defense. If my old business could only have collected 30% of what we billed our clients, our prices would have gone up accordingly, and every scrap of any billable time or expense would have been included. Like when I’d go to four people to solve minor problems in 15 minutes, that was our minimum increment of .25 hours (which was too low), it could instead have been four minimum charges for four incidents, making it 1 hour.

The part they didn’t deny, but discounted deeply, was the physician charges, implying that those are so large because they already incorporate all the supplies, labs, etc. Net result is almost as low an insurance payment for the 60k as for the 2.5k. The other thing they paid is a tiny indigent care surcharge the state collects.

I was pretty amused by the whole thing. I’d never be able to pay my share of it regardless, so as well for them it’s backstopped. But it makes me wonder what they bill RomneyCare now, and what that coverage allows them to get paid for. Is the 60k thing a ploy to get a ton of state money? Or will the state pay only what the insurer left me for a balance? No idea. What should happen is I will either never see a bill from the hospital, or I will remind them of HSN if I do, and will never see anything else about it.

I was opposed to RomneyCare, and can’t believe I am supporting Mitt for President, not that there’s a choice, but with actual enthusiasm. It has been good to us, though. Not that times should have been this rough. I call myself “pragmatic libertarian, because I’d love to see that pure society, but we have to get there from here. You can’t just snap fingers and make it so. You have to backtrack through the bramble maze. People can’t be left in the lurch as if there is and has always been a free market economy. It’s an interesting question, then, how you backtrack to FDR, undo the effects of wage controls that made health insurance a free perk of employment that could differentiate employers, undo the effects of insurance being for maintenance, not “insurance,” and undo the effects of later adding Medicare/caid in part because of the effects of FDR on the market, making matters vastly worse. You can’t just press Ctrl-Z on entrenched policies and their aftermaths. I hope we can make a start, though, before it gets out of hand.

Little Did He Know…

The person referenced in this repost on job hunting and referrals, who was hopeful about how much better things would be (having gotten decent at the time) once Bush was gone, has been beyond struggling under Obama. Maybe before, but that rendered it hopeless. I have no idea how he has made it during sometimes extended times of no income, no savings, no resources, not even anything qualifying him to plead disability. He went through every available week of unemployment and extensions. Though it is interesting that once that was over, he did find a something, anything type of job that was even nominally technical.

I’ve been down enough myself, given up when I shouldn’t have and all that, but I am still torn between smug at someone who makes Obama look right wing suffering from this economy, and sad that someone as reasonably talented as he is has been left in the cold.

As for me, I haven’t given a reference for a former collegue/report in years, though there have been times I stood ready when asked, simply never hearing from the prospective employer. The last thing like it I did was a written recommendation for someone to get into a college program to change careers, rather than to get a job. I am still in touch with enough former colleagues and managers to wrangle references, most likely, but they’re getting a bit stale at this point. Even the one I’d get from my former big client’s office manager is not especially current.

It Gets Better

Well, maybe.

I’ve been thinking that barring the coup scenario, and barring total collapse of the worst kind, there will be economic improvement regardless of who is elected.

Heresy! Right?

Maybe not. Look, it will still be relative, and will still vary depending who and on their specific actions or lack thereof, and on Congress, for that matter. However, we’ve been holding our breath, marking time, holding back, perhaps even actively not wanting to contribute to an economy for Obama to pillage or to reflect well by.

After the election, will we really keep marking time for another four years? To that same degree? Perhaps we’ll not act quite the same as we would in a more rational economy (talking relatively here… when was the last time the American economy was truly rational?), but are we really going to hold as much back?

So yeah, barring further meltdown, which is possible, given quantitative easing gone wild, and the pulling aside the curtain of any pretense of sound money, regime uncertainty will be relieved to some degree and things will improve… to some degree. It is entirely possible that the tax cliff will be averted, if Obama wins, since Congress will have no downside to legislating accordingly. Not that that changes the Obamacare taxes, or the law’s overall economic consequences, and not that we won’t have the same cliff looming in another year.

I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Outdoor Classroom

The elementary school attended by the older kids has a new “outdoor classroom” this year. While there’s probably some Gaia worship and being Environmentally Correct involved, it boils down to teaching kids about gardening. Sort of a miniature vo-ag program. They are learning about composting, for instance, which may be environmentalism, but it’s not extremism, and was something done when I was a kid and before, like, forever.

It occured to me that this is timely. If things crash to that degree, they could use the knowledge toward growing food. I like practical education. That is, if there’s time enough before it crashes, and of it doesn’t crash too hard even for that to matter. I’ve had a potentially lengthy post brewing in my mind about just what a crash might look like, and how socio-infrastructure inelasticity would have to affect it. (I love coining terms. Makes me feel like the Bernanke of phrasing, only not dangerous.)

Chances are that a crash won’t be so great as to mean mass death and destruction, unless there is a coup, which I started thinking about as a possibility a while back. Didn’t want to mention it aloud, since I remember how insane people sounded when they were frantic that Bush was going to cancel the election and stay in office. That would never have happened, since for all his faults, he is honorable and not that level of power hungry. Then I started seeing others mention it, including one detailed analysis of how it might go if Obama tried it. Right, Google exists! I think I read this one, which still sounded like it might be a bit over the top. Remembering that it said “Barack Obama is, unfortunately for America, a profoundly stupid man” made it easier to find with a search.

Anyway, I was a vo-ag student in high school, and I grew up about as close to farming as is possible without growing up on a farm. It makes me happy to have my kids learning something about one of my first strong interests/career aspirations. We had chickens. When I was very young we had ducks. I spread tons of manure from cows, horses and chickens. I helped plant, weed, and harvest vegetables. There was always a compost pile, if not any as intently managed and harvested as is possible. We did dig fresh soil from the the fully composted parts, but mostly it was a place to dispose of garbage and yard waste. It’s sad to live in a yard that, apart from being not ours, has no space for that. The closest I’ve come is pulling weeds from the flower bed in the front and leaving them to die and disintegrate as a sort of mulch on a bare area of my tiny adjacent herb garden.

I should take a cue from the school and my worries, and make even greater efforts to teach the kids the practical. Not just as a side note, like showing them how to build a fire when we were camping, and explaining the need for air flow. Or telling my son in passing yesterday how starting a fire by rubbing sticks together really works, since he picked that notion up somewhere. When my oldest was very young, as young as 3-4, I would give her pointers on what to do if she was trapped out in the cold, or lost. I sometimes have shown them what they can or cannot eat from “the wild.” They need more of that, alongside things like handling money, and the instilling of ideals. But I digress.

Self-Inheritance

I have long been well aware Obama was a key figure in the housing bubble and collapse, and to me it should be as much in everyone’s awareness. Since it clearly isn’t, since he appears to have a chance of winning the upcoming election (though I doubt he will even come close), it’s worth shouting from the virtual rooftops: Obama caused the collapse he inherited and worsened.

Not all by himself, since it goes back to Carter and was exacerbated by Clinton, but Obama was the lever pushing on Clinton.

And frankly, I think there was a bubble/excess rate of house price inflation before 1996, never mind afterward. Then it got truly crazy. Everyone was in on it, too. Every lawyer who handle real estate closings and talked up people about how of course they could get a mortgage, there were ways. Firsthand experience, there. Every realtor who delighted in the pace of sales and ever increasing prices. Every speculator who took advantage of the expanding bubble to flip and walk away. Madoff’s non-losing clients may have been subject to clawbacks, but the flippers and realtors will never be held to account for the profitably merry ride. Not that they necessarily ought to be. I’m not even sure Madoff’s non-losing clients should be, if they were in and out with no provable knowledge of fraud. It’s just a thought and an observation of the overheated time. I would not have touched a house then, because they were so obviousy overpriced. I probably wouldn’t have, even with an income that would allow it. Not unless I wanted to be one of those flippers. I could almost wish, given where I ended up.

Anyway, it seems karma has a sense of humor, laying the consequences of Obama the community organizer/lawyer on Obama the pretend president.

American Commodus

I love this!

I should really post about the 47% thing, which I saw somewhere corrected anyway, as far as who is not paying taxes and such, and how it’s not entirely a fair characterization. Thing is, Romney is allowed to use hyperbole and oversimplification in a fundraising speech to supporters. How scary does it sound to people who want Obama defeated and have the bucks to contribute, pointing out that there is a base that will automatically vote for him and that it’s large?

In reality, here in Massachusetts there is much disgust and dismay with Obama and ObamaCare among the working poor. If you could sever Boston and Cambridge from the state, I have little doubt Romney would carry Massachusetts. From here on the ground, I see him having a closer shot at it than you might expect. And not because he was much beloved as a governor, or RomneyCare is such a beloved accomplishment, whoever crossed and dotted the details once he’d padded his wannabepresident credentials with a single term.

So let’s get over the 47% thing already. I know that’s not the job of the press. The job of the press is to get Chavez Obama reelected, even if it’s not in their best interests.

Random stuff:

Keep in mind that some of these articles/posts have been open in my browser for the last week, so yes, not only am I behind the times but I have no idea where I found some of them. In any case:

More about the Depression. Like the policy suggestions or not, this lays out the landscape pretty neatly. Ugly freaking landscape, though.

George Takei Wonders What Happened To The Republicans Who Are Against Big Government. Excellent question.

I’m relieved to see that cilantro-hate may not be a character flaw after all. ;-)

I want to write more about this later, but I think I would love to have this fellow as my doctor.

I was wondering how long it would be until Gary Johnson’s presence in the race would start to cause some interesting effects.

Again with the Depression.

And lastly, for the moment, I’d just like to point out that I have a serious crush on UfYH. (This may be NSFW depending on your workplace’s tolerance for strong language and/or employees spending hours tumbling through tumblr.)