Monday, November 29, 2010

It's not a problem until it happens to me

I've been watching the brouhaha over the 99ers with some bemusement.  There's nothing quite like a recession to make people who were oblivious to social problems suddenly sit up and notice that the generous social safety net they assumed was there for slackers to abuse has huge holes in it.  Lots of the folks freaking out over the fact they've exhausted their unemployment benefits after "only" 99 weeks don't have a clue that before this recession hit,  the maximum payout period for benefits was 26 weeks with zero extensions.

I'm really not sure how I feel about all this.  On the one hand, I think it's deplorable that the U.S., unlike almost every other industrialized nation on the planet, does not provide an indefinite unemployment allowance (aka general welfare, the dole) to able-bodied adults who are jobless through no fault of their own.  We shouldn't have beggars in the street, there shouldn't be people forced to camp out under highway bridges or live in their cars, and no one in a country as rich as this one should ever go to bed hungry.

On the other hand, as a person who spent many years in a part of the country that's been going down the economic toilet for the past 50 years, part of me is thinking "welcome to my world."  What the shocked and horrified and newly poor ex-middle class is discovering is the reality that people in places like Flint, Michigan, have been living with since the '70s:  fewer and fewer jobs, stagnating or declining wages for what employment does exist, and a shredded or nonexistent social safety net.  And, for the past 50 years, while a few economists have warned that it was a really, really bad idea to outsource jobs and allow manufacturing in this country die a lingering, painful death, most folks have assumed that what happened in Flint or Pittsburgh or Youngstown would never affect them.  After all, who cared if union jobs went away as long stock prices were going up on Wall Street?  Well, it took awhile, but it's starting to look as though people are finally figuring out you can't base an economy on consumer debt and people serving hamburgers to each other.  Based on the results of the last election, however, it appears the American populace isn't smart enough to figure out what to do to turn things around. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Can't we have the turkey first?

We've already received two Xmas cards.  Whatever happened to waiting until after Thanksgiving to mail them?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Empathy deficit

I think I've figured out what the major problem in this country is.  It's not the federal debt or a a financial deficit -- it's an empathy deficit.  As a society, we seem to have lost the ability to put ourselves in the other guy's shoes. Way too many people seem to think that because they did something, like surviving hard times by shoveling chickenshit (one of the actual examples on C-SPAN this morning), then everyone else should be perfectly capable of doing the same thing. It never occurs to them that maybe not everyone is lucky enough to live walking distance from a chicken ranch that has shit needing to be shoveled.

I've been thinking about this empathy deficit most of the week.  The New York Times ran a piece recently on a program designed to prevent bullying in Canadian schools.  As they headline put it, they're "fighting bullying with babies."  Beginning with kindergarten classes, about once a month educators bring infants into the classroom for the kids to interact with.  The kids are encouraged to see things from a baby's point of view.  Basically, the program is nurturing empathy -- the ability to see life from another person's perspective and to understand what it feels like to be that person.  The program apparently works -- schools that use it have seen a decrease in disruptive behavior, less bullying, and the kids just being generally nicer to each other.  Now if we could only come up with a similar program for adults . . .

C-SPAN began the morning with an open phones segment that focused on extending unemployment insurance benefits.  The latest extension is due to expire at the beginning of December, but the economy is still in the toilet.  People are hurting.  The jobs simply aren't out there.  But is that reality sinking in with the people who still have an income?  Of course not.  Their own lives are still peaches and cream, so obviously the folks staring homelessness and hunger in the face are a bunch of useless slackers just trying to suck off the government teat.  There seems to be an absolute inability to imagine themselves in a different situation, to be able to recognize that the fact they're secure today doesn't guarantee they're going to be equally secure tomorrow, and to consider what life might be like if someone jerked the rug out from under them. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An odd experience at work yesterday

For about 20 seconds I forgot about being R.I.P. and came close to applying for a lateral/promotion that would have (if I had any ethics at all) kept me in Atlanta well into 2012.  Being hit with a surge of ambition at this stage of the game definitely felt odd. Fortunately, like gas, it passed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Mangroomer Sku 211-6 Professional Do-it-yourself Electric Back Hair ShaverSearching for the perfect gift for the metrosexual in your life?  Allow me to recommend this: the Mangroomer Professional Do-it-yourself Electric Back Hair Shaver, available for a mere $47.98. 

I was comparison shopping ordinary electric razors online when I stumbled across this little gem.  I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. Most of the men I know bitch about having to shave their face on a semi-regular basis; the notion there are guys out there (and presumably are not porn actors) who worry so much about their appearance  that they'd put themselves through the hassle of shaving their backs is just plain bizarre.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rats scurry for shore

Who says there's never any good news?  From the New York Times:
The lawyers have started leaving.

That is perhaps the surest sign that Joe Miller’s chances of becoming the next senator from Alaska are evaporating. With each passing day that election workers here in the state capital manually count write-in votes cast for Senator Lisa Murkowski, it appears increasingly likely that Alaskans spell too well for Mr. Miller’s math to work.

Assisted by lawyers sent by the Republican National Senatorial Committee, the Miller campaign set out to challenge every smudge, stray mark and misspelling they could find (and, often, only they could find) on write-in votes that appeared to be for Ms. Murkowski.
I can't picture Ms. Murkowski ever flipping parties, but as a nominal "independent" it would be nice if she'd tell Mitch McConnell where to shove it once in awhile.

More proof that Bible Spice's star is fading.  If a Palin endorsement can't help a candidate in her home state get elected, why on earth would anyone believe she's viable nationally?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It feels like Saturday

Right down to the tinfoil hats on C-SPAN.  I'm not used to being home in the middle of the week, but it is a federal holiday so here I am.  And once again I'm marveling at the "facts" people can parrot without pausing at all to engage any brain cells.  Why is our economy in the toilet?  Because, and I paraphrase a caller from Alabama, there are billions of Mexicans in this country, all working illegally.  Which means, I guess, that Mexico itself is now a deserted wasteland, because its population had been only 100 million. 

Maybe the caller suffered from innumeracy -- I've noticed quite a few people who seem baffled by large numbers once they get past the number of digits they personally possess.  Million, billion, trillion. . . once a number has more than one comma in it, they can't tell the difference. 

Monday, November 8, 2010


I've been pondering a minor mystery today.  Why do some parents have such a difficult time separating themselves from their spawn?  I love my kids, but, you know, when they hit adulthood and wanted to lead their own lives, that was fine with me and the S.O.  We like visiting them, we enjoy seeing the grandkids occasionally, but we don't have any particular desire to live right next door to either daughter.  I tend to take the fact that they're managing to survive just fine without living in the same state as us as proof we succeeded in raising offspring who can fend for themselves. 

What prompted me to think about this was an e-mail from a sort of relative, my cousin's wife, telling me that she and her spouse had just purchased a new house, the one they plan to live in permanently as retirees.  It's something like 30-seconds away from one kid and spitting distance from another.  Why?  These are people who are in their 60s now, which means their kids are in their 40s or really close to it -- why on earth is this woman still clinging to them?  I don't get it.  Granted, they are the ones that are eventually going to pick her nursing home, but even so. . .  I always thought empty nest syndrome was something that hit some people briefly and then passed.  Apparently not.

Quantity vs quality

It's November. A fair number of my acquaintances are indulging in the annual madness known as National Novel Writing Month.  50,000 words in 30 days.

My thoughts after being shown examples of works in progress by several co-workers*?  A whole lot of people currently fantasizing about being the next Barbara Kingsolver or Michael Chabon would be much better off if they focused on writing haiku. If nothing else, the pain involved in reading their profferings wouldn't last as long.

[*An unfortunate mental affliction of way too many editors is that they confuse the ability to diagram sentences and correct other people's grammar with the ability to be writers themselves.]

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I was the lucky recipient yesterday of a piece of email claiming to be from the folks at Hotmail warning me that I was about to lose that account.  They desperately needed to know just a few small pieces of information about me in order to keep the account open.  Little minor things, like my date of birth, snail mail address, and, oh, just for shits and gigles, how about a credit card number? 

The message was, of course, riddled with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.  Does anyone, anywhere, ever fall for this crap?  Someone must, because otherwise why bother, but it still astounds me that anyone would, especially when Hotmail is one of those free services that, like gmail and a bunch of others, never asks a new user to do more than make up a name and a password. 

Then again, when you have a whole generation of people who do most of their writing using odd abbreviations, maybe seeing "plez provide ur. . ." in a supposedly serious piece of correspondence wouldn't cause them to spew coffee all over the keyboard. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Buyer's remorse

Wonder how long it will take for it to sink in with voters that they've managed to screw themselves really good?  If, of course, it ever does.  Here in Georgia the sheeple behaved exactly as one would expect:  voted in the guys who promised them a free lunch, voted down the measures that would have actually helped the state, and did their best to make the business climate less competitive. 

There do appear to be a few positive things to be said about the picture nationally:  the lunatic in Nevada lost her bid for the Senate, and the millionaires in California discovered they'd wasted their money trying to buy elective office. Other than that, things seem to have happened more or less the way the talking heads had been predicting:  Democrats held on to a Senate majority, but lost the House.  If people thought Congress wasn't getting anything done before, the next two years should set some sort of record for gridlock.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How to motivate voters

Threaten them with a run-off. I was feeling ambivalent about voting today -- the only guy on the ballot I feel any enthusiasm toward doesn't need my vote -- but then I heard the morning news.  The dread phrase "run off election" was used.  Georgia is a state that requires an actual majority to win; being the candidate with the most votes out of a pack of candidates won't cut it.  Apparently there is solid reason to believe that the Libertarian candidate for governor might attract enough voters to prevent either the Republican or the Democrat from gaining a clean majority. 

I am so sick of hearing Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes indulging in name calling that I'll do whatever I can to prevent being subjected to their ads after today.  It may not be the best reason for voting, but for sure it's getting me to the polls this morning.