Monday, October 31, 2016

Crowder State Park, Trenton, Missouri

It's becoming pretty clear there are no bad state parks in Missouri. There are parks that are attractive for different reasons, there are some parks that have better management than others, and there are some parks that see a lot less use than others, but so far I've yet to see a bad one.

When we did our preliminary itinerary for this road trip, we planned a stop at Van Meter State Park. It's reputed to be not particularly busy, at least not for camping, with a fairly small campground (only 22 sites on a single loop), but it also sounded interesting. It was the site of a Native American settlement and has what is said to be a nice little museum. As it turned out, we had been overly optimistic about how far we could get before running out of daylight at this time of year. We wound up looking for a site at Crowder State Park instead.

Like a lot of Missouri parks, Crowder is located next to water. I'm not sure what the river is (and am too lazy to Google it at the moment), but there's a backwater/slough/sort of lake in the day use area. There's a small beach for swimming. I have no clue just how popular that beach is in the summer. The day use area looked nice, but the water had kind of an ominous quality. Do they have alligators in Missouri? I know they have humongous snapping turtles. Still, if you're local and used to water looking a tad murky, wading and/or swimming at Crowder probably wouldn't faze you. I, however, am used to the crystal clear waters of Lake Superior. Brown water makes me nervous.
A few campers had gotten into the Halloween spirit.

I had actually looked up Crowder on-line as a possibility so knew it's popular with families. Pulling in there on Halloween weekend when the weather has been so unseasonably warm made me a little nervous. A number of the state parks do plan Halloween activities for families; I had no idea if Crowder did. As it turned out, the campground was looking pretty full. All the electric sites were taken. We did find a basic site that also happened to be a pull-through, a definite plus when we planned to be there for just one night. I figure one reason it was vacant was it was close to the privies.

There was several back-in sites close by that were also vacant. It was kind of the reverse of what we'd seen at Montauk. At Montauk, the people who did first come, first serve in the basic loop liked being close to the toilets. At Crowder, it was like those were the last sites that were going to fill up. Odd, but it worked out okay for us. There was also a water faucet close by, so for a couple of geezers it was a remarkably convenient site. No long walks for anything.

Then again, it's possible those sites were among the least desirable because whoever used them would have to do some blocking. They had more slope than usual. One thing a person camping at Crowder will never have to worry about is flooding -- the campground perches on top of a hill. Even on the pull-through site the Guppy had a distinct list. Not enough to worry about for just one night, but definitely a list.

The one quibble I might have about Crowder is the layout seemed a little tight. The sites seemed close to each other and the parking pads looked short. I have no idea when the campground was put in, but it struck me as being from the days before Leviathans (gigantor Class A motorhomes) and humongous 5th wheels with multiple slide-outs. It's a great park for people who like to tent camp, have a pop-up, or smaller trailers and motorhomes; it might a tad claustrophobic for someone who insists on camping using large equipment.

Bottom line: This wasn't a park we'd planned on visiting, but it turned out to be one we'd stop at again if we happened to be close-by while traveling.

On the road again

Sort of.

We got off to a good start, but then the drive shaft decided to fall out of the Guppy. The good news? It chose to do so after we'd made it through Kansas City and were off the Interstate. We'd pulled off I-35 to go looking for lunch. Half a block or so from the intersection we needed to turn at to get the Waffle House, we heard this interesting (and not particularly pleasant) noise, kind of like something heavy and metallic had just hit the pavement and was now dragging. That was the bad news. The not quite so bad news was it waited until we were coasting down the shoulder of the road before it let go completely. No having to worry about either dashing out into traffic to try to retrieve the part or getting to witness some poor sap in a passenger car trying to drive over it. A drive shaft for an E-350 is fairly substantial piece of metal; I don't think it would be easy to just drive over.

So now we're stuck in Gardner, Kansas, hoping AAA is serious about doing reimbursement for travel interruption expenses (e.g., motel rooms, meals) and waiting for Olathe Ford RV to open on Monday. The S.O. can put the drive shaft back in; he already has the U-joints he needs to do so, but Auto Zone did not have a yoke that is part of the overall scheme of things. If Olathe Ford RV does not have the part, then I guess we go looking for it in Kansas City. There is definitely a limit on just how long we want to hang out in a room at the Super 8 admiring the view of the Walmart parking lot.

I am having kind of mixed feelings about AAA. On the one hand, they did (eventually) get a tow truck to us that would have dragged us to any location we desired within 100 miles. As it turned out, the humongous tow truck only had to drag us half a block. By the time the tow truck got here, we'd done enough calling around to figure out that the garage AAA recommended could not help us (the Guppy was too tall and too long). That garage referred us to another, which turned out to be the Ford dealership right here in Gardner, a dealership that also peddles RVs. So they could actually work on the Guppy. That was the good news.

The bad news? First, when I called I learned their service department closed at 3 on Saturdays and they're not open on Sundays. We were welcome to have the Guppy dragged there (their gate would stay open until 7 or so) but it would be, I shit you not, "at least 2 weeks, maybe 3, before we can fit you into our schedule." Definitely a WTF moment. I'd just told the woman we were had an RV that broke down several states away from where we live and she's suggesting we hang out in a motel room for half a month before maybe they'll squeeze it into their busy schedule. No surprise, then, that the S.O. decided he would do the work himself. Then it became a question of finding an alternative site for parking the Guppy.

That's when I noticed the Super 8 across the street. Turned out they had rooms. They also had a place where it was okay to park the Guppy until it's repaired, at least as long as we're guests at the motel. So that's where the Guppy is now -- parked close to the motel and waiting for the S.O. to do the repairs.

Anyway, back to the mixed feelings about AAA. Apparently the customer service person I spoke with had no clue just what a Class C motor home is. The Guppy is built on a Ford E-350 chassis; the E-350 is a Ford  1-ton van. The Guppy is a tad long (27 feet) but doesn't fall into the heavy truck category of things. Any tow truck that could tow a typical 1-ton cargo van could handle the Guppy. So what did AAA send after what felt like an interminable wait? A tow truck designed for towing Greyhound buses and semis. I swear the tow vehicle was bigger than the Guppy. My one regret is that I didn't have my camera with me when it pulled up by the motel. I am guessing that the size of the tow vehicle the AAA person thought we needed is the main reason it took over 3 hours for him to get there. At one point we were told the tow truck was on its way, but then got another call saying he got called to a higher priority (better paying?) job than us.

So I'm annoyed with AAA for not having a better handle on just what type of tow truck could have handled the Guppy and at the same time moderately grateful that the delay gave us time to find a place to park the Guppy where it is possible for the S.O. to do the work. In fact, if the local Auto Zone had carried all the parts we need, we'd be back on the road now. As it is, Auto Zone had the requisite U-joints but was missing another piece, a yoke of some sort, so while I sit here typing the S.O. is off in search of parts.

As it turned out, we won't have to deal with the Ford dealership service department that so blithely told us there'd be a multiple-weeks wait before they could squeeze us in. At breakfast this morning we struck up a conversation with a woman who lived in Gardner (or just outside it) for over 20 years. They've retired to Lake of the Ozarks but come back here often to check on a business her husband still owns. After she learned why we were here, she called a local mechanic and asked him for advice. He referred the S.O. to a place a couple exits up the Interstate that specializes in servicing trucks, both big and small. If they don't actually have the part, they should be able to get it fairly quickly.

And then we'll be on the road again, quietly wondering what's going to fall off next.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Cluelessness in action

Or perhaps I should say racism.

I spent a couple hours at the laundromat yesterday. The one I prefer to patronize locally happens to be a KBIC tribal enterprise; it's one of several local businesses owned and operated by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. I like using it because it's always clean and it's pretty rare to see an "out of order" sign on any of the equipment.

As it happened, yesterday was one of those rare times. One of the big front loaders was refusing to accept any coins, which is a sign the cash box needs to be emptied. There were customers who had hoped to use that machine so there was a fair amount of griping. And what form did that griping take?

Well, if I'd been over at the other laundromat, the one in L'Anse, I'd have been hearing complaints about a specific individual, whoever the current owner happens to be. But I wasn't. I was at a tribal-owned enterprise. So if the laundromat has a problem is it because whoever is supposed to collect the coins isn't doing it as often as he or she should? Is it the manager's problem? Nope. It's the "damn Indians can't do anything right." This gets said with complete seriousness despite the fact the facility is clean and every other machine in the building is working just fine.

That pronouncement is then followed with a bunch of comments about the "damn Indians," their subsidized housing, the fact tribal members get a discount at the KBIC-owned gas stations, and a litany of other complaints.

And this, dear reader, is what bigotry looks like. When the white-owned laundromat is disgustingly dirty, the front loaders are all out of order, and the dryers rip you off, it's because the owner needs to find a better manager. When one machine isn't working at the KBIC-owned laundromat, it's the whole tribe that's to blame. And not only is the whole tribe to blame, one temporarily out of order machine can serve as justification for criticizing every other enterprise the local Ojibwe have ever undertaken.

Even more depressing, now that I think about it, is that if I were to tell this story to some of my local acquaintances, they wouldn't pick up on the internalized racism at all. They'd agree with the ranter -- one malfunctioning machine is indeed proof that an entire group of people can't do anything right.

Jesus wept.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Maybe I've accomplished more than I thought

I spent a few hours at the museum yesterday doing some decluttering and downloading photos and documents from the computer to a flash drive. I'll be doing updates to the museum's Facebook page while we're on the road so need images to work with. I did not think downloading a few files would take long.

I was wrong.

It appears I've been more productive than I thought. The "Cataloging Photos Used 2015" folder had close to 3,000 images in it. And that was just one of several dozen folders I wanted to copy. I ran out of time before I got everything cloned. I was surprised. I'm not sure why. Common sense says that if the Object ID numbers are up over 1,000 in a given year then there's got to be at least double that many images. I try to take at least one picture of everything that goes into PastPerfect, and, depending on the object, can take up to half a dozen. You know, one photo that gives an overall view of the widget and then close-ups of details like a trademark stamp or a particularly nifty piece of machining or stitchery. For sure I'll have a lot to work with when adding photos to the Adventures in Cataloging album on the Facebook page.

In any case, the downloading is only half done. I'll finish it tomorrow. I'll be spending most of the day at the museum making sure all the last minute stuff is done before we disappear over the horizon for a few months. I think it's actually close to done now, but if nothing else, tomorrow I might finally find the bottom of the second giant box of hats.

Today, however, a visit to the laundromat is on the agenda. Fun times.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A minor literary mystery

I'm reading The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. I actually started it a couple years ago, got bogged down (or lost patience with the cloying sentimentality) and set it aside. After I returned the most recent batch of library books, I decided to try it again. I needed something to read but didn't want to check out anything from the library when the departure for Arizona is drawing near.

I have a hunch I'm going to set it aside unfinished again, which isn't much of a surprise. The same things that bothered me before are still there. I did pick up on one thing I hadn't thought about, although it's not actually in the book. It was in the accompanying information about Dickens and how wildly popular The Old Curiosity Shop was when it was first published. It came out as a serial, one sickly sentimental or bizarrely grotesque chapter at a time. Readers in both the United Kingdom and the United States were hooked. They were as addicted to the trials and travails of Nell Trent (aka "Little Nell") and her incompetent grandfather* as any modern day Game of Thrones or Walking Dead fan is to his or her favorite show. They waited impatiently for each chapter and then, as the story neared its end, hoped wildly and unrealistically for a happy ending. They hoped in vain. George R. R. Martin wasn't the first author to kill off the characters readers liked the most. Dickens did it back in 1841. After spending the entire book persuading readers to love Little Nell, Dickens has her die. Readers were devastated.

And that's what strikes me as a minor mystery. Why on earth would anyone think Dickens was going to let her live? He spends quite a few pages engaged in foreshadowing -- Nell is described in ethereal terms, she enjoys hanging out in the graveyard next to the church, at one point another character assumes she's already dead, . .. it goes on and on, one clue after another that for all practical purposes Nell is already in a shroud. So why is it a shock when she does finally take the dirt nap? Who knows. Hope springs eternal. . .

The other mystery concerning The Old Curiosity Shop is, of course, whether or not I'll ever actually finish it. I am up to Chapter 55 (out of 71) so it's possible. If I pick it up every time there's a gap in reading material, eventually I'll be able to claim I read the whole thing.

*For those unfamiliar with the plot line, Nell and her grandfather end up wandering the English countryside as beggars thanks to the old dude's gambling addiction. He loses his business (the curiosity shop) and then slips into senile dementia from the stress. Nell exhausts herself taking care of her grandfather; they eventually end up as caretakers at a church where she cleans and helps the sexton with various chores. To add a villainous interest, they're pursued by an evil moneylender who has decided, apparently for the sheer fun of it, to make their lives hell and Nell's no-good uncle, who thinks the grandfather has a hidden fortune. He doesn't, the moneylender knows it, but doesn't bother telling the sleazy uncle that. The moneylender comes to a bad end, of course, because he's so thoroughly repulsive he has to get written into a grave, too, instead of just quietly disappearing from the narrative.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

John Sandford planted an ear worm

Ever since I finished reading Easy Prey this song has been going through my head. Definitely not my usual reaction to one of Sandford's books.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What's new at the museum, you ask?

Hats. Lots and lots of hats.

I have been going through the giant boxes of hats the S.O. and I took down from the attic last month. Some of the hats are kind of interesting; others are just flat out bizarre.

The gem to the right, for example, definitely falls into the bizarre camp. The astute observer may notice that there is a tag dangling from it. Not surprisingly, that's a price tag and not a museum label. As far as I can tell, the museum got a whole lot of hats that were unsold merchandise from the Skogmos store in L'Anse. I've never been much of a fashionista, but I think it's safe to say that customers for a hat that looks like it's made from recycled trash bags would be few and far between.

Most of the unsold hats, in fact, probably date from about the same time period -- the mid to late 1960s, right about the time ladies hats followed the dodo into the dust bins of history -- and are made from strange, definitely plastic-like materials. Did the use of the such obviously cheap materials contribute to the failure of the hats to move off the shelves? Probably.

Not all the hats are strange. There were some kind of nifty hats in the giant box I've been slowly emptying. The one to the left is a good quality hat. It's covered with feathers that have been dyed teal blue and has some interesting detailing on the crown. I kind of like it. I could see wearing a hat like that if it was 50+ years ago and I was into hats. It was not remaindered from the Skogmo's attic; someone actually wore it. Who exactly that was is, of course, a mystery. As I noted in a previous post, most of the hats fall into the category of "provenance unknown." There must have been a good 3 dozen hats crammed into the cardboard carton. I think one had a note pinned to it indicating that a specific person "wore this hat to church every Sunday."

Of course, the unsold hats are easy. They have Skogmo's price tags so we know for sure they came from a store in L'Anse that is now known as Oralie's. Skogmo's was part of a conglomerate that also included Gambles hardware stores. When the parent corporation went bankrupt in the 1980's, the woman who had the Skogmo's franchise in L'Anse stayed open but changed the name of the store. And it's still open, which always amazes me. It has to be a case of the overhead on the store is so low -- it's been in the same building for over 70 years so odds are there is no mortgage -- that it doesn't take many sales to keep it profitable. I haven't been in that store in several years, though, so for all I know it's packed full of hip and trendy merchandise and business is booming. I doubt it, but one never knows.

There are a few hats that look like they may have been made locally. I've been told that a lady named Bonnie Michels was a milliner. In fact, there were a couple loose index cards in the box saying "Made by Bonnie Michels," but unfortunately those labels weren't attached to any specific hats. Which is a shame. I'd love to know if Mrs. Michels was responsible for a hat that has a snail crawling up one side -- or something that looks a lot like a snail. It didn't come from a factory. It's all hand stitched and there's no union label. All the hats that are obviously factory-made have union labels even if they don't always have designer or company names. 

The snail hat actually comes close to qualifying as a fascinator instead of a hat, but it'll stay on a person's head without help so technically it's a hat. Apparently fascinators can be as substantial as hats but qualify more as giant barrettes. They have to be fastened to the wearer's hair with hair pins or combs or they don't stay on.

The hat to the left is definitely a hat. It's a product of the Merrimac Hat Corporation of Amesbury, Massachusetts. At one time, Merrimac was the largest hat manufacturer in the country. You name the style of hat and they made it, everything from ladies hats to Brownie Scout beanies. Back in the 1940s Elizabeth Taylor did celebrity endorsements for the company. I'm not sure what time period this particular hat is from; when I Googled the company and went looking for images, it became apparent some styles of hats were popular across multiple decades.

I may actually be wrong, too, about when the popularity of hats peaked. According to one website, the best year Merrimac ever had was in 1949. It was downhill from there, and the company closed in the early 1970s.

In any case, I think I've catalogued about 3 dozen hats so far. I'm trying to pack the inventoried ones away a little more carefully than I found them. In an ideal world, like if we were a museum with a huge budget and proper storage, each hat would have its own individual container. As it is, I'm stuffing them with tissue paper to help them hold their shape, wrapping them in more tissue, and then stashing them carefully in fairly small boxes and totes. Theoretically, if they're packed really loose and not stacked on top of each other, they should look a lot better for the next person who looks at them than they did when I found them.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pulitzer Project: The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford

As I've been working my way up the Pulitzer list, every so often I hit a winner that has me wondering if the Pulitzer committe does lifetime achievement awards. The book that wins isn't particularly good, but the author has been around for decades and has done good work in the past. The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford seems to fall into that category. It's not a bad book, but for sure it doesn't make it on to the really good end of the spectrum.

So what's wrong with it?

Basically, it's incredibly depressing. Stafford writes reasonably well but her characters are all just so unlikable it's impossible to stay interested in what's happening to them. Either that, or if the characters are halfway human, something terrible happens to them for no particular reason. The whole book is one example after another of "Life's a bitch and then you die." A young woman is happily planning her move away from her nosy, interfering elderly relatives, she's barely a week away from her wedding, and then she gets a phone call that her fiance dropped dead that morning from a heart attack. A lonely child finally makes a friend, except the friend turns out to be a manipulative thief who steals things from the kid's house and also manages to get her blamed for shoplifting she didn't do. A woman escapes a bad marriage, is engaged to a decent fellow, ends up having that engagement end abruptly, and then enters into another bad marriage. And so it goes -- every silver lining has a cloud.

Then when you add in the dated language and the not so subtle racism, it's definitely slides towards the "don't bother" end of the scale. In one short story, a little boy who's been orphaned is put a train to go to a government run Indian school in Kansas. When he gets to the school, every Native American he encounters there has a a ridiculous, remarkably offensive name, names that strike me as being a 1950's era attempt at humor but that come across now as just flat out stupid. They might have been appropriate in an episode of "F Troop," a show that spoofed Western cowboys and Indians stereotypes, but dropped in an apparently otherwise dead serious story? Nope. If the story dates from after World War II, Stafford should have known better.

Then again, when most of the characters are drawn from what was apparently Stafford's own milieu, poorly paid intellectuals and writers who muddle along as adjunct faculty or starve in garrets in Paris while feeling smugly superior because they've read Proust, maybe the clunkiness and general dreary tone are understandable. What I don't understand is why the book circulated as much as it did back when the Spies Library in Menominee first accessioned it.

As usual, I had to request the book through Interlibrary Loan. The L'Anse Public Library did not have it in its own collection (and for a change I'll say that was a smart move by whoever was ordering books back in 1969). The back of the book still has the original checkout card pocket with the due dates stamped on it. This book circulated like crazy for about 3 years -- it definitely wasn't gathering dust on the shelves. Then the date stamps stop, and they stop early enough that you can tell interest waned long before libraries went to computerized systems that don't use rubber stamps. (Slight digression: the L'Anse library still stamps due dates in books, but the L'Anse library is small and poor.) I don't recall ever hearing about the book before I saw the title on the Pulitzer list so I am mildly curious about what type of promotion the publisher did. Then again, I hadn't heard of House Made of Dawn either, and back then I was old enough to be paying attention (sort of) to best seller lists and whatever was being pushed by Book of the Month.

So what's my recommendation for this book? Don't bother. Unless you're doing some weird obsessive thing like I am, working your way up or down the Pulitzer fiction winners list, it would be a waste of time.

Next up? Technically, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, but it's one I read back in the '70s. So I'll skip over it and hope I can manage to read Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter. Wish me luck. Several friends have recommended Welty over the years, but so far I've found everything of hers that I've tried to be close to unreadable.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ever wonder what rape culture looks like?

Well, here it is, clearly and vividly personified in Donald Trump. I've heard a lot of excuses and rationalizations for Trump's vulgar remarks -- boys will be boys, all men talk dirty when women aren't around, women can be just as bad when it comes to talking about guys -- but you know what? Most men don't joke about sexual assault. They might comment on how hot a woman looks or speculate about what she might be like in bed, but they don't come right out and say their standard operating procedure is to grope first and talk later. And then to brag about how he can get away with it because he's a celebrity?

As Rolling Stone points out,
Yes, his comments are lewd, but that's irrelevant. What matters is that Trump is talking as if he can do whatever he wants with women, whenever he wants, regardless of their consent. This is rape culture, as clear as day.
Lewd comments are not enough to bring Trump to his ultimate demise; we've been treated to untold examples of him making lewd comments about women this election cycle. But endorsing sexual assault is another matter. That just might do it. And that's the story here.
I would like to believe that having Trump exposed (again) as a total pig would be enough to get most people to change their minds about voting for him, but it won't. Based on what I've been seeing on Facebook over the past 48 hours or so, Trump could sodomize a child on national television and his acolytes would still claim it didn't matter, that somehow Hillary's mishandling of emails was worse.

The stupid, it burns. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Why am I awake?

I have no idea what woke me up, but here I am staring at a display screen because I could not go back to sleep. It probably didn't help that I kept mentally going over the list of things we need to remember to pack in the Guppy. It did not have the same effect as counting sheep.

At the rate I keep adding items to that list, by the time we leave for Arizona there won't be room in the RV for us. As usual, I'm trying to plan for every contingency, not to mention fantasizing that I'm going to work on a dozen different projects that I've managed to ignore here at home for the past six months. I've also a good-sized stash of unread books, and, to top it all off when it comes to my personal rich fantasy life, I'm going to drag along the "finding aid" for the museum's archives. It needs a line by line proofreading (the volunteer at the end of August only got through the first 40 pages) as well as some serious re-formatting. I wish I was as ambitious in real life as I am in my dreams.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A feeble grasp on reality

One of the key themes of this political season has been Donald Trump's repeated assertions that he's going to make America great again, he's going to bring back the manufacturing jobs that vanished overseas, he's going to make it harder for countries like China to export cheap consumer goods to the United States. Polls of his supporters show that something liek 65% of them agree that protective tariffs are a good idea -- we do indeed need to stop the flow of cheap consumer goods ASAP.

Leaving aside some of the other questions most sane people have about Trump's campaign, I've got just one query this morning: just where do all those America First people plan to shop once the shelves in Walmart go bare? The last time I saw a statistic, something like 98% of the merchandise in Walmart came from another country. Ditto Family Dollar, Dollar General, and all the other cheap places to shop.

Actually, I have a second query. Just how loud are these same America First people going to howl when U.S. labor costs are factored into what are now incredibly cheap goods? One reason many businesses moved manufacturing overseas was to keep costs low. What happens when the price of their widgets climbs? Will people still buy them? Will they be self-reflexive enough to realize that they shouldn't be complaining because they got exactly what they asked for?

I doubt it.

I cheerfully predict that if and when Walmart ever ceases to be perceived as bargain central, consumers will howl like wounded banshees and be unbelievably angry that they're now stuck paying for the policies they pushed for. After all, if they truly believed that it's wrong to buy stuff made in China they wouldn't be shopping at Walmart now.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Define waste

While wandering the Intertubes yesterday, or, more precisely, floundering through the swamp that Facebook can be, I happened to see Robert Reich's video promoting the concept of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). This is an old idea -- the notion that every citizen would receive a monetary stipend, no means testing or a bunch of bureaucratic hoops to jump through, that would be sufficient to pay for basic needs. If that basic income wasn't affected by a person also working, it could be a way to eliminate poverty.

To clarify, right now if you're poor and receive assistance, you get penalized for working. The modern welfare system (at least in the United States) has a number of disincentives for work built into it. If, for example, your family qualifies for SNAP benefits (aka Food Stamps), if your income goes up your SNAP benefit goes down, often dramatically and long before your income has climbed to the point where you truly do not need the assistance. Even worse, in some cases you not only don't gain anything, you actually go backwards, e.g., your income climbs by $25 and you lose $50 in SNAP benefits. (You're experiencing the raise after taxes; the system calculates the benefit as though you were getting the full amount before taxes are deducted. And, yes, the working poor pay taxes.) There's no reason to work more hours if all you're doing is screwing yourself.

If, on the other hand, you received a benefit such as the UBI that did not change no matter what you did, you would have an incentive to try to improve your situation. Make more money and you have more money to spend. More money to spend and the multiplier effect kicks in -- you're living better, and so are other people because more money is going into the economy. It's no longer a zero sum game where adding something on one end eliminates it on the other.

In the video, Reich starts with the premise that it's getting to where there are fewer and fewer jobs to go around. Thanks to improvements in robotics and cybernetics, fewer humans are required to do work in a wide variety of industries. So what happens when there are more people than there are opportunities for work of any sort? Do we continue to insist that everyone work or starve? Or do we admit reality and start providing for a way for people to lead halfway decent lives without forcing them to jump through meaningless hoops? In a more humane society, more employers would be like Kellogg once was: 100 years ago the Kellogg cereal company made a conscious decision to have the standard work shift be only 6 hours (this was at a time when 10 or 12 hour work days were common) but to pay enough in wages that workers could live comfortably on that short a shift. Kellogg wanted people to be able to spend time with their families or to, as Reich mentions in the video, feel free to pursue other interests. The 6-hour work day vanished during the 1930s, IIRC. But I digress.

Reich makes some good points, but I'm not optimistic we'll see anything remotely resembling a Universal Basic Income any time soon. As a society, we Americans have been steadily turning meaner and less charitable. Too many people live in absolute fear that someone somewhere is getting something for nothing. Spend any time in a supermarket checkout line, for example, and you're sure to see the Food Police in action: the people who seem to think it's their job to make loud nasty comments if someone with an EBT card (which is how Food Stamps are distributed these days) has the nerve to buy something - anything! - that doesn't meet with their approval. If the poor sap with the EBT card has his or her cart full of cheap pasta, the slam will be about the lack of a balanced diet and no fresh vegetables or protein. If the EBT user does have fresh fruit or maybe a pot roast in the cart, the slam is then about the benefits must be really generous if the user can afford to get a few bananas. And god forbid there's a "luxury" item like a tub of ice cream or a bag of chips -- after all, one of the rules for being poor is that you never get to indulge in any treats no matter how small or innocuous.  You're supposed to visibly suffer if you're poor, as if poverty wasn't enough of a punishment in itself.

In any case, the equivalent of the Food Police left a comment when I shared the Reich video on Facebook. The commenter expressed the concern that a person receiving a cash benefit would "waste" it, spend it unwisely on foolish items. Well, one person's perception of waste is another person's idea of a necessity -- or at least of a worthwhile diversion. You know, if you're on a fixed income and you can't afford much in the way of entertainment, maybe from a purely practical point of view it is a waste of money for you to go to Bingo once a week. But if that's your only indulgence why the fuck should anyone care? It's your money, not theirs.

If you give someone a gift card to Kohl's, you don't get any say in what they spend it on so what gives anyone the right to get judgemental about how other people are spending their disability checks or EBT benefits? In both cases you can claim it's your money, either directly or through taxes, but oddly enough people will act pissier about what total strangers do with an EBT card than they do about what someone they actually know does with a gift card they purchased directly.

And here's another thought, courtesy of the S.O. Instead of bitching about how people are using their EBT benefits, maybe we should be happy to see some tax money coming back into the local community instead of being pissed away on a $1.5 billion ship that this country didn't need and the Pentagon never asked for.

The commenter also mentioned knowing people who are on disability or Social Security who run out of money before the month ends. When that happens, they then hit up friends and acquaintances for loans or do stuff like go to the local food bank. I have three thoughts:
  • If people are going to a food bank or trying to get other assistance (e.g., a utilities voucher), they probably need to. Most people don't stand in line on Obama Day or go talk to the folks at St. Vincent de Paul unless they actually need the help. If someone on Social Security is also relying on food bank assistance, this is a pretty good sign their budget it pretty tight. I know there are exceptions -- we had an elderly relative who went to every commodities distribution and food bank giveaway she heard about and hauled home tons of food she never used, but then she had lived through the Great Depression so her hoarding made a weird kind of sense. Most people aren't interested in getting canned mystery meat or multiple bags of lentils. Even the cheese isn't as good as it used to be.
  • The fact someone is getting a disability (SSDI) check or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check does not mean they are getting a ton of money. In 2016, for example, the minimum benefit payment is $733. Quite a few people on SSDI or SSI get that minimum benefit or not much above it. If your monthly income is that low, odds are that the money will indeed run out before the month does. So maybe instead of bitching about how poor those people are with money, as a society we should be thinking about increasing the amount of the benefits.
  • If someone is asking you for a loan because they need some cash for beer or cigarettes or something else you view as foolish, there's a simple solution. Just say No. You don't want to support their bad habits? Then don't. Maybe they should learn to budget better or maybe they have expenses you don't know about, but if they're asking for money for stuff you consider a waste you don't have to give them anything. Just don't lecture them about their bad choices. You're not their Mom. Just like you're not under any obligation to give them an allowance for the candy store, you're not in a position to tell them how to live their lives. Not your circus, not your monkey.